We Christians are quite good at describing what we’re against, but often grow rather silent when asked to describe what we are for. Paul Dixon’s Nomadic Faith doesn’t just take the easy road and decry what is unhealthy with modern attempts at church. Instead, he attempts to reorient the church through immersion into a life of church planting and discipleship actively led by the Holy Spirit.
In the process of stirring this pot, however; the question is whether Dixon throws the baby out with the bathwater.
On its surface, Nomadic Faith is a book about missional church planting in Vancouver. It puts a heavy focus on being Spirit-led, not model-focused. We are glutted with theories, formulas, models and information about how to effectively plant churches. There is no end of seminars, online courses and blogs from successful pastors and professors offering cutting-edge information about how to start a new ministry.
Nomadic Faith is a healthy pushback against ministry that takes a cookie cutter approach to church planting – just dropping into place a model that was successful somewhere else without contemplation of context or how God may already be at work in a different community.
Rather than being students of church planting theory, Dixon calls church planters to be students of the moving and speaking of the Holy Spirit as they discern how best to bring people to Jesus within the culture where they minister.
In recent years, forming and maintaining healthy churches has become one of the great focuses of the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches. This commitment has birthed the C2C Network and many discussions in the missional realm of theology and practice. In an age of seemingly constant decline in church health and influence, it is reasonable to re-evaluate what effective ministry and church planting look like.
Some MB readers will find a number of recurring themes chafing, including Dixon’s light attitudes toward drinking alcohol and his rejection of current church traditions. At times, his writing seems to be as much about making a point of how different he is, rather than staying on the subject of church planting.
That said, Dixon’s work has a number of underlying themes that will speak indirectly to many of the issues we wrestle with regularly as MB churches.
Are we more led by the Book or the Spirit?
How do we make decisions individually and as a community?
As disciples of Jesus in this world, is our primary struggle with sinful people and systems or malevolent spirits?
While certainly not a formal theological treatise, Paul Dixon makes practical applications of his beliefs and in that, gives a picture of what life looks like for someone deeply committed to living out his convictions.
Nomadic Faith’s one significant stumbling point is the fallacy that we can somehow become more in tune with God by severing connection with outside sources. “What if we were to drop all our preconceived ideas, theologies, and strategies, and take time to listen to God, to listen to what he wants for his church and how we should move forward with that?” Dixon asks. I suggest that going completely solo, neglecting the wisdom of others and discarding our shared history is rarely a wise move. Not only this, but it is in essence impossible. Who we are is a combination of all that we take in and experience: all we have read, seen, experienced and those we have shared life with in the process.
Attempting to get away from everything to distill life and truth down to only God, myself and my Bible is a mistake that Descartes made more than 400 years ago that we need not repeat.
As a whole, this short book is worth the read for its inside perspective on a different way of doing church and the successes and struggles that can come in being a part of God doing a new thing. Dixon reminds us that no system is perfect; we ought always to be following and seeking after the Holy Spirit. God’s kingdom is something we should share and celebrate together no matter what it looks like.
—Ben Kramer is a member of Parliament Community Church, Regina.