Book Review: Next Door As It Is In Heaven

By Fay Puddicombe

Next Door As It Is In Heaven is written by church strategists Lance Ford and Brad Brisco. They are part of the leadership team of Forge America Mission Training Network (ED: Southern brother of Forge Canada à la CBWC Pastor Cam Roxburgh). While their observations and ideas are geared for the US church culture, much of what they say is relevant for the Canadian scene as well.51J3vSECbxL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

The first half of the book identifies the things that have influenced the changes in our neighbourhoods. I remember well what my neighbourhood was like growing up in Saskatoon. Neighbours borrowed tools, chatted daily over the fence while hanging out laundry on Mondays, walked together to the nearest corner store.

The neighbourhood I live in now is very different.

Our “hoods” have become the place we retreat to when we want to get away from others. We enjoy our sheltered life in our well fenced back yards. When we head out we climb into our cars in the garage and might wave to a neighbour as we drive by. Would you be able to pick out your neighbour in a police lineup?

This book identifies things that influenced the change: city planning that separates retail and residential, consumerism, the dependence upon cars, our over-scheduled lives, and the impact of television.

Some themes in the book:

* Incarnation should inform our activity

* Biblical examples of God using people where they are

* Immerse, consider others, pray

* Be concerned and commit to the welfare of the city

Some of the solutions presented:

* Learn their names

* Hospitality

* Pray for them

* Watch for opportunities to cross paths and communicate

* “Behold” (intensely consider) your neighbours

* Create margin in your life so you can grasp opportunities when they come

* Rethink the use of your home

* Align with activities already happening—look at things you are already doing and invite others to join you (for example, meals)

“We all have good intentions but it does not just happen, we must make it happen.”

The authors list the interactions Jesus had with people, noting that they were most often around food. How can we connect with our neighbours around food? Having a front yard fire pit is one suggestion offered. Invite neighbours to join you around the fire. The authors suggest your most powerful evangelistic tool is your dining room table. They say, “Christians should be the most partyingest people on the street.”

The authors deal with some of our reasons/excuses why we think we can’t interact with people—don’t like their lifestyle, had an argument with him once, et cetera. Again they point us back to Jesus and the people He met with. They weren’t all upstanding “nice” people! We are reminded that everyone is made in the image of God.

The book is easy to read and has challenged me. I’ve given you a taste of it, but there is more; I recommend you read it. It might get you thinking how you too could “live out God’s Kingdom in your neighbourhood.”

Want to make your next move from “good intentions” to “making it happen”? Join us for Forge Canada’s Into The Neighbourhood conferences happening later this month in Edmonton and Vancouver. CBWC Church Planting is sponsoring some seats at each location, so talk to Shannon ASAP!

A small teaser:

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Into the Neighbourhood

by Shannon Youell

“We have lost much of our capacity to invite average Canadians into the good news life we say we believe in.”

This quote from Jared Siebert’s book Gutsy, as featured on this blog last week, is the challenge we have across Canada and in fact, the Western World. We’ve addressed this challenge here before, often under the language of “we’ve lost our evangelistic impulse” or “we no longer have a mission as local, church members as missionaries ethos.” These are valid statements being proven by our own realities and by good and faithful researchers every year. But what, then, do we actually do with such statements? They don’t help us understand and grasp how we can faithfully begin to address this.

Well. we have something to help!

We’d like to invite you to join us at Forge Canada’s upcoming two day workshop events, Into the Neighbourhood, in both Edmonton and Vancouver in October. Have a read, watch the short video below from David Fitch (last year’s Banff speaker) who is one of four incredible presenters and practitioners of moving into the neighbourhood.

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Here is what it is about:

“Into the Neighbourhood: 2018”
Forge Canada Tour

Purpose
The Missional Movement begins with who God is. It helps us to discern what God is up to in context, and then encourages us to receive the invitation of Christ to follow Him into His work in the world.

Over the last number of years, many have come to see the Missional Movement as a call of Christ to become neighbours, and to join Him at work in neighbourhoods across the country. What is needed is intentionality to disciple people into learning to practice hospitality in their neighbourhoods and then to remind us that we, the Church, are sent to be a Faithful Presence in the world, bearing witness to Christ in everything we do.

Forge Canada presents Into the Neighbourhood. This 2-day event hopes to equip people with an imagination to become neighbours, and to challenge churches to look at how we measure what it means to be faithful. This event is for individuals, and even more so for churches who have understood the importance of bearing witness to God through community.

Day 1 – “Won’t You Be a Neighbour: 6 Priorities for Neighbouring”

Day one is presented by Karen Wilk and Preston Pouteaux of Forge Canada. Both of these author/teacher/practitioners lead churches that are seeking to raise up those who are learning what it means to become neighbours and to see neighbourhood transformation. Their sessions will include the following:

* Rediscovering the Commission and the Commandment
* Renewing Imagination
* Rejuvenating Senses
* Redeeming Hospitality
* Reducing Scale
* Realizing Shalom

Day 2 – “A Faithful Presence: Being the Church in the Neighbourhood”

Day two is presented by David Fitch with Cameron Roxburgh. David—as well an being an author, teacher and speaker—is a local practitioner. More than any strategy, for our country to see the transforming work of the Spirit in neighbourhoods, the people of God need to engage in practices that allow them to bear witness to the presence of God in that place. David’s wisdom and experience are a gift to those churches that desire to participate in God’s mission. The scorecard is not about how big a church grows (although we pray and long for growth) but rather about recognizing the presence of
the Kingdom.

David’s sessions will include the following:

* The cultural dislocation of the church and the restructuring of the church
* The practice of the table
* The practice of the least of these (children and poor)
* The practice of reconciliation
* Moving towards a Faithful Presence

This 2-day event is for pastors, leaders and those who take seriously the call of Jesus to follow Him. It is for all who seek to become neighbours and to see neighbourhood transformation.

As part of our emphasis on healthy churches and growing disciples who make disciples who then become active in new churches, we invite you to contact me (syouell@cbwc.ca) if you would like to attend. Pastors/leaders, you will receive this invite also from your Regional Office. If you and your church are longing to be engaged with those who do not attend church, have rejected church, or in growing percentages, never really heard of God, Jesus, church, then come.

Grab a van, pick up friends along the way and come. If you live in the Heartland region, it looks like there is the possibility of a van coming to the Edmonton workshop, so contact me for registration details and Mark Doerksen for van information.

Here’s a short piece from David Fitch to help spark your imagination:

Peace to This House

By Shannon Youell

Praying in our neighbourhoods is not some new postmodern formula for evangelisation. Though some see it as quite foreign, Jesus and His disciples did just that. One of my favorite verses–well actually a combination of two from John’s writings–is when Jesus said He only did what He saw His Father doing and spoke what He heard His Father speaking (John 12:49, 5:19 my paraphrase).

Jesus walked about His ordinary everyday praying and listening: listening and praying to know where God was at work in the world. Jesus was waiting to step in and reveal the Father to those around Him.

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When Jesus sent out others to share the Good News of the kingdom of God, He instructed them to go from place to place looking for where God was already at work: “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house’. If a man of peace is there your peace will rest on him: if not, it will return to you” (Luke 10:5-6).

“A man of peace” indicates someone who God is already at work in, whether they are aware or unaware, someone who will listen to what the disciples have to share.This required the disciples to be attentive to where God was at work, which required them to be listening to the Father in a posture of prayer.

Luke 10 gives us much more to ponder and act upon, but as we are focusing on prayer in our neighborhoods, we leave the other instructions for another time. As we have been talking about how we engage with our neighbours, friends, co-workers, we must never lose sight of the fact that, as Cam Roxburgh states in Forge Canada’s new E-Book Volume 1, Loving God and Neighbour, “the missional conversation is about the nature and action of God in our midst, and not first about how we develop a strategy for reaching our neighbours.”

When we develop strategies without first praying and listening, we can have all the best intentions and plans in the world, but still be faced with indifference when the soil is still fallow. Prayer is our dual action of becoming more comfortable and confident that God still speaks to us today, and of preparing the hearts of ourselves and those we are praying for. As we pray for our neighbourhoods and other significant spaces, we invite the Spirit to shine light on the fields and reveal to us what He has already prepared. We are the workers. But without walking those streets, those halls, those trails and cubicle aisles, without praying as we walk, we are the unaware ones–unaware of where God is inviting us to stay awhile, eat and drink, hear stories of the lives of the people around us, and see how God is working.

From my experience, neighbourhood praying isn’t a single prayer. It is prayer that does not cease until God reveals his work both to us and to those we have been praying for. There is strategy for sure….strategy is praying consistently and listening intently. Listening to the Father always comes first for it is, after all, His work that we are joining.

I’ve mentioned before that I prayer walked our neighborhood for many years before something began to shift. Once the shift happened, I then asked God for a strategy. He gave me an uncomfortable one: to invite all the neighbors over for a “meet the neighbours” party. From that party we have been building deeper relationships with one another. These have become some of our people of peace, but it only happened because of prayer and listening.

Live From Montreal

By Shannon Youell

Journey to the Cross
There are 500 stairs to journey to the top of Mount Royal which rises behind McGill University in downtown Montreal. Cailey and I are in Montreal for the 2017 Church Planting Canada Congress. The morning prior to the conference I decided to take the 2 km journey up those stairs to the lookout point to view the city and river, and then a little further to the cross that is visible from all around the city, especially at night when it is lit up.

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It was a LOT of stairs.

It is not an easy climb and there is an easier way to the top–along more gentle inclines with no stairs–but I was up to the challenge so off I went! As my legs began to burn and my breathing became more labored, I wondered what was it in me that chose the harder way up as opposed to the more leisurely route. At one point where the stair path intercepted the roadway path I almost defaulted to the path easier taken. My journey to the cross that day reminds me of our journey as people desiring to see God’s Kingdom continue to break into our nation, which finds foundation at this historical city.

A Collection of Losers
The Congress began with a daylong preconference, The Nones and Dones: The Evolving Story of Secularity in Canada, that engaged church planters and catalysts from across the nation in the conversation around the changing religious landscape in Canada.

James Tyler Robertson, Adjunct Professor, Tyndale Seminary, Canadian Religious Historian and Pastor, helped us frame our roots as people who were apolitical, fiercely independent and determined to break free of both imperialism and the control of the organized church. Our DNA as a nation is that we are a collection of “losers” (losers of the various battles that defined the settlement boundaries of North America and those whose loyalties changed due these conflicts) “who survived by hard work and partnerships.” The only way they survived was humble hard work. Partnerships with faith groups were necessary to survive.

Jamie’s description of our history has gone round and round in my head. As we in the church express great alarm at the secularization of Canada, what does this revelation say to us when the percentage of those who self-identify on census information as No Religious Affiliation (or “nones”) continues to rise?

The Spiritual Landscape
One of the main reasons for this shift in self-identifying as “nones,” and relatedly “dones” (those who have church experience but are “done” with it), is that it is now socially acceptable to say in public that you have no religious affiliation. In the history of our country, many of the social services and pillars of society centered on the church and the services that they offered. Everyone needed some kind of affiliation with the Church. Once government began to offer its citizens healthcare and education, and began to solemnize marriages, for example, people were no longer bound to the church for their regular function of their daily lives.

Sociologist Sarah Wilkins-Laflamme (Associate Professor of Sociology at Waterloo University) has been studying the secularization of Canada. Based on those studies, using Census figures, Statistics Canada and other research, she found that in our area of Western Canada, the average of 28% people have self-identified as nones.

Of our western region, BC ranks the highest at 39% of the population saying they have no religious affiliation—but among those under age 35, the percentage jumps to 47%. This is based on census and other research between 2010 and 2014.

We can’t expect to have a common history and language anymore—many of these “nones” have never had an experience of Christian Church. Almost half–47%–of teenagers in Canada have never attended a religious service (Bibby Research, 2008). Sociologists say that number now, ten years later, is higher—closer to 52%—and continuing to rise.

Now What?
Joel Theissen, Professor of Sociology at Ambrose University and Director of Flourishing Congregations Institute said that the #1 reason people join any group is because they have relationship with someone inside the group.

So what does that mean for those of us who are longing to see God’s Kingdom realized in our schools and neighbourhoods and communities?

We’ve written often about how different methods and approaches have worked in different eras in the last 100 years and why these methodologies are working or not today. Missiologist Hugh Halter, in his explorations of intentional neighbouring said recently in an interview that they realized every friend and neighbour who “eventually found Jesus first found themselves drawn to the festivities in a home” (Hugh Halter, Happy Hour).

Karen Wilk is part of the Capacity Building and Innovation Team of the new mission agency of CRCNA as well as a National Team Member of Forge Canada. As part of the preconference, she shared her experience of innovating and shaping faith in community in her own Edmonton neighborhood where people are finding Jesus and faith, not because they were invited to church but rather they were first invited to community in their community (we’ve featured one of Karen’s books before, titled Don’t Invite Them to Church). She spoke of shifting our conversations from how to make church grow and how to get people in them to what is God up to in our neighborhoods and how can we participate.

Overall, the church in Canada is facing 500 stairs. There are easier paths being promoted, but the true journey needs to humbly begin climbing each stair with perseverance, prayer, and partnerships, remembering the grit required of us to continue the climb to make Jesus visible and the cross a light on the hill.

Perseverance, prayer and partnerships. This is the Canadian way after all…eh.

We’re going to have some Tool Kits for you at Banff to help start these conversations with your church leadership team and congregations. Come chat with us.

We are deeply appreciative of all our Canadian pioneers both in the past and current. Thank you New Leaf Network and Jared Siebert for your brilliant reveal of the Canadian Landscape. Thank you Forge Canada and Cam Roxburgh for your pioneering work for the past decades of re-imaging mission in our nation and in our neighbourhoods. Thank you Church Planting Canada for pressing in to gather Jesus lovers together to wrestle, share and encourage one another in this journey of sharing faith through our churches and networks.

And thank you to each of you who read this blog because you too desire to see where God is at work and join Him there in your cities, communities and churches.

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Cailey and I taking in the CPC Congress.

Joell, Cailey and I would love to talk to you about participating in a one day conference with New Leaf Network around the topic of the Nones and Dones as we all wrestle with grasping hold of the challenges of sharing Jesus in an increasing secular environment. Drop us a note to begin!

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.

Missional Pioneers

By Preston Pouteaux

Over one hundred years ago my great grandparents came out to the prairies. When they arrived on their slice of raw grassland with a shovel in hand, my great grandfather knew that beneath the wild grass on their new homestead was good soil and hope for a better life.

Yet the stories I grew up hearing made me shiver as they talked about snow drifts that nearly covered the house and months of near starvation. When we tore down the original homestead some years ago, we found that the only insulation was a Kellogg’s Corn Flakes cardboard box stuffed in the wall. Life wasn’t easy.

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Leaving the comforts or challenges of home and trying to start again is one of the hardest things a person can do. Pioneers are the first on the scene; they set things in motion. They break the ground, start businesses, and build the foundation for all generations to follow. Yet in the midst of their challenges, pioneers discovered something of even greater value: each other. Stories of neighbours coming to help in times of loss, of whole communities coming together to raise a barn, and the ways that strangers because closer than family. Whether you were French, Ukrainian, Scottish, Metis, or something else, it didn’t matter. Pioneer neighbours were in it together to create something new. These are the people that built my province of Alberta, and it is this pioneering spirit that we are discovering again, today.

Friends of mine moved to Michigan and discovered that their neighbourhood was racially divided, poor, faced crime, and was struggling in many ways. People had moved away. My friends did what pioneers do best; they decided to start something new and breathe life into it. They bought an abandoned house and an empty plot of land beside it. They were determined to build more than a home, they wanted to create a safe place that was open to the community. They called it the Nest: a safe community space where neighbours knew that they were welcome.

Today the Nest hosts the Treehouse Community Garden and produces enough vegetables to feed ten families. It’s a safe place for kids and families to come together, with a library, guest rooms, a big porch, root cellar, and community kitchen. They fixed up the house with local materials and local help; they even paid off the back taxes on the old house. Everything about these pioneers aimed at taking something that was unused and making it good and beautiful again. It has taken years, and the work is only beginning, but they dream of making their neighbourhood their life’s work—a deep and abiding passion to love their little corner of the world. They inspire me.

It is easy to tip our hat to our great grandparents and thank them for building the province where we live and thrive. Their hard work paid off, we might think, and now we can carry on with living.

However, when we forget to be pioneers in our own ways and in our own neighbourhoods, we may fall into the trap of becoming hands-off observers and consumers. We buy a house, when what we really need to do is build a community. We balk at the decisions of others, when we need to get involved. Becoming a neighbourhood pioneer is not easy, but those communities built on a pioneering spirit are those that stand the test of time.

It was during early pioneering days that the church in Canada found its footing. Although there were a number of factors that we can point to for the establishment of churches across Canada, it seems to me that one commonality exists for their genesis: pioneering communities. As farms and towns sprouted up across the country, churches were a natural and fitting gathering point for families. Here neighbours connected, burdens were shared, prayer was offered, projects were launched, and culture was created. Churches birthed community, and community birthed churches. The two went hand-in-hand.

A pioneering church is a thriving church, an engaged church, and a missional church. Early church pioneers began schools, cared for those in need, started hospitals, held week-long tent revival meetings, and acted as insurance when there was no such thing.

Pioneers can create something from almost nothing, because they do it together, with grace and faith that their hard work will truly create something beautiful and lasting.

A renewed call for a pioneering posture is a call towards embodied engagement with the world around us. When we believe that our work is done, that what needed to be started has already begun, then we lose the ability to see the new work that God is doing all around us. When we see the world from the perspective of a pioneer, we develop practices that reinforce our ability to step into chaotic community dynamics. We can gather allies, build relationships, and lean into new growth. We can use limited resources and establish goodness and vitality. In Michigan, for example, many saw only the decay of an aging neighbourhood. But through the eyes of a young couple, this decay was soil for something new. They became pioneers and today inspire others to see their own neighbourhood in new ways.

Take a moment today and walk through your neighbourhood as a pioneer. Look for unbroken ground, for decay, for places and people where life may not be flourishing. These are the places where the Kingdom of God may be found, where Jesus is calling us to embody His life and love. Just below the surface, the soil is good. It takes pioneers like you and me to bend down and dream about what could be.

This article originally appeared in Forge Canada‘s newsletter Missional Voice. 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

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.

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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

Seminars in Regina and Vancouver

There are two great learning opportunities upcoming with Forge Canada.

The first is a FREE event with Cameron Roxburgh in Regina, SK:

Faithful Presence November 5Register here for Faithful Presence.

The second is in the Lower Mainland, BC, with Preston Pouteaux:

Keystone Vancouver What if Jesus followers imagined themselves as keystone people – those who create neighbourhoods where others thrive, blessing and shaping their environment so everyone can find life? Some scholarships available for smaller churches.

Register here for Keystone People.

Questions? Shoot me an email at cmorgan@cbwc.ca.

You can keep up with all Forge Canada resources and events at forgecanada.ca.

The Critical Importance of Place

By Cam Roxburgh

Belief in the importance of place has been growing over the past years. I have heard it  referenced in an increasing number of conversations on both sides of the Atlantic. I have witnessed it at a book table at a recent conference. I have experienced it in my own life in the planting of a multi-neighbourhood church in Vancouver.

5761790886_820fa35a62_oRay Bakke recently commented that the missionary movement has moved from the “Nations to the Neighbourhoods.” Even in society, we see companies emphasizing place in advertising and in publishing. Place has been placed on our radar screens.

I am not convinced that this is a good thing as of yet.

Why? “Neighbourhood” has become the latest bandwagon to jump on without knowing why or reflecting on the implications for life. It is a new strategy to replace the last one we had for growing the church. Where once we put our efforts into a long list of popular programs, we have now embraced the missional language and the neighbourhood emphasis…for the wrong reasons.

But wait, there is more. Others have seen the emphasis on neighbourhood as a way to practice a more social gospel (as if it can be reduced to that) at the expense of a verbal declaration of the good news of the present and coming Reign of God. This approach reflects what Charles Taylor (in A Secular Age) calls “exclusive humanism,” which is an ethical vision of human flourishing apart from God. Does this recent turn toward the neighbourhood reflect our own formation in the exclusive humanism of our “secular age”? I fear that far too many of the Christian conversations I am hearing, seem to reflect a vision of flourishing apart from God; the gospel of Jesus Christ seems to have been left behind.

Scot McKnight addresses this concern head-on in his recent book The Kingdom Conspiracy. How long will it be before some get off of this bandwagon and on to the next?

But there are those who are stressing the importance of place for the right reasons.

Some are place-making and living in proximity because they believe it is a part of the incarnation – the nature and action of God. Others have recognized the love
of God for the world and learned to participate in his mission in specific locations. Still others emphasize the witness of God’s people who are committed to building community as a reflection of God’s reconciling mission, and so they devote themselves to people in a particular place. In the end, any concern for place and living in proximity must draw upon and embody our understanding of God’s mission.

The importance and practice of place-making must originate in the being of God and in His action in the world. When the followers of Jesus recognize that Jesus has sent us into the very neighbourhoods where He is at work, we become a sign and foretaste of the reality of the presence of the Kingdom of God.

This article reposted with permission from The Missional VoiceCheck out the rest of the newsletter here.

Cam Roxburgh is the National Director for Forge Canada, the VP of Missional Initiatives for the North American Baptists, and the Team Leader at Southside Community Church in Vancouver, Canada. He lives in Surrey, British Columbia with his wife and four children. cam.roxburgh@forgecanada.ca

Missional Leadership

By Cam Roxburgh, National Director of Forge Canada

It has been said, “The church rises and falls with leadership.” I guess it depends on what is meant by leadership. And whose leadership.
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Over the 22 years I have been privileged to be a pastor, I have been enamored with much of the material on leadership. I have been influenced by the Willow Creek Leadership Summits, been a part of Leadership Network and have had leaders of wonderful ministries speak into my life. I am grateful for them and for what I have learned. Of course, I have shelves full of the latest-greatest leadership books in an effort to go from good to…well you know what I mean.

My concern is that our understanding of leadership has grown away from what God intends for us. I confess that I have been guilty of this. Whether we see leadership as an art, or a skill, or whether we say it is all about influence, we must take note that we have begun to act and think as though leadership is the most important gift or role in the body. We begin to believe that it does all depend on us. Both of these are—in and of themselves—dangerous.

As we have grown in our missional understanding of God and the church over the last 15 years, new questions have been raised over our understanding of leadership. But that journey has only just begun. There are many who are asking questions of the way we have read the text or have structured ourselves in the functioning of the church. Isn’t followership much more of an important issue in the New Testament? Doesn’t Jesus warn about copying the leadership patterns of the world?

Forge exists to help churches (existing and new) become more missional. In Ethos, a two-year process of producing missional DNA, we begin with an exploration of Missional Leadership. This first module of Ethos looks at developing the character and competencies that Christ fostered in His disciples. We assume that leadership is first about becoming like Christ and living in the reality of the kingdom of God, bearing witness to the Christ that dwells within us. In light of this, we at Forge suggest a number of important components for missional leadership formation.

First, we start with theology. This is about God, and about His mission to redeem all things. Perhaps in the contemporary church we have adopted more secular perspectives of leadership that inadvertently cause us to believe that success depends on us. Far too often I am aware both in my own life and in the lives of many pastors I meet, that we believe at some level that it is all about us. When we begin with the question—“What works?”—we inadvertently begin a conversation about the church, mechanics, and our own strength. But missional theology reminds us that this is upside-down. We must begin with a different question—“What is right?”—and recognize that our conversation and action take place in response to the nature, presence, and action of God. Our lives bear witness to God. Missional Leadership participates in the mission of God and so anticipates and bears witness to the reality that all things are made new in Christ. It is God who redeems the world.

Second, we recognize that missional leadership is about helping God’s people recognize God at work in their context. Theology (who God is) leads to missiology (what God is doing). It is a very different kind of leadership that helps God’s people focus on the journey and not just the destination. Instead of just finding success measurements, leaders help God’s people pay attention the work of the Holy Spirit in them and around them. Perhaps putting our eggs in the basket of business-type leadership has caused us to think that we are responsible for the growth of the numbers in the church instead of paying attention to where He is at work.

Third, missional leadership develops the competencies that Jesus was fostering in His disciples. In the kingdom of God, there is a very different approach to life than there is in the Kingdom of the world. This includes leadership. Gardens produce flowers and vegetables, but the gardener is responsible for creating an environment that fosters growth. Missional leadership recognizes that those who have the gift of leadership in the body of Christ are not responsible for growth. Rather, they foster an environment where growth can take place. The competencies of missional leadership reflect the seemingly upside down nature of the kingdom of God.

Leadership is important, but the church rises and falls with the leadership of Jesus, and on our willingness to follow. Leaders create an environment for growth to happen.

Cam RoxburghFind this article in its original context in December’s Missional Voice newsletter. Cam Roxburgh is the National Director for Forge Canada, the VP of Missional Initiatives for the North American Baptists, and the Team Leader at Southside Community Church in Vancouver, Canada. He lives in Surrey, British Columbia with his wife and four children. cam.roxburgh@forgecanada.ca