Ministry and Marriage: Authentic and Fulfilling

By Randy Hamm

My colleague was burning out. Ministry had been his life, with countless hours poured into the lives of others. He had a powerful and effective ministry, serving so many alongside his ministry-minded wife. What I didn’t realize was that the ministry wasn’t all he was burning out of. Their marriage was also dead.

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This probably isn’t the first time you’ve heard a story like this. It wasn’t my first time either. Though it was a lot closer to me this time. Close enough that I might have been able to speak into the situation and offer the everlasting life that Jesus proclaims for us.

If I could go back, what would I say?

What could they do differently as they started into ministry?

What is needed for a marriage to thrive in the midst of ministry?

First thing I’d say is this: Conflict is a Gift

When I asked a group of workshop participants what the difference between an authentic marriage and a Christian marriage was, I received some interesting answers. The temptation we, especially pastors, fall into is to believe that a Christian marriage is one with minimal conflict, close to perfect intimacy (spiritual, physical and emotional) and abounding in selfless love. We are all on a journey toward these ideals. Though we have to admit, even as Christians, we are not near as far along that journey as we’d like to be.

When we said our vows, we really had no idea what challenges would lie ahead as we wrestled with the tensions of joy and struggle as we seek to live and love authentically.

Mike Mason, in The Mystery of Marriage, says “To keep a vow means not to keep from breaking it, but rather to devote the rest of one’s life to discovering what the vow means, and to be willing to change and to grow accordingly.”

If we are willing to say, “wow, I’m not getting this marriage thing right, I have a lot to learn,” two things happen.

  1. We offer an incredible gift to our churches. As they struggle with their marriages, they no longer feel alone. They realize that even the pastor and their spouse have these struggles and need to rely on God. In my work with couples, I’ll mention something that I learned when we saw our counselor recently and they will stop me confused: “Wait, aren’t you the one we are learning from?”

    And I’ll respond, “aren’t you glad that I’m continuing to learn too?” If we can learn to live humbly before our congregations, what an example  we offer them. Instead of perpetuating the lie that they too can have the perfect marriage like we do, we can offer them a much more realistic view of marriage.

  2. When we are humble, we truly rely on God and are willing to learn, change and grow. If we can get past the lie that we don’t need help, that we shouldn’t need help, then we can actually get the help we need. We can turn a good marriage into a great marriage. We can face hidden conflict with the help of a district supervisor or counselor. We can ask for prayer from our deacons and friends. We can request to go on a marriage retreat. And more than anything, we can talk with our spouses about the reality of our marriage and seek God’s wholeness together.

Psychologist and author Dr. John Gottman has learned that 69% of the conflict we experience in marriage is perpetual. The majority of differences originating from our family of origin, personality and preferences cannot be merely resolved. We must learn to love each other in the midst of these particular tensions and conflicts, mutually submitting as Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:21. Though this research can initially cause much frustration and discouragement, in the end it leads to freedom, growth and joy. We no longer have to strive for that perfect conflict free marriage, but can learn instead what God is doing in us through it.

This leads me to the second thing I’d suggest: Don’t Expect Your Spouse to Make You Happy

I love officiating weddings. The highlight of every wedding is when the couple offers vows to each other. Unfortunately, more often than not, couples are commenting on how the other fulfills them or offering to fulfill the other. We often fall into the trap that this person will be the one who fills up the emptiness within us. When they inevitably do not, we are confused, hurt, frustrated and can get quite angry.

As a child, I remember watching the film Love is a Decision by Smalley and Trent (also a great book). The image of a cup with water being poured into it came on the screen. They teach how we can often look to our spouse as the one to fill our cup. Yet, through their little or big actions and lack of fulfilling our expectations, they often end up drilling holes in our cup. They go on to talk about our hope that kids will fill us up. Of course, they can drill even bigger holes.

My people have committed a compound sin:
they’ve walked out on me, the fountain
Of fresh flowing waters, and then dug cisterns—
cisterns that leak, cisterns that are no better than sieves (Jeremiah 2:13)

I’m not encouraging you to call your marriage a broken cistern, not on a date night anyway! But remember that there is only One who truly fills us. God calls us to live an authentic life of seeking that fulfillment in Him. Of course, that could mean some hard honesty here as well, admitting that we are dry, confused, empty and asking for help. I’ve found that having a Spiritual Director helps so much: one who encourages me to look at what God is doing through all areas of my life. The more we learn to receive our identity and love from the One who can truly give it to us, the more we can offer that to the one we love, instead of expecting it from them.

Finally, See All of Your Marriage as a Gift From God

Of course, we all believed this when we got married. That was when we were overjoyed that this person loved ME! Tim Keller tells us, “The reason you get a thrill, it’s your ego. Someone I like is responding to me. That’s not love. It’s ego….When someone you admire, admires you, the praise of the praiseworthy is the most satisfying of all. It’s sexy.”

I’m sure that you still see your spouse as a gift to some degree, but perhaps some of what they offer you’d rather not receive. Perhaps some of that sexiness has worn off.

There is a wonderful complexity to marriage that is often messy and confusing. We see our spouse as a gift to us but do not realize that this gift includes disappointment, frustration and hurt. If we are to truly live a fulfilled life, we need to learn to receive the gift of journeying alongside someone who is fallible, broken and learning to love. In the midst of our shared hurts and failed expectations, we may find that we are also accepting each other as we are, and learning to love without the conditions we first brought to our marriage. This not only mirrors God’s love for us (true covenant), but it enables us to become more like God, to be more whole and holy.

How the two of you work together in ministry will often include balancing out your own weaknesses with the other’s strengths. Of course, we must be willing to admit them first. In no other relationship do we have the pressure of being with someone 24/7. We thought that was the gift of continual loving companionship and support, and though we do receive that, we also come up against the frustration of our egos, when we are not loved the way we think we should be. In ministry this can even be worse, when they are not supporting us like we think they should. If we are open to see what God is doing in us through that frustration, we might be able to see what God is truly doing in our spouse.

This work is deep, but can be done in us through the gift of our marriage, if we are only willing to receive it. As Gary Thomas, author of Sacred Marriage, likes to say, “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?”

Expecting Conflict, Not Expecting Our Spouse to Make Us Happy , and Seeing Our Marriage as a Gift From God, will enable us to continue in ministry as an authentic partnership with our spouse. Yes, I do believe these tools are helpful in saving marriages, as well as thriving in sustainable ministry. Much more than that, I believe that viewing our marriages this way opens us up to God’s wholeness in amazing ways and allows us to live out the Kingdom of God more fully.

The Bible doesn’t say “plant churches” ?!?

By Shannon Youell

“The Bible does not tell us to plant churches.”

Say What?
If you read this quote and–confused–scrolled up to indeed verify you are on the Church Planting Blog, have no fear. You are! If we look at the thing Jesus commissioned His newly minted Church, His “ekklesia” to do, it was disciplemaking, not church planting.

The above statement from J.D. Payne’s book Apostolic Church Planting, continues thus:

“Throughout the Bible, we read of the birth of churches–after disciples are made. Biblical church planting is evangelism that results in new churches. Another way to consider this concept is that it is evangelism that results in new disciples, who then gather together and self-identify as the local expression of the universal body of Christ. Churches are supposed to be birthed from disciple making.” ( p.17-18).

Though I may be totally wrong, I suspect that there would be little disagreement with Payne’s statement; “biblical church planting is evangelism that results in new churches.” And I am equally as certain that most of us would say a hearty “amen” that churches are “to be birthed from disciple making.” But what may get some pushback is in the defining of what is disciple making.

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Defining a Disciple
Often, we define a disciple as one who has decided to convert to Christianity by confessing their sins past and by professing their faith in Jesus as Saviour and Lord of their lives for their futures. That is certainly the crucial initial step to being a disciple and we should more accurately say that person had a conversion experience that brought them into saving knowledge of Jesus.

There seemed to be many of those folk woven into the gospel stories. People who encountered Jesus, recognized Jesus as Saviour Messiah, perhaps experienced dramatic healing and/or deliverance through that encounter and professed Him as from God, the Son of Man, the One who saves. Paul addresses several of these groups when he is consternated that they are still infants needing milk when they should have been matured to chew on meat. They are converts but not necessarily disciples.

In the gospels, we see a disciple of Jesus as someone who was taught all about Jesus and then lived it out; disciples obey everything they are taught. Jesus schooled them to be disciple-makers. And the task He gave them was to be disciple-makers who make disciple-makers who make disciple-makers. And as more disciple-makers were made, communities were formed, churches were birthed.

An Upward Spiral in the Grand Story
This model is one that assembled people together to be gospeled–to hear and celebrate and remember the Grand Story together–as the telos, the goal of the Story. The commission was towards the telos of becoming disciples so that we could make disciples who tell and enliven the Grand Story to those who have not yet heard or entered into the Story. And the upward spiral continues over and over and over again.

The outflow or result of following what Jesus called the early disciples to do was that, out of necessity, new communities were required to accommodate and facilitate the new disciples who were now being trained to become disciple-makers. And once a week or more, those new local communities would gather to hear, to celebrate, to remember the richness of the Grand Story, the glory and goodness of God who so loved the world He entered into human form to capture our hearts to love the world the way He does. A circular mission of disciples making disciples who gather in local neighborhoods to make more disciples.

So to go back to Payne’s quote, we see that telling the people we encounter in our lives the Grand Story and inviting them to see themselves into the Story and showing them the entrance point, creates a need for new churches to disciple them so that they can tell their story to others.

“… church planting is evangelism that results in new churches.”

 The conclusion we can draw from that is that church planting is something disciples of Jesus do. So what does that mean for you, for us? Let’s explore that next.

Seven-Day Missional Living

By Cid Latty, Congregational Development Associate for the Canadian Baptists of Ontario and Quebec

Everyone seems to be telling us to be more mission minded but few give us practical ways to do it in the midst of our busy lives. This week, why not try the Missional Challenge? We have based it on a monastic weekly schedule that includes prayer, scripture, manual labour, service and hospitality. Our prayer this week is that together we might “live up to what we have attained” in Christ (Philippians 3:16).

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Day 1—Start the week with God

To spend time with God is not a waste of time but the fuel for our missional activity. Spend time with God in a way that may be new to you today. You could search for a scripture, poem, hymn or sacred song to give focus. Take a walk and pray as you worship God.

Day 2—Live simply

Give away something that is valuable to you. Other ideas: pay for someone’s cup of coffee, get the next person’s food, gas, etc.

Day 3—Service

Recall what inspired you to become a Christian. Give the people who come to mind a call or send an email to say thank you. Look to serve someone today in what we might call the mundane things of life. Who do you know who needs Jesus? Spend time with them today. Pray for an opportunity to share faith with them.

Day 4—Believe

We have been taught to say ‘In Christ’ but rarely have we been taught to say ‘I can,’ Let us memorize the whole verse today: ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’ Philippians 4:13.

Day 5—Hospitality

Send a friend or family member a word of encouragement today. Make or buy cakes to leave in the kitchen at work for people to take for free. Find a way to offer your skill set today. Take someone for lunch or find a way to use your home to host someone you know. Intentionally speak words of encouragement today.

Day 6—Love

Ask God to show you someone you can be a person of peace towards. Find a food bank that you can serve in some way.

Day 7—Pray for the world

Take one issue from the news today and pray about it. Remember to pray for those who are being persecuted. For more details about praying for the persecuted church see www.idop.ca.

See also CBM prayer line:

http://www.cbmin.org/prayerline

If you take Cid up on his Missional Challenge, let us know how it goes! What did God teach you? What did you see?

Book Review: The Barbarian Way

Mark Archibald reviews Erwin McManus, The Barbarian Way, Community and Worship (Nelson Books, 2005).

Most of us need to read this book.

For many of us, our experiences with church and faith can be defined by the word “safe”. In The Barbarian Way, Erwin McManus pushes us away from safety and domestication to a life of wild trust and abandon.

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Much of this writing is based on the life, ministry, doubts and faith of John the Baptist. McManus is present-day John the Baptist in writing us this book. McManus lives like the barbarians he describes in this book.  He lives on the moment, on the edge, and experimentally.

In a romanticized mindset, I wish that I, too, could live like McManus. I know, however, that that’s not me. I know anytime I have tried to live in the manner that McManus describes from his own life, the results have been reckless and more destructive than helpful. If I pattern my life after McManus, the results will be at best inconsistent; at worst divisive and damaging.

This will be the biggest barrier for people reading this book – reading the examples from Erwin’s life and saying, “I can’t possibly do that”. There will be those of us who will read parts of this book – the time he gave his son permission to jump off their roof, for example – and throw out the entire message.

Avoid this temptation! Erwin McManus is the John the Baptist voice that most of us need to heed and hear. While we may not live in the manner he emulates, most of us need to take those steps away from the security that is predictable religion, and step towards the Jesus that taught unsafe, uncommon, unreligious things. This book is the voice in the wilderness we need to hear.

This short book is an easy-to-read 141 pages, but it is at the same time a difficult read. Difficult because it hits close to home for those of us who have let faith become too tame and too safe. These words were a punch in the gut on page 59:

Jesus lived in a time when Judaism had been domesticated, institutionalized, and civilized; it was only a hollow shell of what God intended. John didn’t fit into the organized religion of his time because God didn’t fit either. Jesus Himself, the Messiah of Israel, remained an outsider even to His death.

We are left with the haunting question: have I/we made Jesus an outsider of the faith He founded?

Amazingly, this safety we think that will just make us complacent does far more than that – it actually makes us hostile to God. “We discover the painful reality that even God’s people, when we become civilized, are more than willing to crucify God. When we choose a civilized faith, God becomes, at the very least, an irritant and, at worst, an enemy to our faith.” (p. 112)

Erwin reminds us that when we make church and Jesus too safe, we drive away the best and brightest among us. “This may be the most extraordinary mark of the Spirit of God within the heart of humanity: the freedom to live out dreams greater than ourselves. Yet if we were honest with ourselves, the church would be the last place most people would go to have their dreams nurtured, developed and unleashed”. (p.102) Ouch.

As much as most of us need to read this book, and as much as most of us need this John-the-Baptist-styled kick in the rear end, there are probably those of us out there who should not read this book. People that already tend toward chaos, recklessness and extreme spontaneity don’t need this fuel added to their barely-contained fire. There are people that I know to whom I would say “This book is not for you” based on their current practice of faith.

However, to those already-barbarians McManus does offer this easy-to-miss yet vital principle: “One barbarian wandering through civilization can be discarded as nothing more than an oddity. But when members of the barbarian tribe line up across the battlefield, side by side, something amazing begins to happen…Whenever barbarians of Christ pass through civilization, the oppressed and forgotten are soon found dancing in the streets.” (p.134) We have all seen solo barbarians create havoc, thinking they are doing good. But barbarians running side by side together? That may be a sight many of us have yet to see. May we see it soon and see it often.

The encouragement is clear from The Barbarian Way: step away from the complacency and safety we trend towards and truly abandon yourselves to the Kingdom of God. The warning is even clearer: “Two thousand years ago God started a revolt against the religion he started. So don’t ever put it past God to cause a groundswell movement against churches and Christian institutions that bear His name.” (p. 114)

Mark Archibald
Pastor of Spiritual Formation
First Baptist Church, Lethbridge AB

Re-Lent

By Joell Haugan

Again we find ourselves immersed in the Lent season where we set aside something (often time, or fasting of various types) and replace it with some directed meditation in preparation of Good Friday and Easter. It is a powerful yearly spiritual exercise that is often lost on evangelicals—myself included.

Then I thought about the word “relent” and wondered if there was a connection of some kind. Turns out the root word is different, but that doesn’t prevent me from making a connection anyway!

Relent, of course, means to give in and become less aggressive while conceding the point. So, in an argument, the person who relents is the one who finally says “OK, you are right, I give up.” In a March storm (which all of Canada seems to be getting) the wind finally relents, stops and is replaced by placid (and often beautiful) calm.

Obviously, Christians often need to relent with God and concede to Him the point (whatever it may be). We often need to drop our defensive, aggressive stance of stubbornness and let God be in charge of life….again and again.

I often wonder if churches need to relent too. I wonder if the Holy Spirit is actually prompting churches, attempting to get us to see the harvest right in our own neighbourhoods instead of ignoring those very people that God has plopped us in the middle of. Prompting us to become churches that participate in Kingdom tasks beyond our own siloed (only our little group) jobs. Prompting churches to express God’s love in concrete ways in our cities/towns/areas instead of just assuming they will “get it.” And perhaps He’s prompting our churches to multiplying our ministries to new towns and new neighbourhoods instead of us trying get more people to drive further to our one location.

What is God trying to say to you? To your particular gathering of the saints which we call Church?

Maybe this Lent we can relent to God’s prompting in our personal and our corporate church lives.

Joell.

From Door to Core: The Accelerated Track of Kitchen-Sink Discipleship

This story is courtesy of our friends at Forge Canada Missional Training Network.

By Dennis Gulley.

“So are you angry at God?”

This question seemed a bit odd to ask, as this was the first time Donavin and I had spoken one-on-one without others around. I had met Donavin some months before, when my wife Joanne and I, along with a few others from our Leduc Fellowship Church community, signed up for his Fitness Boot Camp at our local recreation center.

We had spent every Wednesday night and Saturday morning with him, and we quickly became fond of Donavin despite the pain we endured at his hands each week. He was a very energetic and charismatic young man.

We soon become aware of the fact that Donavin’s step-father Darcy was dying from brain cancer. It was not long after Darcy passed away that I stood at my kitchen sink washing dishes with Donavin.

Joanne had discovered that Donavin was in his last year of university in preparation to be a teacher. With that bit of knowledge, Joanne decided that Donavin might like to help her with a mystery dinner she was putting on for the grade 5 and 6 students at our church. Donavin was very happy to help us with this event, and that gave me the opportunity for our first heart-to- heart conversation.
kitchen sink with dishes CCSA Barbara Wells
As we washed the dishes, I could feel the heaviness in his heart. I had never had a spiritual conversation with Donavin, but I felt the tug of the Holy Spirit to ask him if he was mad at God.  After I had asked the very pointed question, Donavin ceased scrubbing the pot in his hand and stood silently.  After moments of silence, he asked, “is it ok if I am?” I responded by stating that it was ok, and that God could handle his anger and doubt, but I let him know that the bigger question was what he was going to do with his anger and questions.

Over the next months, Donavin and I would meet often and share our stories with each other.  He became a part of our family, an older brother to my daughters and a regular fixture at the dinner table. He quickly became active in our circle of friends.

After a few months of hanging with us, Donavin decided to join us for one of our church services. I always told him he was welcome, but that there was no pressure to attend. When Donavin walked into the building, he was immediately overwhelmed by the number of people he already knew in our church family.

There were people from his fitness classes and friends of ours that he had met in our home.  Then he looked at me and yelled, “Hey that’s my Grandmother, and that’s my aunt and uncle.”  There were many members of Donavin’s step-mother’s family that are a part of our community at Fellowship.

I had long held a belief that discipleship should take place more in our living rooms, at our dining room tables, and at our kitchen sink than in the rows of a classroom at our church. Donavin’s discipleship in Christ had begun long before he entered the church, and through relationships in the everyday path of life, he was assimilated into our community before he ever walked through the doors of the building or attended a single worship service. This was a true tipping point in my personal calling of missional living and for the calling of our Fellowship family.

This relationship was the catalyst that I needed to help our community at Fellowship live out their God-given calling.  Our church had begun as an “unintentional church plant” 16 years before my arrival as the pastor. The church was founded by a group that had gone through a church split, and as they began this new work, the greatest desire was to be a congregation where people were free to reach out beyond the walls of the church. The missional DNA was there from the beginning, but they suffered—as I had—growing up with an old paradigm, outdated methods, and an unhealthy inward focus.

Over the last eight years, we as leaders at Fellowship have worked steadily at giving our people a renewed language around missional living. We have sought to help them express a clearer understanding of what it means to be on mission with God.

We have also given them permission to be on mission with God away from the church. We want them to know the freedom of being about the work of the Kingdom in the neighbourhood, the workplace, the school, the locker room and the other second and third places of life.

To provide this freedom, we have had to create space: space in people’s calendars so they may be given back to the spaces where God has planted them. So we have become very thin on programs, and have encouraged our Fellowship family to truly “love their neighbours as themselves.” We wanted to feel free to love, not win people; to bless the community, not just the saints; and to prioritize relationships over programs.

This transition to more missional living, though I believe it was in the DNA of Fellowship all along, has been slow but steady. Over the last eight years, we have seen great growth and progress in the lives of so many as we have sought to change the lifestyles of individuals and families more than create new or more programs.

This last year we have seen the community as a whole reaching a marvellous tipping point. For the first time we can say that the majority of people joining our church community do so because they had a connection with someone or a group of people in our church.

When someone, like Donavin, is loved by a part of our Fellowship family before they arrive on the scene, the process of assimilation is a piece of cake. They are assimilated before they get here, and on top of that retention of these individuals and families is off the chart. They stick with us, add to our family and walk the road of discipleship with us.

We have found in these situations that the amount of time from when someone walks through the doors of our church for the first time until they are feeling and functioning as a core part of our community is cut down by about 75%. They arrive feeling connected and they quickly join us on our mission to care for one another and our greater community. They are getting involved in discipleship, seeking to be baptized and looking to be on mission with Christ at astoundingly fast rates.

The story of how my relationship developed with Donavin has become indicative of how the members of Fellowship approach their neighbours and friends.  It was my joy to baptize Donavin the Easter after we met, and to meet with him regularly as we mutually encourage one another in our walk with Christ.

Dennis Gulley is Lead Teaching Pastor at Leduc Fellowship Church. Dennis has served as the Regional Director of Student Ministries with the Alberta Baptist Association and as Associate Pastor of Bethany Baptist Church in Portland. Dennis holds a Bachelor’s Degree in English a Master’s of Art in Educational Ministries. Dennis and his wife Joanne are blessed with five daughters and two sons-in-law.

Mission in Your Neighbourhood

By Shannon Youell

The last weekend in January found Cailey, Faye Reynolds, Sherry Bennett, Ike Agawin and myself doing something we’ve not done before:  (wo)manning a booth at Missions Fest 2017 in Vancouver.

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With our theme of “Join us on mission in your neighbourhood” and our new engagement cards in hand, we handed out copious amounts of candy, CBWC pens and lip balms (very popular by the way!) and fielded all sorts of questions and remarks. Unremarkably, most of the questions had nothing to do with what we were promoting. In fact, many who stopped at our booth couldn’t quite make the connection between “mission” and “in your neighbourhood.”  One man peering at our banner argued that “it’s not mission if it’s not in another country.”

This was surprising to me, inasmuch as Jesus called us to be on mission both where we live, in our city, in our nation and to all the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).  I wonder how it is that many see missions as only in a foreign land, far away from where we are. My cynical side says it’s because when mission is seen as far away, we can stay comfortably home and support others to go–which, of course, we should be supporting! But using it as an opt-out to be a minister right here of Christ’s work of reconciling man to God and to one another, is a travesty.

But, I think it is more likely that because we’ve grown up into a culture of Christendom, we still consider our land, our city, our neighbours as already gospeled merely by where we live. Yet the times we live in, as I said to a pastor in India while I was teaching there, reflect that North America actually needs missionaries to come here from those far-off lands that we’ve been missioning for centuries. Canada needs to be re-gospeled!

Of course, I was being facetious, as in fact, God has called and placed missionaries all around our land.  In all likelihood, if you are reading this, then you are one of them.

There were also the ones who stopped at our booth who were excited to talk about mission in our neighbourhoods.  Those were, of course, the best conversations.  The most memorable, at least for me, was a conversation Cailey had with two ten-year-olds.  They, too, stopped and were perplexed about our banner, but once Cailey explained to them what joining God on mission in neighbourhoods is, they got it!  I’ll let her convey their reaction…

After the youth rally one night, some grade 5 boys came up to my booth–pockets pull of pens, cheeks full of chocolate from other booths.

Kids: “So what is your ministry all about?”

Cailey: “In my job, we help people in Western Canada start new churches, and one of the ways we do that is by helping them love their neighbours, so that their neighbours come to Jesus. I believe that we are all missionaries where we live—in our neighbourhoods, our schools, and even our soccer teams.”

Kids: “I can be a missionary right now?”

Cailey: “Absolutely! You are a missionary. In what ways do you guys think you could be missionaries in your neighbourhoods?”

Kids: “Well, we could love our neighbours—like, be nice to them, and play with them. Or tell them Jesus loves them.”

Cailey: “See? You’re already a missionary.”

Kids: “Cool! What’s your biggest dream?”

At which point I scratched my head, wondering who had raised these boys to ask such deep questions!

Cailey: “My dream is that people in all of our churches in Western Canada would see themselves as missionaries, and as God uses them to bring their neighbours to Jesus, more and more churches will be born. Then, the new Christians would start doing the same thing: loving their neighbours and telling them about Jesus.”

Kids: “Wow. If everyone in Vancouver did that, and then Canada, and then America…we could infect the whole world!”

So of course, I pulled out a copy of Ed Stetzer’s Viral Churches for the boys to peruse…ok maybe not, but I was so thrilled to see these young men catching the vision and call of Jesus for us to be disciple-making disciples.

Mostly, what MissionsFest revealed to us is that there is still so much work to do as leaders. We must disciple others to understand the calling of Jesus to join Him at His work of delivering justice, mercy, hope, grace, salvation, and love to those whom these things have not yet been realized.  To remind us that right next door to us—whether next door means our homes, our seat on our commute, our work place or where we hang out—there are people who are lost in the lost-ness of identity without Christ. Wherever we are, we are the one to help them find God.

God is a missionary God and He sends. He sent Abraham on mission. He sent the prophets. He sent John.  He sent Jesus. He sent the disciples. He sent Paul. He sent Barnabas. He sends you and He sends me.  On mission. In our neighbourhoods.

 

Book Review: Intergenerational Christian Formation

Mark Archibald reviews Holly Catterton Allen and Christine Lawton Ross, Intergenerational Christian Formation: Bringing the Whole Church Together in Ministry, Community and Worship (Intervarsity Press, 2012).

Full disclosure: it took me over a year to get through this book.

After the first 50 or so pages, I had a hard time connecting with the material. Perhaps it was all of the presented justifications for intergenerational ministry that set me back. I know we need intergenerational ministry. I know it’s biblical. I know we’re a far way off from where we need to be as holistic, intergenerational churches.

But there are significant rewards for those who persevere past the first 50 pages!

This book is dense—but that is not a bad thing. It is armed with the backing of extensive practical theology, studies and surveys both secular and faith based, developmental theory, generational theory; it is well supported and informed by an impressive amount of research by Allen and Ross.

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Don’t let the intellectuality of the book turn you off. Allen and Ross summarize all of the research in a very practical, concise, readable and vision-driven manner. The book is divided into reasonably sized chapters with even shorter sections within those chapters. It’s an easy book to set down and pick up again without having to retrace your steps. It’s perfect for on-the-go reading in your ministry life.

Part way through the book, the vision of intergenerational ministry presented will persuade you that any approach outside of intergenerational ministry sets our vision for church very low.  You’ll be compelled to get on board with intergenerational ministry, despite the significant challenges of an intergenerational approach.

Segregated generational ministry is much easier to do—but intergenerational ministry is far more enduring.

As much as this is a highly academic work, it is incredibly practical.  The Appendix “Forty Intergenerational Ideas” alone is worth the price of admission.  You’ll catch glimpses of “We can do this!” as you read along the entire book.

It took me a while to get into this book, but once I stuck with it, I came to realize I do not have a more important work on intergenerational ministry on my bookshelf. It’s a work I’ll revisit again in a few years.  Maybe the best resource on intergenerational ministry in one book that is available.

Mark Archibald
Pastor of Spiritual Formation
First Baptist Church, Lethbridge AB

Missional Mindset in Everyday Spaces

By Cailey Morgan

While our homes and neighbourhoods should be seen as perhaps our primary mission field, we cannot forget the large amount of time that many of us spend away from home: at work, or in shared public spaces.

Second Place: Vocation
At first glance, there’s nothing epic about your workspace or office lunchroom. Forty hours a week standing behind your customer service counter or at the front of your classroom may not seem like the exhilarating adventure of a missionary. But it can be. God has put us where we are for a reason: to be His hands bringing kindness and mercy and His voice proclaiming justice and love.

“Theologically speaking, our vocation is not about economic exchange. It is not about making more money, or achieving the American dream. It is about contributing to and participating in God’s mission” (Tom Nelson, Work Matters).

As with anytime we want to join God in His good work, prayer is the ultimate tool for us to grow as missionaries in our workplaces. Here are a 3 simple practices to try:

  • The List: Write down 10 people you regularly interact with in the course of your workday (including those you may not like that much). Each day for a month, pray for a different person on this list. Ask God to give you His heart for that person, and ask Him what your role is in that person’s journey this month. Write down these conversations with God, and make sure to follow through on what He asks of you.
  • Constant Awareness: Choose a short phrase to repeat to God throughout the day as you engage various people and situations. It could be a question: “where are You at work here?” a declaration of intent: “I will speak the truth in love,” a statement about God: “the Lord is gracious and compassionate to all He has made!”  or a request: “Holy Spirit, please help me listen well to You and to others.”
  • Share It: Personally, I find that praying with others makes me more consistent and focused in my conversations with the Father. Ask a mentor, someone in your small group, or your spouse, to pray with you regularly for those in your workplace. There’s nothing better than the joy of sharing an answered prayer with a friend!

Third Place: Informal public spaces
In his book The Great Good Place, Ray Oldenburg explains that informal public places where interpersonal ministry can flourish (also known as third spaces) have been minimized in our culture because urban sprawl, automobile culture, and home entertainment changed who we are and how we get our needs met. However, the trendy nature of coffeeshop culture and the emphasis on exercise for health in our society has provided some renewed opportunities to simply hang out and meet people!

Here are some of the benefits of third places, that should make us want to be intentional about spending our time there:

  • Third spaces are neutral ground—there’s not usually a single host.
  • They often act as a social leveler where all kinds of people can be found in the same place.
  • Conversation is often the main activity.

Think about your life. Do you have third places, like a coffee shop, park, gym or even grocery store that you frequent? If not, your first step is to consider why not, and one way you could alter your life routine to include regular times at a location like this.

If you do have regular third places in your life, have you considered the implications of your time there? What is your purpose? Can you add the goal of living incarnationally as Jesus did into these spaces? What hope can you bring? Where is there darkness that you can bring light? Who in those places needs to be listened to? Needs to hear your God-story?

Glow lightbulb

If we really are called to be salt—bringing preservation and drawing out the good aromas around us—and light—casting out the darkness and pointing to the hope of Jesus—then we need to get serious about seeing our every movement and moment in our lives’ routines as opportunities to live for the sake of others.

I pray that as we listen to God and to those around us, that He will guide each of you into His crucial and beautiful mission in the places you live, work, learn and play.

This is the final article in a series. Read the other posts here:

  1. Why, Oh Why?
  2. The Missionary Nature of God and His Church
  3. Incarnational Presence
  4. Space to be Truly Present
  5. Missional Margin
  6. Second and Third Spaces

Sabbath Book Reviews

In my article about how our life pace impacts our witness, I mentioned the importance of Sabbath in the rhythm of the local missionary. The Sabbath conversation is huge, and something that I’m still working through in my life in bivocational ministry (i.e., what does the Sabbath look like for pastors? Can we ask our people to take Sunday off when really, we as ministers have Sundays as a major work day? And is it biblical to celebrate the Sabbath on Sunday in the first place, or does it even matter which day it is?).

Here are two book reviews from my dear friend and pastoral colleague Rick Eitzen. My hope is that you will not only read Rick’s reviews of Brueggemann and Heschel, but will be inspired to pick up the books themselves.  ~ Cailey

forest with fog

Sabbath As Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now by Walter Brueggemann
Reviewed by Rick Eitzen

Using the Exodus as the context of the Ten Commandments, Brueggemann demonstrates that the Sabbath is a powerful practice of resistance and alternative to a society of anxiety, fear, restless productivity and slavery represented by Pharaoh. It shapes and defines Israel as Yahweh’s people who receive the gift of rest and God’s presence while protecting those vulnerable in their society. The Ten Commandments, given in the context of the Exodus and deliverance of God’s people from slavery to new life, govern how Israel relates to Yahweh and one another.

For Brueggemann, the Sabbath as the fourth commandment connects the first commandment (no idols) to the tenth (no coveting). It reaches back to the first commandment by providing a practice of trust, rest and resistance in a culture of commodification and endless acquisition (serving Master Money) and it reaches forward to the tenth commandment: no coveting, defined as the pursuit of commodity at the expense of the neighbour. “Sabbath is a big no for both; it is no to the worship of commodity; it is no to the pursuit of commodity. But it is more than no. Sabbath is the regular, disciplined, visible, concrete yes to the neighborly reality of the community beloved by God” (p 86). When we do not practice Sabbath we easily slip into covetousness, for life that consists of frantic production and consumption reduces everyone else to threat and competitor. In the Sabbath, anxious productivity is replaced with committed neighbourliness (p 27).

For Brueggemann, the Sabbath is primarily a social issue. He insists that the social power and relevance of the Sabbath requires it be practiced with neighbours, that we as Christians are to “sponsor a system of rest that contradicts the system of anxiety of Pharaoh, because you are no longer subject to Pharaoh’s anxiety system” (p 30). He does not outline specific ways or rules by which we might resist on the Sabbath but rather calls us to examine ways in which we participate in the anxiety of our socio-economic system and “are defined by busyness and by acquisitiveness and by pursuit of more, in either our economics or our personal relations” (p 31). He questions the value and the statement of allegiance we make in every action, from buying and selling (shopping) to sports and entertainment and kids activities. “Sabbath is a school for our desires, an expose and critique of the false desires that focus on idolatry and greed that have immense power for us. When we do not pause for Sabbath, these false desires take power over us” (p 88). Jesus said that we can’t love God and money and Sabbath is a practice that actively resists the lure of money and our obsession with acquisition. The Sabbath day is a gift and calls us to recognize that “we live by gift and not by possession, that we are satisfied by relationships of attentive fidelity and not by amassing commodities” (85)

I appreciate the social implications of Brueggemann’s emphasis on practicing Sabbath. It is always a crucial part of our faith to remember the marginalized, the immigrant, the orphan and widow, thereby actively showing ourselves to be Christ’s disciples, creating an alternative community with different values and a different identity. I’m unsatisfied with his definition of Sabbath as mostly something negative, as “restraint, withdrawal, or divestment from the concrete practices of society that specialize in anxiety” (P 85), as well as his emphasis that the Sabbath is primarily social in significance.

Social justice is important and often overlooked but it is not the most important facet of our faith or identity. Yes, we love our neighbour as ourselves and Sabbath can certainly help us “come out from them and be separate” (2 Corinthians 6:17), but to love neighbour properly we must love God first, which requires an imagination for what we are coming into, not just coming out of. And what we come into is not only a social alternative but the very holy, loving and transformative presence of Christ as a people with a new identity, new family and new calling. Otherwise we risk becoming just another good social service agency and miss the empowering and transforming presence of Christ.

Brueggemann comes closest to a positive definition in his description of Sabbath as gift – “Sabbath is not simply the pause that refreshes. It is the pause that transforms. Whereas Israelites are always tempted to acquisitiveness, Sabbath is an invitation to receptivity, an acknowledgement that what is needed is given and need not be seized” (P 45). It is an invitation to trust, to cease striving, to “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt 11:29).

Sabbath As Resistance raises significant issues around social justice and the responsibility of God’s chosen people to daily choose whether they will serve Pharaoh and his system of anxiety and acquisition, or Yahweh and his way of trust, rest and new social order based on neighbourly community. It causes us to ask uncomfortable questions as to how our actions betray our worship and pursuit of commodity rather than love of God and neighbour.

Sabbath is a wonderful means of resistance, reshaping our identity and priorities and calls us out for the sake of the world, especially the vulnerable who do not thrive in a capitalistic system where striving to gain the world always comes at the expense of our souls.

The Sabbath by Abraham Heschel
Reviewed by Rick Eitzen

In 1951, Abraham Heschel, a Jewish rabbi and professor, wrote The Sabbath, a short and elegant book about its meaning for our modern age. Heschel begins and ends with a distinction between time and space.

Space
He argues that “we are all infatuated with the splendor of space…Thing is a category that lies heavy on our minds, tyrannizing all our thoughts” (Loc 172). God created the physical world and declared it good so although we are to enjoy the blessing of space/things, we are not to be obsessed or enslaved by them, for “life goes wrong when the control of space, the acquisition of things of space, becomes our sole concern” (loc 150). And although “there is happiness in the love of labor, there is misery in the love of gain” (loc 158).

Time
“However, the Bible is more concerned with time than with space…it pays more attention to generations, to events, than to countries, to things…time has a meaning for life which is at least equal to that of space…a significance and sovereignty of its own” (Loc 202). Time is the realm of the main themes of faith and meaning. Herschel is careful to avoid a sacred/secular divide in distinguishing between time and space, emphasizing rather that we are too preoccupied with space at the expense of time/soul/eternity and that Sabbath is the cure to keeping both in proper perspective.

Beginning with Creation, Heschel notes that “things created in six days God considered good, the seventh day He made holy” (p 63). He did not create a holy place but a holy day, holiness in time – the Sabbath. “The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of the things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world” (Loc 248). It is a vision of a window in eternity that opens into time. In the Sabbath, “Eternity utters a day” (p 89). “The work on weekdays and the rest on the seventh day are correlated. The Sabbath is the inspirer, the other days the inspired” (p 10).

Sabbath is not a break from the week but its climax. “It is a palace in time which we build…made of soul, of joy and reticence” (p 2). God did not take a break on the seventh day; he finished His work. The Sabbath, just like the other six days, was an act of creation. “And God rested” – the word used is Menuha, which means rest, tranquility, serenity, peace and repose, “much more than withdrawal from labor and exertion, more than freedom from toil, strain or activity. It is not a negative concept but something real and intrinsically positive.” (p 10) (Note that “The Lord is my Shepherd…He leads me beside the waters of menuhot” – still, quiet, tranquil). Menuha was created on the seventh day which later became a synonym for the life in the world to come, eternal life. Much more than a day off, Sabbath is a glimpse into and opportunity to practice eternity.

Practicing the Sabbath
Even more significantly, Heschel declares that “who we are depends on what the Sabbath is to us” (p 89). So how does one practice Sabbath? Herschel gives very little practical advice, partly because he assumes a Jewish audience but mostly because his intent is to get at the significance, beauty, purpose and theology of the Sabbath. Certainly the day requires anticipation and planning, even to the point of orienting the week around the day. “Preparation for a holy day…(is) as important as the day itself” (loc 29).

What would it look like for Christians to practice Sabbath? Questions of date/time, practices of abstinence and engagement surface and certainly “there are some helpful Sabbath laws – those that require shutting off secular demands and refraining from work” (loc 114) which should be discussed and observed as communal practices (rather than private/individual) but the emphasis should always be on the spirit of the day and not the technicalities of the laws/practices (Jesus had much to say on this). Celebration of Sabbath is not routine or regulation but relationship and one should cease from work on the day just as one would cease from all other work on one’s wedding day. It should be practiced joyfully and with delight, although it “is not an occasion for diversion or frivolity…but an opportunity to mend our tattered lives; to collect rather than dissipate time” (p 5).

How does one rest on the Sabbath and what about all of the work that still needs to be done? “’Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work’” (Ex 20:8) (note that both work and rest are commanded)…Does not our work always remain incomplete? What the verse means to convey is: Rest on the Sabbath as if all your work were done” (p 19).

Heschel’s concept of Sabbath with its distinct laws and rituals is of course Jewish and at times his personification and almost deification of Sabbath is uncomfortable but his emphases on the purpose, Biblical basis and reason for practicing Sabbath should be considered very carefully. There is something about the Sabbath that is biblical, rich, beautiful, and absent in many Christian circles. Not only is it the climax of creation and one of the ten commandments, it may also be “the answer to the problem of civilization: not to flee from the realm of space; to work with things of space but to be in love with eternity. Things are our tools; eternity, the Sabbath, is our mate. (We) are engaged to eternity” (p 37).