Prototyping Churches

By Cailey Morgan

I was recently listening to the Thom Rainer Leadership Podcast. Their guest was Jimmy Scroggins, a pastor from Florida who tells the story of his church, which moved from a mega-church mentality, rebooting into a neighbourhood-centric church and eventually planting into a network of these smaller local congregations.

His story caught me, partially because of his attitude toward success. He had stopped worrying about how big or how fast the church was growing, and how fantastic their facilities were, and started thinking in terms of reaching everyone in their city.

bigstock-Diverse-People-Friendship-Toge-127701797.jpg

In our Western Canadian context, as much as we’d all agree that our churches want to reach everyone, my guess is that we find most of our growth through lateral movement–that is, Christians moving to our church. We don’t see a high ratio of people coming to faith, and when they do, they have often come from a background that was already familiar with Christianity, or saw the Church in a favourable light.

Prototyping
Jimmy Scroggins’ outlook on the church is that it should look like the neighbourhood. They have diversified into smaller neighbourhood congregations in order to reach the specific type of people that live in each community. This type of multiplication also has the added benefit of being accessible to various types of leaders and removes the pressure of having to conform to certain expectations of what church should be. As he says, anyone can do it:

“Just start. Start with one. You can’t sit around waiting for everything to line up, and get your whole plan together. I am a big believer in prototyping–and anybody can do it.”

We’re doing a decent job at reaching some people with our present forms of church and evangelism, and I celebrate the vibrancy we are seeing in so many of our congregations across the CBWC. But to reach the unchurched and the totally unreached in our neighbourhoods, something’s going to have to change (check out Mike Frost’s brief video on this topic).

Our Turn
Would you be willing to consider participating in some R&D, initiating a “prototype” in your area? Think about your neighbourhood. What does is look like? What does it need? What does it have to offer the greater community? Who isn’t being reached?

And what about your existing church? What do your people have to offer? Who can you train into leadership? What other congregations in the area could you partner with to offer something new to a demographic or neighbourhood that isn’t presently being reached?

“Start something, and try it! If it doesn’t work the way you want, tweak it or change it, or try something different. But every pastor in every neighbourhood–rural, urban, suburban, ex-urban–everybody can be training leaders and trying to figure out how can we start new congregations to reach new populations of people in our area that are not being reached.”

Shannon, Joell and I really do believe that every church is called to and capable of multiplication in some form. That’s why we’re here to pray for, evoke, resource, and support you on that journey to health and growth. Talk to us today!

Find us at The Gathering this weekend in Calgary to chat about what could be next for you and your congregation. We’ll have some resources for you, and would love to collect some stories of life and growth in your area that we can share here on the blog.

From Door to Core: The Accelerated Track of Kitchen-Sink Discipleship

This story is courtesy of our friends at Forge Canada Missional Training Network.

By Dennis Gulley.

“So are you angry at God?”

This question seemed a bit odd to ask, as this was the first time Donavin and I had spoken one-on-one without others around. I had met Donavin some months before, when my wife Joanne and I, along with a few others from our Leduc Fellowship Church community, signed up for his Fitness Boot Camp at our local recreation center.

We had spent every Wednesday night and Saturday morning with him, and we quickly became fond of Donavin despite the pain we endured at his hands each week. He was a very energetic and charismatic young man.

We soon become aware of the fact that Donavin’s step-father Darcy was dying from brain cancer. It was not long after Darcy passed away that I stood at my kitchen sink washing dishes with Donavin.

Joanne had discovered that Donavin was in his last year of university in preparation to be a teacher. With that bit of knowledge, Joanne decided that Donavin might like to help her with a mystery dinner she was putting on for the grade 5 and 6 students at our church. Donavin was very happy to help us with this event, and that gave me the opportunity for our first heart-to- heart conversation.
kitchen sink with dishes CCSA Barbara Wells
As we washed the dishes, I could feel the heaviness in his heart. I had never had a spiritual conversation with Donavin, but I felt the tug of the Holy Spirit to ask him if he was mad at God.  After I had asked the very pointed question, Donavin ceased scrubbing the pot in his hand and stood silently.  After moments of silence, he asked, “is it ok if I am?” I responded by stating that it was ok, and that God could handle his anger and doubt, but I let him know that the bigger question was what he was going to do with his anger and questions.

Over the next months, Donavin and I would meet often and share our stories with each other.  He became a part of our family, an older brother to my daughters and a regular fixture at the dinner table. He quickly became active in our circle of friends.

After a few months of hanging with us, Donavin decided to join us for one of our church services. I always told him he was welcome, but that there was no pressure to attend. When Donavin walked into the building, he was immediately overwhelmed by the number of people he already knew in our church family.

There were people from his fitness classes and friends of ours that he had met in our home.  Then he looked at me and yelled, “Hey that’s my Grandmother, and that’s my aunt and uncle.”  There were many members of Donavin’s step-mother’s family that are a part of our community at Fellowship.

I had long held a belief that discipleship should take place more in our living rooms, at our dining room tables, and at our kitchen sink than in the rows of a classroom at our church. Donavin’s discipleship in Christ had begun long before he entered the church, and through relationships in the everyday path of life, he was assimilated into our community before he ever walked through the doors of the building or attended a single worship service. This was a true tipping point in my personal calling of missional living and for the calling of our Fellowship family.

This relationship was the catalyst that I needed to help our community at Fellowship live out their God-given calling.  Our church had begun as an “unintentional church plant” 16 years before my arrival as the pastor. The church was founded by a group that had gone through a church split, and as they began this new work, the greatest desire was to be a congregation where people were free to reach out beyond the walls of the church. The missional DNA was there from the beginning, but they suffered—as I had—growing up with an old paradigm, outdated methods, and an unhealthy inward focus.

Over the last eight years, we as leaders at Fellowship have worked steadily at giving our people a renewed language around missional living. We have sought to help them express a clearer understanding of what it means to be on mission with God.

We have also given them permission to be on mission with God away from the church. We want them to know the freedom of being about the work of the Kingdom in the neighbourhood, the workplace, the school, the locker room and the other second and third places of life.

To provide this freedom, we have had to create space: space in people’s calendars so they may be given back to the spaces where God has planted them. So we have become very thin on programs, and have encouraged our Fellowship family to truly “love their neighbours as themselves.” We wanted to feel free to love, not win people; to bless the community, not just the saints; and to prioritize relationships over programs.

This transition to more missional living, though I believe it was in the DNA of Fellowship all along, has been slow but steady. Over the last eight years, we have seen great growth and progress in the lives of so many as we have sought to change the lifestyles of individuals and families more than create new or more programs.

This last year we have seen the community as a whole reaching a marvellous tipping point. For the first time we can say that the majority of people joining our church community do so because they had a connection with someone or a group of people in our church.

When someone, like Donavin, is loved by a part of our Fellowship family before they arrive on the scene, the process of assimilation is a piece of cake. They are assimilated before they get here, and on top of that retention of these individuals and families is off the chart. They stick with us, add to our family and walk the road of discipleship with us.

We have found in these situations that the amount of time from when someone walks through the doors of our church for the first time until they are feeling and functioning as a core part of our community is cut down by about 75%. They arrive feeling connected and they quickly join us on our mission to care for one another and our greater community. They are getting involved in discipleship, seeking to be baptized and looking to be on mission with Christ at astoundingly fast rates.

The story of how my relationship developed with Donavin has become indicative of how the members of Fellowship approach their neighbours and friends.  It was my joy to baptize Donavin the Easter after we met, and to meet with him regularly as we mutually encourage one another in our walk with Christ.

Dennis Gulley is Lead Teaching Pastor at Leduc Fellowship Church. Dennis has served as the Regional Director of Student Ministries with the Alberta Baptist Association and as Associate Pastor of Bethany Baptist Church in Portland. Dennis holds a Bachelor’s Degree in English a Master’s of Art in Educational Ministries. Dennis and his wife Joanne are blessed with five daughters and two sons-in-law.

Mission in Your Neighbourhood

By Shannon Youell

The last weekend in January found Cailey, Faye Reynolds, Sherry Bennett, Ike Agawin and myself doing something we’ve not done before:  (wo)manning a booth at Missions Fest 2017 in Vancouver.

IMG_2960.JPG

IMG_2967.JPG

With our theme of “Join us on mission in your neighbourhood” and our new engagement cards in hand, we handed out copious amounts of candy, CBWC pens and lip balms (very popular by the way!) and fielded all sorts of questions and remarks. Unremarkably, most of the questions had nothing to do with what we were promoting. In fact, many who stopped at our booth couldn’t quite make the connection between “mission” and “in your neighbourhood.”  One man peering at our banner argued that “it’s not mission if it’s not in another country.”

This was surprising to me, inasmuch as Jesus called us to be on mission both where we live, in our city, in our nation and to all the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).  I wonder how it is that many see missions as only in a foreign land, far away from where we are. My cynical side says it’s because when mission is seen as far away, we can stay comfortably home and support others to go–which, of course, we should be supporting! But using it as an opt-out to be a minister right here of Christ’s work of reconciling man to God and to one another, is a travesty.

But, I think it is more likely that because we’ve grown up into a culture of Christendom, we still consider our land, our city, our neighbours as already gospeled merely by where we live. Yet the times we live in, as I said to a pastor in India while I was teaching there, reflect that North America actually needs missionaries to come here from those far-off lands that we’ve been missioning for centuries. Canada needs to be re-gospeled!

Of course, I was being facetious, as in fact, God has called and placed missionaries all around our land.  In all likelihood, if you are reading this, then you are one of them.

There were also the ones who stopped at our booth who were excited to talk about mission in our neighbourhoods.  Those were, of course, the best conversations.  The most memorable, at least for me, was a conversation Cailey had with two ten-year-olds.  They, too, stopped and were perplexed about our banner, but once Cailey explained to them what joining God on mission in neighbourhoods is, they got it!  I’ll let her convey their reaction…

After the youth rally one night, some grade 5 boys came up to my booth–pockets pull of pens, cheeks full of chocolate from other booths.

Kids: “So what is your ministry all about?”

Cailey: “In my job, we help people in Western Canada start new churches, and one of the ways we do that is by helping them love their neighbours, so that their neighbours come to Jesus. I believe that we are all missionaries where we live—in our neighbourhoods, our schools, and even our soccer teams.”

Kids: “I can be a missionary right now?”

Cailey: “Absolutely! You are a missionary. In what ways do you guys think you could be missionaries in your neighbourhoods?”

Kids: “Well, we could love our neighbours—like, be nice to them, and play with them. Or tell them Jesus loves them.”

Cailey: “See? You’re already a missionary.”

Kids: “Cool! What’s your biggest dream?”

At which point I scratched my head, wondering who had raised these boys to ask such deep questions!

Cailey: “My dream is that people in all of our churches in Western Canada would see themselves as missionaries, and as God uses them to bring their neighbours to Jesus, more and more churches will be born. Then, the new Christians would start doing the same thing: loving their neighbours and telling them about Jesus.”

Kids: “Wow. If everyone in Vancouver did that, and then Canada, and then America…we could infect the whole world!”

So of course, I pulled out a copy of Ed Stetzer’s Viral Churches for the boys to peruse…ok maybe not, but I was so thrilled to see these young men catching the vision and call of Jesus for us to be disciple-making disciples.

Mostly, what MissionsFest revealed to us is that there is still so much work to do as leaders. We must disciple others to understand the calling of Jesus to join Him at His work of delivering justice, mercy, hope, grace, salvation, and love to those whom these things have not yet been realized.  To remind us that right next door to us—whether next door means our homes, our seat on our commute, our work place or where we hang out—there are people who are lost in the lost-ness of identity without Christ. Wherever we are, we are the one to help them find God.

God is a missionary God and He sends. He sent Abraham on mission. He sent the prophets. He sent John.  He sent Jesus. He sent the disciples. He sent Paul. He sent Barnabas. He sends you and He sends me.  On mission. In our neighbourhoods.

 

Understanding our Present

By Shannon Youell

Old News
My husband is a history buff. Always has been. Reads encyclopedias….yes, the old-fashioned-multi-volumed-fill-three-shelves encyclopedias, purchased from (also obsolete) door-to-door salespeople. He is a wealth of historical information that I have only more recently appreciated. Myself, I just couldn’t understand what the conflicts of the Ptolemys, the hoards, the Saxons, had to do with trying to live faithfully and presently in our world. He was always telling me that by understanding the cycles of human history, we can better understand our present and how to influence our future.

chamber's encyclopedia by endolith CC BY-SA 2.0

Then I began to study church history. The conflicts, the divisions, the battles, the traditions and reformations, the councils and creeds, the politics and the interactions and reactions between all these and everyday life through the ages. All of a sudden I started to understand, as the Maori Proverb informs us – “we walk backward into our future, our eyes fixed on the past.” Our past informs and shapes our present, whether or not we are aware of it and in spite of our ignorance of it.

To not do so is detrimental for the ongoing reformation (reforming, reshaping) of our lives lived out of faithfulness to the story of God and human and of our lives leaning into the present of where God is at work around us and joining him. We need to look back to where we have come from to understand where we are going to, and doing so in humility and submission to the Spirit.

Our Own History
This past year for the CBWC Church Planting team has been one where we have found ourselves looking back through our faith history to times when evangelism and sharing Jesus in deed and word was foremost in our discipleship and in our practices. And discovering, not so much to our surprise, that in some ways, our culture and worldview has taken us away from an ethos of evangelism in our everyday lives and in our gathered times. We excel at the deed practices of mercy, justice and social reform, but are shy and fearful of the proclamation (word) practice that transforms.

To quote an unknown source in a promotional video for the upcoming Multiply Conference in Vancouver (https://multiplyconference.ca/ ), “Canada has lost the lost-ness of the lost”. And, “we don’t even recognize how lost the lost are.”

I see this statement not as a negative criticism but rather a positive indicator that the conversation around sharing Jesus with those who have yet to encounter Him is increasing across our land. Because the statement implies that we are, once again, recognizing our need to re-engage and re-imagine how we invite folk into the Kingdom of God and introduce them to the King of the Kingdom.

Our CBWC Church Planting Team spent a lot of 2016 re-engaging the conversation. In blogs, over coffee in neighborhood shops, at Assemblies, Conferences, Celebration Dinners, Forums, Retreats, Churches, prayer meetings, in hockey games (or whatever those Heartland pastors on retreat play…probably curling!) and various other avenues. And we are thrilled to report that the conversation is increasing in volume in our tribe! And it is resounding across our nation. In national meetings with Canadian Baptists, with church planting and renewal catalysts, and leaders from across denominations, the Spirit speaks to one and to another and when we are attentive to listen, we hear the cry of the Father’s heart. It is an exciting time to be the church together.

When we focus our eyes on the past of the early church, “church planting” was the “lost” (both the lost sheep of Israel and the left-out gentiles) seeing and hearing the gospel of the Kingdom of God. In this past year the CP Team has been encouraged tremendously by your stories of your churches and the yearnings to make an impact in deed and word for those whose life journey seeks identity, hope, meaning, community, healing and faith.

Inspired and Challenged
We are encouraged by those who are actively examining where they can make an impact in their regions by planting churches, engaging missionally in nearby neighbourhoods, schools, businesses, community associations and other community-minded organizations.

We are inspired by your stories of how walking alongside new immigrant families, in particular, refugee families, is stretching you, growing you, and enlarging your hearts and territories for those whose lives we can barely even imagine.

We are challenged by your faithful practices in worship, prayer, reflection, and discipleship. The body of Christ, listening to one another and learning from one another.

So often in our churches, our sermons and yearning land on the early church ethos of Acts and the time when community, discipleship, prayer, good works and sharing Jesus seemed rhythmic and easy. And looking at church history as the centuries moved forward reveal to us how the Spirit continually woos us back to that place as we form, and plan and dream.

Let’s continue into 2017 informing our present and thus influencing our future by the practices and yearnings of the past of those who sought the lost and those drowning in lost-ness to redemption, reconciliation and restoration as children of God.

The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and bought into the glorious freedom of the children of God…we do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express
(Romans 8:19-21, 26b).

Bah Humbug!

By Shannon Youell

A few weeks ago Oxford, the dictionary people, announced their word of the year: Post-truth. They define it as follows:

“an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.’

Rather than simply referring to the time after a specified situation or event – as in post-war or post-match – the prefix  in post-truth has a meaning more like ‘belonging to a time in which the specified concept has become unimportant or irrelevant.’”

There we go folks…apparently it’s official! We live in an age where we are being convinced that truth has become unimportant and irrelevant. To which I again express, Humbug! (which is a real word describing ways to fool people).

Before we all nod our heads in agreement with an intensity that could cause us whiplash, we should recognize that we all fall victim to truth as subjective to our own emotions and personal beliefs. For the purposes of this blog, I refer to the way we sort how we live out life as followers of Jesus. We tend to pick and choose. Seriously…we do. We live life at the smorgasbord of Jesus and choose what we like and leave behind what we don’t, are unsure of, or just plain uncomfortable with.

8264608267_810a2a062e_z.jpg

Take evangelism for instance. We are great at self-exempting ourselves from this. Frankly we are quite afraid of that word, as we’ve discussed before on this blog. For many, if not most of us, we self-exempt because we see sharing Jesus as something someone else does, yet Jesus invites us to a ‘come and see’, ‘go and tell’ way of life…..as we go in our ordinary lives. You might right now be thinking, yes but there is that passage about evangelism being an appointed gift. Go ahead. I will challenge you on that passage though. Go back and read it again and see if it is actually an exemption passage.

Reimagining Evangelism
At the Banff Pastor’s Conference this year, we had a round table discussion around reimagining evangelism where we asked ourselves the questions: Is evangelism a mission impossible? Can we re-engage in it as believers and followers of Jesus?

In light of living in an age of post-truth, can we become truth-tellers? Do we dare? Or are we so paralyzed that truth telling will bring us scorn and rejection, we prefer to stay silent in the midst of humbug?

Our society can try to convince us all we want that truth is unimportant but the massive publishing dollars procured from ‘meaning of life’ books reveals the real truth about that. Humans are seekers of truth. And in agreement with the definition, we do often find truth through emotion and personal belief. So though our culture can shout ‘post-truth’, it is in how truth-telling is defined that gives us an entry point to share this Jesus, whose birth we are celebrating this month.

When I look at how Jesus went and truth-told he did so with fact (today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing; the kingdom of God is among you; I will be with you always; Go in peace and be freed from your suffering). God has fulfilled his promise to Israel, King Jesus is come to establish ‘on earth as it is in heaven’, the kingdom of God where what is wrong is made right again. These were the some of the objective facts he presented.

As well, Jesus also told the truth through people’s emotions and personal beliefs. He gospeled people where they were. To those struggling with guilt he offered forgiveness. To those marginalized, he placed them in the front of the line and in places of honor. To those sick he offered compassion and healing. To those who were deemed less valued, he publicly spoke to, recognized and preferred.  To those lost in their own personal confusion, he brought clarity. He truth-told into each one’s story at the place of entry that would speak the strongest to them.

This was the Jesus way of evangelism. He really didn’t give a four step formula to how to be saved, but rather stepped into the places of people’s story where they were at and revealed God already at work in the midst of their story. Evangelism is really just that.

Exposing Our Humbug Rhetoric
So can we expose the humbug rhetoric of our world that tries to fool us into even questioning our own truth? Can we merely take the time to be truth-tellers of this great celebration? Can we begin to discard the foolish deception that we “belong(ing) to a time in which the specified concept (of objective truth) has become unimportant or irrelevant”?

This is the beginning of re-imagining and re-engaging with the Story we objectively lean into as our personal truth and it is that we share, with all our deep convictions and emotions that Jesus is King in my life and the world as our Prince of Peace, bringing the deep shalom of God into all the places we live, work, play and pray in.

Great peace and joy to all.

 

.

 

Whatever Happened to Talking about Jesus?

By Shannon Youell

And we’re here today bringing you good news: the Message that what God promised the fathers has come true for the children—for us! (Acts 32:13-The Message)

I wonder if we’ve lost the ability to explain the “good news” part of the Good News? Is that why we are so afraid to talk to people about this Good News outside of our Christian circles (where, supposedly, we all understand it completely and don’t need it explained to us)?

6924170503_efe396f450_o

To be frank, the number of times I hear the Gospel preached, and indeed, preach it myself, to those who have already heard it, really causes me to lean into the concern that we’ve lost the ability to truly convey what amazingly, marvelously Good News the Kingdom of God present here on earth is to those who do not yet know there is such Good News.

All Called to Be Sharers
Some of us exempt ourselves from this conversation by saying that we do not have the gift of evangelism. But are not all of us convicted and called by Jesus to “go and make disciples?” To be fair, there are those folk among us who are wonderfully gifted in communicating the Good News. Often it is from a public platform, or by placing themselves strategically within communities where darkness still prevails and the Kingdom is groaning to advance. They are particularly and uniquely set apart by their giftedness to engage this way, and we need to celebrate and support these evangelists in our midst.

But that does not exempt me, or you, or us. As I stated in my previous article, I haven’t really been able to find an exemption for myself in Jesus’ teaching. Or for that matter in the Story at all. It appears that those who worship our Father in heaven, who are professed disciples of Jesus, who are empowered and enabled by the Holy Spirit to do good the work of the Father, are sharers of Jesus. They communicate (evangelize) to others the great Story of God and help them find their place in the Great Story within the story of their own lives.

So why are we so darned afraid? And how did we, the ekklesia of God, get that way?

Taking Steps Forward
Friends, I think these are some of questions we need to start asking ourselves and our communities of gathered believers. I am pretty confident that were one to ask a faith community if we are to share Jesus, they would mostly agree that as an absolute. Yet we do tend to leave it to others to do so, while sighing with relief that indeed there are those who ‘like’ to share Jesus with others.

Can we engage in the evangelism conversation again? Can we imagine being a people set apart by God to herald the Grand News that God, through Jesus, has come to earth with the rule and reign of His Kingdom that brings us justice, liberty, hope, love, peace, joy and salvation from the corrupt and oppressive rulers of the kingdoms of this world? And the wonderful news that we are invited to join Him in living it and sharing it?

We’d love for this to be a dialogue as we explore and share together to attempt to answer, frame new questions and reimagine how we can create of culture of communicating the Good news of the kingdom of God for the sake of the world.

For those who will be at the Banff Pastors and Spouses Conference next week, come and join in a round table discussion around this very topic: Mission—Impossible? Can we re-engage evangelism? We will discuss three questions to frame our conversation together and begin to face the evangelism vacuum so common in our Baptist culture.

Join us there, and here on this blog as we listen and learn from one another to pray, equip and share Jesus in the spaces where we live, work, play and pray!

The Unexpected Guest Part 2

By Shannon Youell

Several weeks ago, I challenged us to look through our Sunday spaces and gatherings through the lens of the unexpected, unchurched or marginally churched person to observe and recognize what barriers we may have that keep folk from feeling they are in a safe place to explore their spiritual curiosity.

In our church, we have a long way to go in this, but here are a few of the practices we have been doing and are leaning into doing more.

  • From the start, we explain everything. From what’s going to happen, to the room layout, to our “amenities”—which include fresh bread to take, coffee bar, children’s activities—to facilitated and explained open communion and prayer throughout the service, we walk people through our gathering every time.
  • We offer connect cards for folk to put name, prayer requests, and if they would like to be contacted.
  • We’ve scheduled a ten minute coffee break mid-point to move and meet people around you,  Our folk are strongly encouraged to connect with guests and begin to move them from stranger to friend.
  • We facilitate a question/thought-sharing time after the sermon, where we encourage people to ask us to explain something they didn’t understand or always wondered about, followed up with a mid-week Dialogue Circle where anything is open for discussion, though we start off around what was talked about the past Sunday.
  • We strongly encourage folk to invite someone to have lunch with them after church.  This summer we are taking it one step further and have several people hosting planned after church picnics at their homes or parks.  These events are easy on the hosts, because everyone brings their picnic lunch with a little extra for unexpected guests (or those who just forgot to pack a lunch!).

These are but a few things and I hope you will all post here things you do to honor and welcome and include the unexpected guest.

handshake

We have had several lately. One new couple came because they were invited by their waiter in a downtown restaurant, only to show up and the waiter had been unexpectedly called into work that morning and wasn’t even there! I can imagine how uncomfortable it must have been to show up and their host was not there! But they stayed and then came back the next week.  Why?  They knew it was okay to ask questions of the pastor if you didn’t understand what was being said.  They were greeted and spoken to by several people and felt very welcomed and  included, and most revealing, the fellow’s brother is a pastor and they have never been invited to church by him and when they had questions he would just tell them how they should believe but didn’t give them the space to discover why.

Friends, these are the people God has called you and I to welcome with radical hospitality, to wash their feet, to honour.  The alien, the stranger, the left-out-of-the-secret handshake folk.  We should be places of refuge, of shalom where folk are welcomed because they are there.  Not because of how they look, or believe or even don’t believe, but because they are seeking to see Jesus revealed around them in ways that are demonstrated by welcome, by grace, by mercy, by healing and by acceptance.

The hospitality Jesus demonstrated was pre-dominantly other focused.  Is ours?

 

Churches in Cities

Last week, I shared a resource with some tips for suburban life for God’s Kingdom. This week, let’s talk about the importance of church planting in the city! ~ Cailey

9 Reasons We Must Connect our Churches with Cities

By Chuck Lawless

Even if you have no interest in urban settings and ministries, I plead with you to continue to read this post. We are called to get the gospel to all peoples of the world (Matt. 28:18-20), and we will not do that if we shy away from the world’s cities. Please read on, and pray about how your church might tackle a city – then encourage others to read this post as well.

Calgary_Downtown.jpg

  1. The smallest church can reach out to a city. To be honest, it’s simple – find a ministry in a city, and partner with them. Whether your church is itself urban or rural, with 10 members or 10,000, you can do something in the city. The needs are so great that opportunities are there for everybody.
  2. People are in the cities. This reason is basic, but not insignificant. The world has been more urban than rural for at least seven years now. The ten most populated cities in the U.S. have 25 million people in the actual city boundaries, with 95 million people in the ten largest metropolitan areas. The church needs to be where people are.
  3. Evangelicals aren’t always in our cities. Though this picture is rightly changing, evangelicals have not been strong in cities. We have emphasized evangelism but have been cautious about engaging some of the most obvious mission fields in the world. Gospel-witness voids still remain.
  4. The nations are in the cities. Years ago, I was privileged to minister in a Vietnamese village in Moscow, Russia. I’ve been with Hispanics in South Asia and Europeans in Southeast Asia. If the Lord would allow me, I would live in the middle of New York City – an urban setting where more than 800 languages are spoken. If we want to reach the world’s people groups, the city is the place to go.
  5. World influencers are in the city. Think about the potential of influencing the world if we reach leaders in New York, Los Angeles, London, Tokyo, or Mumbai. The worlds of the arts, literature, politics, sports, media, etc. are there – what would happen if the gospel influences them?
  6. The needy are in the city. Poverty in the city offers significant opportunity for the church to minister. The combined stresses of poverty and urban life often threaten families, foster division, and invite crime. The church has the answer to all of these issues – if the church is there.
  7. Job opportunities are often there. That’s not to say that everyone will find a job, but the sheer size of cities often provides employment opportunities. Here’s the reason this point matters: believers can move to cities to be a light in the darkness, trusting that finding a job will not be an impossibility.
  8. Reaching the city requires partnerships. No single church can reach millions of people, even with multi-site approaches. City reaching requires us to push beyond our differences to work together. That unity is what Jesus prayed for in John 17, and it wouldn’t hurt us to work together for the Great Commission task.
  9. The job is too big for us. Who can reach 22 million+ in greater New York or the 37 million+ in Tokyo? Who would even know where to start? God does, and He requires us to seek Him and His wisdom. If the city drives us to our knees, that’s a good place to be.

What other reasons would you add?

Be sure to check out Dr. Lawless’ daily blog posts at www.chucklawless.com. Chuck Lawless currently serves as Professor of Evangelism and Missions and Dean of Graduate Studies at Southeastern Seminary. You can connect with Dr. Lawless on both Twitter and Facebook.

Mission is Slow

This article by Preston Pouteaux is reposted from Forge Canada’s Missional Voice newsletter, December 2015.

As a pastor I’ve made it a practice of mine to write letters to people. I used to write cards by hand, but that changed when I bought a used Lettera 22 typewriter. It’s old, and a bit finicky, but oddly satisfying.

mission-slow
When I meet new people, or want to encourage a friend, there is something good that happens when I pull down my typewriter and take it out of the case. It takes a few minutes to set up, find a nice sheet of small typewriter paper, and adjust the ribbon. I take that time to think about what I want to write, how I want to convey my thoughts. Then, clack, clack, clack, I write. It’s nothing like writing a column, email, tweet, or essay. It’s slow, methodical, and strangely raw. Typewriters have no “backspace” or way of correcting mistakes. If I make an error, it stays on the sheet, perhaps crossed out, but there nonetheless. Typing takes time and I find myself getting to the point of what I want to say. Maybe, “thanks for being my neighbour” is all I need to say sometimes.

The real magic comes from sending the letter in the mail. In a world of emails and junk mail, a personally written letter sent with intentionality is a powerful and countercultural gesture. My typewriter, a stack of paper, and some stamps have transformed relationships and conversations. Sending letters or cards might seem like a grandmotherly kind of activity, right there along with crochet or 1000-piece puzzles. Yet I’ve found that a moment spent sending a letter, expressing my thoughts in simple and kind ways, can shape the way I see others, and allow God space to speak.

Years ago I painted portraits of people in our church congregation. It’s a project that turned into something larger. But at the time I would simply sit down with some watercolour paints and a blank piece of paper and create. It was slow work, each painting would take days or weeks. But as I would sit and paint I would find myself praying. Almost like sitting with the person in real life; I was asking God to bless them, I would wonder what God was doing in their lives, and I would just be present to God’s nudging in my own heart. It was a unique experience in my life and I don’t think I’ve ever prayed so much for other people as I had when I was painting their portraits. It was a function, I believe, of simply being present and patient with them, before God.

When I’m in my office clacking away on my little blue typewriter I find myself entering a similar place of prayer for the people I am writing to. The slow work of writing this way allows me a moment to listen, reflect, and allow God space to speak. My Lettera 22 typewriter is a little altar of prayer.

A few years ago I wrote to Eugene Peterson. He is a voice of wisdom for pastors and his books have taught me to reflect about the pace and posture of my life as a pastor and neighbour. By slowing down and living intentionally with the people and place where God has brought me, I’m more likely to see and participate in what God is already doing all around me. Eugene Peterson has long since been retired and I heard he was living somewhat off the grid. Or at the very least, he wasn’t checking his Twitter or Facebook feeds like the rest of us. So I pulled out my typewriter and wrote him the old fashioned way. I had been thinking a lot about what it means to love my neighbours, slowly, patiently, and attentively. I asked for his advice, and surprisingly, received a letter back. He wrote two pieces of wisdom in his letter that I think about often: “being a pastor is the most context-specific work there is” and “the most dangerous thing is impatience…keep it slow.”

Writing letters to people is deeply contextual. Social media and sharing articles go out into the world and can be read across contextual lines, and there is a place for that. But letters bring us back to the local places where God is working among us. They are written to a particular person, in a particular place. They are hyper-contextual and that makes them deeply powerful. Personal letters declare that the small, the unseen, the personal, and the kind are values we hold dear. From God’s perspective, these activities are never done in vain, in fact, they may be the most life transforming activities we can engage in. Never underestimate the potency and beauty of deeply context specific work, like being a pastor with a typewriter.

Going slow is never a waste. By being impatient with the people we seek to encourage or comfort with our letters, we rush past what God may be doing. I’ve had people come up to me months after I had written (and forgot that I had written) them a letter.

The slow process of intentional communication doesn’t have a built-in immediate response and gratification mechanism. You can’t click a button to publicly “like” that I sent you a note. You can only engage in the same intentional way. Slow builds trust, friendship, and life.

Living missionally requires that we think differently about many of our practices, and try on new practices that could help us engage in the patient way of Jesus within the places where we live. How we speak, write, or care for others reflect what we value and believe to be true about God’s work in our midst. What does slow and intentional communication look like between you and your neighbours? In what ways can you reflect the Kingdom of God in the way you speak and encourage others?

Preston Pouteaux, DMin. Tyndale Seminary, is a National Team member with Forge Canada, and is a pastor at Lake Ridge Community Church in Chestermere, Alberta. He studied at Briercrest College, Regent College, Tyndale Seminary, and Jerusalem University College in Israel. Preston is the author of Imago Dei to Missio Dei. He’s an avid beekeeper. @prestonpouteaux

Listening and Learning with a Blackboard

As we further explore engaging our communities, I want to introduce you to an out-of-the-box idea that First Baptist Church in Victoria has been experimenting with.

FBC Victoria is located right on the corner of Quadra and North Park on the edge of downtown.  They are overshadowed by a much larger and dominant building housing Glad Tidings Church, so much so, that people are often surprised that FBC is a church too!

To help the neighbourhood realize that FBC is there among them, Pastor Jeff Sears and congregation decided they needed to do something so “people realize that we are a church and we are active.”

They have installed a chalk board, complete with chalk, inviting those in their neighborhood to write to one another and the folk at FBC.  Pastor Jeff explained to a passerby who inquired about why the board was up that “our church needs to hear from our neighbours so that we can learn from them.”  Not to preach to them or to write pithy inspirational messages, but to hear and learn how the people in the neighbourhood around them view their world and the beautiful and not-so-beautiful aspects of life and purpose.

blackboard2Each week Jeff poses a question on the board, such as “What was your most life defining moment?”  One of the poignant responses was, “The birth of my child; the death of my child,”  a reminder that there are those all around us whose lives are defined by both beauty and anguish. Perhaps comments such as these will heighten our awareness that every stranger we pass has a story that they need to share and we need to hear.

The decision to put the board up came with risk: in Jeff’s words a “dangerous venture.” What if it was damaged or stolen (the board was caringly made by a congregant), or people write vulgarities and statements against the church, Christianity and God? It was a risk the folks were willing to take to engage their neighbourhood. The good news wasn’t shared by hunkering down in veiled places, but by exposure and risk. They decided that they wouldn’t erase anything negative people wrote about the church as long as it had something to do with the question posed, and though some people did indeed write vulgarities, they were often erased by other passersby. The neighbourhood began to own the board, one person writing, “I love this blackboard.”

The first week they hoped for a couple of comments to the posted question and were blown away with how fast the board filled up.  Jeff says that this told him that people want to be heard, to tell their story, to find meaning from one another in sharing story.  blackboard1

FBC Victoria’s Mission Statement articulates the thought around the chalkboard:  “We are a diverse community united under Christ in spirit and in action, transforming the heart of our neighbourhood.”

The approach to fulfil their mission is not to go tell people what to think, but to hear what others think and to find the intersection between their stories and the God story–how to bring their stories into God’s redemptive, restorative story.  All the questions posted on the board relate to the message Jeff shares the following Sunday, praying that some board contributors/readers will be curious to hear and share more on the questions.

Nora Walker, Board of Deacons Moderator at First Baptist, shared that one man wrote that FBC could make a difference in the community by giving him someone to talk to.  An attempt to follow up fell through, but a few weeks ago at an FBC-hosted BBQ, the same man showed up and connections were made. Nora makes a point of visiting local coffee shops and eateries near the church and has engaged with many people in conversation who now know FBC as the “church with the chalkboard.”  Often they then talk with her and tell their stories.

But there is also an inward reason for the board. Jeff says that he and his congregation want to become more aware of the thoughts and feelings of their neighbours, to not look upon them as strangers but to see that they have deep and important things to share.

It would seem to me that this concept, too, is part of all our discipleship. We don’t have all the answers, and we need to understand the questions and hear the answers from one another both within and without our gathering spaces. That we learn and are enriched by our diversity as humans; that we share in mercy and compassion both in painful and joyful events; that in the midst of both, we can find Jesus ever-present amongst humanity laughing with us, mourning with us and bringing the comfort of God in deep, meaningful ways.

What ways are you engaging the community around you, or in what ways are you imagining engagement taking place? We want to learn from one another how to be Christ’s presence in our everyday spaces and places. Write and let us know what you are up to so we can share your innovative and risky ideas here.

Pastor Shannon Youell
CBWC Church Planting Director
syouell@cbwc.ca