Church Planting, Discipleship, Mission, spiritual formation

Monday Rewind: You’ve Gotta Go

Jesus is full of surprises. Just when you think you’ve got him pegged, he pulls an audible and you’re left asking, “Whaaaat?”

When Jesus toured Galilee, early in his ministry, he performed miracles and taught about the kingdom. He also stared down the Pharisees and called people to follow him. His reputation grew and soon a huge entourage was following him.

He was a pretty big deal.

Which is why it’s surprising that he took a little excursion into a village called Nain (Luke 7:11-17). Nain was barely a town. It was more like a small hamlet with a few roads and some settlements. The entrance to the town was the end of a dusty street. It was pretty forgettable. Nobody who was somebody went to Nain. Nobody would have taken selfies in Nain. The Google Maps car wouldn’t have gone through Nain.

And yet Jesus went to Nain. And what we begin to discover, early in the gospel of Luke, is that Jesus wasn’t influenced by wealth, prestige, or fame. He didn’t have a bucket list of all the places he wanted to visit.

Jesus went to places where others wouldn’t go, to reach people that others couldn’t reach.

As followers of Jesus, we’ve got to do the same. The world is not changed if the church stands still. We’ve got to get out and get moving. Movement – wherever, however – is the starting point for Jesus to bring restoration to hearts and lives. His plan to change the world demands the motion of his church. There is no ‘Plan B’.

I wonder…what might that look like for you? You’ll never know, until you start moving. The starting point of mission is intentional – it is seldom accidental. It begins by putting one foot in front of the other.

If we learn anything from Jesus, mission doesn’t always happen in the glamorous places. Jesus’ feet led him to a village called Nain. It can be argued that Jesus put Nain on the map. Sometimes mission takes place in the mundane, everyday experiences, like when you’re out walking your dog. Or when you’re sitting in your work cubicle. Or when you’re down on the corner picking up your mail.

And sometimes mission leads you to go to costly places. Unseemly, dangerous places. Places that won’t bump up your algorithm on social media. Places that won’t make anybody’s bucket list.

Jesus is looking for people who will go where others will not go, to reach people that others will not reach.

Should this surprise us?

This is a rewind to one of my recent teaching messages at Crosspoint Church. You can hear the full message here.

Church Planting

Three Small Church Myths

People join a small church for different reasons. Sometimes their reasons can lead to disappointment because they’re just unobtainable. I’d like to dissect three common myths about the small church.

Myth 1: If I go to a small church then I can actually get to know everybody.

Unless you have a photographic memory and don’t have a day job, you can’t possibly do this. The reality is that you can only manage about a dozen people in your close relational network. Beyond that, everyone else is more of an acquaintance. A small church of about seventy-five people is already too large for you, if you plan to get to know everybody. In this scenario, you might eventually be able to remember everyone’s name (after about two years), so long as nobody leaves or joins the church. But you won’t really know them personally and they won’t really know you. Since you can only manage so many people in your relational network, shouldn’t you instead strive to get to know some people really well? Oddly enough, this can be accomplished in a church of any size.

The reality is that it takes risky effort to move from acquaintance status into relationship status. And this amount of effort does not change, no matter what size of church you are in. If the church you are in has one-thousand people, you will have to work at building relationships and chances are the church has set up environments and systems to help you do that. If the church you are in has two-hundred people, the process might look different, but the effort is still the same.

Myth 2: I will have “on-demand” access to my pastor in a small church.

I doubt it. Not if your pastor plans on staying sane and not if your church plans on growing. Your pastor has a limited span of care which is, strangely enough, about a dozen or so people. While there are less people who may need his help in a smaller church, he also has fewer staff and is likely wearing more hats. Plus, if he’s leading a new church plant, he is likely expending a tremendous amount of energy on development. And don’t forget that your pastor has a home life as well. (He might even practice Ju Jutsu in his spare time.)

If your pastor is really thinking about helping people, then he’s probably not dropping everything to rescue people or put out fires. He’s likely strategically planning how he can best serve the needs of so many people because he’s self-aware and knows his limitations. So he’s probably spending a lot of time training and mentoring leaders who can care for more people – kind of like what Jesus did when he discipled the twelve and sent out the seventy. That’s not to say that there aren’t moments when your small church pastor shouldn’t drop everything to help with a crisis – but that’s very different than having an “on-demand” ministry.

Myth 3: Small churches are better than large churches because they feel more relaxed and less professional.

Small churches are neither better nor worse than big churches. They’re just smaller. Every size has its challenges and advantages, including sustainability, impact, governance, navigability, God-dependancy, economy of scale, specialization, and so forth. Different sizes naturally have different cultures and different ‘feels’ to them just by virtue of group dynamics.

Smaller churches can sometimes feel a little more quaint and a little more tarnished. But that doesn’t make the smaller church better – it likely just makes your pastor pull his hair out and makes some people decide that they won’t bring their friends back next week. The less polished feel of a smaller church is often unintentional and a result of being under-resourced – which smaller churches tend to be. Small churches give God their best every week. They just have less to give.

In fact, I would argue that small churches should never stay small on purpose because the DNA of the kingdom of God is designed for exponential growth. Remember the parable of the mustard seed? It’s about how a tiny microscopic seed can produce a giant plant. Jesus taught that this is what the kingdom of God is meant to be like. God wants your church to grow exponentially.

Unless a small church is continually reproducing other churches or ministries, it shouldn’t remain small just because it thinks that being small is better. I’m sorry, but you’d be hard-pressed to argue that through Scripture. God has a plan for every church. It’s a plan that includes growth, reproduction, and multiplication. Will you join him in his kingdom plan?

Church Planting

To Build or not to Build

Once in a while I get this question about Crosspoint: “When do you think you will build a building?”  That’s a great question, so let me share my thoughts.  And just to clarify, what I assume people generally mean when they say “a building” is your typical church building: auditorium, offices, children’s space, and so forth.

First, let me tell you about the current reality of Crosspoint.  We do not own a building.  We gather every Sunday in a rented space (currently the Northgate Lions Seniors Recreation Centre) and lease a warehouse unit year-round.  Our Sunday location is a church planter’s dream.  It has two hundred parking stalls, a gym-auditorium, tons of class space for the kids, and a cafeteria that we can use as a coffee house.  We book it every Sunday morning, year-round.  (I have to add, the staff at the NGLSRC are fantastic to work with – kudos to the City of Edmonton and their people.)  If we had three hundred people show up on a Sunday (adults and kids), the place would feel very full.  We could conceivably host two gatherings on a Sunday morning, which means we could use this space comfortably for about five hundred people.  Like I said, a church planter’s dream.

The warehouse space we lease year-round (the Ministry Centre) is about 3000 square feet, which includes a large shop (to hold our trailer full of equipment), four office spaces, meeting room, two bathrooms, kitchenette, and some space in the back for future office cubicles.  The rent is minimal.  The downside of its location is that it’s not in the region of the city where our Sunday gatherings are hosted.  But it is literally impossible to get rented space in northeast Edmonton that can house our trailer.

Now, there are several advantages to not owning a typical church building.  The first is cost.  Owning and maintaining a building is expensive.  Because we rent, we can divert funds towards staffing and our external mission.  For the record, I’ve worked in churches where the question every month at the board meeting was, “How are we going to pay the mortgage this month?” rather than, “Who do we want to add to our team? What new apostolic initiatives do we want to start?”  It’s no fun being house poor.  Other advantages of renting include never having to clean toilets, and never having to worry about problems like maintenance, upkeep, taxes or security.

The greatest advantage, by far, is that not having a building actually reinforces our mission.  We believe that the church is the people of God, following God in his redemptive mission in the world.  That’s very basic missional ecclesiology, I know.  Yet it’s true to Crosspoint, to the core.  When you don’t own a building, you are forced to be creative with planning events, training workshops and gatherings.  Often you end up meeting in people’s homes (in neighbourhoods – imagine that) or in rented community facilities.  You don’t feel guilty because you have a building sitting empty during the week.  As a result, you can avoid the impulse of cramming the building full of ministry programs.  You also don’t have an auditorium sitting empty, which you have to pay to heat and cool.  And because people aren’t so busy attending your mid-week programming, they can be engaged in home groups or incarnating the gospel in the places where they live, eat, recreate and shop.

There are a few false assumptions about owning a building that I’d like to address.  One of them is that you will never have to set-up sound equipment or chairs.  Anybody who has ever been a sound person knows that you still have considerable set-up on any given Sunday, even if you own a building.  Plus, when you own a building, you still need people to make coffee, to set up children’s classrooms, to fold bulletins, and the list goes on.  The other thing to keep in mind is that the labour you subtract by minimizing set-up, you add in maintenance.  You’ll need to add custodial, groundskeeping and general maintenance to the list.

Some church plants dream of no longer having to set up chairs.  In our current location, we don’t have to set up chairs, so that’s not a concern of ours.  But why would you assume that if you owned a building, you wouldn’t have to set up chairs?  An auditorium that sits empty during the week is a tremendous waste of kingdom resource.  Churches of the future that want to engage the unchurched need to design buildings with their community in mind.  Why not “black box” your auditorium?  Why not make it into a room that can be purposed for multiple uses – much like the gym auditorium at the Northgate Lions?  Imagine if a church decided to design a building not just for their congregation, but for the community.  How missional would that be?  Of course, a multi-purpose space like that would need people who can set-up chairs…

To be practical, a church should never build until they’re certain it’s the right time.  Some churches might hurry to build, but then build something too small or too impractical.  They might build it for their immediate need rather than what they might need twenty years down the road.  Other churches build prematurely, but then end up being ‘house poor’ and can’t afford to hire staff or be engaged in the mission of God.  Timing, funding, stewardship and calling – all of these factors must be considered.

But here’s the most important factor to consider.  I think churches should only build something that aligns with their God-given mission.  The danger in building is that your building becomes the mission rather than helping you accomplish the mission.  I’ve seen churches build and the building becomes the focus of all their attention.  It’s all about funding the building, designing the building and then maintaining the building – and meanwhile the original apostolic mission slowly erodes away.  As Marshall McLuhan has said, “The medium is the message.”  Applied here, your building is the medium that can dictate the mission (message) of your church.  What message is it sending?  How is it helping to reinforce or confuse your mission?

For Crosspoint, we want to build so long as the building enhances our mission, not becomes our mission.  We are not against building.  We’re just uber pro-mission.  And if a building will help the mission and make God’s name great…then we’re all in.

Church Planting

I’m not planting a church…

Got ya.  You were thinking, “What!?  Did you change your mind already?”  Fickle guy.

Or…if you’re cynical about catchy slogans, you were probably thinking, “Sure you’re not…”

Seriously. I’m not planting a church. I mean, how can I? The church has already been planted. It was established about two thousand years ago by Christ (check out the book of Acts).

I know, I shouldn’t get all technical, but there’s a problem with the language when you say “plant a church”.  You see, you can’t really plant a church because a church is more than a building, more than a geographical location.  It’s so much more.  It’s God’s invisible kingdom, His people who are His hands, feet and voice in the world. It’s forcefully advancing and cannot be contained.

(For those theology/sociology/history buffs out there, let’s just say that this view of the church is SO fourth century.  We can thank Constantine and historical Christendom for our dented ecclesiology.)

This fall, we’re going to ask people to journey with us to “plant a church”.  I guess it’s better to say we’re going to “gather together under a common vision to be the church.”  Technical, I know…but true.

You see, there’s a downside to seeing the church as just a building or a weekend experience. First, it’s a limited (sometimes false?) view of the church. Second, it confines your spiritual life and the purpose of the church to an experience and a place.

Now, I’m not saying that the church can’t gather. But where it gathers is not as important as that it gathers. And gathering isn’t the only thing the church is all about.

If you are a follower of Christ, you are the church.  You’re part of something huge. And everywhere you go, you bring the church.  When you go out for coffee at Starbucks, you bring it. When you take the LRT to work, you bring it. When you hang out with those you care about, you bring it.

So bring it. Today, wherever you go, you are the church and you are bringing the church to the world.  Be the church, the true church. Bring truth, love and light to every space you occupy.

I’m at an airport in Munich. I’ve got two hours left to bring it.

Church Planting

Turkish Bazaar

Some things are the same the world over.  Like seagulls.  Karen and I are touring Turkey this week.  They have seagulls!  Why is it that the seagulls here look the same as those in Uganda, Taiwan, Germany…even Saskatchewan?  Ever wonder how they managed to populate almost every corner on the planet?  I sometimes wonder…do all seagulls eat diapers?  The ones in Moose Jaw do.

There are other things the same the world over…marketplaces.  In Turkey, they call them bazaars. I’ve come to the conclusion that, while each marketplace has its own distinct flavor, they all share striking similarities. Karen and I went to the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul last week.  Here in Turkey, everyone says that its sellers are aggressive.  From my experience, they are no more aggressive than they are in Mexico City or Nairobi.  In Nairobi, I was lovingly surrounded by about eight artisans who were not going to let me leave because I showed an interest in their wares.  I left that market with an empty wallet and a new camel-skinned drum.

It’s tough going to a marketplace and being Canadian.  Maybe it’s because you’re used to lots of space.  And maybe it’s because you’re overly polite.  I think the sellers in the Grand Bazaar have an uncanny sixth-sense about Canadian niceness.  They specialize in getting your attention.  All they have to do is say, “Hello, how are you today?”  I mean, what true-blooded Canadian is not going to stop and say, “Me?  I’m just fine.  Thanks for asking!  How are you?”  Then they have you. You just opened the door to useless-novelty-trinket-stuff limbo.

And because you’re uber polite, you don’t know how to walk away. After all, you don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings. So you pretend you’re interested even when you’re really not. But the longer you stay in the scene, the more guilty you feel for wasting the seller’s time. So you end up buying something you don’t really need, or you break off the conversation and walk away, your sorry heart smothered in guilt for hurting someone’s feelings. Meanwhile, he’s shouting “How are you?” at another Canadian and has already forgotten you.

So I decided to just keep walking whenever someone asked, “How are you?”  I know it sounds rude, according to Canadian culture.  But according to the culture of the Grand Bazaar…I’m not so sure.  “How are you?” might mean “Hello, would you like to buy a rug?”

Karen and I are having a blast in Turkey.  We love traveling and experencing new cultures because when you step outside your own culture, you experience humility (if you have the right mindset).  You discover that not everything in your own culture is perfect. You also experience enrichment as you learn from other cultures.

I’ve been reflecting on the new church that we will be starting in the fall.  One of our defining characteristics is that we will be multi-ethnic.  We’re going to be launching in the northeast part of Edmonton.  This is an ethnically diverse region, rich with people groups from every corner of the globe. We want our church to reflect this beautiful diversity.

I look forward to celebrating and learning from other cultures. What might that look like?  Today…I have no idea. But it’s in my heart.

Church Planting

Cone of Silence

I’ve felt like I’ve been under a ‘cone of silence’ lately (seen the movie Get Smart?).  It’s like I’ve been having these conversations with people inside an upside-down fish bowl.  And for good reason. We couldn’t open up our conversations prematurely because we just weren’t sure what the outcome would be.

But now we know. So now the cone of silence can be raised.

We’re partnering with Beulah Alliance Church, other churches (still to be finalized) and the Western Canadian District to plant a church in northeast Edmonton.  There, I said it.  Silence lifted.

Yesterday and today we broke the news to our Beulah Alliance Church family. People have been so gracious. I sure love this church. We’ve had huge affirmations and encouragements from people of all ages.

So what’s been happening beneath the cone?  Lots of what ifs? and hows? and whens? We couldn’t go public with the news until we had some significant questions answered. We’ve been able to answer some of those questions.  Check it out on our website: www.churchinthenorth.com.

Still, the biggest question that needed to be answered for Karen and me was, “What is God up to?’  Because you know what? Church planting isn’t easy. I was listening to a podcast yesterday and a veteran church planter said, “The second hardest job in the world is planting a church. The hardest job is taking a declining, dying church and turning it around. That’s why I became a church planter.” That’s not why I became a church planter, but I take a big gulp when I think about what he said. Church planting is risky, costly business. It will challenge your marriage, your faith, even your sanity.

So what is God up to? After months of praying, deliberating and listening to wise counsel, we feel confident that God is in this new thing. And if God is in it, can we say ‘no’?  Now, there are still thousands (bazillions?) of unanswered questions and details that need to get figured out. We need people, resources, facilities…the list goes on.

Yet today I feel relaxed and at peace. Because if God is in this thing, then I know he’ll make it happen. Win or lose, it doesn’t matter.What matters is that we listened and said we’d do it.

What about you?  Are you listening to Him?  And will you do what He asks you to do?