Community Engagement

I love stories! I love to tell them (and I always seem to have one, much to the eye-rolling of some who graciously wait for the point of a discussion while I tell it); but I equally love to hear them. I love to hear the ways God is working through people and communities and neighbourhoods all through the CBWC. Stories inspire me, bring me to raucous laughter and tears of compassion, empathy and delight. I remember stories because I’ve connected with them. This month we are featuring some of the stories we’ve been hearing that have inspired us and others. Hopefully they will inspire you as well and cause you to celebrate along with us how God uses ordinary people in ordinary places in extraordinary ways as we join Him on His mission.

Our first story comes from Victoria, BC, and we highlight it as it demonstrates what can happen when we take the time to invest in what is important to those who live, work and play in the communities beyond our church spaces and join them. Our modernist approach has mainly concentrated on inviting people to come see what is important to us, yet—as the story shows—when we engage in what is important to others, relational trust is established and doors are opened for engaging together. ~ Shannon Youell

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David Dawson & fire Chaplain Ken Gill

Community Engagement
by Pastor David Dawson, Emmanuel Baptist Church, Victoria BC

Often, church members do not live in the immediate neighbourhood of their church building. At Emmanuel Baptist in Victoria, people travel from many locations to attend church services and events. Yet when a church is grounded to a particular location through a building, it is important for the church to be connected to the more immediate community. This responsibility often falls upon church staff and the volunteers.

At Emmanuel we have a long history of reaching out to students because we are located near the University of Victoria. More recently, we have been making more of an effort to connect with our neighbourhood and municipality. In the last few years a couple of doors opened for us through the use of our building.

In connection with the Oak Bay fire chaplain ,who attends the Peninsula Mission Church, we have been able to host a couple of appreciation dinners for local police and fire personnel. We have used our building and hospitality skills to bless our emergency personnel with a first-class banquet. This has also allowed us to connect with our mayor and council, who attend these banquets as well.

Another door was opened for us as local neighbourhood groups have asked to host events at our church building. These town hall meetings on such things as urban development and emergency planning have been ways in which I, as lead pastor, have been able to meet people in our community.

On one such occasion, we were planning to host an event which had to be cancelled on short notice because of a power outage. A few people from the immediate neighbourhood still came out to the event and hung around for conversation. Out of this conversation, a local neighbourhood association was born and Emmanuel was able to support this group through printing their newsletter and offering free space to hold meetings and luncheons. Through these connections some of our neighbours have even begun to volunteer time gardening and helping with our student dinners.

It is been a pleasure to build relationships with those in the church’s immediate neighbourhood. We have been able to create positive connections through providing rooms, a few pots of soup and the use of our photocopier.

In an age where community members are not making it a strong priority to attend church, we have found a way to make connections through simple involvement in community activities. We hope that God will use our physical assets to build friendships and help us to create a good reputation in our community.

Missional Mindset in Everyday Spaces

By Cailey Morgan

While our homes and neighbourhoods should be seen as perhaps our primary mission field, we cannot forget the large amount of time that many of us spend away from home: at work, or in shared public spaces.

Second Place: Vocation
At first glance, there’s nothing epic about your workspace or office lunchroom. Forty hours a week standing behind your customer service counter or at the front of your classroom may not seem like the exhilarating adventure of a missionary. But it can be. God has put us where we are for a reason: to be His hands bringing kindness and mercy and His voice proclaiming justice and love.

“Theologically speaking, our vocation is not about economic exchange. It is not about making more money, or achieving the American dream. It is about contributing to and participating in God’s mission” (Tom Nelson, Work Matters).

As with anytime we want to join God in His good work, prayer is the ultimate tool for us to grow as missionaries in our workplaces. Here are a 3 simple practices to try:

  • The List: Write down 10 people you regularly interact with in the course of your workday (including those you may not like that much). Each day for a month, pray for a different person on this list. Ask God to give you His heart for that person, and ask Him what your role is in that person’s journey this month. Write down these conversations with God, and make sure to follow through on what He asks of you.
  • Constant Awareness: Choose a short phrase to repeat to God throughout the day as you engage various people and situations. It could be a question: “where are You at work here?” a declaration of intent: “I will speak the truth in love,” a statement about God: “the Lord is gracious and compassionate to all He has made!”  or a request: “Holy Spirit, please help me listen well to You and to others.”
  • Share It: Personally, I find that praying with others makes me more consistent and focused in my conversations with the Father. Ask a mentor, someone in your small group, or your spouse, to pray with you regularly for those in your workplace. There’s nothing better than the joy of sharing an answered prayer with a friend!

Third Place: Informal public spaces
In his book The Great Good Place, Ray Oldenburg explains that informal public places where interpersonal ministry can flourish (also known as third spaces) have been minimized in our culture because urban sprawl, automobile culture, and home entertainment changed who we are and how we get our needs met. However, the trendy nature of coffeeshop culture and the emphasis on exercise for health in our society has provided some renewed opportunities to simply hang out and meet people!

Here are some of the benefits of third places, that should make us want to be intentional about spending our time there:

  • Third spaces are neutral ground—there’s not usually a single host.
  • They often act as a social leveler where all kinds of people can be found in the same place.
  • Conversation is often the main activity.

Think about your life. Do you have third places, like a coffee shop, park, gym or even grocery store that you frequent? If not, your first step is to consider why not, and one way you could alter your life routine to include regular times at a location like this.

If you do have regular third places in your life, have you considered the implications of your time there? What is your purpose? Can you add the goal of living incarnationally as Jesus did into these spaces? What hope can you bring? Where is there darkness that you can bring light? Who in those places needs to be listened to? Needs to hear your God-story?

Glow lightbulb

If we really are called to be salt—bringing preservation and drawing out the good aromas around us—and light—casting out the darkness and pointing to the hope of Jesus—then we need to get serious about seeing our every movement and moment in our lives’ routines as opportunities to live for the sake of others.

I pray that as we listen to God and to those around us, that He will guide each of you into His crucial and beautiful mission in the places you live, work, learn and play.

This is the final article in a series. Read the other posts here:

  1. Why, Oh Why?
  2. The Missionary Nature of God and His Church
  3. Incarnational Presence
  4. Space to be Truly Present
  5. Missional Margin
  6. Second and Third Spaces

Incarnational Presence

By Cailey Morgan

In my previous article, “The Missionary Nature of God and His Church,” I mentioned that there are several paradigm shifts or renewed ways of thinking that we as the Church in Canada should consider if we want to reawaken ourselves to God’s call to mission.

One such shift in paradigm is to consider how Jesus’ words in Matthew 28: “go and make Disciples” may actually mean “stay and make disciples.” As much as international missionaries are sent to delve deeply into the culture and day-to-day life of the place they are called to, Jesus sends us out our front doors and invites us to delve deeply with the culture and day-to-day life of our neighbours, coworkers, and the other parents on the elementary school Advisory Council.

STAY sign CCSA Glenn G

Proximity and Presence
Most of my musings here are inspired from a workshop on Missional Essentials by Brad Brisco. He’s done his homework on these issues, and reminds us that Scripture is full of examples and exhortations for God’s “gathered and scattered” people to be sent into really ordinary, everyday places. Our primary example, of course, is Christ Himself.

In John 20:21, Jesus says, “just as the Father sent Me, I am sending you.” If we are sent just as Jesus was sent, we should look at how and to whom Jesus was sent in order to establish how we also are sent. His sending from the Father was to be among us. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). Read the gospels to see how the ins-and-outs of daily life were Jesus’ platform for most of His ministry and teachings. This kind of presence, this kind of among-ness, exemplifies the humility and other-mindedness we are to have as we engage our neighbours (consider Christ’s nature of humble service as described in Philippians 2:5-8). He dwelt among, and emptied Himself for, those who needed to receive the hope He offers.

Darrell Guder puts it this way:

In the incarnation of Jesus, God revealed Himself as the one who is with and for His creation. Now, as the Risen Lord sends His Spirit to empower the church, we are called to become God’s people present in the world, with and for the world.

Our posture must change from doing ministry to, or even ministry for, to ministry with. With is a much closer, much more patient, even much more intimate way of gospelling. But to be with, we must address the barriers that are keeping us apart from our culture and our neighbours.

Advocate or Adversary?
For many reasons far beyond the socio-political understanding in my tiny mind, the Christian Church is often seen as the adversary in our culture. We say “no” a lot. We sometimes come across as judgmental. We like to put boxes around behaviour. And—as all humans naturally do—we tend to hang out with people who like us and are like us.

But what Jesus exemplified for us, what the Holy Spirit does daily for us, is not adversary but advocacy. The Holy Spirit is called the Advocate because He is for us and with us to offer His strength. And we have been called to follow in this posture of advocating for others rather than being about our own agendas.

An interesting example of this incarnational advocacy can be found in Jeremiah 29:4-7. God sends (Yes, sends. There it is again!) His people into Babylonian captivity. They hate Babylon and want to go home. It’s not comfortable, and besides, how can they worship God in such a heathen place? But what does God say? Settle down and make a garden! Embed yourself in the community. You’ll be here long enough to have kids and for your kids to have kids. Seek and pray for the prosperity of the place.

This 70-year exile was a slow but deliberate way for the Israelites to fulfill their original mandate from God to Abraham: be a blessing to all nations. And God is calling us to the same life today: to open our eyes to the people around us in whatever circumstance we find ourselves. To hitch our wagon to our neighbours. To seek the prosperity and peace of the places we live.

As Brad Brisco explains, “The way the Kingdom takes root in the lives of people, and ultimately changes a city, is by exiles living normal everyday lives as citizens of the King in every neighbourhood and public place that makes up a city.”

What does it practically look like in the whirlwind of 21st-century North American life to daily seek the prosperity and peace of our communities? How do we expand our imaginations and truly understand our dual citizenship as not only Canadians but children of the King? What if I don’t know my neighbours yet? These are the questions I’ll wrestle with in my next article.

If you’d rather hear from Brisco on these topics, check out Missional Essentials, a brilliant and down-to-earth 12-week curriculum to help your small groups or leadership team explore these and several other biblical directives.

This is the third article in a series. Read the other posts here:

  1. Why, Oh Why?
  2. The Missionary Nature of God and His Church

  3. Incarnational Presence
  4. Space to be Truly Present
  5. Missional Margin
  6. Missional Mindset in Everyday Spaces

Why, Oh Why?

By Cailey Morgan

Have you ever researched the meaning of life? I recently asked Siri about that very topic, and her response was “chocolate.” Thanks Apple.

Why? CCSA Katie Sayer

Our church, as a Body—God’s people in a place—needs to be asking these kinds of questions. Why are we here? How do we view the church in the context of the world? What is the church’s purpose? Why does our local congregation exist? These are questions not so quickly solved by a conversation with an iPhone.

Perhaps your mind runs to the weekly church service, the sending of international missionaries, the provision of tradition around cultural milestones such as Christmas, weddings and funerals. Perhaps home groups, visiting the sick, potlucks, and youth programs round out your experience of church.

But these activities in and of themselves do not explain why God’s church exists. Each of these elements are biblical and often helpful manifestations of God’s people in the world, but they are only the how, not the why.

In some circles, there has been a backlash against traditional elements of congregational life like these. And in most cases, I agree with the prophets who are crying out “something’s missing!” But all our attempts to change the how—offering sermon podcasts, meeting in a funky warehouse, improving the coffee served during the service, or even exchanging “Sunday morning seeker-sensitivity” for grassroots missional neighbourhood outreach—will not change the reality that perhaps it is the why that we have backwards. (Although I must ask if there’s anything less pleasing to God or humanity than coffee so weak it comes out of the urn looking like tea!)

I would argue that if we are able to interpret ourselves, our world, and most importantly, our God correctly (the why), then the modus operandi (the how) will become of secondary importance. When our people are inspired by God’s good why, the how becomes a point of healthy discussion and relational depth, rather than a reason for dissension.

So What is the Why?
What is Christ calling us to? Who are we to be? I believe both these questions can be answered through prayer and the study of our context, once the primary issue—what is our purpose?—has been answered.

Brad Brisco, church planting advocate and co-author of Missional Essentials and Next Door As It Is In Heaven, points out several paradigm shifts he thinks today’s church needs to make, in view of Scripture’s description of our purpose. Here are two that I think are especially relevant for us:

  1. The Nature of God and of the Church is Missionary.
  2. The Church is to be an Incarnational Presence.

In the articles that follow in the coming weeks, I will elaborate on both paradigm shifts. My hope is that some of the traditions of your church will be validated as you see them from a new perspective, and that some parts of your congregational expression will be challenged as your why is again brought front-of-mind.

If you’d rather hear from Brad Brisco on these topics than me, check out Missional Essentials, a brilliant and down-to-earth 12-week curriculum (available in Spanish and English) to help your small groups or leadership team explore these and several other biblical directives.

This is the first article in a series. Read the other posts here:

  1. Why, Oh Why?
  2. The Missionary Nature of God and His Church

  3. Incarnational Presence
  4. Space to be Truly Present
  5. Missional Margin
  6. Missional Mindset in Everyday Spaces