Joining God in His work: Evangelism

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By: Rev. Shannon Youell

Here we are talking about that scary word “evangelism” again.  CT News and Reporting, writes about a recently released report on the state of evangelism in our Canadian churches.  The survey was conducted by Alpha Canada and Flourishing Congregations.  The majority of churches that responded were evangelical churches.  The results may or may not surprise you.  A whopping 65% of respondents revealed that evangelism is not a high priority for them in their churches.   Read the full article HERE 

Some of you might find that surprising and some, like myself, just nod our heads. I have lamented often that many Christians are unequipped or unlikely to talk to others about their faith in God and, in particular, Christianity. Please note I am referring to ‘unlikely’ as something that happens outside the church walls – we are much bolder when we evangelize one another within the parameters of the church. 

Add to that our own general discomfort around sharing a prescriptive route to salvation that can be viewed as an intellectual nod or irrelevant to peoples lived experiences, and we can see the complexities that have led to a lack of evangelistic enthusiasm in our churches and in our own selves. 

I may lament, but I also recognize that I can be reluctant to initiate conversations around Christianity myself. Not because I think the gospel of God’s kingdom is lame, or powerless, or ineffective. I believe that when humans grasp the immense implications of God-With-Us, it has the potential to transform our hearts, minds, and how we engage in life and relationships. 

Rather, my reluctance comes from the rhetoric that there is a general mistrust directed towards Christians, and thus our God, based on abuses of power and control that have plagued Christianity putting deep shadows that cloud its life giving message of love, grace, mercy, forgiveness of sin, and inclusion of the least, the last, the lost and the lonely.  

I suspect part of our reluctance stems from our own truncated understanding of evangelism, God’s mission to the world, and how the church should equip us to evangelize.  Writer Jeff Banman explores this in his article published in Scot McKnight’s blog space, Jesus Creed.  Jeff points out that Paul himself, while being a beneficiary of the Great Commission, never instructed the churches to ‘train’ the people in evangelism in any of his letters: 

“Paul is not interested in training his churches on how to initiate gospel conversations with their friends and family, nor is he concerned with teaching them how to present the four spiritual laws to a passerby on the street. Paul’s vision of evangelism does not look like ours. Instead of gospel tracts handed out on the street corner, Paul envisages his churches living out the gospel in such a powerful way that their lives and the life of the local church becomes the gospel tract itself!” 

Jeff concludes his article by saying: “Paul’s words to Titus concisely portray his vision of evangelism. As followers of Jesus, we will live our lives in such a way that we “will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive” (Titus 2:10).” 

His perspective should cause us to ask the question:  In what ways do we, and I, live our lives that “will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive”?  If people shun Christianity as the way, truth and life, of good news itself, in what ways have we and I, and thus the church, portrayed God’s kingdom and his love for the world?   

This is not a simple thing to answer. Whether we realize it or not, by the very nature of identifying as Christians, we, you, are evangelizing the world around us. How I navigate my own life, struggles, behaviors, and attitudes, and how I treat others, communicates to the world what I believe about following Jesus.  

Rather than becoming defensive about the perceptions that some (many?) hold of the Church and Christians in general, let’s instead be responsive by looking at our own selves first and honestly acknowledging where we, and I, miss the mark in communicating (evangelism means ‘to communicate’) God’s kingdom good news story in how we live, work, play and pray.  

Ultimately, this is where we all begin to join God in his work, by inviting God to work also in us.

Wise Evangelism” by Jeff Banman used by permission via Scot McKnight (Jesus Creed Blog). 

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!

Summer Reading 2021

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by: Shannon Youell, CBWC Director of Church Planting (and initiatives)

It’s time for my Annual Summer Reading List! 

This year I am featuring books that I’ve read or am working my way through.  This past year I’ve been working my way through some of the books around topics that challenge the church.   I offer two of the ones that I found most helpful in seeing the historical, theological and ethical contexts. I also include a commentary that I am thoroughly enjoying, and a couple of books helpful for us as we re-think and re-form our church communities around the mission of God in our time.  Without any further ado, let’s dive in!  Let me know if you tackled any of these and perhaps consider writing a review. 

Two Views on Homosexuality; the Bible; and the ChurchMegan K. De Franca, Wesley Hill, Stephen R. Holmes, William Loader – from Zondervan’s Counterpoints Series – editor Preston Sprinkle (from the Center for Faith and Sexuality) 

I have read a variety of books from differing viewpoints on this topic.  I find this book to be one of the most helpful I’ve read as the essayists both articulate their viewpoint and interact with one another’s essays.  Contributors are four “accomplished scholars in the fields of biblical studies, theology and topics related to sexuality and gender”; two from an affirming position and two from a non-affirming position.  For each view, the editors “intentionally enlisted one theologian and one biblical scholar to articulate and defend each of the two views.  I quite appreciated the respectful, academic, theological, ethical and pastoral tone with which each approached the topic and how in each essay I discovered things that I both agreed with, disagreed with and was challenged in my thinking on. 

The making of Biblical Womanhood:  How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth by Beth Allison Barr 

Anyone who knows my husband knows he is a history geek.  I, regretfully, was not, (being far more of how-do-we-live-now-so-we-do-well-in-the-future kind of thinker), until I studied Church History!  Then I started reading history in general and realized that as much as I love Church history, reading it removed and outside of political, economic, social and cultural histories was reading it out of context.   

Beth Allison Barr is a historian, a Christian and a professor of history at Baylor University.  Her studies in history, and in particular her academic specialties in European women, medieval and early modern England, and church history disrupted her understanding of complementarianism that she understood from her Southern Baptist roots.   Written with well-honed academic muscle in a very accessible narrative, Barr tackles the idea of Biblical Womanhood from scripture, history and church practice over the centuries.  She poses, using and citing historical evidence, that the concept of “Biblical Womanhood” was constructed by the patterns of patriarchy in societies and cultures and how, over the centuries, they seeped into the church.  

Whatever your view of women in the church, this is a must read and, in my humble opinion, should be added to the reading list of all seminaries.   

The Story of God Bible Commentary:  Genesis by Tremper Longman III 

This is the seventh commentary in this series that I own (thank you Kindle!).  This Commentary series delves into the meaning of the text both in the past and for us today.  Each commentary uses the pattern of Listen to the Story; Explain the Story; and Live the Story.   I love reading commentaries and I am really enjoying this offering written by Tremper Longman III, Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies at Westmont College.  Genesis has always been one of my favorite OT books (to be honest there are many!) and Longman guides the reader through the richness of this book of ‘beginnings’.   

What is the church and why does it exist?  by David Fitch 

Practices, Presence and Places.  These 3 P’s shape Fitch’s recent book calling the church to renewal in our disruptive times.  As Fitch writes in his Introduction: 

“When things get chaotic, and no longer seem to make sense, we must go back to the “what” and the “why” questions. We must ask all over again: What are we doing here when we gather as the church and why are we doing it? Only then can we get to the “how” question. Only then can we discern how to be faithful to who we are and the mission we have been given. Perhaps this is a cultural moment that offers us an opportunity to reset the church in North America. Perhaps this is an ideal time for Christians everywhere to reexamine what it means to be the church. It is an occasion for us to ask all over again what we are doing here, who we are, and how we should live as a part of the local church.” 

 This book is for those who have long had a sense that God is reshaping us as his church for just such a time of this and for those who just know something has changed and yet don’t know what it all means.  I recommend this for all who love the church that God loves and long to see God’s kingdom flourish right where you live, work, play and pray. 

Why Would Anyone Go To Church? By Kevin Makin 

Kevin Makin is a church planter and pastor of Eucharist Church in Hamilton Ontario, a church associated with Canadian Baptists of Ontario & Quebec (CBOQ).  In his book, he tells the story of the planting and establishing of an innovative and creative community that engages both people of faith and those seeking for some kind of meaning.   For Kevin and his team the big question was planting within the context of the next generation.  They asked themselves big and important questions:  “What does Christian community look like for this next generation?” “Who will it be for?” And the big one: “Why would anyone go to church?”  

Kevin writes in his introduction: “People ask me if I’m surprised that so many are leaving the church. Surprised? Are you kidding me? I can’t believe anyone still does this church thing. And yet they do. For two thousand years, people have continued to be a part of the church, despite war and persecution and corruption and organ music. Why has church survived? Surely something has made it so meaningful to so many people for such a long period of time. That’s what we were trying to understand when we started a new church a decade ago. What we discovered is that few of our peers are interested in competing with the culture around us. The Jesus followers I know aren’t sticking with the church because church is better than a concert or more interesting than a podcast. They’re staying because there are primordial elements of Christian community that are far more rooted than all that superficial fluff.” 

 Kevin’s book is written with humility and candor of the triumphs and challenges of planting something contextual and cultural that invites people to faith whether it is an ‘old’ faith or a ‘new’ faith.  This is a fun and insightful quick read – I read it in a day.  

Eucharist has been recognized as one of the most creative and innovative churches in the country and spotlighted on national television and radio outlets, in newspapers, and on podcasts. 

Pick up one or more of these (or download onto your e-reader) and let me know your thoughts/reviews on books.  Happy Summer Reading friends! 

Shannon Youell – Director of Church Planting CBWC 

syouell@cbwc.ca 

How then, shall we meet?

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By Shannon Youell

“The most missional question we can be asking is: in what ways do we meet again’?” 

Summer is here!  Many folks have at least one vaccine and, increasingly, two; Provincial Health Orders are being incrementally relaxed, and people are just aching to get back to normal activities.  Perhaps your church has already started meeting again, (in some provinces, such as BC where I am, we haven’t been able to have even limited church services until a few weeks ago), or you are just now experiencing an increase in the number of people who can congregate.  

Whatever your current situation, I am hoping we are not so excited to finally see our brothers and sisters gathered for worship that we quickly forget everything we have been learning these past fifteen months about ourselves, our societal and church cultures, our mission beyond a Sunday service, our discipleship, and our gatherings. 

So I draw us back to the question I asked last month:  

                                   “In what ways do we meet again?” 

As much as I am looking forward to meeting in person again, I must also confess that some aspects of online is enticing, especially the aspect where I actually have a Sunday left to be present with family, friends and neighbours.  For people involved in hosting, facilitating and ministering on Sundays there is often little time and energy leftover for just hanging out with whoever might be around. 

I am a walker.  I have walked and prayed in my neighbourhood for more than a decade, usually after work or in the early evenings when the days are longer, and I rarely met other people.    With a one hour service online, my walks have often been in the middle of the day and what I observed was how many people are actually home and about the neighbourhood on a Sunday!  It turns out the one day I may have more opportunities to meet people who don’t know Jesus is the same day I predominantly spend with other believers. 

This has alerted me.  Here are the ripening harvest fields, yet the harvesters are not in the fields but beautifully and meaningfully gathering together in a building.  I will say again as I have previously:  I am not advocating brothers and sisters in Christ cease gathering – I am simply asking the question through a missional lens: “in what ways do we meet again”.   This is a rapidly growing conversation being engaged by pastors and denominational associations and, I pray, by all of us who are followers and co-labourers of Christ. 

As I was writing this article, my inbox box reminded me of unread emails (I hope I’m not the only one who has those!) and one of them was a post from Carey Nieuwhof earlier this week on his blog.  The title caught my attention, “5 Confessions of a Pastor about Online Church Attendance”.  It caught my eye since I am in the mood for confessing.  In the blog Carey confessed his own enjoyment of a more relaxed Sunday and also shared the same observation in his neighbourhood as had I. Hmmmm.

 Read it HERE and let us know what you think; what worries you; what challenges you and what excites you; and where you see God at work amid the things that are shifting.  In everything we’ve gone through and learned during this pandemic experience, what have you been learning about joining God on His mission of reconcilliation, redemption and restoration in the world he so loves?   

Shannon is the CBWC Director of Church Planting (and passionate voice for churches growing towards missional communities).  Drop her an email at syouell@cbwc.ca – we’d love to hear from you! 

Flexible Existentialists

By Guest Blogger Kevin Vincent – Director of the Centre for New Congregations Canadian Baptists of Atlantic Canada

Recently I heard Simon Sinek explain his philosophy of “existential flexibility”.  He said, “existential flexibility is the capacity of a leader or an organization to shift 180 degrees and begin to plan and behave in an entirely new way, given an entirely new reality and environment. It’s the capacity to make a 180 degree shift to advance your cause.”

In addressing that specifically for churches, he said that as the church moves past the COVID-19 chapter, many faith leaders are simply moving back to the way it was, to what they know and to what they have always done. He said, “They know they can’t do what they used to do, but they don’t know what to do!” 

Perhaps you can relate.  As it relates to your church, you would say, “I know we can’t go back now!  But I don’t know where to go now!”  Let’s be “flexible existentialists” for the next few minutes.  Let me prompt your thinking by heading down what would be a 180 degree shift for most churches moving forward and let’s begin with a radical question. Here it is.

Is it time for your church to cancel your Sunday morning worship service?  Is it time to say that the current model of how most of us “do church” has run its course? Is it time to embrace the reality that the culture has shifted, people have little interest in weekly, larger, group gatherings and POST-COVID it’s not coming back.  Is it time to abandon a tired old model of church?

If I’ve already said enough to tick you off, stick with me because I’m much more hopeful than I’m sounding.

A recent survey in the United States by the UNSTUCK group reported that churches that have re-opened have seen about 36% of people return.

Now I know those are American statistics. Hold your fire!   BUT at least anecdotally, even if we don’t have as clear Canadian survey results, a lot of pastors are experiencing the same and are wondering, “Who’s coming back?  When will they come back?  Who’s not coming back?” 

Let’s just imagine that we’re twice as good as the Americans (Canadians like to think that!).  Let’s imagine that we get 70% of people back!  Are we OK with that?  Is 70% good enough?  Perhaps we should just conclude that those that don’t return are simply the hard soil, the rocky and thorny ground, of Jesus’ parable. They’re a good excuse to clean up our membership list.

Even more shocking is that the American survey discovered that only 40% of those under the age of 36 prefer larger in-person gatherings.  That means that 6 in 10 church-goers under the age of 36 aren’t sure that they care about your Sunday morning worship service anymore and aren’t looking to return. So should you cancel Sunday?

I believe the answer is No!   But let me suggest an “existentially flexible”, new way forward that was true pre-pandemic and has been dramatically accelerated as we move toward becoming a post-pandemic Church.   Here it is.

The future of the church in Canada will not be grounded in a single site expression but in a multiplicity of congregational gatherings, meeting at different times, in different places, with different people.

Single site. Single gathering. Single location. Single time. See you Sunday at 10:30 is not the future.

Now what could that look like for your church if you adopted that type of a posture?  Is there still a place for a Sunday morning worship gathering?  Of course!  There are many who love that expression of church.  In fact, 70% of the church-going Boomers surveyed want to go back to that traditional Sunday gathering.  It’s still meaningful.  It’s what they know and love.  We can’t steal that. Moving forward it needs to be a piece of the reimagined church.

But the great majority of younger generations don’t share that conviction. They’re finding connection in the digital church.  They’re enjoying a house church that has emerged with 4 other families.  They’re creating dinner church experiences with a dozen friends on a Thursday night.  They’re a Sunday morning “huddle church”.  Some are creating their own “worship gathering and liturgy”.  Others are joining together for a “watch party” of their church’s online service.

What would it look like for your church to consider a multiplied model?  What would it look like to embrace a true hybrid expression of church that still celebrates the traditional Sunday gathering but also cheerleads and celebrates multiple, smaller congregations meeting during the week, in various locations, at various times, with many groups of people? 

I think I can already hear some push-back.  “Yeah but we’re a little church!  We’re only small! We can’t multiply anything!  That’s a big church model!” 

No it’s not!!  Don’t take your “existentially flexible” hat off yet!   What if there were 31 people meeting on Sunday at 10:30am in your church facility.  Perhaps there’s another group of 14 on Thursday night over dinner?  And another group of 23 on Tuesday night over coffee in a café?

And what if fellowship happened?  What if care happened? What if teaching happened?  What if you started serving together?  Could that in fact be a true congregation by New Testament standards?  Could that simply be another expression of your church, another congregation, at a different time, in a different place, reaching different people, tethered together as multiple congregations and still ONE church?

Could THAT be a new forward?  Could that be the answer that your church needs to consider?  As Simon Sinek asks, “Do you have the capacity to make that 180 degree shift to advance your cause.”  We must! It’s a new day for the Church!   Jesus is still building His Church and His cause is too great not to try!

Kevin Vincent is the Director for the Centre of Congregational Development with CBAC. He is part of Canadian Baptist National Cohort along with Cid Latty from CBOQ and Shannon Youell from CBWC. Together we dream and vision and work towards sharing resources and imagination for our churches as they join God in extending the Good News into multiple communities in which the folk in our churches live, work, play and pray. And we laugh a lot.

House by House

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By: Shannon Youell

The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house.

1 Corinthians 16:19

(Synagogue:  a community house of worship) 

In my previous blog HERE I wrote that church planting can be accidental outgrowths of our right-in-the-neighbourhood missionary impulses of evangelism and discipleship.   

In the early New Testament church we find missionaries going to households where people, who were either Jewish believers or curious and/or God-fearers,1 lived. Often those would be people who lived near and around the evangelists.  Think of Jesus in Luke 10 and “people of peace” but right in your own neighbourhood/community.  There whole households heard the Gospel of the Kingdom of God through Jesus our Lord and Savior and were baptized.  Those ‘households’ then became the church, people who assembled to tell the stories of their faith, eat together (which included the Eucharist), learn together, pray together and share the gospel with one another and others in their community. 

This is in contrast to missionaries starting a service in an area of town that drew people to a building to participate in those same rhythms together.  That came much later.  There is no indication that the first missionaries were looking to erect a common meeting space that would be called the ‘church’, but that these localized, contextual ‘households2’ of faith were indeed the Church.  

One might argue that the ‘first’ church was comprised of those who were followers of Jesus prior to his ascension plus those added three thousand at Pentecost as countering the idea of church in households, but the reality is where did those three thousand go for daily, weekly meals, prayers and participatory worship?  At times they gathered in larger numbers around the temple in Jerusalem but the thrust of life and missionary impulse happened in these smaller ‘households of faith’ that facilitated and were leaders of this new Way.  This is where the ‘adding of numbers’ continued and expanded.  Often the period of the 1st and 2nd centuries and into the 3rd are cited as the most robust period in history for people coming to faith in Christ thus indicating that people predominantly came to faith through interpersonal relationships and the witness of seeing the lives of believers in their everyday rhythms and practices. 

In 2008 a study was done on how many Christians it took to gain 1 convert.  The study concluded that it took eighty-nine.  Eighty-nine to one is not a good ratio!  However, at the same time the author(s) looked at how many Christians to gain 1 convert it took in house churches with a missional ethos:  3:1 & 4:1 were realized in two independent studies.  That’s a large gap.  Whether that 89:1 ratio were 89 people along the path of life who influenced the 1, or a calculation of church membership over new conversions, one cannot miss the correlation that it takes far fewer relationships when people are in regular proximity and in regular social groups together.   If those same 89 where in the smaller more localized churches the extrapolated conversions would be 22.   

Personally, I don’t see the demise of larger church gatherings as a near future event – they will always have a place and purpose.  But I do see the need for followers of Jesus, especially those who have a heart for those who are not-yet-followers to discover ways to engage with them.  Though not limited to any one group, millennials in particular have left the church in stunning numbers, yet for those who have left but not rejected faith in God, they yearn for smaller, more interconnected communities of fellow sojourners.   

What does that mean for our larger gatherings?  How might we re-engage absent millennial Christians in the rhythms and practices of faith?  How can the church make the most impact in evangelism and discipleship in a post-Christendom world that though seeking spiritual conversations would not consider a church building the place to engage them?   How might our church gatherings begin to foster “community houses of worship” in actual houses again?

As churches begin to gear up for a return to meeting together, primarily in buildings other than homes, this is the prime opportunity for us to consider these and so many other questions.  Rather than the question being ‘when can we meet together again’, is the most missional question can we can be asking is ‘in what ways do we meet again?’

Let us know what you think.  We’d love to hear your thoughts and your stories.   

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. 

God is Always at His Work

By: Shannon Youell, Director of Church Planting 

Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.”

No one has been unaffected by the events of the past eleven months.  No one.  Individuals, families, businesses, governments, weddings, funerals and places of worship.  All have experienced the effects that a pandemic can have in our world.  

Our churches have shifted and responded from no gathered meetings, to partial gathered meetings and back to no gathered meetings.  Through all of this we have been prayerfully asking God to reveal himself at work around us so we are encouraged to continue being missionally and faithfully present in our neighbourhoods and in encouraging and discipling our churches. 

 We are all hearing stories of churches both adapting to the challenges and struggling with the challenges and changes.  And some of those stories are surprises – we can’t always assume which churches will be struggling and which will find new ways to thrive and flourish.  Some of those stories are within our current new churches/plants.  Here are some of their stories. 

Greenhills Christian Fellowship-Winnipeg-East 

GCFWE is our newest plant launched from GCFW.  This faithful and passionate group of Filipino church planters began training and discipling their core group in 2019.  When Covid hit they were just ready to officially launch and had begun to gain some traction in their target area.   

If you have the pleasure of hanging out with Filipino people, you will know how they evangelize – they eat together, have parties, bbq’s in the park and with the Code Red restrictions in Winnipeg it became very challenging to build neighbourhood relationships and do evangelism.  

Yet, this past summer they celebrated baptism of new believers and as Pastor Arnold Mercado notes, in terms of people studying the Bible and learning the deeper truths of God, they’ve had more opportunities and people are growing in their faith.  He reports that the best way to describe their planting community right now is in how God is building them, noting that ten months ago they hardly knew one another and now are growing together deeper in their relationships with Christ and with one another.  They feel better prepared to saturate their neighbourhood with the Gospel once restrictions are eased. 

This past fall they had their official launch from their sending church.  Where God is at work and his people join him, even a pandemic cannot stop the work of the Spirit among the people! 

Hope Church of Calgary 

Pastor Mouner and this community of Arabic speaking believers are finding the challenges of Covid, well, challenging.  Like all of us, they are deeply missing the opportunities to gather and be together.  One thing I’ve learned about people from the Middle East countries is how excellent they are in hospitality.  We may consider ourselves a nation of warm friendlies, but compared to our Middle Eastern friends we are really not that great in the area of hospitality!   

Everything they do is around food and tea and visiting.  Take those out of the equation and our brothers and sisters at Hope are discouraged and not adapting well to the online meeting applications.  But even in the midst of these challenges, God is still at work.   

Pastor Mouner faithfully delivers to each congregant’s home the elements of bread and cup for shared online Communion.   An important element of Communion for them is the actual shared loaf of bread.  It gives him an opportunity to have a safe-distance, non-virtual conversation with his congregants.  

A new preacher among the congregation is being raised up.  A blessing for the Pastor and congregation.  Mouner has also begun an online connection with other Syrian ministers around the world and the testimonies from other places are exciting and encouraging.  There are many testimonies of an amazing revival among Iranians and Kurdish peoples.   

Even in the challenges and struggles, Mouner and Hope Church see God at work amid the chaos of Covid. 

Makarios Evangelical Church  

Pastor Jessica of MEC is an innovator.  Like the rest of us, she has had to pivot and adapt multiple times in the past eleven months.  This new plant, launched in 2018 has been very intentional in both the spiritual formation of the community of believers who gather at MEC and in their mission field of international students who are housed and schooled right across the street from their church building location.   

Using social media, apps, zoom and other creative vehicles they are staying connected on a daily basis with one another and the students.  This is vital for the students, already isolated from home, culture and family and now isolated from activities and relationships they were beginning to build in this foreign land.  Meeting with the students via online can be challenging as they are already ‘online’ for all their classes, yet Makarios has found places that resonate with the students.  One of the practices the church has been doing all along is to cook dinner together with the students and then eat, fellowship and talk about life, school, family and faith.  Most of these students would be eating alone and this has been a very popular event for them. 

Now restricted to their dorms, they eat alone, so the church is now ‘eating’ with them via zoom.  Now that’s looking at your context, at the needs of your neighbourhood and finding a way to engage in spite of Covid! 

Emmanuel Iranian Church 

With Pastor Arash and Pastor Ali leading this growing, thriving community of Iranian people, discipleship is a key focus.  A large percentage of the congregation are new converts to Christ and with hundreds of baptisms since they launched in 2018, there is a LOT of discipleship happening every day (and night!). 

We’ve been celebrating the stories of new believers and baptisms since then.  One might wonder how this can continue during a time of gathering restrictions, yet Pastor Ali reports that lives are being transformed on a weekly basis.   

Many of us are experiencing congregants weary of zoom meetings (if they liked them at all) and disengaging with an online version of community.  Certainly, EIC has struggled with that as well, yet Pastor Arash said that lately more people are getting used to this new way of meeting and it’s now become ‘real’ to people.  In a recent evening prayer time, people reported, for the first time, experiencing the presence of the Spirit virtually connecting the participants spiritually and emotionally together!  There are even people coming to Christ on their zoom meetings, so new people are engaging with the community, sense the presence of the one true God and raise their hands to commit to Christ.   

EIC is currently praying and discerning another plant in the Surrey area of the lower mainland.  Many new immigrants settle there and their desire is to serve in that community in a multi-cultural context with both Farsi and English speaking services to serve and train 2nd and 3rd generation young people.   

Pray for and Celebrate Together  

These are incredible testimonies and a reminder that God is certainly at work amongst his churches despite any restrictions placed upon public gatherings.   We can choose to riff on all the barriers to ministry we are trying to navigate through, or we can allow our thinking and creativity to forge us into finding new rhythms and ways of being the people of God, called to be both salt to one another and light to those struggling in dark places.  Yes there are challenges and some of us are really struggling to find our way.  Let our stories of God-at-work among us shed some light into our own darkness and grant us encouragement to persevere through our trials. 

Pray for each other.  Pray for these new churches and for the churches in your area.  Pray for light to breakthrough in the least expected of places.  God has promised to never leave us nor forsake us and though it may seem like it some days, he has not done either but rather is stirring us up to join him in his work of bringing his kingdom come here on earth as it is (already) in heaven.    

“Tell me about this Jesus character!”

By Shannon Youell

A recent article in my newspaper last week was of a small local business who makes awnings for outdoor areas. They can’t keep up! Sales are breaking every yearly record they can remember.  Another article on the same day highlighted that there is huge supply demand on home appliances and shortages are beginning to be felt.   

A third story, in a Toronto newspaper, featured another small business that is also seeing unprecedented sales and interest in her products: crystals, tarot cards and other paraphernalia related to forms of seeking spirituality. The owner attributes to the increased desire of people during this time to seek answers and deeper meaning of life and living, and they are turning to spiritual things. 

This shouldn’t be any surprising news to us, the church. We have long known and incorporated deeper meaning conversations as a means to be able to speak God-life into people’s situations and circumstances. People really are asking good questions. One pastor I know said people are literally walking in their front door saying to him, “tell me about this Jesus character!” 

Yet, over the past 6 months—and indeed especially now as the days get darker and colder—we’ve had to drastically alter the way that we have been able to offer hospitality and neighbourliness so we can have these conversations. What hasn’t changed, however, is our need to be able to understand our own faith in order to articulate the reality of the Gospel if and when our neighbours begin to ask about our “questionable lives” (Michael Frost and 1 Peter 3:15). 

So in this time of waiting and watching, let’s take the opportunity to reflect on how good and how big this Good News really is in our lives. 

Check out this webinar from Trevor Hudson and Carolyn Arends at Renovaré about “Finding Good Words to Share the Good News.” You may find some of their advice around suffering particularly timely in the midst of COVID as well—definitely an hour well spent.

What was helpful? What was hard to hear? Share your comments with us!

Engaging Gospel: A Fall reading list

By Shannon Youell

As in any recommended reading list, there are books that have challenged and stretched our thinking, books that we highlight every page, books that we can’t quite grasp the view being taken (yet feel compelled to explore further) and books that transform our thinking.  Though we may not agree with everything being developed, we have found within the pages much to help us understand the Good News in refreshing ways that encourage us to press in to being devoted, obedient followers of Jesus on mission.

Each books here has, in its own way, helped us to understand the Good News of God’s Kingdom both here on earth through Christ’s followers, and into all eternity beyond.

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The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – in the context of the Whole Story of God and Humans: Here is the main reading: the first four books of the New Testament. My premise is that we often forget the in-between story. We focus on the birth and the death and resurrection, the cross and the forgiveness that flows from that sacrifice, but somehow minimize  parts of the story in between.

All of it is the Gospel! All of it equally important to our understanding of God’s redemptive and restorative work in his world. Read these again and again and again. Find Good News in all of it.  Jesus Christ is both Savior and Lord of all our lives, both now and forever.

The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard: The Gospel, which is Jesus, is thick and full when we integrate the salvation actions of Jesus (his death on the cross for the forgiveness of our sinful natures and actions and his resurrection of invitation to new and transformed lives beginning here and now) and the teaching of Jesus.  It would be remiss to skip over the teachings, which Jesus spent the majority of his time in ministry saying and which pertain to how we live life as his salt and light in this life,  and just get to the wonderous glory of eternal life with God after our physical bodies leave this world.  They are not separate from one another.

Willard’s classic has shaped and reshaped Christians understanding of this for decades.  His treatment of the teachings of Jesus, particularly the Sermon on the Mount, brings living colour to the mission of Jesus here on earth to inaugurate God’s kingdom creation of redemption, reconciliation and restoration to all his creation and created.

Living the Sermon on the Mount by Glen H. Stassen: In the same vein, Stassen and his earlier work with David Gushee, Kingdom Ethics, helps us to see richly into the kingdom of God Jesus taught those first followers to live into.

Embracing Grace: A Gospel for All of Us by Scot McKnight: Here’s a review of this book from pastor and author John Ortberg. “For too long, grace has been misunderstood as being nothing more than punishment avoidance. But God’s grace was flourishing long before the first sin was ever committed. Scot McKnight, in his thoughtful and provocative way, helps us think again about the comprehensiveness of grace and the robust nature of the gospel. This is a book for people who want not only to be ‘saved’ by grace, but to live by grace.”

And here’s what Ross Wagner, Professor of New Testament Studies, Princeton Theological Seminary has to say about it: “With grace, humility, and wit, (this book) offers a compelling vision of the breath-taking scope of the gospel—that in Jesus Christ, God is at work restoring broken people to full humanity in loving community with God and with one another, for the salvation of all creation…This is a message to be pondered, savored, embraced, and embodied.”

The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can be Made Right by Lisa Sharon Harper: “For all of us struggling with how the good news of Jesus should impact not just our own lives, but also speak to the injustices in our world, this book brings the threads together and paints a glorious picture of God’s redemptive work in creation.”  Ken Wytsma, president of Kilns College.

We need to recover the whole Christian Gospel, the wholeness of the church, the wholeness of relationship….My wish is that Christians, and non-Christians alike, read this book.”  Jim Wallis, author

Simply Good News: Why the Gospel is News and What Makes it Good by N.T. Wright: “What if the good news Jesus came to announce is much bigger, much better, and includes much more than merely what happens after we die? Scholar N.T. Wright reveals what the gospel really is how it can transform our todays just as much as our tomorrows.” Here’s a video from Tom Wright on the topic.

How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels by N.T. Wright: Here’s the GoodReads synopsis: “New Testament scholar N.T. Wright reveals how we have been misreading the Gospels for centuries, powerfully restoring the lost central story of the Scripture: that the coronation of God through the acts of Jesus was the climax of human history. Wright fills the gaps that centuries of misdirection have opened up in our collective spiritual story, tracing a narrative from Eden, to Jesus, to today. Wright’s powerful re-reading of the Gospels helps us re-align the focus of our spiritual beliefs, which have for too long been focused on the afterlife. Instead, the forgotten story of the Gospels reveals why we should understand that our real charge is to sustain and cooperating with God’s kingdom here and now. Echoing the triumphs of Simply Christian and The Meaning of Jesus, Wright’s How God Became King is required reading for any Christian searching to understand their mission in the world today.”

Evangelism for “Normal” People by John Bowen: John was Professor of Evangelism at Wycliffe College from 1997-2013. I found this book incredibly helpful in understanding that very scary evangelism word. Cailey recently heard John speak and his comment was that he would only change one thing in the book if he were to write it again: He would move chapter 10, “What is the Gospel,” to the very beginning of the book.

John helps us see the Gospel and the things we believe about it in a way that takes the scary out of sharing the incredible Good News to those who are looking for good news in so many areas of life.  He looks at the many different ways the Big Story of God engages people…what might be amazing news that God is Father to one, may not get the next person so excited–but they might find God in the story of the creation of all things, or in physical healing or in deliverance from a shame they have carried around as a millstone. Good news must actually be good to the person hearing it and Jesus has shown us many ways to engage people and draw them into God’s Story.

What Good is God by Phillip Yancey: We’ve included the link  here to the introduction of this book as Yancey does a good job of raising questions our not-yet-Christian friends may have.

Do you have books to add to this list? Leave us a comment on the blog!

Find out more about the Engaging Gospel series.