Tag Archives: Free Methodist

Cooper & Associates

I don’t talk much about religion here any longer but I am Free Methodist and I do have an interest in how the denomination does.  Over the years I have been a member of a couple of committees and working groups and have developed a respect for our Bishop and the national leadership team.  Connected to that Jared Siebert has moved from the mecca of Free Methodism and HQ in Mississauga (formerly referred to as the Regina of Ontario on this blog) to Saskatoon.  It’s great to have Jared, Katherine and their kids here and we had a fun Thanksgiving with them at the lake. 

In addition to Jared having me come over with chainsaw to cut a forest down in front of his bay window (seriously, why do people plant/weed things in front of windows?), he asked me to spent a morning at The Two Twenty working out a communication plan for him and his role as church development within the denomination.    We are still rolling it out (actually Jared is rolling it out, I just tell him what to do and criticize his execution of it) and once we get it going, I’ll do a post on why we chose the way we did.  In doing some work on it I asked some friends what their denomination does for internal communications and the consensus was that they don’t really.  Money and time are the two biggest things to overcome.

While I won’t get into specifics, when we were talking about what he wanted to do, I was amazed how easy technology that has come out in the last year and is essentially free is making it easy to do it.  One of the things we were talking about is going to take Jared (or his helper monkey) three minutes to do with some free software.  A decade ago it would have needed $10,000 of equipment.  When I do post what we are doing and why, you will be appalled/surprised at where we got our inspiration from.

Losing My Religion

A lot of you have asked why I have stopped posting about items of faith and Christianity here and the reason is pretty complex.  First of all after reading around 5 books a week for 15 years or so, I no longer have the time or the desire to read that much.  Much of that reading was theological or about church life and what has been said on the topic for me has been said.  I still get probably 100 books a year to review and most of them are just rehashing what has been said and said and said again.  On the occasional time when I can force myself to enter into Scott’s Parable, I see the same book, just written by different authors.  I know I am taking some shots at some friends here but it seems like a lot more reflection and a lot less publishing may help everyone.

It goes for me as well, if I don’t have anything to say, I am not going to log in and write anything.  To paraphrase a good friend of mine who used to joke, “If you want a better sermon, get Max Lucado to write better books”, so in other words, if you want a better blog, write better stuff for me to link to.

The more serious reason is that I struggle with the distance between neighborhood/community and the church.  I have read and heard pastors say that they need to vision cast (what a geeky and churchy phrase) or sell their church on the idea that they need to be a part of their community.  This is a phrase I have heard for years but I never realized how strange it was that the church had stopped being part of the community.  Now of course with more and more churches wanting more real estate, they are literally moving outside of their cities and towns so they can create more programs that compete with and pull people away from the communities they are apart of.  The fact that we have to “vision cast”, sell, manipulate, or coerce our congregations to be part of the community, in fact, we had to come up with new church growth terminology to describe what should be our natural reaction as human beings… (I’m missional, your missional, we are all missional) that is our responsibility to make our local communities a better place for everyone to live in. 

Years ago I listened to a series of podcasts by Todd Hunter and Dallas Willard in which Hunter talked about one of the metrics his church used was how far people were travelling to get to his church without realizing the impact it had on local communities.  While that may represent one extreme of the equation, it was quite similar to what we experience as a family in finding a church in Saskatoon.   There is a pull to be a part of the church community, which church leaders tend of think of as a true or at least superior community which puts us in tension with my commitments to other things that are going on in my geographic community.  While I agree there is a need for involvement in the church, our local communities the need is often just as pressing.  So I have kids clubs that interfere with Mark taking karate, small groups that only work for people who work 8-5 (and definitely not for those who like Wendy and I who are work from 7:00 a.m. when I go to work to 10:45 p.m. when Wendy walks in the door from work).   I have prostitutes on my street, a brothel on my block, guys grinding drugs across from the local elementary school, the Terror Squad working out a local restaurant and bar and I keep hearing that my number one priority needs to be a small group in a church.

I follow some pastors and church leaders on Twitter and I realized it’s a giant irrelevant echo chamber where the tweets and retweets reinforce what they believe.  I haven’t lost my faith in Christianity, I am just in doubt that the church is an accurate representation of what it represents anymore.  I was in a room of pastors earlier this year and they were still talking about media in worship, ancient future song writing, and all sorts of peripheral things about church life with great interest and not one of them mentioned life in their community.  A friend of mine sent me a sermon the other day on YouTube to check out as it would cure what ailed my soul.  The stage looked like it was stolen from David Letterman and I am pretty sure it was meant to be a copy and after watching the sermon, I realized that he was speaking in the same style that Vince does while pitching Slap Chops.  Sadly not only did I used to speak like that in public but so do so many other pastors I know.  I realized while watching this that the church had become a parody of itself.  The Emperor has no clothes.

I realized that I no longer see most churches any differently than Kiwanas or another service club but this one has higher fixed costs.  Are all churches like this?  I don’t think so.  One of the great experiences I have had in life was spending a bit of time with Dave Blondel and the Third Space.   Both Wendy and I have said that we would be quite comfortable attending a church lead by my friends, Scott Williams, Randall Friesen, Pernell Goodyear, Kim Reid or Darryl Dash but those kinds of churches and those kinds of pastors aren’t that easy to find.  The problem for me is when I see the kind of church that is engaged in creative ways in it’s community, it’s awfully hard to go back.  When I was down in Maple Creek, I did some pastoral work with people.  We literally put on some orange Salvation Army vests, went from flood ravaged house to flood ravaged house and chatted with flood victims.  Everyone in that community knew the Salvation Army Corps officers, Captain Ed and Charlotte.  Every last person.  When he was in Saskatoon, he was everywhere in the community as well.  If he can do it, so can other churches and their leaders.  If Wendy, myself, my staff, and a bunch of volunteers can work amongst Saskatoon’s poorest, so can everyone.  What we do isn’t brain surgery (umm, except for my staff, you are all brilliant… underpaid but brilliant) but a compassionate response to the community around us.   Instead I find churches that are isolated and focused on themselves.  Too many times over the last couple of years to hear a sermon on parenting, the need for leadership, church growth or again, church growth.  Did I mention I hear a lot of sermons on the need for church growth.  Sadly I am not alone.  A good friend of mine recently left his long time church and said, “I’ve learned all I need to learn from the pulpit on the need for church growth”.  It’s like the church has lot’s it’s reason for existence and is just looking at how to keep paying the bills.  Yet sadly in a lot of communities, the need for the church and it’s redemptive message has never been greater.

The other thing is that while I hate the overuse of the concept of “a dark night of the soul”, it has been an extremely lonely time spiritually for me.  God was extremely distant and I don’t really have a lot of people to talk to about this stuff.  The praxis of my spiritual life was solid but there was no connection.  After exhausting my traditional options, I sought out a Roman Catholic spiritual advisor who I spent a lot of time talking with.  He was the one who said, “It’s not a dark night of the soul, it’s a wounded soul that I was dealing with.”  A co-worker once said to me, “We aren’t normal.  We are so desensitized by what we see sometimes, we aren’t bothered by what should bother us.”  I thought about it a lot and realized that my job had changed me deeply and for the worse and I wasn’t equipped for what that has done to me.  As an INTJ, I am already an underdeveloped feeler which at times makes it hard to fully understand what I am feeling.  Looking at life from a rather cold and analytical mind has it’s advantages but it always makes it hard to look at life when the problem isn’t a rational one and as any of the staff that I work with will say, rational behavior can often be in short supply with what we see some days.  Toss in that the amount of violence and death we have seen this summer, it has taken a toll.  It seems like every murder and suspicious death in the city has been connected to someone I know and it’s hard.  The first thing I am doing in the morning is dealing with another one.  Jaded or not, it has had an impact and those add up a little bit.

As my spiritual advisor and I have talked, I shared that when God reveals himself to me, often I feel He was disappointed in me.  I have long that was my biases, insecurities, and self worth issues coming out.  I have come to seriously wonder if maybe God was quite disappointed in me and the reason for the silence, or just lack of disappointment is that maybe He isn’t anymore.

My evangelical friends don’t really get what I see.  It actually upsets many of them when I tell them what I am seeing.  I was talking to one friend about the fact that there are 600 known prostitutes in the city (of course they move from city to city to city) and he was totally freaked out.  Our conversation ended with, “I am glad our church isn’t on the west side, I couldn’t deal with this".  Yet I talk with some of them all of the time.  They are working tonight two blocks down from where I am writing this.  Addicted to drugs, sexual abuse survivors, acquired brain injuries.   They aren’t abstract numbers but real girls with real stories and real families but the church ignores it.  They also ignore the fact that many of their congregants are the ones that are paying these girls to get them off.  While my faith seems as strong as always, I am no longer interested in a religion that is disconnected from the community it is a part of. 

I know there are reasons for that, Lyle Schaller will tell us that the idea of the neighborhood church died with the rise of the car and cheap fuel but at the same time when I hear that people are living in over crowded slum suites because of sky high rents, there are 600 known prostitutes in the city and the vast majority of them are being trafficked, gangs are taking an toll on our kids, and some local elementary schools have had to cut back to 30 minute lunch breaks to stop elementary school girls from working the street on lunch breaks… doesn’t this call people to do something other than giving away some free clothes and serve soup once in a while?  If young grade seven and eight girls losing their virginity to STD carrying john’s doesn’t call us to drastic action, what will?

Over fifteen years ago, columnist Paul Jackson wrote in The Star Phoenix that the church had abandoned it’s role of social services provider – taking care of widows and orphans – to the government during the 1960s and 70s.  As the economies in North America struggled to pay for their new obligations, Jackson felt the church needed to step up again.  It hasn’t happened yet.  In fact most trends show churches walking more and more away from those difficult tasks and instead continuing to move to younger and younger suburban neighborhoods and therefore away from the problems.  It may be great church growth doctrine but what about the neighborhood and that you left behind.  The east side of Saskatoon has twice as many churches per person than then west side does.  Guess which side of the city has the higher concentration of wealth and guess which side has the core neighborhoods in it.  I’ll let you figure it out.

A look back

My early ideas on Social Services were shaped by the Devine Tories.  As some of you know, the first campaign I worked on was the 1986 provincial election campaign that saw Grant Devine and the Progressive Conservatives re-elected.  Devine was confronted with a large budget deficit, an extremely effective NDP opposition party, an ongoing drought and low grain prices, declining poll numbers, as well as his own conservative ideology.  With the NDP controlling Regina and most of Saskatoon, the 1986 election split the province between urban and rural voters and Social Services became a wedge issue that was supposed to motivate Tories across the land.

Saskatchewan made some big cuts to Social Services and as Janice MacKinnon later discovered and wrote about, made Social Services into a very politicized department.  I think history will see Grant Devine as a good man who believed in Saskatchewan but was a horrible judge of character in those he appointed.  MacKinnon agreed

imageIn appointing the hyper partisan Grant Schmidt to be Minister of Social Services in his second term, the Progressive Conservatives made no effort in hiding their dislike of the “socialist” Ministry of Social Services.  The Conservatives had a weekly (or monthly… it was long time ago) fundraiser called Tory Tuesdays where a cabinet minister would come to Saskatoon and speak to the (dwindling) party faithful.  I remember listening to Deputy Premier Pat Smith and then Social Services minister Grant Schmidt rail against people on Social Services and the Ministry itself.  Janice MacKinnon quotes him in her book as saying the Ministry of Social Services spent money like a drunken sailor and said that out of “2,200 employees in the department, 1,500 were his political enemies”.  I don’t think it was a stretch to say that the Tories saw Social Services as a ministry that served an urban NDP core constituency where the Tories saw no chance for growth.  By attacking them, they also appealed to their base.

Later I was at a fundraiser for newly appointed Social Services Minister Bill Neudorf.  He joked about while he was excited to be in cabinet, how Social Services was the worst ministry in the province to have to take over in his public comments but at least he was in cabinet.

I never thought too much about it from a philosophical point of view.  Like a lot of you, I believed that Social Services should be for those that really needed the funding and was (and am) disgusted by those who are taking advantage of the system.  Our neighbour growing up was a masterful user of the system and despite being on Social Services had a much higher standard of living then we did.  The fact that she was brazen about her fraud made it a lot worse to take.  At the same time, I had no idea how hard it was on Social Services for those who are unwilling or unable to scam the system and to be honest, I had no reason to look into it.  Growing up in Lawson Heights, crime wasn’t really on anyone’s radar.  I used to walk our dog Misty along Spadina Crescent late at night through River Heights.  It was before there was street lights along the river and it was pitch dark.  Not only did I feel no fear along the walk, neither did any of the people we met.  Actually most of them carried dog treats with them (which is really odd considering who goes out with dog treats on the off chance they meet a pleasant dog while walking along a darkened part of the Meewasin Trail?).  In addition to spoiling my dog, they had no apprehension about chatting with a large college student they met.  Crime and personal safety wasn’t on any of our minds.

As far as homelessness went, my first apartment was a downtown apartment for $250/month.  I am not sure was Social Services was allowing back then but you could find $350/month apartments all over downtown.  When I look back at old documents for the Salvation Army from the 90s, the issue was not too many guys in the dorms at work but there was concerns about too few men in the facility.

When I started to work in the church, social issues were not high on my theological agenda.  The Free Methodist Church has never really engaged in social justice issues in North America, the church I had attended growing up was on the edge of McNabb Park but yet struggled to engage it consistently (although flooding it’s parking lot one winter for a skating rink was a cool idea).  While we touched on issues of poverty in ethics classes in college, it was never a local issue.  Evangelical theology is inherently individualistic and that crossed the line to me to how I saw the world (as many of you have told me over the years, I have libertarian leanings).

The first I was really challenged in this area was by Methodist theologian, Leonard Sweet in his book, A Cup of Coffee at the Soul Cafe when it talked about what it meant for kids to go school hungry.  The amount he quoted in the book was quite a bit less than I had blown at McDonald’s on my way home from work that night and for the first time, issues of poverty started to make some sense to me.  While I still saw it as an individual generosity issue, I started to question it a lot more, even though I wasn’t seeing as a societal issue.

During this time Wendy and I bought our home in Mayfair.  Mayfair was and is a core neighbourhood but like most home owners, I only saw what was happening in our neighbourhood in terms of housing values, not what was going on in the homes that call Mayfair home but even then as I saw a drug dealer selling drugs right on my street corner (the same corner my house is located on), something was going on and it wasn’t all good.

A couple of years later I was in Fullerton, lecturing at Hope International University.  I was flying out of LAX on a Sunday morning and after being trapped in Los Angeles traffic many times over the week, I left really, really early on a Sunday morning without realizing soon that I was the only one on Interstate 5.  I got to the LAX area really early and decided that I had some time to tour Watts.  It was the first time that I started to see neighbourhoods as societal narratives and my first thought was “What the hell is going on here?”.  How does one of the richest cities in the world allow Watts to happen and Watts isn’t even the worst part of Los Angeles.  I came home and started to read about Watts, Skid Row, East Hastings, and other urban areas gone wrong and started to really wonder what was happening, both in Los Angeles and in other large urban settings.  The more I realized that Saskatoon was no longer isolated from that.  Poverty, crime, violence, and life in Saskatoon were a series of interconnected issues that were becoming interconnected with my life.

Around this time I had read Thomas Homer-Dixon’s book, The Ingenuity Gap at my friend’s Karen’s insistence.  While his story is a global one, Homer-Dixon tells a story of interconnected and complex systems that are evolving in a global world.  While Thomas Friedman tells the economic version, Thomas Homer-Dixon adds environmental and complex socio-political factors to the equation.  Each one of these factors require their own specialized experts and the problem is that as the world becomes more connected, the variables overwhelm even the experts which is kind of what is happening in many cities right now.  So a new Super Wal-Mart comes to Saskatoon and increases the number of jobs by 100.  That’s a good thing right?  Well what about job losses and hour cutbacks at Confederation Mall because the anchor store isn’t there?  Well not so good right?  On the other hand there are people who are shopping locally because they can’t get to Wal-Mart on bus.  That’s good for local store owners, except now the consumers have less discretionary income.

As I later took a job at the Salvation Army Community Services in Saskatoon, I saw a complex series of factors manifesting in some pretty horrific behavior.  On my first shift I saw some very young prostitutes shooting themselves up after a night of working on the street, the next day I saw my first dial-a-dope transaction at a nearby flophouse.  A week later as I was walking home, a women started to hit me with a stick on the street as I was “her enemy”.  I was quite happy to see a beat cop as she started to hit him and I kept walking.  I started to question what I was seeing like almost every staff I have later hired.  What causes this behaviour, how do you change it, why can’t more be done?  Yet at the end of the day, I felt like I was working inside The Ingenuity Gap as the contributing interrelated factors overwhelm my (and others) ability to understand them.

As I am writing this, I am up at the lake and last night Wendy and I had coffee at our friends the Rigby’s.  John is on the board here and was talking about the decision to shut down Kinney Memorial Lodge for the winter and whether or not that was a good one.  Without giving a conclusion he mentioned a bunch of factors to consider and it made me chuckle because here you have a pretty simple question, did it make sense to close a retreat centre down when business is slowest (and probably expenses are higher) and even that has all of these variables and factors affecting the decision.  How much more complicated is what is happening to Riversdale, Pleasant, and Mayfair?

Over the next several weeks I am going to try to look at some of these factors in Saskatoon.  I needed a framework to work through this so I am going to use the programs where I work as a starting point to start the discussion and branch off from there.  I welcome your comments and if you don’t want to say anything publically, feel free to e-mail me as I don’t publish any e-mails publically here.

Why I Love Dopplr

My personal velocity

Dopplr I have become a big fan of Dopplr over the last years.  It’s a service that allows you to plan and share your trips online.  It also does some fun things like track your personal velocity which as you can see, isn’t that impressive (Joi Ito’s personal velocity is that of a Whippet while Larry Lessig’s is the same as an elephant while Wendy’s is the same as a glacier) and also shows how much carbon you are emitting.image

It also ties into Flickr and shows your photos for each of your previous trips.

Like all Web 2.0 sites, it allows you to share data with your friends and also contribute reviews of restaurants, places to explore, and places to stay when you travel.  It uses Flickr’s machine tags to link your own photos of places to places where you have been.  I have contributed to places all over the world but if you look at Arlington Beach on Dopplr, you can see how it works in a local community.

Dopplr app for iPhone and iPod Touch For those of you with an iPod Touch or a iPhone, there is also a great Dopplr app that allows you to find attractions and reviews of sites in your area.  I would have loved to have it when I was Chicago earlier this year.

One of the reason however that I have become a big fan of Dopplr is that as a family, it gives us a chance to visualize what the next couple of months have in store for us.  It let’s us look at our schedule, budget, plans, and goals and helps us find when we can go to the lake, do some travelling, and figure out when work is going to put demands on us.  Wendy is using Dopplr now as well and even Mark is going online to check out hers or my profiles to figure out when he needs to be packed.

The other cool way Dopplr is helpful is their annual report that is generated for all users.  Below is one for Barack Obama which gives you an idea of how much travelling he had to do in his run for President of the United States.

2008 Personal annual report for Barack Obama on Dopplr

My friend Dan Sheffield who works for the Free Methodist Church in Canada uses Dopplr.  Dan’s world travels would make his annual report fascinating (to me anyways).  It reminded me that it would be an effective for any denominational executive or someone who both had to travel a lot and be responsible to a constituency. 

I would love to see my city councilor, MLA, MP, and other elected officials use Dopplr (I would give bonus points to anyone who actually gave honest reviews that made my travelling easier).  If you are using Dopplr and want to connect with me, you can find me at dopplr.com/traveller/jordon.

One year later

A friend of mine asked me the other day if we had any regrets about purchasing our cabin last summer.  The discussion revolved around the size, the restrictions on use, and the idea of the being permanently anchored to one place for vacation.

The Size

There are four of us using under 300 square feet.  As you can imagine, it is a bit crowded with three beds, four people, and two dogs.

Instead of planning any addition, we are working at adding some outside space.  The gazebo will feature two resin Adirondack and two Cape Cod chairs along with a small coffee table.  The cabin isn’t insulated which means that it gets pretty warm in the summer.  We added a dual action window fan which makes a big difference in cooling down the cabin at night but the gazebo is where we plan to spend our evenings.

For the mornings, we are adding a small patio in the front.  We had talked about building a full deck but we settled on paving blocks.  The patio won’t be any larger than enough space to put a bistro table and two chairs out front.  I know that doesn’t leave Oliver and Mark with a chair but we won’t worry about that until they star drinking tea and coffee to start out their morning.  Plus, it may not be the worse thing to have a portion of the property that is for adults, at least for part of the day.

During the dry summer months, Mark crashes outside in his three person tent where he seems happy.  Of course once he gets too much older and his feet hang out of the end.  When that happens we will either explore the idea of adding an out building, putting up a Boler or a tent trailer, or just getting a bigger tent.

Some have asked if the four of us could live up there and with some interior renovations we could in that amount of space.  We have talked about adding a loft and with one it would work okay.  It would necessitate a much simpler lifestyle but as many have shown, it is possible to live in something smaller than a McMansion.

Restrictions on Use

One of the conditions on the lease is that it is alcohol free.  I don’t really have a problem with that.  Arlington Beach was originally a Free Methodist camp and it is a part of the holiness movement heritage.  Wendy and I very rarely consume anything alcoholic and so to be alcohol free is no big deal.  The upside of this is that I don’t have to worry about Mark getting into any alcohol or getting harassed by some drunk while he is walking to the washroom.  While people are up late sitting around a bonfire or drinking coffee, it is a different kind of noise that you get when the booze is flowing freely.  The only impact it has is on my plans for beer can chicken at the lake.  Of course I have been told by several beer drinkers that one should never waste a beer on a chicken and one can get the same impact from alcohol free beer or even water in a can.

Attached to one place

I love to travel with the family so I thought this would really bother me but it hasn’t.  The ability to get away to another place is a big plus for us.  We had talked about buying a Boler, small RV, or just tenting equipment before we got this but in the end, this was the right investment for us (I am not a big fan of tenting and I am not sure the idea of a Boler and a campground was going to work either).  We are still planning to get away to Victoria in the fall but it does give us a place to spend our vacation time this summer without worrying about expenses.  It also serves a base to attend Saskatchewan Roughriders games with it only being an hour away from Taylor Field Mosaic Stadium at Taylor Field.  As I mentioned Regina is an hour away and the drive to Moose Jaw through the Qu’Appelle Valley is stunning.  If you haven’t seen the book Scenic Saskatchewan Drives, it offers several amazing day trips around Saskatchewan and many of them are easily accessible from the cabin.

So a year later and I don’t have a lot of regrets in making the investment.  The cabin is pretty modest and it fit our budget. It was recently appraised at being worth $2,000 by the local R.M. and even with having a large lot, it is worth well under $5,000 which is many times more money than we paid for it.

While last year it felt like we were still heading to a vacation property, this year it has become more like home.  The paint is ours, Mark has his own bed, the other beds and kitchen have been upgraded and improved.  While not quite the Kennedy Compound in Hyannis, Massachusetts or the Bush Compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, it is ours and for right now, it’s a pretty good fit for the family.

Interior of the cabin in 2009 Interior of the cabin in 2009  The Gazebo going up in 2009 The kitchen in 2009 Saskatchewan Roughriders BBQ cover in 2009 Mark at the marina in 2008 Mark at the marina in 2008 Maggi at Arlington Beach in 2008 The backyard of the cabin in 2008 Oliver and me at the cabin in 2008 The painted after it was painted in 2008 The painted after it was painted in 2008

Richard Dawkins as an "enthusiast"

On Becky’s blog she is quoting Richard Dawkins who makes the claim that he may be passionate but is not a fundementalist.

No, please, do not mistake passion, which can change its mind, for fundamentalism, which never will. Passion for passion, an evangelical Christian and I may be evenly matched. But we are not equally fundamentalist. The true scientist, however passionately he may “believe”, in evolution for example, knows exactly what would change his mind: evidence! The fundamentalist knows that nothing will.

First of all, I might as well just say this. I am an evangelical but I am not an fundamentalist.

The confusion of these terms is irritating and until George W. Bush became President, they did mean separate things. Jimmy Carter is an evangelical. Tony Campolo is an evangelical. Jim Wallis is an evangelical. At the same time James Dobson, John Hagee, Ralph Reed, and Jerry Falwell all claim to be evangelicals as well. It is an awfully large camp but not all evangelicals are fundamentalists and to be honest, we don’t all believe the same things like evolution, only male leadership, or Biblical literalism. I grew up in an evangelical household and I don’t even remember discussing these things growing up. I think my mom may have been a closet literalist but the lack of moat and parapit around our house meant that she was too ashamed to being it up much 🙂

Secondly, I disagree Dawkins insistence that science is somehow pure in its pursuit of knowledge. One of the better books I read last year, 1491 (Amazon.com) is a tale of scientists refusing to give up on their theories and attacking other theories of the origin of civilization in North America. It is a story of people not changing their minds in face of evidence. I am not saying all scientists are fundamentalist, just that fundamentalism can be found in all fields. If you have ever listened to Joe Morgan call a Oakland A’s game, even baseball has people who can’t see something that is outside of how they see the world and this is a game which is supposedly all statistics (and yes I am killing the metaphor by calling Joe Morgan a fundementalist but his closed mind approach to sabremetrics shows an awfully closed mind).

Also, in one of my favorite blog posts of all time, AKMA, writes to incoming seminary students about the pursuit of truth in theology and the Christian life.

I start from the premise that everything about discipleship (and ordained ministry is in many respects simply an intensified mode of discipleship) grows out of the practice of truth. All the different theological disciplines, all the techniques and skills and habits you learn, derive their importance from the Truth you live; whatever facts you memorize, whatever devices for handling parish (diocesan, academic) organization, if they do not contribute to articulating a Truth that goes deeper than your personal preferences, your family’s habits, your community’s prejudices, those learnings amount to nothing more than gilding on a goose-egg. sooner or later, the egg will rot, and a pretty exterior won’t take away the stink.

The Truth will sustain your discipleship, even the intensified kind, with a nourishment, a light, a harmony, and a sense that do not depend for their validity on buzzwords, platitudes, fads, simple answers or correct answers (whether of the popular or academic sort). It’s not for nothing that Acts shows us the earliest followers of Jesus calling their fellowship as “the Way.” Ours is a Way entrusted to us from saints who knew it much better than any of us is likely to know it. That Way grows in us by the work of the Spirit, but we ought to make room for the Spirit to form us in the Way and cooperate with the Spirit in bodying forth the Way in our lives.

Are there fundamentalists out there that fear a truth outside of their worldview? Absolutely. Some of them are listed above and proclaim their fundamentalism proudly. Even among the GOP presidential candidates, some believe in a young earth seven day creation of the earth in face of overwhelming scientific evidence (This undermines my argument but last summer at Arlington Beach during the Free Methodist camp, there was a display up that linked people like me who don’t accept a seven day creation/young earth to secular humanists and homosexuals who are destroying the faith – I thought I should let you know what a heretic I am). While there are Christian fundamentalists out there that can not or will not accept new information outside of a specific framework, there are many of us whose pursuit of truth lead us to faith. For others it was witnessing the supernatural (in my case seeing a miraculous healing in response to prayer growing up) while for others it was a personal encounter with God or as Plantinga has written over the years, some of us just have “faith in God” and it is logical to do so. I don’t see that as a contradiction to evidence. In the end, I have to disagree with Dawkins, he is as much of a fundamentalist that he claims to be against.

Related:

The Present Church

Below is a rather wordy article for my denomination‘s magazine to help get people thinking outside the box in how we see the local church. Not sure if it worked but people have been saying nice things about it to my face at least 🙂

For Lent this year, I decided to give up politics. In the past I had given up caffeine, chocolate, television, and even NHL hockey playoffs but this year I decided to step back from following politics which is something I spend too much time thinking and reading about. Of course this meant trying to ignore the Quebec election of which I had some success in doing. On Monday, March 27th, I was agonizing over the final edits of this article, which was supposed to be about the future of the church. I decided to take a brief television break and was confronted with some really boring choices. While surfing channels, I found myself watching CTV Newsnet and seeing what the talking heads were saying about the Quebec election. Before I caught myself, I heard the panel chortling to themselves over the comment, “Who could have predicted that this result was going to happen to Jean Charest?” I remember the exact same comment being said during former Saskatchewan Premier Roy Romanow‘s final election when he was handed a minority. A couple of hours before that I remember a well known political commentator leading off his networks coverage with, “Is there anything that will stand between the NDP and another strong majority? No there isn’t”. Well the prognosticators were wrong that evening as well.

The phrase made me think about a book I had read a couple of years ago by Canadian political scientist Thomas Homer-Dixon called The Ingenuity Gap. One of the books recurring themes is that we live in a world with a tremendous amount of variables which are overwhelming and make it very difficult to predict the outcome of our decisions. The book goes to show how complex our inter-connected world is and how poorly we understand how it works despite our proclamations to the opposite. From the food chain in the English Channel, to water planning in Las Vegas, to international markets during the Asian currency crisis; time and time again experts missed something that invalidated all of calculations for the future. Not only is it hard to know all of the variables that will influence our future, we are constantly hit by fads that while seem important, really aren’t (like election news stories over which tie color resonates best with voters)

As I returned to edit my article for Mosaic, I realized that I was probably making the exact same mistake. There are too many variables, too many things that can change. If the all knowing pollsters and Mike Duffy can’t forecast a 40 day election, how do we talk about the future of the church farther than that? All of the variables of culture plus the complexities of denomination and local church dynamics make it hard to predict any future.

So what can we talk about? Instead of talking about the future, it may be helpful to discuss the the factors that are happening now that will impact the future. To often organizations live in the past as it is easier to understand and don’t have the needed conversations on what is happening the present that will shape their future.

Post-Christian Canada and the West

In a couple of books I have read in the last year, they have referenced some recent studies that point out by 2040, under 5% of people in England may be Christian (only 9.4% are attending church now) According to church statistics, the four main UK denominations, the Church of England, the Roman Catholic, the Methodist, and United Reformed Churches, are all suffering from a long-term decline in attendance figures. The good thing is that they realize this and are trying new ideas to reverse the decline. The Anglican and Methodist Churches have started their Fresh Expressions initiative which encourages new expressions of church like alternative worship, and even the Archbishop of Canterbury plans to be broadcasting his sermons on YouTube in an acknowledgment that more and more Anglicans just aren’t in church on Sundays. While some of the initiatives talked about as other Fresh Initiatives seemed a little off the mark, it is encouraging that the Church of England the Methodist Church in England are acknowledging that something has to change.

In Australia, things aren’t that much more encouraging but in a recent book called The Forgotten Ways, missiologist Alan Hirsch sees it this way

A combination of recent research in Australia indicates that about 10-15 percent of that population is attracted to what we call the contemporary church growth model. In other words, this model has significant “market appeal” to about 12 percent of our population. The more successful forms of this model tend to be large, highly professionalized, and overwhelmingly middle class, and express themselves culturally using contemporary, “seeker friendly” language and middle-of-the-road music forms. They structure themselves around “family ministry” and therefore offer multi-generational services. Demographically speaking, they tend to cater largely to what might be called the “family-values-segment”–good, solid, well-educated citizens who don’t abuse their kids, who pay their taxes, and who live largely, what can be called a suburban lifestyle.

Not only is this type of church largely made up of Christian people who fit this profile, the research indicates that these churches can also be very effective in reaching non-Christian people fitting the same demographic description–the people within their cultural reach. That is, the church does not have to cross any significant cultural barriers in order to communicate the gospel to that cultural context. (pg 35)

In the United States, the number attracted to the idea of church may be as high as 35%. Canadian polls suggest that about 20 – 30% of Canadians may share values that would be open to going to church (approximately 20% of people say they attending church regularly but that number is often inflated by people exaggerating how often they attend church). That number is a both a blessing and a curse. It shows that at least about six to seven million Canadians are open to the values articulated by the church which do provide a large pool of Canadians for the church to draw from but even that is difficult as pollster George Barna sees the family values segment of the population to fall by half in approximately fifteen years.

While nothing is wrong with those within that segment, most of us as Free Methodists would be there and by in large, they are not that offensive of a people group. Six million Canadians is nothing to sneeze at and does provide a significant opportunity for the church but that is only part of the story.

Of course what is to make of the people outside of that family values segment? Depending on how one looks at the numbers, anywhere from 65% to 85% of Canadians are removed by various degrees from that category and from those values. They make up the vast bulk of Canadians that have to overcome some obstacles to come to our churches as the church is not even on their radar. According to what Alan Hirsch writes in The Forgotten Ways, in addition to not being on the radar for most people, a large percentage are at some level alienated by the church. From bad experiences, to strong preconceived ideas about Christianity or from a cultural context that is hostile to Christianity, it would be as hard for them to be a part of a church as it would be many Free Methodists to join a non-Christian religion. Doing “church” better; PowerPoint, better music, wittier or more theologically astute sermons probably won’t make any impact on those that are outside the church because they are unlikely to bother entering the doors in the first place.

The other factor in society is that there has been a breakdown in the mass markets. Where at one point a church used to pick a neighborhood and then put down it’s roots and if church was “done right”, it had a good chance to reach their area for Christ. Depending on the church, property values actually rose if you were closer to a church. A middle class neighborhood would have middle class people in it with middle class values. Today that is changing where traditional people groups have segmented and segmented again. The mass market is shrinking and those neighborhoods are made up of a variety of sub-groups.

What does that mean for the future of the church?

While it is popular to lament the loss of the Christian fabric in Canadian culture and condemn those that don’t share our values, that probably won’t do anything to reverse the change. Complaining that people don’t go to church anymore won’t change anything.

When Anglican Bishop nd missionary, Leslie Newbiggin came back to England at the age of 65 after spending most of his career in India, this is what he found.

Ministry in England, he discovered, “is much harder than anything I met in India. There is a cold contempt for the Gospel which is harder to face than opposition. . . . England is a pagan society and the development of a truly missionary encounter with this very tough form of paganism is the greatest intellectual and practical task facing the Church” (Unfinished Agenda).

It is hard, Newbigin knew, for a Hindu or a Muslim to come to worship Christ. For an Englishman, it would seem, it had become even harder.

Whats life for the church going to be like in a post-Christian Canada. A world in which we are seen more and more irrelevant? There isn’t a definite roadmap or program to follow and I think the mass segmentation will force the church for the first time in a long time to chart their own paths as we enter into new territory. That being said, there are some that have been at this for a little longer and have adjusted to their own contexts.

The Freeway in downtown Hamilton is both a church community and coffee shop serving both those looking for coffee and a place to connect online as well as the urban poor.

Three Nails in Pittsburgh is an Episcopal church plant that has embedded itself into the community by meeting a need that I never would have thought of and that is making really good New York City style hot dogs. They helped open a restaurant that used to be called Hot Dogma but was sued over the name so now they are called Franktuary. Their motto in case you are wondering is And the meat shall inherit the earth.

Harambee in Pasadena, California Back in 1982, Navarro Avenue in Pasadena, California had the highest daytime crime rate in Southern California. Believing that the only way they could make a difference was to move into the neighborhood, Dr. John Perkins started a ministry on “blood corner” (named because of the drive by shootings). Twenty five years later it had largely changed the neighborhood and curbed the violence. Not only that but it has prepared two generations of church leaders as well on a campus that is essentially several small houses with a common backyard. It doesn’t take much to change the world.

The same can be said about emerging congregations and church plants in the Free Methodist Church. Ecclesiax and ThirdSpace reach artists and creative types in different ways because their local contexts are different.

Some Anglican churches in London, England empowered and nurtured new faith communities who met in their own buildings. Most often with no staff or clergy, these communities formed what is now called alternative worship and is engaging a portion of England’s population that would never enter into a traditional worship context. At the same time they give new life to traditional congregations.

Some churches in urban areas saw what a place called Paragraph NY did, which is create a place that is essentially a gym but instead is a place for writers and creative types to work. They looked at a lot of unused space, got a good coffee maker, and wireless Internet and opened up the doors… and people came in.

At the end of the day, the church is going to have to learn to reconnect with their community as opposed to rely on the community to come to them. Whether or not churches can do that will largely determine how long of a future they have.

The Future of Theological Education

I remember being a conference years ago when the comparison was made between the average income of baby boomers measured against things like education, mortgage, and transportation. Then they compared my generation. Everything was more expensive but especially education and at that moment I realized that the Freedom 55 commercials were not targeted at me. The presenter put it into what it meant for the church. To go to seminaries like Wheaton or Fuller, it meant that you either had to be older and saved up some money, come from a wealthy family, or willing to take on a large amount of student loan debt. This has affected even smaller Bible Colleges who are faced with an aging donor base and less contributions which has meant higher tuitions.

The costs associated with education keep many interested learners at arms length. A building costs money; faculty need to be paid and they expect certain privileges associated with their position. Beyond that, the physical space of education limits the number of students who can participate (those who can get to the location, those who can fit into the facilities). After a while the school’s priorities shift toward the necessities of taking care of the building and faculty, and these begin to displace the original educational goals.

This starts to impact the wider church in a couple of ways as it also influences students. As I heard one seminary faculty member say it, whether the student or his family is footing the expensive cost of seminary education, it makes students less inclined or less able to enter the mission field or enter into a ministry context that does not pay a certain amount of money or safety.

The long term consequences of that happening to more church leaders is easy to see. Only wealthy churches have access to quality theological thinkers and the church may have to withdraw from areas that can not afford a certain level of compensation.

There has been others who have seen this happening and are working to create an alternative future. City Seminary of New York is a collaborative project of churches across New York City who brings in theologians and speakers to help church leaders in their local contexts. Fees are as low as $10 (to cover meals). The Alternative Seminary in Philadelphia is developing training materials and offering classes for those that can not afford it. Closer to home, in Kingston there is the Invisible College which tackles big issues from a Christian worldview. Topics like globalization and how technology impacts our lives have been past topics. Resonate has hosted several local discussions with theologians and thinkers over the last three years in Toronto and Hamilton all for free.

While seminaries and many local churches have been slower to adopt this model in favor of selling content, more and more universities are giving away their lectures, course work, and even tests for free over the Internet. M.I.T.’s OpenCourseWare allows you to tap into M.I.T.’s vast teaching resources as a teacher or self-learner for free. It doesn’t grant you a degree or credits but it does share the wisdom. TED, a world leading conference of big thinkers has recently used Google Video to make their entire conference available for free online. While I questioned the Archbishop of Canterbury’s use of YouTube when the idea was floated, almost 8000 people have watched his latest video in three weeks, far more than what would have heard him speaking in a church and that number will keep climbing.

While the Free Methodist Church in Canada’s Foundational Courses and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s efforts come from a denomination, many of the other alternative forms of theological education are coming from the grassroots of the church. Motivated local church leaders striving to make a difference in their communities. Whether that will be online or offline in churches and third spaces, in partnership with existing educational institutions or creating new ones, how it shapes up and we decide to view new forms of education will go a long way in shaping how we see church.

Discipleship

This is related to the discussion on theological education but we can’t ignore the issue of discipleship or lack of it in local churches.

In his book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience, Ron Sider points out that evangelicals do a rather poor job of living out what we preach. In fact in some areas that evangelicals profess to care about, we tend to live worse then those we profess to want to “save”. Robert Webber writes on this topic in his book, Ancient Future Evangelism where he suggests that discipleship is a forgotten practice in many churches, a theme which is echoed in Dallas Willard’s book which is aptly named, The Great Omission. Duke University’s, Stanley Hauerwas suggests that we have confused North American values with Christianity and reduced being a Christian to being a good neighbor and good American [or Canadian]. Eugene Peterson simply asks that how can we know so much and live so badly. Both Eugene Peterson and Dallas Willard talk about the church services.

Eugene Peterson says this,

The operating biblical metaphor regarding worship is sacrifice. We bring ourselves to the altar and let God do to us what God will. We bring ourselves to the eucharistic table, entering into that grand fourfold shape of the liturgy that shapes us: taking, blessing, breaking, giving—the life of Jesus taken and blessed, broken and distributed; and that eucharistic life now shapes our lives as we give ourselves, Christ in us, to be taken, blessed, broken and distributed in lives of witness and service, justice and healing.

But this is not the American way. The major American innovation in the congregation is to turn it into a consumer enterprise. Americans have developed a culture of acquisition, an economy that is dependent on wanting and requiring more. We have a huge advertising industry designed to stir up appetites we didn’t even know we had. We are insatiable. It didn’t take long for some of our colleagues to develop consumer congregations. If we have a nation of consumers, obviously the quickest and most effective way to get them into our churches is to identify what they want and offer it to them. Satisfy their fantasies, promise them the moon, recast the gospel into consumer terms—entertainment, satisfaction, excitement and adventure, problem-solving, whatever. We are the world’s champion consumers, so why shouldn’t we have state-of-the-art consumer churches?

Dallas Willard says something similar but in just three sentences,

We must flatly say that one of the greatest contemporary barriers to meaningful spiritual formation in Christlikeness is overconfidence in the spiritual efficacy of ‘regular church services,’ of whatever kind they may be. Though they are vital, they are not enough. It is that simple.

Even if we get every other aspect of church right and people do engage with us again. What do they get when they get here. An entire “discipleship industry” has formed within the church trying to sell me an answer to that question and there are a lot of different opinions.

As technology and culture change, it changes the world in which we learn in. What would have been considered deviant behaviour a generation ago isn’t questioned today as being abnormal. I remember reading a book on how young Christians needed to act and it concentrated on issues like how long should your hair be and if sideburns are okay. It was as funny to read then as it is today but it does go a long ways in determining what we saw were important things back then. Today, things have changed. A friend showed me his high school son’s instant messenger buddy list. Every single one of them was a sexual reference. While we were talking about that, a song came over by an underage artist talking about sex acts with her boyfriend. What does the church look like in a culture that is changing, materialistic, confused, and intolerant of how it sees the church being intolerant? While the much of the discussion centers on the forms we use for discipling, statements from many theologians suggest that we may have to rethink what a Christian is in today’s world.

If there is good news in all of this, it is that many Free Methodists are having these kinds of discussions all over the place, both formally (like at last years Ecclesiology Study Commission) and informally. Many of those voices will go into papers and ideas to presented at the next General Conference and of course are being discussed in local churches. As I told a colleague not that long ago, some of us are too young to have experienced the “good old days” of the church but this is the time that God wanted us to be here for and there is something exciting about that.

Off the top of my head

Some things that could have been full posts but I haven’t had time to write about them…

  1. Brady Quinn will not be the second coming of Rick Mirer. Rick Mirer ran Lou Holtz‘s option and run based offence while Brady just spent two years running the New England Patriots offence and being coached by the guy that seemed to do okay with another Brady…
  2. A friend of mine insists that Americans have problems have trouble following the puck in NHL games. Maybe Fox was right with their glowing pucks.
  3. Is there a worst stadium in professional sports than Tropicana Field? Actually ESPN has researched this and no it isn’t. My favorite baseball stadium is Angels stadium in Anaheim. Wrigley and Fenway are great but I prefer baseball in Southern California.
  4. It’s time to fire J.P. Ricciardi. Nine straight losses and after losing two DH’s and two starting pitchers, he added Frank Thomas. I never knew that Frank could pitch. With the B.J. Ryan fiasco, now J.P. is lying to the fans.
  5. I am trying a Patch Perfect type product on our yard. Mulch, seed, and fertilizer. I’ll let you know how it works compared to regular yard seed.
  6. I think that the Democrats will nominate Hillary Clinton in 2008, thus paving the way for President Guiliani.
  7. I am not sure why the NHL won’t sell advertising on uniforms? I am not saying we need to see the Edmonton ESSO Oilers or anything but what’s wrong with some advertising patches?
  8. I would love to have one of these.
  9. Is the Wall Street Journal worth less or more with Rupert Murdoch owning it. I say it is worth quite a bit less. FOX News is a parody of a news network and what is scary is that most people who watch it don’t realize it.
  10. I think that people that need a Bill O’Reilly or Tucker Carlson to help them understand the issues of the day, should not be allowed to vote.
  11. I wonder how much of what Ann Coulter says, she actually believes?
  12. I wonder how much of what Michael Moore says, he actually believes?
  13. I don’t think evolution, homosexuality or a non-literal reading of much of the Bible (apart from the Gospels) matter much to the Christian faith.
  14. I don’t think most Republican politicians care as much about abortion or homosexual rights as they say but rather use the issues to attack Democrats and rile up the base.
  15. I don’t think most Democratic politicians care as much about abortion or homosexual rights as they say but rather use the issues to attack Republicans and rile up the base.
  16. I don’t think that D.A. Carson and John MacAuther care so much about the emerging church other than their is money to made from writing books attacking it.
  17. Queen’s Logic is the worst movie ever. Worse than Batman and Robin. No plot, no character development, no nothing. It just happened and took two hours of my life that I will never get back.
  18. Red Dawn is a vastly underrated movie and the world needs more movies by Patrick Swayze. I think that Red Dawn may have prevented a Soviet attack on North American because they knew we were now trained to fight tanks with bows and arrows successfully.
  19. Speaking of Soviets, Vladislav Tretiak is one of my favorite hockey players of all time.
  20. I collect John Wesley trading cards put out by tobacco companies. This is only funny if you are Free Methodist.
  21. I think the consolidation of hockey equipment manufacturers is bad for the game of hockey and eventually the rising cost of the game will kill it.
  22. I had a choice of having Mark play soccer or baseball this year and I practically pleaded with him to play baseball because the idea of watching him play soccer for the next decade depressed me while the idea of watching baseball sounded like fun. Luckily he chose baseball.
  23. I have a book of Thomas Merton‘s photography and while this may alienate many of you, I don’t think he had a lot of talent as a photographer.
  24. We had gun shots periodically going off all night on our street. Sounded like .22 caliber shots.
  25. The prostitutes that used to work 33rd Street and Avenue C and D the last two years seem to have moved on. Our neighborhood patrol seemed to have worked.
  26. I don’t understand Chicago Cubs fans. There is another home team to cheer for and at least it is good once in a while. I am a Saskatchewan Roughrider team and while it stinks and is bad for decades at a time, at least we aren’t cursed as well.
  27. I hid Maggi’s tennis ball and she knocked over a bunch of stuff trying to get to it. That is nothing compared to a co-worker whose dog ate a sofa to get to her tennis ball.
  28. This is a travesty. Head here to help.

Contextless Thoughts

  • Here is Tony Campolo on The Hour.
  • In case you haven’t noticed, The Church of the Exiles’ website is sporting a new design that will be tweaked to death over the weekend. 8 days until the Freehouse returns which scares me to death. The one big addition content wise is a new weblog to archive and document what we are doing. We already have the photo pool on Flickr but this will allow us to add some of the text and other media resources as well. I’ll post a link when it is online but there will be no content online until next week.
  • Wendy worked Good Friday, I work Saturday to Monday which continues our trend of building our marriage on mutual avoidance of each other. Mark and Wendy will head to Saskatoon Free Methodist Church on Sunday for worship while I will be here. If it is quiet enough in my office, I can listen in to the service at work which isn’t ideal but the alternative is to download clips of John Haggee off of YouTube.
  • Still no decision on a car but Lee and I went looking on Saturday at some that I have been thinking about. At $1,400,000 the Bugatti Veyron is just a little more than I want to spend although a car that could go 400 miles an hour could be useful on Saskatchewan’s flat landscape.
  • I am reading Eugene Peterson’s latest book, The Jesus Way which has been a great way to spend the last several days. I know he has written a lot of stuff the last couple of years but this may be one of the best things I have read in a very long time. I will be posting more over the next week or so.
  • The Raptors win the division! That’s good news as I doubt now that the Calgary Flames will make the playoffs or if they do, escape the first round. Speaking of sports, sometime over the last couple of years, I have become fond of the Montreal Canadiens. I credit Bob Gainey and their incredible history. Of course this year it means that I could be doubly disappointed when Calgary and Montreal both lose out.
  • I never watch American Idol but I have enjoyed the commentary by those who think that voting for Sanjaya is somehow damaging the greater society and music industry. I am sure when people are looking at the downfall of western civilization, that will pin it on Sanjaya and not global warming, an energy crisis, or a global depression.
  • At work they changed and enhanced our retirement package. When I was filling out the paperwork, I had a choice of funds and of course ethical funds were listed. I have heard more than one person complain about the poor return their ethical funds returned which always makes me laugh as it testifies to the larger truth that most people like ethics, as long as it doesn’t cost them anything.

When two world’s collide

I am writing an article on the future of the church for the Free Methodist Church in Canada’s magazine.  For me, the first 90% of any article or longer writing piece is easy.  The last 10% of the writing is horribly hard.  So last night I decided to watch some television while I edited and I turned to CTV Newsnet which was covering the Quebec election which causes major tension across all of Canada.  Forgetting for a moment that I gave up politics for Lent, I found myself inspired to rewrite the article while watching the coverage which may or may not mean that Jean Charest is the saviour of the Free Methodist Church.  It also means that I am doing the worst job of keeping an Lenten promise since I was in grade 11.
 

Ecclessial Mercenaries

Soon after the Church of the Exiles website went live, I started to get some e-mails in asking me who was funding our little church plant.  I think everyone assumed that either Resonate or the Free Methodist Church in Canada (through the Life Cycle Project) was funding it.  They were shocked to find out that Resonate doesn’t fund church plants (neither does Emergent Village as far as I know) and we never applied for funding from the Life Cycle Project (although that is an option).
Why no money?  I am not opposed to the idea of outside funding and we do have some needs (a small soundboard would be great) but we don’t have that much financial needs right now.  We don’t have permanent office space or salaries and our technical needs can be met by modest (cheap) means rather than expensive ones.  While some of us in leadership have had staff positions at churches, we are all working outside the plant.  People call us bi-vocational but that seems to suggest two paychecks.  We are doing it out of passion and fueled by coffee.  I could say that we were lucky in finding affordable space but it also came through Wendy probably making 100 phone calls to pubs, schools, businesses, churches, and other third spaces trying to find a space that would work.  It wasn’t so much luck as perseverance and desperation :-). In some ways we have taken on the business philosophy of bootstrapping.
During that time as I have shared that with other prospective planters, the response has been disbelief but I am not that sure why.  My grandfather pastored a small Free Methodist church in Davis, Saskatchewan (Rural Municipality Number 461, just outside of Prince Albert, neither the church or the town exist today) during the Great Depression.  There was literally no funding as Saskatchewan was bankrupt and he was paid in potatoes, turnips, and wild game meat which was all that many in the congregation had to give.  From his records, the only money seemed to come from his atheist father who would send up money for train tickets home at Christmas.  Now that was a different time and context and seems like worlds away from today but a quick read of most of the churches in Saskatoon show very modest and humble beginnings and a character that was created out of the shared struggles as a faith community.
For some of the people I have talked to there seems to be a desire of instant success.  I am not sure where it comes from, whether it be from the instant churches of 200 that get planted out of larger churches who hit the ground running with a building, staff, and mature congregation and leadership or if it is just part of the church culture that worships size and success (whatever that is) and 10 people getting together and praying and worshipping in a rented room isn’t success.
A while ago I asked someone why they needed so much funding.  Earlier in the conversation that couple had described themselves as “ecclessial mercenaries” – people who would church plant for whoever would pay the bills.
Of course they had their list of needs.
  • A Macbook so they could run both Windows and Mac software
  • Essential software, MS Office, Adobe Photoshop, Premiere, Illustrator, InDesign, and After Affects, Dreamweaver.
  • Projector, Sound system
  • Web host that can handle streaming audio and video.
  • Comfortable office space with a street front access
  • Rental space for worship in a historical location.
  • Salaries for him to be high enough so his wife would not have to work.
  • Operational funding for two years at least.

The one thing that work has taught me to do is question statements by people.

  • What do they need a Macbook to do that my Compaq Armada m700 won’t?  Not picking on Mac users here.  The same question could be asked about what does he need a Macbook for that a G3 won’t do either.  Yes the Macbook is a far superior notebook and OSX is a better OS than Windows 2000 but for the money (1/10 of the price) that you don’t have, something cheaper may work pretty well.
  • What are they using Premiere, Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator for that Premiere Elements, Photoshop Elements or Paint Shop Pro , Ulead Video Studio, or even Microsoft Movie Maker (shudder) software won’t do.  Again, I worked with an excellent and talented digital media creator for years that can do things that would make some movie makers blush.  He also does great stuff with crappy tools as well.  My point is that there is cheaper alternatives to professional grade software that creative people can still make things look very good with. It may be a pain in the neck (and other places at times) but if the money is tight, you have to make do. If you have someone with professional talent, it is a great investment, if not, it is a waste of money.  One church I know of bought the same animation software that they used to create Jurassic Park with.  Even if someone was capable of mastering the interface, they would have needed a server farm to render their creations.  In the end it was a massive waste of money.  I have loved Microsoft Office since 4.x under Windows 3.x  but again, it comes down to is there anything I really need that Open Office and NeoOffice can’t do?
  • Had they not heard of Google Video or ODEO?
  • They had talked of their respect for Wendy and I so I asked, if it is okay for Wendy to work and for us to raise a child (however poorly we are doing with it), why can’t other church planter spouses work?  Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing wrong with stay at home parents and Wendy and mine schedule stinks right now where we go weeks without a full day off with each other but if the money isn’t there.

I was being a pain and it was a good conversation but I think one of the things that church plants need to figure out is cash and how to do things without it.

I am not that sure if it is any different than it has always been.  You need to start something before it you know if it going to turn out.  I can’t think of too many startups that were guaranteed instant success but they just kept working towards what they knew they had to do.  Kind of like the graphic from Andrew Jones old post on How Do You Build a Cathedral.

Another way of looking at it is from this interview with a designer turned wine maker, Courtney Kingston (of Kingston Family Vineyards)

One of the biggest challenges for me was going from a job that was reactive (e.g. a highly scheduled day managing other people) to starting a business with a blank slate every morning. Every day, there were a thousand things that seemed urgent that I needed to do to get things going. It was a little paralyzing and I didn’t know where to start. My friend Rob gave me a great piece of advice: decide what *one thing* is critical to your concept’s success. Write “ONE” on a little yellow stickie, and stick it on your computer monitor as a daily reminder to accomplish one thing–no matter how small—that will get you one step closer to that goal each and every day.

The person who helped clarify this for me was Guy Kawasaki in his book, Rules for Revolutionaries and his idea of starting out with what you have and going from there making it better and working towards your final vision.  The vision and ideas for Exiles are a lot more than what we have no but slowly we are making out way there as a community and no it doesn’t take a lot of money to start.

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A relaxing day off

We are in the middle of a big snow here in Saskatoon so I decided to chill out with Wendy today instead of doing anything ambitious.  Some Christmas tasks and weeding through a bunch of books topped the list.  After I was done that, I decided to work on the Church of the Exiles website and one of the tasks was to put online the Articles of Religion.  As I was staring at all sorts of Scriptural references, I realized that there must be a hyperlinked version out there.  If there is, Google can’t find it so I decided to create my own.  An hour into it, I realized that I must hate myself as it is a huge job of cutting, pasting and then cutting and pasting back into Dreamweaver.  The good news is that by the end of this,  I can honestly say I read every passage in the Free Methodist articles of religion.

Jared Siebert in town

Last night those of us from the Church of the Exiles core group went out for dinner with the Life Cycle Project’s Jared Siebert. Jared was part of the team that planted the Next Church in Kingston and now working for the Free Methodist Church in Canada helping churches do whatever it is that they do.It was a spirited discussion as it always is when Jared comes to town but we were able to have some good discussions about what some of our next steps need to be as a community.Wendy took some photos and posted them in the brand new Church of the Exiles photo pool on Flickr.

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