Discipleship and God’s Economy of Abundance

By Cailey Morgan

Many of our churches have been wrestling with how to respond to the new required attestation on the Canada Summer Jobs application. For those of us who followed in solidarity with the CCCC this year in handing in adapted grant applications, the response has been clear from the government: no funding. For my church, this means the loss of wage provision for about 6 student positions–interns that would usually staff our summer day camp programs around the Lower Mainland and serve as the core energy behind for our summer outreach.

I could ask, “why, God, are You letting this happen when there is so much good that comes from having that money?” There are endless comments I could make about government’s choices, or our rights as Canadians, or even whether this issue solidifies the belief that the Canadian church is in exile. However, because we’re in the midst of a series on discipleship, I would rather adjust my focus a little.

In the next few articles, we will look at attributes that Christ exhibited while on earth. We will discuss how we can grow into Christlikeness, and what it means to use cultural opportunities to come alongside all those in our congregations and walk with them in a Jesus-formed response to what seems to be an unfair flexing of worldly power.

Attribute 1: Jesus Trusted God’s Economy of Abundance. As in every area of life, Jesus exemplified a Kingdom-of-God perspective in the area of resources and finances.

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For all the animals of the forest are mine, and I own the cattle on a thousand hills. ” Including this goofy-looking fellow.

When we live as citizens of the world we can see, we get wrapped up in the economy of scarcity: what’s here is what’s here, so I better make sure I get my slice of the pie. If we operate in this economy, the whole summer grants scenario is a troubling hit to our church’s ministry goals and should send us scrambling to fight for what’s ours.

Jesus, on the other hand, reminded us about the realm that is bigger than what we can see: our Father owns everything. Jesus told us to never worry about our life, food, clothes, because our Father in heaven knows what we need and loves to take care of us. If God cares about dressing remote hillsides with flowers, how much more will He generously clothe His Body and His Bride?

Kingdom-of-God Economics
Part of the reason the church in North America languishes in irrelevance is because we all too often ask “what’s in it for us?” This is scarcity mentality in its purest form…

A church that tries to keep its life will lose it, and a church that loses its life will keep it. By contrast a church shaped by the way of Jesus gives freely without expectation of return. It is generous to the point of danger. As a result that church opens itself up to the secret joy and power of being least and last. Jesus overcame the world through being its servant. That’s how the church will overcome it too (Jared Siebert, New Leaf Network Blog).

When Jesus walked on earth, He proved again and again that the Kingdom of God operates in economy of abundance by showing God’s power to provide beyond the human imagination. Remember how He had Peter pull a coin out of a fish’s mouth to pay the temple tax? Or what about turning bathwater into expensive wine for a wedding feast? Or multiplying a single schoolboy’s lunch into a seafood smorgasbord for 5000 families (with a takeaway container of leftovers for each of the apostles, might I add)?

How’s that for mind-boggling math? Abundance beyond human capacity to imagine or produce: that’s Kingdom of God economics.

The Nitty-Gritty
OK. That sounds great, but how do we actually lean into a lifestyle of K-o-G abundance and draw our people into this kind of trust in God?

Ready for this?

Talk about money.

Use the summer grant finances issue as an excuse to have this scarcity/abundance conversation in your discipleship relationships and your small groups. Teach about trust and generosity in Sunday school for all ages and from the pulpit.

Tell toddlers the stories of God’s provision for His people throughout history. Create Spend, Save, and Give jars with kids and teach them how to steward their allowance money.

Ask teens if they can see God’s huge generosity in creation. Ask the seniors in your church for testimonies of God’s faithfulness throughout the shifting sands of economic ups and downs. Talk with every family in your church about tithing, and see how–like training wheels for trusting God with our wallets–the act of tithing can get families rolling in a Kingdom of God direction.

Take this money conversation seriously and have this conversation frequently. Discipleship is about learning to love God with all our heart, mind, and strength. And as we know, where our wallet is, there our heart is also.

In the past weeks I have been brought to tears by people around me who understand this Kingdom-of-God perspective: students offering to work for free this summer, believing that God and the community can help them find other ways to cover their tuition this fall; families asking how much money we need to raise to pay intern wages; adults offering weeks of their summer to help staff the camps; and the apostles and prophets among us asking the big question of what new thing God may be calling us to in this time when we’re a bit shaken up and confused. These disciples are growing in their trust of God and each other because they’ve been willing to get past the falsities that “my money is my money” and finances are a taboo subject.

Each time we humble ourselves and give over control of our resources to the Lord and the community, we are welcoming the Holy Spirit to come and do the heart-shaping. Which, really, is the true definition of discipleship, is it not?

Next time, I’m going to talk about Jesus’ way of discipleship “along the way,” and how we can see this lack of summer grant funding as an opportunity to re-envision summer outreach as an opportunity to disciple a whole new generation of leaders.

 

PS: The CBWC is engaged in the nationwide discussion about the Summer Grant Attestation issue, so watch for communications from our Administration Offices as to how you can add your church’s voice to the conversation. But a caveat here: the Church doesn’t have the best reputation when it comes to our reactions around changing government policy. The media spotlight is turned on us to see how we will react, which I think is God giving us an opportunity to respond in humility and to cast a vision for the Kingdom-of-God economy for not only our own people but actually the whole country.

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Am I a Disciple? Part 2

By Shannon Youell

“We must be disciples who make disciples.”

This statement caused me to ask myself some hard questions as I pondered Am I a disciple? In reflecting on this question I asked myself these six questions to help me discover areas on which I need to allow Jesus to work in me. We looked at the first three last week. These are in no way exhaustive, but merely the first six upon which to begin your own reflecting. The first three were around things that challenged my character and the next three my competencies as a ambassador of Christ.

4: Am I a Person who Loves Others?

Jesus tells us this in John 15:12-13 (MSG):

“I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends.

Jesus also commands us to love our enemies. And love those who we consider unclean, sinners, outcasts. Jesus loves. He loves without boundaries or judgment. He loves because He is love.  If I love Jesus, and am His disciple, He commands that I love like Him. Yet, I am often appalled at how often I have to remind myself of that.  This, too, is the journey of a disciple. We are constantly being called back to that place of repentance at our shortage of love, care and our selective indifference for others.  How can we truly love our enemies if we are also praying for their demise! This is a hard teaching indeed!

5:  Am I a Servant?

I mentioned that my first disciplers did not lord it over those they were discipling–that they understood we were on a journey together and had much to teach one another. Often, in pastoral ministry, folk tell me they are a discipler and that I should assign them a disciple. Or a position. At our church, our response to those that move into places of teaching, leadership, pastoring, is that in these roles we actually lose “status.”  We become servants to those whom we are in community with.

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In my own life and ministry, I need to continually weigh my attitudes in the places where I serve by asking myself if I am taking a posture of status or a posture of servanthood.  Am I doing this to satisfy a need in my own self, or to truly love and journey with others as they discover their identity in Christ and in following Him?

As soon as I find myself feeling superior, wiser, holier, I have moved from a position of serving to a position of status.  Jesus was pretty blunt with the religious leaders of his day about this!

This is a hard one as sometimes it is difficult to self-determine when I’m “lording” and when I’m serving. It drives me back to question #3: Am I Accountable and demands that I, too am in a place of concurrently being a disciple and making disciples.

6: Am I a Sent-One who Goes?

Being a disciple also means I am willing to submit to His sending of me beyond my safe parameters and comfort zone, and being courageous to share stories of where God’s story intersects my story.

My secret of learning to be bolder? I, like most of us, am terrified, even when I can sense the Spirit strongly prompting me, to introduce Jesus into a conversation even when the door is so wide open it has fallen off its hinges! So to tackle that fear I took the challenge to just ask people if I may pray with them when they have shared something sad, or difficult, or something they struggle with. You might be amazed how quickly one can find out if the grocery cashier is having a good day or a bad day and why! It stuns me still.

And so I’ve tried to muster up courage and ask if I can quickly pray with them. I like the terminology of praying with rather than for as it invites them into the prayer. Most of the time they say yes! It is a very terrifying thing to do, and yet there is nothing more joyous than that 30-second prayer while picking up the grocery bags.

Being a disciple is always being attentive to that awareness that God is already at work all around me and I just need to join him.

Being a disciple means following close. Being a sort-of-follower, or most-of-the-time follower, will leave us confused as to where it is we are going because we will have lost sight of Him and walked our own path.  Jesus is our foremost priority. Everything else fits into that.

As I said earlier, this is by no means an exhaustive or even fully articulated list. What questions do you find yourself asking in regards to the overarching question of “Am I A Disciple?” Let us know as we learn and disciple one another! God created humanity as a community, placed us in community and Jesus taught us that we live, work, play, pray and disciple in community.

 

Am I a Disciple?

By Shannon Youell

“Seriously, me, a brand new believer with next to no church exposure, a discipler!”

Two weeks ago, I made this comment in our blog article “The Discipler’s Journey.” It seemed somehow wrong to me as a new believer that my teachers and mentors would say we disciple one another. I didn’t know anything! I had no understanding of how to read the Bible as narrative; what hermeneutics was; why it was important to always, always understand the context in which a particular verse was in; no clue as to whether I was pre-trib, mid-trib, post-trib, does-it-really-matter-trib, or will I be one of the surprised “left-behinders” (which gives you a bit of a clue in which decade I became a Christian)!

But then last week, Cailey, who works with me in Church Planting, read me something that caught my attention: “We must be disciples who make disciples.”

Fake it Til you Make it?

Years ago while in a doctor’s waiting room, I picked up a business magazine and was reading an article on the art of schmoozing. The author suggested that the way to get people’s attention in various fields is to have some sense of the ‘cultural’ language of the crowd: learn everything you can in a few hours about architecture for example. Not that you’d know how to draw, plan or design the Coliseum, but just enough language to sound like you do.

This idea of being a disciple who is able to make disciples made me think of that article. Often we use the correct language of how to make disciples without ever really being one ourselves.

So then I have to ask myself: Am I a disciple?

jon-tyson-520825-unsplash.jpgHere are some postures I believe I need to take to journey as a disciple of Jesus.

1: Am I a Learner?

“The illiterate of the 21st century are not those who can’t read and write but those who can’t learn, unlearn and relearn” (Alvin Toffler).

The Greek word translated “disciple” is mathetes and means “a committed learner.”

When I was growing up, my dad’s goal was to make me a committed learner, a life-long learner. He was and I am. Committed learners recognize there is always something to learn, something to unlearn and something to relearn. Indeed when Jesus told Nicodemus that he needed to be ‘reborn’, he was not, as Nicodemus questioned, suggesting he climb back in! It was a euphemism suggesting that he needed to unlearn what he was so sure he knew and relearn it by the Spirit and the waters of dying to self and emerging as learners of Christ.

The first thing we need to ask ourselves is are we learners? Are we willing to have what we think challenged, deconstructed and reframed? Sadly, often we are not. Those followers that eventually abandoned Jesus along the way usually fled because He challenged something in their understanding of God and His Kingdom—they weren’t willing to allow their thinking to stand the test of deconstruction and reframing. And to their loss, because the journey with Jesus is an unending unfolding of revelation, truth and wisdom.

Being a learner also means being humble enough and gracious enough to believe that every person I encounter has something to teach me, regardless of their status or education or tenure in the faith. That’s what my first disciplers and mentors were open to….they could say we discipled one another because they were willing to not be teachers who lord it over people but servants who journey alongside in the everydayness of ordinary life.

 2: Am I a Follower?

It may seem nitpicky to ask this. Some Christians equate being a convert to Christianity with being a follower of Jesus. Although that is part of our response to Jesus’ call to come and follow Hm, and is our entry point for sure, they are not exactly equatable.

Jesus’ call to follow Him had nothing to do with following Him to a church service. Jesus’ call to follow Him meant following Him as Rabbi/Teacher in every area of life and giving Him access to every area of life. As well as being a person who is willing to unlearn what I feel sure I already know, and be teachable, I also need to be a person who actually follows Jesus–meaning I am continually submitting to Him as not just Saviour but also Lord of my life and I am increasingly representing Him in my attitudes, behaviors and actions.

I once heard a speaker on discipleship who said that being a disciple meant that we look more and more like Jesus while still being ourselves.

The lyric that is running through my brain right now is from the  musical Godspell:

Oh dear Lord three things I pray/to see you more clearly/to love you more dearly/to follow you more nearly/day by day 

The nearer I am to Jesus in my following, the more I will understand His Kingdom vision and my place in it .

 3. Am I Accountable?

The discipleship model we attribute to Jesus was the common means in the Jewish-Rabbinic tradition of training, preparing and shaping people to continue living life in the Jewish-faith-way. He was not doing anything radical when He called people to follow Him and be His disciples. He wasn’t doing anything new and improved by spending most of His time with them, living among them, eating and drinking with them. Discipleship was done life on life. This means the good, the bad and the ugly; not the me that I present to others.

Disciples recognize the journey of sanctification is just that: a lifelong journey. Discipleship means an ongoing tension between the person we want to be and the person we are. Character needs to be shaped and developed over time by people who care deeply for us. Most people tend to shy away from that type of character development. And in our world today, it is very easy to dismiss those we trust and have walked with when they lovingly confront our own character weaknesses.

Jesus worked with His own disciples to shape and develop their character. Because they knew He loved them, they were able to get beyond what felt like criticism and see themselves through the lens of others; they were accountable. And they allowed the Spirit to do the work necessary for them to begin to form character that produces fruitfulness.

When I ask myself, am I a disciple, I must also ask myself if I am willing to be open, truthful and vulnerable with the people discipling me? Am I willing to allow them to speak into my life in the hard things, the closely-held convictions and seeming-absolute things, the fears and assumptions and worldview things, the not-quite-sin-but-not-good-for-me habits and the “you’ve got potential for bigger things” things?

I love King David’s prayer in Psalm 139 as a heart prayer of a disciple:

Investigate my life, O God,  find out everything about me; 
Cross-examine and test me, get a clear picture of what I’m about; 
See for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong— 
then guide me on the road to eternal life (Psalm 139:23-24, The Message). 

Discipleship, then is as much a matter of the heart as it is knowing the Scriptures, praying and participating in church gatherings. These three questions test my heart, my character, and my understanding. Next time we will look at three more positions that grow us in our competency as co-workers with Christ.

 

 

 

So who does the discipling?

By Shannon Youell

We’ve been talking about discipleship as the commissioning to which Jesus calls His believers.

When I have conversations about discipleship with leaders and pastors I often get the same look, which I read as, “I know this is important but how do I find the time to disciple everyone?”

In our current church culture, it seems that discipleship becomes another job descriptor for the pastor(s), along with evangelism, counselling, administration, sermon planning, writing and execution, visitation and the multiple other roles that seem to default to the paid staff. Sadly, it often becomes demoted to the bottom of the to-do list as louder voices demand our attention.

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However, if the pastor is the one who is to do the discipling, then what do we do with the Scripture that designates all believers as the priesthood? As those who, together, do the work of the church? Peter’s first letter addresses not church leaders but “all of God’s elect,” to all those whom the sanctifying work of the Spirit is at work.

When Jesus commissioned His first disciples to go and make disciples, He was not saying that they were to be entirely responsible to do this work. In fact, in the book of Acts and beyond, we hardly see the disciples leave Jerusalem, yet the church spread throughout the empire. Why? Because disciples were being made who then went and made disciples (such as a Paul), who then leaves them to continue making disciples (such as Paul’s commissioning of Timothy).

Pastors are to train, equip and release. In other words, rather than the congregants being the pastor’s helpers in reaching the pastor’s vision, the pastor is the helper to the congregants to be equipped and trained in their role as the priesthood.

If this is not the norm in the place where you gather and worship, this requires a fairly significant culture shift. And not only for the pastors and leaders. This is a culture shift for the folk in the congregation as well. We have done a bang-up job of creating the cultures in our churches and change does not happen overnight. But we must start where we are to get to where we know we should be going.

The reality is that discipleship is not an option and being a discipler of others is the primary job description Jesus gave His disciples to engage in.

The question, then, for us, is are we willing to do the hard work of making the work of making disciples (who by definition can then also make disciples) our primary work in the places where we serve? Are we willing to have the courage to take the risk? To count the cost and head smack into the countercultural curve that ultimately trains, equips and increases the capacity of everyday people to live like Jesus and be salt and light in their world.

The shift must happen in us first. This is not a program that we implement and do “to” people. This is a journey that we enter into together–to be disciples ourselves and be disciplers of others.

Here are a couple of books to equip you for the journey.

If you’re interested in reviewing one of these books by June 2018–sharing on this blog how you believe the book may be helpful (or not) for movement forward in discipleship–be the first to leave a comment here, and we’ll send you the book for free.

 

The Discipler’s Journey

By Shannon Youell

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From the very moment I began to emerge into leadership and ministry, my central theme—the thing I kept coming back to regardless of how many other paths pursued in shaping life as church—is discipleship. So, too, in the church planting and church revitalization conversation. I always seem to land back on discipleship, possibly because it was intentional discipleship relationships that allowed my brand-new Christian adult self to ask endless questions, challenge many of the “pat” answers I received, test the waters, be put into positions of leading when I did not see myself as a leader or even ready to consider leading, and then gently corrected when I made mistakes.

Disciple-making Disciples
When I talk to some of those fine, fine folk now, I ask them how they managed my never-quenched thirst to learn and know and be everything I was learning, and they tell me I challenged their thinking and their theology in ways that had become latent or by which they hadn’t been challenged before. They tell me we discipled one another. Seriously, me, a brand new believer with next to no church exposure, a discipler!

In this blog series, we’ve been talking about whether the things we tend to consider as discipleship leave us perplexed when we ask if our plan of discipleship is working. We noted that often we are very good at discipling one another to be faithful service attendees, but yet find ourselves frustrated that often we have really made faithful consumers rather than Jesus-disciples. It’s not that discipleship isn’t happening; it’s just that the results are not fully what we hoped to see.

The reality of life is that discipleship starts from the moment we are born and really never ends. We learn how to be a family, what opinions we should consider, what biases and prejudices we will have, how we treat one another, how we view ourselves and our place in the world. We are all being discipled all the time and our biggest discipler is culture itself. So the question is not whether we’re being discipled, but what we’re being discipled to.

Directions of Focus
In church life, we are often reminded that we need to focus on upward, inward, outward expressions of life as Jesus’ disciples. Upward is the abiding on the vine, the quiet prayer times alone, practicing gratitude, singing songs, meditation, all building intimacy with Christ our King, God our Father, Spirit our comfort, empowerer and guide.

Inward are the practices we do together as gathered people and include praying together, worshipping together, learning together, practicing the fruits of the Spirit together, sharing tables together in communion and in community. This is our one another-ness.

Outward are the ways we move outside of our close circles with one another (using Banff 2017 Speaker David Fitch’s Faithful Presence language) and engage in the lives and activities of those who haven’t yet seen the kingdom of God realized in their life, and those who have rejected church life but perhaps not belief.

If we look honestly at our own churches, we will likely discover we are practicing and living well in one or two of these three focuses, though rarely will see all three being active together. It’s not that any of us are not doing discipleship, it’s more likely we emphasize one of these particular elements over another.

When we look at how Jesus discipled his disciples we can see that all three of these movements are evident.

Jesus’ Example
His disciples watched Jesus go away to quiet places to pray, would have heard Him praying in times together and when He was teaching crowds. They both saw and heard Him express His level of intimacy with the Father. And they were impacted. So much so, they asked Jesus to teach them to pray like He prays.

As a community of disciples they would have learned how to be together. Jesus addresses some of the interpersonal complications of close community with them. There was accountability for how they behaved towards one another, talked about one another, treated one another. They broke bread together. They learned to support one another in their mission and to uphold one another when things went awry.

And they hung out in all the wild and crazy places Jesus took them to. I’m not sure how comfortable Matthew the tax collector was at the house of the Pharisee…there was a level of animosity likely simmering below the surface there! Or the uncomfortableness when the disciples discovered Jesus engaging in conversation with a Samaritan (whom the Jews did not associate). On top of that the Samaritan was a woman (it would be entirely inappropriate for a man to be in the company of a woman not his relative while alone), and the Samaritan woman was viewed by her community and the codes of the day as sexually immoral as she has had several husbands and currently lived with a man without the benefit of marriage.

It was as Jesus and the disciples went outside their own cultural norms and were faithfully present in uncomfortable or unfamiliar places that the kingdom of God was realized in the lives of those resisting God’s rule and reign.

Self-Examination
If we are wrestling with how do we move from being church attenders to engaged disciples of Jesus, we need to wrestle with the culture we’ve created around what being the church means. What is the church’s purpose? And we need to wrestle with the idea that the church is multi-faceted, not singularly purposeful. Jesus challenged his followers on so many levels and pressed them towards understanding their journey with him as encapsulating the fullness of the kingdom in upward, inward and outward activity.

So today’s question? What might you need to rethink and relearn around the kind of disciples you are creating, whether intentionally or unintentionally by the emphasis in your context? Do you do well with inward/upward while weak or lacking in outward? Or very engaged outwardly in justice and mercy but weak on sharing the good news of the kingdom with the people we are serving? Or in the shared work of justice and mercy, find you have a closeness in community but are lacking spiritual maturity in their day-to-day lives?

Each of these questions should challenge us not to despair but to hope. Jesus took this ragtag gang of folk who had nothing much in common and through the trials and joys, the successes and failures, drew (discipled/apprenticed) them in a life-long transformation in worldview, culture, faith and personal self-focus to be vessels of God’s love, grace, reconciliation and restoration of his good creation.

“This is to my Father’s glory, that bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples…If you obey my commands (everything I taught you), you will remain in my love…I have told you this so that my joy may be complete in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:8, 10, 11).

Being co-labourers with Christ in making disciples who makes disciples can be challenging, frustrating and disappointing, yet the joy of seeing people transformed and thriving and the kingdom of light moving into the shadows brings life and joy to those who are engaged.

Teaching and Training

By Shannon Youell

“You have to invest time, energy, and money into training [your people] as leaders so you are truly multiplying the life of Christ in your ministry… (this was) one of the biggest ministry shifts I had to make when I was learning to make disciples. I knew how to teach people, but I had to idea how to train people. They are very different skill sets.” Ben Sternke

As we continue in this series of posts to take a hard look at discipleship, we are being challenged to evaluate whether our method of making disciples is working for us (defined by disciples who are being transformed by the presence of Christ in their lives and living out the things Jesus taught in our world around us who can then reproduce themselves by making disciples who can then make disciples).

I am not suggesting we look with despair on how discipleship happens in our churches, but that we should honestly ask the hard questions: are we seeing disciple making that produces maturing believers on a transformational journey in the presence of Christ in their lives? Are these disciples increasingly living out all the things Jesus himself taught? Are they then able to reproduce themselves by making disciples?

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Let’s look at what Ben Sternke has to say in the rest of his blog post that opened this post. Please don’t be distracted by the title; the article is not really about a celebrity trap–it’s more about understanding the posture of leadership in the disciple-making process. Oh, and note that this article is relevant to every person who is a follower of Jesus and who leads or is feeling tugged to lead. It is not specifically about church planters but in that category it is a great way to start a church!

Please dialogue with us on this disciple-making journey. Have you ever reached the point of releasing those you have been training? Do you agree in today’s world that “The kingdom of God is like a seed, not a building project?”

 

Is Our Plan Working?

By Shannon Youell

Dallas Willard said that “every church should be able to answer two questions: First, what is our plan for making disciples? Second, does our plan work?”

Is what we are currently doing shaping disciples who live out the gospel in such way that others are drawn to them and are discipled by them? When I say “gospel” I am referring to everything Jesus taught about the Kingdom of God present on earth, and what that looks like in our everyday living…and that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life into it.

Our last post left us thinking about these two questions. Willard’s second question, “does our plan work?” assumes we understand what “working” implies. Our ingrained understanding is that in teaching people to read their Bible, pray, tithe, engage in good works both in the church community and the greater community around them, that we are making disciples. I believe the church has mostly done a very good job of doing these things. But have we made disciples?

In last week’s blog, I observed that the good and faithful folk at my home church were reluctant to engage in the 77 Days of Prayer because they felt they didn’t know how to pray, how to engage with the scriptures, and were uncomfortable being with folk they didn’t choose themselves to meet with! So have we made disciples as Jesus made disciples? We certainly have made good and faithful church folk.

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So is our plan working? Well, yes, if the above is what we planned to make – good and faithful service attendees. Perhaps now is exactly the time, then, to revisit our plans. Not because we shouldn’t be pastoring, leading, teaching, guiding people to discover life in Christ and the tangible ways it shapes how we choose to live our lives, but because Jesus encouraged this and then pushed us out a little further (or, depending on your particular context, a lot further).

From what I read in the Gospels, Jesus’ method of making disciples was less about corralling the sheep in a safe place, and more like inviting them out of the boat without floaties. He sent them into the leper colonies without vaccines; He sent them into the world purse-less and with no outward protection to face wolves disguised as sheep.

Jesus’ method of making disciples was life on life: take a risk, get out of your comfort zone, practice/make mistakes/learn something more/go try again until that demon listens, that mountain is thrown into the sea, that challenge is met and the Kingdom of God reveals itself right in front of our sometimes-unexpectant eyes!

When Jesus gave His disciples some of His final words while on this earth, He commanded them to make disciples devoted to and covenanted with God, and to teach those disciples to listen to and live by everything He had been teaching to the current batch of disciples. Those first disciples, upon doing that, likely told their disciples to do the same when they were ready to be sent out, since they would have been doing and saying what Jesus instructed them to do. And so on. Disciples make disciples who can make disciples.

This was what Jesus Himself called His followers to do. He commanded us to make disciples and stated He would build His church. In our current evangelical model, we usually build the church and bring those we’d like to be disciples to someone else to disciple.

So is our plan working?

Something Happened Along the Way

By Shannon Youell

Over the winter, my home church in Victoria engaged in the 77 Days of Prayer Initiative with CBWC. As CBWC staff, I suggested the idea and promoted it. After all, we have been teaching, preaching and practicing corporate prayer for at least the last few years!

By corporate prayer I mean prayer that moves beyond petitionary prayer for needs and includes—as Grenz states it—a “cry for the kingdom,” for the whole purpose of God, church and discipleship.

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So we invited our congregation on the journey. If your congregation is anything like ours, it is populated by a diverse group of people indoctrinated on our Western worldview of individualism and self-help. We had some reluctance and even a little push back; just a few folk who didn’t want to be told what scriptures to meditate and pray into.

The reluctance, however, was that people weren’t feeling comfortable being put into a triad or quadrad group for eleven weeks. Because they don’t know each other as well as one might imagine they would, even though we all attend the same small church. Because the pastoral staff was forming the triads. Because they felt they didn’t know how to pray, or felt they didn’t hear God even when they did. Because most of them claim to be introverts. But, we have great folk who trust us, and to our delight, more than half our congregation signed up to journey with staff and leaders.

As the weeks passed and we engaged the prayer initiative together, something began to happen. The most reluctant and sometimes resistant folk began to look forward to their weekly meeting. But what caused us to dance and sing and thank God was the byproduct: discipleship started to happen. We have been working hard to become an intentional community that makes disciples who can then make disciples by sharing Jesus with others and discipling them. But it has been hard, because, well, folk are reluctant. Reluctant because discipleship in the manner in which Jesus modeled it takes commitment, and commitment takes making changes to our own personal priorities.

I will confess that for the most part, though each group read the Scripture, prayed, listened and followed the rhythm of the 77 Days of Prayer, they didn’t report too much around what they were hearing in regards to the CBWC initiative. But they did report what God was speaking to them about life together as a community of believers who are to be sent ones, co-labouring with Christ in the kingdom-of-God initiative of on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven Shalom and disciplemaking.

Dallas Willard said that “every church should be able to answer two questions: First, what is our plan for making disciples? Second, does our plan work?” Is what we are currently doing shaping disciples who live out the gospel in such way that others are drawn to them and are discipled by them?

On this blog, we will be posting several articles and some musings about the call of the church to make disciples. I’ve heard multiple leaders contend that if we make church we rarely get disciples; but if we make disciples we always get church. What do you think?

Joyce and Betty–Church Planters: the ongoing story

Since originally posting the amazing stories of Joyce Oxnard and Betty Milne Anderson, we had the joy of hearing from Betty with an update of what they’ve been up to since our blog story ended. We’re honoured to hear these stories and see the incredible faithfulness and humble generosity of these two leaders–loving the Lord with all their hearts, souls, minds, and strength by serving and witnessing to the people of Canada. Enjoy this continuation of the story straight from Betty’s keyboard! ~Cailey

When we first became involved with the BUWC (CBWC) the term “Church planting” was new to us and I think to many churches in the denomination.  So many changes and such exciting ones.

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While it’s true that Argyle Road Baptist Church was our last assignment in the sense of church planting or Interim ministry, we weren’t done yet! While we were in Regina we were called to serve in Yorkton, SK.  They had been without a pastor for considerable time after the retirement of Rev. Daykin who had ministered there for 24 years. I think there was difficulty finding someone who would follow such a long time of ministry because historically, pastors stayed for a short time following a lengthy ministry.  When we were called, a member of the Search Committee stated that we were the last resort!  We served in Yorkton for five years and felt that the Lord blessed us and the church during that time. After that we spent the next year in Inuvik after which Joyce officially retired.

I wasn’t quite ready for retirement and in 1998 I was called to First Baptist Church in Saskatoon as Part Time Associate Pastor. Blake Anderson was the Senior Pastor who retired early to care for his wife who was dying of cancer.  Joyce assisted me with providing Pastoral care for a few months until our new Senior Pastor, Paul Matheson, arrived in 2000. Official retirement for me was in August, 2003.

A new phase of ministry and service opened up for me when Blake and I were married the next year and we have been involved in the Lord’s work in various ways ever since.

Unfortunately Joyce has been struggling with Alzhiemer’s Disease for the last few years and we have been her Caregivers. Frequently she says, “We have been so blessed. God has provided everything we need.” A true statement of faith even in the midst of memory loss and confusion and one which I agree with completely.

Our lives certainly don’t end at retirement. Even in her confusion and uncertainty with Alzheimers, Joyce frequently says, “I wish there was some way we could still serve the Lord. Do you think the three of us could start a church somewhere?”

I remind her that praying may be what the Lord wants us to do just now. And that might be the most important.

Blessings,

Betty

Learning from The Canopy

Everyone likes to read the “success” stories. Successful ministry initiatives, successful church plants, successful events. As a culture we celebrate our “successes” and try to forget our “failures,” or to phrase it in a way more palatable to us, those initiatives that “didn’t meet our expected outcomes.” Notwithstanding that our metric of “success” or “failure” is subjective, we often can miss what we learn from the things that didn’t go the way we hoped.

The irony is that most things that we determine are a success grew out of the collective experience of things that didn’t quite go the way we planned. We have much wisdom to glean from those experiences and today we will look at one such story.

Pastor Eric Brooks is currently a pastor at Strathcona Baptist Church in Edmonton. He and I sat down together for coffee and donuts a while back and among other things talked about his experience as a church planter. He shared with me that though the plant closed after seven years, he came to realize one very important element was missing. ~Shannon Youell

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GUEST WRITER – ERIC BROOKS:

The Canopy Christian Community was an NAB church plant in south Edmonton. We were located on Gateway Boulevard, in the basement of CKER radio (in a space that at one time had been The City Media Club, but had sat vacant for several years). We started in 2001, and closed the doors in 2008.

When we planted the Canopy, I believe we had a very compelling and well articulated vision. In fact, not only did our team feel that way, we had feedback to that effect from several quarters. We were also convinced that if we communicated a compelling vision in a compelling way, people would join us. But three things were missing:

1. What we realized later was that something significant was missing: an effective strategy for facilitating community. While we were calling people to something meaningful, we failed to help them build good relationships with one another. I think in the end we realized that vision will bring people, but community will keep them around.

2. We intentionally established our meeting place outside of a residential community (we had a great meeting space in an industrial area), and in retrospect, it could have been beneficial to have intentionally been in a residential community.

3. We had good financial support: we were being supported by 5 churches. We also had good formal support in the form of church planting training, a coach, etc. What was missing was a sense of personal connection to another church: prayer support, personal connection and mentoring for our planting team… while we received invaluable financial support, that was the extent of the connection that we had.

As I write these three things, the common thread of missing significant community connections seems obvious. The irony that we were “The Canopy Christian Community” is pretty thick.

 

There is much for us all the consider in Eric’s reflection on his time with The Canopy. He highlights the crucial aspect of building rich relational equity–within our worship and discipling community, within the surrounding community and with other partners, supporters and mentors.

The Canopy had all the criteria to be a successful plant based on a particular metric and model: a compelling vision, a great space to gather, excellent coaching, training, financial and prayer support. And yet, the community felt a sense of disconnect from one another, from their surrounding neighborhood and even from those who were enthusiastic supporters of the ministry they envisioned.

What can we learn about our own context from Eric’s story? Are there ways we might re-imagine the shaping of what a successful plant requires? What about in our existing congregations? Is our relational equity formed solely around our weekly gathering in the building we meet in? Or is there a richness of relational discipleship happening outside of those times? What about in the area in which our meeting place is located? And the places where the congregants spend their everyday time? Are we intentionally building relational equity in our communities beyond ourselves in a manner where trust is built with those who do not yet know Christ as their Lord and Saviour?

These are some of the pieces that come to my mind as I consider Eric’s message. Let us know what comes to your mind too! In this way we can build relationship here–listening and hearing from one another, sharing our places where we experience success and the wisdom we’ve gained where we experience failures–both in our initiatives and in our vision of flourishing and renewal in our existing congregations. ~ Shannon