The following article is based on a series of plenary addresses offered at "Praxis '97," a one-day conference sponsored by World Vision Canada in Dartmouth, Montreal, Mississauga, Regina, Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver during October of 1997.
A full account of the research project on which this article is based, and a full description of its methodology, can be found in Don Posterski and Gary Nelson, Future Faith Churches: Re-Connecting with the Power of the Gospel for the 21st Century (Winfield, BC: Wood Lake Books, 1997).
A calculating young man had his eye on his next promotion. His ambition motivated him to be aware that his boss was about to celebrate a birthday. He mused, "If I send a gift, that would give me an edge."
The young mans flair for style covered the fact that he was really a committed cheapskate. But cheapskates have their ways and he went to an exclusive store that sold expensive china. His plan was both clever and deceptive. When the attendant appeared to serve him he politely asked, "Do you have any broken china? Im looking for a piece of china that is very expensive but it has been broken." At first, the attendant was confused but specializing in trained courtesy she replied, "Let me check to see what might be available."
When the attendant returned she smiled graciously and said, "Luck is with you today. We have a very expensive broken vase that has not been discarded." The young man smiled and proceeded to negotiate a nominal price for what in its original form was an exquisite gift. Then he made a specific request. "Would you please place the broken vase in a special gift-wrapped box." He went on to provide the name and address of his boss so the courier could deliver the package. Following their impeccable standard for quality service, the agent in the packaging department dutifully wrapped each piece of the broken vase and sent it promptly to its destination.
The young mans strategy was flawless. He would call his boss and when he was informed the vase had been broken in the mail, he would express his regret. Calculating all the odds, at the appropriate time he dialled the number.
The two had a contrived conversation and when the moment seemed right, the young man enquired, "Did you receive my birthday gift?"
"Yes, I did receive the package," his boss responded. Then there was an awkward pause and his boss continued. "I was confused and Im still trying to figure out why the pieces of the broken vase were all wrapped separately..."
Many of todays churches are like broken vases. Instead of embracing faith that is full and complete, they break up the pieces of the gospel, wrap them in separate packages and offer them as the whole counsel of God. In doing so, they diminish the beauty of a balanced and comprehensive gospel. Instead of a full-fledged faith, the people of God are left with compartmentalized faith. Essential segments of the gospel are isolated and deleted from the whole. Tragically, the Great Command itself is fractured. Love for God is separated from love for neighbour. Love for neighbour is disconnected from love for God. And the power of the gospel is jeopardized.
This fragmentation of the faith has not always characterized the church in Canada. At the beginning of the century, the Protestant Church was based on the solid rock of social compassion and reinforced with the steel of evangelical conviction. Today however, evangelical and mainline churches co-exist in the same community neither relating to each other nor speaking the same religious language.
My Catholic friends tell me that they deal with a different polarization... Some of the faithful are concerned about personal morality issues. They focus their attention on abortion, euthanasia and sexual lifestyle matters. Others are concerned with social justice matters... womens rights, environment issues and systemic economic dilemmas capture their vision for ministry.
My travels back and forth across the country reveal other FLAWED APPROACHES for doing church. There are:
|They are part of the latest wave. . .|
|Being "seeker sensitive" is sacred|
|Relevance is the filter for style and content|
|Worship feels like a blend of "Entertainment Tonight" and a sports event|
|Rather than being gospel focused, they are consumer driven|
|They are high on soul care and low on social care.|
|Their slogan is: "Place your order here"|
|They have a full menu for every age and appetite|
|They are Canadas supermarket churches|
|Size and resources allow them to gather peoplemost often from other churches.|
|These churches are pulpit centred|
|They are beacons of clarity in the midst of ambiguity|
|They are marked with gifted preachers -- lay people take notes|
|They produce followers of Jesus who are fully informed with over-sized heads.|
|High commitment is rewarded with strong Christian community|
|They are churches that are relationally intense|
|Their creed is: "Conform or else"|
|You are either in the family or out of the family|
|There is little concern expressed for the surrounding community|
|Service is the speciality of Community League Churches|
|They throw open the doors of their church facility|
|They are often satisfied to be community landlords|
|They are high on social carelow on soul care.|
The good news is that some churches in every denomination and religious tradition have found ways to embrace faith that is both personal and social. They consistently invite people within the range of their influence to personally experience the living Christ in their lives as well as motivating them to respond compassionately and practically to people who have specific needs. They are high on soul care and high on social care churches.
The main emphasis of this address is to tell some of the stories of 14 Future Faith Churches in Canada who are linking both sides of the faithpersonal and social. The research is drawn from a "purposive sample... deliberately chosen for a particular purpose." The particular churches were chosen in response to a mailing of 425 nomination requests which resulted in 302 nominations. There were 27 churches from 8 denominations that received multiple nominations. Focus group discussions, leadership interviews, and a survey which resulted in 411 responses, together form the data for the following conclusions.
Although the 14 churches identified are not perfect, they provide a model for "FUTURE FAITH" churches. We also acknowledge that combining their individual stories can portray each church to be more impressive than their local reality. But still, they are leading-edge churches for the 21st century. They deserve our discerning attention. Although progress coexists with problems in the 14 churches, the hope is that many other Christian faith communities across the nation will be inspired to join the journey toward Christian wholeness and Biblical integrity too.
The main marks of the 14 churches are typified by the following responses that affirm soul care and social care:
Focus Group Interviewer: "How are you different because of the influence of this church? How have you changed?
Response: "What do I say? I think it is that now I have a relationship with God which I could not have said seven years ago. Or at least I'm developing a relationship. And I can say that out loud too. But I couldn't have seven years ago."
Christian Reformed Pastor Mike Rietsma discussing the church and its mission says ..."It ought not only to be strong theologically and strong spiritually, but also strong in terms of action - social action."
Future Faith Churches are laced with compassion and infused with mercy. They are:
Accordingly, communities of grace are:
"I felt welcomed but without pressure to perform. That's something I really value here."
Harold Percy, who gives leadership in Trinity Anglican Church in Streetsville, says: "An accepting community is critical. I tell people, 'This is a community for people just like you. You won't shock us; you're welcome here as you are.'"
Mike Rietsma describes First Christian Reformed of Calgary ... "This place is known as a safe place where people can come and they don't have to be perfect. They can have warts that show. We have a reputation of willingness to accept and to receive people with their problems."
Communities of grace are also:
'I can't think of anything that is preached against," said a Baptist participant.
An Anglican worshipper explained that "the emphasis is on the good news of forgiveness and acceptance. No matter what you've done, no matter where you are, you're accepted and from that point on we've got good news for you."
Other responses included: "To preach the gospel is to know the joy of what 'thou shalt', rather than what 'thou shalt not'."
"Because the pastor's message is non-judgmental, we're empowered to take the message without being judgmental when we go out into the world."
"It is the difference between 'I get to,' rather than, 'I got to'."
Future Faith Church people and their leaders accept incompleteness and acknowledge woundedness. In the words of a focus group members:
"We're often told we're on a journey. Rather than you're in or you're out, everybody's included."
"People come first. It's love before law."
In the majority of the 14 churches, the clergy leaders had suffered pain in their personal lives. However, rather than turning sour or cynical, they had experienced the healing touch of Christ. Consequently, they recognise woundedness in others alongside the possibility that just as God had restored them, others could be restored too.
Although grace was a dominant theme in Future Faith Churches, acceptance and compassion existed alongside conviction. Both pastors and people affirmed that:
"Well-established Christian convictions are like your backbone... you dont have to think about them. They are just there."
Future Faith churches are places where orthodoxy resides. They lean more toward the conservative than they do to what is understood to be liberal.
Ministry models for churches are like the major highways on a provincial map. They are marked with signs that help lay people and their leaders know what direction to turn when they come to an intersection. Ministry models keep churches headed toward their destination. They let them know when they have slipped off the road and begin to travel in the ditch. They are also reference points to let people know when they are lost and how to return to the desired direction.
Ministry models are not the same as church prototypes. Ministry models give churches a conceptual framework for determining their ministry emphases and program strategies. In theological terms, churches with defined models exist with a clear ecclesiology. They have Biblical convictions about the mandates for the people of God. Church prototypes, on the other hand, are usually high profile churches in some other place. The temptation is always to transplant and clone prototype churches...
An analysis of the spiritual vitality in the Future Faith Churches reveals a four dimensional ministry model. In remarkable ways, the people who worship and participate are spiritually energized. The implementation of this ministry model, with all its themes and emphases, clearly activates people. Spiritual life flourishes in peoples hearts, minds, hands and voices. In their journeys with God and each other, they become more alive and more spiritually whole people. Specifically, the model generates:
In the survey of 411 people from the 14 Future Faith Churches, 88% said "they usually experience Gods presence at a worship service." Clearly, worship generates affection from the heart in Future Faith Churches.
A focus group member observed: "On Sunday morning people are excited about their relationship with the Lord and you just want to celebrate."
Pastor Carlin Weinhauer is enthusiastic about worship at Willingdon Community: "This place cooks on Sunday mornings, just cooks. There's an expectation. God is here. God is experienced here."
The same refrain rings true for Wesley Campbell at the Vineyard Church in Kelowna: "We experience God here. And that fuels all the rest of the stuff. We experience God and we have hot worship and strong prayer meetings."
The question was asked: "If you were to move and have to leave this church, what would you miss?" The response from a middle-aged man was profound: "I would miss the quality of the liturgy. It inspires me to love and forgive."
David Watt, from Dartmouth First Baptist, summarizes the spirit of Future Faith Churches: "If we lost the sense of God's presence, I mean if our worship was emptythat would disappoint me. If people didn't say I'm really glad that I came here because I found God here and I found a sense of community and acceptance herethat would disappoint me."
A spirit of gracious orthodoxy pervades Future Faith Churches. They are clearly Christian but there is also room for personal discretion and emerging growth. Yet within their communities of acceptance there is also an affirmation of the importance of understanding the faith.
Presbyterian Terry Ingram confesses that he has "a continued long-range goal to increase biblical literacy. We need to know the story. We need to know why we are what we are."
A similar view was articulated in the Chinese Baptist Church: "We can apply our faith to our struggles at home and at work and at school. We can turn them into something positive."
The same emphasis was voiced at The Meeting Place: "Application is the emphasis - what is the relevance of Christianity in terms of how you live your life."
"We're learning to follow. None of us is there. There's really no final stage. I guess we all strive for it, but we're not expected to be perfect. We're all learning, trying, stumbling, helping each other up."
My own learning curve was pushed upwards by Dan Doolittle from the Aboriginal Pentecostal church in the sample:
"I've always encouraged people to go back to Genesis. We're all boat people. We all got off the same boat. Through Noah we all came from the same blood line. God doesn't see any differences in us. We may have different colour skin, but we don't need racial barriers or any other barriers between us."
We have already observed that compassion and Christian commitment mark future faith people. This combination of virtues instils and motivates a "community concern." Focus group people expressed their understanding of faith and ministry:
"This church cares about our community. It's not a big congregational clique."
"I think one of the most crucial things that's happened here is that we've asked the community, 'How do you see the church serving you?'"
Nine times out of ten our sermons are pastoral. People can find healing here; otherwise they cannot reach out and serve the community. People have to be healed to serve."
The following list was compiled from focus group references to community ministries and social concern programs in which the 14 churches are presently involved.
|Youth drop-in centres|
|Programs for senior citizens|
|Twelve step programs|
|Habitat for humanity projects|
|Programs for youth|
|English as a Second Language|
|Parenting skills classes|
|Service mission trips|
|Crisis pregnancy centres|
|Small business development assistance|
|Personal emergency loans|
|Telecare - a congregational check-up program|
|Facilities in support of AA meetings|
|Single parent support programs|
|Housing units for low income families|
|Low interest community development loans|
Future Faith Churches not only worship (affection for the heart), learn (insight for the mind), and serve (behaviour for the hands), they also motivate Christian witness (meaning for the voice). These churches are places of redemption. Of the 411 participants in the survey:
51% had stopped attending church at some time in their lives
23% stopped attending church for a period of 5-10 years
10% had no religious background.
When it comes to the style of Christian witness, the people in the Future Faith Churches are clearly Canadian. When asked about sharing their faith, the responses included:
"What's the appropriate way to witness - in terms of not wanting to turn people off but not wanting to chicken out either?"
Pastor Tim Dickau from Grandview Calvary explains his strategy:
"The Scriptures tell the story of God's hope for our lives ... I very much believe that as people grapple with that story it's going to change them too."
"Something that has really impacted me is the biblical story of the burning bush - taking off your shoes because you're on holy ground. Now when somebody shares their story with me, I feel like I'm on holy ground. It has completely changed the way that I look at other human beings."
"When I hear others talk about their walk with God, I think more deeply about my own."
In Future Faith Churches people are encouraged to tell their spiritual stories, to talk with each other about where they are on their faith journeys. The spiritual story-telling has two dimensions. First, there is "inside story-telling." People in their congregations and parishes are given opportunities to communicate with each other. There is a sense in which the inside communication is a rehearsal for "outside story-telling." It isnt that everyone is mobilized into witnessing but for many the correlation is obvious. Becoming comfortable and confident with people who share their faith inside releases many to express their faith convictions outside the protective walls of the church.
Another distinction worth noting in the realm of witness and evangelism reveals a paradigm shift in how people are coming to God. During the last half of the century, particularly for evangelicals, the theological idea of conversion has been linked to "the hour of decision." Coming to faith has been cast in the motif of Pauls conversion on the Damascus Road (Acts 9:1-2). The emphasis on a crisis experience of repentance and belief in Christs work on the cross has been connected to a particular place and time.
In the case of 10 out of the 14 Future Faith churches, the emphasis on how people come to personal faith is more process oriented. It is cast more in the paradigm of what happened on the Emmaus Road (Luke 24:13-33). It is understood that people have some knowledge and understanding of who Jesus is. Faith is affirmed more as a journey than it is a crisis experience. Eventually, on the journey spiritual "eyes are opened" and people personally encounter Jesus and continue to believe and follow (31).
Reflecting the creative and redemptive spirit of Future Faith churches, Harold Percy from Streetsville Anglican concludes:
"We try to be a Velcro church instead of a Teflon church. We want them (newcomers) to get caught here. Over time, as we open doorways and opportunities, they'll find a place to raise their questions and meet their needs."
Churches are meant to be more like manufacturing plants than advertising agencies. Manufacturing plants produce products. Advertising agencies simply sell the products the manufacturing plants produce. General Motors and Chrysler Corporation produce automobiles at the end of their assembly lines. Subscribing to detailed specifications, IBM and Toshiba plants manufacture computers. Furniture factories build furniture or they dont exist. So it follows that healthy churches that are energized by the Spirit of God produce spiritually transformed people, people who love God and have compassion for others.
Because many churches have a one-sided ministry agenda, the future faith invitation is to add what is missing rather than to subtract what is present. The specific invitation is to assess the current ministry orientation of ones church. Then the challenge is to add to the equation whatever dimension of the gospel is currently under-played. If ones current strength is soul care, social care will, in all likelihood, need to be added. If ones strength is social care, the challenge is to add soul care.
If churches are going to be spiritually transforming places, all church leaders need to be certain that they address and resolve one particular matter. Whatever the denomination or religious tradition, whether the worship style is highly liturgical or free spirited and spontaneous, the issue is same: How do people in particular church traditions experience the personal touch of God? In what ways do people encounter Jesus in a personal way and nurture their relationship in Christ?
This concern is not an attempt to control how Gods spirit works in faith communities and in the lives of people. After all, the "wind blows where it will" (John 3:8). Rather, it is a concern that church leaders be intentional about inviting their people to get in touch with God, to taste the presence of God and to experience forgiveness in Christ.
The same principle applies to the social side of the gospel equation. If there is a deficiency in this regard, we need to make a greater commitment to the deeds of faith, to initiate community mercy ministries, and to emphasize the Bibles teaching that genuine faith includes social action. The insight of Catholic spokesperson Hervé Carrier adds clarity: "Evangelization remains unfinished if it does not achieve justice and transform cultures."
It is only honest to acknowledge that future faith churches are much more involved in compassionate community ministries than they are in addressing systemic causes of injustice. Their journeys of social care are worthy of emulating but they still have distances to travel. Still, they are leading the way. Future faith churches do not retreat from their responsibilities as members of society. Quite the opposite: they take their place in the tradition of Moses, Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah, Mary, James, and John the Baptist.
The following graphic represents the results of a statistical analysis of the future faith churches in this research project. The primary input for the analysis utilized 21 statements in the survey that probed ministry categories linked to soul and social care. Asked to identify the present practices of their church, the 411 survey respondents confirmed the story we have been telling: future faith churches are "love God and love your neighbour people." Plotted according to a factor analysis methodology, all of the churches cluster together in the "high soul carehigh social care" quadrant. The essence of the Christian life includes both soul care and social care.
|An Invitation to Soul Care and Social Care|
|Soul Care Emphases Social Care Emphases|
|Day to day application of faith Community Service|
|Biblical command "to love God and your Help Canadians living in poverty"|
|"Love your neighbour as yourself" Programs out in the community|
|Personal devotional life Service with deeds|
|Importance of truth Social action|
|Development of personal faith Correcting injustices in society|
Fusing soul care and social care positions todays churches to maximize the power of the re-connected gospel. When love for God generates love for people the theory of faith is validated. Linking PERSONAL FAITH with SOCIAL CONCERN energizes the message of the gospel.
Connecting words of faith with deeds of faith signals credibility in a world where actions speak louder than words.
We still need words of faith to clarify deeds of faith...
We also need deeds of faith to verify the words of faith.
When faith is experienced, when people "taste and see" that Jesus Christ forgives and the Spirit of God leads and directs, spiritually hungry hearts are nourished. When people are hurting and they are touched and cared for by people who have themselves been touched by Godlife is lifted, hope is injected and justice is restored.
Celebrating church growth and making claims of spiritual transformation without evidence of social impact lacks Biblical integrity. But it is when both sides of the gospel equation are experienced and expressed that the gospel is really believable.
On a global scale, two individuals, both anointed by God, have emerged as "patron saints" of "soul care" and "social care." For the past 25 years in particular, their faces have graced magazine covers and they have been featured TV guests on high profile programs. They have received front page news coverage wherever they have travelled. They are revered by Christians around the world. They are respected by people who have little or no regard for God. The "patron saint" of soul care is Billy Graham. The "patron saint" of social care (even after her death) is Mother Teresa.
Both have gifted the church and the world with their faithfulness and excellence. Neither would separate the gospel mandate into the distinct streams of "soul" and "social" concern, even though their ministries reflect complementary aspects of this single vision. In much the same way, Future Faith Churches are gifting the body of Christ with a vision that lifts up both sides of the gospel equation at the same time. In their pursuit of ministry that champions both a love for God and compassion for people, they are leading edge churches for the 21st century. As faith communities, they are also full-fledged Biblical people.
When soul care and social care are fused together, the church is the church and the people of God are the people of God.
Moreover, the power of the reconnected gospel extends the reign of God into our time and spaceinto our churches and society.
The Scriptures call the church and the people of God everywhere to soul care.
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:17-18)
The Scriptures call the church and the people of God everywhere to social care.
We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. (I John 3:16-18).
Since the third decade of this 20th century, Canadian churches and their leaders have most often leaned either toward soul care or toward social care. Instead of embracing both sides of the gospel equation, they have given allegiance to one without full regard for the other. As we turn the corner and head into the 21st century, Canadian Christians and their leaders have the opportunity to begin again. Just as the people of God did almost one hundred years ago, we can be anchored on both the solid rock of evangelical conviction and social compassion. We can experience Gods love as we inform our social consciences and express our love for people.
When soul care and social care are fused together, the church is truly the church and the people of God are truly the people of God.