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.

Mission

Withness

There are two general postures a church can take in its local community – either “withness” or “themness”.

The “themness” posture says, “WE are here to help THEM. We are here to help THEM because without US, they would be in big trouble.”  Sometimes churches get very excited about changing, fixing or serving the world.  Often this a good thing, but sometimes it can be threatening, or perceived as arrogance.  In our post-Christian, postmodern era, the “we have all the answers and we’re here to rescue you” kind of posture is difficult for culture to track with.

I’m not saying the church doesn’t have something valuable to say or contribute. We are witnesses to the greatest story ever told aren’t we?  And besides, God has sent us to love and serve and share the good news with the world.  So please, don’t get me wrong.

But what if we changed our posture? What if we sometimes took on a “withness” posture?  This posture says, “WE are here to work WITH you to create something great.”  Would that change the dynamic of our relationship with our local community?

I mean, who would you rather work with? Someone with a “themness” posture or a “withness” one?  Ever participate on a work team project with someone who had all the answers to every problem?

A couple of weekends ago (June 22-23), I was able to see a lot of “withness” ooze from the pores of our Crosspoint church community. We had the privilege of participating in the Northeast Community Summer Festival in northeast Edmonton. This festival has been operating for multiple years and this is Crosspoint’s third year helping out.  The festival is organized by people representing a number of community organizations.  Two of our staff members served on this team and many of our people volunteered during the weekend.

It’s a very unique event – an open-crowd festival that focuses on fun, engagement, cooperation and community. People who stay for the day typically walk away with a greater sense of solidarity and belonging.  You can learn more about the festival here.For us, the best thing about the festival was that it wasn’t our idea.  Rather, it was already happening and we simply jumped in as learners and supporters. You might say we were practising our “withness” posture. By the end of the weekend, we walked away humbled by the creative ingenuity, tireless effort, and inclusiveness of our local community.There’s a significant spillover effect to practising “withness”.  We have built solid trust relationships within our community.  Our eyes have been opened to see our community in a different way – more as insiders and less as outsiders.  Our love for our community has grown because we are part of the community.  And perhaps we have shown our community that we care, not just by our willingness to serve, but by our willingness to learn and to be served.So a word to churches. To engage your local community, you don’t need to start everything. I’m not suggesting you stop hosting car shows, pancake breakfasts, and kids events. Personally, I’m a fan of big jumpy castles and bacon. I’m simply asking: why not find out what is already happening in your local community and support it? Exercise your “withness”. The greatest contribution you make might simply be to roll up your sleeves and honour what they are already doing.Churches that authentically engage their local communities from a posture of “withness” will inevitably gain a voice at the table. They have earned the right to be heard because they were willing to cooperate, listen, and serve. It’s called humility – and God’s a big fan of that.Churches, maybe it’s time to fess up. We don’t always know the best way to do things. We don’t have every solution to every problem that’s out there. We don’t have a corner on the market of creativity.  (And if the theological hackles on your neck are rising, just remember the doctrine of Common Grace.)  So maybe we just need to seek to understand before we are understood. Maybe by extending trust to our local community, they will trust us more. Doesn’t trust, after all, beget more trust?Remember, don’t stop your “themness”.  Just practice your “withness”.
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.

Mission

Folded

For the past year I’ve been intentionally rethinking how I do discipleship.  I’ve been folding disciples into my everyday life.  This is a concept I’ve picked up from Mike Breen.  You can read about it in his book Building a Discipling Culture.

Most of us are tired and busy.  If you’ve got kids who are teenagers but who aren’t old enough to drive, you practically live in your car most evenings.  Life can be very demanding.  So how does one find the time to disciple people?

Our traditional view of discipleship is that it consists primarily of information transfer.  It’s about taking everything I know and uploading (or is it downloading?) it from my brain to someone else’s.  The western evangelical church is pretty good at this.  We preach dynamic sermons, host seminars and conferences, offer classes and workshops – all with the good intention of seeing people formed into the image of Christ.

And sure, Jesus was a teacher.  So were the apostles.  Knowledge, truth and information are important.  But are they sufficient to produce disciples?

Breen’s contention is that they aren’t.  I agree with him – which can be a challenge for someone who likes to teach and a challenge for someone with a predisposition towards Enlightenment thinking.  In Breen’s book he describes the three I’s of discipleship: information, imitation, and innovation.  The first of these is pretty much self-explanatory.  The latter of these is about how disciples take all that they have seen and learned and creatively apply it to their own lives.  Just as Jesus told his disciples, ‘you will do greater things than these,’ a discipled person will step out and live for Christ in an innovative way in his or her context.

But it’s the middle ‘I’ that we so often miss and yet it’s probably the most critical element.  If you really want to disciple people, you need to invite them into your life.  Jesus invited his disciples to be with him.  He not only taught them, he did life with them.  Their greatest lessons were learned by rubbing shoulders with Jesus consistently.  Most of us know intuitively that truth is better caught than taught.  Yet we spend so much time teaching classes and facilitating small groups.  What if we spent as much effort working on the organic side of discipleship rather than the organizational side?  What if we allowed future disciples to get real close to our lives?  What if they could see how we drive, how we parent, how we do commerce, how we exercise, how we recreate?

So back to the original question: How does one find time to disciple people?  The key is not to add more to your life.  Because, truth be told, your life is too busy already.  The key is to fold your lives together.  In other words, invite the person you are discipling to join you in what you are already doing.  If you’re going to do something, why not invite them along?  Or why not have them over for dinner?  Invite them to do some of the mundane things you do every week, like picking up groceries, doing the laundry, renovating your home or changing your oil?  Some of the things that have been working for me: lifting weights at the gym, going to movies, running stairs early in the morning, Ju Jutsu followed up by wings, home renovations, and community service.  I’m really trying to convince somebody to come along with me while I drive my kids to volleyball – but I’ve got no takers so far.

Does folding work?  It does.  If you do it.

The most important thing to remember is that folding isn’t just about saving time.  It’s about doing discipleship well, the way Jesus did it.  Is there one person who you could fold into your life today?