I’m pleased to announce the upcoming aXiom Calgary two-day missional training event. We’re pleased to have Karen Wilk and Cam Roxburgh in town, two seasoned practitioners in helping churches thrive in the neighbourhood. The landscape that the church has operated in is shifting and aXiom seeks to offer fresh yet rooted insights and training for church leaders to see God at work and join him in that work. You can download the full .pdf poster here: Axiom Calgary Poster
I’m a visual thinker, here are some helpful short videos that have helped me think about becoming a “neighbourhood” Christian in my own town.
Lastly, Check out the amazing work of a bunch of neighbourhood minded folks in the States. They started a website to plot themselves in the neighbourhood, and find others who were keen to become better neighbours. The result is a map that is growing to include people in the US and Canada. Why not plot your own spot and start the journey of good neighbouring? Check out the website, Building Blocks: Rediscovering the Art of Neighbouring.
This weekend I spent some time with several people who live out daily life as “neighbourhood” Christians. They know their neighbours and have build deep lasting relationships with them by adopting practices of hospitality and making the persistent choice to live with and among their neighbours. This is no easy task! After a long day of work, church committments, and then barely getting supper together for your own family, how can we find time for fostering healthy relationships with other busy people on our street? Maybe we can learn a few lessons from those who are doing it well. Here are a few books, and better yet, a few local events that are helping ordinary church folks like you and me see our mission in a whole new light. The result is a movement of churches that are finding health in unexpected practices:
- Axiom Calgary is a two day missional training event put on by Forge Canada and was created to help leaders from churches and neighbourhoods find a path towards hope for the church in a changing context. The next Axiom event is November 11-12 at Lutheran Church of Our Saviour in Calgary and will be led by Karen Wilk, author of “Don’t invite them to Church” and Cam Roxburgh, the National Director of Forge Canada. Click here for more info.
- The Urban Forum is an exciting event happening in Calgary (Oct. 12) and Edmonton (Oct. 13) and it’s focus is to paint the theological and ‘how-to’ picture for local churches on how to be active participants in the building and transformation of their communities/parishes. You can find out more by clicking here. This is a great partnership between denominations and several para-church organizations.
- If you’re in Winnipeg from November 15-17, you may want to attend the big church planing congress (The Congress) put on by Church Planting Canada. It’s about more than church planting, but about how church leaders are reclaiming the missionary call in our neighbourhoods. Exciting stuff!
- Karen Wilk wrote a great book written from her own experiences doing neighbourhood life in Edmonton. The book is called “Don’t Invite them to Church: Moving from a Come and See to a Go and Be Church.”
- Alan Roxburgh has written a number of good books on the missional church, but he turns a new corner to talk about the neighbourhood in “Missional: Joining God in the Neighbourhood.” Below is a short video about that book.
The important thing for us is that the future of the church does not rest in how well we run programs or fill our church calendars, but in how we incarnate the love of Christ in our neighbourhoods and help equip our churches to live this out in real ways.
Since August, 2009, abtrenewal.wordpress.com (or the What if? Blog) has been a place to get us thinking about renewal and new ways of ministry and thinking in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and the Alberta and the Territories Synod. We have almost 150 posts from several contributors and almost 25,000 hits on our little blog. We’d like to continue creatively push the envelope by sharing thoughtful, Christ-centered vision and innovation – ideas or reflections that move us in healthy and vibrant directions. How do we move past broken systems? How do we instill hope for tomorrow? How the does the living Gospel of Jesus change our whole perspective and move us into open spaces? If you would like to contribute to the conversation, please send your mini-articles to Preston Pouteaux (firstname.lastname@example.org), and we’ll post your thoughts.
Like Luther we want to turn hearts towards Christ. This blog, we hope, will encourage us to live that out. Unlike Luther, who faced tremendous push-back, our Bishop is quite pleased to hear of new ideas for faithful ministry. So what is yours?
I was sent this blog post recently, written by Kevin DeYoung over at the Gospel Coalition. You can find the link here. It’s a blog post that got me thinking about the place of Lutherans in the larger church. Enjoy Food for thought.
What’s Up With Lutherans? by Kevin DeYoung
This isn’t meant to be a snarky rhetorical post. It’s a genuine question.
What up with Lutherans?
More to the point: where are they? I’m looking for help from those of you out there who know the Lutheran world better than I do. I look around at what’s seem vibrant in evangelicalism and see lots of Baptists and Presbyterians. I see a lot of Free Church folks and a growing number of Anglicans. I see non-denominational guys aplenty. The Pentecostal world is a little outside my circles, but I certainly see continuationists and charismatics in conservative evangelical circles. But I don’t see many Lutherans.
I don’t know of Lutherans speaking at the leading conferences. I don’t know of many popular books written by Lutherans. I don’t know of church planting movements among Lutherans. I know lots of people who look up to Martin Luther, but I don’t see the influence of Lutherans.
I’m genuinely curious to know why the big tent of conservative, confessional evangelicalism doesn’t have more Lutherans. I understand that the Calvinist soteriology of TGC and T4G types doesn’t fit with Methodism or parts of the Holiness traditions, but Luther’s doctrine of predestination was Calvinist before there was Calvin.
I know Gene Veith is Lutheran. So is Doug Sweeney. White Horse Inn has worked hard to include the confessional wing of Lutheranism. But after that, I’m drawing a blank to come up with contemporary Lutheran leaders/theologians/pastors I know or read. I’m not blaming anyone–Lutherans or the Young, Restless, Reformed movement or the blogosphere or Sarah Palin. It’s just something I’ve thought about from time to time: Where have all the Lutherans gone? I know you exist outside of Lake Wobegon.
So which of the statements below best explains why quandry?
1. I’m ignorant. This is, no doubt, a big part of the explanation. I’m sure there are thousands of good Lutheran churches and pastors. I just don’t know all the good they are doing and saying. And there may be thinkers and authors I like who are simply Lutheran without my knowing it.
2. With their high church, confessional tradition, Lutheranism has always been a little out of place with the sometimes rootless, low church expressions of evangelicalism. They never got on board with evangelicalism after the Great Awakening. This may be part of it, but evangelicalism has been influenced by many Anglican theologians and preachers, hasn’t it?
3. Lutherans are content to remain in ethnic enclaves. Again, that could be part of the issue, but then how do you explain the influence of the Dutch Reformed on evangelicalism?
4. The Lutheran view of the sacraments is a bridge too far for many evangelicals, and the faddish nature of evangelicalism is a bridge too far for many Lutherans.
5. Lutheranism in America has bigger problems and less influence than many people realize. The bulk of Lutherans have gone liberal and the rest have gone into bunker mode.
I’ll read the comments more carefully than usual. I blog so that I might understand. Help me out, especially if you are part of the tribe: What’s up with Lutherans?
Thanks to all those who took the time to leave a thoughtful comment on the state of the Lutheran church. Just to be clear, I was not trying to suggest in anyway that there are no Lutherans in the country (there are millions!), nor that these Lutherans are not doing faithful ministry. My central question was about the place of Lutherans in the big tent of evangelicalism. Along those lines, I thought the point about closed communion was helpful. I had forgotten about that reality. Many thanks for the good insights and the good stories of good Lutherans. Special blessings on those Lutherans trying to stay faithful in a mainline context. I feel your pain.
Around 7.8 million dollars was used by Canadian Lutheran World Relief for good work around the world last year. From hospitals, to clean water, to feeding the poor, this organization does so much. In fact, CLWR is well respected internationally for these wonderful activities. For all the good work that this organization does (which we happily support), one thing that it does not focus on is evangelism. Over the past 50 years, the Mainline Protestant church (a rapidly shrinking segment of the Church, interestingly), has largely removed cross-cultural evangelism from its mandate, opting instead to focus more strictly on aid. Perhaps evangelism is viewed as an imposition onto other people, or perhaps physical aid is given greater importance than telling people about Jesus, whatever the reason, evangelism is demonstrably lacking from most of the work we Lutherans do overseas.
So you can imagine my surprise to read an editorial by South African born, UK former member or parliament, and atheist, Matthew Parris saying that Africa needs more Christian missionaries and evangelism. He says,
“Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.”
What a striking shift in thinking from what we’ve become accustomed to! How is it that a South African would embrace the colonial or imperial impositions of Christian evangelists and missionaries on Africans? Perhaps it’s because a living relationship with Jesus is not an imposition. Perhaps Jesus wants a relationship with everyone and perhaps the Kingdom of God is good news for all cultures in the world. Matthew Parris holds the surprising conviction that the world needs to hear more about Jesus, not less. He believes that physical aid is simply not enough to change the world, the hope of Jesus is foundational to any cultural change.
I’m pleased that the CLWR and others have reached out to share the love of Christ in the form of food and clean water, but we need to expand our mandate to include sharing the hope of Jesus. We can give clean water (and we should), but let’s also tell people about the Living Water of Jesus who satisfies a much deeper thirst. That’s what it truly means to be “In Mission for Others.”
I encourage you to read the full article by Matthew Parris from the London Times, it’s really very insightful. Click here for the original article.
Also, check out this remarkable campaign from Compassion Canada called “The Difference is Jesus;” they say that “poverty has an eternal solution.” It’s a bold move, but I agree with Matthew Parris, Jesus might just be the one to save people from poverty. Who’d a thought?
I saw a photo the other day. It was a nice photo of several ELCIC Bishops and Executives in a foreign land touring a facility supported in part by Lutherans here in Canada. There was a quote from the National Bishop who listed off all the activities being engaged, “Irrigation projects, food security, emergency response, refugee camps, community development, rural schools, health care, empowerment for women – the list is amazing.”
The picture was a snapshot of missions in the ELCIC, and I felt that something was missing. Over Easter, I continued to ponder the picture and the quote from the Bishop. What is missing? What could the Gospel of Jesus and the hope of Easter have to say to the challenge of Missions for the ELCIC? I believe there are two challenges to our present model of cross-cultural missions engagement.
First: The photo is of church leaders alone engaging cross-culturally. Bishops and Executives travel abroad, but it cannot be their project alone. It is not sustainable to leave missions work in the hands of Bishops, it must be the work of the people. I know that our churches support overseas work financially, but ordinary people must be empowered to carry on the work with their own hands. This was Paul’s model. In Acts 18, Paul traveled with Silas and Timothy, he then met Aquila and Priscilla who traveled on with him before baptizing Titius Justus’ family. It was then Aquila and Priscilla who shared the Gospel with Apollos who in turn went to Achaia and “was a great help to those who by grace had believed.” Acts 18 starts with Paul but ends several steps away with an empowered and growing group of missionaries who are eager to testify to the work of God in their lives. We need to do more to empower people to engage in cross-cultural missions. Last year, my wife (a nurse and experienced missionary) and I did an experiment. We wanted to see how easy it was for us to get involved with missions in the ELCIC. We followed links with CLWR, emailed and called the Executive Director and the National Bishop in an effort to engage cross-culturally through our denomination. After a year, we have learned of no opportunities for us to serve as volunteers. If a nurse and church worker cannot get involved in cross-cultural missions through our present system, the challenge must be so much greater for others. In fact, according to the 2009-2010 CLWR annual report, only “two [volunteer] placements were facilitated” by our primary missions/aid organization (CLWR Annual Report page 12). Perhaps that is why, today, we have fewer missionaries than virtually any other evangelical denomination in Canada on a per-baptized member basis. The Christian and Missionary Alliance (by way of example), has about one supported missionary for every 226 baptized members. The ELCIC has about one supported missionary for every 50 thousand baptized members. And those missionaries we do support are now managed by offices in the United States. Critics may say, “look, we don’t send many missionaries because we’re all missionaries!” But that was not Paul’s perspective, he did empower and send people out, and so should we. We need to empower ordinary Lutheran Christians to get their feet on the ground and try out cross cultural missions for themselves. In 2008 I took eight people to the Xingu River in Brazil. For a week we delivered water filters, supported local churches, shared the message of Jesus and delivered medical aid with a doctor and two nurses deep in the Amazon jungle. It was a team of ordinary people from our church using their gifts to share the hope of Jesus.
Second: The list of activities we’re engaging in is good, “Irrigation projects, food security, emergency response, refugee camps, community development, rural schools, health care, empowerment for women – the list is amazing.” But in this list, I wonder if we also ought to make disciples, train pastors, and support local churches. This is a big part of what it means to be In Mission for Others. Bruxy Cavey said that, “Social activism is an expression of the Kingdom of God, but don’t mistake it for the full Gospel. There can be no kingdom without a King.” Cross cultural missions without mention of building up believers, making disciples, or helping people follow Christ is not sustainable nor biblical. Paul went into cities and towns on his missionary journeys and told people about Jesus. People live when they hear about Jesus, that’s why Jesus is the Chief Cornerstone of our church, our Hope and Saviour. Let’s do good overseas, but doing good starts with a robust view of Jesus and His saving grace. Jesus is not an imposition that must be hidden or couched in social initiatives, the Gospel transcends cultural barriers because Jesus is immanent and accessible to every culture - it’s for that very reason that we can share Jesus without fear.
A new vision of missions in the ELCIC would do two things. First, it would empower ordinary people to get out there, to travel overseas and follow Jesus wherever he may lead. This new vision would say that missionaries do not have to be experts or clergy, just people with a passion to testify to the love of Jesus in word and deed in a setting different than their own. Our present system would shift towards empowering others to go overseas in an accessible and tangible way. Secondly, this new vision would make sharing the Gospel of Jesus a central part of the work we do when thinking about missions. It would recognize that we cannot fulfill the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20 without making disciples of all nations.
Get this, I read today that, “Although many churches are worried about offending people by sharing the Gospel, less than 1 percent of the population complained Christians are too aggressive in their evangelistic efforts.”
Last week I had to deal with a challenging situation in the community. A domestic dispute involving a number of people. After a time of prayer with our staff, I entered the fray wondering what God would have me face. I went in realizing that I could not solve any of these problems, but Jesus could bring peace, if only we talked with him and about him. Very soon I was praying with some new friends and found that instead of being offended by my offer of prayer, they were delighted to have me talk to Jesus with them. The police that were there said that a minister can do far more to diffuse a situation than any police officer. Friends, let’s talk about Jesus more often. The Gospel is truly good news.
It’s true, this year I did make some quiet half-verbalized resolution to be more healthy. Too many hours at my desk or in my car is making me soft - and I was feeling it! But for me, health is more than just exercise, it’s about ensuring that I put my priorities in order. How do I spend my time? Is ministry about desk-work? Is the time I spend driving about town helping me connect with my neighbours? The question is less about my exercise, and more about joining God in the work he’s calling me to. How do I stay healthy in the work I do?
An article in the Fall 2010 edition of Neue magazine says this,
“From obesity to depression, clergy burnout has become a major concern. A Duke University report found that in teh Evangelical Lutheran Church alone, 69 percent of ministers are obese, 64 percent have high blood pressure and 13 percent take anti-depressants. Of all Christian clergy, 76 percent were overweight – 15 percent higher than the general US population. With ministers working up to 60 hours a week, experts say they must make room for sabbatical, Sabbath days and healthy habits.”
Do you think there is a connection between the overall health of our pastors and the health of our churches? Thoughts?
One of my DMin peers works for Focus on The Family and writes some good stuff. Laird Crump offers some tips to pastors for a healthy Christmas season of (sane) ministry. I especially like this advice:
Cultivate a non-anxious presence. As the festive rush takes over the lives of the congregation, attempt to personify “all is calm”. You may even have to take a mid afternoon “sleep in heavenly peace” on your office couch. If we want to experience spiritual depth we need to ruthlessly eliminate hurry.
Check out the rest of the article here.
Last year I attended the church planting congress, held every couple of years somewhere in Canada. I’ve just recieved word about the next church planting congress, to be held in Winnipeg, has just put out a website at thecongress.ca. This is a very important gathering of hundreds of church leaders from across the country and North America who come together to strategize and pray for the future wellbeing of the church. It’s an excellent event and I encourage church leaders to consider it. More info to come!
Thanks to Pete and Josanna Justine who led worship at the What if? Conversation. They read the following, and it got us all thinking…
THE OBSTACLE OF DULLNESS
From – Dangerous Wonder, by Michael Yaconelli
Episcopal priest Robert Capon named the first obstacle: “We are in a war between dullness and astonishment. “‘* The most critical issue facing Christians is not abortion, pornography, the disintegration of the family, moral absolutes, MTV, drugs, racism, sexuality, or school prayer. The critical issue today is dullness. We have lost our astonishment. The Good News is no longer good news, it is okay news. Christianity is no longer life changing, it is life enhancing. Jesus doesn’t change people into wild-eyed radicals anymore, He changes them into “nice people.”
If Christianity is simply about being nice, I’m not interested.
What happened to radical Christianity, the un-nice brand of Christianity that turned the world upside-clown? What happened to the category-smashing, life-threatening, anti-institutional gospel that spread through the first century like wildfire and was considered (by those in power)
dangerous? What happened to the kind of Christians whose hearts were on fire, who had no fear, who spoke the truth no matter what the consequence, who made the world uncomfortable, who were willing to follow Jesus wherever He went? What happened to the kind of Christians who
were filled with passion and gratitude, and who every day were unable to get over the grace of God?
I’m ready for a Christianity that “ruins“ my life, that captures my heart and makes me uncomfortable. I want to be filled with an astonishment which is so captivating that I am considered wild and unpredictable and …well… dangerous. Yes, I want to be “dangerous” to a dull and boring religion. I want a faith that is considered “dangerous” by our predictable and monotonous culture.
A W Tozer said a long time ago, “Culture is putting out the light in men and women’s souls.” He was right. Dullness is more than a religious issue, it is a cultural issue. Our entire culture has become dull. Dullness is the absence of the light of our souls, Look around, We have lost the sparkle in our eyes, the passion in our marriages, the meaning in our work, the joy of our faith.
The Bible names our problem: sin. Don’t let the word fool you. Sin is more than turning our backs on God, it is turning our backs on life! Immorality is much more than adultery and dishonesty, it is living drab, colorless, dreary, stale, unimaginative lives. The greatest enemy of
Christianity may be people who say they believe in Jesus but who are no longer astonished and amazed. Jesus Christ came to rescue us from listlessness as well as lostness; He came to save us from flat souls as well as corrupted souls, He came to save us from dullness. Our culture is awash in immorality and drowning in dullness. We have forgotten how to dance, how to sing, and how to laugh. We have allowed technology to beat our imaginations into submission and have become tourists rather than travelers.
A special thanks to the seventy-or-so people who gave up the better part of a Saturday to join in the What if? conversation on November 6th. There is a real sense that the ELCIC and wider Church is experiencing a time of deeper consideration; wondering together about what God might be doing among us, and how we might join God in that. Church renewal and the hope that it inspires is not the domain of a few people, it’s a passion that’s shared by many. People from all across the Church, that is, across denominational lines are gathering to discuss the future of the Church; hope is rising and it’s good that we do not dream alone. Our speakers, Cam Roxburgh and Anthony Brown, for example, shared with us that people across Alberta are having similar conversations. In the coming weeks and months we expect to have more news about a missional network and training hub here in Calgary, a collaboration between denominations, local churches, and Forge Canada. What could God be up to?
Lastly, I got an email that this little blog was listed as one of Top 50 Lutheran blogs being read right now. Thanks for joining the conversation!
I recently read an article from Rod Wilson, the President of my alma mater, Regent College. In it, he was reflecting on the questions that they ask as an institution. This caught my attention,
“Recognizing that these are the questions students are bringing to Regent College in 2010 means that we must raise issues about curriculum (what we teach), pedagogy (how we teach), community (in what context we serve), messaging (how we describe what we do) and finances (how we fund what we do). We are doing this in a fresh way at this point in Regent’s history, not to communicate that the past is worse and the future is better, nor to engage in paternalism or consumerism, but so that we might continue to be sensitive to the work of the Spirit as we steer Regent College through this next season.”
Questioning methods and assumptions is healthy, it helps keep an institution on track, it helps keep people united and vibrant in their service, and it drives people towards excellence in ministry. Regent College has been a Canadian success story in Christian higher education with a student body of about 700 and world renown faculty; but even so, they frequently pause to ask the important questions of themselves. We should too.
I just got back from Jerusalem this weekend, it was my third time there and once again I was not surprised to see the famous ”ladder” was right where I left it. Propped up on an upper window ledge of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a very old ladder. For as long as people can remember, at least since the mid-1800′s, the ladder has been there, unmoved. Several Christian groups operate the church, but divisions between the groups have caused fighting (sometimes violently) and so a status-quo had been established to bring peace. This has meant that for nearly 200 years items in the church have been left as-is (notice the ladder on the upper right-hand window of these photos). The ladder is a glaring symbol of the discord and foolishness of these Christian groups vying for their right to control the space. Rather than considering the big picture of God’s redemptive work in Christ and their role in the Kingdom of God, they fight over a ladder – ensuring that no one group can claim it over another. They seem almost blinded to the message of Jesus in favor of establishing their control on this holy site. And so there it sits. A ladder. A symbol of the status quo. A symbol of a church stuck in neutral.
Does your church have a “ladder”? Why is it there? What would happen if you moved it some afternoon?
I would love, next time I go back to Jerusalem, to see that ladder taken down off that window ledge. On that day I would know that the church is getting back to the fundamentals of our faith in Jesus; that it’s not about our control or jurisdiction – but about our Father who is mighty to save and who asks us to come along.