This Town ain’t big enough for Pewsitters!
I love a good Western. Back in the 1970s, I enjoyed a TV series featuring the adventures of two brothers, Morgan and Quentin Beaudine (played by Kurt Russell and Tim Matheson). Morgan, a.k.a. Two Persons, was captured by the Cheyenne. After eight years of captivity, he was liberated by the U.S. army and reunited with his brother, who was practicing medicine in San Francisco. The brothers then banded together for a common cause – to find their sister, Patricia, who was being held against her will by the Cheyenne. Morgan and Quentin traversed thousands of miles across the Great Plains and the Rockies, searching for their sister. They were on a common quest; hence the show’s title: “The Quest.”
Just like a cowboy in a classic Western movie, God is on a quest. And he’s inviting us to saddle up and join him.
Yahweh is a searching God who called out to the alienated rebel in the Garden of Eden, “Adam, where are you?” (Genesis 3:9). He’s a sending God who disrupted Abram and propelled him to “hit the trail” so all nations would be blessed (Genesis 22:17–18). He’s a purposeful God who expressed his dream and design for Israel to be a missionary nation. And he’s the same God who got up close and personal in Jesus – God in the flesh – who declared that he was on a quest “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).
Missiologist Lesslie Newbigin understood that the essence of following Jesus is to join him on his global redemptive quest: “The Church must be seen as the company of pilgrims on the way to the end of the world and the ends of the earth.” Church consultant Bill Easum agrees: “The whole point of the Christian life is following Jesus onto the mission field.”
Jesus, our trail boss, has given us a daunting and daring assignment – to reach Canada for Christ. He calls us to alert men and women across our provinces to the reign and rule of God in Christ Jesus, to boldly and winsomely proclaim the gospel and to make disciples who, in turn, will be agents of transformation.
Will we join the quest and saddle up? Here are five commitments we can make as we hit the trail with Jesus.
ONE – Pray.
Press in to Jesus, seek his voice, and listen to his heart. Pray that you will fall more deeply in love with him. Pray that his Spirit will lead and empower you – and give you eyes to see what he’s already doing. Pray that God will pour out his blessing on you, so you can be a reservoir of blessing to others.
Invite Jesus to break your heart for lost people. Start a prayer meeting and ask God to download his dreams and visions for your church. Walk your neighbourhood and pray that God would reveal himself to the men, women, and children in those homes.
TWO – Preach with proper confidence.
Congregations must embrace the missionary call of God, rediscover missionary nerve, and operate with gospel confidence.
Missiologist Lesslie Newbigin’s so-called “retirement years” were consumed with the question, “Can the West be converted?” Following his return to Great Britain after years in India as a missionary and ecumenical statesman, Newbigin offered a challenge to leaders. “There seemed to be so much timidity in commending the gospel to unconverted Britain,” wrote Newbigin after experiencing a “cold contempt for the gospel” in his urban Birmingham parish.
He realized the forces of modern-ity were producing a missionary crisis. In the face of pluralism, Newbigin boldly proclaimed the lordship of Christ, which cannot accommodate privatization of the gospel. He asserted that the confession “Jesus is Lord” lays claim to the entire public life of humankind and the whole created order.
In the context of postmodern skepticism regarding truth claims, Newbigin contended that the church must indwell and embody the gospel story. “I can only affirm the objectivity of the truth claim which I make by committing myself to live and act in accordance with this claim.”
Newbigin invites us to live out a “proper confidence in the gospel.” In the marketplace of ideas in Canada’s pluralistic, multifaith context, we dare not lose sight of the supremacy of Jesus – his uniqueness and final authority. In a setting where people cling to the myth that many paths or all roads either lead to God or are manifestations of the same universal consciousness, the answer is not to shrink back from the truth that God offers salvation and forgiveness in Christ alone. With bold humility, we must declare: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
THREE – Plant.
Saddling up in our new Canadian mission field requires prayerful people who live out a bold apostolic confidence in the gospel (Romans 1:16).
It also requires innovation, experimentation, and a pioneering commitment to establish fresh expressions of the gospel in our neighbourhoods, communities, and cities. Joining Jesus on the missional trail must involve a bold pledge to plant churches that are gospel-centered, Spirit-led, and mission-focused.
As author Tim Keller writes, “The vigorous, continual planting of new congregations is the single most crucial strategy for 1) the numerical growth of the Body of Christ in any city, and 2) the continual corporate renewal and revival of the existing churches in a city. Nothing else – not crusades, outreach programs, parachurch ministries, growing megachurches, congregational consulting, nor church renewal processes – will have the consistent impact of dynamic, extensive church planting.”
This issue of the Herald has stories of planters who have been upended, uprooted, or blindsided by the call of God. In different settings, with unique challenges and opportunities, they bear witness that God is at work, launching new gatherings of his people. They testify to the amazing privilege of joining God in his work as junior partners (1 Corinthians 3:1–9).
FOUR – Ask settlers to become pioneers.
Canada will not be reached if the quest is left solely in the hands of planters and start-up churches – established churches need to be part of the adventure. We need to deploy a new wave of leaders who will plant, and also invite seasoned churches, mature congregations, and even stagnant gatherings of believers to align themselves with Jesus’ call to be gospel-centred hubs and missional outposts.
It requires courageous leaders who will prayerfully discern what it means for them and their flocks to embrace their communities as a mission field, and to intentionally blaze a trail of renewal and change for the sake of Jesus and his gospel.
Do we view our communities as parishes to love, serve, and bless? John Wesley claimed the world was his parish. We certainly need to be global Christians – but what if we claimed our local school, factory, health club, or skating rink as our parish? What if we claimed our town or city as our God-ordained slice of Canada in which to live out our call (John 20:21)?
Some established churches may choose to launch clusters of missional communities. Some may change their focus from building great programs to asking, “What would it take to build a great town for the glory of God?”
This requires an external focus rather than an internal fixation. It means that reproduction, multiplication, mentoring, and apprenticeship become part of the fabric of church life, with a view to moving outward. It means those in ministry identify, develop, and equip others to work with them. It involves encouraging the people of God to not simply pour their energies into church-based activities, but to step into the community and use their gifts, talents, energy, and imaginations to serve neighbourhood needs.
Church planter Terry Cuthbert offered some challenging words to established churches that have lost sight of the mission field. In an interview with ChristianWeek, his advice was to forget trying to balance an inward and an outward focus. “Our natural tendency is to turn inward,” he said; the only way to maintain balance is to put a disproportionate emphasis on evangelism.
Cuthbert was asked what he’d say to churches that haven’t considered church planting. “Repent,” he said. “In a lot of our programmatic churches, there is a lot of time, talent, and treasure sitting in the pews immobilized. We need to equip and mobilize them. The task needs all hands on deck.”
FIVE – Invite every believer to saddle up.
What if we all saddled up? What if we busted the Pareto principle that 20 percent of the congregation does 80 percent of the work? What if we deployed loads of people to follow Jesus into the mission field for the sake of the King and the advancement of his kingdom?
Author Howard Snyder, in Liberating the Church, invites us to saddle up as kingdom people:
“Kingdom people seek first the kingdom of God and its justice; church people often put church work above concerns of justice, mercy, and truth. Church people think about how to get people into the church; kingdom people think about how to get the church into the world. Church people worry that the world might change the church; kingdom people work to see the church change the world.”
God’s kingdom has no spectators. Songwriter Elsie Dale penned a hymn with the refrain, “There’s a work for Jesus none but you can do.” It’s true! Each of us has a unique and strategic role to play in the mission of King Jesus.
SIX – Pray some more.
What a glorious day to be alive and in union with Christ! What an amazing day of opportunity, filled with the possibility of harvest! Yet there’s a daunting personnel crisis. The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Jesus’ response to the opportunity and challenge is to invite us to pray.
Reaching Canada’s millions of unsaved people is actually a human impossibility. It’s “‘not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty” (Zechariah 4:6). If we’re going to start plants, and create redemption centres and missional launch pads, the psalmist reminds us “unless the LORD builds the house,” the work is futile, and all our efforts will be fruitless (Psalm 127:1–3).
So, let’s look to him, depend on him, and seek him for a move of his Spirit in our churches, in our lives, and across the nation!