Joining God in His work: Evangelism

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By: Rev. Shannon Youell

Here we are talking about that scary word “evangelism” again.  CT News and Reporting, writes about a recently released report on the state of evangelism in our Canadian churches.  The survey was conducted by Alpha Canada and Flourishing Congregations.  The majority of churches that responded were evangelical churches.  The results may or may not surprise you.  A whopping 65% of respondents revealed that evangelism is not a high priority for them in their churches.   Read the full article HERE 

Some of you might find that surprising and some, like myself, just nod our heads. I have lamented often that many Christians are unequipped or unlikely to talk to others about their faith in God and, in particular, Christianity. Please note I am referring to ‘unlikely’ as something that happens outside the church walls – we are much bolder when we evangelize one another within the parameters of the church. 

Add to that our own general discomfort around sharing a prescriptive route to salvation that can be viewed as an intellectual nod or irrelevant to peoples lived experiences, and we can see the complexities that have led to a lack of evangelistic enthusiasm in our churches and in our own selves. 

I may lament, but I also recognize that I can be reluctant to initiate conversations around Christianity myself. Not because I think the gospel of God’s kingdom is lame, or powerless, or ineffective. I believe that when humans grasp the immense implications of God-With-Us, it has the potential to transform our hearts, minds, and how we engage in life and relationships. 

Rather, my reluctance comes from the rhetoric that there is a general mistrust directed towards Christians, and thus our God, based on abuses of power and control that have plagued Christianity putting deep shadows that cloud its life giving message of love, grace, mercy, forgiveness of sin, and inclusion of the least, the last, the lost and the lonely.  

I suspect part of our reluctance stems from our own truncated understanding of evangelism, God’s mission to the world, and how the church should equip us to evangelize.  Writer Jeff Banman explores this in his article published in Scot McKnight’s blog space, Jesus Creed.  Jeff points out that Paul himself, while being a beneficiary of the Great Commission, never instructed the churches to ‘train’ the people in evangelism in any of his letters: 

“Paul is not interested in training his churches on how to initiate gospel conversations with their friends and family, nor is he concerned with teaching them how to present the four spiritual laws to a passerby on the street. Paul’s vision of evangelism does not look like ours. Instead of gospel tracts handed out on the street corner, Paul envisages his churches living out the gospel in such a powerful way that their lives and the life of the local church becomes the gospel tract itself!” 

Jeff concludes his article by saying: “Paul’s words to Titus concisely portray his vision of evangelism. As followers of Jesus, we will live our lives in such a way that we “will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive” (Titus 2:10).” 

His perspective should cause us to ask the question:  In what ways do we, and I, live our lives that “will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive”?  If people shun Christianity as the way, truth and life, of good news itself, in what ways have we and I, and thus the church, portrayed God’s kingdom and his love for the world?   

This is not a simple thing to answer. Whether we realize it or not, by the very nature of identifying as Christians, we, you, are evangelizing the world around us. How I navigate my own life, struggles, behaviors, and attitudes, and how I treat others, communicates to the world what I believe about following Jesus.  

Rather than becoming defensive about the perceptions that some (many?) hold of the Church and Christians in general, let’s instead be responsive by looking at our own selves first and honestly acknowledging where we, and I, miss the mark in communicating (evangelism means ‘to communicate’) God’s kingdom good news story in how we live, work, play and pray.  

Ultimately, this is where we all begin to join God in his work, by inviting God to work also in us.

Wise Evangelism” by Jeff Banman used by permission via Scot McKnight (Jesus Creed Blog). 

RE-THINK; RE-IMAGINE; REMISSION-COHORTS & COACHING OPPORTUNITIES 

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It is likely no secret to any Christian pastors, lay-leaders and many churches that our world and our culture has and continues to shift rapidly.  For us the question is not how do we get back to the place where the church and Christian faith were central to society in general, but rather, in the midst of a changed world, how then do we, the church, re-engage our neighbourhoods, towns and cities as local missionaries called to be faithfully present to the people who live around us with the glorious story of God and his mission of shalom, salvation, reconciliation and restoration.  

Coming out of the success of the CBWC January Webinar, Allowing the Spirit to Reorient us Around the Mission of God, staff at CBWC are excited to endorse three further opportunities for our churches and leadership teams to resource, strengthen and widen the ministry and mission of the local church in this rapidly changing world – both within the church and beyond into our neighbourhoods, towns, and cities in which we live, work, play and pray in. 

Currently there are three pathways to learning and coaching available and being offered to our CBWC churches.  Each has been developed, facilitated, and taught by long time CBWC pastors who love our denomination and family of churches.  Joined by other gifted teachers and missional leaders they bring their decades of experience to teach and coach church leaders, pastors, and lay folk locally and far afield within cohorts.   Their desire is to share with their family of churches from their wealth of knowledge and experience to equip our churches as we join God on his mission as local missionaries deeply rooted into our neighbourhoods.   

If you are longing to learn and discover ways to re-engage your church with the community in which you are situated but are not sure where to begin, there is a Pathway for you!   

THE DISCOVERY PROJECT

The Discovery Project is designed for those just putting their toes in the water and exploring what it means to join God on mission in their neighbourhood. Immersing ourselves in the text, we will explore what it means to bear witness to who God is through loving Him with all our hearts, minds, and strength, and by loving our neighbours as we love one another. Many leaders have gone through some missional training and are asking how they might help their people to “discover” some of the exciting opportunities presented to us as followers of Jesus in these difficult days.  The Discovery Project is one response to this question. Facilitated by Cam Roxburgh, this Pathway will encourage a response and equip us for mission.   
There are 2 types of delivery systems: 

  1. Church Specific – a weekend seminar that covers all the same material as the online option plus the advantage of church specific input and consulting.  The fee for this option is $1500.00 plus travel expense (we are working on possibly offsetting some of the travel costs for qualifying churches).   
  1. Online offering of 6 sessions of 2 hours each.  Cost is $59.00 per person or $300 per church.  6 weeks bi-weekly from mid September to end of November.  This option is not church specific.   

THE NEIGHBOURHOOD PROJECT

The Neighbourhood Project is designed for staff and lay leaders of churches who have been serious about exploring what it is that God is doing in the midst of the crisis the church is facing. Covid is but one of the issues that is causing the rate of change to accelerate and shining a spotlight onto the reality that much is amiss, and God is doing a new thing. This is good news. TNP is for a select number of leaders and churches that get the conversation and are wanting to not go back, but forward into what God is doing.  This is a cohort of leaders journeying together with Allan Roxburgh, Cam Roxburgh and facilitators from The Missional Network and Forge to:  

  • Learn to discern God’s activity in your neighbourhoods.
  • Equip your people to join Jesus in your communities.
  • Explore how to lead in disruptive times.
  •  Shape congregation life from Sunday-centric to neighbourhood-rooted.  filling fast so register today! 

This Pathway is an online offering including monthly sessions, one on one coaching with churches, and cluster cohorts.  There are reading and experimentation expectations.  Cost per church cohort is normally $3000 but with a generous grant we are offering it at $1500.  An application process is required.  Course begins September 2021 and runs through June 2022.  This is filling fast so register today! 

FORMING & REFORMING COMMUNITIES OF CHRIST IN A SECULAR AGE

Centre for Leadership Development – “Forming and Reforming Communities of Christ in a Secular Age:  this three-year course in Missional Leadership is geared for congregational teams and individuals offering both onsite or online accessibility and will resource, strengthen and widen the ministry of the local church.  With Tim Dickau, Darrell Guder & Ross Lockhart plus many practitioner guests.  Cost includes lunch for onsite and a private team consultation with Tim.  Cost: $250 per person ($200 online).  $500 for a group up to 5 ($450 online) per year.  This course is geared for teams that have already determined the need to rethink church and are beginning their own internal culture change.  Year 1 begins September 2021.   

We believe this is the right time for churches to begin pursuing one of these Pathways, especially as we emerge with all we have learned during the Covid-19 pandemic. Talk to us about which Pathway is best for your church and leaders!  Contact us to assess which Pathway is right for you and your church. 

Shannon Youell
CBWC Director of Church Planting
syouell@cbwc.ca
 
Cam Roxburgh
Facilitator/Leader of The Discovery Project & The Neighbourhood Project
cam@southside.ca

Tim Dickau
Facilitator/Leader CML course Forming & Reforming Communities of Christ in a Secular World
dickautim@gmail.com     

Ken Nettleton 
Facilitator & Lead Pastor New Life Church, Duncan BC
ken@newlifechurch.ca

Rebooting What Matters

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(A reflection in response to Shannon Youell’s “How then, Shall We Meet?”) 

By: Mark Archibald – Pastor of Spiritual Formation, Lethbridge First Baptist Church

 Prior to COVID-19, I was WAY off in my ministry approach and priorities.  A friend from several years of summer camp moved his family down to Lethbridge for a 3-month contract job.  In years previous we had very important conversations about life and faith.  This is a good and dynamic relationship, one that continues to grow.   In the three months this important friend was in town, how much do you think we saw each other?    

 ONCE!  And that was to help him move in!  There’s something wrong with my lifestyle, including both busy-ness and work, when there is no space on the schedule for a friend like this.   

 I am busy with community stuff outside of church (a flag football team, school council, and other community connections), and parenting takes its share of work, but the fact that I took zero time to nurture this relationship with a friend is significant!   Much of my busy-ness was church stuff, which doesn’t always have the community building and connecting benefit that it should.    

 See if you relate to this pattern in ministry: 

  •  Step 1 – “I need to help our families with parenting resources.” 
  • Step 2 – “I will prepare an event for families and spend hours and hours investing in it.” 
  • Step 3 – “I need to convince families at my church to attend or I will have wasted my time.” 
  • Step 4 – Advertise and convince families to attend, and be a little sad more didn’t show up. 
  • Step 5 – Begin planning the next event – fingers crossed that more show up next time! 

 There is a LOT of time expended coming up with programs that I think are important, and just as much time convincing people to attend them.  The time spent on programming may have been better spent personally with those attending families AS WELL AS other ones! 

Walk With Me

 I’m trying to shift away from “attend my event” to “walk with me” approach.  That seems to be healthier for everyone and puts less pressure on everyone.  It allows for real community to grow. 

 COVID was bad.  Awful.  But few things have given us permission to shut things down and re-evaluate life patterns as much COVID has.  I have written down “In what ways do we meet again?” on my office white board as a reminder of how we best move forward as a community of believers.    As I reboot, I’m returning to a familiar and favourite verse: “let us spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24).  

Micro-church Momentum

By: Shannon Youell

Meeting shoulder to shoulder in a building is only a model, not the mission.  Marry the mission; date the model.”  Andy Stanley 

The church will be working through the changes Covid-19 has accelerated for years to come and if we keep God’s mission in view, then these can be good and fruitful changes.  The idea that the only way we can be the church is to gather in a particular place or way puts the focus on a model of being the church.  Not being ‘married’ to the model opens the mission to places and spaces where our traditional model is struggling to engage in. 

One of the models that is currently giving the mission momentum has been around since the church was birthed.  Ephesus had perhaps 200 house churches or using the more current moniker micro-churches; people in near proximity to one another through geography, culture or context, who gather to worship, share around the table, celebrate, gospel one another and be missionaries where they live, work, play and pray.  

There are some who feel threatened by this idea, yet believers have been meeting this way for centuries both since Christ, and before within the Jewish communities of faith and practice.  There is a misconception that it can only be church if certain criteria are present – an element of truth for sure – but often the criteria of what constitutes an official ‘church’ are around institutional structures, sustainability and membership rolls – or to put it in the more common language used – buildings, bucks and butts.  And these criteria are more often than not lived out in a Sunday morning gathering.   Coining Andy Stanley’s expression of these types of gatherings as ‘shoulder to shoulder’, they are but one model of joining God at work in his mission to redeem, reconcile and restore relationships between God and humans, human to human and human to all of creation through the message, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

‘Shoulder to shoulder’ gatherings in various models of the traditional church meeting continue to find growth through people who would consider visiting a church at least once, according to much of the research.  But what of those who would not ever consider visiting a church, or have been disaffected, hurt, marginalized or are just ‘done’ with church or those to whom church and a life of faith in God has never been on their radar?  . 

In the last blog I wrote about the shift from content to connection and why this is crucial for the church to pay attention to.  Our younger generations are not looking for content in as much as connections and they are also less likely to go to a church building to hear a lecturer teach about Jesus.  They are more inclined to have seeking conversations in a small gathering of relationships to which they are a part foremostly because relationship has already been established. 

Micro churches, of which house churches are one expression of, are a model that facilitates that.  And they are easily reproducible – they rely on trained lay leaders who recognize the call of Jesus followers to become missionaries in their own geography, culture and context.  

There is a beautiful outflow when different models of church co-exist and work together on God’s mission in the world.  Our traditional models, which include any congregations whose primary function builds and resources community around a Sunday-centric service, can well be in position to plant multiple micro-churches into the communities around them at the cost of intentional discipleship and training of their own congregants as local missionaries.  

 Micro-churches are primarily led by lay leaders who are accountable to one another and to the elders and pastors of the planting church or denomination.  These become networks of house churches planted by a single traditional congregation or denomination yet can also have a level of autonomy in how they express being the church.  Other models are similar to some multi-site models where there is still lay leadership but they are more tied to the planting congregation or denomination in how they structure and worship.   

The micro-church planting movement has many expressions, formed around geographical, contextual, or cultural demographics that determine gatherings in houses, coffee shops, pubs, and special-interest groups. Here is where we see people who may never cross the threshold of a Sunday morning church in a larger type gathering, finding safe places to explore and discover our God who yearns for all to come to Him.  

In what ways might your congregation explore becoming multiplying, church planting congregations within a discerned context of micro-churches?  Contact us, talk to us and let’s work ‘shoulder to shoulder’ together in some exciting ways in the 21st century. 

God is Always at His Work

By: Shannon Youell, Director of Church Planting 

Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.”

No one has been unaffected by the events of the past eleven months.  No one.  Individuals, families, businesses, governments, weddings, funerals and places of worship.  All have experienced the effects that a pandemic can have in our world.  

Our churches have shifted and responded from no gathered meetings, to partial gathered meetings and back to no gathered meetings.  Through all of this we have been prayerfully asking God to reveal himself at work around us so we are encouraged to continue being missionally and faithfully present in our neighbourhoods and in encouraging and discipling our churches. 

 We are all hearing stories of churches both adapting to the challenges and struggling with the challenges and changes.  And some of those stories are surprises – we can’t always assume which churches will be struggling and which will find new ways to thrive and flourish.  Some of those stories are within our current new churches/plants.  Here are some of their stories. 

Greenhills Christian Fellowship-Winnipeg-East 

GCFWE is our newest plant launched from GCFW.  This faithful and passionate group of Filipino church planters began training and discipling their core group in 2019.  When Covid hit they were just ready to officially launch and had begun to gain some traction in their target area.   

If you have the pleasure of hanging out with Filipino people, you will know how they evangelize – they eat together, have parties, bbq’s in the park and with the Code Red restrictions in Winnipeg it became very challenging to build neighbourhood relationships and do evangelism.  

Yet, this past summer they celebrated baptism of new believers and as Pastor Arnold Mercado notes, in terms of people studying the Bible and learning the deeper truths of God, they’ve had more opportunities and people are growing in their faith.  He reports that the best way to describe their planting community right now is in how God is building them, noting that ten months ago they hardly knew one another and now are growing together deeper in their relationships with Christ and with one another.  They feel better prepared to saturate their neighbourhood with the Gospel once restrictions are eased. 

This past fall they had their official launch from their sending church.  Where God is at work and his people join him, even a pandemic cannot stop the work of the Spirit among the people! 

Hope Church of Calgary 

Pastor Mouner and this community of Arabic speaking believers are finding the challenges of Covid, well, challenging.  Like all of us, they are deeply missing the opportunities to gather and be together.  One thing I’ve learned about people from the Middle East countries is how excellent they are in hospitality.  We may consider ourselves a nation of warm friendlies, but compared to our Middle Eastern friends we are really not that great in the area of hospitality!   

Everything they do is around food and tea and visiting.  Take those out of the equation and our brothers and sisters at Hope are discouraged and not adapting well to the online meeting applications.  But even in the midst of these challenges, God is still at work.   

Pastor Mouner faithfully delivers to each congregant’s home the elements of bread and cup for shared online Communion.   An important element of Communion for them is the actual shared loaf of bread.  It gives him an opportunity to have a safe-distance, non-virtual conversation with his congregants.  

A new preacher among the congregation is being raised up.  A blessing for the Pastor and congregation.  Mouner has also begun an online connection with other Syrian ministers around the world and the testimonies from other places are exciting and encouraging.  There are many testimonies of an amazing revival among Iranians and Kurdish peoples.   

Even in the challenges and struggles, Mouner and Hope Church see God at work amid the chaos of Covid. 

Makarios Evangelical Church  

Pastor Jessica of MEC is an innovator.  Like the rest of us, she has had to pivot and adapt multiple times in the past eleven months.  This new plant, launched in 2018 has been very intentional in both the spiritual formation of the community of believers who gather at MEC and in their mission field of international students who are housed and schooled right across the street from their church building location.   

Using social media, apps, zoom and other creative vehicles they are staying connected on a daily basis with one another and the students.  This is vital for the students, already isolated from home, culture and family and now isolated from activities and relationships they were beginning to build in this foreign land.  Meeting with the students via online can be challenging as they are already ‘online’ for all their classes, yet Makarios has found places that resonate with the students.  One of the practices the church has been doing all along is to cook dinner together with the students and then eat, fellowship and talk about life, school, family and faith.  Most of these students would be eating alone and this has been a very popular event for them. 

Now restricted to their dorms, they eat alone, so the church is now ‘eating’ with them via zoom.  Now that’s looking at your context, at the needs of your neighbourhood and finding a way to engage in spite of Covid! 

Emmanuel Iranian Church 

With Pastor Arash and Pastor Ali leading this growing, thriving community of Iranian people, discipleship is a key focus.  A large percentage of the congregation are new converts to Christ and with hundreds of baptisms since they launched in 2018, there is a LOT of discipleship happening every day (and night!). 

We’ve been celebrating the stories of new believers and baptisms since then.  One might wonder how this can continue during a time of gathering restrictions, yet Pastor Ali reports that lives are being transformed on a weekly basis.   

Many of us are experiencing congregants weary of zoom meetings (if they liked them at all) and disengaging with an online version of community.  Certainly, EIC has struggled with that as well, yet Pastor Arash said that lately more people are getting used to this new way of meeting and it’s now become ‘real’ to people.  In a recent evening prayer time, people reported, for the first time, experiencing the presence of the Spirit virtually connecting the participants spiritually and emotionally together!  There are even people coming to Christ on their zoom meetings, so new people are engaging with the community, sense the presence of the one true God and raise their hands to commit to Christ.   

EIC is currently praying and discerning another plant in the Surrey area of the lower mainland.  Many new immigrants settle there and their desire is to serve in that community in a multi-cultural context with both Farsi and English speaking services to serve and train 2nd and 3rd generation young people.   

Pray for and Celebrate Together  

These are incredible testimonies and a reminder that God is certainly at work amongst his churches despite any restrictions placed upon public gatherings.   We can choose to riff on all the barriers to ministry we are trying to navigate through, or we can allow our thinking and creativity to forge us into finding new rhythms and ways of being the people of God, called to be both salt to one another and light to those struggling in dark places.  Yes there are challenges and some of us are really struggling to find our way.  Let our stories of God-at-work among us shed some light into our own darkness and grant us encouragement to persevere through our trials. 

Pray for each other.  Pray for these new churches and for the churches in your area.  Pray for light to breakthrough in the least expected of places.  God has promised to never leave us nor forsake us and though it may seem like it some days, he has not done either but rather is stirring us up to join him in his work of bringing his kingdom come here on earth as it is (already) in heaven.    

Covid Opportunities

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January 26th 2021 CBWC Supported Webinar

By: Shannon Youell

Hello 2021!  We have entered our eleventh month of living in a Covid-19 world.  Eleven months ago, we as church leaders and congregations were scrambling to figure out how we continue to be missionally faithful presences in our neighbourhoods, encouraging and discipling our churches.  As we’ve tackled the challenges that have slammed into us, I am hearing stories of churches both adapting to the challenges and struggling with the challenges and changes.  Many are hanging on waiting for when things can go back to in person meeting so the church can carry on their practices of worship, prayer, discipleship and joining God in his mission.  Others are catalyzing the opportunities within Covid to rethink, reimagine and reorient their ecclesiology and asking good, hard and revealing questions. 

Many have become aware of things Covid is exposing in our lives, our relationships, our work and our worship and how it is accelerating what was already happening. Often what we see is not surprising, we knew it was lurking around us all along and we managed to keep it from breaking the surface, but there are also things exposed that surprised us as well.  The challenge, I believe, is to be open to the Spirit of God to work in the things exposed as opportunities rather than curses that lead us to discern how we are church both amid Covid and beyond.  

One such church is New Life Church in Duncan, BC.  I spoke with Pastor Ken Nettleton a few months ago about the shift this congregation is making in reidentifying themselves as a people on mission with God in their local neighbourhoods and beyond.  As Covid descended last March, the strategy they adopted is a three-fold model of:  House Church, Village Church, Cathedral Church.  Each is dependent on the others with the shared purpose to “train and equip Jesus’ followers in the mission they are on”.  This, of course, sounds like the mission statement of most churches.  But the delivery is different.  (for a brief overview of how each element connects to the whole click HERE  

Full disclosure:  New Life had already been working to reshape themselves, especially in the area of small groups.  Their experience with small groups is likely your experience – add-ons to Sunday Services viewed by many congregants as optional and consumeristic.  Ken and his leaders also conceded that while attendance was increasing and baptisms were happening, “measuring church health by attendance, buildings and cash” is the wrong metric.  Rather, church health is measured by engaging relationally with each other and asking, “important questions of ‘how are you following Jesus this week inwardly and outwardly – how is that going?’ and being really intentional about that.”  Shifting the metric meant also acknowledging that intentional committed discipleship happens primarily between Sundays, not on Sundays.  “We needed to structure Sundays to resource our House Churches instead of expecting committed Sunday attendance but optional small group attendance.  We wanted our people to eventually see their small group (House Church) as their most important community gathering.”      

So, New Life focused on small groups, renaming them House Churches, and is working on shifting them in people’s lives from optional ‘add-ons’ to the most important gathering of the week.  And thanks to Covid these House Churches have become right now the only community – where a small group of Jesus followers gather and are pastored by the House Church leader – a volunteer identified as someone called and willing to be equipped by the pastors to shepherd 8-15 people.  These House Churches begin with the youth group who are organized and led in such clusters and carry on into adult ages.   

Ed Stetzer, planter, missiologist and host of the New Church Podcast describes the differences in Episode 63.  He says that home groups are ministries of the church whereas house churches are churches:  they baptize and administer the Lord’s supper; they teach and preach for the purpose of deep, intentional, accountable disciple making; they have a mission.  Ken agrees, and again points out that Covid has created exactly this opportunity to reorganize, learn and grow.    

Ken also notes that house churches must look ‘outside’ themselves.  “They have to go out into this valley as 35 churches that are New Life, each having a specific mission in this valley – and the mission isn’t the same.  We should be having an impact all over this valley, working with non-churched people who are also committed to addressing issues of justice and mercy, and bringing Jesus with us as we do.”  

Again, it’ is important to point out that New Life had already committed to shift in this direction prior to Covid, and see this pandemic as an opportunity to accelerate what God was already up to in our Canadian culture.  “As I prayed about things, God impressed upon me that many of us have been asking Him to renew and revive His Church for a long time, and that we shouldn’t be surprised that the answer to our prayer would look like this.  “What were you expecting my refining fire to look like?” were words that burned into my heart, and I had to admit that God’s activity almost always brings external pressure and change.”   

 As 2021 unfolds and we are all hopeful that we will begin to see restrictions relax, New Life is bringing imagination and good questions as to how best to gather in the ‘Cathedral’.  As Ken explains, not all things work as well in House Church in a similar way that not all things work well in Cathedral.  That is why all three aspects of House Church, Village Church, and Cathedral are integral and necessary.  The strategy is to continue using the opportunities Covid has gifted us with as we wrestle with asking good questions and reimagining, through prayer and discernment, how God is shaping his church for the future.    

What opportunities are you seeing in your church community?  In what ways has the Spirit been encouraging you to reimagine being church?  What good questions are you asking yourself?  

Come join CBWC January 26th for a CBWC supported event for Pastors and their teams in an interactive webinar with Ken Nettleton, Cam Roxburgh and Tim Dickau and myself.  We will hear stories both ours and yours and have time to ask good questions together.     

 Details and Registration HERE 

Anchored Hope

By: Shannon Youell

As I write this article, it is snowing outside my window.  Big huge, wet flakes are plummeting to earth.  In only a few minutes everything begins to look a lot less green and a lot more white.  Of course, living in Victoria BC guarantees that this snow, especially in December, will be short lived.   

The snow causes me to pause and think about the elements that we consider necessary or even just enhancing for us to ‘feel Christmas’.  Bing Crosby’s classic lyric “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas” floats through my thoughts.  Perhaps for you it is the “stockings all hung by the chimney with care” or, “… in Whoville they say – that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day.”  There are all sorts of perspectives on what makes Christmas meaningful, on what ‘the true meaning of Christmas is’ and what each of us needs or wishes for to have a happy or merry one. 

 For us as Christ followers, we also look through the Advent lens of Hope, Peace, Love and Joy.  This year as I’ve been reflecting upon that lens and as I’ve spoken with many people struggling with the concepts of joy, peace and sadly even a sense of love, I realized how hard it is to hold on to them when we don’t have the anchor of hope holding us steady.  So often we try to manufacture peace, joy and love through all those things we ‘do’ and ‘create’ to make Christmas special, but in the end find ourselves celebrating the mediocrity of it all.   

Perhaps this was the sense of Zechariah as he carried out his priestly duties just as he’d spent his life doing, yet not seeing his own hopes of either a child of his own or the anticipated Hope of Israel.  Or of the shepherds, a social class of their own, huddling through yet another cold night watching dirty, stupid animals for little reward or hope of a better life.  I wonder whether, in the same-old-same-old cycle of hope deferred, they had lost any sense of peace or joy or love.  Without hope, can one even know or recognize the presence of the others?   

Yet.   

Yet when those same shepherds, chilled to the bone, resigned to their lot in life, saw those angels and hurried off to gaze upon the babe in a trough whose birth they announced, returned to their flocks, their whole countenance had changed.  They returned to the same mediocre life.  The same dirty sheep.  The same endless days and nights of poverty, marginalization, invisibility, disappointment that they’d always known, yet something had changed within them.  Luke tells us they returned ‘glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen”.  Hope had been enlivened within them.  Joy sprang forth from their hearts and lips and God’s love in his promises blanketed them with warmth, comfort and a sense of knowing all will be put right in the world again.   

Zechariah, too, gazing upon his own promised newborn, explodes in joy with prophesy and praise.  “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people.”  He uses the language of salvation, rescue, tender mercy, forgiveness of sins and light shining on those living in darkness and the shadow of death, of peace.   

For each of these, the meaning of Christmas is found not in the weather, the feast, the gifts, the celebrations or even in the religious rituals thick with their own meaning.  It is found in a promise fulfilled.  A gift already given.  A future already in motion.  For each, this single moment, this single gift, this single event embedded such hope within them they could not contain it.  They carried it with them wherever it went.  It lasted.  It didn’t melt away in short order like Victoria snow.  It sustained them as they returned to the mediocrity and reality of life in a broken world where once they knew only the absence and fleetingness of peace, joy and love.  Now, with this anchor of hope, it welled over into the lives of those they found themselves among. 

Today may be heralded as the longest night of the year – yet – it is only a night.  The dawn comes each day.  It is in the night, in the dimly lit places where we often most need to embrace hope, take hold of it to bring us encouragement, rest in our souls, peace in our spirits and love in our hearts.  As Paul writes in Hebrews 6, this hope is an anchor for our souls, firm and secure.  It tethers us to God and changes our expectations.  It focuses us to fix our eyes on the Christ and the promises of God that have been enacted through him and the celebration God’s ongoing action within the world he so loves.  

Whatever your Christmas is this year, let it be rich and thick with meaning that comes from the fullness of what God has accomplished, is still accomplishing and will be accomplishing through Christ our Lord.  May our hope be so anchored in him that we are enlivened with his peace, his joy, his love in whatever places, spaces and circumstances we find ourselves in.  In him we find the true meaning, hope, that springs praise upon our lips and gives witness to the goodness of God in the land.  Merry Christmas. 

Thrust into Darkness

By: Shannon Youell

Here I am, and the children the Lord has given me.  We are signs and symbols in Israel from the Lord Almighty, who dwells on Mount Zion.  When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God?  Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?  To the law and to the testimony!  If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.  Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God.  Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness, and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness.  Isaiah 8:18-22 

Just before Isaiah wrote the famous Advent words, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;”, he scribed the passage above.  He sets the context for what the world is like, where hope has waned, if not disappeared, where both the present and the future are painted as a bleak, gloomy fearfulness, where people curse and blame both their government and their god.  It all sounds so dismal, disturbed and pointless.  If one were to never go on to chapter 9, one would consider the calamities of the day as fatalistic and humanity as on the precipice of expiration. 

But, then, one has missed the beauty of what Isaiah is saying.  He first acknowledges that as far as it is up to him, he will wait for the Lord, he will put his trust in him (8:17) and then he echoes his words from chapter six, “Here I am.”  But he is not alone.  The people whom God has given him, the people of God with whom he journeys, are there with him.  And together they are “signs and symbols” from the Lord who dwells among them in the land. (8:18) 

Signs and symbols of hope when hope seems to have fled the hearts of people.  Signs and symbols of a light that pierces the fiercest darkness, saturating hearts with an unexplainable expectancy rising up in joy.   

The writings are a poetic reminder that we, the God believers, the disciples of Christ, are called to shine our light and not hide it under a bowl.  In that way we embody hope to the world.  

In one of the Advent Readers I am following this season, the writer wrote these words, “Hope holds steady, clinging to peace in the midst of chaos.”1 

This is powerful imagery in the reality of this particular Advent in 2020.  In a time when many are embodying fear, anxiety, despondency, cynicism, hopelessness and anger, Isaiah and the Gospel of God’s kingdom invites us to cling to peace in the midst of it all.  To be seekers of peace, joy and love.  To be the embodiment of the kind of hope that fosters hope to and towards the world.  God’s hope.  

It is our “God of hope” who enables us to “overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 15:13).  This reality isn’t true only in ‘good’ times; in fact, it is dark and difficult times when hope truly shows its mettle. 

Hope, God’s hope, disrupts the utter darkness we find ourselves plunged in.  It displaces it with “a great light” revealing the shadows we live in are only that, shadows.  They are dangerous, frightening, agonizing shadows that in the absence of God’s hope are bereft of any peace to cling to.  But with God, with Messiah, with this great light that has already dawned, when we embody the presence of God calm comes with us.   

In the midst of the chaos where suffering, grief and loss are so real, we, the people who call Jesus Lord and Savior, are to be signs and symbols of our God-With-Us.  His hope is with us when we can’t leave our homes and are lonely.  His hope is with us as we struggle with all the things that have been disrupted and displaced by this virus.  And the Gospel invites us to embody that hope for others, to be signs and symbols clinging to peace, and our very demeanor, language and gestures embodies a hope that is disruptive to shadows we find both ourselves and others living shrouded in as our world feels thrust into darkness. 

May each of us be signs and symbols of Disruptive Hope. Let us shine the light of dawn among our neighbours, our church families and our nation in humility and strength, love and grace, in this very different and modified Christmas Season. 

Hold steady. Cling to peace. Together we are signs and symbols of our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Shalom.

Remissioning: Grandma’s Church

By Shannon Youell

One of my favorite paintings is Van Gogh’s Starry Night. One of the ways this painting speaks to me is in the imagery of the village. It is night and the glory of God fills the skies. The church with its darkened windows rests in the middle of the village. But the lights burn bright in the windows of the homes in the neighbourhood. There, people gather around meals, prayer, conversation, thankfulness with family, with friends, with neighbours. This is what I think of as I read this quote exerted from today’s guest blogger of viewing one’s one’s “own neighbourhood as a fundamental Gospel building block.”

In this New Leaf Network Blog Post, author Rohadi picks up on some of the thinking of our previous blog post on Abundant Community and the Kingdom of God within neighbourhoods. Both these great posts were written pre-covid yet their relevance to the types of reflecting, processing, thinking and questioning the church is doing in the midst of our disrupted understanding of what it means to be the church is definitely worth asking yourself and your church some important questions about what God is saying to the church today, in times such as these.

This article by Rohadi was originally posted on the New Leaf Network Blog.

My grandma used to spend the odd Sunday strolling to service two blocks from her home. She lived during a time when everyone went to church, or in the very least knew the stories. Church was part of her routine, part of her neighbourhood, and a part of Canadian culture. The time when the majority of Canadians attended a church service is gone, but I think there’s something worthy to reclaim from grandma’s church from the ‘60s. Not for its assumed position of privilege, but the value of local parish ministry living out a story of “the best yet to come.” Despite current trends to centralize the church (strategizing to strengthen what you have versus planting something new), the presence of the local parish may be a critical key to revitalizing Christianity in post-Christian Canada.

I’m somewhat surprised how, despite facing profound loss as a whole, church leaders implement changes incrementally at a time when most are clamouring to find ways to reverse the exodus. Maybe it’s too little too late? The way leaders justify incrementalism is by picking the latest strategies and tactics that seem to be working for resilient churches somewhere else. If it works for them it should work for us, they’d say.

Evangelicals are beating declining national trends that are most evident in mainline denominations. Some even report very modest growth. Does a silver bullet lie within the function of evangelicalism? Depends what the goal is. If it’s to ensure a resilient church for Christians then yes. If it’s to “preach the Gospel to the lost,” then no.

Tips to Success
Want to lead a resilient and even growing church? Here’s what you need: strengthen programming to young families, ensure strong culturally relevant preaching, have exceptional music, maybe strong programs to baby boomers as well. This is a gross oversimplification, but if you can deliver programming with effectiveness, you’re going to hold your own, and attract the already churched. But in terms of conversion growth, that requires different expertise.

The Naked Emperor
As a whole, evangelical growth occurs via very specific sources. When we consult the data, over the past twenty years churches that add members do so through three primary and almost exclusive ways.

  1. New births.
  2. Christian immigrants.
  3. Christians switching churches.

The best resourced churches “grow” because they can afford robust programming for new immigrants; are the largest and by default have the most births; and have the best music and preaching that attracts the quintessential consumer Christian. Not on the list of three? Evangelicals struggle to grow by evangelism. In their book, A Culture of Faith, Sam Reimer and Michael Wilkinson asked congregants in evangelical churches what they thought the highest priorities in their churches were–evangelism was one of the lowest. Despite the moniker, evangelical churches don’t grow by evangelism. Even the best resourced churches struggle to connect with a post-Christendom culture where fewer hold any religious memory of the bygone church/Christian dominated Canada.

Where do we go from here?

First off, we need to shift our theological paradigm of mission. This change is both critical yet difficult to adopt. Rather than mission being a program or support for professional missionaries somewhere ‘out there in the world’, can we re-orient mission to the forefront? Can mission become the defining filter for the entire function of the church here in Canada? The implications of shifting the paradigm of mission will alter your perceptions from a church devoted to Christians for Christians, to one that re-values a participating church in the restoration of neighbourhoods for the benefit of all (as fundamental identity and not mere outreach ministry).

Challenging old paradigms of mission (some would adopt language like ‘missional’) will require more than casual lip-service. Modelling is a necessary step to take ideas beyond planning. It will mean some discomfort as we alter the things we devote the majority of our resources to—namely the Sunday service(s) and programs—so they reflect missional orientation. For example, it is difficult to claim ‘priesthood of all believers’ or encourage congregational participation in the unfolding mission of God if our gatherings are exclusively run by the qualified clergy and staff. Upsetting the rhythm of our most cherished institution (the service) won’t be easy. On one hand it is expected that staff will do most of the work because they are paid, on the other, this expectation detracts from the development of congregations out of a consumer mentality of participation. Ultimately, consumer churches are not missional churches.

Secondly, once a paradigm of mission has been established (or unrolling) leaders will seek to implement strategic direction to increase participation. One of the ways to ‘cheat’ in this process is to look at the bright spots already unfolding within your congregation, and outside in your immediate neighbourhood. You may be surprised with what people are already doing on their own accord. On average, most people will wait to join some kind of ministry the church starts. Look for the anomalies who are already living out the character of Jesus in their space and place without permission from the church. Develop these people, partner with them, and send them resources.

Thirdly, connect people based on geography. The power of the neighbourhood, of presence and proximity, cannot be replicated because it is the very foundation of incarnation—of the Word made flesh whom moved into the neighbourhood. I’ve had conversations with mega-church pastors who legitimized commuting as an asset because driving 25 minutes to a small group demonstrated deep commitment. That might be true, but it utterly devalues the neighbourhood. Jesus literally meant, love thy literal neighbour, literally next door. Literally. Combining people based on postal code is a powerful tool to create groups that are centered in the same place and ready to live out the character of Jesus where they live with people they love. I can’t think of a better pursuit for ‘small groups’. This idea, however, requires the church to process idea #1, and indeed value its very own neighbourhood as a fundamental Gospel building block.

Admittedly, the paradigm shift towards a lens of mission is not an easy one to adopt. Encouraging entrenched churches to revalue proximity over commuting may be met with stiff opposition. Suggesting the resources committed for years (decades) don’t work is a tough pill to swallow especially for those who’ve spent most of that time planted in Christian culture. (It’s tough to see the world with different eyes when you’ve been inside the church the whole time.) Disrupting status quo isn’t supposed to be easy. The caveat is, over time, you will develop and attract focused people who will call an incarnational vision their own, and will give their lives towards it. Ultimately, that’s what we hope for: a community of witnesses on jealous pursuit of an unfolding love story in their neighbourhoods and beyond.

Abundant Community and the Kingdom of God

By: Shannon Youell with Karen Wilk

One of the key questions I believe the church should be asking during this time is “What are the opportunities God is opening up to us the church when our normalized ways of gathering as communities has been disrupted and evangelism seems paralyzed because of social distancing?

Many thoughtful, prayerful and reflective followers of Jesus are asking this, and through listening and discernment, are seeking to discover and participate in what the Spirit is up to in their neighbourhoods. They’re wondering if perhaps God is inviting God’s people to again be rooted in the local places where the Spirit has placed them to live, work, play and pray.  They’re wondering if this might be the way for the church to learn both to navigate the current crisis as well as the ever- changing landscape of our world in a post-pandemic, post-modern (or some say post-post-modern), post-Christian world.

Today we share with you a post by Karen Wilk who is a National Team Member for Forge Canada Missional Training Network, and a Missional Leader Developer for the Resonate Global Mission.  When Karen wrote this article it was pre-covid.  Recently CBWC Church Planting asked her to look at her article again against the backdrop of this shifted world we’re finding ourselves in, and share any new insights of engaging and living in a neighbourhood for the work of the Kingdom of God.  Karen’s response was there isn’t much she’d change even looking through our current lens.

That says a lot to me!  At a time when so many are feeling the void of community across the spectrum of whatever community may be for us, Karen is confident that community embedded in neighbourhoods is resilient to still flourish even during the strangest of circumstances and times.

This article by Karen Wilk was originally published on Forge Canada’s blog.

Lately, I have been learning a lot about what it means to be a healthy or abundant community and the importance of community for personal and communal well-being. How do you imagine an abundant, vibrant, healthy or competent – as some experts call it – community?

mathyas-kurmann-102977-unsplash.jpg

I suspect many of us have nostalgic memories of neighbourhood.  For example, at a recent gathering numerous participants told stories about growing up on a street where, as kids, they roamed freely to the playground, to the corner store; where they ventured in and out of each other’s homes, played ‘hide and seek’ or ‘kick the can’ at night; never locking their doors and so on… One block connector told the story of how the neighbours would often say, when he got out of hand (which, from the sounds of it was quite often), ‘Remember, I know your Mom, now behave yourself!’  Now, they lamented, kids can’t even go to the playground half a block away on their own, and ‘the village’ isn’t ‘raising the child.’

We don’t even know the parents! We try to keep others out, rather than make connections with those around us.  We have somehow come to believe that our communal responsibility for the health, security, education, environment, economy, and vulnerable in our communities belongs to, or is better maintained and sustained by, social services, government agencies and/or the professionals.

What if a vibrant community is one which includes every resident and recognizes the abundance and care in its midst – the gifted people next door, the wise seniors a few houses down, the carpenter, electrician on the block one over, the gardener, the bicycle fanatic, the teen willing to shovel snow, the empty nesters willing to help the young parents on the other side of the alley…?

Sociologists and numerous studies are saying that neighbourhood community is the most effective means of addressing at least seven essentials that lead to personal and communal well-being and thus, an abundant community – an abundant community that, from the perspective of the Christian faith, reflects God’s Kingdom of Shalom, the Triune Communion of our God.

We all yearn – creation groans – for this kind of place: a place where we all belong, where all feel safe and secure, where all can grow and flourish, are cared for, work for the common good. In this kind of community, all contributions are welcomed and employed and the primary practice of inclusive hospitality pervades.

Perhaps an abundant community is exactly what God had in mind when he instructed the people of Israel through the prophet Jeremiah to seek the peace and the well-being of the city (29:4-7). Perhaps, the church – struggling to discern her role in post-modern post-Christendom – might begin to discern what God is up to by seeking to discover and join the Spirit on God’s mission in the neighbourhoods where He has sent her to remain.

Our society’s growing understanding of the significance of community seems to resonate with this text.  I think Jeremiah speaks a word not only to the people of God in Jeremiah’s day but in ours.  Both are called to nurture abundant communities!  We too are asked to seek the welfare and prosperity of the place God has sent us – to settle in, to stay, have families and gardens and do life together with our neighbours; to be faithfully present right where God has sent us and thereby declare that the Kingdom of God has come near!