I Get It Now!

While I’ve been “between churches” I’ve had the joy, and apparently challenge, of simply attending church on Sundays with Kristin and Elliot, without an up front role.

Each Sunday we’ve attended a different church and/or service, and for a family with a baby, each has presented a different challenge. Juggling naptimes, driving time, snacks, bottles and lunch takes some planning, patience and sometimes explodes in a mess of Cheerios, milk and tears.

One Sunday I finally blurted out, “I get it, now!” I finally get why so many young families find it so much easier to stay home on a Sunday morning. It’s not easy.

Now, before everyone tells me about the people who do, or how families managed in the past, I return to the topic of priorities. When people are already followers of Jesus, or even culturally Christian, church attendance naturally ends up higher in the priority listing. Today, these are exceptional people, whose numbers are shrinking.

As cultural Christianity dies, those with a tenuous connection to church can count several, maybe dozens, of priorities that take precedence over church. One of these is the promise of a peaceful, restful morning with the kids once a week – usually Sundays, because careers, commutes, fitness, children’s activities all make the list as well. The idea of packing the kids off to church, putting them in childcare (again) or trying to keep them quiet, is a low priority, if at all.

My family is obviously willing to make it work – we are followers of Jesus with a certain set of priorities. But we cannot forget – that encounter with Jesus transformed our priorities in life.

So again – I am learning that the emphasis needs to be on transformative discipleship, that reorients our priorities. NOT on reorienting people’s priorities so they can be discipled.

This reality is going to be a huge part of Redeem the Commute when it launches this fall, and Redeemer Church as it emerges.

Priorities – Part 2 of 2

This is a continuation of yesterday’s post on the language of priorities and its implications for discipleship…

We would do well to remember the importance of keeping priorities in order for church planting. It’s so easy to focus on church attendance. What kind of service should we have, where, when, and for who? How will people learn about Jesus when they come to church events and services? But this is a spoke.

Worse, if we expect services and events to be the first point of contact for the average family or individual, we underestimate the importance of priorities.  Those who attend church don’t do it by accident, or for lack of other options.  They do it because it takes priority over cutting the grass, sleeping in, and so on.

The problem is this: if Sunday morning is the church’s only, or even primary way of communicating the gospel to a hurting world, we are in trouble. Those who hear it will be the minority in our culture who already prioritize Christian worship, or who happen to have been invited to reorder their priorities for a day.

What we need to do is help people encounter the all-transforming power of the gospel – that reprioritizes everything in our lives.  Yes, Sunday morning routines, but also our activities, time, money, careers, sexuality, family, and more.

We are made to be transformed by the gospel, not to transform in order to hear it in the first place!

Priorities – Part 1 of 2

I have been thinking about discipleship and the language of priorities. Ajax is a bedroom community, with a vast majority of working adults commuting. Many commute and work long hours, and long for more time at home and at play. Many say they want to reprioritize their time or money, or some part of life, but feel stuck. What can change? A new job, a home closer to work, an earlier commute to avoid traffic? Each has consequences for all the other priorities.

This is like trying to reorganize the spokes on a wonky bicycle wheel – align one and others are simply thrown out of alignment as a result. The hub is a better place to start – make sure it is in order, and then align the spokes from it.

Unfortunately our tendency in life is to worry about the spokes, and forget to pay attention to the hub. When life is out of balance, we start wondering which spoke needs to be longer, shorter, straightened or whatever. If we do, we miss the point that a relationship with God, was always meant to be at the center of life, and when that hub is missing, there is no hope that the spokes will ever work out.

Followers of Jesus are people who are paying attention to the hub, and have invited God to take his rightful place at the center of a life once again, and to allow him to reprioritize, reshape and transform the rest of life.

More tomorrow on the implications for church planting…

Exponential – Alan Hirsch

At Exponential 2012, I attended a small workshop with Alan Hirsch, described as the following:

From An Institution To A Movement
Alan will explore the four areas of theology and practice that hold the keys to the revitalization and growth of the church in our times. This will explain why Christology, Discipleship, Mission, and Organization are critical focal points for recalibration and development.

A few key points he made:
  • At this point, the Western church does not need reformation, but refounding.
  • He suggested reformation can be accomplished by speaking the love language of your organization, but refounding means we need to go back to the founder and love language of Christianity
  • He quoted David Kinnaman (who wrote an important study of young Americans, unChristian and now You Lost Me.) saying he was told, “These people [Christians] don’t remind us of their founder”
  • Movements are discipleship obsessed
  • An apostolic movement = multiplication church planting + mission of everyone, everywhere
As usual, Alan brought theological depth to the missional conversation with real integrity.
I am still mulling over the formula he concluded with – that an apostolic movement requires both a structure of multiplication church planting, and commitment to the mission of all believers.  He suggested that church planters often focus on the first, and not the second.
What do you think – do we tend to value one over the other?  Neither?  Both?

Photo Credit: depone via Compfight

Distractions from Core Business

I read an article in Macleans over the weekend about the demise of RIM, a once great Canadian institution.

The advent of Blackberry’s main competition was in 2007, with the iPhone.  It so happens this was when RIM’s leaders were making headlines, but not because of their business.  They were each focused on their respective pet projects: buying an NHL team and building an institute for theoretical physics.  There was more to RIM’s demise than this, but it’s a great symbol for how RIM leadership was distracted, missing how the smartphone business was changing.  iPhones became a coveted piece of consumer electronics, while Blackberry kept marketing itself not to consumers, but to wireless carriers.  It was the beginning of the end.

I can’t help but think about the western church context.  How many churches, and leaders, are distracted from our core purpose of being and making followers of Jesus?  I can think of too many examples to list…and RIM is a reminder and warning for us all!

Introverted Church Planters?

Do you need to be extroverted to plant a church?  It would appear to be so – you might envision a dynamic, charismatic and outgoing personality who single-handedly meets, charms and recruits new people to the church.  Okay, I exaggerate a little.  But I’m an introvert, and some people have asked this very question!  I read about a church plant in Durham region almost 50 years ago where the planter visited 1200 families, and recruited enough to build a church.  Church planting certainly used to be done this way – is it still?

Introverts are often misunderstood.  They are not anti-social, but simply find social interaction takes an input of energy, and needs to be balanced with “recharging” time.  Extroverts, on the other hand, may find social interaction gives them energy, and allows them to recharge from the draining experience of doing solitary, introspective or otherwise focused work.  Those are the definitions I have heard most.

Both types have effective interactions with others, they are simply experiencing the event differently.  An extrovert may have many superficial contacts, but struggle to go deeper in friendship, while an introvert may have few contacts, but is able to focus on the depth of that relationship more easily.

I would propose personality style is of limited importance to planting a church, particularly in a post-Christendom culture.  If new churches rely on one leader to form relationships through their own giftedness, they will never grow beyond a few dozen people – an extrovert, no matter how charismatic, can only encounter and maintain relationships with so many people, much less form them into a Christian community.  That’s hard for everyone – it pushes both introverts and extroverts to rely not on their personality traits, but to rely on God himself to do something bigger, greater and more impactful.  And in today’s post-Christendom context, it’s crucial, because this is about people becoming followers of Jesus in the first place, not simply gathering existing disciples together.  It takes time, depth of relationship, and life together – something that pushes both introverts and extroverts outside their comfort zones, and into God’s arms.

What a church planter, whether introverted or extroverted, must do is build equip others to be serving needs, forming community and making disciples wherever they are – at home, at work, at school, etc.  The aim is to join and participate in a movement, of followers of Jesus around the world, that grows and multiplies beyond the capacities of any one individual.

Where Will The Church Start?

When people hear I am leading the planting of a new Anglican church, they’re often quite pleased.  But for all different reasons.

Sometimes they are thrilled that we are going into a new community to serve others, build community and help others follow Jesus.  When people learning to follow Jesus intentionally gather together to practice God’s kingdom, we have a church!  It might even build a building someday.

But others hear “church planting” and immediately picture their favourite church (building, music, programs, worship style, preaching style, etc.), transplanted into the Ajax town boundaries.  They presume that the problem we seek to solve is a geographic one – people simply need the Anglican church to be closer, and more convenient, so they can come.  It certainly was, the last time the Anglican church had a great wave of planting activity – a few decades back as suburban sprawl began.  They love their church, or memories of church, and long for others to share the experience.  And so they ask, Where will it start?  They mean well!  Some even pledge to attend when it’s built.  They are great people!

But the problem isn’t one of convenience or geography!

I read this quote today from Bishop Graham Cray:

It is becoming clear that many of the people for whom Christ died are unlikely to be drawn to our existing churches however spiritually alive, hospitable and attractive they are.

That is our new context.  We have an opportunity here to not just plant another church in the same model we have.  There are dozens of great churches within a 15 minute drive for those who are already inclined to go to church for Sunday services and other programming, and for those whom they might invite.  There are thousands of others who won’t…and it is for those thousands that we are planting a new church.

Even if we gather a launch team from other churches, and work together to build a building or start our favourite style of Sunday worship, we will likely find ourselves with the same struggles to overcome apathy and become more spiritually alive, hospitable and attractive as other churches with that model. We will have solved a small geographic problem, rather than taking on the real, big issues of God’s kingdom!

This is an opportunity to do something new and creative, that begins with listening to discover the real needs of our community.  It’s probably not that the nearest Anglican church is too far away to visit on Sunday mornings.  It’s probably got something to do with family and parenting concerns, financial fears, work stress or crime, and that existing models of church just offer one more way to keep busy.

We’ll start there, serve these needs in Jesus’ name, make friends, and share life together.  As others learn why we do, they’ll learn about Jesus, and I pray, be led to follow and worship him.  We’ll aim to spark a movement of people whose lives have been and are being transformed by Jesus – at work, at home, at school, at church.  It won’t start in a building, patch of land, or school gym – but rather in the hearts of real people, serving one another and building community.