Signals and the Kingdom of God knocking

Signals are important! They save lives and they indicate new life. In a hospital, signals engage healthcare workers to respond to emergencies. In child birth, signals, like water breaking and contractions, indicate new life about to be born. On the road driving, they indicate a turn, or change of course. Signals need visual alerts and sounds of articulation to fall on eyes and ears in order to work. Whether beeps, or blog posts, signals need a voice…. And ears to hear and eyes to see.

There is something happing at City Center Church. I’ve been convinced of this since our arrival last fall. This little church in the most rugged of Surrey neighbourhoods is a most unlikely agent of transformation. This community is in need of care. One would think that a full on crew, resourced to the hilt with cash and expertise, peppered with important people and skills, would be a more likely force for change….

But there are signals and they are telling us something else…

You see, I bear witness to signals…. Another way to say this is that I tell stories about how God is reconciling the world to himself… putting to rights all that went wrong with the fall and transforming community structures so that God’s will can be done on earth as it is in heaven. It’s about that great Patmos picture in Revelation 21 of a new heaven and new earth. The beautiful part about this is that God invites his Church through signals from the Spirit to participate:

18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling[b] the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.

(2 Corinthians 18-20)

And trust me, there are signals that this is happening…

What are the signals? Let me share some with you…

Signal #1 – A breath of fresh pastoral air

I believe there is a fresh perspective for community transformation from our new pastor. You know, in the bible, it talks about welcoming angels at your door… I’ve come to know Gabriel (interesting name, huh?) quite well since he knocked on our door as our new pastor. The Holy Spirit has breathed new adventure through him into our hearts… his openness to change and following Jesus into the Kingdom is encouraging. The church prayed for someone in a pastor that could support the doing of a new work among us. Perhaps the best signal in this is that it’s not about a pastor doing the work. It’s about cultivating an environment where the community of saints can realize their own ordination by baptizm into ministry via participation in the Kingdom… we are one body with many parts and the head is Jesus. (1 Corinthians 12:12-14) This is crystal clear in his approach and the Spirit has inspired us through him. 

Signal #2 – A supply chain under our noses

There are people dreaming about moving from charity to community. But there is a crisis exasperated by Covid-19 that needs a charitable response each day. People are hungry and homeless and on the brink of utter desolation. The church must help. Since Covid, we’ve partnered with donors and shelters to distribute 10,000 plus bagged lunches. This is an effort that this needs to continue and a signal that God is doing something new. The food keeps coming and the need is still there and the need is being met. We didn’t start this fire of relief for the pain in our community, God did. The irony is that it took the church to close its doors for this to happen. Interesting! This dovetails into dreams that the other signals are alerting us to…

Signal #3 – The gift of a garden

People have been talking. Neighbours have shared rumours of glory and the desire for community among the people… this is beyond charity and I’m convinced if we can figure out how to create a sense of belonging with our community, we can take a big stick and jam it in the spokes of the wheel of oppression in our neighbourhood. Things like food inequality, homelessness, poverty, etc. These things can be addressed and something as simple as a Garden can help. We’ve received an approval for a community garden from the City without formally asking. We’ve received grant information and donation offers for all the supplies. We’ve received offers of help from the community to be a part of this. My friends, you can’t make this stuff up. It has wheels that we can’t physically see moving this along. 

Signal #4- God fearing gentiles among us. 

There are people, like my friend Shirwan from Iraq who can’t put an English sentence together, but desires to be part of whatever we do, especially if it’s outside in the streets. I’ve seen this man hand out hotdogs to our friends who live in the street like he’s serving a king! He is a cook. He wants to help. And the Spirit makes possible our connection. Last Sunday I organized a tail gate BBQ after our gathering. It was risky due to Covid-19, but our church family was gracious enough to support it. God bless them! On the Thursday before Sunday, Shirwan sent me a random message. I haven’t heard from him for a while. Out of the blue. I invited him. He came. He connected. He had dinner with congregants – one who could speak Arabic – he was enveloped into our community. This is one story. There are many others who are not part of us, but are connected to a work of God’s Spirit in our neighbourhood. And the Spirit of God is signalling to us through God-fearing Gentiles to come deeper into our neighbourhood.

All these signals – and trust me there are many more – have a common thread woven between them. The Holy Spirit. These things are all being orchestrated by God and serve as an invitation into something new outside of our church walls and in our community. So, here is the kicker…there’s a call to action….yup! This blog has a call to action. 

You are here for a reason. You’ve been chosen by God as a minister of reconciliation in our community. God is moving people into the ground, to till the earth, to get dirty with the work of LOVE in tangible and incarnational ways. It all starts with a question. Ask yourself this. “Am I being called into this neighbourhood?” Chances are, if you are part of our church, you are here for this reason. So go ahead and do the following as a little call to action:

1. Grab your ear lobes and rub them warm.. say the following prayer “Lord Jesus send the signals of your good work in the City Center neighbourhood  to my ears and tell us what we must do.” 

2. Rub your eyes and say the following: “Holy Spirit Give me eyes to see your work in our community.”

3. Hold your heart and say “Father, change my heart so that I can feel how you feel about our neighbourhood.”

There, that was simple, wasn’t it? Or… was it possibly the most dangerous thing you’ve done?

Be blessed,

Your brother, John 

The UNkingdom of God : Embracing the Subversive Power of Repentance – Book Review

What really makes a book a good book? For me, like a work of art, a good book is precisely “good” because of its ability to facilitate an encounter with truth and beauty. A good work of art invites us to experience something greater than our current orientation to the world and transforms us on the other end of the encounter. This is kind of how I feel about Mark Van Steenwyk's latest book, The Un-Kingdom of God: Embracing the Subversive Power of Repentance. Like a work of art, this book is an invitation to explore the other end of an encounter with Mark's imagination and experience about who God is and what it means to follow in the ways of Jesus.

Mark writes from a refreshing posture of vulnerability regarding his own 'scripting' in the Christian faith. It's refreshing because his posture is not a possessive one, in that he claims no special knowledge or to have all the answers to the problems; but one that is aware of his own captivity to the Empire that God longs to liberate people from. He carries us through the chapters in humility with a desire to constantly discern the direction the Holy Spirit reveals to his community.

His premise in the book is that much of Western Christianity is married to the imperial trappings of Empire and that ongoing repentance – and relinquishment of said imperialism – should be the paradigm through which the church can experience the Kingdom. What are these Empirical trappings? The trappings of empire are difficult to see and when Mark poetically pulls the sheets back on us we are left exposed and clearly complicit in the colonialism, racism, patriarchy, and economic power systems that define privilege within the empire; a privelage the church has comfortably enjoyed for milenia. Mark helps us see in this regard that every one of us partakes in systems of injustice even as we partake in the bread and cup at Jesus' table.

Mark helps us see our shortcomings and opportunities in several important ways. Three stand out to me:

Repentance over Privilage: In the west we somehow feel we have the template on what it means to be Christians, as if the goal is to turn disciples into well behaved middle class Americans. Our Privilage has caused us to tell national myths that are quite oppressive to the indiginous people whose land we inhabit, as if our enlightened standard is the goal. He says:

The engine of Western imperialism is the quasi-Christian set of national myths that shape us into the sort of people who believe that we, uniquely, embody the good life and should spread that life to the rest of the world. The American dream is our gospel.”

Our Christian memory is tied to the empire and this empire partook and partakes in injustice to offer us the freedoms we feel make us exceptional today. In a prophetic way, Mark suggests that we shed such privilage and repent of our work in sustaining these myths and the ongoing injustices they enable. In this sense there is no genuine Christian witness or restorative justice outside of repentance, just ongoing oppression.

Compassion over charity: So we are exceptional at justice because we give a lot of money as westerners to good causes? Before reading this book I had no idea how charitable generosity can actually perpetuate injustice, even with sincere intentions. Mark deconstructs charity and offers fair criticism because rarely does charity redefine the social fabric of our societies justly – the business Jesus was about. In fact charity often maintains the divisions between rich, poor, black, white, etc… And gives us a safe place from privilege to give with little real cost. The gospels are riddled with exchanges where Jesus was critical of the status quo for excluding others. Compassion on the other hand requires a relationship of empathy on even ground. It is a radical identification with the other, a suffering with, that is mediated via a posture of repentance and rooted in hospitality. Hospitality is the primary vehicle for compassion and it is evident in the many stories Mark tells. His authority in my mind stems from the extent to which his community has oriented their lives around these principals.

Anarchy over Oppression: Mark is an Christian Anarchist and that should not scare you, although it will scare many who have a shallow understanding of it. Anarchism is simply the desire to participate in voluntary, non-coercive, combinations (or relationships) in society. It is the idea that a group of people can autonomously organize according to the community's best interest. As a Christian, Mark sees Jesus as the organizing centre of life together. The community gathers and decides via concensus what it is that the Spirit of Jesus is revealing. The Spirit also helps the community name oppression as Jesus did in his time. To Mark:

“Good anarchists are namers of all forms of oppression, seeking to understand the way oppressions reinforce each other in enslaving creation and seeing, in contrast, a way of liberation and life for all of creation.”

This is an interesting posture against the oppressiveness of our society as it places no one person or position over any other. In addition, Christian Anarchism names oppression and our complicity in it, while creating an environment where equality and mutual love can occur. This idea resonates more with how Jesus and the early church organized before the eventual marriage of church to the Roman Empire. Sadly, many ecclesial structures today reflect moreso the pattern of empire than the anarchistic organizing principle evident in the gospels.

To conclude, Mark is a tremendous cultural exegete that strives for “eyes to see” and is relentless in discovering ways to embody what the Spirit reveals. Reading this book is uncomfortable and inviting at the same time, like a good work of art. This book has challenged my own assumptions and understanding and begun to help me shake free from the lull the empire has on me at times. I'm encouraged and challenged. To many who are marginalized and have felt the boot of empire on their chest, this book is very hopeful. To the powers (including ecclesial ones) that are modelled in the way of empire and privilege this book will be hard to endure.

Kingdom Discernment, Discipleship, & Art – Part 2


The photo above is my attempt at expressing how I’ve seen God at work this past week. I think many people feel like they are a crooked broken line in a world of straight lines. While the world shuns brokenness and praises put-togetherness, God is found in the cracks and frailty where we would least expect him to be. This has been the theme for me is last week based on my experiences.

Picking up from part one of this adventure, last night we continued on our journey of creativity as a mission group. This week’s exercise was about answering the question of “Where have you seen God at work this week?” In my opinion, I have seen people (myself included) struggle to easily answer this question. It can cause anxiety and often makes us painfully aware of our inability to pay attention to the divine in the daily. We try hard to align our beliefs and actions with a theology that God is always present, but somehow the out working of this is more complex to realize than we would like. The point of growing as artists in the kingdom is to ultimately be able to express our journeys in provocative and inspiring ways.

Rather than just trying to answer this question, the creative exercise was to answer it with a photograph (the photo above is my attempt). We were prepared with some instructions in advance to guide the process. I also recognized that photography might be intimidating for some so I broadened the scope to include two other options related to the poetry exercise we did last week, or a “show and tell” about some sort of art or craft made in the past. Here is the exercise and instructions.

Rule #1: This should be fun and relaxed without pressure of any kind. This is not a photo critique.

  • Have your camera or cell phone nearby
  • Be in a time of prayer and recognize God’s presence in you and in the moment
  • Realize that it is a sacred moment that you are experiencing
  • Consider your feelings, where you are, colours, textures, shapes, and what God might be saying to you. Consider what’s unfolding around you (people, things, events, etc…).
  • Your photo can be an expression of God’s beauty or something that makes him sad. Identify with the feelings of God’s heart. Does your heart rejoice or break with His?
  • Make your photo from a place of response to God’s love for you and His love for the world. important: does it connect with what we have journeyed through as a church this week? (identity, seeing with new glasses, etc…)

Option 2:

  1. Revisit your four line poem from last week and share with us the experience of reflecting on your life without God and the contrast to the scripture we read (Isaiah 65:17-25) here is the link to the verses. What is happening in you through this?
  2. Bring something to the group that you created yourself (a craft, knitting, painting, etc…) and share what it means to you and what it was like making it.

As everyone shared about their various experiences, it was interesting to see how vividly God spoke to them through this. We also agreed as a group that having an artistic impulse connected to the discovery of God in our lives made it easier to answer the question of where we see him at work. There was less anxiety and more meaningful engagement because of the artistic element. It’s becomming clear that there is great value to expanding our experience of God from just the cerebral to include the artistic.

Part of our night together also included discussing ways we could discover and participate in Kingdom life in our neighbourhood. Fundamentally, I believe answering this question comes from a process of listening to who God is and Where he is working in our community, while strongly resisting the urge to speak of how up front. Because of our existing friendships and involvement with the local school, themes of what matters to God were already self evident. We identified with a sense of disconnectedness that already exists, the epidemic of Latchkey children in our city, and poverty. This is already clear to most of us. But we want to learn more about the people, ourselves as part of this greater broken community, growing friendships, and most importantly discover the constant newness of the Kingdom in our midst. We want to move toward the hope and future of God in our community.

We decided as a group that we would like to facilitate an environment where we could connect with the community and enter an active discernment process to discover God further. We are planning to use a large back room in our building to host a games night with a number of the kids from the local school and their parents. The idea is to create connection while we actively look for God to reveal his kingdom among us. As God reveals himself through this, we would love the opportunity to include the community in the journey of instigating the great prayer of “…on earth as it is in heaven.”

I was pleased that our desire to be more artistic and creative contributed (and will continue to contribute) to our processing of God among us and our sending by him.


What is Discipleship?

A friend and thoughtful blogger, Bill Kinnon, got my mind stirring yesterday with his latest: Discipleship is Conspiracy post. Bill suggests that that there is an intimacy lost in the conventional pedagogy of western discipleship. I agree. The classroom approach does not compare to the down-to-earth discipleship reflected in the gospels. To say discipleship is conspiracy suggests so much more than the transference of religious information.

Understanding discipleship against such strong language of conspiracy could be helped by introducing language of “empire”. Empire is ultimately the principalities and powers at work in the world to exert its will in the form of politics (Eph 6:12). The empire is in rebellion toward God because of sin. The empire exploits, comodifies, and dehumanizes people with its lust for power, domination, and control. The empire conspires to perpetuate its agenda by worshipping the false gods of money, redemptive violence and power.

Against the backdrop of empire, I really like the language of conspiracy that Bill introduces for a number of reasons.

  1. Discipleship is ultimately participation in God's project for creation. This project was inaugurated in Jesus and carried out in a subversive and transformative manner within the empire and for the sake of the world. Therefore, an undermining took place and we can say that God's undermining of the “powers that be” and defeat of evil constitutes a conspiracy.
  2. Bill traces the etymology of conspiracy to the act of breathing together. There is an intimate connectivity (a breathing together) that we witness in the life of Jesus with his disciples. There is a story playing out within the larger story of the empire to non violently resist the practice of domination and oppression that ultimately support the empire. Therefore; this type of breathing together constitutes a conspiracy to subvert the empire.
  3. Discipleship is conspiracy because of the invasiveness of the word into the world through the incarnation. In other words, God took the world by surprise. Only by this incarnate invasiveness can the breathing together with humanity occur. Disciples are co-conspirators with God. It is ultimately a demonstration, rather than religious education or ideology alone.
  4. Conspiracy has an element of surprise. As co-conspirators, disciples work their way through the empire as the Holy Spirit leads (Matt 13: 31-32). Discipleship is surprising because of its way of non-violent resistance. This type of resistance disarms exploitation by exposing sin and responding in love (Matt 5:41, Luke 6:29). It leaves the aggressor disarmed while demonstrating a new way of being in response to aggression.

I want to take discipleship further as well and suggest that it is also an act of civil disobedience. In Baptism, for example, the disciple declares a “YES” to the Kingdom and a resounding “No” to the will and values of the empire that are in opposition to God. Through baptism, we become dissobedient toward the empire for we declare a new order that is led by a new King as supreme. If the empire dehumanizes, the Kingdom through discipleship is about dignifying and making fully human those that are broken; restoring God's order of all things. This is a public act. Through baptism one renounces allegiance to the empire and is born into a new life of breathing together with God and his people for this purpose. Is is the ultimate conspiracy and is dangerous when taken seriously.

The challenge with Western discipleship (in addition to what Bill mentions) is a form of blindness to the conspiracy and how it ought to play out against the empire. To take it further, allegiances are mixed and following Jesus has been co opted into a form of private religion that is palpable by the empire. It poses no significant threat. The empire goes as far as bestowing benefits upon the disciples of this coopted religion. The church and the empire are breathing together in conspiracy.

As much as true discipleship is a conspiracy, there is a conspiracy that works in the opposite direction that has far too many adherents to pose any significant threat to the empire. Caesar loves this arrangement.



Life giving conversations….

The last week has offered me the opportunity to have some very life giving conversations with special people. Each one has been a learning experience and a discovery of what God is doing in me lately. I contrast these conversations against the feeling of this image that I made last weekend while on a photo shoot. As this image speaks to the coldness and isolation of winter, the conversations I’ve had have nudged me toward the warm hope of spring and renewal in my life….and I think that’s a good thing.

Conversation #1:

A good friend met me for lunch and within three sentences we dove into a candid discussion about theology and integrating faith with life. I’ve looked forward to chatting with my PHD friend for some time as I respect his wisdom and knowledge. I threw out a theological statement I’ve been chewing on for a while:

“To claim the salvific benefits of the gospel without living into the social and political implications of God becoming King in Jesus is to, in fact, never have known him.” 

This launched us into a dialogue about left and right agendas and the shortfalls with each of them as that is how such a statement tends to polarize the discussion. Does it have to be a social gospel, or conservative one largely uninvolved in the social ills of our day outside the political efforts of legislation? This encouraged us to consider appropriate demonstration of the Kingdom consistent with the story of God in history and not just political engagement bound by a certain process or context stripped of the story of Israel.

My angst in all of this comes from the incessantly private nature of Christian faith and the incredible silence on social issues of systemic injustice. This came to a head for me recently in light of the silence and lack of engagement by much of the church with the Occupy Wall Street movement. I wasn’t sold on any notion of complete agreement with the OWS movement, but at least some commentary and consideration about the validity of the movement’s general protest against the disproportion of wealth and oligarchy that runs the West. My friend (Scott is his name) had some wise encouragement about a missional/incarnational posture that would in once sense protect from the polarizing liberal/conservative lines and offer a third way to live into the gospel that opens the door to transformation from within the believing community as well as without. What is it? It’s quite simple. Solidarity in the margins that goes beyond telling good news and embraces kingdom enactment and prophetic critique as a mode of being in the civil sphere. A posture of receptivity to the Spirit and a relinquishment of control seem like the appropriate prerequisite here within the context of discipleship.

This post is getting too long….conversation #2 will be another entry.


“But it’s one thing to say that the Church at large is involved in the Missio Dei; it’s another to use the term “Missional” as a kind of advanced concept of Church, or as a thing you have to do to qualify for Church.”

Maggie Dawn helps our understanding of this oft misused/misunderstood term. From back in 2007

Standing in the middle of God’s Kingdom coming

Last Friday I had the joy of being with my wife at our church’s annual Christmas production. This was not your typical Christmas production of years past. There was no play…no manger…no shepherds. Instead, it was through songs, readings, and stories that we were able to come in contact with how God was working in our midst. Representatives from various organizations in the lower mainland and abroad were present to talk about  their specific work with the poor, homeless, and refugees. There was a silent auction and through my photography business, I donated a couple of family portrait sessions as a way to throw my hat in the ring for a good cause. The event raised about 10,000$ for the sponsored organizations through ticket sales and the auction.

In many ways it takes time, to slow down, to listen, and and absorb the harsh reality of people around us to really find out where God is at work. Unfortunately for many, we tend to think God’s hand is in the best deal we get on something at the store, or in the comfort of our personal realities…you know, in the things we perceive as blessings. Rarely do we consider that God’s real and significant work is among the poor.

For me… on this evening I was standing in the middle of God’s Kingdom coming. It was also the same day that I finished reading NT Wright’s book, Simply Jesus and the weight of engaging with the concept Wright proposes – of Jesus announcing that God is becoming King – was heavy upon me. People think Jesus means many things, but an examination as thorough as Wright’s leaves little room to think that Jesus was anything but announcing that God is becoming King in himself. What struck me are the implications this has on not only our personal lives, but in our public lives as well.

Some of these implications manifested themselves nicely and prophetically in the production. In God’s economy there is a spirit of generosity and love that is completed in the action of Jesus and that power now imbues it’s people to follow suit. That same power of God’s presence gives courage to stand up to the injustice of how our society marginalizes people and exploits them. It gives courage to do the things Jesus did….to not only care for the vulnerable among us, but to call into account the powers that corrupt. I am now eager to see this evolve into more systemic engagement that goes beyond charity to challenging the status quo.

Different Types of Ecclesiology

I am still in no place to blog thoughtfully….still nothing meaningful to say. But I will link to other [more] thoughtful bloggers to give you something for stopping by this site. Halden posted a great description of different types of ecclesiology…..

“This is intended solely as a descriptive, handout-style breakdown of different sorts of ecclesiology within the broad spectrum of the Christian tradition. As such it clearly is not accurate on the micro level. Any and all typologies are, in my opinion extremely dangerous. However, if they help in facilitating the theological task at points, then perhaps they ought not be done away with.

From my perspective there are two basic polarities which define the shape of a given ecclesiology. The first is what I term the High-Low polarity, the second I refer to as the Strong-Weak polarity. Within this framework any given ecclesial body could potentially fall in one of four categories, High-Strong, High-Weak, Low-Strong, and Low-Weak. Here are my descriptors of these categories and my attending attempt to put various Christian ecclesial bodies in their proper place. I am sure there will be inaccuracies here based upon my own ecclesial experiences, familiarities and limitations. So, please correct me if you are so inclined. It will help greatly my final development of this typology.


High Church Ecclesiology: High view of church history and tradition. Emphasizes the liturgy and above all the Eucharist. Churches are generally structured episcopally (i.e. through a hierarchy of bishops who stand in communion with each other). Emphasizes salvation as membership in the church through participation in the sacraments. Generally holds to infant baptism. Close connection between baptism and initiation into the broad community of faith.”

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Len on Vanier on community…

When we left the traditional church setting in the fall of 2000, one of our complaints was that community only happened around task. In retrospect, it seems both true and natural. Community is a by product of something else, and when it is an end in itself it tends to implode. It becomes incestuous. Communities form naturally around shared purpose and shared task. The more clear and intentional the purpose, the stronger the community tends to be. The challenge, then, in forming communities is to help them to maintain an inward life even as they work at whatever purpose they are called toward, as they move to incarnate their purpose. Jean Vanier is right that,

“The more we become people of action and responsibility in our community, the more we must become people of contemplation. If we do not nurture our deep emotional life in prayer hidden in God, if we do not spend time in silence and if we do not know how to take time from the presence of our brothers and sisters, we risk becoming embittered. It is only to the extent that we nurture our own hearts that we can keep interior freedom. People who are hyperactive, fleeing from their deep selves and their wound, become tyrannical and their exercise of responsibility only creates conflict.”
Community and Growth

I am experiencing the loss of strength of vision with age, and I visited the optometrist yesterday for an updated prescription. Common enough. But I was struck that as time passes and my physical vision grows weaker, my inner vision grows more clear. It becomes both easier and more natural to look “not at the things which are seen, but the things which are unseen.” At times it feels a little gnostic.. but then I recall that phrase from Paul, and I realize that what may sometimes appear dualistic is really the embodiment of a paradox.
HT Len

Vision as Incremental…

I have been far too busy to blog lately because life is taking its toll on me from all angles. One thing I have tried to keep up is meeting for lunches downtown with friends who church plant and are involved in the missional conversation. This has been a source of life for me in the absence of time to blog.

One topic we have bantered about lately is that of vision. There is much talk about vision in churches and so much of it is good and some needs to be questioned. What I perhaps question most is the type of vision that is based more on models of commerce. Many critique this as it often leads down roads of church growth strategies that are concerned most about growing numerically through a repeatable and controllable process. But is biblical vision about that?

In conversation with my friend Anthony, he put me onto the idea of vision as vocation rather than a static constant. What I mean by static constant, is that if a church’s vision, for example, is to grow to 10000 people, the unswerving pursuit of that vision can often lead to a lack of openness to the spirit’s direction for a body as their life together unfolds. The desire may be a noble one that seeks the Kingdom, but it may not be the specific direction or goal for that church as discerned through the circumstance of their life and the Spirit’s presence. Vision as vocation, on the other hand is a buy-in into the macro promise of the covenant God to restore all things. Vocational vision can be understood as a communal resolve that we are a pilgrim people, traveling through time with the Spirit, as we implement and participate in the redemptive action of God to restore all things. What that looks like in a local context needs to be teased out and discovered through relationship to the Spirit in a posture of listening. It is not controllable, but is is discoverable. As we only have the creative visions of scripture that give language to this redemptive hope, it comes to be for us through a process of improvisation (thanks NT).

The above should lead us to consider that perhaps vision is an incremental endeavor. If we have a vocational vision that includes an openness and attentiveness to the Spirit from a macro perspective, then we can trust that direction will be reveled incrementally as we travel through time with God. What is more, the vision discovered will be an impulse by the Spirit that is intertwined with the communities wrestling match with God. Discovering God in the midst of our circumstances (faithful and unfaithful) as we walk through the good and bad consequences of our life together is the playground for discovering our next steps toward God in this life. What grounds this for me is Israel’s journey through the wilderness. There was only enough guidance for the next few steps of their life alongside their vocational vision/hope for the promised land. Are we willing to take the route they did? Perhaps not for us, but for God, this seems the preferred place he would have us. Strikingly, it is not a place of efficiency, strength, and pride, but a place of weakness, humility, and powerlessness where the only walking we do is with a limp.

This leads me to wonder if each church vision should not begin with a resounding "For now…" as they seek to discern each step along the journey.

What do you think?

The Conversion of the Church

My blogging friend and gifted Dream Awakener JR Woodward points us this morning to a couple of quotes from Will Willimon and Hans Kung on what conversion should mean for the church.

Willimon: “A church which has no quarrel with Caesar’s definition of peace and justice, a church enabled by its culturally accommodated preachers to lessen the gap between the gospel and the status quo has no need to preach conversion. In such a church Theophilus will be told stories of people who overcome personal anxiety, who found security in conventional truth, who kept with their own kind and stayed safely home. No one needs religious conversion or cultural detoxification to be down to this church. But if the church hopes for more, for a new heaven and a new earth, for people who know the cost of discipleship and are willing to pay, then as Hans Küng says,

“We are to preach metanoia. We must entice people from the world to God. We are not to shut ourselves off from the world in a spirit of asceticism, but to live in the everyday world, inspired by the radical obedience that is demanded by the love of God. The church must be reformed again and again, converted again and again each day, in order that it may fulfill its tasks.”

Looking Back on 2007

As I reflect back over the last year, there are many things that stick out to me as significant and profound. One such thing is how difficult this past year has been for us as a church. Because of sin issues, things have not at all been circumstantially desirable; however, in the midst of pain, there is a renewed sense of God’s faithfulness. Perhaps the greatest gift discovered this past year is God’s presence in our times of suffering. We’ve gone through times of asking “How could you let this happen”, and we’ve wallowed in that pain. We’ve gone through times of uncertainty and have come face to face (perhaps more than ever before) with our own faults. We are learning to ask how God is working in the midst of these times and discovering His presence and invitation for us into greater faithfulness. We are learning how to listen and how to see and this has challenged us toward growth. There is a sense that God’s providence has overshadowed us as we’ve walked the difficult road to forgiveness.

The 2007 landscape was one painted with clouds of suffering, but on that same canvass, new life is sprouting up like shoots in the most unexpected places. It is times like this we grow the most, if we are willing. Such is the divine mischief of God. Such is the humanity He created and invaded. Life’s playground is surely marked by His presence in times of longing and refreshing. We are eager for times of refreshing.

There are many other great things that happened this last year and I will compile a “Best of 2007” post with links to all sorts of goodies for you. Look for it in the next few days.

Evangelism or Witness?

David Fitch has written an important post suggesting that the church needs to move from what was classic evangelism in modernity, to a holistic witness for faithful engagement with the world today.

“I believe the shift from evangelism to witness is one of the most importantmoves for pastors to make in the new missional context of post Christendom N America. It is absolutely essential to leading a church into this millennium. The church I grew up with told us we need to evangelize the world. Go ouit there and communicate verbally the message of the gospel to your friends. Today, the missional church is speaking a different language. “Incarnational” is one of the new descriptors of how we are to engage the world. I believe the word “witness” is just as important.”

David argues that evangelism focuses too much on verbal proclimation and that witness is a more, all encompassing, term that includes verbal proclimation and doesn’t neglect faitful embodiment. The emphasis on apologetics – that which imforms much of our evangelism today – and verbal defense of the faith was needed in times past as a corrective to the misunderstandings so prevelant in Christian thought. Today we find ourselves in a post Christian context with little memory of what the reformation was arguing and this context calls for a witness that speaks louder than words. David continues:

“Witness is an all engaging term. It certainly includes proclamation. But proclamation is inseparable from the witness of real life. This is why the greek word for witness, MARTYRION, sounds a lot like the word “martyr” in english. For the true witness bears forth the proclamation of the gospel by laying her life down for it. True witness however is more than an individual willing to die for the gospel. For even this makes no sense apart from a community bearing forth witness to a way of life birthed out of the reign of Christ. This takes community. True mission, true witness takes community. This is why I am hesitant to go along with friends who suggest “missiology precedes ecclesiology.” Indeed I’d prefer “missiology is ecclesiology.”

Please go and read the whole article…

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Imagine Conference and Some Assessments…

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There is a great opportunity here at the conference to network and connect with people interested in church planting from across canada. The diversity of context in our culture alone is a testimony to the rapidly changing Canadian culture we find ourselves in. At one point, I was in conversation about culture with Mark Chapman, Associate Director of the Canadian Theological Seminary. His insight into the complexity of culture alone illuminated the magnitude of the interpretive and hermeneutic task we have before us. Our cultural make up is one that consists of multiple streams of modernity and postmodernity, that not only span geography, but also self identity. As we are enmeshed within culture, this conference is, in a way, a microcosm of this cultural make up and is interesting to note. All sorts are here, from emerging to modern. The importance of this mingling is the cross pollination that can happen to foster new questions about the church.

What is interesting to note is how popular the term “missional” has become. This popularity has spawned a question within me that I have sought to answer throughout the gathering. The question is: “To what degree has the term “missional” been co-opted by motives for numerical church growth”? Wisdom prompts me at this point to qualify myself a bit by suggesting that numerical growth to a degree is important, but should not serve as the primary ‘metric’ to drive ecclesiology. By focusing on numerical growth primarily, one risks the danger of distorting the gospel commodifying people in terms of market share. To go the other way, disregard for people who do not know Christ is a distortion because it neglects the reconciliatory and redemptive impulse of the Trinity. Thus we find ourselves in between trying to navigate the tides of faithfulness, which I might suggest should be the essence and goal of the church. Numerical growth is a result of faithfully embodying the gospel that is not formulaic, but a gift by the work of the Spirit’s discretion.

My assessment of this conference, through some interaction at the MTN Booth, is that the term is being co-opted by some; however, there is a strong movement away from seeing “missional” as a programmatic tweak to an existing model and more a systemic change and critique to church growth assumptions. How do I know this? People are exhausted by the tweaking and pulling of levers to never experience the depths of discipleship needed for missional transformation. Some of Alan Hirsch’s contributions to the discussion are helpful in this regard. They are asking great questions about discipleship and the church that is an encouragement to hear and in essence forms the conversation that guides the initiative of the Missional Training Network.

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