We’ve been doing as series here at the New Leaf blog on the foundational guiding ideas of the New Leaf Network. Today I want to talk about the guiding idea of Trinity—Mission—Church: Starting Something New Begins In the Heart of God.
Over the last ten to fifteen years there has been a flourish of writing, thinking, and teaching on the missional nature of the Triune God. I remember back in Seminary reading Stanley Grenz, at the time Professor at Carey Theological in Vancouver, writing on the Trinity’s missional impulse and flow. My mind was blown and a lump began to form in my throat as I pondered the eternal Father sharing himself in self-giving love and service to the Son, and the Son pouring himself out in eternal never-ending service to the Father. The Spirit acts as the bonding agent, sealing the eternal energy, pouring out delight for the other in this unending dance that began before time existed. Out of this fullness of love the Trinity creates humankind to join in this never-ending flow of creativity, beauty, delight, and joy.
The Trinity itself proclaims that God didn’t create us to satisfy his needy desire for us to laud him with praise; rather God created us to join in the Trinity dance as co-creating partners in union. Out of our union with God spins new creation and new things. New Leaf Network is about new things. We believe God is always up to new things with new people who have not yet joined in the new creation dance.
But wait! There’s more! Grenz emphasized that God in his DNA, or essence, is a missionary God. The heart of the Trinity is to invite all people into the dance or river of his creative and transformative new creation project. As an ENFP, this was all I needed. Where do I sign up? I want to plant a church. And in 2009 a group of friends joined me in starting a new thing called Engage Community Church.
You see, the mission of God flows first out of the very essence of God’s character. His heart longs to get his kids back from the intoxicating clutches of evil and the evil one. So the Trinity has a mission. Many of us have heard the now infamous quote used both by author Tim Dearborn and Archbishop Rowan Willams (we don’t quite know who coined the phrase),
“It is not the Church of God that has a mission in the world, but the God of mission who has a Church in the world.”
It’s vitally important that we get the order of this phrase right. For a long time we thought the Church had a mission, and it does. But the mission doesn’t start with the Church; the mission of the Church, in fact, isn’t about the Church at all. The Church is simply a vehicle for the God of the mission to use in the new creation project.
If new things start in the heart of the dancing Trinity God of mission, then the church exists in the nooks and crannies of neighbourhood and city to simply be places where people can come learn how to dance. Essentially, we are throwing dance parties and putting out the call on internet highways and over backyard hedges to come join the dance.
The Trinity has a mission and the mission has a Church. Notice we are the third in line—again, it’s not about us. As William Temple said,
“The church is the only organization in the world that exists solely for the benefit of its non-members.”
Our hope for the New Leaf Network is that we can be a respectful but prophetic voice to remind the Church of Canada that it’s not about the Church of Canada. We are in a season in Canada where the fastest growing religious demographic is the ‘unaffiliated,’ Nones and Dones. Our children are walking away from Church and we call them Dones. Many of our friends and neighbours have never experienced Church life and we call them Nones (no prior affiliation with Church or Christianity).
In the meteoric rise of Dones and Nones, it is tempting for the Church to circle the wagons and retreat into anxious survival modes, focused on bill paying and keeping existing members. Surrendering to the anxiety would be making the mistake of Trinity-Church-Mission, not Trinity-Mission-Church. It is exactly when we feel overcome with anxiety that we must go back to the heart of the Father, throw our arms out, and re-up our availability to join the Trinity dance. The centrifugal forces of the Trinity are what propel us back out into those zones where new things are waiting to happen; where new people are waiting to meet Jesus; where existing Christians are waiting to be challenged to join the Mission in fresh ways.
God the Father has sent his Son, the Son has sent his Spirit, the Spirit sends the Church out to do new things in the name of Jesus. Father, Son, Spirit, Church, you, me, Nones, Dones, coworkers, neighbours, family, and Jimmy who works at Tim Hortons. The Trinity has a mission and that mission is calling everyone to be reconciled to Christ and join the party. New Leaf is a small (but growing) group committed to nurturing, supporting, and equipping new things.
What new things is Trinity God calling you to?