Neighbouring for Life

Have you checked out Neighbouring for Life yet? Rick Abma has been working with Karen Wilk, one of our National Team leaders, for several years now. He participated in one of the first Ethos hubs in the Edmonton area and was inspired to make the shift toward joining God in his neighbourhood and inspiring others to do the same.  Recently he published a little book which tells of that journey and includes many stories from along the way. As Forge seeks to evoke, equip and encourage Canadian churches toward a more incarnational missional presence in their neighbourhoods, Rick’s stories can inspire and challenge us.

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Raised on a dairy farm in British Columbia, the youngest of seven, Rick Abma pursued a college education that brought him into the world of broadcasting.  Following his radio career, he entered into full time ministry. After 20 years of ministry in the church, Rick ventured into a full time missionary position that focuses on bringing the “good news” to people right where they live. While understanding the power of loving neighbours in his own back yard, he began to engage in other neighbourhoods.  Today, he creates disciples in various other neighbourhoods and works with city leadership. He also roasts and markets, “Good Neighbour Coffee” (which prints true stories on the packaging), and hosts a radio show that features stories from his experiences.  In May, 2017, a few businessmen rallied around the vision and opened a new space called, Good Neighbour Coffeehouse in Lacombe, Alberta. This business provides space where neighbourhood leaders can learn from each other and features direct trade, organic coffee from the Honduran farmers that Rick and his family came to know while living there in 2008.

In addition to this, Rick offers free use of his “Neighbourhood Life” travelling trailer BBQ or the “Neighbourhood Life” espresso trike for neighbourhood initiatives.  People are generally in disbelief when they see these tools in action, not to mention the disbelief on how refreshing it was to gather with neighbours!  As a result, Rick recorded his journey which has now become the book, Neighbouring for Life.  The book is filled with stories that follow his transition from the institutional church into the mission of various neighbourhoods.

Paul Born, bestselling author of “Deepening Community,” “Community Conversations” and president of the Tamarack institute says, “Rick is a master story teller who knows more about being a neighbour than anyone I know.  This book is a must read for people whose faith compels them to care for others and build deeper relationships.  If you want to improve your quality of life, the simplest way is to get to know your neighbours.  Rick not only shows you how but his stories will inspire you to actually do it!”

Jim Diers, author of “Neighbor Power” and a well-traveled speaker/activist says, “Rick Abma doesn’t just talk and write about community; he lives it!  ‘Neighbouring for Life’ summarizes the valuable lessons he has learned from his experience as a neighbour.  Rick argues that community isn’t something we do in our spare time but rather it’s a way of life that can be realized through practice, not programs.  His book illustrates this with stories that are as rich and stimulating as the Good Neighbour coffee he roasts.”

Follow www.rickabma.com or www.goodneighbourcoffeee.ca for ongoing stories and insights.

A Journey toward Neighboring

By Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon (The Art of Neighboring, Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, © 2012, 24-26. Used by permission).

When I (Dave) was 26, I was hired as a teaching pastor at a large, young-adult church that was experiencing a lot of growth. In my previous life, I was a high school teacher.
Then almost overnight, I went from teaching thirty kids in a classroom to talking in front of a couple thousand people.

Needless to say, I was in way over my head. We were supposedly one of the “hot” churches in town. Translation: this is where a bunch of “hot” people go to meet each other. (Incidentally, I met my beautiful wife at this church.) There was a lot of buzz surrounding what we were doing and how we were doing it. Local pastors would visit our church in hopes of discovering what it was that was prompting the growth and attracting so many young people.

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Teaching in front of thousands of people felt like the opportunity of a lifetime. At least it did at first. And of course there were parts of my job that were exhilarating. On most nights, however, when I got into my car and drove home, I felt strangely empty. I knew what went into putting on those services. We spent the majority of our time putting on an event that, to be honest, just didn’t seem like it was producing the kind of life change we were hoping to see.

My point is not to criticize large churches, because there are many good ones out there that are doing great things. Nor am I saying that large-group teaching isn’t effective and that we should scrap it altogether. Instead I am saying that my experience as a large-church pastor caused me to re-evaluate my thinking about transformation and the best ways to invest my time and energy. While I served there, a healthy sense of discontent grew in me. And over time I realized that our weekly service was always going to have a limited impact in actually changing our community. I became convinced that no matter how much our church grew, a single congregation would never be able to truly transform our entire city.

My healthy discontent sent me on a journey to redefine how I thought about the church and its ability to have a lasting impact. I left my teaching pastor position and found myself at another thriving church, where I continued to wrestle with the same gnawing thoughts and questions. I soon found myself becoming obsessed with John 17, an entire chapter that recounts Jesus’s prayer just before he is arrested. First, Jesus prays for himself, then for his disciples. Then he concludes by praying for us.

What he prayed is powerful. He prayed that everyone who follows him would be one, that we would be brought to complete unity. Jesus has a burning desire for there to be unity among all believers. In fact, he tells us that there is something so sacred and beautiful about our oneness that it will draw people to God who aren’t in a relationship with him. This was the answer I was looking for to help facilitate lasting transformation in our city! And this is what prompted me to gather local pastors to listen to our mayor and to dream about what we could do together that we could never do alone.

After hearing our mayor’s comments about neighboring that day, I was forced to consider my own relationships with my literal neighbors. I came face-to-face with the fact that while I was doing a decent job caring for a lot of people in my church, I wasn’t doing a good job of even remembering my neighbors’ names. That conversation with our mayor launched my family on a journey of learning how to know and even love the people God has placed around us. As you will see throughout this book, this was a powerful turning point for my wife and me, and even for our kids.

I have come to believe that, as followers of Jesus, one of the worthiest endeavors we can undertake is to take the Great Commandment seriously and learn to be in relationship with our literal neighbors.

We all need to get back to the basics of what he commanded: love God and love others. Everything else is secondary.

A Way That Works
Jesus said the most important thing we can do is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. We are discovering that Jesus was actually really smart. You could even say that he was and is a genius. When Jesus was asked to reduce everything important into one command, he gave us a simple and powerful plan that, if acted on, would literally change the world.

This simple plan also offers us a different kind of life. It’s a way of living that makes sense and brings peace to people’s souls. Whenever we center our lives around the Great Commandment and take very literally the idea and practice of loving our neighbor, there’s great freedom, peace, and depth of relationship that come to our lives. By becoming good neighbors, we become who we’re supposed to be. As a result, our communities become the places that God intended them to be.

Relationships are progressive and don’t all happen overnight, but there are some simple steps you can take that will start you on an amazing journey. Make no mistake, neighboring is not always easy. Yet it is powerful and significant. And it is central to experiencing the full life that Jesus promises.

WHO IS MY NEIGHBOR?

What if the solution to our society’s biggest issues has been right under our noses for the past two thousand years? When Jesus was asked to reduce everything in the Bible into one command he said:

Love God with everything you have and love your neighbor as yourself. What if he meant that we should love our actual neighbors? You know, the people who live right next door.

The problem is that we have turned this simple idea into a nice saying. We put it on bumper stickers and T-shirts and go on with our lives without actually putting it into practice.

But the fact is, Jesus has given us a practical plan that we can actually put into practice, a plan that has the potential to change the world. The reality is, though, that the majority of Christians don’t even know the names of most of their neighbors.

We know that getting to know your neighbors can sometimes be intimidating. If you’re like us, when you watch the news you can’t help but feel overwhelmed. There are endless stories of child abuse, drug and alcohol addiction, teen pregnancy, out-of-control debt, and a laundry list of other issues. Not only does it make you want to turn the channel and escape, but it also makes you wary of strangers, even the ones that live on your block.

We know this isn’t the way it is supposed to be. This isn’t what Jesus envisioned for us and for our world. We know we can do more. And we know that we can’t just sit around waiting for someone else to do it. But it’s hard to know where to start. Right?

Start by looking around your own neighborhood. What problems do you see? The yard across the street is full of knee-high weeds. You know the husband just got laid off from work. Should you call code enforcement? Maybe the local government will be the one to help. Next door there are teenagers, and the smell of pot seeps out the windows on a nightly basis. You wonder if you should call the police. That will take care of the problem.

Won’t it?

There’s a family a couple of doors down with several children. It’s clear that none of them speak English very well, and you wonder if the kids are even in school. Should you contact someone in the school district? Surely they are equipped to handle this sort of problem. Aren’t they?

These problems aren’t hypothetical; they likely exist just outside your front door. We can always hope that somebody else will handle them. But what if we could be part of the solution? And what if the solution is more attainable than we think? What if it all starts with getting to know the invisible neighbors that surround us?

Have you ever wondered about the invisible family that lives in your neighborhood? You’ve never actually met them but you know they exist because you’ve glimpsed signs of life around their house. There’s the dad. You know him by the sedan he drives. When his garage door opens at 7:30 each morning, he’s already inside his car. The motor starts. He backs out of the driveway and takes off down the street. Each evening he zooms straight into the garage again. The garage door opens and then shuts, and he’s inside the house without a trace. Then there’s the mom. All you’ve glimpsed of her recently is her minivan. She zips their kids around to a mass of activities, probably going to soccer, karate, violin lessons, and playdates. You know about these activities mostly because of the different uniforms that the kids are wearing as they pile into the car. The stick-figure decal on the window is also helpful, a kind of suburban map legend on the rear window that tells the neighbors how many kids the family has and what they like to do. Their kids always seem to hang out in the backseat. You can’t really see much of them because the windows are tinted. But you can see the glow of the dual DVD players as the van passes, so you know they’re in there.

And what about the three middle-aged adults who live in the house on the corner? What’s their relationship, and why do they share the same house? And who lives across the street? There never seem to be any grown-ups around—only teenagers coming and going at all hours and playing their music really loudly. And why do the folks catty-corner leave their garbage cans by the curb for days? Do they travel a lot?

It’s so easy to draw negative conclusions about the neighbors we’ve only glimpsed. An unkempt yard, a slew of tattoos, a weird haircut, or loud music. It can all cause us to make assumptions about the people who live around us. But it’s these very assumptions that keep us from befriending them.

What if things could be different, though? What if we took the time to get to know the people next to us and discovered that they aren’t so menacing after all? Perhaps we’d find that the people on our block are normal people just like us. They go to work, hang out with their kids, and put their pants on one leg at a time. At the end of the day, they long for a place to belong, a place to be accepted and cared for. They want to do something significant with their lives, something that really matters.

What good things might happen if you truly got to know the people in your neighborhood and they got to know you?

Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon, The Art of Neighboring

Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, © 2012. Used by permission.

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Neighbourhood Matters

By Karen Wilk

Commuter Church. As associations of commuters, North Americans churches have functioned and sought to achieve their purposes in “spaces”. Commuter congregations occupy a generic space once or twice a week under the assumption that what we do there will attract and bear witness, disciple and grow those who attend and those whom we want to attend. As a result, the church is not a stake holder in the neighbourhood and while perhaps able to be a service provider and “do outreach” there, she is not an incarnational presence. Consequently, for church members who “volunteer” in this space, there is no sense of personal ownership or commitment. As “outside Christian volunteers,” we can choose when to engage, and can opt in and out of caring at all because we feel no particular responsibility for the people or the place. In contrast, as one Neighbourhood Life (NL) member noted, “being a neighbour makes it more real and integrated, like church is supposed to be – an extension into all of life – and neighbours can reveal how God works, how the world works and [thus] the context in which we live.”

Commuter church participation in a neighbourhood also fosters a certain response in the neighbourhood who is receiving the “volunteers and services”. The neighbours recognize that the church has its own agenda, and that it may, or may not, understand or have the best interests of the neighbourhood in mind. A number of NL/NEW participants told stories of such experiences, particularly of how difficult it was for them, “as the neighbourhood” to try to help the commuter congregation “get” what they were doing. For example, one NL couple awkwardly found themselves in the middle of a dispute between some neighbours and the commuter congregation who was planning to build a new facility in their neighbourhood. Indeed, a commuter congregation can engender negative responses from the residents as one church recently experienced. Their “community survey” revealed that residents were very frustrated with the parking habits of Sunday morning attendees.

Space Versus Place. The occupation of space as opposed to place however has deeper implications for the church than teaching commuter attendees where to park on Sunday mornings. It forces us to wrestle again with what it means to be the church. Can we fulfill our mandate as God’s people simply by doing good deeds somewhere/anywhere and going home? Might a church that operates in a space, a building which is not the “habitus” of its people, be missing something critical not only to its witness but to its identity and formation as the people of God? What did Jesus mean when He prayed for the church to be one? As the culture is rediscovering the importance of place; of “going local”, perhaps the Spirit is also nudging the church to re-examine what it means for her to be “the personal presence of Jesus by the Spirit in the world.”[1] “A disembodied church,” it has been quipped, “doesn’t have a leg to stand on!”

Contrarily, the good news in the Scriptures portrays a God who goes on mission in person and in place. The wonder of the Incarnation is the presence of the loving God in our ordinary, everyday lives. To this, the church is now made, empowered and called to bear witness in her very being – ”as an incarnational presence. If this be so, the postcommuter shift in our culture is an invitation from the Spirit for the church to think again about the implications of her formation in detached spaces around a myriad of affinities from doctrine to musical preference. Meanwhile, fresh expressions of church, such as Neighbourhood Life are seeking to do experiments as the Body of Christ in person and in place. In this new (old) paradigm, church is less about a space, a service and an organization and more about being a community of Jesus followers doing life together in a neighbourhood such that they alert others to His kingdom come near. “When we began to recognize the significance of neighbourhood, of place,” one NL Community participant–who is an elder in his commuter congregation– explained, “that’s when our congregation decided to be a community of communities and commit to this [neighbourhood life] but we were really the only ones who actually did it; measured and paid the cost.” Perhaps Michael W. Smith’s struggle to find his “place in this world” is actually the struggle of an ethereal church now stirred by the wind of the Spirit to reimagine what it means to be the people of God by finding her “place in this world.”[2]

Join Karen Wilk in Ontario Saturday May 27th!

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[1]. Craig Van Gelder, “Incarnating the Gospel in Culture” (DM 7613 Lectures, Northern Seminary, Chicago, IL, June 18-22, 2012). Emphasis mine.

[2]. Michael W, Smith, Go West Young Man, Album, 1990.

What if… by Karen Wilk

What if… every Christian in every neighbourhood in North America (and around the world?!) actually loved their neighbours, those with whom they live in proximity—

as Jesus loves?

What if…every Christian in every neighbourhood in North America (and around the world) sought Kingdom Shalom in word and deed for the community in which they lived?

What if…every Christian in every neighbourhood in North America (and around the world) joined together with every other Christian in their neighbourhood, and together manifested the tangible Presence of God in that place as the real flesh and blood Body of Jesus?

What if…as they were formed and transformed into the people of God in that place, others also participated and, together, they discovered more of who God is and what the Spirit is up to?

And what if…that formation became the determining factor for who they were and what they did?

And What if…as God did his work in, through and with them,

they became more like Jesus and less like consumers;

more like friends and less like service providers;

more like disciples and less like patrons;

more like radical followers and less like fans;

more like salt, light and a city on a hill

and less like an institution, a program and an event;

more like a community with a mission

and less like an organization with a strategic plan;

And WHAT IF…

God has moved into the neighbourhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. 

 —Revelation 21:3, The Message

 

 

Interested in learning how to neighbour better? Join Karen Wilk in Burlington May 27th.

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Forge: A Movement of Missional Training

by Cam Roxburgh

Forge originated 20 years ago in Australia, through the work of Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost. These innovators have contributed as much to the outworking of missional training as anyone over these past two decades. Much of the Forge movement is because of their hard work.

At the same time, in Canada, I began what was then called the Missional Training Network. Both of these efforts grew until in 2006, when Alan and I developed Forge International through our work and friendship (see the next blog for a more complete history of Forge). Now a decade later, Forge is in numerous countries and includes many other leaders. Here are some introductions to our team in Canada and around the globe.

Forge Canada

Many missional leaders have shaped Forge Canada. These include Gary Nelson, Alan Roxburgh, Don Goertz, Jonathan Wilson and many others.

Anthony Brown
Anthony has been with Forge Canada from the beginning. His teaching, preaching and writing have influenced our country. Anthony pastors a local church, and has done amazing work in transitioning a church towards a missional future. He speaks regularly at pastors conferences and has taught at Regent College in Vancouver for over a decades. You can connect with Anthony at anthbrown@hotmail.com.

Merv Budd
Merv has been part of the Forge Canada team for the past two years. After serving as the National Director of Equipping Evangelists, Merv transitioned to serving as the Ontario Director of Forge Canada. Merv is also a local pastor and is known for his gift of evangelism. You can connect with Merv at merv.budd@forgecanada.ca.

Preston Pouteaux
Preston has been with Forge Canada for over eight years. Preston lives in Chestermere – just outside of Calgary – and is also a local pastor. Preston teaches, writes and speaks at conferences for Forge. His next book, The Bees of Rainbow Falls, will be released this spring. You can connect with Preston at preston@forgecanada.ca.

Karen Wilk
Karen has been a crucial part of Forge Canada for ten years. Her work in teaching about life in the neighbourhood has been influential in many communities. She is a gifted writer (Don’t invite them to Church), teacher and speaker. She is speaking at the Regent College Pastors Conference in May as a keynote speaker. She is a key part of the neighbouring movement in Edmonton. You can connect with Karen at wilkonline@shaw.ca.

Cam Roxburgh
It has been my privilege to lead such a fine team as Forge Canada in its many forms for eighteen years. I love serving the local church as a pastor, and serving the bride in Canada through helping to coordinate all the training that we do as a team with Forge. I am always happy to connect with those who desire to see the Canadian church live as a faithful presence. I also have the privilege of serving on the Forge International Team and am excited about seeing this movement advance into new countries. Feel free to email me at cam.roxburgh@forgecanada.ca.

Others
Forge Canada is also encouraged to be served by Sara-May Cardy, Luke Miller, Rainer Kunz, Howard Lawrence, and has been helped in the past by Jamie Arpin-Ricci.

Forge International Team

Kim Hammond
Kim leads Forge International. Having come through one of the original cohorts in Australia, Kim has become an author and teacher, a  local pastor and gifted communicator. He is the author of Sentness, and his second book is soon to be released. You can connect with Kim at kimdhammond@gmail.com.

Mark Michaels
Mark holds our team together as International Secretary. He has been crucial in starting the Forge movement in Europe and now helps initiate and administrate what we are doing in many countries. There is no one who works as hard as Mark to help Forge move forward. You can connect with Mark at mmichael67@gmail.com.

Hugh Halter
Many know Hugh through his writing. The Tangible Kingdom, Flesh, And, and several others have become well-read books. Hugh has been leading Forge America for two years and watching it grow in leaps and bounds. Check out Forge America for all of the Hubs that are starting up all over the country for training of local leaders. You can connect with Hugh at hughhalter@gmail.com.

Alan McWilliams
Alan is the leader of Forge Scotland and a crucial part of the Forge International Team. Also a local pastor, Alan both teaches and puts into practice a deeply missional theology. He has been a key to Forge Europe getting off the ground, and now oversees country leaders in an increasing number of European countries. Connect with Alan at alan@whiteinchchurch.org.

Trevor Hutton
Trevor leads Forge England. Having almost finished his Ph.D, Trevor is an important part of the team as we seek to be a missional movement that reflects God in everything we do. Trevor has seen explosive growth in England with a number of training centres starting within the last two years. Connect with Trevor at trevorhutton@momentum-uk.org.

Brad Brisco
Brad has been a part of the Forge Movement for a long time. He has worked with Lance Ford on several missional books (Missional Essentials is the best workbook on the market from my perspective). Brad has recently taken a key role with NAMB, serving as an initiator of missional plants. You can connect with Brad at brad.brisco@gmail.com.

Ryan and Laura Hairston
Perhaps no one has given up more for the Forge Movement as Ryan and Laura Hairston have. They are on the International team as well as the America team, and serve through training Hub leaders in various cities across North America. There efforts have proven instrumental to the development of Forge. You can connect with them at ryan@forgeamerica.com.

Forge is also blessed with other country leaders such as Mattias and Stephanie Neve who lead Forge in Sweden.

Forge International Board

Forge is wonderfully blessed with founders and a board of directors of the highest order. Alan Hirsch (Forgotten Ways), Deb Hirsch (Redeeming Sex), and Michael Frost (Exiles), were all part of the founding team and now serve faithfully on the board. All three are initiators and have been influential in the missional movement, Forge and beyond. Forge International has also been shaped of late by the efforts of Martin and Lynda Robinson from England. They also head up a missional organization in England called Formission.

Forge Canada: The Short Story

By Cam Roxburgh

Who are we and what are we about?

It was 1999. I had been a planter/pastor for almost 7 years and had learned so much… mostly about what I did not know, and how the world was changing.

I started to build a core team for Southside Community Church in 1992. We made a number of decisions that were ahead of their time, almost by accident. We moved into the neighbourhood. We structured ourselves around life together in Mission Groups. We began to reflect on how we presented the Gospel… and God blessed us. We planted a second congregation in 1997 and were on the verge of the third and fourth by 2000. But the further we went, the more we realized that the church in Canada was becoming marginalized.

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Baptizing new believers in 2000.

As I came into contact with some emerging church leaders, I felt conflicted. Much of what they were teaching brought a new energy, I sensed a drift in theology that concerned me.  During this time, the Gospel and our Culture Network began to write on and teach a more “Missional” perspective. My uncle, Alan Roxburgh, began to teach a number of interns at our church—young leaders who were convinced there was a different path forward: one that didn’t necessitate making compromises in our theology or forcing the church back into the centre of society. His teaching brought life as he cast a vision of church in neighbourhood that we all resonated with. He put language and theory to what we were discovering in practice: theological reflection, neighbourhood impact, intentional leadership.

Between 1999 and 2007, this internship training existed as The Missional Training Network. We began to work with leaders in cities across the country to train the next generation for missional leadership. Focusing on neighbourhoods as mission fields, we helped people to make decisions to join our missionary God at work in their context. By 2007, my friendship with Alan Hirsch of Forge Australia had grown. He had also moved to the States and we began Forge International, with The Missional Training Network becoming Forge Canada. During these last ten years as part of the Forge movement, we are delighted at how God has used us.

We have spent time evoking the missional conversation through writing The Missional Voice and hosting A Day With… training events with leaders such as Craig van Gelder, Alan Hirsch, Michael Frost, Hugh Halter and Brad Brisco. We have had a multitude of webinars and weekends that served local churches, denominations and cities. We have worked with several Baptist groups, Mennonites, Christian Reformed, and the Church of God as denominations and many others through more localized involvement.

We have also sought to equip churches to move from a Christendom model of ministry, to a more missional approach that helps us to live faithfully at the margins. We equip neighbourhood leaders to develop neighbourhood-based communities of people who seek to join God on mission in that place.

All of which brings us to today, and the direction we are heading in the future.

The Forge Canada vision will continue to be “To equip planters, leaders, denominations to establish multiplying missional Christian communities in neighbourhoods across Canada.” Our strategy will be to accomplish this work “through evoking conversation, equipping churches and neighbourhood leaders, to establish new missional communities.”

Our task will not be to plant new communities of Christians as much as to help others to do that in this present context. We believe other groups such as New Leaf Network are doing a wonderful job here in Canada at keeping our post-Christian context in front of us and we want to be a support to them.

We will continue to seek to be faithful to our understanding of God as missionary. Our foundation has always been that we understand God through the lens of the Missio Dei. He has always been a God who seeks relationship with the world through the sending of His Word. He is present and active in the world in a number of ways: first through the work of Jesus, and second through His people empowered by the Spirit of God. Our task—as people who are made in His image, as individuals and as a community, which is His body—is to discern where God is at work in the world and then to participate in the good news that the Kingdom of God is present. It is to this end that we want to equip local communities of faith to join God at work in their neighbourhoods.

We will continue to be a part of the missional movement in Canada, and indeed to work with Forge International to partner with what God is doing around the globe. We invite you to join this growing movement in Canada with us.

The Next Stage: Forge Canada 2.0

By Cam Roxburgh

Welcome! Okay, it is a little odd to welcome you to something you have already been a part of, but we at Forge Canada believe that we are into the next stage of what God is doing in Canada around His mission. He is moving His people beyond evoking a conversation, to equipping them for practice.

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Stage 1 – Evoking
Twenty years ago, a group of theologians and practitioners gathered to write the book Missional Church. The Gospel and our Culture Network (GOCN) took the work of Lesslie Newbigin and used it to reflect on what was happening to the church in our context. “Missional” began to get traction, and many jumped on the bandwagon. The good news was that many wrestled with the cultural dislocation of the Church, but the bad was that “missional” was defined in many different ways. Old practices and patterns of thinking—formed in Christendom—were hard to break, and many simply have continued in an old paradigm under the new name of “missional.”

Many have become aware of the missional conversation. Denominations have tried to help their churches envision a different future. Schools have attempted to train leaders for that future. Church Planting groups have wrestled with shifting from “planting worship services,” to seeding kingdom communities in neighbourhoods across the land.

Some believers have grappled with this second-order change and begun to turn a corner, while others have given up because the way forward was difficult. It seems as if very few have not at least come into contact with the idea of becoming missional. It has become an adjective, placed in front of any program to emphasize a desire for evangelism. Many have missed what Newbigin and the GOCN were trying to express.

Forge Canada uses a definition of missional that has its roots in Newbigins’ writing (he perhaps co-opted it from Rahner and Barth). The Missional Church is “a renewed theological vision of the church on mission, serving as a sign, servant and foretaste of the kingdom of God.” It is first about God and His mission. It recognizes that God is already at work in the world and we need to discern where He is at work in order to join Him. It emphasizes that we as a people are sent as missionaries into the very neighbourhoods where He has placed us to participate in that work.

Stage 2 – Equipping
The conversation evoked over the past decades must give way to equipping. This is the stage we now found ourselves in. It seems as if not only has the church experienced a cultural dislocation in culture, but also Christendom is more deeply entrenched in us than we perhaps thought. So many continue to try and seek a way forward by recapturing the privilege and power that the church knew when it was found at the centre of our culture. But we live in a secular context now (Taylor and then Smith) and we need to learn to live as a Faithful Presence (Hunter and then Fitch).

I continue to hear the call from denominational leaders that what we need is assessment tools and models of what it means to be missional. But this kind of approach is only indicative of how deeply we are entrenched in Christendom. Instead, we believe there are three things needed to begin equipping communities of God’s people in missional life:
A process of discernment: where is God at work? How does He want us to be involved?
The development of missiological competencies to engage the culture in its secularities.
The telling of stories that create imagination in us to join God on mission in our neighbourhoods.

We need an equipping to learn what it means to be a sign, servant and foretaste of the reality of the kingdom in our midst. We need a commitment to being faithful to the why (missional theology), and a passion to pursue the  (missional ecclesiology) in our context. It is not about models, but about being a faithful presence as God’s people to the reality of the presence of our king.

At Forge Canada, we are seeking to equip the church in Canada through a number of avenues. Ethos continues to help churches move into an understanding of ministry in a post-Christian culture. This 2-year journey has been a help to many churches across the country. Life in the Neighbourhood is another tool that has produced fruit. This experience, led by Dr. Karen Wilk, aims to help local neighbourhood leaders launch groups in their context. Living Faithfully is a new stream developed by Jonathan Wilson, Jonathan Bird and myself, with a view to helping people in our churches to live as local missionaries. And finally, we will be introducing a tool to help churches be restructured around Mission Groups in order to reach their context. We believe that the church in Canada needs to recapture the essence of what it means to live as disciples among people in their neighbourhood.

Why I don’t wish you a Happy New Year

By Merv Budd

I’ve heard it my whole life every 365 days: “Happy New Year.” For many it summarizes the goal and purpose of life—happiness. “Happiness is the truth,” croons Pharrell Williams. And caught up in the catchy tune and rhythmic beat we bob our heads in agreement. But is happiness the true purpose of life?

Fireworks

If it is then it stands to reason that pain is bad; there is nothing good which can come from it. Philosophically we have been hoodwinked into embracing hedonism.

Hedonism is the belief that a person’s chief reason for living is to pursue pleasure and avoid pain. But many of life’s most valuable lessons are learned through hardships and loss, pain and suffering, trials and discipline. In other words, the deepest type of character development happens in the deepest valleys of pain. In pleasure we feel in control, in pain we feel out of control and it is in those times that we are forced to exercise faith the most.

And some people will avoid those opportunities at all cost. They do not value the lessons that hardship teach. Very often these people will do the same for their children. One of the most difficult parenting skills is the skill of butting out, the brutal gut-wrenching choice to not rescue your children from hardships. To allow them to struggle and in that way allow them and their faith to mature.

Greatness is born from pain. Great athletes, great artists, great musicians are forged and shaped by the hardships that they self-impose in order to grow. A pain-free pursuit stunts our growth as people. Without pain we shrink as a species.

But in a country where happiness is our true pursuit, we create laws which allow us to take our lives when we feel that we will be too unhappy to carry on. We approve “recreational drugs” so we can take mental holidays and escape the painful realities of living our lives. We create ever more sophisticated gadgets and technologies that we harness to pursue our own, private, virtual happiness: porn use spiked after Christmas, when people opened their 3D goggles.

At what cost is our pursuit of happiness? Might our pursuit of happiness actually be the rancid fruit of decay, the beginning of the crumbling foundation of what made the luxury of pursuing happiness possible in the first place?

And so I do not wish you a happy New Year. I wish for you a year full of contented joy, secure in the knowledge that God remains sovereign, has His eye upon you and walks with you even through dark valleys where He oversees your development, maturity and nurture.

Reflections on Advent: He Came Among

By Cam Roxburgh

The Christmas spirit came early for me this year. Often, it is not until Christmas Eve, when in the mad dash of life in the church, I can finally take a breath. But this year was different. Perhaps it is a slower pace, or maybe the power of the Hillsong Worship Song, “What a Beautiful Name.” Or maybe it is the amount of snow we have received already in Vancouver. That never hurts.

Every Christmas I listen to Charlie Brown’s reading of Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus. Much of our time is in Luke or Matthew around this time of the year, but I have been once again in John’s account of the wonder of Advent. I have been reminded of the importance of pushing past the sentiments of the season alone. Doesn’t anyone know what Christmas is all about anymore, Charlie Brown? The questions remain the same: who is Jesus? Why did He come?

Charlie Brown Public Domain

A great Christmas tradition is to go to hear either Handel’s Messiah or Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Books have introductions or prologues, but orchestras play overtures. Overtures give a glimpse into the themes for the entire piece. Many commentators suggest that John 1:1-18 is an overture and not simply an introduction to John’s account of the coming, the life, and the work of Jesus.

Beginnings are important. Mark begins with ministry. Luke begins with the birth and the events surrounding it. Matthew begins with the story of God with His people, the Jews. But John begins at the beginning. Jesus is present at creation.

In those days, “the word” (logos) referred to the way in which people understand the world to be ordered, or how it functioned. “The word” was about how the world and everything in it made sense. Today, some might say the word is karma, or yin and yang. In those days, the Jews were clear in their understanding that “the word” was God in action. John begins his account by stating that God was in action now—in the person of Jesus Christ, the Word.

Who Jesus Is
As we listen for the grand themes of the gospel in John 1:1-18, we must first hear John’s declaration of who Jesus is. When John begins with “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God,” he is making a clear statement. Jesus is fully divine. He is the creator. He is the one who makes sense of the world. Jesus is God in action. When we try and answer the question of “who is Jesus?” it is not sufficient to say that He was a good man. John is clearly driving home the reality that Jesus is divine. Fully divine. The creator of all things who was there at the beginning. God in action. It is in His divinity that He is able to create and recreate each of us.

But John will not allow the readers to think of Jesus as only divine. He was fully human as well. In verse 14, we get this wonderful picture from Eugene Peterson about God coming among us, and moving into our neighbourhood. Jesus is God in action—fully divine. But as God in action, He became one of us, and came to be near us, right in our neighbourhoods. John is clear that the word became flesh.  Jesus was fully human as well as fully God. Advent certainly reflects His coming, but it begins with His absence, and then the expectation of His coming and the impact that He will have. It is in His humanity that He is able to teach us the way to live.

Who We Are
One more thing has caught my attention this Advent. John states at the end of this overture that “We have beheld His glory.” I use to think that this referred to the divinity of Jesus alone. But it refers as much to His humanity. John is making the incredible statement that if Jesus is God in action, and that He moved into our neighbourhoods, and if we have come into the presence of the glory of Jesus, then we reflect that glory to others around us today.

We too must move into the neighbourhood as He did. It is not possible to see Jesus, and to not begin to allow the life He lived to influence everything about the way we live. It is not enough to acknowledge his coming, but instead we must participate in that coming. That shapes everything about us.