What’s Fear Got to Do with It?

By Merv Budd

What does fear have to do with the Missio Dei? This was the question I was asked when I pitched the idea of doing a series of blogs on fear. The truth is that fear is very influential in our engagement with God’s mission. What we fear, how we steward our fear, and our manner of processing fear all get played out, to some degree, in how we love God and our neighbour.

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Scott Bader-Saye’s book, Following Jesus in a culture of Fear, argues that we live in a culture that feeds fear. That there are people that profit from fear. And he urges those who want to be faithful to Jesus to resist because the mission of God requires courage. This need for courage was driven home practically when I heard about what is being considered in Canada with regard to Bill C-51.

According to the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, the Canadian government is looking at revisions to Bill C-51. In particular, they are thinking of removing clause 14 which makes it an offense to disturb religious worship meetings. At present, it is an offense to willfully disturb or interrupt a group of people who have assembled for religious worship. The changes to the bill to remove this clause would reduce protection for worshipers in places of worship. What would we do if our protections were gone?

Would fear stop us from gathering? Or would we value our gathering more? Would we decide not to do that which might upset others, to avoid ruffling feathers and taking risks or would we find ourselves caring less about who became upset and focused more upon discerning clearly what God has called us to do? In other words, would fear or courage win out?

Faith requires courage because faith is the assurance of things unseen. Bader-Saye makes this clear as he considers how courage is required to show hospitality to others, but fear will keep us from trying. Similarly, courage is required to practice generosity and trust that God will supply all our needs. Courage is needed to engage those formative spiritual disciplines that nurture us in ways that make our lives attractive; disciplines like Sabbath keeping. As Brueggemann reminds us, “…the Sabbath of the fourth commandment is an act of trust in the subversive, exodus causing God of the first commandment, an act of submission to the restful God of commandments one, tow, and three. Sabbath is a practical divestment so that neighbourly engagement, rather than production and consumption, defines our lives.” And don’t underestimate the importance of courage required to be vulnerable for the sake of authentic community.

Fear seeks to guide our hearts, it is the opposite of desires. Desires try to pull us towards that which promises empty satisfaction that will ultimately destroy us. Fear attempts to push us away from that which will build us up, strengthen our faith or promotes God’s glory. It is a tactic used by Satan to foil the missionary enterprise of the church from it’s very beginning.

In Romans 16:30 – 31 Paul writes, “I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be kept safe from the unbelievers in Judea and that the contribution I take to Jerusalem may be favorably received by the Lord’s people there…”

Paul, is aware that going to Jerusalem might be dangerous. That foreboding only grows as he gets closer to the city. On his way he stops to encourage the church at Ephesus and as he is about to leave he says this, “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.” His sense of danger has grown, in fact he now identifies it as a warning that comes from the Holy Spirit.

As he draws closer, and is staying at Caesarea, we read this, “After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. Coming over to us, he took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, “The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’” If the nudging of the Spirit hadn’t been loud enough before now it is even clearer as God has a prophet come to tell Paul of the danger awaiting him in Jerusalem.

Paul’s concerns, we find out, were well justified. Why would he go when he knew there was danger? Wasn’t he afraid? Isn’t fear God’s gift to steer us towards self-preservation? It was such thinking that led Jesus to tell Peter, “Get behind me Satan!” When Peter said Jesus would not suffer and die. Self-sacrifice, not self-preservation is the way of discipleship.

Hardships, even warnings of persecution from God, does not mean that we should abandon the mission of God that He has called us to. Too often we come up against the prospect of hardship, or persecution or trouble and because of fear, we quit. Somehow, we have this mistaken notion that if we are doing God’s will, in God’s way that we will find everything falling into place. That it will be easy, opposition free. And we assume that fear is God’s voice steering us away.

What’s fear got to do with the mission of God? Lots! We want to explore a theology of fear in the next few blogs.

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.

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.

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?

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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.

Embracing Your Bailiwick

By Merv Budd

men talking. CC by Sagar

When I was a young Christian, I asked God to make me an evangelist. In my mind an evangelist was one who stood in front of large crowds and preached – like Billy Graham. I had read plenty of biographies from past missionaries and evangelists, so I decided I would go downtown in the city that I lived to preach. When I got to the place I imagined preaching I told God I was ready and then waited for the “unction” to come. I had read how other evangelists preached under the “unction of God.” The unction never came. I ran home fell to my knees in my bedroom and prayed again, “God make me an evangelist.”

I suspect this image of evangelistic work is not a foreign to many who read this. Somehow we get the impression that evangelism is a special kind of thing. It looks a certain way. We read about the apostle Paul preaching in the agora (marketplace) and perhaps think to ourselves, “I could never stand up on a street corner and preach like him.” The truth is, that isn’t what Paul was doing. The agora was a public forum for sharing ideas. Sharing ideas was what Paul was trained to do; it was Paul’s bailiwick. Do you know where the word “bailiwick” comes from?

Bailiwick has its origins in the French term for a bailiff – bailli. A bailli was a king’s representative with jurisdiction over a particular area. The English added the wic, meaning “village,” to literally mean “the bailiffʼs village.” The term was later adopted in American English to mean the sphere of one’s knowledge or activity.

Paul was the King’s representative in his area of training, in his sphere of knowledge, to anyone who would listen.

What’s your bailiwick? Where is your sphere of knowledge? How are you trained? Are you an accountant or plumber, doctor or teacher, mom or friend? Simply represent your King in that place. That is, in part, your evangelistic call.

Little River Band Missiology

by Merv Budd

Back in the 70s and 80s an Australian Rock group became quite successful in North America. They sold more than 30 million records and had many songs appear in the top 20 charts. The Little River Band is mostly forgotten now. But one of their most famous songs begins with lyrics that I think capture a missionary strategy that God might say to those of us who desire to reach our neighbourhoods but don’t know where to start.

The lyrics come from one of their top ten hits in 1979 called Lady (watch the video clip below if you’re feeling reminiscent).

Imagine with me that you’re in a neighbourhood and you don’t know where to start in order to reach it. Perhaps God would say something in this regard:

Look around you, look up here

Take time to make time, make time to be there

Look around, be a part

Feel for the winter, but don’t have a cold heart

Living missionally starts by looking around you and then looking up to God and asking where He is at work. Where is the Spirit of God already brooding? I suspect that such a looking and observing process would not be quick. We will need to “Take time to make time.” But it’s not simply a matter of looking around with our eyes; it is a matter of joining with those in the neighbourhood and being truly present with them in order to see past the external appearances, becoming part of the social fabric of the neighbourhood. And then, as their lives touch ours, we can feel for the coldness of their hearts towards God. We can learn to understand the pain which keeps them from trusting or knowing him, but not allowing our own hearts to grow cold.

It’s not a new strategy. It’s as old as the Apostle Paul himself. In Acts 17 we read about Paul:

While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean.” (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.) Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

Looking around, seeing as God sees, being present, joining in, and allowing your heart to be touched by the needs—but not overwhelmed. It’s a great way to start engaging your neighbourhood.

The Missional Piece

By Merv Budd

Back in the ‘80s there was a commercial that so grabbed the imagination of popular culture it became a tagline for jokes:

The commercial showed a popular restaurant offering chicken and someone asking what they were made of. The server said “Processed chicken,” which, he explains, is made up of chicken parts. The person ordering asked “what parts?” The answer that came back is “different parts,” the implication being that it didn’t really matter what parts of the chicken it was because “parts is parts.”

The thought that you can just take a bunch of chicken parts and cram them together for consumption came across as obviously disgusting. The implication was that there are some parts of the chicken that are meant for eating and others that weren’t.

In many ways there are churches that have that same “pieces is pieces and parts is parts” mentality when it comes to the task of the church. Sure there are certain things that the church should be doing and as long as they are all crammed in together, it doesn’t matter how they are arranged. Fellowship, discipleship, mission, worship: cram them altogether and you’ve got a church.

But what if how these aspects of church life are put together makes a difference? What if just mashing them together in any arrangement could actually result in a church not doing what a church is meant to do?

What if these different aspects of church life are like punctuation in sentences? Just throwing the words together, without the proper punctuation can actually have some tragic results:https://treeofmamre.wordpress.com/2014/09/17/why-punctuation-matters/hunters-please-use-caution-when-hunting-pedestrians/

In a similar way, we can have all the rights parts of what makes a church, but having them misplaced can have some negative results. For instance, while fellowship is an important aspect of church life, when it is the church’s highest value it will necessarily prevent effective outreach.

A church where the mission is not the first organizing principle of the church’s life will eventually cease to be the church. As Barth has often been quoted “The church’s mission is not secondary to its being; the church exists in being sent and in building itself for its mission.” The missional church is not primarily about having a mission or doing mission, it is about how the church is constituted. All that the church does must be able to point back to it’s relevance to the mission of God.

Exploring Exile with Lee Beach Part 2

By Merv Budd

In this second portion of the interview (read part 1 here), The Church in Exile author Lee Beach shares some hard words for Western Christians today, as well as some provocative encouragement:

Forge Canada: On page 144 of The Church in Exile, you make the bold assertion that, “many Christians in the West today live in a culture they do not understand.” What brings you to that conclusion? Can you illustrate your point?

Lee Beach: I think that a lot of Christians today think that the answer to the churches decline is to develop better techniques, or find a new pastor, or that it is just best to condemn the culture and sit back smugly. I think that lots of people in churches today think that by tweaking their Sunday service, or adding a new church-based program they can be more effective in reaching out to their neighbourhoods.

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I recently consulted with a church that had a goal to double their Sunday morning attendance in ten years. Their overall plan was to use the Sunday service as a the primary tool for community outreach. While the people were definitely sincere and their hearts were in the right place I was dumbstruck by their naivety. It was an example of how the leaders in this church completely misunderstood the changes in our cultures perception of the church and its message. They needed to be “converted” just as much as the people in their neighbourhood.

They needed to be converted from a Christendom mindset to a post-Christendom mindset. That is, they needed to come to an orientation to the world that understands that, by and large, people today find the Christian gospel irrelevant to the their lives. The only way that church will double its attendance is if it begins to develop a strategy for outreach that puts its Sunday service on the back burner and starts to focus on community service and engagement.

Stop worrying about how to get people into church and instead focus on how to get church people out of church and into their neighbourhoods doing the good work of Jesus among their neighbours.

Forge: You write about the need for God’s people to live holy lives as a missional posture within culture but you say that “It is a holiness that emphasizes living engaged but nonconformed lives that are guided by love and exercise genuine, abundant grace” (page 195). Are you able to give an example where you have seen this non-conformed, love guided, and abundant grace filled holiness?

Lee: We need to be known by what we stand for instead of what we stand against. We need to be known as those who love, care and welcome instead of those who build barriers and reject those who do not fit our code of ethics.

I see this happening in many places. I visited a church in Hamilton recently where street people and people with mental health issues are invited to participate in the service as leaders despite their very obvious issues. In another church I know they have taken seriously the idea of adding value to their neighbourhood (the whole city in fact) by starting small businesses and taking leadership in cultivating a new economic vision for a town that has been through a lot of hard times.

The positivity and love that these churches share is an embodiment of the good news. They are truly helping to transform lives and communities by living lives of practical love and service. This is embodied holiness. It is a demonstration of gospel shaped lives that incarnate the Kingdom message of Jesus.

Forge: You talk about the frustration that some may have forming community around mission but not being sufficiently able to quantify the results and measure the progress—which is a great source of angst in a “results oriented” culture (page 203). If we are not oriented around results which are measured for success what would you say is the necessary orientation around which a missional congregation needs to focus?

I think that the key question is what are we doing to benefit our local community and communities that are far away from us? “Success” is being able to identify specific initiatives that our church is involved in that has us engaged, face to face, with people in our community. How are we serving our community in an ongoing way? What new initiatives did we start this year? What feedback have we received from people outside the church that may lead us to believe that our work is valued by our community?

Further, what are we doing outside our local community that is supporting God’s worldwide mission? Are our resources (money, time, human) engaged in places where we may never see any direct benefit to our church (i.e. attendance, money, etc.) but without our help ministry in that place may not take place?

What are we doing for people who are marginalized? Can we identify ways that our church is tangibly making life a little bit better for people who are economically and socially disadvantaged? If a church can answer these questions positively then, in my mind that is a measure of success.

Join us as we carry on this discussion with Lee tomorrow in Toronto, Saturday in Niagara Falls, or next Saturday in London.

Exploring Exile with Lee Beach

By Merv Budd

Canadian author Lee Beach, in his recent book The Church In Exile, helps us imagine what the hope and mission of God’s people can look like in a post-Christendom culture. Here is the first of a two-part interview with Lee on some of the points from The Church in Exile.

Forge Canada: You write about the community of God’s people developing practices that set them apart from the practices of the larger culture (page 60). What are some of the practices of the larger culture that has shaped it into what we have today?

Lee BeachLee Beach: I think that it is accurate to say that mainstream Western culture has been shaped by the economic ideology of consumerism and materialism. These are the prevailing narratives that guide our times. The idea that fulfillment comes through the acquisition of goods and the pursuit of leisure is the prevailing narrative of our culture.

Also, the move toward a postmodern worldview that values individualized truth and the rejection of meta-narratives has made our culture one that is largely based on individualism. People find their cultural connection in increasingly cohort-based ways (e.g., through ethnicity, generation, religiosity, specific interests). These affinity-based choices have led to the fracturing of culture so that “culture” has to be understood as a loosely connected group of individual cultures that relate to each other in an “as needed” fashion. We are now a culture of cultures whose ethics are group based as opposed to being based on a cultural consensus.

The challenge for the church is to not simply capitulate into being another cultural group. We do need to cultivate our distinctiveness in a way that makes the Christian worldview plausible and attractive, but without being a cloistered segment of the fractured whole.

Forge: You argue that one of the needs of being an exhilic people is to stop trying to go back to the way things were and to embrace a future that looks different (page 102). What would you say are some of the “way things were” that the church in Canada keeps trying to restore? What are some of the irreversible changes that have taken place that we must accept?

Lee: The place of the church has shifted from near the centre of culture to nearer to the margins of it. The term “Church” and even “Christian” are generally perceived as negative terms for most Canadians. This does not mean that they perceive individual Christians negatively, especially if they have a relationship with one. But there is a huge perception in the public sphere that Christianity is not a helpful contributor to cultural progress.

Further, the Christian voice must accept that it is one among many with no pride of place anymore. We must understand that our voice will only be persuasive as it is able to engage other voices on equal footing and it will only have influence if it is backed up by authentic action. Certain social changes around sexuality, family, even abortion are not going to be reversed. This is not to say that the church should not stand for justice on particular issues, but trying to reverse laws or spend a lot of energy engaging political structures on these things is probably not the best investment of our time.

Instead we need to focus on figuring out how to serve our communities in a redemptive, positive way and offer critiques on the various issues of injustice that continue to plague our world and have both international and local implications like human trafficking, the environment and poverty.

Forge: You encourage us to read Scripture with the contemporary culture as a conversation partner (page 127). Can you explain how to go about this? Who would you say is someone who is doing this well?

Lee: Culture can help us to read Scripture better if we are willing to accept that we all live with a certain limited vision. That is, we all have blind spots due to the culture we are raised in and that we live in. Thus, we limit what Scripture is saying to what fits into our own predominant cultural vision.

Sometimes culture helps us see that our assumptions are misguided. For instance, imagine you grew up in a time and place when your church said it was okay to think of black people as inferior. Then imagine you move to a new part of the country where those stereotypes are not only challenged but also condemned. When you meet some African American people who impress you with their character and intellect, you may take another look at whether what you were taught by your church is actually an accurate interpretation of Scripture. In this way a new cultural experience helps you read your Bible better.

We need to be open to the idea that our current views of how to understand Scripture are shaped by our cultural location and as that location shifts it may actually shed new and helpful light on our theological convictions that may unearth the need for us to adjust them.

Walter Brueggemann is an example of someone who is doing a good job of reading Scripture and culture together. He is the one who initially got me onto the exile paradigm as he looked into culture and began to reflect on how the emerging contours of North American culture could shine new light on old texts and bring new understanding.

Lee is joining us for three evenings in Ontario this month. Visit forgecanada.ca to register for these events: