What if…we came alongside

November 26, 2009

We talk a lot about the homeless in our cities, but its often from the safety of our homes and church buildings. “Come to us,” we say to them. “Come, where WE feel safe.”

My wife is quick to point out that the problem of homelessness can be quickly solved if we as Christians came alongside them and took them into our homes, adopting them. What a risk, but no one changes anything by playing it safe (a quote from another great movie: The Soloist).

The movie Blindside, the true story of just one such case, witnesses to us the possibility of what a people walking in God’s mission can do.

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What if…the church was like a weed?

November 26, 2009

The Oak is a spectacular tree.  It evokes power, prestige, glory, and steadfastness.  Wouldn’t this be the best tree to represent the Kingdom of God?  It rises above challenges, it withstands the wind, and it is noble.

Jesus must have been wrong, then, when he said that the Kingdom of God is like a grain of mustard that turns into a tree.  A mustard tree is far less noble and glorious.  The mustard tree is more like a gnarly weed.  It grows large, but mostly in an outward direction.  It grows along the ground covering whole areas.  Jesus said that birds are able to find cover in the shade of its branches.  Surely Jesus was wrong when he likened the Kingdom of God to a sprawling weed.  Or was he?

In exciting pockets across Canada, Christians are gathering to take seriously God’s call to be like the mustard tree.  In mid November, I joined in with church leaders and passionate followers of Christ at the Renov8 Church Planting Congress in Calgary, Alberta.  I resonate with the words of Len Hjalmarson who wrote this about the Congress, “Seven hundred people from across the denominational spectrum and from rural, urban, and suburban settings across Canada coming together for a single missional agenda – to impact our country for Christ by seeding missional communities. And it is equally amazing that nearly half of this group have come to a Congress for the first time. Something is stirring in Canadian hearts — a work of the Spirit.”

God is at work and it’s exciting.  But what is this Missional conversation about and why would 700 people gather in Calgary to talk about it?

A bishop once said, “Everywhere Jesus went there was a riot, everywhere I go they serve me tea.”  Jesus’ life was by no means risk-adverse nor was he concerned with self-preservation.  His life was rustic.  Jesus was born in a manger, his parents lost him in Jerusalem for several days, he wandered for a year in the wilderness, and some accused him of being a drunkard and a glutton for eating with sinners.  To outsiders he might appear so, for his first miracle was to make more wine at a party.  And what was one of Jesus’ last commandments?  This “drunkard and glutton” asked his people to remember him by feasting together.  Today instead of feasting with sinners, we serve a thimble of drink and a morsel of bread every third Sunday morning.  We sip tea when we need to dish up a feast.

God’s church does not have a mission, God’s mission has a church

Missional leaders in Canada are starting to make some powerful assertions about the future direction of the church.  Gary Nelson, in Borderland Churches says that, “The missio dei changes the functional direction of church…from centrifugal (flowing in) to a centripetal (flowing out) dynamic.  This in turn leads to a shift in emphasis from attracting crowds to equipping, dispersing and multiplying Christ followers as a central function of the church.”

Dispersing? Multiplying?  This sounds less like an ancient tree, and more like a spreading weed.

But isn’t the church supposed to be like “a tree planted by streams of water” (Ps. 1:3) whose roots run deep?  Yes!  But the water we draw from is Christ, not our church culture, not our ethnic background, not our ecclesiastical preferences, and not from anything that may sound pious and holy; if it’s not Jesus, it won’t satisfy.  When we die to ourselves and give our lives over to Christ we join a missionary God who is on the move out into the world.  We get our cues from Jesus, he becomes our reference point.  And what a reference point he is!  There is life, risk, joy, and new challenges around every corner.  There is nothing stagnant here! 

If Jesus is moving, then we as a church need to move also.  This may include rethinking our colonial and attractional models; they just do not work anymore.  Taking our cue from Jesus, we need to reclaim models that are missional, relational and incarnational.  Leonard Sweet says that, “Christians in the West can no longer expect to have that home court advantage…God is defragging and rebooting the church.”

We can no longer put our faith in the structures and hierarchy of Christiandom either.  We are living in a post-Christiandom world.  The old oak construct will fail; especially if we are not moving with God into his activity in the world.  Isaiah likened those who were not connected to God’s movement to be like unwatered oaks, “You will be like an oak with fading leaves, like a garden without water” (Is. 1:30).  Perhaps that is why Jesus was happy to share the vision of the mustard tree.  Oak trees fall, but weeds dig in, spread, and don’t easily go away.  From the tundra to the tropics, weeds are thriving in almost any climate. 

David Augsburger writes that the church “is an alternative community – an alternative to human communities that live by coercion, competition and collective self-interest.  It seeks to be a community of disciples who obey the particular ways of God that are revealed in Jesus.”  Is your church an “alternative community”?  Is it different?  Does it follow a rustic and risky, joy inspiring Jesus?  Does your church strive to be the independent oak, or the sprawling weed that can’t help but grow into its neighbourhood, providing shade and life for those in its path?  Does your church, synod, or denomination live for a collective self-interest, or is it willing to follow Jesus out into the world? 

Want to join God’s movement in your neighbourhood?  It all starts with a mustard seed.


What if…my dream is about the ELCIC

November 17, 2009

Last week I had a dream.  A real, true blue, “while I was sleeping” dream.  I welcome your interpretations.

The dream begins with me packing a bunch of stuff into a big back pack.  Heavy stuff like books, boxes, I think there was even a candelabra that I had to fit in there.  I didn’t like that all this stuff was being jammed into the back pack but I felt strongly that I had to fit it all in. I didn’t even like most of the stuff but I was moving from one place to another and I felt a great pressure to bring it all with me.

Once I had loaded the back pack I struggled to lift it onto my back.  My legs quivered under the weight.  Eventually I secured the big back pack to my body with several straps and such and put a few last things that I didn’t want getting squished into a smaller bag that I carried in my hands.  I then began to walk.

After I had walked a bit I ran into somebody on the street.  While we visited the weight of the pack was ever present on my mind and body.   Finishing the conversation we parted ways.  I walked a little farther only to realize that at some point during my conversation on the street I had put down my small bag of valuable goods .  Still quivering under the weight of the heavy pack I retraced my steps and luckily found my small valuable bag where I had left it.  Turning around again I marched towards my destination.

The same pattern repeats itself two more times (distraction, put down the important bag, realize later what I’ve done, retrace my steps, all the while struggling to support the weight of this big heavy back pack of books and candles).

The final part of my dream takes place on this epic stair case that I struggle to reach the top of…only to realize that I had forgotten that little bag again!

I woke up from the dream walking back down those stairs.  I never did take that heavy back pack off.

So tell me, WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?

“Come to me you who are weary, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  (Jesus Christ)


What if…we welcomed the chaos? (from guest blogger Stef McDonald)

November 13, 2009

{Ed. Note: Stef McDonald is the Director of Student Ministry at Lutheran Church of Our Saviour in Calgary.  Her Student Ministry blog is called The Keystone.}

mosaicWe elect young, fun volunteers with tons of energy to run around with teens. Parents drive and prep the snacks. Youth takes place on a Wednesday or Friday or Saturday night. By Sunday morning the church is restored to its former glory (thanks to a volunteer or two). The pop cans are placed in the recycling box and someone has steam cleaned the carpet for hours to remove the mashed in spaghetti. In fact, it’s like the youth were never there at all.

But what if we did things differently? Picture this: We are a few hot dogs short since jr. high school students helping to prep for Hot Dog Sunday started a food fight. The Pastor motions for the offering plate to be brought forward three times because neither teen usher wants to make the first move towards the front of the sanctuary. The youth room is far too loud while Adult Bible Study is going on next door. There are paint drippings on the parking lot because 15 youth showed up to graffiti an old car the night before. Their plan is to fill the car with donations for the local shelter.

Teen nights are loud, messy, funny and creative. What if same thing happened on Sunday morning?  Would it be welcomed with open arms?


What if…we heard from you?

November 12, 2009

Thanks to all those who have commented on this “What if…?” blog.  There are many exciting conversations about renewal in the Lutheran church, so many people are passionate about the long term vibrancy and viability of the ELCIC at the national and local level.  The contributors of this blog have challenged some conventions and have offered new ideas.  Now it’s your turn…


A shout-out in the Canada Lutheran

November 9, 2009

Today I received the October/November issue of the Canada Lutheran.  Thanks to the Editor for mentioning this blog and our efforts to inspire healthy renewal in the ELCIC.  She wrote:

I was excited recently to hear about an initiative from the Synod of Alberta and the Territories that invites no-holds-barred dialogue.  As part of the synod’s renewal efforts, Bishop Ron Mayan has asked a group of creative church members to contribute to a blog (www.abtrenewal.wordpress.com) entitled “What if….” The contributors, all committed to building up the ELCIC, offer creative critique and, ideally, practical solutions to problems facing the synod and the greater church. They are ready to challenge sacred cows for the purpose of moving the denomination forward in Christ. Readers, in turn, can post their comments and expand the discussion.

You may read her whole article Editor’s Note–Final.

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What if…we created a church multiplication council?

November 9, 2009

Growing denominations are denominations with a multiplication strategy.  The Apostle Paul started churches with ordinary people in towns he visited throughout his missionary journeys.  Is church multiplication about to stop with us? 

Consider the efforts of the Assemblies of God church, they’ve passed some resolutions to put church multiplication front and centre.  Here is an excerpt from a recent article:

“The number of AG churches that are using multi-site strategies to increase their ministry scope has grown dramatically over the past few years,” [Steve Pike] said, according to the denomination.

The jump coincides with the explosion of multi-site churches across all churches in the country. Researchers from the Leadership Network estimate there are currently 3,000 multi-sites, up from 300 in the year 2000.

Recognizing the success and potential of the multi-site methodology, the Assemblies of God has scheduled events and training beginning this month to educate members about the new strategy and equip them to become Parent Affiliated Churches.

“We already have plans for four boot camps designed specifically for PAC/multi-site churches for next year,” said Leo Crosby, marketing and communications director for the Church Multiplication Network.

The new multi-site push is part of the Assemblies of God’s effort to become a church planting and church multiplication movement. The Church Multiplication Network was formed in 2007 to encourage churches across the denomination to work together and plant as many churches as possible.

You can read the whole article here.

church plantersLearn more about Church Multiplication Network created by the Assemblies of God.  The “Church Multiplication Network collaborates with church multipliers to effectively equip, strategically fund and innovatively network new faith communities.”

What if we created a department that championed a vision of growth and church multiplication?