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Giving All

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A group of kids taping their written prayers to the walls of a church in Toronto

The other day, I watched the documentary “Jesus Camp”. It’s about a radical group of Christian fundamentalists in the US and how they train up their children. It’s not a movie for the faint of heart – I had to watch it in two parts as there was much that was troublesome. There was also much that I know all to well. So I don’t recommend the film. But it’s made me think, which of course, is the purpose of documentary.

One of the key pastors looks at how radicalized muslim youth are trained from a young age and indoctrinated with values and ideas about the world as well as a belief system that leads them to want to sacrifice themselves in acts of violence for the sake of their pure radical vision. She looks at Christianity and how watered down it can become, how lazy we can be about our faith and points to the muslim example that we should be at least as radical as they are. That we should train our children that the Christian faith is worth dying for. That fasting and prayer are important.

Her tactics are wrong. But she has a point.

Did you know that one of my devout Muslim friends gets up at 5 in the morning to pray? I have trouble getting up early enough to pray before I have to go out of the house and I don’t have to get up nearly that early! And this isn’t the only time that she gets up to pray. Conversations with my Muslim (and for the record, a non-radicalized one), taught me about a religion that took prayer and fasting very seriously – perhaps more seriously than many Christians, including myself.

Another couple of Muslim friends have taught me about generosity. Even though I was an employee, they showered me with generosity, often topping up my pay check, offering me food, giving gifts. They also offered listening ears and encouragement in everything that I did – whether that be school work or Christian work.

Meanwhile, I am trying to finish up a course on Church history and have been reading about some of the great people of our faith. Some of them would give up everything they had to go and live lives of prayer in the desert. And some had a lot to give up!

I disagree with the methods of “Jesus Camp” and the theology that it tried to indoctrinate the children and youth with. But I wonder, in 2016, how do we be – and raise up – people who would give everything up for Jesus. People who love Him with their whole hearts, minds, soul and strength who would devote all that they are and all that they have to Jesus. People who would serve those who are abandoned, unloved, hungry, poor, alone. People who stand out and whose lives point to Jesus in all that they do.

Make my heart to grow

There is a prayer in the Northumbria Community that I really love called Saranam (Refuge). Whenever it comes up in the monthly cycle of prayers and meditations, I pull it out and put it on my Facebook.

Make my heart to grow
as great as Thine,
so through my hurt
Your love may shine,
my love be Yours,
Your love be mine,
saranam, saranam, saranam.

Today is different.

Today I realize God has been answering my prayer.

Today I realize I’ve prayed a dangerous prayer in a sense.

Over the past few months, I have been continually made aware of brokenness in our world. Families struggling to make ends meet. People struggling to get to today’s end.

Stories that I cannot write on here. Stories that are not mine to tell.

Stories that break my heart. I mean – really break my heart. Stories that make my heart hurt so much I cannot help but let the tears pour out.

Stories that take me to the end of my knowledge and experience and then push me beyond.

Stories that I wish sometimes I could wake up and find that the world is a happy place after all.

I prayed for this. Not in these words. But I prayed that God would enlarge my heart to make it as big as his. Through this prayer, I’ve asked God to show me – really show me – what he sees in the world, in the lives of those around me. I’ve asked for a heart to hold what He holds.

And that is why it is a dangerous prayer. For I have wept more tears in the past few months than I can ever remember. This glimpse I have into my portion of the world is heart breaking.

And maybe the only thing that is comforting as my heart keeps breaking is that found in the God who is revealing these things to me – his heart breaks. He understands. And he is big enough to hold my heart as it breaks while he shows me what I need to see for my heart to grow as big as his.

Sermon: Giving All Mark 12:38-44

Preamble: This was a sermon that I gave today for preaching class on Mark 12:38-44. I received some helpful comments but have not integrated them into the original text of the sermon partly because I have been realizing that there is something about the moment of preaching that cannot be captured again. A sermon is an event, not just a piece of writing, and while the comments would honestly have made this a better sermon, I feel it is dishonest to edit and then say ‘this is what I preached’.

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Introduction

Esra and Fethullah are not your typical bride and groom. In August, this Turkish couple decided to spend their wedding day feeding 4000 Syrian refugees with the money that had been given to them to start their married lives together. In their wedding attire, they served a banquet meal to those who had been displaced from their homes, families, and lives. Fethullah told the media that “seeing the happiness in the eyes of the Syrian refugee children is just priceless. [They] started [their] journey to happiness with making others happy” (Telegraph, 2015). Esra and Fethullah knew something about giving what they had to God and to others.

Context

Today’s passage is the last story in a series of encounters with the Scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees in the Temple in the Gospel of Mark.

Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey as the crowd spread their clocks and shout “Hosanna!” and “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord”. The crowd has declared Jesus to be king over them as he rides into town.

His next visit to the Temple was overturning the tables of the money changers and driving out those who were selling and buying in the temple. The temple had become a symbol of violence as the Orthodox Jewish leaders of the day were plotting a violent rebellion against Rome. As NT Wright says, the temple had become to mean “Violence towards outsiders; injustice towards Israel itself” (Wright, pg. 152). This was quite different from the Kingdom that Jesus was proclaiming, whose king would make his entrance into Jerusalem on a humble donkey and in only days from the crowds praising Him, would be crucified on a cross.

Jesus’ judgment on the temple were not taken well by the Scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees. The temple was central to their professions and understanding of Jewish life. These three groups of Jews make their attacks on Jesus, questioning his authority and trying to trap him. In the meantime, Jesus passes judgement on the Temple itself through his responses and teaching, inciting the Jewish leaders to want to kill him.

One scribe came to Jesus, knowing that Jesus had given wise answers to the questions that were meant to attack him publicly. In discussing the greatest commandment, the scribe articulates that the commandments to love God with all your heart, understanding and strength and to love your neighbour as yourself, is far greater than all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices. Jesus responded by saying, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” (12:34)

The kingdom of God that Jesus was bringing was not some radical and violent rebellion against Rome. But one in which we are called to follow the old law of the Jewish people – to love God with our whole hearts, souls, minds and bodies and to love our neighbours as ourselves. In one way, there was nothing new about the revolution that Jesus was bringing. In another way, it was a strange way to start a revolution.

Passage

While this one scribe understood this strange way of Jesus, the majority of Scribes did not. The scribes were given elite positions in society, wearing robes that told everyone what place they held and the respect that they should be treated with. They were given seats of honour – the special places at the high tables. And they expected such! They entered the marketplaces knowing that they would be greeted with respect.

Clearly the Scribes enjoyed their outward appeal and the benefits their position afforded them. However, this wasn’t their only downfall. The Scribes offered prayers out loud that were long and were to show off in front of those who would hear them. But these prayers are empty for we are also told that these same scribes would devour widows’ houses. The Greek word interpreted as devour is actually a much stronger word. It meant to take absolutely everything from the widows, to leave nothing beyond. The scribes were not only taking advantage of the very poor and vulnerable in society – they were voraciously taking all that they had, leaving very little hope of recovery. Outwardly, the scribes would try to project an image of superiority and nobility, but inwardly, their hearts were far from God’s and they prayed verbose prayers and devoured widows as if the two could be separated.

I can imagine Jesus sitting back and letting his words sink into the disciples’ hearts as he watches what is happening around him in the temple. There are lots of wealthy people putting in money into the treasury. Some of them likely wanted to be seen. Perhaps a plaque could be made in their honour for their generous donation. At least people around them would see that they are important people, wealthy people, generous people and good people who give to the purposes of the temple.

And then quietly, a poor widow walks up to the treasury and puts in two small coins which Mark goes out of his way to tell us only amounted to a cent. This poor widow would not have been important in society, she was definitely not wealthy and perhaps she was even a little embarrassed to be in a temple with people of fine clothes and generous donations. Perhaps she wondered if her two coins even mattered in comparison to the donations that were so obvious of those who walked up to the treasury before her. But she quietly walked up to the treasury and quietly walked away.

This nameless woman does not go unnoticed in the kingdom of God. Jesus calls over to his disciples and points out this woman to them, saying, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.”

This vulnerable widow who was at risk of being devoured by the scribes, who had only two cents, demonstrated her love for God with everything she had, with her whole heart, her whole soul, her whole body, her whole mind. She put the things of God before her own needs. And she did so quietly. She didn’t need anyone to notice – she did it out of love.

Application

Esra and Fethullah provide a modern-day example of what it means to give out of everything we have for God. Like the widow, they surprise us as they are a Muslim, not Christian couple. They do not follow the words of Jesus as we do and yet their actions embody a love for God and love for neighbour that is unmistakable.

We may not be in a position to feed 4000 Syrian refugees. And perhaps it would be reckless to suddenly give all that we have to the offering plate when we have children in our own homes to feed and provide a warm and safe place to live. Perhaps though there are steps that we can take towards giving all that we have and all that we are to God. And maybe there are ways that we can give all that we have in ways that only God sees.

Maybe we could set an extra space at our table for someone who is in need of some sort – perhaps they are hungry for food or hungry for friendship.

Many of us have been taught to give a ‘tithe’ of our earnings – or ten percent. How many of us could honestly give more? If we add up our coffee expenses, could we give up a few overpriced coffees? Could we use our cars less and save the money we would spend on gas, parking and wear and tear to build up the kingdom of God?

The poor widow gave all that she financially had – but she also travelled to the temple to give it. Are there ways that we can give of our time? Could we give up a Sunday morning to teach Sunday school or a Friday evening to hang out with the youth in our neighbourhood? Could we babysit for the young family that can’t afford to pay a babysitter but desparately needs a date night?  Or perhaps we could offer to drive the single mom down the street to the grocery store on the weekend to do her shopping for the week? Could we take a leader in the church out for coffee to hear what excites them in ministry and what keeps them going and to pray with them?

How do we order our time at home? I know I can find a whole host of things to keep me busy that really need not to be done. I busy myself with Facebook, email, quick computer games that turn into half an hour breaks from whatever I am supposed to be doing. Others find distractions in TV. Could we fast from one of these distractions for even half an hour to pray?

Conclusion

Giving all that we are – our bodies, souls, hearts and minds – to loving God may seem impossible when we look at how hard it is to give a single hour of a day or a portion of our money. Maybe we can be moved by people like Esra and Fethullah who gave their wedding day and wedding gifts to feed refugees to give more of who we are and what we have to the God who gave all that he had in Jesus. Maybe we can participate in the strange revolution of serving and generosity that Jesus started this kingdom with people declaring him king as he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey in order to give all He was and is through the cross for those he came to save.

References

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/turkey/11783353/Meet-the-Turkish-couple-who-spent-their-wedding-day-feeding-4000-Syrian-refugees.html

Wright, NT. The Gospel of Mark for Everyone

Everything – A reflection on Matthew 13:44-46

A short reflection that I preached for a Taize service on Sunday.

Introduction

Anh Cao knows something about doing everything he can to attain a degree from the University of Toronto. He is a Vietnamese student who had straight A-plus marks and received numerous prizes upon graduation. The surprising thing about this gifted scholar is that he lived in a homeless shelter in order to pursue his degree. His studies were so important to him that he gave up everything for one thing.

Tonight’s parables are short descriptions of the kingdom of heaven that shift from the giver of salvation to our response. In each parable, the seekers sell all that they have in response to the treasure they have found.

God gives the treasure

In both parables, the treasure is already hidden. The treasure is already in the field and the pearl is already out there. The person who finds the treasure is not responsible for its creation. In the same way, the treasure of salvation has already been given to us. Christ has given his life for us so that we can have eternal life but also experience joy and peace in this world.

Response in the Parables

In the first parable, the person happens to find the hidden treasure and realizes that he has been looking for it all along. He then sells all that he had to buy the field. In the second parable, the person is searching for the finest pearls and finds what he is looking for. When he finds it, he realizes it is worth selling everything he has in order to buy it.

For Anh, he sought a university degree with all that he had. He gave up the comforts of home when it was the choice between living in a shelter or continuing his studies.

But for Christians, we have a treasure far greater than any university degree could give us. We have been given the promise of salvation and the presence of the Holy Spirit. We have found a treasure that gives us peace and joy that transcends all understanding and circumstances.

The merchant likely had other pearls that he had collected – each of them probably worth something and beautiful in their own right. Like the merchant, we might need to discern between what is good – and what is better.

Our response

I wonder what it would look like to give up everything for the kingdom of God – if you and I gave up everything we had to love God and love our neighbours. I wonder what things we would need to let go? How would our days be ordered differently?

Perhaps we are not ready to give up everything? Maybe our own comfort stands in the way. Maybe we are afraid. Maybe we would rather dip our toes into the water before jumping in with both feet. But I wonder how each of us can take a step closer to giving all we are to God.

Conclusion

I’d like to close with the words of one writer:

“Each of these tales requires everything. And each requires just one thing. The price for the treasures of God is everything we have.” (Nancy Rockwell)

The Work that is to Be

Supermoon 2013

Supermoon 2013

Some of my readers know that there has been a significant change in my life. On Sunday, I was commissioned and prayed for as I began a 3 month full time placement  – 2 credit internship at a church. The location hasn’t changed – I’m still worshiping at the same church and running a youth drop-in at another church building that is now part of the parish. I’m still doing many of the same tasks, thinking about the same things and filling my time as I usually do. There are extra things I need to do (like preaching and other churchy things). I’m actually working more or less the same hours too.

Yet this is a significant change for several reasons. First, I am moving forward and closer to what God has called me to be and do. In a couple of months, I will be two credits closer to a Masters of Divinity. Second, I am accountable to my supervisor, the church leadership, the congregation and my school in a different way. This doesn’t (hopefully!) impact how I conduct myself in terms of morality. But I am not used to having so many eyes – and scheduled conversations and evaluations – as I go about doing my work. I think this is ultimately healthier – but it’s different. Third (can you tell I’ve been writing academic papers lately???), I’m officially full time.

This last one has been on my mind a lot. I’m officially full time. Before May, I was unofficially full time by choice. But if I wanted to take a day or two or three off, I could and no one would care – or likely even notice. It meant that if I needed to attend to health, to rest longer, to hang out with the family upstairs I could. Now it’s a little different. Of course there are more than 40 hours in the week. But some of those hours are taken up with sleeping, housework and errands, commuting, teaching piano and other things. It’s not quite the same!

Today has been a full day. Admin work, meetings, piano student, another meeting. It was a day when I “switched hats” several times. I worked hard and diligently – with a small to do list left for the end of the day.

But I am tired. It is night time and I must sleep. That to do list must wait until tomorrow. The little voice that lives in my head tried to persuade me otherwise. And then I read compline from the Northumbria Community.

Father, bless the work that is done,
and the work that is to be.

The work is not done. But the day is done.

Now it is time for sleep – entrusting all that has – and has not been done in God’s hands.

Faithful to completion

2015-04-20 16.08.20

I have an incredible gift of starting new things with extraordinary enthusiasm. I have many ideas and many interests.

But finishing things is not exactly a gift or passion that comes easily.

The past little while I’ve been under a bit of pressure to finish something that I had started in the fall but has been lingering with mediocre progress – my assignments for a History of Christianity course. I have accepted an internship position that begins May 1 (more details to follow) but in order to do that, I need to have this course out of the way. The internship is something I *really want to do* and therefore is serving as sufficient motivation to get these papers done.

History has never been my strong suit. And chapter summaries on a summary book are unappealing to write. But the truth is – I’ve read the book once, don’t want to read it again and am ready for something new. It’s boring. It’s like pulling teeth. I have an attention span of a gnat as I try to summarize chapters of the early church. I’ve made progress but it feels like I am slogging through this just to get it done and out of my to do list. There are a myriad of things that seem more interesting. Like practicing scales on the guitar or cleaning the bathroom. But time is ticking and procrastination isn’t exactly adding more joy to this project nor is it getting the work done.

So last night I stuck at it – determined to complete four chapter summaries. Today I have a goal still to meet but decided to pull out the art project for this course to shift from academic to creative work. I am creating a children’s story book on the miracles attributed to St. Columba of Iona using plasticine as a medium. I’m not sure why I haven’t been working on this because it is thoroughly enjoyable and very therapeutic to work with my hands. The above picture shows the progress I made on a blank canvas this afternoon – some celtic art will go on top, but getting the background done is significant because it isn’t as interesting.

As I have been spreading plasticine to cover the white canvas, I have been thinking about the verse in Philippians:

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6

I can’t help but think about what it means to finish the good work that He began in m. I’m messy. I hurt people, I hurt God. I do what I do not want to do. I don’t do what I should. I wonder if God ever feels like he is slogging through while moulding me into the person he has called me to be. Is it like pulling teeth to keep me on the straight and narrow? Does God ever want to give up on me like I want to give up on this course?

And yet there are verses like this one that demonstrate God’s faithfulness and persistence to me – and to you.

God’s not done with me. Not even close. And he will be faithful to complete the good work that he started.

Biblical and Theological Rationale for Pioneer Ministry

This is one of my assignments but it explains much of my thinking around pioneer ministries. I thought I’d share it as it gives people in my life a little understanding of what I’m up to and why. The more I learn and involve myself in pioneer ministries, the more I realize that this is who I am. The other day, I mentioned to one of my professors that throughout my entire life I’ve been told that I am great at starting things, but not so good with finishing them. Her response was that that is common with church planters. We get bored easily and need to do new things. That is how we work. I feel like my entire life has been redeemed!

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Introduction

The Christian church is no longer the centre of society. Formerly churched people seem only tangentially connected with the Christian tradition if at all. People increasingly describe themselves as ‘spiritual, but not religious.’ Toronto boasts of multiculturalism which allows its inhabitants to keep their culture and religions and so there are increasing groups of people for whom the Christian story has never been a part of their lives. Many people would not consider walking into the doors of a church, let alone see a need for salvation and following Christ. Consequently, churches of all denominations face potential closure if they continue to be church in the way they always have been. Churches need to ask what God is doing in their neighbourhoods and cultural context and how He might be calling them to participate in what He is doing. They will need to ask themselves if God is calling them to do something different, or to do church in a new way. These are not new questions. Christians in every culture throughout history have discerned what it means to follow God in their lives and to be His representatives in the world.

Still, these questions tend to make many people nervous that we are diluting or changing the message of the Gospel by appealing to consumeristic whims instead preserving costly faithfulness. We do not need to look far to provide examples of where this has occurred. However, costly faithfulness might require the church to consider how they can live the Gospel in the world. Moreover, we may need to step outside of our comfort zone to follow a God who is constantly meeting people where they are at to love, heal and redeem them.

In this paper, I will provide a biblical and theological justification for pioneer ministries which seek to partner with God in the work that He is already doing in our midst. Pioneer ministries are an extension of the work of the Triune God throughout Scripture, the history of the Christian church and what God seems to be doing today.

What are Pioneer Ministries?

Pioneer ministries take seriously the call to spread the Gospel with people who do not know God’s love or their own need for God. As the name suggests, they often carry the risks and uncertainty that accompanies the journey to a new land, with new people, climates, and situations. Yet, these ministries recognize that the foreign lands are in our own backyards, starting with our neighbours. They require listening to the needs and culture of the people around us and to what God is already doing. They take seriously the understanding that many of these people will not attend the church as we know it. Moreover, they take seriously the importance of building relationships in which the love of Christ can be modelled and shared.

Pioneer ministries are often experiments that enable us to meet our neighbours and get to know them. As church attendance dwindles, this step becomes even more important in sharing the Gospel. We need to “come alongside our neighbours – we pay attention, we work, we eat, we converse, we cry, we laugh, we hope.” Pioneer ministries will strive to meet in and/or create ‘third spaces’ – spaces in which people gather that are not where they work/study and, in many cases, are not people’s homes. Therefore, these ministries may meet in cafes, or host a youth or family event. Vipperman writes:

Christ-centered community for the unchurched is built on genuine love and care for one another. Our prayer and faithful hope is that the friendships that are forged are intentional and we learn what care might mean for each individual who visit […] We won’t have the opportunity to care for our neighbours unless we know them.

Pioneer ministries provide the context in which the love of God can be experienced and discussed, thus distinguishing them from secular social clubs.Moreover, they seek to provide for emotional, physical, social, and spiritual needs in the neighbourhood, thus providing a more holistic and distinctly Christian approach to social justice.

Pioneer Ministries are Rooted in the Triune God

Pioneer ministries must be  rooted in the Triune God throughout Scripture and the history of the Christian Church. Branson writes, “If God is living and active, then church life, including church planting, should attend to discerning God’s initiatives and context […]it requires that we engage the living Trinity now, on the ground, in the mission that is around us and ahead of us.” It is therefore important to begin with the character of this triune God.

Triune God as Love

The Triune God is a God of Love. This love is unconditional, all-encompassing and eternal. This love is embodied in Christ’s life, death and resurrection. God’s love is present throughout the whole Biblical story. Some examples include: He carefully designs and delights in His creation; God leads His people out of Egypt, comforts the downtrodden and cares for the vulnerable; and continuously interacts with humanity despite our waywardness.

Bowen claims that God’s Kingdom is “the state of affairs where the Creator’s love is expressed in everything, overcoming evil and creating wholeness.” Pioneer ministries are an extension of God’s love as they seek to care and love for the people whom God has placed around us. They seek to be the arms and feet of God’s love in the world by finding opportunities to meet and bless others who do not already know God’s.  Again, Bowen writes, “God has a heart for those who do not know the Gospel in the cities across our land. God longs for us to have the same heart.” If we are to be messengers of God’s love, we must strive to demonstrate God’s love in all that we say and do.

Triune God as Missionary

The Triune God is the Great Missionary whose heart is moved and directed by His great love to save His people and to heal their brokenness and waywardness. Throughout Scripture, we see God making the first move to meet people where they are at and draw them back to Him. God is very much concerned with redeeming all the nations from the time of Abraham to the present. Bowen draws on this aspect of God to root pioneer ministries: “in one sense, the job of the church is always the same: to follow the lead of our missionary God and to put our energies into the things that God cares about,”

Pioneer ministries are tasked with discerning God’s missionary heart for the people in our midst. Bowen writes, “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.” This might lead us to care for populations whom we wouldn’t otherwise encounter. We need to ask ourselves who are in the margins of society and learn to care for the people whom Christ cares about.

Triune God as Innovator

Some people are uncomfortable with ‘newness’ and doing church in a ‘new way.’ Pioneer ministry are inherently risky as we venture to meet people who are different from us and who may not think, act or believe as we do. Yet, God has begun new and risky ventures throughout history. Bowen is worth quoting at length:

The God of Christian tradition is the God of new things: a new covenant, a new birth, a new commandment, new wine in new wineskins, and ultimately a new creation. Of course, this is not newness for the sake of novelty: this is newness in the supreme cause of God’s mission in Jesus Christ to renew “All things”. Undoing the effects of sin and evil inevitably means change and newness. The mission of God is never static, always moving forward.

While God is the great innovator who seeks to bring each person throughout cultures and history into His Kingdom, His new actions will be “recognizable as the authentic work of God because it resonates with what God has done in the past.” The call to follow Christ was radically different than the pharisaic preservation of holiness could even begin to imagine; Christ ate and drank with sinners while claiming to have the authority and identity of God Almighty. Yet, Christ’s coming was foretold by the prophets and was consistent with God’s character.

Triune God as Commissioner

Quite amazingly, God continues to use humanity – and in particular, His people – to be the vehicle in which the Gospel is spread. Branson writes, “biblical narratives repeatedly tell of the risk God takes in not shaping humans like robots, and even though we are often wayward, God refuses to reduce us to commodities or targets.” He is the great Commissioner who sends His people into the lands to embody and share the reconciling love of God. Christ prepares and teaches His disciples for carrying out His mission after His death and resurrection. The Spirit equips people with gifts that are needed for the building up of the Kingdom.

Following God’s Call

Pioneer ministries are one way in which the church can follow this Triune God in the world today. The church looks for new opportunities to partner with God to love and share the Gospel with a broken and hurting world. Moynagh summarizes this call:

The church is called through the Spirit to live the story of Jesus, at the centre of which is his death and resurrection. It does this whenever it takes up the cross in evangelism, sacrificial service and in its corporate life. The church is to be a sign, foretaste and instrument of the kingdom in its Jesus-centred life […] As a foretaste, the church mediates the future to the world.

Evangelism in pioneer ministries is as simple as sharing what is important to us. We share our encounters with God with friends, just as we might share what we did on the weekend.

Yes – But are pioneer ministries ‘church’?

Very few dedicated Christians would venture to claim that pioneer ministries are not good in and of themselves. That is, Christians should care for their neighbours, provide for their needs and be witnesses of God’s love in the world. The question that seems to be on people’s minds, however, is whether we can call these ministries ‘church.’ This is an important question and needs to be a part of visioning throughout the birth and life of a new ministry. In this section, I will argue that pioneer ministries are infact ‘church’ if they seek to foster relationship in the following way: relationship with God, with the world around us, with each other, and with the whole Church of God. Bowen rightly claims: “The church itself is people, the congregation, the community – people who are committed to the Gospel of who God is, and to the mission of God’s love in the world.”

Relationship with the Triune God

Pioneer ministries must be primarily concerned with their relationship with the Triune God. As members are rooted in the character of God, they will respond to God’s love through prayer, reading Scripture and surrendering their lives to this Triune God. At the beginning stages of pioneer ministries, this will likely be seen in the lives of the core members who have already committed themselves to God. As the ministries enfold, others will be drawn to the love of God and will begin to seek how they too can love God and live according to His ways in the context of their own lives and their commitment to the ministry of the Church.

Relationship with the World

Pioneer ministries will embody God’s love for the world through meeting social, emotional, physical and spiritual needs of those around them. Bowen claims, “unless the church is the servant of God’s work, it has little reason to exist.” As our culture moves further away from Christianity, we will need to start with the social, emotional and physical needs. This might take the form of a community meal that shows radical hospitality to people who cannot afford good healthy food, or it might provide a conversational drop-in for people who are new to the English language. The focus will be on building relationships out of which the opportunity might arise to speak of God’s love. Moynagh writes, “being a fellowship of love, the church commends the purpose for which it exists.”

Relationship with other Christians

Pioneer ministries will provide opportunities for regular gathering of Christians to be fed by God’s word, to pray together and to be encouraged by one another. Pioneer ministries have the potential to build deeper relationships because they begin out of a desire to have close enough relationships in which God’s love can be transformative and healing. As the ministry matures, it will need to balance the opportunities to connect with discipleship.

Relationship with the Whole Church

Pioneer ministries will be connected to the “one holy, catholic and apostolic church” throughout the world and history. Its practices will be consistent with and shaped by those which Christians have carried out throughout time. This is key as it provides accountability that independent communities lack. Moreover, these practices will be reminders that this new and risky venture is surrounded and supported by the communion of saints, both present and past.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the Church must continually discern what God is already doing in our midst and partner with Him. This might require us to start a pioneer ministry which seeks to meet our neighbours and build relationships through which Christ’s love can be experienced. Pioneer ministries are rooted in the character of the Triune God who is a loving missionary who meets them where they are at and commissions His people to do the same. Pioneer ministries are churches in themselves as they embody relationships with God, the world, other Christians and to the Church proper.