All Planters of the Gospel

By Shannon Youell

Planting the Gospel helps give us definition in ways followers of Jesus are all called to participate with God in His mission to the world. Rather than opting out because we already belong to and/or minister in an existing congregation, take time to listen to the Spirit for ways your particular community can join God at work in seeding and harvesting new places and spaces for faith to be discovered and grow. 

At CBWC Church Planting we are always engaging with creative ways your local church community can join in the Planting the Gospel from intentional, relational discipleship within your own community to engaging with the people in your neighbourhood and joining them in fulfilling the values and dreams of a healthy and flourishing greater community. 

For inspiration of a few of the ways you can start participating with us and for some of the ways We Are Better Together, by watching this entertaining video by our own Cailey, which premiered at NMO recently.   

Connect with us on how we can start you or help facilitate your journey towards developing fresh expressions and intentional implementation of the Gospel right where you live, work, play and pray.

Jesus Gave His Church a Job…Part 2

For about twenty-five years I have been exploring, reading, writing and talking about the non-discipleship crisis. Most everyone recognizes the crisis when we talk about it. Often, someone will offer a great new discipleship program that is sweeping through various locales around the globe, sending me the links to the person/groups that developed it. Good, thoughtful, laborious work has gone into most of them. There is much to glean and I am so appreciative that others are tackling the crisis we find ourselves in.  

I’ve made my own attempt at producing a discipleship manual for leaders to use with their congregations. I think it was pretty good. However, a course or program on its own is not discipleship. Jesus didn’t run the 12, the 72, the 144 through a 20-week discipleship course complete with graphics, worksheets and activities, and we didn’t see the early Church do so either.  

There is value in those things of course, but the danger comes when we narrow the scope of discipleship to just a program to work our way through successfully. It’s dangerous because we can trick ourselves into thinking that completing a discipleship course means we now understand the Christian faith, while in reality we still have hearts and minds conformed to the world’s patterns, thinking and understanding rather than being shaped by the Holy Spirit’s transforming nature and Jesus’ Kingdom-of-God point of view.  

In other words, the church is “Christian” but we are not necessarily followers of Christ living out the Greatest Commandment, the Great Requirement and the Great Commission by becoming disciples who make disciples who make disciples. 

Refreshing materials and programs, courses and conferences will not change that, no matter how helpful these tools are. We need to ask ourselves the bold-faced questions about how our methodologies are transforming us, if they are transforming us, and to what we are being transformed into? 

The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. ~Alvin Toffler

I have this quote on a sticky note on the wall in my office – I really should get it framed so it stops losing its stickiness and falling off the wall (I think there’s an apt metaphor in there somewhere). It’s there because Jesus said something similar when a curious pharisee came to him in the cover of night, acknowledging that Jesus was a teacher who had “come from God” (John 3).  

I imagine Nicodemus was gobsmacked by Jesus’ response to the acknowledgment: Jesus challenged him! Even though Nicodemus he was a learned member of the Jewish council, Jesus told him he wouldn’t be able to recognize God’s in-breaking kingdom unless he was “born again.” And what did He mean by born again? Here’s my paraphrase: “Nicodemus, you need to recognize that I am the Messiah to see what God is doing in the world.” 

Henry Ossawa Tanner – Nicodemus coming to Christ

Along the way, born again has become synonymous with a person confessing Jesus as Lord and Saviour. But remember that in Part 1 of this series, we recognized there is a difference between making church-goers and making disciples. Understanding Jesus’ remark as only an evangelistic impulse misses the fullness of what his challenge to Nicodemus was. 

Jesus was challenging Nicodemus on what he understood about God, God’s kingdom and the Messiah. Nicodemus needed to unlearn and relearn by allowing the Spirit to be birthed and active within him. Jesus used a common euphemism of the day when he said “born again.” It implied you need to unlearn what you think you already know and learn again

We’ve made born again about evangelism when it is really about discipleship–the transformation of hearts, minds, soul and strength to increasingly view the world through Jesus’ kingdom lens and live into that. 

And, if I can be so bold (and I will), the very evident lack of evangelistic impulse in our church culture is a direct result of the lack of a discipleship culture in our churches. You may find this hair-splitting, but as we move to Part 3 of this series, the distinction will become obvious. For now let me close Part 2 by saying two things to start the unlearning process: 

  1. Being “born again,” absent of unlearning whatever patterns and world views we’ve inherited from our world and people around us throughout our lives, may lead us to declare Jesus as Savior, but has left lots of permission for His Lordship in our lives to be an optional add-on.  
  1. Discipleship doesn’t happen by osmosis. If the Church is serious about facing our current crisis of non-discipleship, we will need to rethink and reimagine our theology of discipleship.  

We will need to put aside our egos and not allow offense to be our barrier to unlearning what we think we already know about it all. We hope you will join us as we take a deep breath and attempt to humbly come to terms with this continuous learning-unlearning-relearning process of discipleship.  

Scattering Gospel Seeds

Jesus also said, “The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, while he’s asleep or awake, the seed sprouts and grows, but he does not understand how it happens. The earth produces the crops on its own. First a leaf blade pushes through, then the heads of wheat are formed, and finally the grain ripens.  And as soon as the grain is ready, the farmer comes and harvests it with a sickle, for the harvest time has come.” Mark 4:26-29 NLT

Planting the Gospel is an exercise in seed scattering. How that seed lands and is nurtured has become the strategies for church planting we are currently familiar with. Regardless of whether a strategy is focused on a particular set of sustainability criteria, most plants start with a small group of Christ followers who long to see the Gospel enacted in the places they find themselves. Often these small groups begin meeting in homes to pray, to discern, to disciple and train one another towards an official launch.

In some ways, using the planting metaphor, house churches could be the starter plants you bought at the nursery, then nurtured to be grown-up plants enriching the neighbourhood. Often, house church gatherings are transplanted out of the home and into a church facility so they have room to become larger in that one place.

But what if the intent was to never leave the backyard? Matt Dabbs, who planted a backyard church in Alabama during the Covid summer of 2020, intends to remain a backyard church that scatters Gospel seeds to plant the next and the next and the next. It reminds me of a planter here in BC, Andy Lambkin, who has been doing the same thing since around 2011. We interviewed him a few years ago, and we include the link HERE for your quick find if you missed it or want to read it again. 

In the meantime check out Matt’s story about the power of scattered people planting the Gospel in his backyard:

The Power of the Scattered People of God 

By Matt Dabbs 

Over the course of biblical history, God has used scattering as his method of choice for future kingdom growth. 

He did this when Joseph went to Egypt, setting up the growth of the Hebrew people in Egypt and the eventual Exodus. God did this in the Exile, scattering many of his people to other lands, where they developed synagogues and outposts of God’s people far and wide. 

Paul and other missionaries later found starting points for kingdom conversation in other countries as the fruit of the Exile scattering. God uses scattering to plant the seeds for future kingdom expansion. 

In Acts 8:1–8 the church underwent tremendous persecution. Here is what Luke tells us, 

On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison. 

Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city. 

The most experienced among them, the apostles, stayed behind. The others scattered. The lead minister didn’t scatter. The “everyday” Christians scattered, and as they scattered, they preached the word wherever they went. God did miraculous things, and the result was a great job and kingdom growth. 

God has long history of using scattered people, and using people to grow the kingdom. 

The question is this: Is God doing this in our day? The answer to that question is multifaceted. God has been doing it in an organized way through the sending of missionaries for a very long time. But what about in an Acts 8 way—not the scattering of the formally trained but the scattering of the “everyday” Christians? 

My hope and prayer is that the post-pandemic moment will create an Acts 8 moment, where the people of God have been shaken up, scattered out, and will preach the word wherever they go. 

In all the staying-home time, many pastors realized that the people in their churches were fully capable of having church in their home and doing the work of ministry. Many reached out to neighbors. Some started house churches. The question is this: Will this continue and last or is it more of a passing moment? Many will return to their churches, and that is a good thing. And some will hear another call… that their eyes have been opened up to the possibility of the parish church, hosting house church in their own neighborhood. 

Like all the other scatterings of the past, time will tell what kind of impact this latest scattering—which was more like a staying—and growth will have on the cultural and religious landscape in the United States and beyond. My hope and prayer is that it will result in a greater diversity of approaches to how we “view and do” church as a whole. 

This is not to say that some might abandon the traditional model, but that it would be complemented with a partnership with more organic approaches. We are better together than we are apart! 

It was the pandemic that brought our worship into my backyard in 2020, and during that time, God laid it upon our hearts to continue with that mission, resigning from my full-time preaching minister position to plant a church for the very first time. We have seen growth, and we have been encouraged by the sheer number of people who are wanting to start something new! 

God is on the move and what may seem like a setback (going to Egypt, being exiled, persecution, and now the pandemic) may be catalysts for future kingdom growth and paradigm shifts that will have a lasting impact on the landscape of the Christian world for generations to come! 

Matt’s article was reposted with permission from discipleship.org  

Planting the Gospel

At the recent Church Planting Canada Congress, Missiologist Alan Hirsch spoke this word to planters and catalysts across the country: “Plant the Gospel, not churches.”  

You may be wondering, “aren’t they the same thing?” Not necessarily. At CBWC Church Planting, we’ve long advocated that church planting is the making of disciples who make disciples. From that increase of disciples comes new communities of gathering: churches. Jesus sent us to make disciples; He didn’t say “go and make churches of all people.” Churches are a result of disciple making. Maybe this seems like a bit of a chicken-or-egg conversation. Does it really matter which came first? 

We think it does.  

It all comes down to fruit. Which is the intended fruit of the Gospel: an organization, or the disciple who is committed to the work of the Spirit in transforming them to reflect God’s love and character into the world and make more disciples? This is the outworking of discipleship. Thus, the clarification from Hirsch: “Plant the Gospel, not churches.”  

Measuring by this metric also shapes the dynamic of how we view success and failure. If the Church, beyond the period of the Epistles and Letters, were to view success and failure the same way we do now, mass discouragement would have probably wiped out the establishing of new faith communities. Paul and others planted churches in communities throughout the diaspora that are no longer in place. Does that mean those planters, those churches, failed? 

What if instead we would ask, “where do we see ongoing evidence of the Gospel planted in Ephesus, in Europe, in my city?” We could point out evidence of the Story of God and His people, of Jesus as the Son of God who ushered in God’s kingdom dynamic, of people pursuing lives as God’s image bearers and ambassadors, as being still active and present. Thus the Gospel was successfully planted. Even if the number of believers in a specific location have diminished, they are the fruit of the seed long-ago planted, nurtured and going through life cycles.  

How we measure, or by what metric we use to deem success or failure, will vary greatly on what we determine the goal is. If the evidence of a successful church plant is ownership of a building, the number of folk engaged with the ministry of that church, and financial stability, then it is a natural progression to see the decline of people, funds and ability to hold on to a building as a “failed” church plant. 

But if the metric is planting the Gospel, then a plant dying to the ground and scattering seeds with the Gospel DNA embedded would still be success. People came to faith in Christ, grew and flourished in a particular community and then scattered to plant Gospel wherever they find themselves. Thus the church plant is a successful Gospel Plant! 

In our world today and even in our own church communities, we are experiencing a decline in church attendance, and some churches have just aged out. But does that make them failures? Can we celebrate with what has been planted and scattered even if the particular location of gathering is no longer on the geographical map? 

Isaiah’s beautiful recounting of God’s words in chapter 55 reminds us of the invitation for people to come to the well of God’s goodness: “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” 

A no-longer-gathering worship location does not return void. There is seed that has been and is still being scattered. It has accomplished far more than we understand with our human limitations. Perhaps we see closed churches as fails because we have been planting churches, when we were meant all along to plant seeds of the Gospel in our gathering and our scattering. Perhaps we view this as just a nuance of the same thing, but what if it isn’t? 

Can we ask ourselves these, and questions like them, without feeling like we’ve somehow failed? I don’t think we have failed. I think we may need to simply, in a variety of ways, realign ourselves with the reality that any planting at all is “…for the Lord’s renown, for an everlasting sign, which will not be destroyed.” 

A Most Reluctant Conversation

By Cailey Morgan

Over the holidays I had a chance to watch The Most Reluctant Convert, a film highlighting the winding path that led CS Lewis to Christ over the first 30 years of his life. 

The movie, based on true life events and writings, leads us through Lewis’ sometimes-active and sometimes-passive resistance to the idea and reality of God, and under it all we see God’s patient, loving pursuit of his child. 

Nicholas Ralph as young CS Lewis in The Most Reluctant Convert. Credit: cslewismovie.com
Nicholas Ralph as young CS Lewis in The Most Reluctant Convert. Credit: cslewismovie.com

For Lewis to come to a place of calling Jesus Saviour and Lord, he needed to be “converted” in both mind and heart. Intellectually, he worked through all the scenarios and concluded that there must be a god: he became a (reluctant) theist based on reasoning and logic. But it takes more than scholarly wrestling to become a whole-person-disciple.  

In our text-message philosophizing after watching The Most Reluctant Convert, my mom Sherry Bennett put it this way: “clearly Lewis’ decision to follow was a result of the Spirit and not just his pursuit of knowledge. Understanding came from the Spirit. And from Spirit-led understanding came a depth of call and commitment. If God is real, we can’t just decide that he is somewhat important, but that he is of utmost importance and we must obey.” Lewis moved from a theist to a disciple of Christ as he not only began to find answers in Scripture to feed his mind, but also discovered Jesus the person who quenched his thirsty heart and spurred him on to a new way of living. 

This film was especially poignant for me as I thought about a mentor of mine who had first experienced Christ through Lewis’ book Mere Christianity. But it brought up a question for me as well. If CS Lewis hadn’t lost his mother at a young age, or served in World War I, would he have written that book? Would my friend have come to know Jesus and become an important figure in my development as a young Christian leader?  

I don’t recommend “what-if” rabbit trails as they rarely take us anywhere good. But this one did. It reminded me that God’s love is pursuing us in so many ways, and it inspired me to want to be part of that journey for those around me. Do my everyday decisions, words, and attitudes provide a chance for people to experience Christ? Are we living in such a way as to give people a taste of God’s love? 

“I take literally the statement in the Gospel of John that God loves the world. I believe that the world was created and approved by love, that it subsists, coheres, and endures by love, and that, insofar as it is redeemable, it can be redeemed only by love. I believe that divine love, incarnate and indwelling in the world, summons the world always toward wholeness, which ultimately is reconciliation and atonement with God.” Wendell Berry, Another Turn of the Crank  

To borrow a Shannon-ism, the Gospel is thick enough to reach each of us where we are at, even as different parts of us are converted at different stages for different people. Similarly, Mom reminded me of John 1 and the calling of various disciples to Jesus: “John pointed out the Messiah to Andrew and he followed. Then Andrew got his brother Simon, who then also followed. But interestingly, the next disciple to follow was Philip—but it was Jesus who went and found/pursued him! And then He went to Nathanael who was skeptical. He needed a direct, tangible encounter with Jesus and proof to follow.” 

Perhaps it is a deep discussion with a friend that enlightens the mind or seeing the selfless action of a stranger that touches the heart. Perhaps the Spirit speaks without another soul around—through a dream or a song or the beauty of Creation.  

For Lewis, many of the big steps on his journey had to do with people he respected who were open about their Christian faith. Because there is a film about his life, we get the joy of experiencing those moments in hindsight, whereas in our day-to-day, we don’t often get to see the mental wrestlings or inner journeys of our friends, family, or neighbours. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t making a difference. 

I didn’t make any New Year’s resolutions this year, but CS Lewis, the apostle John, Wendell Berry, and my mom have helped rekindle a desire to join God, through a life of love, in “summoning the world always toward wholeness.” 

And this is my hope for you this year: to follow the Spirit into a life of God-indwelled grace and boldness, deeply rooted in prayer for the other. A life bearing the Fruit of the Spirit in you and those around you. 

Even if they never make a movie about it. 

Joining God in His Work: Reconciliation

By: Rev. Shannon Youell

“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one spirit.”  Ephesians 2:14-18 

Like most I am weary of the increasing divisiveness in our society.  And I am saddened that Jesus followers seem just as susceptible to falling into polarities as the rest of our culture. It hurts me.  It hurts us.  Equally important, it hurts our witness of ‘joining God at work’ in his mission in the world. We preach and posture God’s love towards humanity, his redemption through the submission of Christ and his invitation to follow Christ and to join him in his work of reconciliation and restoration of humans to God and to one another.  

Joining God at work is a phrase often used to describe a posture of participation in his mission. The question we must always be attentive to is what is God doing in that work? The overarching answer is his kingdom has broken into the earthly realm to facilitate his shalom in the human experience through the birth, life, and death of God’s Son. We often simply call it Good News – Gospel. 

Of course, this inbreaking work didn’t stop at Jesus – we are each called to be God’s ministers of reconciliation as a priesthood of all believers. We should not attempt to minister in this alone. God invites us into the work where he is already present and we must take the time to be attentive to him and to what he is doing in that space. 

Reconciliation is a key word in our understanding of the Gospel. Paul reminds us that believers are to be ministering reconciliation – participating in the reunification of people who have been separated by some means, whether political, religious, societal, racial, or behavioral, through the grace, mercy, love, and salvation of God extended through Christ. While the foremost aspect of that reconciliatory work is between God and humans, it extends from there to reconciliation between humans and one another and reconciliation with all of God’s creation. Reconciliation in all three aspects facilitates God’s kingdom of his Shalom. It breaks down the barriers that divide which Paul speaks of in his letters for the purpose of unifying the (two) divisions and making peace – Shalom.  It opens up space to foster healing, forgiveness, redemption.  

Reconciliation (originally named Reunion) is a sculpture by Josefina de Vasconcellos.

Theology professor and pastor David Fitch, in his book Faithful Presence, writes on reconciliation, emphasizing that in times of division the posture Christ invites us to take is one of mutual submission. Engaging conflicts with any other posture perpetuates the us/them divide; the I’m right/you’re wrong divide. Coming together in a posture of mutual submission – submitting to listen and hear one another – allows the Spirit of God, who is present, to guide us to love, grace and mercy towards one another and towards God’s kingdom breaking in.  

When I spend time with others each of us have different ways of viewing the world and those views are not only shaped by ‘those who believe’ and those who are ‘not-yet-believers’. I have found that when I back off the argument aspect of different opinions, (even though I can personally thrive on those hearty discussions!), and am attentive to discovering how my neighbour thinks, then I am more aware of how they came to a particular conclusion.  

It opens up space for a deeper kind of conversation and makes me aware, if I am attentive, of not forging ahead for God, but rather recognizing that God is already at work and I am joining with God as he enacts his Gospel in the hearts of each of us.

Thrust into Darkness

By: Shannon Youell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Tell me about this Jesus character!”

By Shannon Youell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faithfully Present

By Shannon Youell

My inbox is overflowing with emails from every business, organization, missional group and thinker around our changed pace during the current world crisis we have found ourselves in. Each one has methods and helpful guidelines on how we will make it through this by working together and thoughts about where opportunities lie in potentially changing how we work, live, play and pray. 

makenna-entrikin-jGa-cemaKJU-unsplash.jpg

I’ve heard people saying the church will never be the same and others saying here are the five (or seven or twelve) things to do to grow your church during this time through online presence. Where some are lamenting, others are seeing potential and opportunity to tell the Jesus storyall good things to be considering. 

Yet, from the beginning, I have been praying for God’s discernment to see what He is doing in the midst of this. Rather than being fearful, or making plans to ‘grow’ a Sunday gathering, I’ve been very aware of God’s presence and work in the neighbourhoods around us. I live on a steep mountain road that I punish myself by walking down regularly (the punishment is never the going down part….). I usually pray, think, reflect while on these walks, at the same time as observing the neighbourhoods that branch off this road where many new subdivisions have gone in over the last 10 years. I rarely, and I mean rarely, encounter another human on these walks (unless they are in cars passing me by). No neighbours chatting over driveways and, amazingly, no children playing in the cul de sacs and roads. Lately that has changed dramatically.  

People are out and about. Children are riding bikes or playing hockey with siblings and parents on the driveways. People are walking more and so I get to have safedistanced conversations with those who have been nameless and faceless people in my community. What I have seen is life erupting out of the desert of houses with empty faces staring out at the world. There is life in the neighbourhoods and people are discovering it, perhaps for the first time for some in the current consume/produce culture we are all enslaved to.  

The Gospel has always been about relationships, with God, with self, with others and neighbours. Here, in this time, is the opportunity to actually build some of those relationships, to discover there is indeed life in the neighbourhood, that God is present and working in neighbourhoods. The question, then, is how do I, how do you, lean into being faithfully present there as well. Here, I ponder, are where we can find the opportunities for the church to grow – growing into the places where there is not always access to building relationships that can lead to sharing life, faith, hope, lament, grief and joy together.  

Here are a couple of blog articles, both by David Fitch, as he muses on the same things:

There are some interesting ideas of things he and his family have been doing in their neighbourhood at this time. One warning, the first was written prior to the total safe-distancing orders. Keep in mind, as you will see in the second blog, that he is not advocating gathering in homes whilst ignoring the order.  

 

Speaking a Different Language

By Shannon Youell

Sitting at the beach and staring at the waves, caught up in the rhythms of the immense forces that push and pull, I found myself in a pensive mood.

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I had earlier passed a church sign that read: “Wondering how you can be saved? Believe in the Lord Jesus and be saved!” Traffic was stopped at that point and I stared at that sign, turning the words around in my mind until traffic began to flow again.

Watching the waves, I pondered that sign. Who in our North American context is actually asking themselves how to be saved? Who would even know what it meant to believe in Lord Jesus? The answer of course, would be people who had some sort of assumed knowledge of the God of the Bible, of Jesus as Savior and Lord. The sign makes sense to those folk even if they are disinterested, disengaged or done with church and religion.

But what of our increasingly secularized culture? We now have men, women and children who have no context to place that into. To them the sign is meaningless, and when stopped in traffic and reading that sign, would only give it a cursory glance as it is in a foreign language.

The unchurched people I hang around with and know are rarely asking themselves that question.  They don’t see themselves as needing saving, and indeed, they don’t see themselves as sinners.

For all intents and purposes, these friends of mine are the “Nones“.  They have no historical or cultural memory of the Christian religion and do not consider themselves religiously affiliated at all.

Which brings me to the tension I see in that church sign. How can I talk about God, Jesus and gospel to people who have no context or even belief in a God who actually cares about the world?  To many, our assumed ways of talking about the gospel are like a foreign language.
 
“Could you tell a gospel story in a way that resonates with the nones? 
What would it sound like? 
What does re-imagining the Gospel sound like? 
(I’m not suggesting re-inventing, I’m curious about re-telling.)”  Rohadi 

Rohadi, a young pastor in Calgary Alberta, expounds on this further in his blog on telling the gospel story without using church language, here.

Which brings us to our Engaging Gospel Series. The series is shaped to help us re-shape our language and find multiple entry points to engage the Nones and Dones in our lives and neighbourhoods.  We learn the language of the day so we might engage in conversation that can open doors to journeying with folk towards God, the cross and then to the understanding of how we can be saved in the midst of the brokenness of the world we live in.

The Engaging Gospel Series is a good place to start in your churches and your small groups, to learn a “new” language to help us tell this wonderful story to the culture of our day.  This is what missionaries do and have always done: learn the language and the culture of the people with whom they wish share God’s Big Story.