Reading and Resources: Summer 2020

By Cailey Morgan

My church, Southside, is hosting a series of online and hybrid kids’ day camps under the banner “A Summer Like No Other.” I can’t think of a more fitting way to characterize the season we find ourselves in! Let’s take advantage of the opportunities being presented to us to engage in growth, discipleship and introspection this summer. 

Here are a few books that Larry, Shannon and I thought might be helpful, and online resource ideas to help fuel your summer development:

Books

BTW.jpgBy the Way by Derek Vreeland
We’ve mentioned this book before, but we think it bears repeating in this very different season we find ourselves in. Vreeland gives us tools to us refocus on what discipleship is meant to be, re-introducing the ways of Jesus with the type of tangible, straightforward approach that we should all be taking. What new imagination can we glean as we journey alongside those we disciple towards Christ? ~Cailey Morgan 

 

BolsingerIt Takes a Church to Raise a Christian by Tod Bolsinger
“…there is a considerable chasm separating us from who we are—I mean “we” as a corporate people, we as the indivisible body of Christ—and who we are to become. While we may be saved from hell and assured that we’ll never be separated from God, we aren’t living the manner of life we were built for, we aren’t making the difference that we could make together, and we’re not drawing people to the form of life-giving fellowship that they and we crave.” 

With these words in mind, Bolsinger takes the pastor/leaders of the local church through a spiritual theology of “being” church.  His push-back on our culture of individual pursuit that has infected our own understanding of being church, reminds us that the formation of followers of Jesus who are distinguishable to the world happens only within a community “…in which God mystically transforms believers together into the likeness of Christ as the primary means of reaching a lost world.” 

If you and your community are yearning for seeing transformed lives within your community that shine beyond your community, this book is a must read. ~Shannon Youell

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With by Skye Jethani
After demolishing four substitute messages, Life From God, Life Over God, Life Under God and Life for God,  Skye fleshes out his vision of “Life With God,” using the triad of Faith, Hope and Love. Where does the book fall short? It focuses almost exclusively on the individual without recognizing that we are part of a community of faith. Why read it? My early faith walk was filled with the clear message of live my life for God and I cannot ever recall hearing any mention of the possibility of a life with God.

I found this book to be both freeing and inspiring. ~Larry Schram 

 

Online Resources 

  • Our friends at New Leaf Network are hosting a book club starting July 9 to engage Joel Theissen and Sarah Wilkins-Laflamme’s new book None of the Above: Nonreligious Identity in the US and Canada. About the Book: “Almost a quarter of American and Canadian adults are nonreligious, while teens and young adults are even less likely to identify religiously. None of the Above explores the growing phenomenon of ‘religious nones’ in North America. Who are the religious nones? Why, and where, is this population growing?”
  • Speaking of relevant Canadian content, you won’t want to miss Missional Commons’ summer webinar series (July 7, 14, 21)  featuring David Fitch, Ruth Padilla-DeBorst, Cam Roxburgh and more.
  • Fuller Formation is offering a whole range of content as a free trial until September, including Tod Bolsinger’s new course “Guiding Your Church Through the Pandemic.” While these courses are based on American content, we believe you will find yourself stretched, equipped and encouraged by the content Fuller Formation is offering.  

What’s on your summer reading list? Have you discovered new podcasts or online resources to share? Leave a comment here!

The COVID-Effect: Resources for Pastors

By Shannon Youell

We all need pastoral care; yet, often pastors tend to be giving of themselves caring for others but not as quick about receiving care.

During this unprecedented time of being separated from others, pastoral care of those in our church communities has increased many-fold.  And many of us are feeling the effects of caring for so many in uncertain times and ensuring we still have some form of gathering together for fellowship, for prayer, for teaching, for breaking of bread and for worship in our new virtual reality.

We’ve all had to be willing to pivot and change and accept those changes as good and profitable to our mission.  Our church planting communities face their own unique challenges as they are still establishing themselves and yet have been cut off from the very neighbourhoods they have been moving into with the presence of God.

I’ve spoken with many pastors and leaders, and am one myself, so I know how drained and emptied many of us are finding ourselves.

That’s why CBWC is bringing you this fantastic opportunity to walk through some of the ways we can find pathways to care for ourselves to increase our coping skills and resiliency:

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The COVID-Effect: Pastoring the Pastor

A 90-minute session supporting mental wellness for CBWC Pastors.

We would like to invite you to a 90-minute zoom session offered across all 4 provinces featuring local, faith-based psychologists and hosted by your CBWC Regional Minister. Come listen and then, via a facilitated Q & A, explore resources and coping tools for mental wellness offered specifically for you as you continue to live into your vocation of pastoral ministry during these extraordinary times.

This online event is free for CBWC Pastors. Please register to receive the zoom link to be a part of this important conversation in support of your well being.

Dates & Times

BC & Y | Wednesday July 15 | 9:30am PDT | Dr. Hillary McBride | REGISTER
AB & NWT | Tuesday July 14 | 3:00pm MST | REGISTER
SK/MB | Wednesday July 8 | 3:00pm SK/4:00pm MB | Dr. Todd Sellick | REGISTER

We do not know how long we will be in this fluid situation, but we do know that our family of faith will walk with us in love, in care and in support.

Wind

This article from was first posted on the New Leaf Network Blog.

My son and I went on a mini bike trip last summer. We pedalled about 250 km from Saskatoon to Moose Jaw over three days. It was a fun little summertime adventure. Over those three days, I really learned to respect the wind and the way it can affect life on a bike. On day one, with the wind slightly at our backs, we managed to do 110 km and averaged speeds in the high 20s and low 30s. On day two, the wind blew across us and we made it about 80 km and averaged speeds in the high teens and low 20s. On the third day, we faced headwinds that gusted to up to 60km/hr. We travelled only 70 km and struggled to keep our speed in the double digits. Day three was gruelling, exhausting, and honestly one of the toughest things I’ve ever done. The temptation to quit was ever-present.

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It’s no secret that the church in Canada is currently facing some strong social headwinds. The bottom is dropping out of our collective speedometer. We are expending tons of energy for only half the expected results. What’s going on?

To put it rather bluntly, Canada has changed and the church is struggling to deal with it. Political and social conditions in the western world have been a wind at our backs for centuries.  During that time we got used to operating from a centred and privileged position in society. We shaped public policy and education. Social institutions looked to us for guidance. For all intents and purposes, to be a good Canadian was synonymous with being a good Christian. Canadians practically rolled downhill and through the front doors of our churches. It’s hard not to get used to an arrangement like that. Which is all fine and good, provided the winds don’t change.

Here are a couple of tips, from a prairie-wind-warrior, to keep your wheels turning:

  1. Stop fixating on your speedometer. In a headwind, your numbers can be depressing. Weirdly, headwinds tend to also make you fixated on them. Logically cyclists know that headwinds affect speed. Double the wind speed means quadruple the drag. Logically cyclists know that the speedometer doesn’t tell the whole story of effort. As a cyclist, you know all of this but sometimes you can’t help staring and despairing at what your speedometer is telling you. We know this truth all too well in the church too. It’s hardly controversial in church circles to say that Sunday morning worship attendance isn’t the final word on “health and growth.” We know attendance numbers don’t tell the whole story. We know that it’s easier to grow by attracting other Christians than it is to grow by making new ones. We know all of this but haven’t found a way to stop fixating on attendance. Fixation can lead to depression and hopelessness. Fixation distracts from the issues of ineffective evangelism, discipleship, and community engagement. Fixation can cause premature shutdowns of church plants because they aren’t “successful” fast enough. Fixation kills.
  2. Start celebrating forward motion. Stop looking at numbers and start looking at your environment. Learn to see the signs of progress around you. Celebrate that your tires are still turning, celebrate that you are still eating up the road, and celebrate that you haven’t given up yet. This is also true in the church. If we are going to survive the Great Canadian Headwind we need to be willing to do the hard work of finding new ways to measure progress. If we want to give ourselves space relearn how to speak truths and live lives that are intelligible, credible, and authoritative in the Canada mission field we may need to be willing to take a numbers hit.
  3. The principle of your butt, legs, and resolve. The main resources a rider has to spend when fighting a headwind are their butt, legs, and resolve. Your butt determines how long you can ride. Your legs determine how fast you go. Your resolve determines whether or not you’ll finish. You need to spend these resources wisely and in a balanced way. Push your legs too far and you will burn yourself out and wind up in the saddle longer. Spend too little energy and your sore butt will end your ride. Fail to manage your resolve and you will quit too early. The church faces a similar challenge. Our resources of time, money, assets, people, energy, hope, and focus need to be spent on the things that matter. These resources are interrelated and exhaustible. I have watched church plants close with more people, money and assets than they started with. All because they exhausted their energy, hope, and focus. Even in fair weather managing your resources matters. When you add in a headwind, the task becomes existentially vital.
  4. If you can’t ride in the wind you can’t ride on the prairies. I had to remind myself of this constantly. It can be easy to get mad at your environment. I did. I got mad at the wind. I got mad that I chose riding days with the wind coming from the “wrong” direction. I got mad at trucks as they added drag and instability to an already tough ride. Getting mad at the world didn’t help me go faster. It only sapped my energy. The truth is wind comes with cycling on the prairies. If you can’t take the wind then you can’t ride out here. Managing anger and disappointment can be a struggle for churches too. Churches spend needless energy getting mad at the world. We get mad at politicians. We get mad at our culture. We get mad at the internet, or hockey schedules, or shift work economies, or summer vacations, etc… It’s easy to fall prey to “name it and blame it” theology and thinking. The simple reality is getting mad doesn’t change anything. It only saps our energy. If we nurture the belief that we can only be the church in fair weather, then we may find we can’t be the church at all.

Why are things so tough for the church right now? It is because we have built our expectations, our systems, and our thinking around a world where the wind is at our backs? Is it because we aren’t used to riding into the wind? The good news is that this is nothing new for the global church. Lots of us over the centuries know how to keep moving forward when social, cultural, and political winds are against us. Lots of us, despite the wind coming from the wrong direction, are still willing to get on our bikes and ride.

Will you join us? 

Perspectives on Shared Practices: Mike Oshiro

As we continue our conversations around Shared Practices within congregational rhythms, we interview another of our churches who are on this journey: The Forge Church in Victoria, BC. Pastors Mike Oshiro and Shannon Youell (whom you know!) share their journey with us. ~ Cailey

CBWC: Why Shared Practices?

Mike Oshiro (Lead Pastor) and Shannon Youell: As a congregation we had gone through a reboot ten years ago. A significant part of that reboot was in moving from being a Sunday gathering of church members to a community who lived out covenant with God and one another by committing to faith life being one of discipling one another. This reboot required us to also change how we do church leadership together, which has resulted in a deep trust in one another. We are convinced that this trust is the platform that enabled us to move into developing shared practices.

We began moving in the direction of shared practices after we began evaluating where we are and realized that intentional discipleship for most church people is an optional “add-on” to life in Christ. As leaders, we had capitulated to the worldview of consumerism and individualism, while at the same time trying to form a covenanted community on mission with God. It just wasn’t working.  Intentional discipleship in community just can’t be an add-on.

CBWC: What was The Forge Church’s experience of developing shared practices?

Mike and Shannon: Jesus called us to make disciples who join God on mission. After much prayer, we knew we needed to reimagine and rethink how to do that. We especially were drawn to the writings of Dallas Willard, Henri Nouwen, Mike Lukens and so many others who had found themselves in the same place in their own church experience. We began to look at how to begin making a shift from individuals with personal faith journeys to a community on mission together to shape one another in Christ-like-ness so the community is a witness for Christ to our local community.

We entered into conversations with Cam Roxburgh and Cailey Morgan from Southside who gave us more insight into what it takes to move into Shared Practices as a church.

After a year of teaching towards this “culture-shift,” we began developing Shared Practices Guide for Advent of 2017. It was basic and simple.

January 2018 saw us with our first full-version weekly guide of discipling one another together. At this point we still did not have anything formed around some kind of small groups. We were very intentional about not moving into this too soon.  Cam wisely counselled us to take some time with our Leadership Team (LT) before we launch it with our congregation. And we needed it!

Part of our teaching focused on the idea that journey with Christ was always meant to be a corporate journey, not just a personal/individual. Shared Practices helped us to focus. Our concern was that it would become an optional Bible study with no engagement, so we wanted another small group with purpose, that would encourage our church to become a discipling community.

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CBWC Church Planting: What Shared Practices do you focus on and why?

Mike and Shannon: Over the last 2 years all of our teaching seemed to come back to the Shema, as Jesus expressed it in Mark 12:30-31: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength…Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Initially when we began using the Weekly Practices Guide, we didn’t have small groups (which we call Connect Groups). Our encouragement was to join with the rest of our church community to in doing the daily exercises or shared practices.

Our Shared Practices are Prayer (Heart), Study of Scripture (Mind), preparation for Sabbath (Strength), being a good neighbour (Love Your Neighbour), Personal Practice and Reflection (Love Yourself) and Gathering together on Sunday and in Wednesday Connect Groups (Love One Another).

Focusing on these practices as a whole church community gives us common conversation to begin to form deeper relationships with one another.  We still encourage people to read Scripture or “have devotions” as they have found meaningful, but we also strongly encouraged the church to join this shared journey of prayer, study, reflection, eating together and creating a meaningful community life seven days a week.  This was not an increase in church activities or programs, rather a new rhythm of doing the things we normally do in life with more intentionality of being a gospel people together.

CBWC: What’s been the hardest or most frustrating thing? 

Mike and Shannon: Even after teaching and preaching on being Christ’s disciples both in our personal lives and corporately, when it came time to introduce the concept of Shared Practices, people pushed back. There were so many reasons people felt they couldn’t engage: “I do my own devotions” or “what if I don’t want to read that Scripture this week?” or “I have no time in my day to pray or spend time with God.”

We realized we needed to go back a step, so we practiced with our Leadership Team for about four months by meeting weekly for a shared meal, conversation, discussion and praying together for one another. Much to our surprise, the majority of push back on our LT came from those who we thought would be most supportive. Most of our leaders struggled with leading a small group (Connect Group) as they didn’t feel ready, or didn’t think they have enough biblical knowledge, or are introverts. We reiterated over and over that we were not doing question-and-answer Bible studies, but rather practicing life discipleship together.

We had said from the beginning that if our LT wasn’t fully on board for this we wouldn’t pursue it until they were. That has been one of the most fruitful pauses in moving forward that we could have done.

The other hard thing is that it does take a lot of work to create the guide books.  However, we as staff have grown deeper into our own discipleship journeys and we have seen our preaching and teaching growing and connecting more and more with people in their day-to-day life. image001.jpg

CBWC: Where have you seen fruit of your intentionality in shared practices? 

Mike and Shannon:We are now two full years in the rhythm of shared practices and we are seeing some wonderful fruit.

Our community has grown closer and more connected We are seeing an increase in new members and baptisms coming out of these groups.  For us, growing in numbers has never been our goal, but we find that as we grow in depth as disciples, we are growing in numbers as well.

We are also seeing more of the pastoral care happening from within our Connect Groups. We have elders in each group that are part of our LT, and increasingly, needs and concerns are met through people who are walking discipleship out together. This has given staff the needed time to continue developing leaders and disciples who find their relationship with God, self, others and neighbours being transformed.

One icing-on-the-cake bonus is that we have a people of faith who are increasingly intentional in every area of their lives. By the time we introduced our Connect Group, people were understanding the why around Shared practices and the push-back we initially received had died off. At the launch of these very intentional groups we had over 60% of our congregation join with us.

All our new people are connected to a group as soon as they indicate they are interested in The Forge Church as their “home,” embedding them into people who know and care for them, not as strangers who sit across the aisle, but as brothers and sisters following Jesus on mission in their everyday lives.

CBWC: What advice would you give churches who are considering taking a step towards a culture of intentional shared practice and life together? 

Mike and Shannon: Go slow! Take incremental steps. We didn’t create an add-on program to what we were already doing, but over the course of five years began intentionally reshaping who we are and what we do as witnesses of Christ in our lives.

Don’t be afraid to take a few steps back to help your church re-orientate.  But also don’t allow the culture of consumerism and the individualism of “private faith” distract you or put fear in your hearts! We were prepared that some people wouldn’t delve deep with us and we continue to care for them as community—but the depth to which we are now delving and the growth we are seeing both in our long time folk and new folk, is well worth staying the course.

As per usual, we look forward to further conversation with you and your church as we continue watching God at work and joining Him in His work wherever we live, work, play and pray! ~Shannon and Cailey

Celebrating a Decade of Engaging in Mission

By Shannon Youell

One of my year end research projects has been answering a request from one of our churches. In the gathering of the information to respond, I was reminded, again, of how God is always with us and at work even when we are so close to the work that we don’t quite see it.

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I will be candid here: I can personally become discouraged and slightly cynical, in that as we pour ourselves out to serve Christ in our world, are we making any inroads, any difference at all? Are lives being transformed towards God’s goodness and Shalom, are churches thriving, are those living in darkness being exposed to the light of the world? 

And the answer, of course, is yes, because God is ever present and at work always—we simply join him! I invite you to reflect on these handful of reminders and allow your hearts and spirits to soar with the joy of participating in the good, true and right work of the kingdom of God in our midst. 

The task of the little research project was to go back ten years and report on how many churches have been planted, established and affiliated with CBWC since 2010. What a delight to put the information on a page that stared out at me stating CBWC churches are truly Engaging in Mission! New churches planted and coming into affiliation with our family are churches reaching people we hadn’t and haven’t yet reached. This is mission! This is what we are all called to be engaged in: go and make disciples everywhere that people are not yet following Christ’s ways. 

Since 2010 our CBWC family has planted and welcomed 27 new congregations! Five of these are in their first five years. Another three are currently in their pre-launch year which brings to a total of eight currently in their first five years! We anticipate those three groups to launch in 2020 bringing 30 new congregations in 10 years! We also have new congregations planted within existing churches as part of their expanding engagement in their communities. To the best of my knowledge we currently have six of those congregationsall new in the last ten years! That’s a total of 36 new gatherings of people who are growing in discipleship and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. 

I hope you are hollering out a hearty Praise God!  

Each one of these new churches and gatherings are the result of much prayer, much discussion, much wrestling, sorting, planning, training, coaching, encouraging, dusting off and going forward on the part of the planters, the core members and the Church Planting staff. Investing in Relationships and Cultivating Leadership, one to another, is how we roll! We have been blessed with the immense privilege of walking with these groups and have grown deep heart relationships with so many who labour in the Kingdom work. 

As we all look forward into 2020, let us treasure up these things in our hearts as an encouragement and a testimony of God’s working in us and through us for the glory of Christ, now and forever! 

Perspectives on Shared Practices: Cam Roxburgh

As we continue our conversations around Shared Practices within congregational rhythms, we interview two of our churches who are on this journey. The first, Southside Community Church, has been incorporating and growing in these practices for many years. The second, The Forge Church, began an internal culture shift five years ago that includes incorporating rhythms of shared practices and intentional discipleship for the formation and shaping of a community of believers both within and beyond the Sunday worship service.

As you read this post and the next interview, please note that we are not marketing a product, method or program but rather exploring a pattern–a template if you will. You will find both of these churches’ experiences involve creating environments of learning, reshaping and rethinking as we discover the most meaningful and fruitful ways of being a whole and holistic community together within our contexts and micro-cultures. 

That’s a fancy way of saying it takes a lot of hard work, grace, prayer and repentance all along the journey, but the fruit along the way is sweet, inviting and encouraging.

 ~ Shannon and Cailey

CBWC: What was Southside’s experience of developing shared practices?

Cam Roxburgh, Team Lead at Southside Community Church: Almost twenty years ago, the Elders of Southside went away on a prayer retreat. We had come through the first 8 years of our history and had so many different sayings, logos and formulas. It was hard to keep track of all that we were trying to articulate. It became very clear to us on this retreat that God was asking us to simplify all of these things. So we prayed and talked, and talked and prayed.

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Cam at a Southside outreach event in the 90s.

By the end of our retreat it was clear to us that the form He was calling us to live by was not new at all; rather, it was renewed.

We began to understand that by focusing on loving God with our hearts, mind and strength, and loving our neighbours as we loved one another, we were actually bearing witness to the very nature and action of God.

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20 years into this renewed vision of shared life, Southside continues to grow in loving God with everything.

CBWC Church Planting: What Shared Practices do you focus on and why?

Cam: Since that retreat 20 years ago we have focused our attention and efforts on growing into people who really do love God, each other, and neighbour with everything. At times, we may adjust the specifics of a shared practice in order to grow more deeply in a particular facet, but here are some of the ways that plays out practically at present:

  • Sabbath: Loving God with all our strength really comes down to trusting Him with our time, talent, treasure, and even our bodies. The Sabbath is one way in which we can say to the world, “Jesus is Lord. I am under His leadership, for He has offered a better way to live.” It is not that we come to the end of the week and are exhausted so need to unplug, but rather that we recognize who He is and determine to bear witness to him with our whole life. So from sundown Saturday until sundown Sunday, we seek to cease work and commerce, engage in hospitality and time around the table, spend time “recreating” in creation, and gather for worship, prayer and studying the Scriptures.
  • Gathering together: One way we prove our love for one another is that we have covenanted to gather together on a regular basis: all ages on Sundays in congregations, adults Wednesday in small groups (Mission Groups), youth on Thursdays in their small groups, and monthly with discipleship partners. Gathering together is crucial for our growth as His people.
  • Scripture and Study Guides: We seek to love God with all our mind, growing in the knowledge of God and His Kingdom. We share in the practice of daily Scripture study. The core tool for this practice is the study guide, which leads us through personal daily Scripture study and application that also correlates to the sermons on Sunday and our discussion time in Mission Groups.
  • Morning and Evening Prayer: On any given day, whether gathered together, in our own homes, or away on a work trip, we are growing in loving God with our hearts through the practice of morning and evening prayer. Often, prompts in our study guides will help us in the morning to look ahead to the day and ask the Lord for provision and opportunities to share His love, and in the evening to bring confession and thanksgiving as we reflect on our action and God’s action.
  • Hospitality: Christ is inviting us to an abundant life in and through Him, for the sake of the world. We do not ask the question of “who is my neighbour?” but rather “am I a neighbour?” Therefore, we seek to love our neighbours with justice and compassion, practicing hospitality and proclaiming the Kingdom of God. But I’ve got to confess that we have a long way to go in this area. We’re learning to be hospitable in our own homes, and also as congregations in neighbourhoods to become a people of welcome.
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A sample of Southside’s Study Guides from the past few years.

CBWC: Have you seen fruit of your intentionality in shared practices? 

Cam: A big area of fruit for us is people being able to point to where they have seen God at work in the world and in their lives. This practice is crucial for evangelism in our context.

Eugene Peterson’s phrase “a long obedience in the same direction” also comes to mind. As these shared practices continue to shape us over the long haul, the Holy Spirit uses them to begin changing our defaults from kingdom of the world mindsets to Kingdom of God mindsets. I have seen countless examples in our people of those small shifts:

  • from tight-fisted to generous
  • from snap, individualistic decision making to Spirit-led, Scripture informed corporate discernment
  • from hurried and harried to trusting God with each hour and day
  • from anxious to thankful

And I could go on. This pathway of walking in step with each other and the Lord is not easy, but more and more I am convinced that it produces the abundant life that Christ promises, not just for us but for our neighbours, cities, nation and the world.

CBWC: What advice would you give churches who are considering taking a step towards a culture of intentional shared practice and life together? 

Cam: There are several things I could add.

  1. Start: I think far too often we are trying to make it perfect and therefore get stuck. So, just start. Get leaders together, pray and act. I really believe God will keep us in line with what He wants when we are seeking to follow Him.
  2. Listen: give opportunity for the people of the church to articulate what they are hearing. There are several exercises that are helpful for this. Doing a timeline of where you have seen God work in the history of the church is one helpful exercise.
  3. Feel free to ask: we started Forge Canada (not to be confused with The Forge Church, which you will hear about in a coming post) out of questions like this. As CBWC, we are a family of churches, so if I/we can ever be of help, I am very happy to start with a chat on the phone. We have helped many hundreds of churches along this road and would be delighted to spend time listening to what God is saying to your church and to be an encouragement along the way.

As per usual, we look forward to further conversation with you and your church as we continue watching God at work and joining Him in His work wherever we live, work, play and pray! ~Shannon and Cailey

Walking through Advent Together

By Shannon Youell and Cailey Morgan

Can you believe Advent begins in a month?

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We’re in a series discussing the importance of shared practices in missional discipleship. As the Christmas season approaches, we’d love you to consider whether Advent 2019 would be a good chance for your community of faith to be introduced to shared rhythms.

Here’s why: Advent is a defined period of time when churches can focus thematically on reflection, hospitality, Scripture and prayer. During this season, churches likely already engage in shared practices such as eating together, giving generous offerings, incorporating Advent readings into Sunday gatherings, serving the poor, and perhaps even a daily Advent devotional or prayer guide. The kind of intentionality that we find in the weeks leading up to Christmas is a great foundation for exploring what deeper engagement in shared practices could look like in the broader church calendar.

 

The Forge Church’s Experience

Shared practices as we’ve been introducing are not a new thing at all. The Jewish community of Jesus’ day practiced traditional spiritual practices throughout the year (Jesus emphasizes three of the main practices in Matthew 6, though as correctives to how they were being practiced).  These formed and shaped them into a community on God’s mission together when they practiced them in ways faithful to God’s ongoing redemptive plan of restoring all things together in unity.

Utilizing the Advent season to introduce shared practices has been a rich and growth-inducing journey for Shannon’s church, the Forge. For two years now they have been digging deeper into what it means to be disciples together on God’s mission.

The Forge has offered to share two resources: the Advent Guide they used when first implementing an intentional framework of shared practices for their congregation, and also the guide they used a year later as the shared practices were more established. As the folk at The Forge grew deeper together, so did their shared practices—and you will see that reflected in these two guides which are a year apart.

The guidebooks are only one of the tools Forge uses to make room in their everyday lives to spend time both with God individually and as the scattered community of disciples who gather for a few hours during the week.

 

Advent Shared Practice Resources

Here are some other resources that you may find helpful in gathering your congregation or household in shared reflection and action throughout Advent:

  • Advent Conspiracy is a multi-faceted movement to “celebrate Christmas humbly, beautifully, and generously.” They offer tools from inspirational videos and kid’s curriculum to a full-fledged book and small group series. Great to engage as whole churches or as a family, Advent Conspiracy was the basis for The Forge Church’s Advent Guide provided above. If you look further into the Advent Conspiracy resource, you may wonder how children felt about their parents engaging in the Spend Less (on yourselves) and Give More (to those who have less/not). Overwhelmingly, from small to teen, the kids at The Forge embraced this idea. So that’s just a plug for those of you who fear your kids not feeling like Christmas is Christmas.
  • CBWC’s Advent Page provides samples of Advent devotionals, Advent readings and Christmas Eve service orders.
  • Saturate’s “How to Make a Plan for the Holidays” is a short, simple and very practical guide to preparing for the season before it bulldozes us. Intended for use in small groups.
  • Marva Dawn’s brief daily devotional Follow the Story takes a reflective bent as she walk slowly through the story of that first Christmas and invites us to enter into the anticipation of the coming Saviour alongside ancient disciples like Elizabeth, Zechariah, Simeon, Joseph and Mary.

What other resources have you found helpful around Advent? Let us know by leaving a comment!

 

Why Shared Practices?

By Shannon Youell

I was listening to classic rock today and heard this song lyric: “Your own personal Jesus; Someone to hear your prayers, someone who cares; Your own personal Jesus.”

The song bothered me. Not because I don’t have a relationship with God-With-Us that is quite personal in that I can talk with him and walk with him. Jesus is present with me, he saves me. But the lyrics bothered me because the prevailing god of our culture—in cahoots with the gods of consumerism and materialism—is individualism, the idea that my apprenticeship with Jesus is solely a personal journey that is all about me. Individualism leaves the church in the place where we no longer need one another to be Kingdom people.

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Paul, in writing to the Ephesians, tells a different story. He tells of a body that is “joined and held together by every supporting ligament.” He tells of how, as each part or individual works with the rest, the body grows and is built up. That “body working together” is what matures the whole and, thus, the individuals of the whole.

We certainly struggle with Paul’s teaching today because we place a high value on our personal journey with Jesus as the ultimate intent of our being Christ’s disciples. Mark Roberts in his commentary on Ephesians says this about 4:7-16:

The growth of individual parts is only implied. But verse 14, by use of the plural “infants,” shows that corporate growth and individual growth go hand in hand. If the body of Christ grows, then individuals will no longer be spiritual babies.i

Brad Brisco and Lance Ford in their workbook Missional Essentials have this to say about it:

Living in the 21st century presents a unique set of challenges for those of us in the developed world. Modern conveniences and technology certainly make chores and routine tasks easier, but they also coincide with a lifestyle of disconnectedness from others around us. For the most part, our lives are compartmentalized in such a way that we live with a lack of integration. We speak of our work life, recreational life, family life, and spiritual life. The result for many of us is a disintegrated life.

Many in the church are realizing that in order to counter the gods of consumerism, materialism and individualism that haunt and disintegrate our lives we must rediscover the ancient ways of living life together on mission. Many churches have discovered that rhythms of Shared Practices have made huge differences in the lives of their church community and in the discipleship of their members.ii

In my own church community, we have been perplexed—if Christ transforms us, why are we not seeing transformation in so many who are still stuck in the same cycles of spiritual immaturity? After several years of praying, discerning, and wrestling, we came to realize that all our good leadership, our good programs, our good teaching was designed to feed people. Jesus and the early church shaped communities of people, and in that shaping, needs were met and transformation of hearts, minds souls and strength were evident to one another and to those in the world they lived, worked and played in.

God created us to be community, in continual communion with one another, as he himself, is community: Father, Son, Spirit. Tod E. Bolsinger says this:

My primary thesis is that the change we most yearn for is available to us only through the Triune God who transforms his people within the divine community, the church—The People of the Table. I believe and want to convince you that “it takes a church to raise a Christian.

Here’s a caveat to keep in mind: we are not engaging in Shared Practices for the sake of doing something good together. We are engaging in Shared Practices so as to become more and more the image-bearers of God, in Christ, thus living lives both inside and outside the church that display the good news of God’s Kingdom life here on earth as it is in heaven. Shared Practices help many churches become counter-cultural and discover life in Christ in deeper, transformative ways.

 


 

i. Roberts, Mark: The Story of God Bible Commentary: Ephesians

ii. There are so many resources, ancient, classic and new to help us lean into this. A few favorites are The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Church by Kent Carlson and Mike Luken, BTW by Derek Vreeland, It Takes a Church to Raise a Christian by Tod E. Bolsinger and books by Eugene Peterson, Henri Nouwen, Mike Frost, Mike Breen, Brad Brisco, Preston Pouteaux, David Fitch and so many others.

Creating a Culture of Shared Practices

By Shannon Youell

I know, I know, when you read today’s title, some of you are already thinking we already share practices in our congregation: each week we faithfully gather together to worship, fellowship, pray for one another and hear teaching on Sunday and, often, we gather in smaller groups during the week.

Yes, we do already share these rich times together. So good! We also encourage one another, rightly so, to spend time daily with God in prayer, meditation, scripture reading, confession and reflection for our own personal growth when we are not together. 

Yet, we believe there is a thicker definition of what it means to embody this kingdom life we’ve been called to. When Jesus talks about the kingdom of God, he is always talking about a community of people who are 24/7 citizens of that kingdom participating in the practices, the devotions, and the mission of the kingdom together. And he frames it all in the midst of discipleship, something that one does not pursue individually, but rather in relationship to others. 

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Like many of our human innovations, the proliferation of published books/information has both enhanced humanity immensely and also fed into the disconnection and fragmentation of community.  There are so many amazing and wonderful devotionals, spiritual formationals, Bible studies, theological reflections and any other genre of book written, and we celebrate those and continue to encourage disciples of Jesus to pursue knowing God deeper, enriching people wherever they live, work, play and pray.   

However, partnered with our western-world philosophical adherence to individuality and self-help, and distrust of anyone telling us what to think or do, our endless Kindle reading lists can actually separate us from the ancient practices that built and sustained communities of the faithful, which made those early disciples distinguishable in the places where they were embedded and participated in the new kingdom community marked by the Jesus way. In our current reality, discipleship itself has become optional, an add-on for those who are wanting more than the service on a Sunday morning or who are viewed as more religious. 

Both Jesus and the early church demonstrated a journey of discipleship that was done within a community. Putting the idealized Acts 2 church into perspective, the people did not sit on the temple steps 24/7, forgoing work, family, civic duties and all the other components that make up humanity’s days.  I believe the point of that passage in Acts is that they were intentional to gather and be discipled together and that they were equally as intentional to continue these practices when scattered, resulting in a community that were being both shaped and influenced together.   

They were building a culture of discipleship that incorporated shared practices while scattered and that also enriched the shared practices of their gathered times. 

We like to say this is a thicker understanding of what it means to be church together because it expands what we do, say and confess as a people together into the other six and half days of our lives.  It takes our theology of what we believe and understand about God and his people to the place of praxis – what does that look like lived out? 

Dallas Willard calls nondiscipleship the elephant in the church.  He continues to say that the elephant is not the “much discussed moral failures, financial abuses, or the amazing similarity between Christians and non-Christians.” 1 Rather, nondiscipleship is the underlying problem to those failures. It’s the thing that everyone knows fills the room but nobody really talks about, especially when challenged with the part of discipleship that makes us accountable to a community of fellow disciples.   

It is much easier (and safer) to just do whatever one does by oneself.  The barrier the church finds itself up against is that we’ve done a good job of making believers but a dismal pass on making disciples who make disciples, who are on God’s mission together to bring his kingdom shalom into the world. 

The good news is that God is waking up the church to this reality! In fact, it has been the Baptist historical ethos: whenever the church became too involved in self, God stirred up his followers to look around and see what is missing from their life together.  Those who yearn to see the church become distinguishable from the rest of culture recognize that what is missing in our life together is the together part—a people who are devoted to the journey of discipleship that actually continues to transform us more and more to Christ-likeness! The together part is bigger and richer and more formational and thus tranformational, enhancing all the other wonderful rich things we do when we gather for a service.  It is about shared practices—things we do together even when we are not togetherthings we do together as we engage being on mission with God to make disciples of all peoples and then teaching them to do the same. 

In this next series of blogs, we will be sharing what we’ve learned ‘as we go’ in the rich pathway of shared practices, including stories of our own congregations as well as those of other lovers of Jesus who knew there was more to this life as church than what we have been engaging in.   

Our purpose is that all of us as people who are faithful in our lives to God’s work in the world desire to see the culture around us be infiltrated with God’s goodness and kingdom. The reality is that before we can really see that happen, we must first shift our own internal culture into that of disciples on mission with Jesus. 

Follow with us, comment, email us, and let’s share this journey of going deeper and wider together by creating a culture of shared practices. 

In This Together

By Shannon Youell

Can I tell you what I love most about my role working in CBWC? That we are in this together, “we being you and me and each and every one of the people who do life together in our vast family of churches across western Canada.

In my role as Director of Church Planting and as part of the CBWC executive team, everything I, the rest of our team, and support staff do is geared towards participating with you in the shared priorities our churches affirm as most important to being faithful in following Jesus in discipleship and mission as the church.

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These shared priorities are your shared priorities! CBWC staff facilitates them on your behalf, because we are also you. We gather and worship and minister and serve in our CBWC churches in our home communities. Let’s re-imagine together how we can engage in that more and more as a whole family.

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1) Cultivating Leadership – I think every church desires to grow deeper in discipleship together and help encourage, develop, mentor, support and resource new leaders, young and old! Jesus calls us, together, to make disciples who can make disciples of others. This is the mission he commanded every one of us to join him on and we all take this seriously. Let us re-imagine ways we can help one another in our family of CBWC churches to see this dream flourish. Let us re-imagine ways we resource and support one another through our CBWC staff and through our partnerships with other member churches. One suggestion made is to help a smaller church support a part-time youth worker to develop the youth they have. Are we willing to add that shared ministry to our budgets?

2) Engaging in Mission – I’m pretty sure our common response to witnessing the baptism of a new believer who has committed to entering into a journey of discipleship within accountable communities of disciples is deep joy. I have had the amazing privilege of experiencing baptisms while I’m visiting churches. My heart rejoices just as much as if I had been a part of that person’s journey and baptized them myself! These are family, people who long to grow deeper and closer to Christ, in community, in the midst of brokenness, bad habits, imperfections and deep internal struggles. What a trust in other believers they are committing themselves to!

We all, as a network of churches, are a part of that story, because we are family! Let us re-imagine participating in our shared work with new churches with financial support, prayer, and joining in some of their local mission work. Churches who partner in this way, even with new churches a thousand miles away, experience the work as part of their own congregation’s mission – of course, since we are called by Christ to a common mission – together!

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3) Investing in Relationship – None of the above happens outside of relationship with one another. Empathy and understanding are activated when we sit down with another and hear one another’s stories, when we invest our time, our talent, our treasure into the lives of others. In my life, I have found my heart shifted so many times just because I took the time to invest in someone’s life who I knew of but didn’t know. When we engage this way, we learn to more deeply pray for one another, encourage one another and support our shared work of being on God’s mission with one another. We have so many opportunities to engage in relationships with one another. If we want to know and understand one another, support one another and pray informed prayers for one another, then we need to be listening to one another and sharing life together.

These are big hopes and dreams expressed by our churches. We are on mission together so let’s dive in even deeper together re-imagining old and new ways of being faithfully present to God, to one another and to the world. In what ways will you engage with all of us?

 

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