Creative Restraints 

By Shannon Youell and Cailey Morgan

Cailey
My husband Kyson is a fantastic photographer. He loves to capture the vastness of the ocean at sunrise, the intensity of colour in a flower petal, and the diversity of culture and personality in our community. During Lent, he took weekly prayer-photo-walks around the neighbourhood. For two of those weeks, he set his camera to only shoot in a 1:1 square ratio, in black and white, with a 35mm prime lens. No zoom. No colour. No cropping. 

These creative restraints forced Kyson to see the street that we’ve lived on for 6 years in a whole new light.

He found beauty, symmetry and life in places that had seemed barren at first glance. And the bright, shiny characters that usually drew his attention lost some of their luster when seen through the equalizing glass of the black and white viewfinder. By narrowing his field of view, he broadened his perspective.

My hope for each of usand for each of our churchesis that the creative restraint of a social-distancing world will help us broaden our vision of what church is meant to be, and what that means explicitly for me and you and the Body of Christ right now in our specific ministry contexts.  

What is God inviting your congregation into, in this very moment, in your tiny piece of the planet?  

This is a question we should consistently be asking, whether we are gathered face-to-face in our communities or making eye contact with our webcams as we practice discipleship over Zoom 

Shannon
A few weeks ago in a commentary in my city’s newspaper, a Bishop from the U.K was reflecting upon his hope that this time in our world of needing to stay home and socially distance from one another is a good time to rediscover things in our lives that we’ve ignored or disregarded due to the pace of life and expectations of that paceAs best as I can recall he said we can all reflect on “being who we’re really meant to be because the other things that have captured our attention aren’t available to us right now. 

I wonder how often, as followers of Jesus, we take the time to examine if we are living, acting, demonstrating and communicating who we’re really meant to be in every arena we are present in. We are so conditioned by the culture around us that has shaped our worldview, that we often reflect the same biases, judgments, and perspectives as all those other things that capture our attention–at the great cost of looking more like ourselves and less like those who love God with everything we are and love others likewise.   

Perhaps this is a just the time to reflect on our own motivations and desires. Do they align with the teaching of Jesus that announces the kingdom of God is among us and which we are to embody? 

As we reflect, can we rethink? Can we reframe this resurrection life we’ve been raised into with Christ, and honestly assess areas where we can imagine remissioning ourselves to be the collective light of the world Jesus call us to? This is who we were always meant to be, his witnesses, in both the demonstrating and the telling of the grand story of God’s love for us all. 

Cailey and Shannon
Over the coming weeks we will be hearing from several sources around the idea of expanding our perspectives. This may mean remissioning in an existing church, clarifying direction of a new church plant, or introspecting about the example of mission we are setting through our lives and leadership, in the midst and aftermath of this pandemic as well as in our future patterns.

We hope you’ll join us on the journey!

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. 

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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.  

 

Creating a Culture of Shared Practices

By Shannon Youell

I know, I know, when you read today’s title, some of you are already thinking we already share practices in our congregation: each week we faithfully gather together to worship, fellowship, pray for one another and hear teaching on Sunday and, often, we gather in smaller groups during the week.

Yes, we do already share these rich times together. So good! We also encourage one another, rightly so, to spend time daily with God in prayer, meditation, scripture reading, confession and reflection for our own personal growth when we are not together. 

Yet, we believe there is a thicker definition of what it means to embody this kingdom life we’ve been called to. When Jesus talks about the kingdom of God, he is always talking about a community of people who are 24/7 citizens of that kingdom participating in the practices, the devotions, and the mission of the kingdom together. And he frames it all in the midst of discipleship, something that one does not pursue individually, but rather in relationship to others. 

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Like many of our human innovations, the proliferation of published books/information has both enhanced humanity immensely and also fed into the disconnection and fragmentation of community.  There are so many amazing and wonderful devotionals, spiritual formationals, Bible studies, theological reflections and any other genre of book written, and we celebrate those and continue to encourage disciples of Jesus to pursue knowing God deeper, enriching people wherever they live, work, play and pray.   

However, partnered with our western-world philosophical adherence to individuality and self-help, and distrust of anyone telling us what to think or do, our endless Kindle reading lists can actually separate us from the ancient practices that built and sustained communities of the faithful, which made those early disciples distinguishable in the places where they were embedded and participated in the new kingdom community marked by the Jesus way. In our current reality, discipleship itself has become optional, an add-on for those who are wanting more than the service on a Sunday morning or who are viewed as more religious. 

Both Jesus and the early church demonstrated a journey of discipleship that was done within a community. Putting the idealized Acts 2 church into perspective, the people did not sit on the temple steps 24/7, forgoing work, family, civic duties and all the other components that make up humanity’s days.  I believe the point of that passage in Acts is that they were intentional to gather and be discipled together and that they were equally as intentional to continue these practices when scattered, resulting in a community that were being both shaped and influenced together.   

They were building a culture of discipleship that incorporated shared practices while scattered and that also enriched the shared practices of their gathered times. 

We like to say this is a thicker understanding of what it means to be church together because it expands what we do, say and confess as a people together into the other six and half days of our lives.  It takes our theology of what we believe and understand about God and his people to the place of praxis – what does that look like lived out? 

Dallas Willard calls nondiscipleship the elephant in the church.  He continues to say that the elephant is not the “much discussed moral failures, financial abuses, or the amazing similarity between Christians and non-Christians.” 1 Rather, nondiscipleship is the underlying problem to those failures. It’s the thing that everyone knows fills the room but nobody really talks about, especially when challenged with the part of discipleship that makes us accountable to a community of fellow disciples.   

It is much easier (and safer) to just do whatever one does by oneself.  The barrier the church finds itself up against is that we’ve done a good job of making believers but a dismal pass on making disciples who make disciples, who are on God’s mission together to bring his kingdom shalom into the world. 

The good news is that God is waking up the church to this reality! In fact, it has been the Baptist historical ethos: whenever the church became too involved in self, God stirred up his followers to look around and see what is missing from their life together.  Those who yearn to see the church become distinguishable from the rest of culture recognize that what is missing in our life together is the together part—a people who are devoted to the journey of discipleship that actually continues to transform us more and more to Christ-likeness! The together part is bigger and richer and more formational and thus tranformational, enhancing all the other wonderful rich things we do when we gather for a service.  It is about shared practices—things we do together even when we are not togetherthings we do together as we engage being on mission with God to make disciples of all peoples and then teaching them to do the same. 

In this next series of blogs, we will be sharing what we’ve learned ‘as we go’ in the rich pathway of shared practices, including stories of our own congregations as well as those of other lovers of Jesus who knew there was more to this life as church than what we have been engaging in.   

Our purpose is that all of us as people who are faithful in our lives to God’s work in the world desire to see the culture around us be infiltrated with God’s goodness and kingdom. The reality is that before we can really see that happen, we must first shift our own internal culture into that of disciples on mission with Jesus. 

Follow with us, comment, email us, and let’s share this journey of going deeper and wider together by creating a culture of shared practices. 

Update on Emmanuel Iranian

By Shannon Youell

At Assembly in May, we welcomed into membership Emmanuel Iranian Church, a church plant in North Vancouver, and as of May 4th, a second plant in Coquitlam.

On June 23rd, EIC held a service of celebration in which BCY Regional Minister Larry Schram and his wife, and myself and Cailey as the church planting team welcomed the congregation into our CBWC family of churches, and what a celebration it was and is!

The warm and embracing welcome we received as guests was incredible and we met so many lovely people that we now consider family. It was like a family reunion where we were meeting relatives from afar for the first time, and they us. Hugs and cheek kisses were abundant as the joy of the Lord active and living in the community poured out upon us.

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As we participated in vibrant and alive worship singing (in Farsi), and in prayer for the congregation and the pastor, we were aware of the presence of the Spirit and to the church’s obedience and response to both Spirit and Word. This is a community who are fully alive in Christ and hopeful in their challenges because Christ is with them.

Larry and I both spoke, with Pastor Arash interpreting.  I warmly welcomed the community to the CBWC fellowship of churches, speaking of our shared labouring in the Gospel and commending the church as they continue in our deep and rich Baptist heritage of people who join God at his work of redemption, reconciliation and restoration of God with humans, humans with one another and with all creation itself.

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Larry spoke from Colossians 1:9-14, reminding the congregation “…since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” He then encouraged and commissioned the church to the ministry of the gospel, just as they are doing and an extended time of prayer for EIC and Pastor Arash concluded the service…..or so we thought!

As the last amen was spoken, something beautiful unfolded as one by one, twelve people stepped out of their chairs and came up to the front and declared they wanted to submit to Jesus as Savior and Lord. It was incredible!  I was standing beside Elder Kam, who was taking down names for discipleship follow-up. I asked him if this happened often. “Every week,” he responded! He looked back on the last month and counted more than 25 commitments! Twenty-five new followers of Jesus, in one month. God is present and working in this place.

Talking with people after the service, we heard stories of those who felt as though God himself had plucked them up and placed them at EIC and the obvious response was following Jesus, many for the first time. We also heard stories of personal challenges of life as new Canadians and of prayers for those who are still back home in Iran. 

And the celebration continued from there. Then there was cake! And food and an exhibition by the communities artisans. More hugs, stories, photos, kisses and joy to be a part of God’s family.

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“…thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him.  For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.”

What a celebration. What a welcome. What an aroma!

Stop. Breathe. Think. Pray.

By Shannon Youell

My daughter gave me a lovely journal for my last birthday. I have kept journals for years, mostly for thoughts and notes as I read Scripture, am inspired by Scripture,  and am inspired by sermon ideas.

These journals are very messy and I decided I wanted this one to be beautiful, which means I have to take some more thoughtful time while furiously writing my inspirations!

So I started with a sticker:

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just breathe sticker

And then I expanded that thought:

  • Stop
  • Breathe
  • Think
  • Pray

Often, with life so full and busy (who else has come to despise that word–I wonder when humanity made busy such a virtue), I often find that I have done none of those things within the waking hours of my day. Well, of course I have breathed, but not the kind of breath that brings pause.

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Ministry work is daunting at best and often overwhelming when we attempt to use our strength by which to minister. Yet, if we follow the example of our Master, we find Jesus withdrawing to a quiet place, to stop, to breathe, to think, to pray. He comes away knowing He has heard and seen God for the next segment of His journey, of His day, of His hours. Jesus practiced sitting where His soul finds home and so must we. Five or ten minutes a few times throughout the day brings focus and refreshment. It brings clarity and resolve. It invites the Spirit an opportunity to speak and for us to actually hear.

Psalm 1 in my reading this morning speaks of the wisdom of delighting in the law of the Lord and meditating on it. I have always loved this Psalm (well, to be honest, I love most of them!), as it speaks to me of stopping. Of breathing. Of thinking. Of praying. It reminds me that doing this amazing work of God’s Kingdom is not for me to do alone, or you to do alone, but for us to do alongside the God-With-Us who is always present even in the mundane tasks and the daunting to-do lists.

The promise, of course, is that we will be well-watered, refreshed and bear fruit. I am learning (still and again) that when I take these pauses throughout my day, I actually find the work a joy even in the more difficult times, for I am letting my soul find its way home for a “nap.”

Here is how I am practicing this pause in my day’s labour right now:

Stop – Stop means to “arrest” or “suspend.” In the sense of this pause in our day, I would choose “Suspend”—suspend for 10 minutes everything that has been occupying my body, mind and soul. I find notifications distracting, so I switch them off both on my computer and my phone for that time. If you can, leave the environs of what you were doing. Take your work out of your visual field.

Breathe – Deep measured breathing oxygenates the brain, calms the busy-ness, and helps us to refocus. Sue Hunter, our lovely former Alberta Regional Administrator, taught us to breathe in through the nose and count to 4, and then breathe out of the mouth counting to 4. Then to 6 and then 10, until we had a slowed, thoughtful rhythmic breathing. Then replace counting with “speak Lord” as you breathe in and “I’m listening” as you breathe out. Practice this until you sense yourself aware and alert of God’s peace resting on you.

Think – I like shaping this around Philippians 4:8-9: thinking on what is true in my day; what is right in my day right now; what is pure and lovely in the midst of the busyness of the day. Peterson’s Message translation is helpful. “You’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.”

Pray – Philippians continues, “Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.” As we’ve spent time thinking and listening to the Spirit, pray those things back: gratitude for what has been realized and repentance for the realization our thoughts that day may have been ugly, unkind, disingenuous. Follow with thankfulness that God’s grace is rich and His goodness nurturing. Approach the next portion of your day by “putting into practice” these things and see God at work weaving you into His song.

As we move into our co-labouring of living out the Gospel of the kingdom of God, these pauses are equally as necessary as the tasks before us, the relationships we live in and bring nurture to, and the sharing of God’s Big Story. This is the soul-care of our own persons, which promises to give us resiliency and joy in joining God in His work in our world.

Something Happened Along the Way

By Shannon Youell

Over the winter, my home church in Victoria engaged in the 77 Days of Prayer Initiative with CBWC. As CBWC staff, I suggested the idea and promoted it. After all, we have been teaching, preaching and practicing corporate prayer for at least the last few years!

By corporate prayer I mean prayer that moves beyond petitionary prayer for needs and includes—as Grenz states it—a “cry for the kingdom,” for the whole purpose of God, church and discipleship.

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So we invited our congregation on the journey. If your congregation is anything like ours, it is populated by a diverse group of people indoctrinated on our Western worldview of individualism and self-help. We had some reluctance and even a little push back; just a few folk who didn’t want to be told what scriptures to meditate and pray into.

The reluctance, however, was that people weren’t feeling comfortable being put into a triad or quadrad group for eleven weeks. Because they don’t know each other as well as one might imagine they would, even though we all attend the same small church. Because the pastoral staff was forming the triads. Because they felt they didn’t know how to pray, or felt they didn’t hear God even when they did. Because most of them claim to be introverts. But, we have great folk who trust us, and to our delight, more than half our congregation signed up to journey with staff and leaders.

As the weeks passed and we engaged the prayer initiative together, something began to happen. The most reluctant and sometimes resistant folk began to look forward to their weekly meeting. But what caused us to dance and sing and thank God was the byproduct: discipleship started to happen. We have been working hard to become an intentional community that makes disciples who can then make disciples by sharing Jesus with others and discipling them. But it has been hard, because, well, folk are reluctant. Reluctant because discipleship in the manner in which Jesus modeled it takes commitment, and commitment takes making changes to our own personal priorities.

I will confess that for the most part, though each group read the Scripture, prayed, listened and followed the rhythm of the 77 Days of Prayer, they didn’t report too much around what they were hearing in regards to the CBWC initiative. But they did report what God was speaking to them about life together as a community of believers who are to be sent ones, co-labouring with Christ in the kingdom-of-God initiative of on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven Shalom and disciplemaking.

Dallas Willard said that “every church should be able to answer two questions: First, what is our plan for making disciples? Second, does our plan work?” Is what we are currently doing shaping disciples who live out the gospel in such way that others are drawn to them and are discipled by them?

On this blog, we will be posting several articles and some musings about the call of the church to make disciples. I’ve heard multiple leaders contend that if we make church we rarely get disciples; but if we make disciples we always get church. What do you think?

Stillwaters Counselling

Our next story comes from Summerland, BC, where church and marketplace meet to provide important care for the community. As Tracey says below, “With the changing culture in which we live, it is important to think outside of the ‘church box.'” How can your congregation think outside the box to bring hope into the lives of a new demographic in your neighbourhood? ~Cailey Morgan

Stillwaters Counselling
by Tracey Bennett

Stillwaters Counselling is a faith based counselling centre located in the heart of Summerland, BC. It was created in response to the expressed needs of individuals who resided in the local area.

After delivering a seminar on grief, a local Christian counselor identified a gap in service provision, with a particular focus on faith based counselling.

After much prayer and some initial research, Summerland Baptist Church was approached and consulted with as it was identified as one of the main active churches involved in the community. Counselling had indeed been on their agenda for a period of time, so with the vision and expressed need, a process of consultation began.

The senior pastors, deacons and church community were unanimous in their support of a faith-based counselling centre. A steering committee was formed. Prayer was core and collaboration with other agencies took place, as well as with members of the community. A successful pioneering model was taken and molded to suit the community in which the counselling centre was to be based. The steering committee discussed and formulated a business plan, identifying an empty business property on the local high street to rent. Summerland Baptist raised the core finances to fund the refurbishment of the counselling centre and created a subsidy fund to enable counselling to be accessible to all who were not covered by insurance companies or who could not financially afford it. A team of part-time master’s level counselors were recruited and a Clinical Director was appointed.

The counselling centre was advertised and launched in March 2017, and by the end of the year, many people had accessed care. The financial model was sustainable and a much needed service was being accessed by all. Christians and non-Christians were referred and self-referred by Pastors and various health care providers.

Stillwaters is an example of pioneer mission. With the changing culture in which we live, it is important to think outside of the “church box.” Using the leading of the Lord through prayer and scripture, the skill and expertise of various individuals, a low cost, self-sustaining ministry has been created.

“Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest in your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

Where We’ve Been and What’s Ahead

By Shannon Youell

As we look back on the fullness of the work we’ve been involved in this past year, Cailey, Joell and I are keenly aware that as we’ve paused to pray and discern in the 77 Days of Prayer initiative, the daily 10:02 prayer for workers of the harvest, and our several articles and resources on prayer and on neighbourhood prayer walking, God continues to be at work all around us. The challenge in all that He is doing, is for us to continue the discipline of praying and listening to where God invites us to focus and join Him in this season.

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Listening may mean a change of direction or rethinking some of the pillars we’ve been relying on, as God calls us to rely on Him more and more in our changing cultural landscape and increasing population of those who identify as having no religious affiliation whatsoever. Many who identify this way, when surveyed by researchers, report they have deep and meaningful relationships; find purpose and meaning in their life; are generally happy and fulfilled.What does this mean to us, the Church, as we attempt to engage them? How do our own ideas of “what they need” have to change? These are deeper questions to explore in prayer and discernment. God is re-igniting the desire of the Church for those who don’t know Jesus the King, so He’s preparing us as workers for the harvest, but perhaps we need to retool some of our methods as we harvest a different kind of crop.

We are excited and encouraged by where we are seeing God preparing you and me and all our congregations–His workers–for harvest. We have had more folk talk to us about missional innovations, engaging neighbourhoods, replants, new churches and revitalizing existing churches to join God on mission in 2017 than the previous three years! So we’ve been praying and waiting. Praying for God’s kingdom, God’s will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Praying for planters, pastors, lay leaders and all the local missionaries in our pews who are discerning the call of God to reimagine evangelism, church and mission. Praying for God’s wisdom and provision as our CBWC tribe partners with these works.

Will you pray? Will you pray and listen to where God is at work? There are several new churches preparing and discerning beginning something new, whether a new location, new plant or renewed vision of local missionaries. Some are brand new initiatives; others are folk who have been meeting together and desire to join our CBWC family; others are new immigrant churches as God brings believers from other nations to establish refuges of faith for new Canadians. Each of these cannot do the work on their own, nor are they meant to. As they pray and discern, we also pray and discern for provision, for trust, for God’s Kingdom to be revealed through each one.

We see in Acts and in Paul’s writings that the churches collected money to send to those churches who were struggling and those who were planting: churches supporting churches as they stepped out in the mission of sharing Jesus with the world God so loves. In John 17, Jesus prays that all of us would have that same love for the world as Jesus has for us and that God has for Jesus. Think about that! We are to love with the same generosity and sacrifice of God, who loves so much so He sent His one and only Son that none may perish and all could find the salvation of God’s Kingdom through the love of God revealed in Jesus.

As this year closes and so does our collective season of making space to pray, listen and discern, the next year opens full of the possibilities of how, then, we shall respond. How then shall the good and faithful folk in our approximately 168 churches respond to the call of the Spirit as we engage our world for Christ? One of my practices as each year closes is to take time to pray and ask God two things: Have I been faithful? And have I been obedient? Faithful means I have given, I have blessed, I have served–it’s something based on my metric of that generosity. But I always then ask the second question as I also need to be obedient to God’s metric in my faithfulness.

A HUGE THANK YOU to the faithful and obedient Joell Haugan, who has worked alongside Cailey and I for the past few years as director in the Heartland Region.  Joell brought with him an understanding and love for church planting, particularly in the rural context, and a huge heart of grace and generosity.  He has often hopped in his car and travelled from Swift Current where he pastors, to the towns and cities dotting the Heartland Region to encourage churches in engaging in and partnering in new and existing plants.  He has joined us in hosting CP initiatives at retreats, Assembly and Banff Pastors Conferences, Celebration Dinners and ministerials.

At church planting we have been praying and discerning the best way to cover this vast territory and Joell has gifted us with his insight based on his experience. Though Joell will no longer be the official director of Heartland Region, he will still share his gifts and insight in what is reshaped in the future.  Please drop Joell a big thank you or buy him a Timmy’s if you see him.  He has been and continues to be a huge blessing to our CBWC family!

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Joell roadtripping last year.

We have the wonderful privilege of joining God where He is working and expanding His Kingdom around us. May our prayer and our response in 2018 be “Your Kingdom come and Your will be done” in us and through us as we are faithful and obedient to God’s missional calling to our CBWC family.

Overcoming White Sheet Barriers

By Shannon Youell

A few weeks ago I wrote about the non-negotiable of prayer and listening, specifically in regards to opening up avenues to share Jesus with others who live, work and play where we do.

One of my favorite accounts in Acts is the story of Peter and Cornelius. There are many important teachings in this account, but the emphasis I’d like to share today is in regards to prayer and listening.

The sequence of events in this story has always amazed me:

  1. Peter is praying.
  2. God SPEAKS/shows him things
  3. God sends him out.
  4. Peter goes because he was praying.
  5. He prays and he hears where it is he is to go.
  6. Cornelius was praying.
  7. God SPEAKS/shows him things.
  8. He sends for one who can open up the gospel because Cornelius was praying and God showed him where to go.
  9. And God, whose presence was already at work ahead of them, falls on them, and all commit themselves to be disciples of Jesus in His kingdom.

GOD SPEAKING happened because there was praying and there was listening.

GOD’S KINGDOM happened among humanity because the one who listened, who was called to be sent, went….even when it was not where he expected (house of Gentiles).

After years of prayer-walking and listening in my neighbourhood, one of the first challenges I had when God began to show me His strategy for engaging my neighbourhood, was who to invite to the “meet-the-neighbours” party. Across from us there is a house that hosted drive-by guests all night long. A police presence there was not unexpected. The people who lived there were rude, crude and vocally abusive to neighbours who tried to ask them to curtail their noise levels. I dubbed it the “crack house” and had no intention of inviting them to my party…errr God’s party.

But because I kept praying and God kept working on me, I did. I invited them. They didn’t come, much to both my relief and my disappointment. But the invitation was an act of obedience and God was continuing my journey of discipleship through it.

Peter experienced something similar here. He was praying and listening when God showed him a large sheet filled with unclean things to eat and tells him to go, kill and eat. Peter was appalled and exclaimed, “never!” Peter had a White Sheet Barrier and God was breaking it down.

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Peter’s vision painted by Domenico Fetti.

That house across the street was a White Sheet Barrier for me. Would I, could I–claiming that I loved God and neighbour, the world God so loves–decide whom I would invite to my home? After all, it is my home, my sanctuary, my refuge from the world. Or is it?

When Jesus sent out the disciples in Luke 10, He informed them He was sending them out like lambs among the wolves. For me, and for Peter, our White Sheet Barriers would have been acts of disobedience to join God at what he is up to. We tend to decide how we will share God’s invitation to restoration of relationships with Himself and with others. We tend to limit God’s ability to work in even the least and the worse of these. We tend to want to play it safe and comfortable, arguing that surely God would never ask certain things of us.

I still invite the folk across the street. Every time. And I wait in expectation that one day, because I persisted and because God is God, they just might show up and I will see that God was at work all along. It hasn’t happened yet, but what has happened is that they have become a little more respectful. It could be the multiple police visits from complaints, or it could be, might be, God at work in my neighbourhood as I pray, listen and attempt to live as sent.

Go… But First, Wait

As our period of 77 Days of Prayer and Discernment draws to a close, I want to share an article about how in order to be Christ’s sent ones, we must first listen and wait on Him. These past 11 weeks, we’ve been leaning into this calling to go, but first wait, so I hope you will be encouraged by this article! ~Cailey Morgan

 

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By Ben Connelly, saturatetheworld.com
And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem,
but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John
baptized with water, but you will be baptized  with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore
 the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons
 that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when
 the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in
 Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

My Biggest Failure

“What’s been your biggest missional failure?” That’s a question I asked many respected, experienced church planters during a series of interviews in 2014. Some chuckled as they shared a personal embarrassment; others told laugh-out-loud stories of tactical mistakes.

But one response was different from the rest. It was totally unexpected, and has stuck with me for over three years now: the pastor became stone-faced sober and said, My biggest failure by a country mile was berating God’s people to mission, as opposed to letting the gospel win their hearts, by the Spirit, for mission. I hammered them with the obligations of the gospel, without winning their hearts with the glorious things that God has done for them. They could only sustain living missionally for either short bursts of time, or for a longer time but then they eventually gave up thru weariness. Because Christ wasn’t continually refreshing their hearts. That was by far my biggest fail.”

As church planters and pastors, mission is woven into the very fabric of our roles and our lives. We are charged with loving neighbors; we spend our days and weeks trying to “go, make disciples”; we long to see our cities redeemed. And we spend endless hours pouring ourselves out to those ends. After all, one of the most known verses in the Bible is in Acts’ opening scene, where Jesus’ commands his first followers: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth…” (1:8). That’s our life, right, church planters?

But that’s not actually the first command Jesus gives in that paragraph.

Waiting

The first command in the book of Acts, which is rarely even spoken of, is in verse 4, “[Jesus] ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father” – which, he makes clear, is “the Holy Spirit” who comes upon us with the only power that can make our “going” and our “witnessing” possible (1:4-8, italics added).

In other words, Jesus’ first marching orders, to the small band of apostles and disciples on whom the fate of global Christianity rested, were, “Stop.” “Wait.” “Don’t go.”

It seems shocking – but the point is one that many of us, who love our neighbors and feel the urgency of God’s mission, need to heed. We cannot go; we cannot accomplish anything; we cannot rightly witness – if God doesn’t show up, empower us, and do what only God can do. Here’s the beauty: God promises us his Spirit in Acts 1, and in Acts 2, God fulfills that promise. The Spirit comes at Pentecost, people begin getting saved, and then God (through both human choice and human suffering) disperses his church throughout Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and well beyond. God does charge us to make disciples, but only after we wait on him.

For some of us, that’s a needed breath of fresh air. For some, it’s a humbling truth. For some, it’s a lifeline as we feel like we’re drowning. Let’s learn from the interviewee’s warning. Let’s rest in God’s Word for ourselves and for those in our churches. Let’s be about the heart, the gospel, the “glorious things God has done,” and the Spirit more than the obligations, the actions, the berating, and even the “going” itself. Jesus sends us to be witnesses, but if we go without reliance, dependence, and the filling that only his Spirit can offer, we’ve missed the point completely.

This is my prayer for each of us: that our participation in God’s mission would be patient, prayerful, joy-filled, and free – even restful(!), because our role is simply obedience, as we wait on the Lord and follow his lead.

This guest post is originally found at at saturatetheworld.com.

I saw a great re-post of a tweet attributed to Eugene Peterson – “Waiting in prayer is a disciplined refusal to act before God acts.” We’ve written lots about watching for where God is already at work and joining Him there and I love the phrasing of “disciplined refusal,” but as this article reminded us, it is by the empowerment of the Holy Spirit that we are able to act at all.  Before we can gospel others, we must first be a people whose hearts and mission are “fanned into flame” because we embrace the gospel message ourselves in such a way as we cannot contain the hope, peace, joy and love overflowing from within ourselves and our church communities. And sometimes that means we have to wait in prayer to discover this. In this Advent season, how will you practice this discipline, remembering that waiting is not stopping activity, it is increasing prayer and discernment? ~ Shannon Youell