Life from the Missional Web

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By:  Rev. Shannon Youell 

Donning rain coats and boots, my husband and I went on a rainy day guided hike in one of our local parks boasting old-growth 800-year-old Douglas Fir, a multitude of resident creatures and an incredible diversity of understory plants. Our focus was on mushrooms – Marvelous Mushrooms as the hike was titled.  We expected to learn and identify mushrooms but this was so much more. We discovered mycelium!             

Mycelium, a vast network of fungal threads, are something like the root and digestive systems of the mushrooms.   These networks are what is going on underneath the top layer of soil. They are formed from the mushroom’s mycelium, a web like network that makes its way beneath the forest floor connecting to other lifeforms.  What we see on the surface and recognize as mushrooms are the fruit of the fungi.  

Surprised as we were by that discovery, it was the symbiotic relationship the mycelium has with the forest trees that brings Marvelous Mushrooms to this blog.  Called mycorrhiza, this under the surface relationship is crucial to the health of the trees and of the forest ecosystem and of course for the support of the mushrooms themselves.

The short version is that mycorrhiza from the mycelium weave around the underground roots of trees to nourish and protect them.  They help trees absorb their needed nutrients and helps to protect them from absorbing toxins that could affect the health of the tree.  Mycorrhiza also connect trees in the forest, via the mycelium web network, to one another and help the trees sense when one of their ‘community’ is struggling.  Once those ‘sensors’ are triggered, healthy trees will divert their own nutrients to help the struggling trees, even trees of different species.  Current research being done at the University of British Columbia has discovered that these ‘connections’ go even deeper: ‘mother’ trees, through the web, can detect when one of their own ‘baby’ trees is struggling and divert energy and nutrients to help foster their growth.  They will prioritize the nurture of their ‘own’ over another tree! 

My apologies to any mycologists out there, I am just learning and excited to learn more about how all life is connected.   

Let me get into more familiar territory.  What do mushrooms and their ‘web’ have to do with how followers of Jesus, and specifically communities of followers of Jesus, participate in the support and nurture of one another’s communities?

This blog has often touted the benefit of partnerships for the establishment of new expressions of the gospel in our communities.  Both past and current plants are the beneficiaries of partnerships with already established churches (small and large), and in fact, those partnerships are necessary to nurture those plants and crucial for their ability to grow into healthy gospel communities of their own. We also encourage symbiotic relationships in these partnerships – a flow back and forth as needed for the health and discipleship of both communities. 

We need more of these symbiotic relationships as an eco-system for all our churches. Would more of our existing churches be willing to risk planting new expressions of the gospel if they knew they would not be on their own but supported by the ‘underground network’, communities of Christ ‘mycorrhiza’? Can we operate as an eco-system of communities even while distant from one another, so that we naturally respond to the struggle’s others are having, diverting some of our own energy and nutrients to support them?  If Jesus were talking to nature folk rather than agrarian folk, would he have told the Parable of the Mycorrhiza?  The kingdom of God is like……? 

I think of this in supporting gospel communities both new and existing. How might we, as our vast geographical network of churches, live symbiotically, nurturing one another for the health of the whole.   Can we be more active and involved in the health of one another’s communities in our common mission of joining God in his work of revealing the Good News wherever we live, work, play and pray?  Think about it.  (Paul writes about it in 2Cor 8)

There are new communities right now that you can nurture and encourage by your connections with them.  Contact me at syouell@cbwc.ca for how you can join the web of life that connects all of us to God’s creation and to God’s mission in and to this amazingly interconnected and interdependent world he created.    

Engaging Mission with Coaching and Cohort Opportunities

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Wow! Fall is looming up before us already and most of us are making plans for how we can be salt and light, the Church, in our neighbourhoods in this next season, whatever it may hold for us in the ongoing changing landscape of life disrupted by a pandemic and other world events!

It also means deadlines for engaging in some of the amazing opportunities and pathways available to you and which you can read more details about HERE including the contacts for registration.

This past year (September through March) two of our CBWC churches participated in the Year One Course From the Centre for Leadership Development – “Forming and Reforming Communities of Christ in a Secular Age. One of those churches was where I attend. Five of our leadership team took part in reimagining engaging in mission right in our own area. This has benefited us greatly in understanding together how we can move deeper in shared practices within our church community and engage more relevantly and meaningfully by discovering where God is already at work bringing his presence, his shalom, into our neighbourhoods. The good work we did in that course and the consultation with Tim for our whole Leadership Team (board, elders, staff) is now being fleshed out with a larger group of our folk as we endeavor to discern together how God is forming and reshaping us to engage in his mission. Registration is open now for a mid-September start!

More than a decade ago when I was an Associate Pastor at another church, I brought some our leaders to an event brought to Victoria from The Forge Missional Network and facilitated by our own Cam Roxburgh (who I did not know back then). This opportunity was sponsored by our City-Wide Ministerial, and leaders from a wide range of churches and denominations in Victoria attended this workshop/course Friday and Saturday. It changed and began to reshape my understanding of evangelism, discipleship and mission, and gave words to what had been a growing passion in myself and the leaders who attended with me. Fast forward to today and we have The Discovery Project pathway to begin the conversation with your church and leaders. “Many leaders have gone through some missional training and are asking how they might help their people to “discover” some of the exciting opportunities presented to us as followers of Jesus in these difficult days.  The Discovery Project is one response to this question.”  Registration for this pathway is flexible as is church specific but don’t delay as space fills up!

For our churches who are already exploring what it means to be the Church in our day as missional engaged people, The Neighbourhood Project is here to help! This pathway brings together cohorts of groups to explore, equip and implement what the Spirit is leading them to. This pathway is filling up so fast, its now added a second and likely a third cohort and there is still some room so don’t delay!

Again, you can access more information and contacts for registration HERE

Don’t miss out on these great opportunities as we all desire to participate in the advancing of God’s kingdom here on earth!

Connection Embodies Content

By: Shannon Youell

Full disclosure:  I love content and information.  I thrive on it.  I’m a good researcher/writer and will spend inordinate amounts of time on a subject or concept looking at it from every angle available.  I say that just so you recognize, with me, that I can get lost in that.  As a person at the tail end of the baby boomers, I was taught in a system where content was king – it led to knowledge and I like to ‘know’ and be current and ‘informed’.  Memorize enough content and you can do anything!  Know enough ‘stuff’ and you will be successful at whatever you do in life.  You’ll be considered widely-read, knowledgeable, and everyone will want you for a Trivial Pursuit partner.   

Nothing wrong with that in principle.  I’m naturally a teacher and teachers teach, well, content.  Don’t they?  But I also chafe when the content has no application.  No ‘legs’ as I often phrase it.  Content without legs remains just content, information, storage.  Content without legs fills us with good (or bad) knowledge but not necessarily wisdom or even the tools we need to embody that knowledge. 

Jesus spent a lot of his time teaching his disciples how to embody that which they already knew about God and God’s mission in the world.  He doesn’t seem to ever lead a bible study to increase the amount of content people can retain, notwithstanding that he was mostly speaking to people who had been raised in the Jewish faith and had some understanding of the content.  For these he usually corrected how they embodied (or not) that content. 

What he did do frequently was help his disciples put legs to the content – to understand what it looks like to be salt and light in a harsh and resistant world, and to recognize the ways in which the knowledge of the content of the scriptures hindered people from entering God’s kingdom action in the world to redeem, reconcile and restore all creatures to God’s good creation as he created it.  And they lived it out as a community of people – most often as a community of 12.   

A strong sense of community is what draws people to the content.  Community is the ‘legs’ of it. This type of community comes by connection and relationships that are personal and transparent.

“CONTENT ALONE WON’T CUT IT. COMMUNITY AND CONNECTION WILL.” Carey Nieuwhof

One of the things many churches are learning in this season of online church is that regardless of how good our offerings are via the internet, most people are yearning not for more content but for more connection.  Our caution is to realize that this will not be entirely resolved when we can meet in person again – this isn’t a result of Covid-19 – however the circumstances have exposed what was already there in our churches and in our communities.  

 Jesus embodied the Good News of God’s kingdom – he put ‘legs’ to the scripture content in ways that transformed lives and communities.  In the dislocation that Covid has caused, the Spirit is reminding us of this with renewed yearnings for connection and relational discipleship – where followers not only know the story (content) but embody it in ways that draw people to experience God-With-Us in back yards, work places, parks and maybe even church buildings. 

Covid Opportunities

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January 26th 2021 CBWC Supported Webinar

By: Shannon Youell

Hello 2021!  We have entered our eleventh month of living in a Covid-19 world.  Eleven months ago, we as church leaders and congregations were scrambling to figure out how we continue to be missionally faithful presences in our neighbourhoods, encouraging and discipling our churches.  As we’ve tackled the challenges that have slammed into us, I am hearing stories of churches both adapting to the challenges and struggling with the challenges and changes.  Many are hanging on waiting for when things can go back to in person meeting so the church can carry on their practices of worship, prayer, discipleship and joining God in his mission.  Others are catalyzing the opportunities within Covid to rethink, reimagine and reorient their ecclesiology and asking good, hard and revealing questions. 

Many have become aware of things Covid is exposing in our lives, our relationships, our work and our worship and how it is accelerating what was already happening. Often what we see is not surprising, we knew it was lurking around us all along and we managed to keep it from breaking the surface, but there are also things exposed that surprised us as well.  The challenge, I believe, is to be open to the Spirit of God to work in the things exposed as opportunities rather than curses that lead us to discern how we are church both amid Covid and beyond.  

One such church is New Life Church in Duncan, BC.  I spoke with Pastor Ken Nettleton a few months ago about the shift this congregation is making in reidentifying themselves as a people on mission with God in their local neighbourhoods and beyond.  As Covid descended last March, the strategy they adopted is a three-fold model of:  House Church, Village Church, Cathedral Church.  Each is dependent on the others with the shared purpose to “train and equip Jesus’ followers in the mission they are on”.  This, of course, sounds like the mission statement of most churches.  But the delivery is different.  (for a brief overview of how each element connects to the whole click HERE  

Full disclosure:  New Life had already been working to reshape themselves, especially in the area of small groups.  Their experience with small groups is likely your experience – add-ons to Sunday Services viewed by many congregants as optional and consumeristic.  Ken and his leaders also conceded that while attendance was increasing and baptisms were happening, “measuring church health by attendance, buildings and cash” is the wrong metric.  Rather, church health is measured by engaging relationally with each other and asking, “important questions of ‘how are you following Jesus this week inwardly and outwardly – how is that going?’ and being really intentional about that.”  Shifting the metric meant also acknowledging that intentional committed discipleship happens primarily between Sundays, not on Sundays.  “We needed to structure Sundays to resource our House Churches instead of expecting committed Sunday attendance but optional small group attendance.  We wanted our people to eventually see their small group (House Church) as their most important community gathering.”      

So, New Life focused on small groups, renaming them House Churches, and is working on shifting them in people’s lives from optional ‘add-ons’ to the most important gathering of the week.  And thanks to Covid these House Churches have become right now the only community – where a small group of Jesus followers gather and are pastored by the House Church leader – a volunteer identified as someone called and willing to be equipped by the pastors to shepherd 8-15 people.  These House Churches begin with the youth group who are organized and led in such clusters and carry on into adult ages.   

Ed Stetzer, planter, missiologist and host of the New Church Podcast describes the differences in Episode 63.  He says that home groups are ministries of the church whereas house churches are churches:  they baptize and administer the Lord’s supper; they teach and preach for the purpose of deep, intentional, accountable disciple making; they have a mission.  Ken agrees, and again points out that Covid has created exactly this opportunity to reorganize, learn and grow.    

Ken also notes that house churches must look ‘outside’ themselves.  “They have to go out into this valley as 35 churches that are New Life, each having a specific mission in this valley – and the mission isn’t the same.  We should be having an impact all over this valley, working with non-churched people who are also committed to addressing issues of justice and mercy, and bringing Jesus with us as we do.”  

Again, it’ is important to point out that New Life had already committed to shift in this direction prior to Covid, and see this pandemic as an opportunity to accelerate what God was already up to in our Canadian culture.  “As I prayed about things, God impressed upon me that many of us have been asking Him to renew and revive His Church for a long time, and that we shouldn’t be surprised that the answer to our prayer would look like this.  “What were you expecting my refining fire to look like?” were words that burned into my heart, and I had to admit that God’s activity almost always brings external pressure and change.”   

 As 2021 unfolds and we are all hopeful that we will begin to see restrictions relax, New Life is bringing imagination and good questions as to how best to gather in the ‘Cathedral’.  As Ken explains, not all things work as well in House Church in a similar way that not all things work well in Cathedral.  That is why all three aspects of House Church, Village Church, and Cathedral are integral and necessary.  The strategy is to continue using the opportunities Covid has gifted us with as we wrestle with asking good questions and reimagining, through prayer and discernment, how God is shaping his church for the future.    

What opportunities are you seeing in your church community?  In what ways has the Spirit been encouraging you to reimagine being church?  What good questions are you asking yourself?  

Come join CBWC January 26th for a CBWC supported event for Pastors and their teams in an interactive webinar with Ken Nettleton, Cam Roxburgh and Tim Dickau and myself.  We will hear stories both ours and yours and have time to ask good questions together.     

 Details and Registration HERE 

Thrust into Darkness

By: Shannon Youell

Here I am, and the children the Lord has given me.  We are signs and symbols in Israel from the Lord Almighty, who dwells on Mount Zion.  When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God?  Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?  To the law and to the testimony!  If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.  Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God.  Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness, and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness.  Isaiah 8:18-22 

Just before Isaiah wrote the famous Advent words, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;”, he scribed the passage above.  He sets the context for what the world is like, where hope has waned, if not disappeared, where both the present and the future are painted as a bleak, gloomy fearfulness, where people curse and blame both their government and their god.  It all sounds so dismal, disturbed and pointless.  If one were to never go on to chapter 9, one would consider the calamities of the day as fatalistic and humanity as on the precipice of expiration. 

But, then, one has missed the beauty of what Isaiah is saying.  He first acknowledges that as far as it is up to him, he will wait for the Lord, he will put his trust in him (8:17) and then he echoes his words from chapter six, “Here I am.”  But he is not alone.  The people whom God has given him, the people of God with whom he journeys, are there with him.  And together they are “signs and symbols” from the Lord who dwells among them in the land. (8:18) 

Signs and symbols of hope when hope seems to have fled the hearts of people.  Signs and symbols of a light that pierces the fiercest darkness, saturating hearts with an unexplainable expectancy rising up in joy.   

The writings are a poetic reminder that we, the God believers, the disciples of Christ, are called to shine our light and not hide it under a bowl.  In that way we embody hope to the world.  

In one of the Advent Readers I am following this season, the writer wrote these words, “Hope holds steady, clinging to peace in the midst of chaos.”1 

This is powerful imagery in the reality of this particular Advent in 2020.  In a time when many are embodying fear, anxiety, despondency, cynicism, hopelessness and anger, Isaiah and the Gospel of God’s kingdom invites us to cling to peace in the midst of it all.  To be seekers of peace, joy and love.  To be the embodiment of the kind of hope that fosters hope to and towards the world.  God’s hope.  

It is our “God of hope” who enables us to “overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 15:13).  This reality isn’t true only in ‘good’ times; in fact, it is dark and difficult times when hope truly shows its mettle. 

Hope, God’s hope, disrupts the utter darkness we find ourselves plunged in.  It displaces it with “a great light” revealing the shadows we live in are only that, shadows.  They are dangerous, frightening, agonizing shadows that in the absence of God’s hope are bereft of any peace to cling to.  But with God, with Messiah, with this great light that has already dawned, when we embody the presence of God calm comes with us.   

In the midst of the chaos where suffering, grief and loss are so real, we, the people who call Jesus Lord and Savior, are to be signs and symbols of our God-With-Us.  His hope is with us when we can’t leave our homes and are lonely.  His hope is with us as we struggle with all the things that have been disrupted and displaced by this virus.  And the Gospel invites us to embody that hope for others, to be signs and symbols clinging to peace, and our very demeanor, language and gestures embodies a hope that is disruptive to shadows we find both ourselves and others living shrouded in as our world feels thrust into darkness. 

May each of us be signs and symbols of Disruptive Hope. Let us shine the light of dawn among our neighbours, our church families and our nation in humility and strength, love and grace, in this very different and modified Christmas Season. 

Hold steady. Cling to peace. Together we are signs and symbols of our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Shalom.

Re-Missioning: Tradition Innovation

BY: Shannon Youell

There is a Maori proverb that beautifully encapsulates their traditional world view: 

“We walk backwards into the future, our eyes fixed on the past” 

It gives us the picture that we approach the future everyday not knowing what it will look like as we can’t see into it, but that “(looking) to the past informs the way we move into future” 

The Maori people understand the past and present as “a single, comprehensible ‘space’ because it is what they have seen and known.  We walk backward into the future with our thoughts directed toward the coming generations but with our eyes on the past.”  It’s akin to going on a road trip – you may not sure where it will take you but you know from where you came – you look both forward and also in the rear-view mirror.

As I read church history and stories of God’s faithful people moving missionally throughout time and space, I am often surprised how innovative and creative people are in their love for God and His mission.  How they adapted to the culture, context and time that they found themselves in for the benefit of those who did not yet know the God of all creation and the saving work he accomplished through his Son, Jesus Christ.  Often they stepped outside what was considered ‘traditional’ to innovate and map out a new pathway of being disciples so others could see their way to following.   

There is a difference between tradition and traditional.  Tradition is really about our why.  Why  we believe what we do.  We look upon the ancient scriptures of the people of God and the new scriptures that tell of Jesus and his ushering in of God’s kingdom; we rely both on the early translators and interpreters and our contemporary translators and interpreters; we live into and share values and ethics that have been passed along for centuries.  Traditional, however, is usually the way we do things.  You’ll hear families around Christmas traditions complain when something changes with a loud “But that’s traditional!”  In church life we often say “well that’s the way we’ve always done it!” 

I’m with the Maori – we must continue to look to our past – it has formed us and gives us a foundation – we still believe God is the creator of all things, that he created humans as his co-labourers to steward the earth, that he called a people his own to be both salt and light so that other peoples could witness the glory of God lived out through them; we believe that God so loved the world he sent his Son…. 

But we always walk with these things in sight into a future for the coming generation and for the current culture.  This means taking a good look at our traditional ways of being the church, having open hands and empty tables to release things we cherish and embrace things we may not find comfortable at first yet give movement to serving God’s mission of his kingdom of shalom into all the places and spaces of our human experience. 

 “Re-missioning established churches with movemental practices and missional theology is some of the most difficult and needed work in North America.”  Josh Hayden 

As churches, this can be difficult for us to do.  We love so many of the traditional things we do!  But if we are going to be people on God’s mission, then we need to frequently evaluate the things we do and the impact they have, not only on ourselves, but into the world to which we have been sent.   

I encourage you to listen to Josh Hayden’s presentation here (the first 27 minutes with the rest Q&A), on Re-missioning the Established Church, for all things are possible if we are humble, open and lay down our lives for the sake of others as our discipleship demands.   

ReMissioning an Established Church 

Remissioning: Grandma’s Church

By Shannon Youell

One of my favorite paintings is Van Gogh’s Starry Night. One of the ways this painting speaks to me is in the imagery of the village. It is night and the glory of God fills the skies. The church with its darkened windows rests in the middle of the village. But the lights burn bright in the windows of the homes in the neighbourhood. There, people gather around meals, prayer, conversation, thankfulness with family, with friends, with neighbours. This is what I think of as I read this quote exerted from today’s guest blogger of viewing one’s one’s “own neighbourhood as a fundamental Gospel building block.”

In this New Leaf Network Blog Post, author Rohadi picks up on some of the thinking of our previous blog post on Abundant Community and the Kingdom of God within neighbourhoods. Both these great posts were written pre-covid yet their relevance to the types of reflecting, processing, thinking and questioning the church is doing in the midst of our disrupted understanding of what it means to be the church is definitely worth asking yourself and your church some important questions about what God is saying to the church today, in times such as these.

This article by Rohadi was originally posted on the New Leaf Network Blog.

My grandma used to spend the odd Sunday strolling to service two blocks from her home. She lived during a time when everyone went to church, or in the very least knew the stories. Church was part of her routine, part of her neighbourhood, and a part of Canadian culture. The time when the majority of Canadians attended a church service is gone, but I think there’s something worthy to reclaim from grandma’s church from the ‘60s. Not for its assumed position of privilege, but the value of local parish ministry living out a story of “the best yet to come.” Despite current trends to centralize the church (strategizing to strengthen what you have versus planting something new), the presence of the local parish may be a critical key to revitalizing Christianity in post-Christian Canada.

I’m somewhat surprised how, despite facing profound loss as a whole, church leaders implement changes incrementally at a time when most are clamouring to find ways to reverse the exodus. Maybe it’s too little too late? The way leaders justify incrementalism is by picking the latest strategies and tactics that seem to be working for resilient churches somewhere else. If it works for them it should work for us, they’d say.

Evangelicals are beating declining national trends that are most evident in mainline denominations. Some even report very modest growth. Does a silver bullet lie within the function of evangelicalism? Depends what the goal is. If it’s to ensure a resilient church for Christians then yes. If it’s to “preach the Gospel to the lost,” then no.

Tips to Success
Want to lead a resilient and even growing church? Here’s what you need: strengthen programming to young families, ensure strong culturally relevant preaching, have exceptional music, maybe strong programs to baby boomers as well. This is a gross oversimplification, but if you can deliver programming with effectiveness, you’re going to hold your own, and attract the already churched. But in terms of conversion growth, that requires different expertise.

The Naked Emperor
As a whole, evangelical growth occurs via very specific sources. When we consult the data, over the past twenty years churches that add members do so through three primary and almost exclusive ways.

  1. New births.
  2. Christian immigrants.
  3. Christians switching churches.

The best resourced churches “grow” because they can afford robust programming for new immigrants; are the largest and by default have the most births; and have the best music and preaching that attracts the quintessential consumer Christian. Not on the list of three? Evangelicals struggle to grow by evangelism. In their book, A Culture of Faith, Sam Reimer and Michael Wilkinson asked congregants in evangelical churches what they thought the highest priorities in their churches were–evangelism was one of the lowest. Despite the moniker, evangelical churches don’t grow by evangelism. Even the best resourced churches struggle to connect with a post-Christendom culture where fewer hold any religious memory of the bygone church/Christian dominated Canada.

Where do we go from here?

First off, we need to shift our theological paradigm of mission. This change is both critical yet difficult to adopt. Rather than mission being a program or support for professional missionaries somewhere ‘out there in the world’, can we re-orient mission to the forefront? Can mission become the defining filter for the entire function of the church here in Canada? The implications of shifting the paradigm of mission will alter your perceptions from a church devoted to Christians for Christians, to one that re-values a participating church in the restoration of neighbourhoods for the benefit of all (as fundamental identity and not mere outreach ministry).

Challenging old paradigms of mission (some would adopt language like ‘missional’) will require more than casual lip-service. Modelling is a necessary step to take ideas beyond planning. It will mean some discomfort as we alter the things we devote the majority of our resources to—namely the Sunday service(s) and programs—so they reflect missional orientation. For example, it is difficult to claim ‘priesthood of all believers’ or encourage congregational participation in the unfolding mission of God if our gatherings are exclusively run by the qualified clergy and staff. Upsetting the rhythm of our most cherished institution (the service) won’t be easy. On one hand it is expected that staff will do most of the work because they are paid, on the other, this expectation detracts from the development of congregations out of a consumer mentality of participation. Ultimately, consumer churches are not missional churches.

Secondly, once a paradigm of mission has been established (or unrolling) leaders will seek to implement strategic direction to increase participation. One of the ways to ‘cheat’ in this process is to look at the bright spots already unfolding within your congregation, and outside in your immediate neighbourhood. You may be surprised with what people are already doing on their own accord. On average, most people will wait to join some kind of ministry the church starts. Look for the anomalies who are already living out the character of Jesus in their space and place without permission from the church. Develop these people, partner with them, and send them resources.

Thirdly, connect people based on geography. The power of the neighbourhood, of presence and proximity, cannot be replicated because it is the very foundation of incarnation—of the Word made flesh whom moved into the neighbourhood. I’ve had conversations with mega-church pastors who legitimized commuting as an asset because driving 25 minutes to a small group demonstrated deep commitment. That might be true, but it utterly devalues the neighbourhood. Jesus literally meant, love thy literal neighbour, literally next door. Literally. Combining people based on postal code is a powerful tool to create groups that are centered in the same place and ready to live out the character of Jesus where they live with people they love. I can’t think of a better pursuit for ‘small groups’. This idea, however, requires the church to process idea #1, and indeed value its very own neighbourhood as a fundamental Gospel building block.

Admittedly, the paradigm shift towards a lens of mission is not an easy one to adopt. Encouraging entrenched churches to revalue proximity over commuting may be met with stiff opposition. Suggesting the resources committed for years (decades) don’t work is a tough pill to swallow especially for those who’ve spent most of that time planted in Christian culture. (It’s tough to see the world with different eyes when you’ve been inside the church the whole time.) Disrupting status quo isn’t supposed to be easy. The caveat is, over time, you will develop and attract focused people who will call an incarnational vision their own, and will give their lives towards it. Ultimately, that’s what we hope for: a community of witnesses on jealous pursuit of an unfolding love story in their neighbourhoods and beyond.

Abundant Community and the Kingdom of God

By: Shannon Youell with Karen Wilk

One of the key questions I believe the church should be asking during this time is “What are the opportunities God is opening up to us the church when our normalized ways of gathering as communities has been disrupted and evangelism seems paralyzed because of social distancing?

Many thoughtful, prayerful and reflective followers of Jesus are asking this, and through listening and discernment, are seeking to discover and participate in what the Spirit is up to in their neighbourhoods. They’re wondering if perhaps God is inviting God’s people to again be rooted in the local places where the Spirit has placed them to live, work, play and pray.  They’re wondering if this might be the way for the church to learn both to navigate the current crisis as well as the ever- changing landscape of our world in a post-pandemic, post-modern (or some say post-post-modern), post-Christian world.

Today we share with you a post by Karen Wilk who is a National Team Member for Forge Canada Missional Training Network, and a Missional Leader Developer for the Resonate Global Mission.  When Karen wrote this article it was pre-covid.  Recently CBWC Church Planting asked her to look at her article again against the backdrop of this shifted world we’re finding ourselves in, and share any new insights of engaging and living in a neighbourhood for the work of the Kingdom of God.  Karen’s response was there isn’t much she’d change even looking through our current lens.

That says a lot to me!  At a time when so many are feeling the void of community across the spectrum of whatever community may be for us, Karen is confident that community embedded in neighbourhoods is resilient to still flourish even during the strangest of circumstances and times.

This article by Karen Wilk was originally published on Forge Canada’s blog.

Lately, I have been learning a lot about what it means to be a healthy or abundant community and the importance of community for personal and communal well-being. How do you imagine an abundant, vibrant, healthy or competent – as some experts call it – community?

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I suspect many of us have nostalgic memories of neighbourhood.  For example, at a recent gathering numerous participants told stories about growing up on a street where, as kids, they roamed freely to the playground, to the corner store; where they ventured in and out of each other’s homes, played ‘hide and seek’ or ‘kick the can’ at night; never locking their doors and so on… One block connector told the story of how the neighbours would often say, when he got out of hand (which, from the sounds of it was quite often), ‘Remember, I know your Mom, now behave yourself!’  Now, they lamented, kids can’t even go to the playground half a block away on their own, and ‘the village’ isn’t ‘raising the child.’

We don’t even know the parents! We try to keep others out, rather than make connections with those around us.  We have somehow come to believe that our communal responsibility for the health, security, education, environment, economy, and vulnerable in our communities belongs to, or is better maintained and sustained by, social services, government agencies and/or the professionals.

What if a vibrant community is one which includes every resident and recognizes the abundance and care in its midst – the gifted people next door, the wise seniors a few houses down, the carpenter, electrician on the block one over, the gardener, the bicycle fanatic, the teen willing to shovel snow, the empty nesters willing to help the young parents on the other side of the alley…?

Sociologists and numerous studies are saying that neighbourhood community is the most effective means of addressing at least seven essentials that lead to personal and communal well-being and thus, an abundant community – an abundant community that, from the perspective of the Christian faith, reflects God’s Kingdom of Shalom, the Triune Communion of our God.

We all yearn – creation groans – for this kind of place: a place where we all belong, where all feel safe and secure, where all can grow and flourish, are cared for, work for the common good. In this kind of community, all contributions are welcomed and employed and the primary practice of inclusive hospitality pervades.

Perhaps an abundant community is exactly what God had in mind when he instructed the people of Israel through the prophet Jeremiah to seek the peace and the well-being of the city (29:4-7). Perhaps, the church – struggling to discern her role in post-modern post-Christendom – might begin to discern what God is up to by seeking to discover and join the Spirit on God’s mission in the neighbourhoods where He has sent her to remain.

Our society’s growing understanding of the significance of community seems to resonate with this text.  I think Jeremiah speaks a word not only to the people of God in Jeremiah’s day but in ours.  Both are called to nurture abundant communities!  We too are asked to seek the welfare and prosperity of the place God has sent us – to settle in, to stay, have families and gardens and do life together with our neighbours; to be faithfully present right where God has sent us and thereby declare that the Kingdom of God has come near!

165 Church Plants?

By Shannon Youell 

What might it look like if some of our churches become “church plants?” I posited this question in our last blog whilst noting how our church plants are navigating the times we are in. Since posting that blog I have had two of our CBWC pastors mention they’ve been told we need 165 church plants when we come out of this. That’s an interesting perspective to follow up my question. We are a family of around 165 associated, established churches. How might we begin to consider becoming “church plants?” 

Though there can be times when a church might consider deconstructing and starting again, I would certainly try to convince you otherwise in this time. If you called me to ask how your existing church becomes a church plant, I would echo Tod Bolsinger: “This isn’t the time to become what you are not.”i

During this time of constant pivoting, changing who you are as a church community of Christ followers would be less than constructive. However, as Bolsinger further explains, “This is a time to learn how to be the very best version of your church and organization for a changing world.” 

How do we begin to even discover what our “very best version” might be?  

Last week, out of curiosity, I spent some time checking out a dozen or so of our CBWC churches websites. I was curious to read the Vision Statements of our diverse group to understand the sense of engaging in God’s Mission in our churches. Here are some of them:  

Growing deeply-rooted followers of Christ. 

“In and For the Neighbourhood.” 

“God-dependent, Jesus-Rooted, Spirit-Led. 

“We desire to be a church that changes the world for Jesus. 

Our desire is to be followers of Jesus, by putting God’s love into action. 

Deeper Higher Further. 

Our vision is to be a church that unchurched people love to attend. 

Loving God and others where we live and gather, by connecting, belonging and engaging. 

“Making disciples of Jesus from all nations. 

“We are a people of invitation on the journey from brokenness to wholeness in Jesus. 

We envision the holiness of God flowing through the city…like a flood. 

Connecting Real People to the Real Jesus in Real Ways. 

“A community of people SENT to be known by love, live by faith, and be a voice of hope to the communityand beyond.” 

“To live a life of following Jesus, to be a place of spiritual formation, and to seek and contribute to the peace and well-being of the city.” 

Wow, right?! These are fantastic. These statements reveal hearts rooted in a desire to engage all peoples in community, faith, and spiritual formation for the meaning and purpose of loving God, others, self, neighbour with everything in every way of our every day.  

During the last six months, people all over the world have been coping and navigating something we’ve not previously all experienced at the same time. Many challenges and issues—and joys and discoverieshave been realized as we had to completely shift everything in our lives. People, families, organizations, businesses, recreation, entertainment. We changed how we spend our time, our money, and our talents; how we do relationships, how we deal with stress and with apathy. 

For people of faith, the challenge initially was in finding ways to continue having a Sunday worship service so that people didn’t feel displaced, isolated and perhaps “disappear” from the church. There has been increasing concern that some might not return to church when restrictions are completely lifted. Webinars, affinity groups, books, blogs, magazines and news articles abound on how to keep “doing Sunday.” The longer this goes on, the more heightened the fear that people will drift away and whether the church will survive this long term.  

“Where religious institutions have been mistaken…is that they have fallen in love with a specific solution, rather than forever evolving to meet the need.”
The Power of Ritual by Casper ter Kuile 

Of course, we need to find ways, creative and outside our normal box, of how we are a community of faith, on mission with God during this time. But rather than having our focus being on the fears and problems we have as we look for signs of people leaving the Sunday service and not returning, we should be looking for signs of those who are struggling with or leaving their faith or haven’t found faith yet.  

And that’s where the Vision Statements come into play.  

Over the past 35+ years of being both a follower of Jesus and a leader of followers of Jesus, I have observed that more often than we’d like to admit, the Vision Statements emblazoned across the front of our sanctuaries, on banners on our websites, in our bulletins each week and our new members classes, have become a pithy hats off to what we once aspired to as a community. I’ve been to many church services and church meetings (including the church(s) I’ve been in community with) in many different expressions of church and found that more often than not, the very people to whom the Vision is towards are surprised to discover this is their statement. They just aren’t recognizing it lived into what they do together as community. Ouch! We get into patterns and rhythms that become familiar and expected and we can lose the passion we had to live into and out of the Vision that faithful people prayed and discerned together. 

It may be time to revisit our Vision Statements, either to revision them to better reflect the current reality of our community and ministry, or affirm this indeed is who we aspire to be. Then, it’s time to assess every activity we do through the lens of the Statement and lovingly lay to rest those that no longer fulfill what they once may have. And, with joy we can pray and discern together how to begin living into the ones that are still burning in our hearts. 

Church Plants have Vision Statements too. They are current and still very fresh in the minds of those who have prayed and discerned. Often every decision they make, every good program that they may explore are still being weighed against that Vision. Were our churches to begin to do the same, it is possible, without throwing out all we’ve grown to become, to get back to our roots and think like church plants again.  

Rather than merely counting on  a specific solution to “get us through to the end,” or trying to preserve what we have, what if we focused more on drawing nearer to God than we may have been in a while as a gathering of individual people? And what if we went back to our first passion, as expressed in Vision statement, with an openness to hear what God is saying to the church today?  What if our primary activities included drawing one another closer to God through deeper emphasis on spiritual formation that leads to confession, repentance and transformation?  

What if our hearts become so passionate that God is our everything and Jesus is our Lord that we have a reignition of talking to others about what is happening to us, journeying with others of no faith, some faith, waning faith in ways that draw them deeper and deeper into the very nature of God’s holiness? 

That’s what church plants tend to lean into. Perhaps rather than seeing them as “new churches” that will one day look like “ours,” we might begin to see them as churches that we might need to vision ourselves to look like.  

—– 

i. Tod Bolsinger is the Vice-President for Vocation and Formation and Assistant Professor of Practical Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He is author of It Takes a Church to Raise a Christian: How the community of God transforms lives, Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Unchartered Times, and Leadership for a Time of Pandemic: Practicing Resilience. We recommend you read all three!  
 
 

Ethnic Churches are Sent

By Shannon Youell

Most of us love hearing stories of missionaries who have brought the Good News of Jesus as King–the King who brings the salvation of God’s kingdom now breaking into human reality to those who have followed other gods or not known God in any form or shape. The church has done a good and faithful job of bringing this news to most of the world. Stories of new faith and new communities brings us all new life and hope and energy.

When I was teaching in churches and discipleship schools in India, I had hours of “car” time with some of the pastors whose churches and schools I was teaching (Canada, quit complaining about traffic – it is insane in Mumbai!). Many of them asked why the church in Canada was declining and faithfulness to God was becoming a private pursuit when it was faithful Canadian missionaries who brought the gospel to much of India. My quip back was that perhaps their church needed to begin sending us missionaries to reignite our passion to be faithfully present where we are and to share the Gospel with our neighbours.

For years the pray-ers in Canadian churches have been praying for God to revive us, to reignite our passion for God’s mission, and to breathe new life on us. And we are seeing new life coming to us as God sends us the nations.

At Assembly 2019, CBWC welcomed into full membership four new churches: three Filipino and one Iranian church. Almost all our other plants in process are ethnically based – Cantonese, Arabic, Spanish, Karen, Kachin, African. We should take note of this….God is actually sending missionaries to Canada! And they are planting churches here.  

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Welcoming new churches into the family

There is two-fold purpose behind their plants: the first is that first generation new Canadians long to worship God in their ‘heart’ language, just as we do. The second is that when Christ followers come, they recognize there are many from their own lands that have not settled into communities of faith, are not following Christ, not engaged in a faith community and in true missionary fashion, they want to share Jesus with those folk. 

There are many conversations around what this trend means, but I think the pertinent point is that God is doing ‘something’. These communities are exciting us with their stories of folk coming to Jesus, in their devotion to gathering, to intentional missional discipleship, to sharing Jesus boldly and courageously wherever they find themselves. Perhaps they are the ‘wake-up’ call our complacent, contemplatively established churches need, to help re-excite us to the reality that Good News is still Good News for the world. 

The question is how do the second and third generations, who will be English speaking and whose culture will now be predominantly Canadian, stay engaged? How does the existing church begin to be a place where ethnic diversity truly has a place?

Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, in his book Future Faith, tells us that when non-Caucasian people go to a church where all the leaders are of one ethnicity, they do not see a place for themselves. Our churches themselves are not ethnically diverse. The existing churches that are growing the most are those that have multi-ethnic staffs of both males and females. The interesting piece of his research is that the other ethnic leaders do not even have to be of the same ethnicity as the person seeking to join a church – they just have to be non-Caucasian!

The other important note I want to comment on is something that a Korean pastor of a Vancouver church said in a church catalyst meeting: multi-cultural is not the same as multi-ethnic: multi-cultural means that there is a diversity of cultures and the expressions of faith and worship of those cultures are reflected in the gathering and scattering times. Our warm welcome of all people assumes they will worship, reflect, pray, and minister like our dominant culture does, which would make us multi-ethnic but not multi-cultural.

This is an important distinction to make as our new-Canadian church plants move to the second and third generations who will be looking for multi-cultural expressions of faith to stay engaged in church life. Canada’s young people are growing up in a diverse world and they too will gravitate towards diverse expressions of faith and community. We should be right beside them opening the pathways.

I would like to say this is a near-future challenge for us and for our new churches, but we are past that. This is our challenge now and it would certainly appear as though God is sending the world to us to help us engage together in a place of all nations gathered together, worshiping and serving our God and our King.