How did I know they were a church?

This wasn't the crowd I saw. But it was pretty much the scene, minus guitars.

This wasn’t the crowd I saw. But it was pretty much the scene, minus guitars.

What is it that makes a crowd, a church?  What is it that makes a gathering, church?  What are the signs amongst the people that they are indeed a congregation and not another crowd like a family reunion, neighbourhood get-together, or political rally?  I had opportunity to reflect on this on my last day of vacation.

I’ll set the scene.  My wife, daughters, and I were just finished a week out at the beach.  The rented cabin had been cleared out, the car was packed for the trip home, and we wanted one last trip down to the water before heading back to the city.

Next to our favourite spot there was a larger group of people gathered, 25-30 or so folks.  As we passed them I couldn’t shake a suspicion.  Those people are a church congregation.  Not a family gathering, not a community event, not a political rally, definitely a church.  Many know that a church isn;t the building, and these people were gathering outside at the beach.  Despite 99% certainty I was scratching my head for awhile as to how I knew.  I just knew.  After it was confirmed that they were indeed a church, I was still trying to figure it out my near certain suspicion.

Let me describe them.  There quite a few Filipino people (largest visible minority group in my part of Canada), a few others of Asian descent (Chinese heritage? Korean?), a fair number of black people (some spoke with African accents, some did  not), and white people as well.  There were old people, teenagers, young families with kids.  For a smallish gathering it was remarkably diverse.

That was it, the diversity, that’s how I knew.  Unlikely they were natural family, they must be supernatural family.  The Apostle Paul indicates this diversity as a sign of the Christian people:  Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. (Colossians 3:11).  

Now not every congregation will be so diverse, community demographics play a part.  And neither should we demand or require a certain level of ethnic differences for a church to “be a church”.  Nevertheless, the diversity is a sign – a sign of the future reality when those from every tongue, tribe, and nation will be gathered to worship Jesus.  It was also my clue as to that gathering on the beach.

That’s how I suspected but how was my suspicion confirmed?  So simple, and also indicated by Paul’s Colossian description of church.  They started singing.  They sang some hymn I had’t ever heard and they praised God together.  Then one fellow stood up and read the Bible and encouraged the people from it.  Song and word:  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16).

 

 

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What’s with the sign?

sign

Look, the sun’s shining down on it and everything.

What’s with the sign? Not the regular King’s Fellowship sign but the one below it in support of the Shoal Lake 1st Nation.  A little of the background on the needs of this community can be found here, here, and here.  (this is a local campaign/issue so if you’re not from Winnipeg it may not be of interest).  Why did we, a local church seeking to worship God in our city, put up this sign?

We were asked.  Steve Bell started the campaign and he asked so nicely for churches to get involved by putting up supportive signage.  The campaign seems sufficiently non-partisan in tone for us to feel like we ought to jump onboard.  Our congregation is certainly diverse in many ways but this local issue seems clearcut to most people.  We get our water from this community.  They can’t drink their own water.  It’s time for that to change.

Christians should care about the public good.  Evangelical Christianity focuses on personal relationship to God and that’s a great and necessary thing.  Following Christ has often been portrayed as and reduced to being a good person or a set of social causes.  We must resist that tendency.  Nevertheless, we also must resist the opposite mistake and forget that our salvation in Christ, while personal, should also turn our eyes and hearts outward to seek the good of our neighbours.  The prophet Jeremiah serves as an example.  We must care about the surrounding culture, society, community, and pray for them and their good.  Also, someone once said we should love our neighbours.  Let’s assume he meant it.  An implication will be that we care for the public good.  Having neighbours without drinking water should bother us.  Especially when our water supply is the cause of their problems.

We can be political without being partisan.  Many Christians are wary of voicing concern about specific issues lest we be considered political.  We are, in fact, called to be political – political in the sense of concern for the polis, the city in which we live.  This is different than being partisan – in bed with political parties or with one spot on the political spectrum.  If we go along with everything the people we vote for do or say, that’s probably not a good thing.  Christians are called to many public concerns.  We may be concerned for issues that are increasingly counter-cultural and unpopular with our neighbours (protection of the unborn, critique of contemporary views of gender/marriage/sex, concern over euthanasia/physician-assisted-death, and religious liberty).  But there’s so much we should care about that our neighbours do as well.  We gain credibility when we are also concerned with common causes; the less controversial issues where we may find common ground.  The lack of accessibility and clean water for a vulnerable community for example.  Peter even teaches how Christians are to be doing good even though we’re looked down on for other reasons.  This is the balance to strike. It is important that we seek, as per Jeremiah and Jesus, the good of all even as we are called to go against the flow.

And a sign isn’t much but that’s why it’s up.

 

 

What many Christians feel, and are concerned about, in light of same sex marriage issues

As a pastor, my first obligation is to care for the people that are under my care in the local church.  Everyone knows that the winds have changed and that societal views have changed in regards to marriage, sexuality, gender, and so on.  There can be a lot of commentary about this but what most average Christians feel, from my observations, is something like this:

They really love their friends, co-workers, family members and neighbours.  Whether they’re gay or straight, atheist or Muslim, living together before marriage or trying to adhere (like them) to a Christian sexual ethic.

They’re not especially put off by different life-styles, beliefs, or sexual orientations.  They want to respect differences and have good relationships with the people they live and work with.

They may be confused about how their Christian faith relates to the shift in our culture’s understanding about sex and marriage.  But they do still want to be faithful to God and what their Faith teaches them about such things.

They don’t want to judge anyone but they are concerned and are feeling pressure from the world around.  Messages coming to them from the culture and the media are labelling them ‘bigot’ or ‘intolerant’.  Many are concerned about what traditional/Biblical beliefs about marriage will mean for their careers and some of their relationships.

They don’t hate anyone.

But they don’t believe that same-sex marriage or homosexual activity is what God’s has in mind for his human creation.

They really love their gay friends and neighbours.

But they don’t know what is in store for the future.

They’d really prefer this wasn’t the issue that is pressing today.

 

This video is made by Roman Catholics but I think the sentiments would be the same for almost every Christian I personally know.

 

 

Human Flourishing and Religious Freedom

Andy Crouch makes a compelling case for the role of religious freedom to enable human flourishing.  Religious freedom, in fact, is essential for human flourishing.  This is especially so in regards to the authenticating mark by which human flourishing should be measured:  how society’s most vulnerable are treated.

And religious freedom is not, not, not reducible to freedom to worship privately or believe personally.

It is the freedom to engage publicly with the implications of those beliefs.

Christians should seek religious freedom for all our neighbours.  We do this for a very good reason.  We should seek such not because it’s easy – it is not – but because it is hard.

 

* from Q Ideas conference, April 2015.

Why Should a Church Help Clean the Neighbourhood?

good posterThis Saturday is a community clean-up organized by the neighbourhood in which sits our Church building.  This year we’re taking part – both by encouraging bodies to help out and with a little funding.

Why?  Why is the perennially important question for anything so it’s important to ask it here.  Why should a local Church participate (enthusiastically by the way) in a neighbourhood clean-up?

This post (a repost from a year ago) is mainly for my own congregation’s benefit to help us focus on why we would expend effort on something like this.  Not that we’re cynical or resistant to the idea, by and large, but just to help us be clear.  But if you’re a reader from elsewhere, there might some pearls in it for you too.

So why is The King’s Fellowship participating?  How about for three reasons:

1)  For Us.  We’re doing it in order to help us.  We need opportunities to serve others and taking part together in something like this is to that end.  Many people in the congregation serve wonderfully in their own neighbourhoods and social circles.  It should never be suggested that we are not a serving people.  But corporately, as a congregation, there has never been a strong history of King’s doing service together.  So we need practice at that.  This Saturday is an opportunity for that.  Participating for one Saturday may not seem like a big deal – it’s not! – but it could be a step toward more ways to corporately serve.  Plus, it will be fun!  As someone who used to work in West Broadway take it from me; this community knows how to make stuff fun.  We’ll take part and we’ll be build community amongst ourselves.

2)  For Evangelism.  Picking up garbage with our neighbours is evangelism?  No, it’s not.  It is service.  Evangelism is when we speak the words of the Good News to someone and plead, persuade, and appeal to them to repent and believe.  Evangelism isn’t service but it can be helped by service.  Our Church has owned a building in this neighbourhood for years.  People could come to faith through our witness.  But they need to know we’re here first.  Serving is a way to let our neighbours know that we’re here and that we want to serve them (and serve with them) in Jesus’ name.  In addition to being an intrinsic good on its own, serving can be a way of ‘earning the right to be heard’.  This, I suspect Christians will learn in the decades ahead, is even more important as suspicion of traditional Christianity rises around us.  Picking up garbage this Saturday is a way to get to know our neighbours, be seen helping alongside with their common concerns.  No pressure to ‘share the Gospel’.  We’re there to serve.  But let me just share what a community leader told me once.  I told him that “propagating our faith is always a top priority for us”.  He smiled and replied:  “Hey, we’re all people.  We may see the world in different ways, but if people see you taking part, maybe they’ll be more open to your beliefs”.   Wise words.

3)  As A Stepping Stone To Something More.  One of my constant prayers for my congregation is that God would give us one or two unique ways to serve our neighbours.  That’s an important prayer because WB is a community which has lots of needs but also lots of people, programs, and organizations (both religious and non) who are already meeting those needs.  We don’t want to be redundant and run, for example, a healthy breakfast club or food bank when those things are already being done competently by others.  We also don’t want to shirk responsibility either.  We are to be a city on a hill after all.  It is important to not parachute in with our plans and agendas to help out.  We need to come alongside and participate in what is already going on.  We need to be servants and act like missionaries where we’ve been planted.  We need to not come in wearing our T-shirts but to wear theirs. *Psst, this isn’t just a metaphor – there’s a free t-shirt in it for you!*  If my prayer for one or two specific ways to serve is going to be answered, it almost certainly won’t be answered while sitting still.  If we take part in something as simple as this clean-up , and keep on for maybe a few years, we will be learning, making connections, becoming comfortable with our neighbours, and they with us.  Then, who knows what could come of it?  Oh wait, God knows!  Let’s participate and be in prayer.

No Hiding

Looks like he found a good church.  But it wasn't the one of his dreams.

A community of Jesus which seeks to hide itself has ceased to follow him. “Neither do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on the stand.” … The bushel may be the fear of men, or perhaps deliberate conformity to the world for some ulterior motive.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer