Fear of the Unknown

By Merv Budd

Recently the Heineken Beer company released an advertisement that sought to bring people together who would normally not associate. People who held not just opposite views but who held prejudices against them. What they found was that as people began to know those whom they had objectified as people, they began to be less harsh and less judgmental.

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While the world wide web may give the illusion that we are becoming closer to others as a species, the reality is that most of us really don’t associate with people who are not like us. In The Meaning of Sunday, Canadian sociologist, Joel Thiessen, revealed the results of a study in which he dealt with how people practise their faith or lack of faith in Canada–how is what they believe or disbelieve, lived out. In the book he divided the people who were interviewed into three main categories.

The first he calls “Active Affiliates” these are people who identify with a particular faith and actively practise that faith. Most of you would fit into this category. The second category he calls “Marginal Affiliates”. These would be people who identify themselves by a specific faith but do not really practise that faith on a regular basis. It does not have much influence on their day to day life. These would be people who may come to church at Christmas and Easter more out of tradition than any other reason. The last group are “Religious Nones”. These are those people who do not identify with a particular religion. They are the ones who on census surveys under the religious affiliation question check the box that says “none”. This is the fastest growing religious category in Canada.

As I read the book I began to find that I was getting irritated. In particular, when it came to the Marginal Affiliates and the Religious Nones telling why they have not fully embraced faith. The reasons given showed that they misunderstood what they were rejecting. It irritated me that they seemed to flippantly write off faith for reasons that were so erroneous, based upon ignorance about what Christian faith taught.

But what really started to bug me, was the results of one of the questions that was asked of each group was with regard to who they are friends with. Generally, those who were Marginal Affiliates exclusively associated with other Marginal Affiliates and Religious Nones exclusively associated with other Religious Nones. And I began to ask myself how are these people’s misunderstandings about faith, how are their erroneous assumptions going to be challenged unless they know people from the Active Affiliate group.

By now that niggle had already gone to my gut, it was eating me up that people where so uniformed. But then I realised that when the Active Affiliates were questioned about their friends, they too generally exclusively associated with other Active Affiliates. And this got me thinking if each group only stays in their own little sub-culture they will never have their assumptions challenged, their misconceptions corrected and the stereo-types changed. And why wouldn’t anyone want to be friends with evangelicals? After all we’re so nice. Aren’t we?

The truth is there is an increasing fear of the unknown when it comes to evangelicals in North America. A Pew Research poll found that in the last three years the feelings of Americans toward various religions “warmed” in every case except evangelical Christians. Similarly, A San Francisco-based Institute for Jewish and Community Research found that 53 percent of its sample of 1,200 college and university faculty members said they have “unfavorable” feelings toward evangelical Christians. Faculty have positive feelings toward Jews, Buddhists, Catholics, and Atheists. This is the only religious group about which a majority of non-Evangelical faculty have negative feelings (read the study here).

In the minds of those who observe us evangelicals are scary. In the Western world, the word “evangelical” has become an extreme right wing political group which is harsh, hypocritical and militant. How do we help to change this perception of evangelical Christians so that we are associated more with the person of Jesus?

A number of studies have shown that short, casual, in-person conversations with someone with an opposing viewpoint is one of the easiest paths to changing someone’s mind. It seems that the way of Jesus really is the means by which we display the character of Jesus. We need to go to them, to befriend them and alleviate their fears of us.

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.

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.

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:

The God who Reveals: Loving God with our Minds Part 2

By Cameron Roxburgh

The basis of missional life is our new identity as sons and servants, and our calling to love God with all our heart, mind and strength, loving our neighbours as we love ourselves. Last week, we looked at how God reveals Himself to our minds: through the Scriptures, through the Son, and through the Spirit empowering His people.

We determined that when it comes to loving God with our minds, we must correctly understand Him, listen to what He says, and put what He says into practice.

Making this Practical
What does this all mean for us? There are several things we can comment on to make this practical for us as we are sent into the world:

From meaning to saying
Is it possible that we have misunderstood the proper approach to scripture? I am concerned that we work so hard to understand what it means (a good thing at one level) and then miss the primary purpose. Scripture is one of the ways that we hear the voice of God. Perhaps instead of just asking “what does this mean?” we instead need to be asking the equally—if not more—important question of the scripture which is “what is God saying to me?” Far too often we stop at using our skills to understand the meaning, and fail to get to the most important part.

    Action: Come to the text and ask what God is saying to you/us.

From saying to doing
Not only do we stop at trying to understand the text, but we fail to go from “what are you saying?” to “what do I need to do to be obedient in this way?” Many of us have experienced Bible Studies that are guilty of this very issue. We work so hard to understand the meaning (not wrong in itself) but then we fail to hear the voice of God or to put what we have heard into practice.

CC moyerphotos

Action: Ask what we are to do as a result of what we have heard God say, and do it.   Refuse to “do” Bible Studies that are only about an understanding of the text, and do    not lead to listening to the voice of God or applying what He has said.

Preaching for Formation
Preaching is a crucial aspect of what it means to be missional. But it must be a certain kind of preaching. Some value entertaining sermons. Others value sermons that give us great insight into the meaning of the text. But neither of these are sufficient to be called good preaching. Instead, we need a standard of preaching that helps those listening to get into the scriptures themselves, to learn to listen to the voice of God in the text, and then to correctly discern what it is that God is asking us to do. This may not always be seen as the most entertaining, or the most brilliant, but it will bring about the greatest formation in the life of God’s people.

Action: We must insist on preaching that helps God’s people to correctly handle the   scriptures, listen for the voice of God, and become obedient to what God has asked of us.

In my next article, I will look at how “loving God with our strength” is foundational for what it means to be missional.

Good Day, Neighbour!

By Ann Arthurs, reposted from Avenue Magazine.

Having immigrated to Canada from the United Kingdom in 2012,
Michael Hamilton and his family didn’t know a soul when they
moved into the Highlands community in June of 2013. Several weeks
later, they received a visit from a neighbour up the street. She
introduced herself as the Block Connector and had dropped by to
welcome the Hamiltons to the neighbourhood.

“She had a questionnaire and asked us what our interests were, our
hobbies,” says Hamilton in his thick Yorkshire accent. “The visit
made us feel welcome and the questionnaire helped us connect to
others in the neighbourhood.”

The friendly visit and questionnaire were part of a pilot project, the Abundant Community Initiative, whose goal is to strengthen the social fabric of the neighbourhood. It’s what Howard Lawrence, who
was contracted by the city to lead the initiative, calls “building a culture of connections.”

The formula is simple enough. Make your neighbourhood safer, more vibrant and dynamic by getting to know your neighbours.

With support from the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues
and the City of Edmonton, Lawrence and an army of volunteers set out in January 2013 to take an inventory of who lived in Highlands, and, more importantly, what their skills and interests were.

It’s an asset-based approach that taps into what residents can offer in order to build stronger and more sustainable neighbourhoods.

“People are drawn together when they can participate in an activity that matches their skills, interests and passions,” says Lawrence. It’s also a shift in thinking away from volunteerism and toward neighbourliness. Why do I shovel my neighbour’s walk? Because I’m a neighbour, not a volunteer. What we’re trying to do is build neighbourliness back into the community.”

Connection is at the heart of The Abundant Community. It starts with Connector Coordinators—residents who already know a lot of people in the neighbourhood make great candidates for coordinators, a role that entails identifying and organizing Block Connectors. The job of the Block Connector is to visit every resident on an assigned block to initiate a conversation, using the questionnaire as a guide. That conversation focuses on your vision for your neighbourhood, what activities and interests you have, and what gifts, abilities and experiences you possess. Once all the questionnaires are complete, the Connector Coordinator compiles the data and connects residents who have common interests.

“Sharing gifts and talents is important,” says Lawrence. “People love to share their gifts. We don’t ask ‘what do you need?’ We ask, ‘what can you offer?’ and, in that way, it gives residents the power to shape their neighbourhood.”

In Highlands, several groups have formed as a result, including a lawn bowling group and a new mom’s group, along with soccer and hockey teams. For Hamilton, it was hockey that helped him bond with the community. He was introduced to the quintessentially Canadian game as a lad growing up in the U.K. “Being Brits, we weren’t very good, but we liked playing,” he says. “It’s great playing here. The guys, we meet every Thursday for a fun game of shinny.”

When he needed a notary public, he was put in touch with a neighbourhood lawyer who offered his services at no charge. In return, Hamilton, a carpenter by trade, is more than happy to give back to the community by offering his skills.

The model works well in Edmonton because the city already has a basic framework in place in the form of community leagues. The City provides administrative and organizational support and is eager to see the initiative grow.

“We are in phase two of the project and are assessing eight other communities, including Oliver. A whole lot more have expressed interest,” says Lawrence.

He is optimistic about the role the Abundant Community Initiative can play in shaping and strengthening our neighbourhoods. “It’s a workable structure that, in the end, celebrates strength and diversity. People are more invested in and more emotionally attached to their neighbourhood, which, in turn, makes it safer, stronger and a more inclusive community.”