Re-missioning in Pandemic Times: An Interview with Andy Lambkin 

By Cailey Morgan and Shannon Youell

Last month we introduced Andy Lambkin and simplechurches. Today, we have the honor of sharing an interview with some of Andy’s thoughts around the challenges and opportunities COVID-19 affords us. 

CBWC: What questions should pastors be asking themselves in this season 

Andy Lambkin: What buttons are being pushed in you personally? When you find yourself filled with fear, what is it that is driving that fear? When you find yourself “scrambling” as you think and plan into the future, what motivates the thinking and planning? What does this reveal? What is the Holy Spirit telling you about yourself, your ministry, and the things he may want to strip away? 

What are the “shadow values” that drive your pastoral ministry? In my life, I find three: Ego—my insecure heart that desires recognition and affirmation from those I lead; Technique—a desire to look toward ministry techniques to grow my ministry to feed my ego; Control—an impulse to control people which I assume is for their good but is often for my protection.  

CBWC: Wow—important self-reflections! On a corporate or community level, what should churches be asking themselves?  

How can we align our structures with the things that God values? To put that another way, do our structures prohibit us from living out God’s values? Are we spending our time trying to fight for our structures when God might be opening us to another way of serving and being? 

Here’s a video from Andy on this topic of values and structures: 


CBWC: What one change would see as a significant first step towards changing how we view the gathered community? 

Andy:  I think the local church needs to look critically at how it uses money. In most cases, a simple and honest audit quickly reveals that the vast majority of our money is used toward staffing and internal programming. These funds enable us to continue to support and even entrench ourselves in a particular approach to the gathered community.  

In Matthew 6, Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” This tells me two things:  

  1. If we look at our money, we will see what it is we truly treasure.
  2. If we discover that what we treasure is not good or pleasing or helpful, we need to reassign our money toward the things God wants us to treasure. Doing this will force the necessary changes to our hearts. 

Follow the money. It’s the canary in the coal mine and often the only way we force change upon ourselves.  

CBWC: Have you found patterns of things that people are afraid of as they approach change that they really shouldn’t worry about? Why not?  

Andy: I’ve never thought about this question before! I think the dominant fear is a fear of failure and all the things that come with this: embarrassment, shame, hurt, financial decline, pain. And the truth is, all of these might be part of our experience. We can’t protect ourselves from these things if we are going to venture into change.  

As I write these words, the Bruce Cockburn song, “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” plays through my mind: “nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight.” Perhaps we might alter this somewhat, “nothing worth having comes without some kind of pain.”   

CBWC: Along those lines, what would you say to an existing congregation who is considering changing decades-engrained rhythms of gathering?  

Andy: Funny enough, in most cases, I advise against rapid wholesale change unless there is an overwhelming consensus toward the change. Or unless there is little chance of anything surviving without a change. In my observation, the church (especially older churches) tend to be made up primarily of people who are change-resistant. The reason why the church remains the same over many years (and I’m not talking about those fundamental building blocks which shouldn’t change, I’m talking about the programs and the bulletins and the annual calendar of events etc.) is that the people who make up the majority (including most pastors) prefer the consistent, predictable patterns. They tend to be the late adopters as the early adopters often get frustrated and move on or join a church plant. Making abrupt changes with this group of people can create more pain and trouble than what is helpful. 

When we started our churches, the people that came with us all volunteered for the work. They were, by nature, people that sat on the front-side of that change continuum. They were the early adopters. And yet, even with this group, the biggest hurdle we faced in our first years was those deeply ingrained rhythms and the desire for people to return to those cherished and familiar traditions.  

Instead of making a wide-sweeping change to an entire community, I would suggest sending the willing out as an experimental project. Many significant organizations have branches which are known as “skunkworks.” Skunkworks are parts of a corporation that are set up as distinct from the main corporation and are provided resources (with few strings) to experiment and try new things.  

This seems an interesting approach to the church, where we release the willing and eager to step out into new environments and try to create new rhythms. 

For more on how simplechurches structure themselves and their rhythms, check out this video:  

 

What further questions do Andy’s thoughtful responses elicit for you? How have you been helped by his comments? Let us know! 

Exploring Re-Missioning

By Shannon Youell

“During this time we have an incredible opportunity to rethink, reimagine and remission ourselves.”

Last week, as I was switching cell phone service providers, I had a conversation with the support tech around our new work-from-home reality. It was a conversation that was becoming quite familiar: people and families are awakening to a new dynamic of living that many are finding less stressful, happier, less costly and overall, more satisfactory, as they transition from commuting to workplaces to working from the home office. The dynamic is causing much rethinking and reimagining on how people want to live their life—their mission, so to speak—after the world returns to regular safe activities.

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As churches we have the opportunity, as this blog explored, to rethink the way we gather and scatter. We have a window in which to reimagine what it means to be the church, the ecclesia, the ones called out as citizens of the kingdom of God to influence the world as people of Shalom.

Specifically, as we are thinking about meeting together in common spaces again, what kinds of hybrids might God be communicating to us? What new rhythms should we not discard once we can have “regular” life again?

To get you thinking, we’d like to re-introduce you to Andy Lambkin. The last time we shared Andy’s insights on the blog was in 2013! Andy works within church planting with the Alliance organization and has a network of churches in the Vancouver area that have already been on a twelve-year journey of rethinking, re-imagining and re-missioning.

Simplechurches is a network of house churches that are still very connected with one another. They have presence in multiple neighbourhoods, extending the Presence, grace and mission of God right where they live, work and play.

Of course, simplechurches was a church planting mission from the beginning. This gave them latitude to shift their cultural expectations of how the gathered church should look, even before they put the structures in place to do so. For the majority of us who meet in buildings together, there is a more complicated journey to re-missioning ourselves.

Our existing preconceptions and presumptions of what church gatherings must incorporate can often hinder us to imagine we can change anything and still have meaningful worship together. For many of us, we are finding that for some, it just “isn’t church,” if we don’t spend one or two hours singing together, praying and listening to teachings in a single location. Yet, our current reality has imposed upon us an opportunity to discover (and perhaps to be introspective) of what it is we value most and allowing ourselves to ask those hard questions, as posed in the previous blog, and be attentive to what God is communicating through all this and what it is we should be paying attention to.

It may be a time to pray, think, brainstorm and discern a hybrid type of gathering. It may mean rethinking what our small groups do, utilizing deeper discipleship with Shared Practices that all groups do together. The emphasis here is on the discipling of one another within the whole and for the benefit of the local neighbourhoods and for the larger gatherings of celebration together (PS: check out this incredible 3-part series on Practices, Postures and Leadership from Forge Canada).

What might it look like to gather together for fellowship, the breaking of bread, the Apostles’ teaching and prayer in homes on a Sunday, with every fourth Sunday all gathering together to celebrate God-With-Us in song, prayer, testimony, preaching? What might it look like if we did that with two or three other networks to share the building space and costs? How might these shifts end up changing how we are church in the world?

This is just one possible hybrid to explore, but it should get us started on our re-missioning journeys.

I encourage you to watch these two short videos, in which Andy shares the amazing way the simplechurches community discerned God calling them to rethink, reimagine and remission. Ponder, pray and give yourselves permission to rethink. 

Video 1: In the Beginning

 

Video 2: God’s Going to Tamper with the Water Systems