Essays on Experiments: We Need God More Than We Need Gurus

My latest column at Christian Week:

Resonate began as an online network of Canadian Christians, "a network of people seeking out Jesus Christ in a world and country that is transitioning from the modern to the postmodern era. It is a group of people who are looking at new ways of living out the faith in holistic ways."

The most active part of Resonate has been its email list, which has connected participants across Canada in online discussions. Some participants have also organized meetings, called Greenhouses, for "for church planters and those interested in creating new forms of church."

A couple of years ago, some participants wondered if Resonate should do more. "We've had this list going for three or four years," says Len Hjalmarson, a pastor and student living in Kelowna, B.C. "We've had this open conversation. But there wasn't a lot that was concrete. We began to think, what about a book?"

Participants began to talk, and Hjalmarson, along with Winnipeg writer Brent Toderash, took charge. The result is Fresh & Re:Fresh, a book that's recently been released by Allelon Publishing. The book includes reflections from five church planters, three churches in transition, and four mentors of church planters. It also includes reflections from Hjalmarson, theologian and pastor David Fitch, Ottawa pastor Frank Emmanuel, and Alan Roxburgh from Allelon. (Full disclosure: I contributed a chapter on a church in transition.)

"We wanted to generate some learning out of church planters and churches in transition," says Hjalmarson. "We have a good cross section of the diversity that exists in Canada."

Hjalmarson was disappointed that they were unable to enlist a contributor from Atlantic Canada. "We found one," he says, "but they didn't have the time or energy." But he is encouraged by the contributions he received, and hopes the book will accomplish its goal. "We've been pleased by the energy of the contributors. We want to generate some conversation."

Alan Roxburgh writes that the essays in this book are important for the church in Canada. Our context, he explains, "is so unlike our neighbours to the south or anything the church has experienced before in North America - although it has become more and more the case in Europe." Nevertheless, we often try to import solutions from south of the border.

"We are in a space where the call of God is to risk in experiments that are rooted in this Canadian imagination, not borrowed from leaders in the U.S. or gurus from some other part of the world. That's why this set of essays is so important. The stories represent young leaders who find themselves in this clearing where there are few answers, embarking on experiments."

Roxburgh appreciates that the contributors simply told their stories. "I want to resist the temptation of squeezing from them principles and themes that can then be applied across the board in other places," he writes. "In this clearing where we find ourselves, we don't have this option. We are all pioneers, there are no experts. What we need right now are more and more stories like the ones in this collection."

Hjalmarson agrees. "You find both diversity and commonality in these stories," he says. This allows the reader to reflect and discern what he or she can learn from each of the contributors. Each contributor comes from a different setting and a different denominational background, including Pentecostal, Free Methodist, Vineyard, Baptist, and Anglican.

You will probably not agree with everything in this book: the stories are diverse, and the theologies differ. You may be struck by some of the views expressed about post-Christendom ministry, especially if you are used to older models of ministry. Neither will you find a set of principles or lessons to apply. But I am grateful for Fresh and Re:Fresh, because it allows us to see what is happening in circles outside our own. It also offers opportunity for reflection and discernment. We may not need gurus as much as we need to see what God is doing around us.

Fresh and Re:Fresh is available through Amazon.com. You can find out more at the book's website (http://fresh-refresh.com/).

Getting there

I'm up to page 120 or so, plus some 25 pages at the back (appendixes, bibliography). I'm feeling pretty good about my thesis work. Of course it doesn't matter what I think; I'll be curious to see what my thesis advisor thinks. I'll know pretty soon.

It's been nice to be away and focused and to have access to a great library...but I miss home.

Speaking of which, I'll be home tomorrow night. We debated but thought it would be too much to to go Cultivate on Saturday, which is too bad. But I want to see Charlene and the kids.

Resonate ECHO Tuesday night

David Fitch writes:

I’m in Stratford Ontario with Rae Ann and Max. Doing a little R&R and loving it. (I needed it). Tomorrow I am at Resonate Echo in Hamilton Ontario to talk and discuss a few things emerging, the challenges of pastoring in the hyper-modern post Christian cultures we find ourselves in. Hope to see some of you there.

I'll be there too. If you are in the area, hope you can make it.

more details

Resonate ECHO With David Fitch: Tuesday, May 16 At 7:00PM

David Fitch will be at FRWY.ca (a Resonate ECHO - free admission) to talk about the challenges of being a church planter and pastor in the cultures of post-modernity. In his book The Great Giveaway, David uses the current critique of modernity to uncover the ways traditional evangelicalism has been captured by the forces of modernity. The modern maladies of individualism, business like efficiency, me-centered gospel, and farmed-out justice are just a few symptoms of the “giveaway.” Fitch believes this captivity has not only made the church ineffectual amidst the breakdown of modernity but also allowed for its mission in Christ to be compromised in society.

How might the church “reclaim her mission in Christ” amidst these challenges? And what challenges does such a task pose for pastors and church planters? Fitch will present just a few insights from his book along with examples out of his own encounters in church planting and ministry.

He will address:

  • The need to recapture community.
  • The need for embodied witness.
  • The need to make justice something we are.

David Fitch is the founding church planter of “Life on the Vine Christian Community” - an emerging church in the NW Suburbs of Chicago IL. He is affiliate professor of ministry, theology and ethics at Northern Seminary. And above all, even though by a freak of nature he was born in the US, he is a Canadian at heart having grown up in Hamilton ON. He has a terrific blog and is also a co-founder of up/rooted - a collaborative friendship of pastors engaging postmodernity in Chicago.

Resonate Echo w/ David Fitch
Tuesday, May 16 at 7:00PM

FRWY.ca (333 King Street East, Hamilton) - Get map
Free admission