Post-Christendom and Bivocational Ministry

By Scott Hagley

Post-Christendom Ministry

Standing in the middle of a field in Burnaby, British Columbia, I could not help but smile. Hundreds of people from our neighborhood—new immigrants, families, elderly, young professionals— streamed into a park for the second annual “Inclusion Festival.” A youth band from a local music school played on a stage and a Peruvian dance troupe was the next act. Across the field, children worked on art projects, waited in line to jump in an inflatable castle, played games with the city parks staff, and tested their soccer skills against some coaches from a local camp. Increasingly, this is what pastoral ministry looks like in North America: finding a way to be present in the middle of one’s neighborhood in love and hope.

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The Inclusion Festival grew from the vision of a refugee claimant named Sofia. A married mother of two from Peru, she found government-sponsored housing in my neighborhood and began to make herself a vital part of the community. Occasionally, Sofia came to church functions. After a bullying incident in her daughter’s school, Sofia decided that our neighborhood needed a public event focused on the message of inclusion, hospitality, and acceptance.

The surprising success of the first Inclusion Festival drew public attention. City officials approached Sofia and offered a grant to establish the Inclusion Festival annually, with one catch: she needed to find a registered nonprofit to receive the funds and claim responsibility. Suddenly our church became the sponsoring organization for a community event that we did not plan or initiate, and one run by a non-member whose status in the country remained (at that time) uncertain. It was a mess. I like to lead. I have experience running and planning such events. But instead of leading, I found myself in a supportive role alongside Sofia.

She pulled together neighbors and created an experience that we (the church) could not. She blessed the neighborhood. And so did we . . . by supporting her. This, at least in part, is what post-Christendom ministry looks like.

Decline of Christianity in North America

We are all aware of surveys that report ambivalence toward religion generally and declining interest in Christianity specifically across North America. American Grace, by Robert Putnam and David Campbell, reports the rise of those claiming “none” for religious affiliation, while Christian Smith (Soul Searching) describes the Christian commitment of our young people as “moral therapeutic deism.” Sociology aside, we all likely know of a congregation that has closed, a church plant that has failed, or a church building turned into a beer hall. Post-Christendom describes (albeit imperfectly) this reality.

The Christian church in North America has lost significant power and influence. The fairly recent interest in “bivocational” ministry emerges as one solution. The reasoning usually follows: congregations have less money available for ministry staff and less energy for fundraising; congregations will survive if they have more financial flexibility; therefore we need pastors who are not solely dependent upon the church for income. It argues for bi-vocational ministry as a strategic element for congregational survival. But that argument misses the opportunity that bi-vocational ministry places within the congregation.

The North American church is not the only casualty of changing cultural meanings and social upheaval. Since (at least) the 1980s, observers have prophesied the loss of public life in America—declining civil society institutions, voluntarism, and civic practices crucial for democracy. We face a slate of social problems that seem intractable. Institutions as basic as government, school, law, and family are in various stages of upheaval. As Barbara Kellerman suggests, we seem to be facing a crisis in leadership (The End of Leadership); we have lost a collective faith not only in the pastoral leader, but also authorities in general. We must not lose sight of the fact that our congregational malaise participates in a broader cultural uncertainty.

Bi-vocational Ministry as an Opportunity

Here bi-vocational ministry becomes a Spirit-given opportunity for the church to discover the shape of mission and ministry in our dynamic era. Recently John McKnight and Peter Block have made the principles of Asset Based Community Development practically accessible in their book The Abundant Community. McKnight and Block suggest a gift-based localism, arguing that we will not build community and social trust/capital by consulting experts to solve societal problems. Rather, we will address a variety of social ills by focusing on the gifts already present in a neighborhood in order to cultivate local communities of shared gifts. Cities across North America have begun experimenting with this thesis.

The cry for abundant communities invites us to reconsider the ways that pastoral ministry might be gifted to the broader community. Bi-vocational ministry presents a distinct adaptive challenge to the church. It invites us to think more publicly about pastoral ministry, to imagine different possibilities for sharing life and funds. It is not simply “tentmaking” for the sake of making ends meet, but rather the practice of ministry for the well-being of the neighborhood.

Sofia’s invitation did not fit within the usual bounds of pastoral leadership. Her event was not one organized by the church, it did not promise to grow the church as “outreach,” and Sofia was not a member or in frequent attendance at the church. My work with the Inclusion Festival gave me the opportunity to be present in and with my neighborhood in an entirely different way. Consequently, our church community received an opportunity to participate in the sharing of gifts—Sofia’s vision, our volunteer base, city funds, a host of neighborhood organizations, and the sharing of a collective and public neighborhood event.

In a place described by several polls as Canada’s loneliest city, such an event and the sharing of such gifts certainly reflects some of God’s trustworthy character and work in the world. Perhaps, just perhaps, so-called bivocational ministry provides the push that we need to live in and with our neighborhoods in such a way that folks like Sofia and the gifts of our neighbors might be given fresh expression in the name and hope of Christ.

Dr. Scott Hagley is assistant professor of missiology at Pittsburgh Seminary and also works with the Seminary’s Church Planting Initiative and teaches in the MDiv Church Planting Emphasis program as well as the new Church Planting and Revitalization certificate program. He previously served as director of education at Forge Canada in Surrey, British Columbia, where he worked to develop curriculum for the formation of missional leaders in hubs across Canada.

This article first appeared on the Seminary’s blog. The Seminary offers multiple programs for those interesting in church planting including the Graduate Certificate in Church Planting and Revitalization, Master of Divinity with Church Planting Emphasis, and the Church Planting Initiative. Learn more about these programs online.

Book Review: Prodigal Christianity

Review by Kathy Cheveldayoff of David Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw’s Prodigal Christianity: 10 Signposts into the Missional Frontier (Jossey-Bass, 2013).4603052529_5dc6265d6b_b

For me, this book report has been a difficult, painful exercise because:

  1. I have been tried in the fires of persecution for my faith numbers of times.
  2. I have lived through the 20-something-year cycles which the church goes through (Ecclesiastes 1:9: nothing new under the sun.)
  3. I have come to this book to perhaps finally find answers about engaging the post-Christian world. I have been disappointed.

My Christian faith has been tried and tempered by a number of precepts:

  1. God’s Word is the truth.
  2. Faith needs this truth foundation to flourish.
  3. There cannot be any relativism in Scriptural interpretation.
  4. Contextualizing from culture to Scripture will, in the long run, create a watered-down version of the Gospel.
  5. We can’t fix anything. Only God can.
  6. God’s message is spoken through believers using all the gifts, or not (see Romans 1 on Creation speaking God’s message.)

Therefore: The Gospel of Jesus Christ must be allowed to be the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We cannot fall for the utopian agenda because Jesus comes to minister exactly where life is the darkest. I have seen this so many times in ministry amongst the marginalized and persecuted unto death. The circumstances may not change but the capacity to stay the course in spite of circumstances is what Jesus Christ brings to the table.

So, yes there is pluralism, and yes there is diversity. There always has been. Jesus Christ experienced it many times as well as the apostles in their witness. Jesus spoke truth, lived truth, and ministered truth amongst the people groups He encountered. And everywhere He went He brought hope and healing. That is why His message was believed and why the faith exploded.

We cannot be like those Paul warns about in 2 Timothy 3:5  who, having a form of godliness, rejected the power thereof. Case in point: many Muslims are coming to Christ solely through experiencing God’s power through dreams, visions and actual healing and with nary a believing Christian in sight. Fitch and Holsclaw’s book should have talked about this aspect of the faith as this is what secures the heart of the unconverted.

So, no, this book did not really answer my question but it did give me an idea that really, over the millennia, we have been on target and we will continue to do so, as we are coerced by the Holy Spirit to dive into the river of God, experience His radical love  and  then share it with our neighbour.

Do you agree with this assessment? What did you find helpful in this review? What would you add to the conversation? To offer your feedback or to learn more about how you can read and review a book for us, email Cailey at cmorgan@cbwc.ca.

Three Elements of Church Revitalization

By Shannon Youell

I am often asked to talk about “church renewal.” As with many titles or terminologies, this term can be so ambiguous that the meanings are multiple.Recently I was asked with two of my colleagues to do a workshop on Renewal in the Church. The understanding we had of this came out of three areas that had impacted how we think about church and the activities and missions surrounding it.

The first was around context. Where a particular church community is situated can change the dynamics of our lives as both gathered and scattered bodies. Mark Doerksen shared about one of the Heartland churches situated in the heart of farmland. How that church approaches engaging their community can look quite different than an urban church or even an urban church in an economically-depressed area of the city would.

The second was around culture. CBWC world traveler Shelby Gregg shared with us an interesting observation she made while exploring the city of Lisbon in Portugal. She noted that the town itself was a series of concentric circles that formed around church buildings. The church was the focal point of the community development plan because at the time, church was a dominant cultural place of community gatherings. In our post-modern culture here in North America, that is not often the case anymore. Especially in urban centers, the centrality of a church building and the activities found within are no longer the focus of social structures.

I took the group on a story-walk around the neighbourhood and the community around it. Participants in the workshop mapped their own place, some mapping the neighbourhood they lived in, while others did their workplace or church location neighbourhoods. neighbours CC pnwra The purpose of this exercise is to raise awareness in us that we all live and work and shop in the mission field. This is the third area: We are the renewal in our churches. As we share our lives in relationship with those we are surrounded by in our everyday lives, people introduced to living life the Jesus way, and we ourselves find new wonder and joy in seeing how Jesus works in mysterious and amazing ways through us to bring his redeeming, reconciling, restorative hope right here in our neighbourhoods!

Often, we think of renewal in the church as internal changes to programs, to music selections, to small groups. We should continue to reflect on these elements of our culture and context, but systems theory tells us that if we want to change something, changing the system is the wrong way to do it. Systems effectively change when we change our thinking about the things we do. Imposing changes on a system just changes how we approach a particular task, not why we do it in the first place. That was a part of our task at the workshop – to stir up the whys of what we are doing and how effective or ineffective those things may be in differing contexts, cultures and generations. If the why of what we do is to see the kingdom of God advance, then everything we do as gathered and as scattered should reflect that. And since the church is no longer the central community hub in many of our contexts, we will need to rethink how we meet and be salt and light to the world God so loves.

Over the next several blogging articles, I will be sharing with you stories of our CBWC family who are hearing God’s leading into their neighbourhoods and creative ways they are connecting with people beyond their Sunday service gatherings. I would love to hear from you out there in the blog reading galaxy with your stories too! Contact me at syouell@cbwc.ca so we can chat and share with our tribe how you’ve discovered connecting within your context and culture to those where you live, work, play, and pray!

Shannon Youell
CBWC Church Planting Coordinator