Recently I was at a coffee shop in Toronto, Ontario. My friends and I struck up a conversation with one of the barista. He was explaining to us how important it is for the coffee shops (and the coffee industry as a whole) to keep on learning, growing and evolving. The barista used an analogy of a pond that is disconnected from fresh water – it will become infected with all kinds of bacteria. Change is that crucial for the ecosystem. This story is so profound because it mirrors an important reality for Canadian churches; unless there is change there is no life, no movement, no growth and no revival.
The desire for change, movement and growth has been a big part of my own journey into church planting. I was part of a church in Toronto and had been the college and youth pastor for a few years. Those were amazing years of seeing God working through the local church in the lives of the students. I loved working with students because there is vibrancy of imagination and the constant questioning that led to new ways of engaging with mission. There is so much energy working in the student ministry environment.
It was in those years that God began to stretch my own imagination for the church. I grew up in a more traditional church climate. As I look back at those years of being in the church, I am thankful that this was the anchor of much of my Christian experience. But much of this experience I would use the term “this is” to describe. “This is” the way that church is done, how we gather on Sunday, the kinds of songs we sing, the liturgy that we use and the way that we do communion. I would venture to say that many churches also share a similar journey and have been a part of the “this is” culture.
Being a part of conversations with students led me to wrestle with church. On this journey it has led me to visit church plants, dialogue with church planters and devour various missional literature. I wanted more and I was, in a way, not settling with just “this is” church. As I was engaged with and dialoguing with the newfound conversation partners, this led me to a new term: “what if.”
“What if” the church embraces the arts, the creative, the imaginative and enters into new territories? “What if” church doesn’t meet on Sundays or at a church building? “What if” we do less organized activities and allow for more spontaneous gatherings? In my quiet time I landed on this passage in Isaiah.
“Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? There it is! I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands. Wild animals will say ‘Thank you!’ – the coyotes and the buzzards – Because I provided water in the desert, rivers through the sun-baked earth, drinking water for the people I chose, the people I made especially for myself, a people custom-made to praise me.” (Isaiah 43:17-21 The Message)
This passage became a new paradigm for me to embrace the “what if” reality of the church. It led me to question and discern the reasons behind why and how we do church. This internal wrestling of the “what if” led me to the church planting world. I had a desperation to see new ways of doing church in Toronto and I am eager to be a part of a movement that takes the “what if” and experiments it into reality.
I close with the passage that led me onto this journey. Genesis 12:1, “Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.’” This passage describes the narrative of Abram (later Abraham) leaving all that was familiar. He is indeed leaving behind the “this is” and moving into an unfamiliar territory. I would not be able to imagine what was going through his mind. What if we get attacked? What if it is a dessert and there is no food or drink? What if we get sick along the way? But then there must have been the other side of the “what ifs.” What if we really experience God’s grace in the midst of this new journey? What if God shows us a greater land? What if we experience God blessing the nations through our family?
The “what ifs” are always scary and unknown but unless we take the “what ifs” into the actions we may miss out on what God is doing. Abram would have missed becoming a blessing to all nation if he had not left the security and familiarity of his family. He would not have seen an entire nation birthed through his single act of obedience. “What if” God is calling the Canadian churches to step out into unfamiliar ground, to experience the new things He is doing?
photo credit: Photo credit: Blanchii Photography http://blanchii.deviantart.com/art/shine-648831259