Cross-Cultural Ministry at Home

Someone has started a Facebook group for debating current issues in our community. It’s a church planter’s dream, because it regularly confronts me with the reality that people think very differently than I think they do. That’s something I need to know.

I grew up in a suburb of Toronto. I’ve lived in the Greater Toronto Area my entire life. And yet, I’m involved in cross-cultural ministry right in my own backyard.

What happened? Three things. I’ve physically moved, and that means that I live in a new community with different values. I’ve aged, and that means that I’m learning from a different generation than my own. And society has changed. Even if I stood still, society hasn't, and that means trying to catch up.

I’m not alone. Matt Galloway, host of the Metro Morning radio show in Toronto, tweeted as he watched the Grammys with his kids:

I can relate, but it goes much deeper than music. It has to do with worldviews and values.

What does this mean?

It means that we need to remind ourselves regularly that we are sojourners and exiles here (1 Peter 2:11). Because I’ve lived here my whole life, it’s easy for me to think I know the culture more than I do. We need to pay attention to the subtle cues of cultural misalignment. They’re everywhere.

It also requires that we learn. It means asking lots of questions and listening well. Sometimes the best and hardest thing that a preacher can do is shut up and listen. It also means that I read widely, including the magazines and newspapers that people in my community are reading, especially the ones I don’t want to read because I don’t like what they say.

It also means that we need to learn to communicate to people who think differently than I do. Tim Keller talks about distinguishing between “A” doctrines (commonly held beliefs that line up with Scriptural teaching) and “B” doctrines (areas in which culture and Scripture disagree). He advises us to ‘float’ ‘B’ doctrines on top of ‘A’ doctrines, looking for ways to build the truth they don’t accept on top of the truth they do. This isn’t the entire answer, but we must give thought about how to communicate into a culture that’s different than ours.

Finally, it means that we need courage. Douglas Groothuis writes:

Christians should know what they believe and why they believe it. As they grow in their confidence that Christianity is amply supported by reason and evidence, they should likewise grow in their courage for the Christian witness. The stakes are too high to be ignorant or cowardly.

We need the courage to engage rather than simply withdrawing, even when things get challenging.

Cross-cultural ministry is great. We just have to remember that’s what we’re doing, and learn to do it well, even at home.

What Keeps a Church Planter Going?

It happens to most church planters. At some point, you wonder what possessed you to think you could start a church from scratch. All churches are fragile, but an infant church is especially at risk, and the mortality rate for infant churches is high.

I’ve heard someone say that a third of church plants thrive, a third limp along, and a third close. That means that two-thirds of church plants either struggle or fail. I’ve also heard that average church grows to only sixty people or so in the first four years. In places like Canada, that number is even lower. As I heard Ed Stetzer say recently, "Church planting is a hard, long slog.”

What keeps church planters going in the midst of the challenges, especially if you are in one of the two-thirds that isn’t experiencing rapid growth?

One of the things that has helped me is talking to small business owners in our community. Because our community is new, dozens of new businesses have started. In each case, the person who started the business has poured significant amounts of money into the venture. In each case, they are working crazy hours. In most cases, they didn’t have a hope of breaking even in the short term. In some cases, they’ve already closed. Just last week I heard of another new venture in our community that shut down.

If small business owners can pour their lives and risk everything to start a new business, why would I risk any less to plant the gospel? If they are willing to pour time and money into selling products, and sometimes fail, why would I be afraid to fail in what we’re doing?

I don’t think I’m far off in thinking this way. In 2 Timothy 2, Paul compared the risks and hazards of ministry to that of a soldier, athlete, and farmer. “I endure everything for the sake of the elect,” he writes, “that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:10).

Church planting is hard, but not necessarily harder than the work that soldiers, athletes, farmers, and small business owners do. If they are willing to put a good part of their lives on the line, why wouldn’t I?

Can't Quit, Won't Quit

As a church planter, I don’t get discouraged often. One day, though, I wanted to quit. I thought of my brother, who told me that he doesn’t have any job-related stress. I wanted to take a “normal” job and be done with the pressures and demands of ministry. And yes, I realized even then that the idea of a stress-free job is a mirage that doesn’t actually exist.

Still, I wanted to quit.

As I thought about this, I began to ask myself what would change. Yes, I would be freed from some of the pressures of vocational ministry. So many other things would stay the same.

  • I would not be my own. I would still be bought with a price, called to glorify God with my body (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
  • I would still be called to invest everything I have — my time, money, energy, and abilities — for maximum return for the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 25:14-30).
  • I would still be called to live sacrificially as part of the church, loving and serving others joyfully (1 Peter 4:7-11).
  • I would still be called to live everyday life with gospel intentionality, entrusting the gospel to others who would likewise entrust the gospel to others (2 Timothy 2:2).

The list goes on. What would change? The option of living for myself and my own comfort is off the table, and that will never change. Whether I serve in vocational ministry or in any other line of work hardly matters. I belong to Him. The expression changes depending on my work. The calling does not.

I suppose there will be other days that I’m tempted to quit the particulars of my ministry situation. I’m glad those days are rare. Regardless, there is no quitting the calling that God has given to all believers, a calling that flows from the gospel and is big enough to encompass all of our lives from now to the grave. Can’t quit, won’t quit. There’s no turning back once the gospel grabs ahold of your soul.

Help Me Kickstart The Church Website Expert's Guide to Squarespace

As you probably know, I'm helping to start a church in downtown Toronto. To help pay the bills, I work on other projects as a tentmaker one day a week. One of those projects has just gone live on Kickstarter. It's called The Church Website Expert's Guide to Squarespace.

Here's the deal: I want to help churches create excellent, affordable websites using a great service called Squarespace. To do this, I'm publishing an ebook that will offer practical advice on how to build a great website. I've put together a website that explains all the details. I think this project will help churches, and it will also help support me in my work here.

If you're interested, would you consider backing this project? Let others know about it as well. Check out the video below, the Kickstarter page, or the www.churchwebsite.expert page.

Back to regular programming on Thursday. Thanks for your help with this!

Three Avenues to Joy

When I look back at what I’ve experienced in church planting these past two or so years, three joys stand out:

  1. The joy of risk — There’s something joyful about sticking your neck out and risking for the sake of the kingdom. It’s far more joyful than playing it safe. I don’t think I’d want to go back.
  2. The joy of evangelism — My best friends are increasingly outside of the church. I am intentionally cultivating relationships in my community and being present in my neighborhood.
  3. The joy of reliance — I am learning new levels of dependence on God. I am also much more aware of my reliance on other people for prayer support, as well as practical support.

If you want to ask me what I love about church planting, these three joys would rank near the top.

Here’s the thing: you don’t need to be a church planter to experience these three joys. Sadly, I pastored many years without experiencing them as much as I am now, but they where there for the taking.

Risk. Evangelize. Rely. I’m finding that these are three avenues of joy available to all of us for the asking.