Fifteen years ago, Rosalee Richardson went with a group of fellow students from Prairie Bible Institute (PBI) to Sunchild First Nation Reserve to take part in a locally-run ministry called Coyote Creek Chapel. Located an hour West of Rocky Mountain House, Sunchild reserve is the definition of rural: a close-knit community with many generations of families. The place and the people quickly captured Rosalee’s heart, who continued to grow her relationships there after her time with PBI ended.
She now lives four hours away, but visits her friends there a handful of times throughout the year, often accompanied by her husband and three young children. When people think of participating in a ministry involving a reserve, they often think of what they can do—what programs they can run, what items they can bring––but Rosalee says it’s more about building relationships than anything else: listening and learning, and responding when an invitation is extended or need is made known.
Over the years, Rosalee has made a point of learning from her friends about their culture and doing her own studying to better educate herself and understand the issue of reconciliation. Reconciliation has been brought to the forefront over the last few years, but many churches don’t know what to do with it, or what role they might personally play. Rosalee believes a first step for churches is more education and understanding, and the second is about building personal relationships. Here are some of her reflections:
A thought I have been mulling over a lot is what does reconciliation look like for our country on a macro and micro-level? On the macro-level, our government has a role to play in accountability to the past, that’s for them to figure out. So, then it comes back to the micro- level, person to person. And all I keep thinking is Reconciliation starts with ME. It starts with me treating all equally––taking God’s command seriously of loving my neighbour and remembering we are all one nation under God, brothers and sisters in Christ.
So, it’s about finding opportunities to get to know each other, hear each other’s stories and learn about the culture. The church in Canada needs to work on the education of our understanding of Indigenous People. To know there is a nation within our nation that is often living in poverty and generational cycles of abuse, yet many are unaware. We need to do better at seeing the need in our own country, and likely the need in our own hearts to shift our thinking towards our Indigenous Peoples.
Fifteen years ago, on my first day on Sunchild Reserve, we headed to the Coyote Creek Chapel, led by longtime missionaries who have given now 50 years of service. It was like the Holy Spirit was showing me how He had prepared me for this place, for these people. He gave me an immediate love for them. When I am there, my cup is filled as much as it is poured out. We always pray as we are hitting the long gravel road that takes us to the one-way blue bridge marking the entrance onto the reservation. My prayer is “God go before, beside us, behind us and all around us. May your presence be in each place we stop. Prepare for us the way and take us where we need to go. Keep us safe and may we be a blessing to others.” God has always honoured this prayer, we feel His protection, we see his divine appointments, and timing. God has shown me how he has protected us and prompted us.
I started out as a single college student going to help with Sunday school and it now has become my husband and three children packing up and driving the 4 hours to go continue to deepen our friendships. I LOVE watching my two older children now building their own bonds with kids and seeing the importance of loving on them. They are growing in their role in passing on the love of Christ and I couldn’t be more proud of them.
I wish I could put into words my love for my friends out there. I have walked through 15 years of life with many of them and formed deep bonds. We have had moments of fun and joy to moments of deep despair as we walked through terrible events like murder, suicide, addiction, depression and family hurts. Through my relationships on the reservation, I have learned that they are a resilient, strong, and brave nation. They know how to keep walking forward and have a laugh even in their hardest moments. Mark Maxwell said, “Joy in the journey does not imply the absence of opposition and difficulty, rather the Peace of God and certainty of His purpose in the middle of adversity.” They walk this out daily. I have learned a great deal from my friends and it has helped me in my own valleys. Keep walking and keep laughing.
Not everyone has the opportunity to visit and plug into a reserve without a personal connection or one in proximity. So how can your church practically get involved? One way to start is by initiating the education piece. Jodi Spargur runs a non-profit organization that is all about this, called Red Clover, Healing at the Wounded Place. She provides resources for churches, courses, council and will come visit your church to speak. Even if you don’t live near a reserve, there are many practical things you can do to be engaged.
Hubert Barton attends Grandview Church in Vancouver, BC, and has been serving as the coordinator for the Indigenous Studies Program at the Vancouver School of Theology, after graduating from the program himself in 2019. We had the opportunity to connect with Hubert, hear his story and get his perspective on rural church planting in western Canada. You won’t be able to miss his pastoral heart and huge love for Jesus and for his community in this interview!
It’s great to meet you, Hubert. Tell us a bit about where you came from. I’m from the North Coast of British Columbia, from a community called Ging̱olx, BC, right at the mouth of the Nass River. There are four communities that make up the Nisga’a nation. The furthest inland is Gitlaxt’aamiks, with 2000 people in that community. If you drive about 15 minutes down the highway, you get to the smallest community, called Gitwinksihlkw: roughly 150 to 200 people. Drive a little bit more towards the coast. You will travel along a lava bed, you will travel along the river and through the mountains, past hot springs and waterfalls and you get the community called Laxgalts’ap. It’s similar in size to my community: roughly 250 or 300 people.
Drive another 30 minutes to the end of the road, and you’ll get to Ging̱olx, where the river meets the coast. We’re surrounded by mountains and wildlife; still very, very untouched by the outside world. We have a few mom-and-pop type corner stores, but up until a few years ago, we didn’t have cell service or paved roads.
It’s so peaceful. It’s absolutely beautiful and very pristine. That’s probably my favorite thing about it. If you stop and listen you could hear two rivers flowing by. You can hear the birds, the eagles in the air.
And what was life like for you growing up? I’m the youngest of four brothers and one sister. They’re all really close together in age, and there’s a seven-year gap. And then there’s me. I just remember being surrounded by family, all the time.
When I was 13, I had two options because there was no high school in my community: I could either move to Prince Rupert or to Gitlaxt’aamiks. I chose initially to go to Prince Rupert because that’s where a lot of my brothers had gone, but I only lasted for a couple months because I just couldn’t stand being away from my community, staying at some strangers’ place. It was pretty tough. So I ended up doing high school at Gitlaxt’aamiks.
At that school I stayed in a student residence with all the other students from the Valley. So even moving away for high school, I was surrounded by my people.
I’ve actually been really homesick lately. That’s the thing about being an urban indigenous person. Growing up in Gingolx and in my culture, I was always surrounded by family. Living in Vancouver, that’s not the case anymore. I appreciate the opportunities of city life, but I really miss home—even something as simple as meals. These days I usually eat alone. I’m used to eating with my whole family, or my 17 closest friends at high school! Totally different.
Share a bit of your own faith journey? I grew up in a Christian family. My parents are Christian. My grandparents were Christian, so I was the kid playing in the pews. I grew up in that environment, but it didn’t actually become real until 2010. That’s the year that I lost my mother. We were finally approaching that point in our relationship where we could become friends. We were getting close. But she just left, and my world kind of fell apart at that point.
I remember very clearly: I was sleeping downstairs in my bedroom and my dad came running downstairs. He said, “Son, come upstairs. Your mom’s not doing well.”
She was in a lot of pain and she couldn’t say a single word. We rushed her to the hospital in Terrace, which is about a two-hour drive. She was only in the emergency room for about 15 minutes, and I was rubbing her back and trying to comfort her. In true mother fashion, she was more worried about us than anything. She was telling us to get food and check into a hotel. And then, just like that, she took her last breath while I was literally rubbing her back.
My world fell apart. In the weeks and months that followed, my family would have family dinners to encourage each other, to bring a laugh and lift each other up. It worked for a while—sitting in my living room being surrounded by 30 or 40 brothers and sisters, nieces, nephews and cousins and friends of the family. But two or three months into this, I remember being surrounded by my loved ones, but feeling really, incredibly alone.
It was during one of these dinners that I felt something inside me kind of stir up. And it told me to get up and move. So I grabbed my sweater and I just walked out the door. I went for a walk and I had no idea where I was going. But I eventually found myself outside my home church, Gingolx Church Army.
I snuck up the stairs, opened the door as quietly as I could and peeked inside. I could see everybody inside peeking back at me. About a dozen of them, having a Bible study. But their faces lit up when they saw me and they immediately welcomed me in. They asked me if I wanted to have tea and to hang out with them. I remember stepping inside that church and feeling this Presence. I remember feeling this calm, this peace and this love that I didn’t quite fully understand at that moment. So, I kept going back for a couple of weeks after that to the regular church services.
A lot of my aunties and uncles, especially on my mom’s side, were part of the church, and I just remember learning from them about the love of God and Jesus. During one of these services, I recognized who that Presence was. That Presence that I could sense continued to go with me after that moment. And I remember just bawling my eyeballs out, just saying, “God, I can’t do this anymore. Here: You take complete control. Just take over because I can’t do this anymore.”
I poured out all my garbage, and in return I felt Jesus’ peace, and this love. From that moment, He kind of just put the pieces of my heart back together. Losing my mother was one of the biggest challenges in my life, but that’s also when everything became real for me—when my relationship with God, Christ, Holy Spirit came, one-on-one, and I realized what this was all about.
And that kind of started the path I’m on right now to be living in Vancouver.
So how did you end up in Vancouver? One of my aunties invited me along to summer school here at the Vancouver School of Theology Indigenous Studies program. I happily said, “yes!” and I came down to audit some courses. I got to meet so many people from different cultures and backgrounds and different places across Canada, the US, Australia, New Zealand. It was so encouraging to hear everyone’s stories, I kept coming back to audit courses and eventually was encouraged to work towards the Masters degree. Through a lot of hesitancy, I said yes.
I studied at a distance for the first few years, but in 2016 something stirred up inside me again. I needed to stretch and to grow. So in 2016 I left my home and moved down here to study through the VST Indigenous Studies Program full time. I graduated 2019 and I’m very blessed in the fact that I’m now coordinating the program that I graduated from.
Tell us more about your work? The Teaching House that Moves Around is a smaller part of the Indigenous Studies Program. My favorite thing about it is it’s all Indigenous-led. Typically, Ray Aldred or myself will visit a community and will have a meal or coffee with either the community or the leaders. And we’ll see what they need and we’ll do our best to help them now. Then we go through the planning, we secure appropriate faculty members—qualified facilitators, and we do our best to keep it Indigenous.
We do our best to help strengthen their strengths versus trying to build something new. We do our best to help them with what they’re good at already so that they can do it better and help people more. The two most popular courses that we offer are “Ministry in the Midst of Trauma” and “Indigenous Christology.”
One of the biggest things for Indigenous communities is trying to wrestle with your Christian identity and your Indigenous identity. But also there’s a lot of trauma in communities and it’s not uncommon to experience so much loss and death in a short period of time. And that tends to compound on each other. And so that’s probably the most popular one: “Ministry in the Midst of Trauma.” Especially with the recent discoveries in Kamloops and other places of the unmarked graves at Residential School sites. There has been a lot of grief in our communities and so training on trauma has become even more important. Grief is hard to process—especially to do it in a good, healthy way, to know that it is okay to feel like that. So we aim to help equip people with these types of tools and skills that they can help themselves and use to help others.
Each course goes anywhere from three days to five days at the most. In the morning there are teachings and then in the afternoon, we try to do the fun activity or a land-based activity. This structure helps balance the intellectual side and the grounded and connected, relational side.
Sometime later we’ll do a follow up and just go for coffee, have a meal and check in to see how everyone’s doing.
We have done them as far as Ontario, Alberta, we’ve even done them in Hawaii.
Is there a place for Settlers to be the ones bringing the Gospel into Indigenous communities, especially in light of Canada’s history? Most Indigenous peoples really love the Gospel. They love Jesus, but when it comes to the institution of the church, that’s when it gets quite challenging.
It would depend on the community honestly. I can’t foresee it being an overall positive thing—unless you go with the Anglican approach back home, where it’s a very long vision: kind of just show that here you want to be a part of the community and you genuinely care for the people.
Yes—tell us about the history of Christianity in the area you grew up? Unfortunately, it didn’t work out so well with the first missionaries to arrive in in our area. They came to our communities and basically were very, I guess, stereotypical when it comes to the history. They looked at us as evil or devil worshippers. They made us scrap all of our traditions. They did their best to make us get rid of all of our traditional ways of knowing and being. It went so far as, in the community of Laxgalts’ap, they made them gather all their regalia, traditional drums and totems and they put them in the center of the community and they burned them. They just made a big bonfire of everything we were as Indigenous peoples.
And then they ditched us. They left.
However, after that the Anglicans arrived, and they did things very differently. They didn’t try to change us completely. Yes, they shared with us the Gospel and shared with us the love of God, but they also lived with us. And what I mean by that is right beside my house growing up was a big Christ Church that was built in early 1900s. Right in front of it was a place called the Mission House, and that’s where they stayed. And so they literally came to live with us. They stayed with us. They learned our culture, they went as far as to learn our language.
They journeyed alongside us. They became so close to us that the Bishop of our diocese was adopted into the Wolf clan. He was so welcome and loved, they gave him a Nisg̱a’a name, loosely translated in English as “Wolf Shepherd,” because he came in and just cared for the people.
I remember church services being packed out as a kid. We had two churches in my community. One is Christ Church, which is the typical Anglican church. Services are very liturgy-filled and the space is very sacred. But then afterward they would make us breakfast and we’d all eat together. Even something as simple as boiled egg, toast and jam, and coffee. This is truly why I believe that Anglicanism is strong as it is in my area when it comes to denominations.
We got excited about the stories, and can easily get with Jesus’ ways of knowing and being. We wanted an opportunity to celebrate. So, in the afternoons we’d gather at the second church: Church Army. That was more expressive, more Anglican-Evangelical, with guitars, drums and bass guitars.
People would be standing, singing, clapping, raising their hands and praying. And to be honest I think we kind of drove the regular Anglican church nuts at times because we would take the Gospel and make it our own. We started preaching ourselves and we started reading and learning ourselves, and we started sharing testimonies. It was our way of living out the good news they had brought.
But in terms of bringing the Gospel, they did it in a really good way in the sense that they actually came and journeyed alongside us. They lived, celebrated, cried with us. They genuinely care about us and basically lived the Gospel to us. In essence, they embodied God’s love when they came versus trying to completely change us.
What advice would you give for those considering rural church planting? Your question reminds me of when I did chaplaincy training in the Downtown Eastside. And I remember arriving there for my first day, and I just reminded myself over and over and over and over again: “God, I know you are already here, so I’m not gonna be bringing You anywhere. You already exist everywhere and in all things. You created all things, you are already here. So just give me the eyes to see You. Just help me to stay grounded in love through the process.”
One of the questions I would get asked about the most is “Why? Why are you a Christian? Why did you go to VST?”
I would tell them, for me personally, it’s never been about a denomination. It’s never been about a building or worship space or about a Bishop, priest or anything like that. It’s about when my story of brokenness collided with the gospel and the story of Jesus. He got broken. And beautiful love was displayed in that moment.
One piece of advice that I tend to give the most is don’t be afraid to make mistakes. I notice a lot of people, especially non-Indigenous people, often get afraid to take a chance because they’re afraid they’re going to do something wrong. They might offend someone, so they end up being paralyzed in that fear, and they don’t do nothing at all, right? But mistakes are kind of expected from us, you know, Creator expects some mistakes from us. There is forgiveness. Do it in a good way, from a genuine place, and especially grounded in love.
I’m sure you can relate to the experience: when my husband and I moved into our current home, we had an earnest desire to get to know our neighbours.
We hosted a Canada Day BBQ, the folks across the street brought cookies, and our “newness” to the community was an excuse to connect. But over time, we let day-to-day responsibilities push us hurriedly past the retired couple tending their garden and college student trying to get his car started. And seven years later, I look back and realize that rather than doing life together with our neighbours, we’ve been doing life in adjacent silos: near each other, but not together.
I haven’t participated in rural church planting, but I wonder if the situation is magnified. In rural communities, many families have roots that go back generations, and because villages and small towns are small, churches could run out of “new people to reach” or “excuses to connect” faster than transient urban neighbourhoods or burgeoning new suburbs that regularly see an influx of new folks.
In Church Planting in the Secular West, Stefan Paas describes church planting in Europe in the following way, and I think we can apply the situation to Canada as well:
“Planting churches in secular Europe is like laying out a garden in hard soil and an arid climate. Basically, it can be done in two ways. The first option is to keep adding tons of water and fertilizer…the result, of course, is highly artificial, even if it looks spectacular. As soon as you quit your beautiful garden would wither up and die…
There is another way however. If is far more difficult, and far less spectacular. Planting a garden where the climate is bad or where the soil has been exhausted takes a lot of skill and effort. Above all you must know the situation; you must have knowledge about the climate, and the history of cultivation; you must have expertise and persistence. You might want to do research, to find out whether there are ancient natural irrigation systems. And of course you must know everything about the local vegetation, because you want to grow something that belongs here, not something that may look wonderful but can only flourish because you keep it under intensive care. Eventually, you may have a garden that is sustainable … the garden may look unimpressive, but it gives food, shade and joy to the people that live there (Stefan Paas, Church Planting in the Secular West)
So how can we see the gospel planted in the beautiful, less populated areas of our land?
About ten years ago, CBOQ released an article giving 6 elements that seem to help rural churches do well in their context. According to the article, rural churches thrive when:
“Congregations don’t try to copy suburban models. They meet local needs and interests.
Ministry is primarily relational, not programmatic. And those relationships reach across generations.
Ministry reaches beyond the church building and into the everyday lives of young people.
Young people are valued for who they are and where they are in life. Children and youth are encouraged to use their gifts in practical ways.
Youth ministry and leadership development are virtually synonymous. Young people are encouraged and needed to take leadership roles as soon as they are ready.
Small congregations provide rich opportunities for mature faith formation. Faith and action are connected over time in a community that lives with high levels of interdependence and accountability.”
I’m going to tip my hand and share my strong opinion that every missional church community—not just rural ones—should be marked by intergenerational discipleship and relational, contextual ministry. But how, exactly, do we “meet local needs and interests” and “reach into the everyday lives of young people?”
Over the coming couple of months, we’ll be sharing articles and reflections from around Western Canada in hopes of inspiring conversation and growth in our perspectives on rural planting here in Western Canada in a series “Same but Different: implementing new faith communities in Rural Canada.”
And as neither Shannon or I have first-hand experience in church planting outside of urban areas, we hope that you will share your stories, advice and questions as well! Email me at email@example.com to help us add to the voices on this important topic.
Planting the Gospel helps give us definition in ways followers of Jesus are all called to participate with God in His mission to the world. Rather than opting out because we already belong to and/or minister in an existing congregation, take time to listen to the Spirit for ways your particular community can join God at work in seeding and harvesting new places and spaces for faith to be discovered and grow.
At CBWC Church Planting we are always engaging with creative ways your local church community can join in the Planting the Gospel from intentional, relational discipleship within your own community to engaging with the people in your neighbourhood and joining them in fulfilling the values and dreams of a healthy and flourishing greater community.
For inspiration of a few of the ways you can start participating with us and for some of the ways We Are Better Together, by watching this entertaining video by our own Cailey, which premiered at NMO recently.
Connect with us on how we can start you or help facilitate your journey towards developing fresh expressions and intentional implementation of the Gospel right where you live, work, play and pray.
Faithful, You are; Faithful, forever You will be; Faithful, You are; All God’s promises are yes and amen (Yes and Amen)
We sang this declaration of the faithfulness of God on opening night of Assembly 2022 setting the tone for what we have gathered to celebrate. For many of us, the reminder in the midst of times of darkness, that God is still and always at his work in the world around us, even though it may seem elusive or distant to us.
As Anna Braun reminded us in our Bible Study Friday morning, sometimes we are in the dark and our job is to remember to have hope; the light comes through the cracks.
Faithful, You are
After such an extended period of gathering restrictions, we are grateful and joyful as we meet with many of you face-to-face at CBWC’s Assembly in Calgary.
While we see diversity in biblical interpretation and praxis across our family, we all agree on Jesus’ plain call to us to love one another as a sign to the world that we belong to Him. We have seen this love expressed first-hand this week in the joyful hugs and conversations, and the unity that we find in worshipping our King together.
Faithful, forever You will be
One of our favourite moments in Assembly is when we have the opportunity to present our new churches to enter into affiliation.
This year, we celebrate Heritage Mountain Community Church joining our family. HMCC gathers in Port Moody BC, recently celebrating its 20th anniversary since formation. Like many congregations in this uncertain era, Heritage Mountain is undergoing a season of change, so we are glad to be able to offer some support and stability—and prayer! Please join us in lifting up this church to the Lord.
Calgary Chinese Baptist Church, comprising both English and Cantonese congregations, has been faithfully ministering for 40 years in their neighbourhood. Sensing that God has blessed them to be a blessing, they focus on caring for one another, discipleship in word and deed, and blessing the Whitehorn area of Calgary in Jesus’ name. Welcome Pastor Evan, Pastor Tony and the CCBC congregation. We look forward with anticipation to leaning how we are better together!
We are also excited to welcome Emmanuel Baptist Church of Calgary into affiliation with CBWC. EBCC began as a Spanish ministry of First Baptist Calgary in the 1980s, and has developed into a bilingual congregation that now gathers in the Bonavista Baptist Church facility. EBCC aims to address the spiritual needs of both the first and second generation of Latino immigrants in the south neighborhoods of Calgary. Congratulations to Pastor Jay and the whole team!
If you ever go to Longview Alberta (aptly named for its long and beautiful view), make sure you drop in at Longview Fellowship and ask for Gil and Andrea Kidd. This delightful couple pastor, lead and care for this little church and the town surrounding them along with their congregation. At our online Assembly in 2020 we officially welcomed them into our CBWC Assembly. What a thrill to finally welcome them in person at this year’s assembly!
Please continue to pray for each of these new communities of brothers and sisters, followers of Jesus our Lord and Savior, as they engage intentionally in the implementation of the gospel in their neighbourhoods.
Faithful, You Are; All God’s promises are yes and amen!
…To “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…and teaching them to obey everything [he had taught and] commanded.” This was the Risen King revealing God’s mission to the world, through the gathered disciples. In many Bible translations we’ve aptly titled it the Great Commission, because of the clarity of vocation for the church, those gathered together under Christ.
On this blog we’ve often written about discipleship in connection with church planting, defining church planting as the fruit of disciples who make disciples who can also make disciples. Disciple-making is the call of the Great Commission. In other words, the mission of the church isn’t evangelism, it’s discipleship.
In an interpretive misunderstanding of the “go” in Jesus’ Commission, we’ve made the “going” the mission. The more literal translation in the Greek is not an imperative “go,” but rather a descriptor of how we make disciples: as the disciples are going (back home from the mount in Galilee), and as followers of Christ we each go about our lives (our witness), we make disciples of all the people we encounter, baptizing them when they recognize they have a need to travel a different road (repentance and salvation). Then, they begin the lifelong journey of intentional and accountable discipling of one another.
Before we go further, I do want to say that I am thoroughly convinced that all humans are always being discipled by others, and therefore are witnesses of that discipleship. My Grandmother discipled me to view the mentally challenged adults she worked among with respect and honor. My Great Grandparents discipled me to care for the frail and elderly when I served tea and talked with those in their old age care home. Culture and societal values have certainly discipled me to a variety of worldviews and ideas, many of which I still find myself needing to submit to Christ. Everyone is being discipled, and by the way we speak, form opinions, act or don’t act (our witness), everyone is discipling others whether they realize it or not.
With that in mind, every person we encounter and are in some form of relationship with, are being discipled by us before we even mention Jesus/church/God/salvation. What we are discipling them to, is another matter.
Here, we are talking about the kind of discipleship that shapes us towards being image bearers of God’s character, by living lives increasingly reflective of Christ’s kingdom point of view. That’s a lifelong, relational journey, putting all our heart, mind, soul and strength increasingly under the Lordship of Christ. When we are on that kind of journey, evangelism is what naturally happens “as we go” as demonstrative witnesses of Christ where we live, work, play and pray.
Somewhere along the way, discipling one another in intentional, relational communities has become something many leaders yearn for, but are wary to lead into, knowing many church-goers like going to church, but are not particularly interested in being in accountable discipleship relationships with the group of people they worship with on Sunday. We compartmentalize different aspects of our lives and justify and rationalize that because Jesus has saved the world and we’ve accepted that gift through baptism, God’s main requirement of us is that we “go” to church and possibly serve in the church’s programs and activities.
Evangelism, then, has morphed into being a task/program of helping people make a decision for Christ by telling them a particular aspect of the gospel and encouraging them to come to church. Disciple making – on the level Jesus made disciples – became something optional as long as we could keep people attending our worship services. Thus the creation of what is popularly known in the West as “consumer Christianity,” and our current non-discipleship crisis.
As Dallas Willard is famously known for saying, “non-discipleship is the elephant in the church.”
We’ve long known the elephant was there. We thought that we could solve our current declines in church attendance with more evangelism, more “witnessing” while our own witness to the world in word and deed, both as individuals and as corporate entities, looked not a lot different from those who did not profess to be followers of Christ and tragically, worse. Conferences, books, lectures and missional and church planting networks rose up to help us with increasing our evangelistic impulses, whilst ignoring the elephant taking up the majority space in the room with the solution written across its body: discipleship.
To be clear, if we do not refocus our time, our budgets, our energy, and our mission, toward making disciples who make disciples and so on, there will be little evangelism (witness). Evangelism happens because we are making disciples who are then making disciples who also make disciples.
Matthew commentarian Rodney Reeves says it like this: “When these disciples make disciples of all peoples, then the reign of Christ is present. And when those disciples make other disciples, then the unstoppable kingdom of heaven will continue to extend all the way to the ends of the earth.”1
You might think this is just hair splitting, but just looking around us, we can see that making people into church-goers has not been as effective as we would hope in changing the lens through which they see the world. We all have multiple, and often opposing, ideas on politics, culture, social issues, entertainment, the poor, the marginalized, the homeless. That’s normal, of course, we aren’t talking about uniformity where we all think, act, vote or even necessarily interpret scripture the same way. But we are talking about sanctification, where our worldview, with the guidance of the Spirit and one another, begins to be reshaped so that we look, speak, behave, and love more and more like Jesus, living life by the examples he taught and by obeying his commandments of loving God, self and neighbour with all we are and all we have as we participate in God’s kingdom of peace, joy, righteousness and love towards all humanity.
In the following posts that look at the crisis of non-discipleship the church faces, we will examine some things we need to rethink and some things we need to lay down next time. In the meantime, ask for God to help us be open for all our hearts, minds, soul and strength to be shaped like Christ “as we are going”…
Reeves, Rodney, Matthew: The Story of God Bible Commentary
“Stay in the Story” —I heard this phrase a while ago from a guest on a podcast. He was referring to our need as Christ’s ambassadors who join God in his work, to continually put ourselves back into the larger Story. We must not lose sight of the Big Story of God in the midst of life’s challenges and joys inherent in being humans together.
It is no coincidence that a story reminding us of the goodness of God in the land of the living can shift our focus from discouragement and weariness back to our raison d’être. When we tell one another stories, placing them back into the Big Story of God and humans, we see evidence of God at work all along. Join us as we “Stay in the Story” in this update of God’s work in a few of our newer communities.
Makarios Evangelical Church – New Westminster, BC
This gathering continues to grow deeper and wider. In the final months of 2021, Makarios welcomed new arrivals from Hong Kong who are relocating to Canada. This is a growing part of their ministry, partnering with ministries in Hong Kong to help newcomers settle into churches and communities here.
Along with new families comes an increase in children and youth, and along with the recent hire of a part-time English Ministry pastor for the college students they minister to from Douglas College, Makarios will be looking to hire a part-time children’s worker this coming summer. It is with great thanks to CBWC and our churches who support new works that they continue to grow and extend the Good News Story all around them, with a special shout-out to the hospitality shown by Olivet Baptist Church!
Emmanuel Iranian Church – North Vancouver & Coquitlam, BC
EIC continues to grow despite COVID restrictions, their main campus undergoing renovations, a great need for more leaders and for an English-speaking youth worker, limited finances, and health issues for both pastors. They have rotating services to accommodate both space and health restrictions, but this framework increases the workload for the leaders. In January 67 new believers were baptized – this brings baptisms up to well over 400 since fall of 2018!
They have also recently begun planting a new community in Burnaby out of CBWC’s Royal Oak Ministry Centre. God’s Good Story is compelling for those coming from a Muslim background, whose religion can feel like an oppressive authority. I have had several new believers express to me the great joy they have found in Jesus and the liberty and grace of being able to explore and express their journey as disciples without fear.
Please continue to pray for provision for this community, church, pastors and leaders as they continue to boldly and plainly proclaim that Jesus is God.
Hope Christian Church of Calgary, AB
In the past you’ve been invited to join us in praying for, and supporting, Hope Christian Church of Calgary, a small Arabic-speaking congregation. Our current situation is that planter and Pastor Mouner Alajji stepped aside last July, sensing a call to the Arabic-speaking mission field in Europe. One of the leaders in the church told me that Mouner was the best pastor he has ever had, and how missed he will be! Sadly, Mouner has also been undergoing serious health complications and is unable to continue at this time in the mission work as he undergoes treatment in Calgary. Please remember to pray for Mouner and his family during this time.
The church has been wrestling with the departure of their pastor and have really struggled with the COVID restrictions and how they would continue forward. The board of the church prayerfully discerned that they would shift their focus to a home church led by one of the gospel teachers in the congregation, and to officially close the Hope Christian Church of Calgary location.
While some might see this as a failed church plant, it is most definitely as successful gospel plant. The congregation continues to speak God’s Good News into their lives and into the lives of those they interact with in their places and spaces. What is a church plant after all? It is a gathering of believers who are communicators of God’s justice, love, grace, mercy, salvation, and hope, alive and active in the broken places in our lives and in our world.
As Gospel Planters in general are seeing movement of the Spirit in micro-churches as an avenue to engage people with God’s Good News, we continue to pray for this home church (one expression of micro-church) in joining God on His mission right where they find themselves.
Other Gospel Planting Work
I love how out of our deepest doubt and questions, God shows up! Well into the pandemic, a lot of conversations were going around the catalyst conversation table: How do new plants happen now? How will new church communities, committed to evangelism, survive? But, surprise! God is still at work and His Spirit is still inviting his people to join Him.
Not only have several new works actually thrived in various ways, but new gatherings happened! CBWC Church Planting is working with a new planting in Kelowna, a new plant in the discernment process in Burnaby, as well as a handful of already existing church communities looking to become family with CBWC. We will keep you updated as these new works progress!
You are invited to join too! Please continue in prayer for our existing and future plantings, lifting up the leaders and the congregations that courageously press forward with the Good News of God’s kingdom in our troubling times. They are committed to telling the Story by intersecting the stories of seekers with God’s Good News.
For that matter, remember to pray for all our churches – each and every one devoted to being salt and light in our communities across Western Canada!
Jesus also said, “The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, while he’s asleep or awake, the seed sprouts and grows, but he does not understand how it happens. The earth produces the crops on its own. First a leaf blade pushes through, then the heads of wheat are formed, and finally the grain ripens. And as soon as the grain is ready, the farmer comes and harvests it with a sickle, for the harvest time has come.” Mark 4:26-29 NLT
Planting the Gospel is an exercise in seed scattering. How that seed lands and is nurtured has become the strategies for church planting we are currently familiar with. Regardless of whether a strategy is focused on a particular set of sustainability criteria, most plants start with a small group of Christ followers who long to see the Gospel enacted in the places they find themselves. Often these small groups begin meeting in homes to pray, to discern, to disciple and train one another towards an official launch.
In some ways, using the planting metaphor, house churches could be the starter plants you bought at the nursery, then nurtured to be grown-up plants enriching the neighbourhood. Often, house church gatherings are transplanted out of the home and into a church facility so they have room to become larger in that one place.
But what if the intent was to never leave the backyard? Matt Dabbs, who planted a backyard church in Alabama during the Covid summer of 2020, intends to remain a backyard church that scatters Gospel seeds to plant the next and the next and the next. It reminds me of a planter here in BC, Andy Lambkin, who has been doing the same thing since around 2011. We interviewed him a few years ago, and we include the link HERE for your quick find if you missed it or want to read it again.
In the meantime check out Matt’s story about the power of scattered people planting the Gospel in his backyard:
The Power of the Scattered People of God
By Matt Dabbs
Over the course of biblical history, God has used scattering as his method of choice for future kingdom growth.
He did this when Joseph went to Egypt, setting up the growth of the Hebrew people in Egypt and the eventual Exodus. God did this in the Exile, scattering many of his people to other lands, where they developed synagogues and outposts of God’s people far and wide.
Paul and other missionaries later found starting points for kingdom conversation in other countries as the fruit of the Exile scattering. God uses scattering to plant the seeds for future kingdom expansion.
In Acts 8:1–8 the church underwent tremendous persecution. Here is what Luke tells us,
On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.
Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city.
The most experienced among them, the apostles, stayed behind. The others scattered. The lead minister didn’t scatter. The “everyday” Christians scattered, and as they scattered, they preached the word wherever they went. God did miraculous things, and the result was a great job and kingdom growth.
God has long history of using scattered people, and using people to grow the kingdom.
The question is this: Is God doing this in our day? The answer to that question is multifaceted. God has been doing it in an organized way through the sending of missionaries for a very long time. But what about in an Acts 8 way—not the scattering of the formally trained but the scattering of the “everyday” Christians?
My hope and prayer is that the post-pandemic moment will create an Acts 8 moment, where the people of God have been shaken up, scattered out, and will preach the word wherever they go.
In all the staying-home time, many pastors realized that the people in their churches were fully capable of having church in their home and doing the work of ministry. Many reached out to neighbors. Some started house churches. The question is this: Will this continue and last or is it more of a passing moment? Many will return to their churches, and that is a good thing. And some will hear another call… that their eyes have been opened up to the possibility of the parish church, hosting house church in their own neighborhood.
Like all the other scatterings of the past, time will tell what kind of impact this latest scattering—which was more like a staying—and growth will have on the cultural and religious landscape in the United States and beyond. My hope and prayer is that it will result in a greater diversity of approaches to how we “view and do” church as a whole.
This is not to say that some might abandon the traditional model, but that it would be complemented with a partnership with more organic approaches. We are better together than we are apart!
It was the pandemic that brought our worship into my backyard in 2020, and during that time, God laid it upon our hearts to continue with that mission, resigning from my full-time preaching minister position to plant a church for the very first time. We have seen growth, and we have been encouraged by the sheer number of people who are wanting to start something new!
God is on the move and what may seem like a setback (going to Egypt, being exiled, persecution, and now the pandemic) may be catalysts for future kingdom growth and paradigm shifts that will have a lasting impact on the landscape of the Christian world for generations to come!
At the recent Church Planting Canada Congress, Missiologist Alan Hirsch spoke this word to planters and catalysts across the country: “Plant the Gospel, not churches.”
You may be wondering, “aren’t they the same thing?” Not necessarily. At CBWC Church Planting, we’ve long advocated that church planting is the making of disciples who make disciples. From that increase of disciples comes new communities of gathering: churches. Jesus sent us to make disciples; He didn’t say “go and make churches of all people.” Churches are a result of disciple making. Maybe this seems like a bit of a chicken-or-egg conversation. Does it really matter which came first?
We think it does.
It all comes down to fruit. Which is the intended fruit of the Gospel: an organization, or the disciple who is committed to the work of the Spirit in transforming them to reflect God’s love and character into the world and make more disciples? This is the outworking of discipleship. Thus, the clarification from Hirsch: “Plant the Gospel, not churches.”
Measuring by this metric also shapes the dynamic of how we view success and failure. If the Church, beyond the period of the Epistles and Letters, were to view success and failure the same way we do now, mass discouragement would have probably wiped out the establishing of new faith communities. Paul and others planted churches in communities throughout the diaspora that are no longer in place. Does that mean those planters, those churches, failed?
What if instead we would ask, “where do we see ongoing evidence of the Gospel planted in Ephesus, in Europe, in my city?” We could point out evidence of the Story of God and His people, of Jesus as the Son of God who ushered in God’s kingdom dynamic, of people pursuing lives as God’s image bearers and ambassadors, as being still active and present. Thus the Gospel was successfully planted. Even if the number of believers in a specific location have diminished, they are the fruit of the seed long-ago planted, nurtured and going through life cycles.
How we measure, or by what metric we use to deem success or failure, will vary greatly on what we determine the goal is. If the evidence of a successful church plant is ownership of a building, the number of folk engaged with the ministry of that church, and financial stability, then it is a natural progression to see the decline of people, funds and ability to hold on to a building as a “failed” church plant.
But if the metric is planting the Gospel, then a plant dying to the ground and scattering seeds with the Gospel DNA embedded would still be success. People came to faith in Christ, grew and flourished in a particular community and then scattered to plant Gospel wherever they find themselves. Thus the church plant is a successful Gospel Plant!
In our world today and even in our own church communities, we are experiencing a decline in church attendance, and some churches have just aged out. But does that make them failures? Can we celebrate with what has been planted and scattered even if the particular location of gathering is no longer on the geographical map?
Isaiah’s beautiful recounting of God’s words in chapter 55 reminds us of the invitation for people to come to the well of God’s goodness: “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
A no-longer-gathering worship location does not return void. There is seed that has been and is still being scattered. It has accomplished far more than we understand with our human limitations. Perhaps we see closed churches as fails because we have been planting churches, when we were meant all along to plant seeds of the Gospel in our gathering and our scattering. Perhaps we view this as just a nuance of the same thing, but what if it isn’t?
Can we ask ourselves these, and questions like them, without feeling like we’ve somehow failed? I don’t think we have failed. I think we may need to simply, in a variety of ways, realign ourselves with the reality that any planting at all is “…for the Lord’s renown, for an everlasting sign, which will not be destroyed.”
Over the holidays I had a chance to watch The Most Reluctant Convert, a film highlighting the winding path that led CS Lewis to Christ over the first 30 years of his life.
The movie, based on true life events and writings, leads us through Lewis’ sometimes-active and sometimes-passive resistance to the idea and reality of God, and under it all we see God’s patient, loving pursuit of his child.
For Lewis to come to a place of calling Jesus Saviour and Lord, he needed to be “converted” in both mind and heart. Intellectually, he worked through all the scenarios and concluded that there must be a god: he became a (reluctant) theist based on reasoning and logic. But it takes more than scholarly wrestling to become a whole-person-disciple.
In our text-message philosophizing after watching The Most Reluctant Convert, my mom Sherry Bennett put it this way: “clearly Lewis’ decision to follow was a result of the Spirit and not just his pursuit of knowledge. Understanding came from the Spirit. And from Spirit-led understanding came a depth of call and commitment. If God is real, we can’t just decide that he is somewhat important, but that he is of utmost importance and we must obey.” Lewis moved from a theist to a disciple of Christ as he not only began to find answers in Scripture to feed his mind, but also discovered Jesus the person who quenched his thirsty heart and spurred him on to a new way of living.
This film was especially poignant for me as I thought about a mentor of mine who had first experienced Christ through Lewis’ book Mere Christianity. But it brought up a question for me as well. If CS Lewis hadn’t lost his mother at a young age, or served in World War I, would he have written that book? Would my friend have come to know Jesus and become an important figure in my development as a young Christian leader?
I don’t recommend “what-if” rabbit trails as they rarely take us anywhere good. But this one did. It reminded me that God’s love is pursuing us in so many ways, and it inspired me to want to be part of that journey for those around me. Do my everyday decisions, words, and attitudes provide a chance for people to experience Christ? Are we living in such a way as to give people a taste of God’s love?
“I take literally the statement in the Gospel of John that God loves the world. I believe that the world was created and approved by love, that it subsists, coheres, and endures by love, and that, insofar as it is redeemable, it can be redeemed only by love. I believe that divine love, incarnate and indwelling in the world, summons the world always toward wholeness, which ultimately is reconciliation and atonement with God.” Wendell Berry, Another Turn of the Crank
To borrow a Shannon-ism, the Gospel is thick enough to reach each of us where we are at, even as different parts of us are converted at different stages for different people. Similarly, Mom reminded me of John 1 and the calling of various disciples to Jesus: “John pointed out the Messiah to Andrew and he followed. Then Andrew got his brother Simon, who then also followed. But interestingly, the next disciple to follow was Philip—but it was Jesus who went and found/pursued him! And then He went to Nathanael who was skeptical. He needed a direct, tangible encounter with Jesus and proof to follow.”
Perhaps it is a deep discussion with a friend that enlightens the mind or seeing the selfless action of a stranger that touches the heart. Perhaps the Spirit speaks without another soul around—through a dream or a song or the beauty of Creation.
For Lewis, many of the big steps on his journey had to do with people he respected who were open about their Christian faith. Because there is a film about his life, we get the joy of experiencing those moments in hindsight, whereas in our day-to-day, we don’t often get to see the mental wrestlings or inner journeys of our friends, family, or neighbours. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t making a difference.
I didn’t make any New Year’s resolutions this year, but CS Lewis, the apostle John, Wendell Berry, and my mom have helped rekindle a desire to join God, through a life of love, in “summoning the world always toward wholeness.”
And this is my hope for you this year: to follow the Spirit into a life of God-indwelled grace and boldness, deeply rooted in prayer for the other. A life bearing the Fruit of the Spirit in you and those around you.