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.    

Re-missioning: A Conversation with Tim Dickau

By Shannon Youell

In this timely series of imagining re-missioning of our church communities, we have been blessed to interact with two seasoned catalysts and innovators in both planting new church communities and re-missioning existing ones. Regardless of whether you or your church are thinking about these things, we should all be thinking, praying and discerning what God is saying to the church today and how we are being called to be the faithful presence of the gospel in our current reality and into a post-Christendom structure future.

This week’s interview is with someone many of us are familiar with as the past pastor of Grandview Church in Vancouver. I admit being a fan of the depth and breadth of ministry this small community has accomplished right in their own neighbourhood community through intentional faith presence over decades of living, working, playing in proximity to where they also worship and pray.

CBWC: Tell us a little about your new adventure in ministry and who will benefit.  

Tim Dickau: I am excited to be stepping into two new roles after 30 years as the lead pastor at Grandview. First, I will be directing the Certificate in Missional Leadership being offered through the Center for Missional Leadership on the UBC campus. See our website for more details for this course, which begins in September, being taught both online and in-person. Along with Darrell Guder, Ross Lockhart and Andrea Perrett, we will be inviting church leadership teams to use the course as a visioning opportunity to reposition their church for the future. I hope that some churches from the CBWC across Western Canada will take of advantage of this opportunity. The content of the course comes in part from my forthcoming book Humility and Hope: Forming Christian Communities in a Secular Age. In the book, I seek to help us understand how we ended up in the sort of secular society we find ourselves and then ask what sort of communities will bear witness to the gospel in this context.

The second role I am taking up is as the new director of Citygate Leadership Forum. My role there is to consult with churches individually to help them take up a parish, holistic kingdom vision. I’ll also be assisting the Christian community in addressing systemic issues like affordable housing, poverty and reconciliation.

CBWC: And we hope some of our CBWC churches take advantage of this too! (if you are reading this and are a CBWC church, please consider this for your Leadership Teams, boards, deacons, lay leaders and staff! 

Tim, you talked about the parish church concept. Alan Roxburgh recently spoke on the same thing. What do you mean by that?

Tim: Taking parish seriously for me is first about letting God choose our friends. We have found so many meaningful friendships with people that at first glance seemed quite different from us culturally, ethnically or just in terms of life situation or experience. This is what happens when you learn to love and be loved by those right around you. Second, taking parish seriously is caring not just about the people in a neighbourhood but about the parks, the businesses, the civic efforts, the hidden or marginalized and the beauty of a place. I find it hard to imagine living into the fullness of God’s transforming vision for the kingdom if we don’t inhabit a place.

CBWC: What encouragement do you have for church planters in terms of parish vision? 

Tim: Clearly, taking up a parish vision takes time. I had the privilege of being part of a cohort exploring the future of Christian Community in North America a few years ago. One church planting coach (from Texas no less) told us that they think of church plants as taking 10 years to get established (instead of the 3-year model they used to operate with). What they have found, however, is that churches that take this long view and go deeper into a neighbourhood become significant, sustainable, transforming communities.

CBWC: What questions should churches be asking themselves in this season? Asking their communities? Asking the Holy Spirit?  

Tim: COVID has all of us asking questions about how to be the church. That’s good. I would encourage us to also begin to think wider during this time: to ask what it means to be the church after Christendom. Since so many of our models of church were formed and shaped by Christendom, I believe we should be asking what new forms our communities might take in order to be faithful to the gospel in this age, both during COVID and beyond.

CBWC: What would you say to an existing congregation who is considering changing decades-engrained rhythms of gathering?     

Tim: I have three things to say arising out of our three decades at Grandview:

1. Theological vision matters. In our North American culture of pragmatism (which has some strengths), the default position for many of us is to ask how our churches can survive and get bigger. I believe that we need to give more focus to the questions underneath those pragmatic questions–questions about the nature of the gospel, about how we can participate in the action of God, and about the type of communities that the Spirit desires to form among us. I believe that one key characteristic of communities the Spirit is forming is that God intends them to be for the world’s healing and good. If we aim to become these kind of communities, our churches will start to look different.

2. Change is incremental for most of us, which is why it takes time to form a new culture in our communities. In our experience at Grandview, taking up common practices like hospitality, justice and confession over time formed us so that we are better able to take part in God’s mission.

3. Love and forgive one another. The daily and hard work of loving and forgiving one another is what builds trust. Trust in the Triune God and one another is what encourages us to take the risks required of us to live into God’s restoring vision for our lives and the world.

CBWC: What do we do with the fear that appears as we approach change?  

Tim: Fears drive so much of our human behavior. Thus, it is important to name these fears before God and with each other. Naming them begins to take away their power and re-situates us in the power of the crucified and risen Christ.

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

Tim: One of the key shifts we made at Grandview was to situate ourselves closer to one another so that we took up a shared life in the regular rhythms of our lives. So we moved into the same neighbourhood, or the same city block, or the same apartment, or the same house, or we built a housing complex over top of our parking lot to welcome our friends in need of housing.

Proximity allowed us to take up a common life and common practices during meals, conversations on the way to the store, or prayers of compline at the end of the day. What’s more, this shared life we developed became more porous and abundant so that we had more energy and opportunity to welcome our neighbours into the way of Christ. This model of church not only holds promise during times like COVID, but it also conceives of evangelism and discipleship as a way of life rather than a program.

CBWC: Share a story where God surprised you.  

Tim: A few years ago, a woman deeply involved in our local neighbourhood showed up on a Sunday morning because she had met a number of people from our church who shared her passion for our neighbourhood’s flourishing. She said she was coming for the community support but she was an atheist. She asked if we were okay with that. About a year later, she told me that she realized that the God she was getting to know was different that the God she didn’t believe in. When I met her downtown one day where she worked, she introduced me as her pastor and thanked me for walking with her on her journey. I am always joyfully surprised by the transforming work of the Spirit–and grateful!

CBWC: Thank you so much Tim, for your willingness to share your heart, experience and discernment with us! We look forward to hearing more in the future and to connecting with our CBWC churches who journey with the Center for Missional Leadership course.