Thou Shall Not Go Alone

 

 

A 'nesting tree' is one that has fallen, died and is rotting away. Seeds fall into the rotting tree and begin to take root, replenishing the forest. This picture was taken in Cathedral Grove, B.C.

A ‘nesting tree’ is one that has fallen, died and is rotting away. Seeds fall into the rotting tree and begin to take root, replenishing the forest. This picture was taken in Cathedral Grove, B.C.

Reflections on Green Shoots out of Dry Ground (ed. John P. Bowen)

Introduction

I write this reflection as someone who has ventured to areas where people do not know the love of God and wandered into the church to find a loving community to journey with them. I also write from the perspective of one who has often felt like a ‘lone ranger’ once on the mission field. Green Shoots offers a wealth of wisdom and challenges to consider in church planting. For me, the most powerful message is that church planting is not about being a lone ranger: we join in the mission that God has already begun connected with the community of saints who have gone before and with us and along the way build networks of support that help sustain us and the fledgling ministries we have planted.

New territories come with new challenges

Pioneer ministry is inherently difficult. We exist in a society where many people would never walk into a church building or see a need for God. Many people do not understand or agree with doing church in ways that stray from the way things have always been done. There are frequently few financial resources and people to do the work.

In addition, the Church is increasingly recognizing the need for pioneer ministry and fresh ways of being church in the world and yet, we do not have a clear blueprint for the Church God is calling us to be. Alan Roxburgh claims that pioneers enter the “space-between” which is both uncomfortable and uncertain.[1] In doing so, we join those whom God has called from the beginning of time. For example, the journey from Egypt to the promise land was a liminal space in which the Israelites relearned how to trust God and forget Egypt by falling a giant cloud and pillar of fire, and relying on the daily provision of manna.

 

God goes before us

God goes before us in mission and we are invited to join him in the work that He is doing. This seems like such a basic tenet of ministry. However, I was struck by the number of times the authors referred to it and my own tendency to forget. There are so many days when I set out to fix the world with my unending to-do list. I too frequently function by asking God to bless (or fix!) the project I have started. Yet, my starting point needs to be communing with God: “We begin by discovering the heart of God.”[2] I find this refreshing because it gives weight and value in a task-oriented society to simply being in the presence of God and learning about who He is.

In addition, I take comfort in knowing that it is God’s mission and that He will finish a good work that He has started. I begin to feel like a lone ranger when I believe that success in ministry depends on me. Cam Roxburgh helps me to redefine my task and responsibility: “God does not send us into areas where he is not already present and at work. Our task is simply to recognize God’s presence and to join with him in that work.”[3]

As the challenges of pioneer ministry increase, I am prone to feeling abandoned by God. Bowen’s description of the gospel is especially helpful for me to remember in those times. The Gospel is “the announcement of the good news that this is so – that God still loves us, that God has not given up or forgotten us, that God in Jesus Christ – his life, death, and resurrection – is going to make all things new.”[4] The fact that God is a missionary God who cares more about His creation than I ever could is proof that I am not alone.

Spiritual disciplines root us in God and community

Gefvert writes that the spiritual disciplines of the Christian faith root us in our relationship with God and with all those who have gone before us.[5] She writes:

These are the intentional ways we choose to cultivate our life in relationship with God through various forms of prayer and disciplines of living: teaching and learning, fellowship, breaking bread, prayerful reading and study of scripture, fasting, and sharing resources.[6]

These practices keep us rooted in God but also connect us with the community of saints that God has provided for us. I have found that pioneer work can take all of my energy and focus. I have often felt too tired to invest in the faith communities that support and feed me. I need to remember how life giving and reenergizing fellowship, breaking the bread or praying with other Christians are even when I consider myself too tired and busy to include them.

I belong to a dispersed, new monastic Celtic community that is held together by a rhythm of prayer. As I pray the morning liturgy of this community, I am reminded that there are hundreds of Christians around the world praying with me. In addition, there have been countless Christians who have also prayed the various prayers in the liturgy over the years. As I pray, I join with the saints and the whole church and am reminded that I do not go alone.

Building Networks

Pioneers need to build networks with other pioneers to support one another through prayer, encouragement and sharing the lessons learned. During one youth mentorship program that I launched, I witnessed the whole Church of God coming together in a way I had not previously. People across denominations and throughout Canada supported a hobbling ministry in one block of a large city through their prayers, financial support, encouragement and coaching. Without this support, the program simply would not have happened. Since this experience, I have been realizing the importance of connecting with others and building support networks that will help uphold a new ministry. Moreover, these networks will help dispel the myth that I am a lone ranger.

In addition, I am greatly encouraged by Jenny Andison’s chapter[7] about the growing number of practical resources within the Diocese of Toronto and beyond. Moreover, it encourages me that the Church is realizing that many pioneers feel like lone rangers and are striving to improve and increase the amount of support and training to help sustain not only pioneer leaders, but the young seedlings of ministry that have been planted.

Conclusion

In conclusion, we join God in the work that he has already started. We share this work with others who join in God’s mission through community. And we build networks to help sustain each other and the ministry to which God has called. We need to hold onto the truth the following truth:

The church, no matter how many members it has, is an icon of hope, simply through its continuing existence – a statement that no matter what happens, God is planted in this community and has not abandoned it.[8]

In other words, we are not alone.

References:

[1] Roxburgh, Cam. “Discovering God’s Heart for the City.” In: John P. Bowen (ed.) Green Shoots Out of Dry Ground: Growing a New Future for the Church of Canada. (Eugene: Wipf & Stock Pub., 2013), pg. 192

[2] ibid., pg. 68

[3] ibid., pg. 76

[4] Bowen, John P. “Why Mission? Why Now? Why Here?” In: John P. Bowen (ed.) Green Shoots Out of Dry Ground: Growing a New Future for the Church of Canada. (Eugene: Wipf & Stock Pub., 2013), pg. 7

[5] Gefvert, Constance Joanna. “The Ancient Paths: Spirituality for Mission.” In: John P. Bowen (ed.) Green Shoots Out of Dry Ground: Growing a New Future for the Church of Canada. (Eugene: Wipf & Stock Pub., 2013), pg. 201

[6] ibid., pg. 202

[7] Andison, Jenny. “Help! Where Do I Go from Here? Resources for the Journey.” In: John P. Bowen (ed.) Green Shoots Out of Dry Ground: Growing a New Future for the Church of Canada. (Eugene: Wipf & Stock Pub., 2013), pgs. 263-279.

[8] Harder, Cam. “New Shoots from Old Roots: The Challenge and Potential of Mission in Rural Canada.” In: John P. Bowen (ed.) Green Shoots Out of Dry Ground: Growing a New Future for the Church of Canada. (Eugene: Wipf & Stock Pub., 2013), pg. 56

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