Archive

Archive for the ‘52 books in a year’ Category

A city without a church (reflection on Drummond’s book

Reflection: A City without a Church (by Henry Drummond)

Drawing on the Revelation to St. John, Drummond claims that Heaven should be conceptualized as a city in which its inhabitants work towards the goodness of the city in the here and now (pg. 8-9). Churches provide connection and fellowship. However, the Christian faith extends far beyond the church itself. True faith is a daily devotion to Christ who brings abundant life. In this reflection, I will focus on the implications of Drummond’s address for missional church planting today.

Implications for Missional Church Planting

First, we need to remember that Christ came to give us abundant life – meaning, hope, reconciliation and healing – and came to give it to the full in this life (pg. 13). Evangelism has often focused on the future heavenly realm beyond the mire of this world. Yet, the beauty of the Gospel is that Christ meets us where we are today. Missional church planting then should be focused on building relationships and fostering time spent with each other. The ordinary aspects of our lives (e.g. work, building  family, eating together) are opportunities for extraordinary Grace to meet us.

Second, we need to remember that our lives (and not programs or sermons) bear the strongest witness to Christ. Building relationships will provide opportunities to share Christ as a joyful “discovery” (pg. 25) instead of doctrine to which one should ascribe. Programs can provide the vehicle through which relationships are built. For example, an ESL cafe provides an opportunity for newcomers and visitors to practice English while also providing opportunities for the church to learn and attend to their needs. As we gather with others, we can share what God is doing in our lives just as one might share about their weekend. Our lives then become opportunities for the Gospel to be modeled and shared in a way that is inviting and nonthreatening.

Third, Drummond encourages us to begin with the gaze of Christ into the city we find ourselves in, to lament over its waywardness and to offer our lives for it (pg. 34). In doing so, we attend to the ordinariness of life and discover needs in our midst. Christ’s love is demonstrated as we work towards the wholeness of the city. This will require time and energy as we come alongside those who are hurting, lonely, sick or afraid. In doing so, we love citizens of our city as Christ loves them.

Conclusion

In conclusion, missional church planting works towards the goodness of the city by focusing on the ordinary aspects of our lives, building relationships and serving the needs among us. In doing so, Christ’s love is light that shines throughout the whole city and not just within the walls of a building.

Reflection on Slow Church

Reflection on Slow Church: Cultivating Cumminty in the Patient Way of Jesus (C. Christopher Smith & John Pattison)

Slow Church is a countercultural approach to being church in a society in which speed and efficiency are prized beyond the patient life that true community in Christ demands. Churches fall prey to the ‘cult of speed’ as they prioritize programs over relationships, numbers over spiritual growth and conversion over discipleship. In this reflection, I will focus on the patient character of God in which Slow Church is rooted and its implications for missional church planting.

Smith & Pattison argue that our churches should be rooted “in the deep, still waters of a remarkably patient yet radically immanent God” (p. 24). God’s patient character is demonstrated in at least three ways. First, Scripture provides a witness to a God who cannot be rushed. For example, this God can wander with a rebellious and grumbling community in the desert for forty years while the Israelites relearn to depend on and trust God alone. Second, God is working to restore all creation to Him – a long and slow process due in part to our own rebellion against God’s ways. Expedience is in conflict with our free will and waywardness. Third, God could employ more efficient methods of turning hearts towards Him. However, His patient commitment to humanity is demonstrated in His desire to work with a broken humanity to spread the Gospel.

Missional Church Planting should reflect this patient character of God. Churches need to commit themselves to prayerful discernment of what God is already doing and what He is calling us to do in our particular contexts. There are no shortcuts to this process nor will there be quick answers. While Slow Church does not offer a one-size-fits-all blueprint, several implications for missional church planting can be gleaned.

First, we need to intentionally create spaces in which relationships can develop and strengthen. This will require time spent playing and working together, as well as making room for our stories to be told and held together. Second, we need to focus on faithfulness and not attractiveness. Attractional church feeds into our consumeristic mindset and breeds individualism and personal preference. Instead, we need to encourage faithfulness to the God who redeems the world through the unattractive cross and suffering. Third, we cannot truly show God’s compassion to the world without cultivating patience. Patience will enable us to resist the urges to fix people’s problems or to give up when change takes longer than we expect.

Slow Church offers us an alternative approach to being church that resists our culture of speed. As we plant churches, we must join God’s patience as we walk alongside those to with which we have been called to be in community and to serve.

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

Invitation to a Journey: Some Reflections on Spiritual Formation

 

I took a must needed break from my rhythm of writing on here so that I could focus on two papers that were due this week. I am finding that my wealth of words has turned more into the slow drip of molasses rather than a fountain of overflowing sentences. Still, it has been a rich experience to press on and write what I could offer. Also, while the material in my courses is not terribly hard to understand or grasp at one level, they are deep and full of ways that intersect with my life and training. Those are the fun books to read and papers to write! They are also the most time consuming. Here is one of the things that I wrote this week.

Introduction

In Invitation to a Journey[1], Mulholland invites his readers to a spiritual journey of becoming conformed to Christ for the sake of others. He claims that spiritual formation happens with or without our consent (p. 24). That is, we only have say in what forms us. Society provides alternative answers to Christ as the source of such formation (e.g. consumerism). We are either being shaped into the likeness of Christ or into some “horribly destructive caricature of that image” (p. 23). Christian spiritual formation goes against the grain of societal values of consumerism, individualism and instant-gratification (p. 22-23).

In this paper, I will briefly summarize some important points from Mulholland’s book. Then, I will discuss three ways in which spirituality and mission intersect with each other. His emphasis throughout the book is that our individual spiritual formation occurs so that we can be conformed to Christ and that Christ can work in us to minister to others.

How the Invitation to a Journey is a Road Map for Spirituality

The central thesis of Mulholland’s book is: “We are being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others within the body of Christ and for the sake of others outside the body of Christ” (p. 168). As Christians, we find our primary source of life and meaning through Christ as we seek a relationship with Him through prayer and Scripture. We are not able to conform ourselves to who God wants us to be. Rather, through grace, God works in our hearts and lives to bring us into the image of Christ (p. 26). Our role is to make ourselves available to God’s work in our lives. Underlying this difference is the issue of control – we cannot control our own spiritual formation (p. 25). That is, we cannot earn a higher spiritual level, understanding or gift – our spiritual journey and the wholeness we seek is a matter of God’s grace (p. 26).

In many ways, this is an individual process. God has endowed us with personality, passions and gifts that make us uniquely set apart from any other human being. However, holistic spirituality needs to learn from others and the uniqueness that they bring. We can learn and grow through being challenged by others. Holistic spiritual formation takes place in the context of relationships (p. 43). Moreover, as the body of Christ, our combined unique individualities provide a holistic body of Christ to minister to each other and the world around us.

A key point for Mulholland is that we are conformed into the image of Christ not merely for our own sake, but for the sake of those around us. In fact, he makes the bold claim that we cannot grow spiritually without caring for others. He writes that spiritual formation is “a journey into becoming persons of compassion, persons who forgive, persons who care deeply for others and the world, persons who offer themselves to God to become agents of divine grace in the lives of others and the world” (p. 25). As we become conformed to Christ’s image, we will see that the natural outflow of this will be to serve others as Christ did.

There is much in this book to provide a framework or road map for our spiritual formation. Mulholland writes about various spiritual disciplines, giving both practical and theoretical insight. Moreover, he outlines some of the common features of spiritual formation that many Christians throughout the centuries have experienced. However, I want to focus on three lessons that have been shaping my understanding of “missional spirituality.”

Lesson 1: Holistic Spirituality

                Mulholland speaks of what he calls “creation gifts” – aspects of our personalities, talents and make-up that God has endowed to us through creating us as unique individuals. Using psychological research, he outlines the Myers-Briggs personality dimensions that people find themselves on a continuum. The four designations are: Introvert (I)/Extrovert (E), Intuitive(N)/Sensing (S), Thinking (T)/Feeling (F), and Perceiving (P)/Judging (J). Our four-letter combination speaks to our dominant ways of interacting with the world. For example, my dominant way is INFJ. He then details the strengths and weaknesses common to each combination plus our tendencies and vulnerabilities in our spiritual formation journey (p. 66). As an introvert, I tend to be reflection rather than action oriented. My preference is for solitude, private prayer and individual study of scripture and I tend to emphasize the individual experience. As intuitive, I rely on imagination and insight rather than concrete or sensual aspects to inform my decision making. I thrive with metaphors and symbolic explanations and get frustrated with a purely literal approach. I tend to be spiritually aware, and, according to Mulholland, struggle with serving others. I am slightly bent towards feeling and therefore rely on subjective values including feeling and memory, focus on relationships and devotion. Lastly, I tend to score slightly higher as judging, which means I have a preference for order, what we ought to do, and systematically approaching issues.

What stood out for me in Mulholland’s account was how we need those who are different from us to complement to provide a holistic approach to spirituality. That is, I need people who have four-letter combinations with E, S, T and P in my life and that we should be intentional about spending time with people who differ from us. In my early days of living in an intentional community, I struggled with the member of our house who was extremely extraverted. It wasn’t until we showed hospitality yet again to a large group that I recognized how extremely beneficial he was to the mission of the house and that he complemented me quite well. Mulholland has made me take this thought a step further – relationships with those who have different personalities are vital to my own holistic spiritual formation. That is, I need others – and specifically others who are different from me – to challenge and encourage me to grow in other ways so that I might become whole in Christ. Moreover, I cannot holistically minister to others if I do so only out of the preferences endowed by my “creation gifts.” Others can show me different ways to grow in my relationship with Christ as well as form me in ways that can minister to others who are different from me.

Lesson 2: Spirituality for the Sake of Others

Not only do I need others to challenge and encourage me to grow spiritually, my spiritual formation is for the sake of others. Throughout my church years, I have experienced a separation from spirituality and mission. Spirituality is something that I do in the context of my home while mission is what I do when God calls me beyond my home. Spirituality takes the form of private prayer and studying scripture and spiritual growth is measured by how close I feel to God and whether he answers my prayers and I am sinning less. It has only been in recent years that I have realized that this spirituality really has nothing to do with my neighbour – that’s the work of being missional.

Mulholland looks at what it means to be conformed to Christ. Christ “gave himself totally, completely, absolutely, unconditionally for others. This is the direction in which the Spirit of God makes us towards wholeness” (p. 41). He claims that we will become who we fully are as we are conformed to the image of Christ (p. 33). Moreover, this is the deepest hunger in our lives (p. 34). The spiritual journey of becoming conformed to Christ will lead us to giving ourselves “totally, completely, absolutely, unconditionally for others” as well.  God uses us to become His agents of grace in others’ lives (p. 154). This seems so intuitive when I think of who we are called to be like, however, I think I somehow missed this message! The gifts and fruits of the spirit might benefit me in some ways, but they are primarily for the building up of the community and for blessing others. Mulholland writes, “Our unique individuality is one of the gifts we bring to the body of Christ. Others need the gift of our preference type in their growth toward wholeness. We need the gifts of others’ preference types in our growth toward wholeness (p. 144).” That is, we cannot be maintain a holistic spirituality without serving and being served by others. Moreover, my privatized spirituality divorced from others will provide a false evaluation of where I am at in my spiritual journey. For example, it is fairly easy to be kind to others if I never have anything to do with them. As we open ourselves to being formed by Christ, God will work in us to enable our spiritual growth to encourage and minister to those around us, sometimes calling us out of our social bubbles and friendships with people who are like us.

Lesson 3: Personal and Social Holiness

In a similar vein, it is not possible to achieve personal holiness without a social holiness and vice versa. Personal holiness is developed through spiritual disciplines such as prayer and fasting as we make ourselves available to God forming us through His grace (p. 166). In my background, personal holiness takes priority. When I first attended an Anglican Church, I was offended by the language of “we” in the confession: why must I say sorry for things that others have done, and how do I know that others truly repent? I am only responsible for me! However, if I as the member of the body of Christ seek holiness, then I also partake in the corporate body of Christ. Therefore, corporate holiness is an essential component to individual holiness.

Moreover, in Mulholland’s words, “Personal holiness […] is conformity to One whose life was given unconditionally for others” (p. 166). Therefore, personal holiness is not so easily separated from a corporate holiness. Corporate holiness calls us to hold one another accountable and to stand up for justice in our world. The sins of the whole church – both present and past – are ones that should grieve my heart as they are ways in which we have failed to be or misrepresented the body of Christ. Our binding together enables us together to be the “agents of God’s healing, transforming, and yes, disturbing presence in the life of the world” (p. 162).

Conclusion

In conclusion, spiritual formation is a journey that can be directed through spiritual disciplines such as prayer and Bible study. Spiritual formation is a path of God’s grace conforming us to the likeness of Christ. Each of us brings our unique individuality to spiritual growth, however we are challenged and encouraged by others who have different gifts and personalities. We need each other for our own growth and formation. More importantly, we are being conformed to the likeness of God so that we can be agents of God’s grace to others.


[1] Mulholland Jr., M. Robert. “Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation.” (Downers’ Grove: IVP Books, 1993).