This is a workshop given by Jenny Andison & Gary Van Der Meer at the Vital Church Planting Conference 2012.
Jenny Andison has been appointed the Archbishop's Officer for Mission for the Diocese of Toronto. Her role is to promote missional ministry and Fresh Expressions of church in the diocese. She is also an associate priest at St. Paul's Bloor Street.
Church planters are rare breeds. They are entrepreneurs for the sake of the gospel — and entrepreneurs make up only a tiny percentage of the population. But there are things that every church leader and lay person can learn from those fearless church planters amongst us. Here are a few:
Vision is vital. Church planters cast a compelling vision of where God is leading them in the future. They have trust in where God is moving, and are able to articulate that in a clear and compelling way. As we navigate an uncertain future as an institutional Church, all Christian leaders need to be able to hold out the mission of God in visible and engaging ways.
We are not in Kansas anymore. Church planters know that the fastest growing segment of the Canadian population is the unchurched — those who have never had any connection with any church. A church planter knows that God yearns to be in relationship with the unchurched and is intentional in building ministry to help connect them with the living God. The typical Canadian parish exists in neighbourhoods full of unchurched people whom God loves.
Christology matters – a lot. Who Jesus is drives a church planter. Who Jesus is shapes how a church planter shapes their new community. Who Jesus is gets the church planter out of bed each morning for the long, slow, hard, stressful, intense, and often lonely and isolating work of starting new Christian communities all over this country. Churches that are growing in this country — across the theological and liturgical spectrum — are churches that talk about Jesus. A lot.
The Church matters. Church planters remind us that God is not finished with the Church yet and that there is no Plan B — the Church is God’s one and only plan to announce the good news of Christ to the world. Every one of the churches that we currently serve began as a church plant. How do we reclaim that heritage in our communities? The churches that we currently find ourselves in are part of God’s good purposes for the future. Each of our churches needs to plant a new one to help reach new people, or use its resources to help support another group of Christians elsewhere plant a new church. Church planting is a ministry of the whole people of God because God has no other plan than us.
Church planters have much more to teach us: how to use social networking effectively for ministry; how to connect well with your neighbourhood; how to engage in good missional listening; how to undertake demographic research and how to explain the basics of the gospel to people who are biblically illiterate. The list goes on and on.
The Vital Church Planting Conferences coming up in Toronto and Edmonton in May offer us an opportunity to mingle with these fearless church planters who are among us, and learn from them. Church planting is always a team ministry — those who feel called to be part of such a team will love the conference. There are lots of things that we can learn from church planters – especially since church planting is the single most effective form of evangelism. Come also to be incredibly encouraged by the work of God in our midst. Click here to find out more about the Vital Church Planting Conference.
Jenny Andison was at the time the Archbishop’s Officer for Mission for the Diocese of Toronto and associate priest for Church Development at St.Paul’s Bloor Street, and now a Suffragan Bishop in the Diocese of Toronto.
The arched eyebrow of an 8 year old girl who has just recently mastered the art can be a bone chilling sight. The eyebrow went along with the “Planting churches Mummy ?” that greeted me as I had tidied up some advertising cards for the Vital Church Planting Conference that I had left on the kitchen table the other night.
Emma, our eldest daughter, would actually probably really enjoy the conference, and as I write this I think I just might bring her along for one of the days. She would like this annual conference for a number of reasons.
1) Emma likes to do things over and over (listen to the same song on her iPod shuffle, given to her by an indulgent uncle at Christmas). This conference is now into its fourth year and growing every year. Last year we had to have a waiting list for people to attend and the demand has been so significant that the conference has split in two, with one also now being held out in Alberta, VCP West.
2) She likes to listen to Mummy read stories with funny voices and accents. We have had some fantastic speakers over the last few years, some with southern drawls and others with clipped British accents. This year we have Pernell Goodyear (she will like the name and his tattoos), a young church planter from Hamilton, and Rachel Jordan, a church historian from England who is part of the leadership of the Fresh Expressions movement.
3) Her vivid imagination was fed this summer by reading Harry Potter. This conference is a chance to dream dreams and to begin to re-imagine what church needs to look like in our post-Christendom culture. What is the church of the future going to look like to be faithful to God’s mission? What tools and resources currently exist to help me, or my parish, begin that conversation about re-imagining church in fresh and new ways?
4) Why just play with one friend when you can invite over tons of little girls ? While the speakers have been challenging and encouraging, it is often the conversations with friends, old and freshly made, in the hallways, the workshops, the pub and over lunch that make the conference stand out. Being with over a hundred other people who are interested (just like you) in re-imagining church and starting fresh and new Christian communities can be so renewing and affirming. The networking that has taken place at each conference has been significant and has resulted in effective working relationships for gospel ministry taking root.
5) Emma likes to get her hands dirty. There are lots of practical workshops to choose from, depending on your level of knowledge and current church context. There is even a separate training track for bishops and other diocesan leaders.
6) She loves a good meal. Seriously . . . Each year on the evaluation forms we get glowing remarks about the food and facilities. It has been hosted each year so far at St. Paul’s, Bloor Street, in downtown Toronto, and the food has been great.
This is a conference for everyone (okay, maybe not many 8 year olds should attend)—lay leaders, clergy, bishops . . . everyone. If you haven’t yet signed up, then you can do so online at www.vitalchurchplanting.com. Hope to see you there.
Preaching when people knew the Bible stories and Christian language was one thing. Preaching today has to start further back and take less for granted in the minds of our hearers. How does one connect with people who come to church to “explore their spirituality” but knowing nothing of Christian tradition?
Where we are now
I recently read that Google is scrambling to hire the most talented math and science graduates, in a bid to secure its global dominance as a search engine provider. Google now uses billboards bearing a mathematical problem: solve it for the telephone number to call for a job interview. With that exclusive entry way, Google is assured of only the cleverest job applicants.
Sometimes I think that modern preaching is like a Google billboard: if you can decipher what I am saying, then you are welcome in our exclusive club. In our post-Christian culture, sermons are increasingly incomprehensible for people who are exploring Christian faith for the first time. I was recently given an orchid by a young man as a thank you present. Growing up, he had been taught that Jesus was rather like Santa Claus, not an historical figure but harmless enough. “Thank you” he said, “for showing me that Jesus is a real person. I had no idea.” This young man is not the exception to the rule: he represents the mission field in which we now serve.
What does it mean to preach when our congregations will have even just one person present who is like that young man? Since this is the place we now find ourselves in, I would argue that all preaching must be evangelistic preaching. The congregations in which we all serve have a mix of believers, seekers, church members who may not necessarily believe, and everyone in between. This is where preaching evangelistically becomes both a challenge and an opportunity.
Where we would like to be
In the congregation where I serve, I have a clear sense each Sunday morning that God is passing us the ball and saying, “Here they are: these people have come to church. Make sure you tell them about me!” Research suggests that when a “seeker” comes to church and is genuinely searching for God, they are likely to give church one try and one try only. That being the case, our preaching has to create a space for them in which they can encounter the truth about God. Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, has determined that every time he preaches he will encapsulate the Gospel in some form, no matter how brief, so that everyone who has come that day can say, “Yes, I have heard about God’s love and what Jesus has done for me.”
It would be wonderful if our preaching could not only nourish faithful followers of Christ, but also pique the interest of seekers and show them glimpses of what a relationship with God in Christ could mean for their lives. Some will say that evangelistic preaching on Sunday mornings does not spiritually nourish the Christians in the congregation. But this need not be the case. A sermon that is sensitive to the seeker will, by its very focus on who God is and what God has done for us in Jesus, nourish a faithful believer. In any case, a Christian also has the opportunity for spiritual nourishment in small group settings and through personal prayer and Bible study. These opportunities are not likely to exist yet for the seeker who has shown up on Sunday.
How we might get there
Preaching with the seeker in mind is a wonderful opportunity and here are a few simple things to remember.
1) It is helpful to start where the seeker is in their life and then bring them to the truth about God revealed in the Bible. At a parish that I used to serve in, each week the rector would take his video recorder into the local pub and interview people about the sermon topic that would be coming up. He would then use clips of these interviews on Sunday mornings as a way of letting people speak for themselves, of bringing the thoughts, doubts, beliefs and fears of the average seeker into the service. He would then use these clips as jumping off points to look at the Biblical text for the week. This approach is similar to that of Paul at Athens in Acts 17. Rather than starting with scripture, Paul begins with things in their culture: their altar to an unknown God and their poets. Then, at the end of his sermon, he takes them to Jesus.
2) If we are to preach on things that people are actually interested in, then we will need to be students of our culture. That means we need to know what the current top movies are (and preferably have seen them), what are the most popular books (and have at least glanced at them), who is at the top of the billboards (and be able to pronounce their names). Knowing what was current ten or even five years ago simply won’t do. It is not by chance that as Paul begins his sermon in Athens, he says, “As I walked around your city, I looked carefully at the objects of your worship.”
3) We need to be aware of the depth of Biblical illiteracy in our culture. Remember that young man I mentioned who was unaware that Jesus was an historical figure. We will therefore watch our language when we preach and take very little for granted. It takes longer to explain that Pontius Pilate was a Roman governor, or that the word gospel means “good news”, but it is worth it.
4) Our congregations need to know that modern preaching also needs to be evangelistic. They need to be shown why and how an effective sermon will be sensitive to the seekers present, and that preaching is not only for their benefit. The good shepherd left the ninety nine sheep to go and look for the one that was lost.
5) I find it helpful to write and pray through my sermon with one specific seeker in mind. It may be a friend or a family member, or a person who actually came to your church recently. So as I am writing and praying, I will be thinking, “Will Terry understand this? What would he make of this?”
I am only beginning to grasp the complexities of evangelistic preaching myself, and so have much to learn, but I do know that there is no greater thrill in ministry than finding out that your sermon brought someone closer to the fullness of Christian faith.
|Those who have been in church a long time cannot imagine how intimidating the first encounter with church can be for those who have never tried it before. Using the analogy of a sports fan who invites an inexperienced friend to their first game, Jenny Andison suggests a range of user-friendly activities a church can offer to enable friends to begin to love towards personal faith.|
For the full text of this booklet in PDF format, click here.
|This Article is from the Winter 1999 edition of good idea!, also available here in a fully formatted PDF file.|
One of my first experiences with evangelism happened in a rather backwards fashion. I was an undergraduate at a party where I was to have my first conversation with my future husband. Tim came up to me and said, “I hear you go to church.” I was caught off-guard by this remark, especially considering the number of people who might have overheard what I considered a rather indiscreet and certainly embarrassing observation. “Oh, uh, well, yes I do. It’s an Anglican Church.” One thing led to another, and Tim and I are now married!
I like to think I have traveled at least some distance since that incident, because speaking publicly about my faith does not strike me with terror to the same extent any more.
The Decade of Evangelism will have affected each of us to a different degree. For some of us evangelism may no longer be the dreaded “E word”, but it may still not be something we feel equipped to engage in. For others of us, the Decade will have spurred us on to discover ways to share the gospel both within our personal relationships and through the Christian communities in which we serve. But what now? what next? As the Decade winds down, how are we to move forward with the ministry of evangelism?
Paul writes in Philippians 3:12-14 (NRSV):
“Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own, but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”
The goal that Paul is talking about is true Christian perfection—knowing and serving Christ perfectly. The frame of mind with which Paul approaches his ultimate goal is helpful as we think about “What next?”
The first thing I notice is that Paul sincerely loves Jesus Christ and wants to do all he can to serve Christ, including evangelism. Now this may pose a problem, because my guess is that not all of us are head over heels with the idea of evangelism. While we may desire to be faithful Christians, our private prayers may still be, “Lord, anything but evangelism.”
I have a friend who, queasy at the thought of evangelism, nonetheless made it a regular prayer to ask for a love of evangelism. Because she knew she did not yet have a burning love for the task as Paul so clearly did, she sensibly decided to ask for it.
Secondly, I find the refusal of Paul to live in the past very helpful: “Forgetting what lies behind.” Our pasts, both as individuals as a church, can have spectacular moments of failure and times of triumph, either of which can paralyze us. It is easy for me to convince myself that I am not really cut out for evangelism and that my gifts clearly must lie elsewhere by recalling the many times that I have dropped the ball, kept my mouth shut, or (even worse) blundered in with some inane comment. Churches can also use their memory of evangelistic blunders as a reason for blocking fresh attempts to spread the good news that do justice to who Jesus is.
But maybe even more dangerous is the possibility that some previous attempts at sharing our faith have actually been “successful.” Paul’s evangelistic ministry was astonishingly fruitful, and yet he realized that he had not attained the goal of Christian perfection. Forgetting what lies in the past also means not allowing ourselves to be trapped in pride or complacency, patting ourselves on the back over and over again about the same shining moment when we actually said and did just the right thing. Past successes can blind us to present opportunities.
With all the people Paul had helped to encounter the living God, we would probably think him justified in taking a well-earned break. But Paul does not seem about to take a holiday! Using language probably borrowed from the athletic world—“straining forward . . . I press on”– Paul describes himself as firmly focussed on the final goal, every muscle taut and every nerve ready for the race ahead.
As we come to the end of the Decade of Evangelism, we must not allow the past to trap us. Instead, the future is right in front of us, and Luther’s words resonate both for us as individuals and for our church:
“The nature of a Christian does not lie in what you have become but in what you are becoming.”
The Rev. Jenny Andison is the assistant curate at St. Timothy’s, Agincourt, Toronto.