My Gospel Questionnaire, Part 1: How Jesus Put it

By Shannon Youell

One of the things I like to do is ask Christians “what is the gospel?” I don’t do it because I enjoy watching people squirm, but rather because these reactions show how those of us who are followers of Jesus have a hard time articulating the very thing we are commanded to proclaim.

evan-dennis-75563-unsplash.jpg

So, I’ve been doing a survey. For about ten years now. It goes something like this:

“What is the gospel? What is the good news that Jesus ushered in?” 

I’ve asked it of long-time Christians and new believers alike. More often than not, the answers range from explaining that the gospels are the first four books of the New Testament; or the gospel is the Creed; or the Gospel is summarized in four spiritual laws. Certainly we find aspects of the good news in all of those answers.

But there’s a follow up to question one:

Is our articulation of this gospel—this good news announced by angels, proclaimed by Jesus as the news of the kingdom now near us, among us, with us; of the fulfillment of prophecies that spoke of good news—actually heard as good news? 

It’s the question everyone should be wrestling with—because we should be able to talk about good news that, when shared with others, actually sounds like good news to them. To do so requires us to first look back at the historical Jesus and what He meant and what His hearers understood as “good news.”

When Jesus stepped out of His ordinary life into the spotlight, He said these things:

Repent.
The kingdom of God has come near.
Come follow me.

The story continues by telling us that “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria….” (Matthew 4:23, 24a).

The people who heard Jesus make these statements had an embedded understanding of what was being said to them because Jesus used concepts that meant something to them. The context, of course is their story, the story of Israel from the beginning and including their current occupied state.

The term gospel or good news had a known meaning. It was used as a heralding that a new king had battled an oppressive king. This new king would change everything about their lives. He had saved them from the results of that oppression and promised them peace and justice, both in the immediacy of the near future and into the future beyond.

When Jesus told those who heard Him that “the kingdom of God was near,” this was what they understood it would look like. The term “kingdom of heaven” or “kingdom of God,” had an embedded understanding that comes both out of the story of God and his people, Israel and their understanding of the royal pronouncement of Good News represented.

So when the Jewish people heard John the Baptist and Jesus speak the phrases “good news” and “the kingdom of God has come near,” their ears immediately perked up. Here is something they’ve been waiting for, looking for. It had deep meaning to them even if many of them became disappointed and then many more disillusioned, that it wasn’t a power exchange that led to some kind of political domination.

They also recognized and understood that good news is only good news if there is a king.  They were anticipating God’s movement of anointing a new king to His kingdom who would be the deliverer of salvation for all peoples. Thus those who heard this pronouncement looked towards the one in whom the pronouncement was focused. Without the anointed king, there could be no kingdom, so the good news was the victorious king.

Thus, Peter’s epiphany–that Jesus Himself is the Messiah, the saving King who will come to usher in God’s kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven–became those first followers’ battle cry.  It is because Jesus is that King, that Lord, that salvation from the oppressiveness of fallen humanity has broken into reality.

It is because Jesus is Lord that the sick are saved from sickness because mercy and justice are now upon them; that the “sinners” (literally “outsiders”) can be welcomed into the kingdom; that enemies can imagine what it looks like to love one another; that forgiveness can dominate and shape our thinking and actions towards one another; that we can now be in the presence of God who never stops looking for His lost children and be restored to relationship with Him and with community.

This was the rich, deep, joyful good news that pierced the hearts and souls of those who both heard and received it. It tangibly touched the aspects of their lives that were most separated from community relationships and from relationship with God their creator. It was so big that everyone with humbled hearts and willingness to rethink what they thought they already understood about God and themselves, could find a place of entry made possible by Jesus the King, Jesus their Lord. Good news indeed!

Tune in next week as we discuss what this good news means in our world today.

Advertisements

Book Review: Next Door As It Is In Heaven

By Fay Puddicombe

Next Door As It Is In Heaven is written by church strategists Lance Ford and Brad Brisco. They are part of the leadership team of Forge America Mission Training Network (ED: Southern brother of Forge Canada à la CBWC Pastor Cam Roxburgh). While their observations and ideas are geared for the US church culture, much of what they say is relevant for the Canadian scene as well.51J3vSECbxL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

The first half of the book identifies the things that have influenced the changes in our neighbourhoods. I remember well what my neighbourhood was like growing up in Saskatoon. Neighbours borrowed tools, chatted daily over the fence while hanging out laundry on Mondays, walked together to the nearest corner store.

The neighbourhood I live in now is very different.

Our “hoods” have become the place we retreat to when we want to get away from others. We enjoy our sheltered life in our well fenced back yards. When we head out we climb into our cars in the garage and might wave to a neighbour as we drive by. Would you be able to pick out your neighbour in a police lineup?

This book identifies things that influenced the change: city planning that separates retail and residential, consumerism, the dependence upon cars, our over-scheduled lives, and the impact of television.

Some themes in the book:

* Incarnation should inform our activity

* Biblical examples of God using people where they are

* Immerse, consider others, pray

* Be concerned and commit to the welfare of the city

Some of the solutions presented:

* Learn their names

* Hospitality

* Pray for them

* Watch for opportunities to cross paths and communicate

* “Behold” (intensely consider) your neighbours

* Create margin in your life so you can grasp opportunities when they come

* Rethink the use of your home

* Align with activities already happening—look at things you are already doing and invite others to join you (for example, meals)

“We all have good intentions but it does not just happen, we must make it happen.”

The authors list the interactions Jesus had with people, noting that they were most often around food. How can we connect with our neighbours around food? Having a front yard fire pit is one suggestion offered. Invite neighbours to join you around the fire. The authors suggest your most powerful evangelistic tool is your dining room table. They say, “Christians should be the most partyingest people on the street.”

The authors deal with some of our reasons/excuses why we think we can’t interact with people—don’t like their lifestyle, had an argument with him once, et cetera. Again they point us back to Jesus and the people He met with. They weren’t all upstanding “nice” people! We are reminded that everyone is made in the image of God.

The book is easy to read and has challenged me. I’ve given you a taste of it, but there is more; I recommend you read it. It might get you thinking how you too could “live out God’s Kingdom in your neighbourhood.”

Want to make your next move from “good intentions” to “making it happen”? Join us for Forge Canada’s Into The Neighbourhood conferences happening later this month in Edmonton and Vancouver. CBWC Church Planting is sponsoring some seats at each location, so talk to Shannon ASAP!

A small teaser:

“Success” in Church Planting

Last week, we heard from our friends from Pittsburgh Seminary on the way Jesus flips the definition of success when it comes to church planting (“Sometimes our expectations have to be crucified so that Jesus’ reign can be fully displayed.”)

Today, we continue the conversation about using Kingdom lenses to understand success in Church Planting, but this time with a Canadian perspective. Jared Siebert of the New Leaf Network shares these thoughts:

ravi-roshan-383162-unsplash.jpg

Success for the Pioneer
Pioneers in research, in science, in social movements, and in any other disciplines make incalculable contributions to their respective communities—especially if their community is stuck or stagnated. Pioneers matter because they look for and often find a new way forward. For them, however, success is harder to come by.

Success for a pioneer is two-fold: they must not only success in what they do, but they must find a new way to do it. To succeed at one and fail at the other is not really success at all. To be a pioneer in the field of church planting is no exception. Success, for pioneer planters, not only means establishing a new church, but establishing a new kind of church.

The idea that the church in Canada is in a period of stagnation is hardly controversial—we are indeed slowly shrinking. Much of the “new growth” we see in our successful churches come from Christians moving from one church to another. This includes many of our successful “fastest growing” church plants as well.

We have lost much of our capacity to invite average Canadians into the good news life we say we believe in. This is why understanding the work of pioneer church planters is so vital. Pioneer planters not only teach us what works, in terms of sharing the good news, but they teach us what is possible. They have something unique to offer in terms of pointing the way out of our current situation.

Redefining Success
A Christian leader’s primary task is not to be successful, but to be faithful to God. This is an important starting point. The process of living out our calling in leadership—just like living out any other calling in the body of the church—is first and foremost a process of sanctification. God wants to sanctify us in our ministry. Successful use of skills will always be secondary. God’s primary concern is on deepening our character, and not simply ensuring that we’re meeting some kind of skill standards.

What if success was “being faithful to whatever it is that God asked you to do”? Here’s my logic: given the complexity of the current Canadian reality, we can safely assume we’re not all being sent out to do the same job. Some will be sent out to stabilize what already exists. Some will be sent out to repair. Some will be sent out to forge new ground. You know, different part but one Spirit kinds of stuff. So what if there wasn’t one unifying definition of success for every church in every place?

For instance, success in a conflicted church might mean a total focus on unity and conflict resolution. Numerical growth may not be part of the equation for a long time; it may even wind up being a distraction. Success in a complacent church may mean fostering holy discontent and discomfort—two things that can act as serious growth inhibitors.

What if our definition of success changed as the people and the job did?

This article is from Jared’s book Gutsy: (Mis)Adventures in Canadian Church Planting. You can find it on Amazon, or ask if you can borrow my copy next time we see each other! ~Cailey

 

 

 

 

 

Intentional Discipleship Pathways

By Shannon Youell

“Discipleship is becoming proficient in the essentials in order to live into God’s in-breaking Kingdom. Your average Christian has not been discipled in the basics of following Jesus, living on mission, dwelling in community, being present in their neighborhood, and sharing the holistic Gospel. We often relegate the basics to children, yet the basics are the foundational moorings we need to recover for being human in the way of Jesus.”  Dan White Jr., V3 Church Planting Movement

Increasingly churches and faith organizations are rethinking their methods and purposes of discipleship. Most churches would certainly consider themselves as making disciples, but the indicator of discipleship needs to be measured with fruit-bearing.  What kind of disciples are we making?  Are these disciples able to: follow Jesus, live on mission, dwell in community, be present in their neighbourhoods and share the holistic
Gospel of the Kingdom of God?

River_Rothay_stepping_stones_120508w

In my several decades of participating in faith, church and ministry, I frequently land back on the discipleship conversation, especially when I realize that the barriers to engaging and participating in the whole work of the kingdom is hindered only by our own lack of understanding and often ignorance of what that means and how we actually do it.  Thus we need to be asking ourselves, as Dallas Willard suggested, Do we have a plan and is that plan working? We then begin the hard work of shaping pathways to follow Jesus’ example of making disciples who can then join God on mission in their neighbourhoods and make disciples.

Read the rest of 5 Steps for Creating a Discipleship Pathway” and let us know what discipleship questions you are wrestling with in your own context?

What discipleship “pathways” do you and your church engage in?  Are they bearing the fruit you hoped for?  If the answer is yes, share it with us so we can share it with others! Or what journey have you begun that is reshaping, exciting and engaging you as a community of believers on a discipleship journey together?

If you’ve never had an intentional relational pathway to make disciples, then talk to us.  We’d love to encourage you and suggest some good resources to get you started.  In my own home church, we started by stopping.  Seriously.  And now we are on a journey together in which we are equally excited about how God is working in us and around us and frustrated at how slow we are to relearn what being a disciple looks like in our everyday worlds.

 

 

 

Excuses for Discipleship

By Cailey Morgan

Last time, I wrote about the how being citizens of God’s Kingdom means growing in our understanding of our heavenly Father’s economy of abundance and how exclusion from the Canada summer grants program provides an opportunity to disciple our folk in this Kingdom way.  

Another opportunity that this shift in summer grant funding provides is the excuse to stop and reflect on why we do the summer day camps or other outreach programs that these government grants often pay for, and how, with whom, and what we do this summer now that Canada’s taxpayers aren’t footing bill for our the interns’ wages. And this leads me to the second aspect of Jesus’ life on earth that we need to pay attention to: Jesus used every moment as an opportunity for discipleship and leadership development.  

 

hello-i-m-nik-592972-unsplash

Sometimes, Jesus had planned times of teaching where He would cast the vision of God’s Kingdom to His closest followers. Other times, a woman would interrupt by touching His robe, or children would run up, or the Pharisees would come looking for trouble. In all these situations, Jesus took the opportunity as a teaching moment: a chance for discipleship of the crowd and for leadership development of His core team. 

So for us, I’m asking a simple “why” question: Why do we do day camps? Why do we do programs? 

This isn’t a rhetorical question. What’s your answer?  

Day camps are obviously a great way to show hospitality to kids in our neighbourhood. But we need to ask the bigger questions of what the long-term purpose is? I’ve personally been guilty of helping run camps in order to feel like I’m busy doing “God’s work” and to check off my “evangelism” box on my to do list. There is so much more potential.  

Let’s think seriously about what excuses we can come up with to disciple our people into the next level of growth in their love of God, each other and neighbour this summer. Maybe day camps aren’t the right connection point for those in your neighbourhood who don’t know Christ yet–and the lack of internship funding this summer will help force your congregation’s hand towards a different plough.  If so, that’s awesome. But before you throw summer day camps out the window, I want you to consider the revelation I had on the other side of the world a few weeks ago.

I was in Albania in preparation for a summer youth leadership development program in which teens from the Canadian and Albanian congregations of our church will be learning about and practicing Christian leadership. Between church leadership meetings, visits to the elementary school we hope to engage throughout the summer, and scoping out accomodations for the summer team, I sat down with the neighbourhood pastor of our Sauk village congregation to talk about the potential of running some day camps for neighbourhood kids as part of the LTD program.  

My initial bent was that the Albanian congregation is perfectly capable of running day camps–why should we wait until the Canadian youth arrive to do this ministry? Every time we visit from Canada we help run camps, and it can seem like just a program to keep the Canadian team busy and feel like we’ve accomplished something. But as the conversation continued, we were both struck with a deeper vision: the discipleship pathway. 

Discipleship at Camps(1).jpg

Why Day Camps? Because they’re a chance to disciple young people and leaders at every level.

Every person in the world is on a discipleship journey. Some are running the path as fast and hard as they can. Others do not recognize that God is at work in their lives and are wandering in other directions. Summer day camps are an excuse for discipleship all along the spectrum. At one end is the wide-open door of invitation for kids who’ve never known the love and peace of Christ to draw near to Him through these camps. Super important.  

At the other end is the church leadership, who are building into young leaders and working hard to pass the baton and share the keys whenever possible.

Eexcuses for discipleship–camps not for the sake of camps but for the twofold sake of evangelism and a chance to develop leaders out of our wiling and energetic young people. We’re taking the leadership development angle of camps very seriously this summer, using the excuse to have youth and adults train in leadership skills and practice those skills in our neighbourhoods.

I share this example of camp leadership because the levels of discipleship are easily defined and you can see a clear path of growth into leadership over time. But this path is true for discipling anyone–adults, church leaders, we’re all on a path of growth and all need to be simultaneously being discipled by someone further along in the journey and discipling those newer on the path. Any excuse for people being together can be an excuse for discipleship.

What excuses for discipleship are taking place in your congregation? 

Rethinking Success

With Guest Blogger, Alberta Regional Minister Dennis Stone

There are a multitude of voices and assumptions, both historical and cultural, on what constitutes a successful church plant. In today’s blog, we hear from Alberta Regional Minister Dennis Stone and his gained wisdom in the metrics we use to determine a “successful” new community or church plant. ~Shannon

Everyone is behind Church Planting, but as the Alberta Regional Minister I’d like to put a twist on our perception of it. Usually we think of Church Planting as an effort to have a ministry group form, develop finance and worship structures, support a pastor, gain a church building and become fully independent. Those elements are often how successful church planting is perceived.

CBWC Gathering 2017.5.25-158.jpg

Dennis.

In Alberta at the present time we are working with several worshipping congregations that are far from being independent as listed above. These are, however, vibrant congregations hungry for the Word of God, discipling and evangelizing … all on a level that would be outstanding for any of our established churches. In Alberta at the present time we have groups meeting for worship intentionally seeking association with the CBWC (not just meeting in CBWC buildings) in the following languages: Birundi, Karen, KaChin, and Haitian/Creole (Bonnie Doon-Edm). These situations do not include already affiliated groups that serve immigrant communities such a Premiere Eglise d’Expression Francaise de Calgary (PEEEFC) a Haitian group, or Greenhills Christian Fellowship that effectively ministers to those from the Philippines, nor does it include the efforts of FBC Calgary in providing ministry for Spanish and Ethiopian ministries or Westview Baptist in providing ministry for Japanese, Arabic and Deaf (sign language) ministries.

In the new year it looks like we may have another Spanish congregation to work with in Edmonton. Our Calgary Korean church is an exception–independent and healthy, effectively ministering for decades in the Korean language.

These congregations almost always work on a shoestring budget while renting facilities. They usually have pastors who serve out of the goodness of their heart with little financial return for their efforts. Few of these worshipping congregations will ever be fully independent or successful church plants in the traditional sense, but the CBWC cannot stop helping these ministries that do evangelism, immigrant integration, worship in a known language, and intentional mission work within our Canadian borders.

Shannon’s note: Consider how you might join where God is working in some of our new ethnic specific churches as they struggle financially. CBWC and Church Planting are committed to these groups as they do the good work of sharing faith and worship as they gather and as they scatter. Contact us to become a Venture Partner to encourage our brothers and sisters who need the body of Christ so they do not become discouraged in their labour. The apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 8, commends the Macedonian church, who even in the midst of their own financial lack, pleaded to share with other saints who were also doing the work of the kingdom of God. And along with Paul, I praise God that we have and can have the privilege of seeing generosity extended among our family of churches.

Resources from Banff

By Shannon Youell with Cailey Morgan

From the YWCA “Hotel Y” in Montreal, where I wrote from a few weeks ago, to the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, church planting and missional innovation takes us into all sorts of diverse places and spaces!

What I find exhilarating about all these different spaces are the conversations with so many Jesus followers who are excited about how we as Church are growing in our understanding to where God is present beyond the space where we share Sunday worship and Communion.

We’re grateful and encouraged by each of the conversations we were able to have with so many of you last week at CBWC’s Banff Pastors Conference. Throughout the week speaker David Fitch challenged us in how we approach all the spaces and places we find ourselves in: “The church’s primary task is to be present to God’s presence.”

0Banff2017-137

Heartland Regional Minister Mark Doerksen and I, giving David Fitch a hard time.

When Jesus sent the twelve into the villages He instructed them to find people of peace. People of peace are those folk we come across in our neighborhoods, work spaces, fields, rinks and studios, who welcome us into their spaces and host us. When we approach these spaces from a platform of prayer asking God to reveal where He is at work, we can have opportunities to get to know the people around us and for God to reveal Himself to them.

But, as David emphasized, we are the guests in these spaces.  We do not come with an agenda of arguing someone into faith, but we come with a posture of listening and seeing how God is already working in their stories even when they don’t yet know it.

If you stopped by our table, hopefully you received a Neighbourhood Engagement Toolkit from us.  Here are some of those resources for your further use. We hope they’re helpful!

Cheat_Sheet_For_Church_Leaders_Page_1.jpg

Art of Neighbouring Leader Guide

blockmap-1(1).jpg

Neighbourhood Block Map

Thirty-Day-Prayer-Guide_Page_1

Thirty Days of Prayer Walking Guide

Prayer walking and neighbourhood mapping have been helpful and fruitful practices to both of us personally, and we’d love to hear from you how you have or will use the Art of Neighboring or prayer walk resources in your context. Leave a comment here, or contact Cailey: cmorgan@cbwc.ca.

Leadership and Post-Christendom

by Mark Doerksen, Heartland Regional Minister, CBWC

11882_Bible-Ephesians

Shannon asked me to write a piece on leadership, and I am happy to oblige.  These thoughts on leadership have been percolating in my mind for a while now, so I’ll attempt to get these thoughts into some semblance of order.  I’m grateful for the opportunity, and grateful for the work of Cailey, Shannon, and Joell (the French pronunciation) for their work in church planting.

I was able to attend a class led by Darrell Guder at Carey Theological College in January of 2017.  For fun, Guder works on translating Karl Barth’s work into English.  So I wasn’t surprised to find out that Guder has also been instrumental in teaching David Bosch’s game-changing book, Transforming Mission.  Guder is no slouch; he’s currently the Professor of Missional and Ecumenical Theology Emeritus at Princeton Theological, and has taught in the area of the church after Christendom for a long time. He has used Bosch’s text as his main text book since Bosch’s book was first published, and really enjoys helping others understand the implications of Bosch’s work.

If you’ve read Bosch, you know that you may be tempted to skip a paragraph or two, but you do so at your own peril; seemingly each paragraph is rich and full of information that you don’t want to miss.  I appreciate Bosch because of his sifting of vast information, and his ability to formulate nuanced arguments for theology and mission, even today.  For example, if you were to attempt to get a definition of evangelism out of Bosch, you would have to read 9 pages with 18 different points, bearing in mind that mission and evangelism are not synonymous, though ultimately linked together.  Brevity isn’t his strength.

So too is Bosch’s treatment of leadership for the missional church today.  In Christendom, the responsibility of ministry lay mainly with the ordained, a power structure comprised mostly of men to lead the work of the church.  There is a shift in this thinking, as a movement is afoot to take this responsibility of a few ordained men and to make it the responsibility of the whole people of God (Bosch, 2014, 478).   Bosch describes this new reality as a rediscovery of the “apostulate of the laity” or the “priesthood of all believers,” a concept that isn’t new to Baptists (481).

In making this shift, people turn to texts like Ephesians 4 to think about leadership in this post-Christendom environment.  The history of interpretation of this text has not been smooth.  Calvin suggested that the only gifts necessary were pastors and teachers.  Some have suggested that the office of an apostle has long disappeared.  But missional theologians and thinkers like this passage because it speaks of the collegiality of leadership.   Leadership is not suited for one individual; instead, there are a multiplicity of gifts and abilities required for leadership.  Leadership is a community within a community.  The notion of a solo pastor making all the decisions for a community that bears witness is not a model that is as welcome as it used to be.  Instead, collegial, cordial, shared leadership amongst folks with different gifts seems to be the model moving forward after Christendom.  Folks like Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost write a lot about this model of leadership.

If Alan Hirsch is right about this, and if his church experience is to be an example for us, churches need to make a deliberate shift to this sort of leadership.  As he describes in The Forgotten Ways, the leadership of his church made a deliberate decision to embrace this leadership style, with each ministry (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers) having a team leader.  This posture allows for a dynamic learning system embedded in leadership, with the church poised for mission and health.

Of course, there are some theological reservations here.  If your Twitter feed is similar to mine, you will have read that not everyone agrees with the prominence of the Ephesians 4 passage for ministry and leadership.   Must each individual within a community of faith have one of the gifts of Ephesians 4, or are there other gifts?  The grammar police also have concerns; are pastors and teachers different gifts, or the same one, and what do the Greek grammar rules have to say about this?  You get the idea, and you may well add your voice to the concerns raised here.

And yet….  Given all the concerns about this sort of leadership, I personally find this collegial approach to be helpful.  I find it especially helpful and corrective in cases where solo pastors think they are the main people to hear from God regarding a particular community.  Related, this model also helps guard against authoritarian leadership in churches; it helps pastors move away from “thus sayeth the Lord” models to a model which shares leadership and responsibility, and which appreciates the gifts of the others who are leading.  Even my personality resonates with this sort of approach; I’d much rather work together with others than to dictate what has to happen.  As I see it, we’re a part of an upside-down kingdom (Kraybill) where we serve the other, not dictate to others.  Any model that helps us avoid dictator models, even benevolent dictators, is beneficial, though, as already mentioned here, these models need to be discerned as well.

Read an outline of Alan Hirsch’s APEST leadership here. Do you agree with Mark’s analysis? Are you a Bosch fan? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment on the blog or emailing cmorgan@cbwc.ca.

Post-Christendom and Bivocational Ministry

By Scott Hagley

Post-Christendom Ministry

Standing in the middle of a field in Burnaby, British Columbia, I could not help but smile. Hundreds of people from our neighborhood—new immigrants, families, elderly, young professionals— streamed into a park for the second annual “Inclusion Festival.” A youth band from a local music school played on a stage and a Peruvian dance troupe was the next act. Across the field, children worked on art projects, waited in line to jump in an inflatable castle, played games with the city parks staff, and tested their soccer skills against some coaches from a local camp. Increasingly, this is what pastoral ministry looks like in North America: finding a way to be present in the middle of one’s neighborhood in love and hope.

iStock-508902096.jpeg

The Inclusion Festival grew from the vision of a refugee claimant named Sofia. A married mother of two from Peru, she found government-sponsored housing in my neighborhood and began to make herself a vital part of the community. Occasionally, Sofia came to church functions. After a bullying incident in her daughter’s school, Sofia decided that our neighborhood needed a public event focused on the message of inclusion, hospitality, and acceptance.

The surprising success of the first Inclusion Festival drew public attention. City officials approached Sofia and offered a grant to establish the Inclusion Festival annually, with one catch: she needed to find a registered nonprofit to receive the funds and claim responsibility. Suddenly our church became the sponsoring organization for a community event that we did not plan or initiate, and one run by a non-member whose status in the country remained (at that time) uncertain. It was a mess. I like to lead. I have experience running and planning such events. But instead of leading, I found myself in a supportive role alongside Sofia.

She pulled together neighbors and created an experience that we (the church) could not. She blessed the neighborhood. And so did we . . . by supporting her. This, at least in part, is what post-Christendom ministry looks like.

Decline of Christianity in North America

We are all aware of surveys that report ambivalence toward religion generally and declining interest in Christianity specifically across North America. American Grace, by Robert Putnam and David Campbell, reports the rise of those claiming “none” for religious affiliation, while Christian Smith (Soul Searching) describes the Christian commitment of our young people as “moral therapeutic deism.” Sociology aside, we all likely know of a congregation that has closed, a church plant that has failed, or a church building turned into a beer hall. Post-Christendom describes (albeit imperfectly) this reality.

The Christian church in North America has lost significant power and influence. The fairly recent interest in “bivocational” ministry emerges as one solution. The reasoning usually follows: congregations have less money available for ministry staff and less energy for fundraising; congregations will survive if they have more financial flexibility; therefore we need pastors who are not solely dependent upon the church for income. It argues for bi-vocational ministry as a strategic element for congregational survival. But that argument misses the opportunity that bi-vocational ministry places within the congregation.

The North American church is not the only casualty of changing cultural meanings and social upheaval. Since (at least) the 1980s, observers have prophesied the loss of public life in America—declining civil society institutions, voluntarism, and civic practices crucial for democracy. We face a slate of social problems that seem intractable. Institutions as basic as government, school, law, and family are in various stages of upheaval. As Barbara Kellerman suggests, we seem to be facing a crisis in leadership (The End of Leadership); we have lost a collective faith not only in the pastoral leader, but also authorities in general. We must not lose sight of the fact that our congregational malaise participates in a broader cultural uncertainty.

Bi-vocational Ministry as an Opportunity

Here bi-vocational ministry becomes a Spirit-given opportunity for the church to discover the shape of mission and ministry in our dynamic era. Recently John McKnight and Peter Block have made the principles of Asset Based Community Development practically accessible in their book The Abundant Community. McKnight and Block suggest a gift-based localism, arguing that we will not build community and social trust/capital by consulting experts to solve societal problems. Rather, we will address a variety of social ills by focusing on the gifts already present in a neighborhood in order to cultivate local communities of shared gifts. Cities across North America have begun experimenting with this thesis.

The cry for abundant communities invites us to reconsider the ways that pastoral ministry might be gifted to the broader community. Bi-vocational ministry presents a distinct adaptive challenge to the church. It invites us to think more publicly about pastoral ministry, to imagine different possibilities for sharing life and funds. It is not simply “tentmaking” for the sake of making ends meet, but rather the practice of ministry for the well-being of the neighborhood.

Sofia’s invitation did not fit within the usual bounds of pastoral leadership. Her event was not one organized by the church, it did not promise to grow the church as “outreach,” and Sofia was not a member or in frequent attendance at the church. My work with the Inclusion Festival gave me the opportunity to be present in and with my neighborhood in an entirely different way. Consequently, our church community received an opportunity to participate in the sharing of gifts—Sofia’s vision, our volunteer base, city funds, a host of neighborhood organizations, and the sharing of a collective and public neighborhood event.

In a place described by several polls as Canada’s loneliest city, such an event and the sharing of such gifts certainly reflects some of God’s trustworthy character and work in the world. Perhaps, just perhaps, so-called bivocational ministry provides the push that we need to live in and with our neighborhoods in such a way that folks like Sofia and the gifts of our neighbors might be given fresh expression in the name and hope of Christ.

Dr. Scott Hagley is assistant professor of missiology at Pittsburgh Seminary and also works with the Seminary’s Church Planting Initiative and teaches in the MDiv Church Planting Emphasis program as well as the new Church Planting and Revitalization certificate program. He previously served as director of education at Forge Canada in Surrey, British Columbia, where he worked to develop curriculum for the formation of missional leaders in hubs across Canada.

This article first appeared on the Seminary’s blog. The Seminary offers multiple programs for those interesting in church planting including the Graduate Certificate in Church Planting and Revitalization, Master of Divinity with Church Planting Emphasis, and the Church Planting Initiative. Learn more about these programs online.

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).

Cid_Latty.png

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?