It is 28 years since I planted Southside Community Church in Burnaby, BC. I did not know what I was doing, so my mentor, John Zimmerman, advised that I walk the neighbourhood for several months, watching for what was happening and talking to the Lord and to people about what should happen. I listened and tried to follow.
At least for a while.
We grew quickly. We moved into the neighbourhood (all of us) and began to see God use us as a sign, a servant and a foretaste of the kingdom. This was like what was doing done by others such as Gordon Crosby at Church of the Savior in Washington, or Church of the Redeemer in Houston or Tim Dickau at Grandview Calvary here in Vancouver. We had such little experience, but wanted to see people come to know Christ. We wanted to bear witness to who He is. And all of that was before anything was called “missional.”
We also wanted to grow. We did creative things in our services, and called ourselves seeker targeted and then seeker sensitive. We did neighbourhood events and the building filled up. We multiplied once, twice and then three times. Within 8 years we had grown to 4 campuses and thought we had this gig figured out. We became a multi-site (we prefer multi-neighbourhood) like Ichthus in England with Roger Forster and Millmead Baptist Church in England where my dad had pastored in the 1980’s.
Forge Canada emerged out of what God was doing at Southside, as we trained young leaders. Church Planting Canada became a part of our story as I served as BC and then National Director. Other churches copied some of the things we were doing, and denominations, churches and leaders signed up for training in hubs across the land.
It has been a joy to serve Southside, Forge, Church Planting Canada, and now the North American Baptists. Now at 55, some 28 years later, I have had front row seats to what God is doing across our land. We have sought to participate through training others around a missional theology and practice and have paid attention to shifts in culture (Y2K, post this and post that, Millenials…) trying to keep in step with the Spirit.
But…enter Covid-19, and I am afraid.
Our way of life has been brought to a halt by an organism we can barely see under a microscope. I do not want to get sick, and I wake every morning praying for protection and for the many who are suffering. The stories are awful, and so many are feeling such deep physical, emotional and financial pain. Many families are facing crisis like they have never known. We must pray for God to bring this to a stop, to heal and care for those deeply affected, and to help us to pay attention to what He wants to do.
I am not afraid of the virus, but rather that I may miss the opportunity to see a radical paradigm shift in my life. I am being pulled towards doing the same things, just now doing them online. I may have actually increased in pace not decreased, even though I too am staying put in my house. I am afraid I will keep looking to do things better instead of reflecting on what I see God doing. And I have the same fear for the church in Canada.
I have heard Pastors across the country grappling with how to lead in the midst of the virus, and then how to lead when it is all over and things go “back to normal.” The spectrum of solutions is wide and well-meant:
- Five steps to improve your livestream quality.
- Six ways to prepare your people to share with their neighbours.
- Providing hope in the midst of unrest.
But what if we miss this opportunity to attend to who God is and what He is doing in our midst? What if, instead of trying to figure out how to lead in the midst of or even after the crisis, we received this time as an opportunity to stop looking for answers to all of the church questions we can ask, and paid attention to the God questions that we need to ask? God, what are you saying to us? What are you going to do in your people in this country? Where are you at work in neighbourhoods? How are you wanting to empower us for witness in a rapidly changing context? And more…
Forge Canada and The Missional Network are partnering together to host a series of conversations called Missional Commons with leaders across Canada. We believe that it is in listening to God, the text and to one another that we will learn what it means to be the people of God who bear witness to who He is in all we do. We believe that God is at work and that there are faithful people who are seeking to pay attention to the Spirit, and that, by coming together, we may discover the hope that is ours in Christ amidst the chaos. We do not want to provide answers, although we have opinions, but instead want to foster a listening posture in our midst so that we shift from an old paradigm to a new. In Missional Commons, we will aim to talk theologically and act practically.
Our first conversation filled up (over 100) in less than 24 hours. We have added a sec- ond and now anticipate that this will fill quickly also. It seems as if many are asking the question “Where are we now?” in light of what we are experiencing. Our desire is to host these conversations every 2 weeks. On April 16th at 1pm PST, Alan Roxburgh and Marilyn Draper will join us as we dwell in Luke 24, reflecting on The Road to Emmaus text, and asking us to respond to “where are we now?” Clicking on www.missionalcommons.ca will take you straight to a free registration. We hope you will come and add value to our journey together.