165 Church Plants?

By Shannon Youell 

What might it look like if some of our churches become “church plants?” I posited this question in our last blog whilst noting how our church plants are navigating the times we are in. Since posting that blog I have had two of our CBWC pastors mention they’ve been told we need 165 church plants when we come out of this. That’s an interesting perspective to follow up my question. We are a family of around 165 associated, established churches. How might we begin to consider becoming “church plants?” 

Though there can be times when a church might consider deconstructing and starting again, I would certainly try to convince you otherwise in this time. If you called me to ask how your existing church becomes a church plant, I would echo Tod Bolsinger: “This isn’t the time to become what you are not.”i

During this time of constant pivoting, changing who you are as a church community of Christ followers would be less than constructive. However, as Bolsinger further explains, “This is a time to learn how to be the very best version of your church and organization for a changing world.” 

How do we begin to even discover what our “very best version” might be?  

Last week, out of curiosity, I spent some time checking out a dozen or so of our CBWC churches websites. I was curious to read the Vision Statements of our diverse group to understand the sense of engaging in God’s Mission in our churches. Here are some of them:  

Growing deeply-rooted followers of Christ. 

“In and For the Neighbourhood.” 

“God-dependent, Jesus-Rooted, Spirit-Led. 

“We desire to be a church that changes the world for Jesus. 

Our desire is to be followers of Jesus, by putting God’s love into action. 

Deeper Higher Further. 

Our vision is to be a church that unchurched people love to attend. 

Loving God and others where we live and gather, by connecting, belonging and engaging. 

“Making disciples of Jesus from all nations. 

“We are a people of invitation on the journey from brokenness to wholeness in Jesus. 

We envision the holiness of God flowing through the city…like a flood. 

Connecting Real People to the Real Jesus in Real Ways. 

“A community of people SENT to be known by love, live by faith, and be a voice of hope to the communityand beyond.” 

“To live a life of following Jesus, to be a place of spiritual formation, and to seek and contribute to the peace and well-being of the city.” 

Wow, right?! These are fantastic. These statements reveal hearts rooted in a desire to engage all peoples in community, faith, and spiritual formation for the meaning and purpose of loving God, others, self, neighbour with everything in every way of our every day.  

During the last six months, people all over the world have been coping and navigating something we’ve not previously all experienced at the same time. Many challenges and issues—and joys and discoverieshave been realized as we had to completely shift everything in our lives. People, families, organizations, businesses, recreation, entertainment. We changed how we spend our time, our money, and our talents; how we do relationships, how we deal with stress and with apathy. 

For people of faith, the challenge initially was in finding ways to continue having a Sunday worship service so that people didn’t feel displaced, isolated and perhaps “disappear” from the church. There has been increasing concern that some might not return to church when restrictions are completely lifted. Webinars, affinity groups, books, blogs, magazines and news articles abound on how to keep “doing Sunday.” The longer this goes on, the more heightened the fear that people will drift away and whether the church will survive this long term.  

“Where religious institutions have been mistaken…is that they have fallen in love with a specific solution, rather than forever evolving to meet the need.”
The Power of Ritual by Casper ter Kuile 

Of course, we need to find ways, creative and outside our normal box, of how we are a community of faith, on mission with God during this time. But rather than having our focus being on the fears and problems we have as we look for signs of people leaving the Sunday service and not returning, we should be looking for signs of those who are struggling with or leaving their faith or haven’t found faith yet.  

And that’s where the Vision Statements come into play.  

Over the past 35+ years of being both a follower of Jesus and a leader of followers of Jesus, I have observed that more often than we’d like to admit, the Vision Statements emblazoned across the front of our sanctuaries, on banners on our websites, in our bulletins each week and our new members classes, have become a pithy hats off to what we once aspired to as a community. I’ve been to many church services and church meetings (including the church(s) I’ve been in community with) in many different expressions of church and found that more often than not, the very people to whom the Vision is towards are surprised to discover this is their statement. They just aren’t recognizing it lived into what they do together as community. Ouch! We get into patterns and rhythms that become familiar and expected and we can lose the passion we had to live into and out of the Vision that faithful people prayed and discerned together. 

It may be time to revisit our Vision Statements, either to revision them to better reflect the current reality of our community and ministry, or affirm this indeed is who we aspire to be. Then, it’s time to assess every activity we do through the lens of the Statement and lovingly lay to rest those that no longer fulfill what they once may have. And, with joy we can pray and discern together how to begin living into the ones that are still burning in our hearts. 

Church Plants have Vision Statements too. They are current and still very fresh in the minds of those who have prayed and discerned. Often every decision they make, every good program that they may explore are still being weighed against that Vision. Were our churches to begin to do the same, it is possible, without throwing out all we’ve grown to become, to get back to our roots and think like church plants again.  

Rather than merely counting on  a specific solution to “get us through to the end,” or trying to preserve what we have, what if we focused more on drawing nearer to God than we may have been in a while as a gathering of individual people? And what if we went back to our first passion, as expressed in Vision statement, with an openness to hear what God is saying to the church today?  What if our primary activities included drawing one another closer to God through deeper emphasis on spiritual formation that leads to confession, repentance and transformation?  

What if our hearts become so passionate that God is our everything and Jesus is our Lord that we have a reignition of talking to others about what is happening to us, journeying with others of no faith, some faith, waning faith in ways that draw them deeper and deeper into the very nature of God’s holiness? 

That’s what church plants tend to lean into. Perhaps rather than seeing them as “new churches” that will one day look like “ours,” we might begin to see them as churches that we might need to vision ourselves to look like.  

—– 

i. Tod Bolsinger is the Vice-President for Vocation and Formation and Assistant Professor of Practical Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He is author of It Takes a Church to Raise a Christian: How the community of God transforms lives, Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Unchartered Times, and Leadership for a Time of Pandemic: Practicing Resilience. We recommend you read all three!  
 
 

Remissioning: Adaptive Leadership and Facing the Unknown

By Shannon Youell

“Adaptive leadership is called for when you are facing something you have never faced before. A term made famous by Ronald Heifetz and his colleagues at Harvard, adaptive leadership begins the moment you find yourself without expertise, and when you are truly facing the unknown.” 

This quote from  Tod Bolsinger, vice president for vocation and formation and teacher of practical theology at Fuller Theological Seminary, is certainly our new reality. As I’ve heard others quote “we’ve never been this way before.” At least in our lifetime and in our context. 

How then, do we begin to face the future of the unknown as churches who value our gathered times and the things we do while together in a worship service? 

For the most part, from the stories we are hearing, most churches have adapted their gatherings into some kind of temporary stop gap. But what if the stop gap is longer than what we envisioned the stop gap to be? What ways do we need to begin to rethink and reimagine what it means for a scattered community to be the witness to the world of God’s presence among us, in word and deed, that we are called to?  

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We are so conditioned to view the gathered community as the “way of witness” that we may have difficulty imagining how we are to be salt and light as the scattered community.  Yet, this was exactly how the earliest of church witnessed – as scattered communities.  

Read Tod’s article here and ask the Spirit to guide you to what questions you should ask yourself, your leaders and your community.

We are quite literally in a time of learning as we go.  Will we be open to learning what may challenge our own embedded thinking?  Will we be open to God leading us to different ways of fulfilling our role as his missionaries here in our neighbourhoods and cities?   

There may be tweaks and small adjustments to be made, or perhaps God’s calling us to consider a bigger-picture reframing or remissioning in this time of forced change. Will we be open? 

As Tod challenges us to stare straight on: 

“What if you thought about this present moment and asked, “What could we be doing now that would help us become the best version of our community after the pandemic?” 

We’d love your thoughts, ideas and ways you are adapting to this new normal of being the people of God who is with us in the midst of all the strangeness of this current reality. 

BTW, I was first introduced to Tod via his book Canoeing the Mountains. It’s a great read on leadership and very different to the corporate model of leadership expertise that is available to help us.   

Why Shared Practices?

By Shannon Youell

I was listening to classic rock today and heard this song lyric: “Your own personal Jesus; Someone to hear your prayers, someone who cares; Your own personal Jesus.”

The song bothered me. Not because I don’t have a relationship with God-With-Us that is quite personal in that I can talk with him and walk with him. Jesus is present with me, he saves me. But the lyrics bothered me because the prevailing god of our culture—in cahoots with the gods of consumerism and materialism—is individualism, the idea that my apprenticeship with Jesus is solely a personal journey that is all about me. Individualism leaves the church in the place where we no longer need one another to be Kingdom people.

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Paul, in writing to the Ephesians, tells a different story. He tells of a body that is “joined and held together by every supporting ligament.” He tells of how, as each part or individual works with the rest, the body grows and is built up. That “body working together” is what matures the whole and, thus, the individuals of the whole.

We certainly struggle with Paul’s teaching today because we place a high value on our personal journey with Jesus as the ultimate intent of our being Christ’s disciples. Mark Roberts in his commentary on Ephesians says this about 4:7-16:

The growth of individual parts is only implied. But verse 14, by use of the plural “infants,” shows that corporate growth and individual growth go hand in hand. If the body of Christ grows, then individuals will no longer be spiritual babies.i

Brad Brisco and Lance Ford in their workbook Missional Essentials have this to say about it:

Living in the 21st century presents a unique set of challenges for those of us in the developed world. Modern conveniences and technology certainly make chores and routine tasks easier, but they also coincide with a lifestyle of disconnectedness from others around us. For the most part, our lives are compartmentalized in such a way that we live with a lack of integration. We speak of our work life, recreational life, family life, and spiritual life. The result for many of us is a disintegrated life.

Many in the church are realizing that in order to counter the gods of consumerism, materialism and individualism that haunt and disintegrate our lives we must rediscover the ancient ways of living life together on mission. Many churches have discovered that rhythms of Shared Practices have made huge differences in the lives of their church community and in the discipleship of their members.ii

In my own church community, we have been perplexed—if Christ transforms us, why are we not seeing transformation in so many who are still stuck in the same cycles of spiritual immaturity? After several years of praying, discerning, and wrestling, we came to realize that all our good leadership, our good programs, our good teaching was designed to feed people. Jesus and the early church shaped communities of people, and in that shaping, needs were met and transformation of hearts, minds souls and strength were evident to one another and to those in the world they lived, worked and played in.

God created us to be community, in continual communion with one another, as he himself, is community: Father, Son, Spirit. Tod E. Bolsinger says this:

My primary thesis is that the change we most yearn for is available to us only through the Triune God who transforms his people within the divine community, the church—The People of the Table. I believe and want to convince you that “it takes a church to raise a Christian.

Here’s a caveat to keep in mind: we are not engaging in Shared Practices for the sake of doing something good together. We are engaging in Shared Practices so as to become more and more the image-bearers of God, in Christ, thus living lives both inside and outside the church that display the good news of God’s Kingdom life here on earth as it is in heaven. Shared Practices help many churches become counter-cultural and discover life in Christ in deeper, transformative ways.

 


 

i. Roberts, Mark: The Story of God Bible Commentary: Ephesians

ii. There are so many resources, ancient, classic and new to help us lean into this. A few favorites are The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Church by Kent Carlson and Mike Luken, BTW by Derek Vreeland, It Takes a Church to Raise a Christian by Tod E. Bolsinger and books by Eugene Peterson, Henri Nouwen, Mike Frost, Mike Breen, Brad Brisco, Preston Pouteaux, David Fitch and so many others.