On May 9 and 10 the Center for Missional Leadership hosted a two-day conference (at St Andrews Hall, the Presbyterian Seminary across the parking lot from VST). Missional theology starts with the centrality of God, who has a church to do God’s mission in the world. The church’s job is to discover what the Holy Spirit is up to already. Preparing to celebrate Pentecost, this was a feast of presentations filled up with exciting work of the Spirit.
Keynote speaker Dr Christopher James spoke about his research on church planting in the secular west. His study explored an urban, tech-savvy, progressively liberal and post Christian city, Seattle. Suggesting we can all learn from church planters, his research led to several recommendations. He shared the importance of place, of dwelling in the neighbourhood. He suggested the neighbours shape the very identity of the church and the church in community set in a very specific geography.
He also recommended the practice of receiving hospitality (not just providing it). He reminded us of the story of the disciples being sent into the world not only to give the good news but also to receive the community’s hospitality (Luke 10:4). He suggested communal discernment. Telling stories about church planters talking to neighbours and other churches. Finally, after extensive study of church plants, he recommended cultivating embodied, experiential and everyday spiritualties such as practicing the gathering for communal meals and the examine. Then Steven Bell presented “A Sent Life Together: Connecting with Neighbours through a Neo Monastic Church in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside that illustrated many of these themes in lived practice.
Altogether there were 3 lectures and 19 short papers presented. The range of topics was massive (which does not feel like a nearly big enough word). From Andrew Stephen-Rennie’s presentation on “Revitalizing the City: How One Congregation Transformed it’s Charitable Food Ministry to an Agent of Shalom” to Peter Sander's performance, "You Shall Go Out with Joy: The importance of Congregational Singing in Missional Worship, or Shannon Bell’s talk, “My Ministry is a Disaster” describing mission and the motion of God and church in central BC during the 2017 wildfires.
Several central themes emerged. Place and God's presence in the specifics of that location were mentioned often. The tension between affluence and need was expressed in relation to the locality. We experience the disproportional allocation of resources in the particularities of place.
Ecumenical work came up a lot. Numerous denominations and traditions were represented by the presenters and attendants. Many of the presentations spoke either of practices that could, or are, working across denominations, and there were mentions of multiple church partnerships. In discerning God's presence in our here and now, music and beauty are themes, and there was a whole presentation on feasting. New imagination was both spoken about and illustrated in the activities presented. And we came back to the narrative of the Gospel again and again. These were stories of learning to journey with Jesus. Mission was discerned and experienced not contrived and controlled but in the rhythm of our scripture’s stories.
The Spirit moved for me when Regent graduating student Jenn Richards talked about evangelism. She noticed the dominant model or imagery of evangelism is military. We engage in a battle for souls, we deploy forces for God. In a beautiful rephrasing, she invited us to reconsider evangelism as midwifery. We patiently walk beside people while we wait for that person and the Spirit to bear fruit. We have no need to force the issue. Jesus’ got this.
How would evangelism feel if it was less forceful action on our part and a lot more watching, waiting and listening? Richards suggested practices for a midwifery model like 30-second story-telling. For example, a "story" might sound like, "I heard an excellent sermon this weekend." That's it. And if the Spirit is kicking, someone might ask for more. Such a short story is an invitation to further conversation. But, like a waiting midwife, there is no personal rejection if the time is still not ripe. A 30-second story is a safe risk. Then we can listen, trusting the Holy Spirit to arrive in God's own time.
In conclusion, one participant called the conference a garden of beautiful ministry and an inspiration to find the courage, when the Spirit moves, to try something new.
Photos: Alecia Greenfield