New Waters S.1 | Bonus Episode
New Waters S.1 Bonus Episode | Church + Culture: Are We Floundering in Fear or Anchored in Hope?
After finishing the recording of the final episode of Season 1, we felt like we needed to kick off the podcast a little bit better and frame the season more effectively. So we went back and recorded a totally new episode. This bonus episode is a mash-up of what was originally intended to be Episode 1 and some other side conversations that the group had while the mics were rolling. Because of that, the sound quality is a little inconsistent at times, but the conversation is well worth a listen.
The themes of this bonus episode revolve around how the church engages with culture. What are some best practices when it comes to the church’s role in culture? Where has the church been most effective throughout our history? What did Jesus seem to recommend? Whether it’s hope-filled optimism or fear-driven hiding out until Jesus comes again, every church has to choose how to engage with the culture we find ourselves in. Listen in and continue the conversation in your own circle.
*NEW* Find discussion questions, show notes, and a full transcript of the episode below!
+ Discussion Questions
Use this discussion sheet to continue the conversation in a church or small group setting.
+ Show Notes and Resources
+ Full Episode Transcript
REGAN: Well hello New Waters listeners! This is Regan Neudorf your producer and editor of the podcast. You usually hear my voice at the end of the podcast but I just wanted to pop in here, just to say a huge thank you for following along with us this past year as we tried something new and started this podcast. Now there’s hundreds of thousands of podcasts to choose from and we’re honoured that you’ve chosen to join in on the conversation as we learn what it means to be the church in Canada in this day and age. And if you listen to one or more of those other podcasts, you know that subscribing, reviewing, and sharing helps others find us and join in. So we’d appreciate you helping us out and spreading the word in any way that you’re willing. And this will especially be helpful in anticipation of Season 2. That first episode for the new season will be released this October 2019.
So we’ve been in development on Season 2 over the past few months and in preparing for the future we’ve also been looking back at those first 6 episodes from Season 1: what went well, what didn’t, where do we go from here topic-wise… and in going through those past recordings there’s actually some great content that didn’t appear in the final edits. And I don’t know if you noticed, there’s even some times where other conversations were referenced but didn’t make the cut … There’s this infamous stand-off between Lee and Dom that some of you have been talking about, and you’ll just have to wait and see if that one finds its way into a future bonus feature.
So, a little bit of New Waters trivia for you and a some insight into the making of. After finishing Episode 6, we felt like we needed to kick off the podcast a little bit better and frame the season more effectively. So we actually went back and recorded a totally new episode. Now this bonus episode is a mash-up of what was originally intended to be Episode 1 and some other side conversations that the group were having while the mics were rolling. And because of that, the sound quality is a little inconsistent at times, but after re-listening to the recordings and then piecing it all together, it may not have been the best start to Season 1 but it definitely didn’t need to be scrapped altogether and I’m quite proud of this. And I actually think it works well as a bridge to Season 2 and to where we’re heading in the future.
So, sit back, relax, and get yourself reacquainted after a few months apart with our Season 1 participants.
2:14 LEE: Welcome everyone. It’s great to be together. We’re here in the beautiful Muskokas in Northern Ontario on a rainy day. My name is Lee Beach and I’m an Associate Professor of Christian Ministry at McMaster Divinity College in Hamilton, ON and I want you to meet my colleagues who are seated around the table with me here today.
JOSH: Hi, I’m Joshua Koh, I’m a congregational pastor at Fraser Lands Church in Vancouver.
VIJAY: It’s Vijay Krishan, Lead Pastor of the Upper Room Community Church in Vaughan, which is part of the Greater Toronto Area.
JOANNE: Hi, I’m Joanne Beach. I’m the Director of Justice and Compassion. I work at the National Ministry Centre of the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada.
NATHAN: I am Nathan Weselake and I am the lead pastor of Prairie Alliance Church in Portage-la-Prairie, MB.
DOM: I’m Dom Ruso, the lead pastor of the180 in Montreal, QC.
LEE: Great to be together with you. One thing that we know is true at any time in the history of the church wherever it might be, it finds itself in a particular place and in a particular time, and in a particular culture. And certainly in our day in North America we are no different. We are in a particular place and time and culture. And today we want to talk a bit about that and we want to talk about what it means to us and how that affects us as the church and how we respond most effectively to the cultural moment in which we find ourselves in North America. And so I want to begin today by just thinking about how we might describe this cultural moment. What might be some words that we might use to say this is a word I think accurately describes the North American culture in which we find ourselves today.
DOM: I think one of the things is, I want to say, fluid. I think every culture is; it’s always changing. And at the same time there are certain distinct factors that keep things consistent. The challenge I think we find is that in church is that we’re caught between two cultures. There’s a redeeming sense that Jesus is calling us to a different culture/to be part of something bigger and yet I would still say that there is a fluidity about how much culture is changing.
NATHAN: That’s way more than one word, man.
LEE: A word with some elaboration, I’m changing the rules as we go here.
NATHAN: Okay well then I’ll go next with a word and some elaboration. It’s hopeful. I think that we live in a hopeful cultural moment. But I think our culture moment is badly in need of a meta-narrative.
VIJAY: I feel like as an individual in it, and not only from a pastoral context but just as a dude, like in my family, it feels so fast. You know, maybe every culture thinks that. Yeah, fast-changing. I don’t want to use the word busy, but there’s a speed associated with it. I would have said to myself, I like change, but it’s so fast that I don’t know how to respond.
LEE: I would say maybe fragmented. There’s no one way to think of culture and no one way to describe it. I know that’s always been sort of true but I’m old enough to remember that there was kind of a monochromatic kind of way to think about Canadian culture at one time that was maybe more singular than it is now. Now it’s so many different things. And difficult to define culture in a single way, so I would say fragmented.
JOANNE: For me I think I would describe our culture as very individualistic. Especially as I travel around the world and so many different cultures are so relational and so family-bound. I think the Canadian culture in particular is very individualistic. But I think we’d be amiss if we don’t just point out that I think we live in a very sexually charged culture and we can unpack what that looks like or what that means for the church, but I think we need to acknowledge that.
DOM: For you, Joanne, are these connected, these two cultural words?
JOANNE: Self-gratifying culture, yes. I do, I see them as connected.
JOSH: I am going to borrow a phrase from my friend Justin Siah; he uses the word “contestation.” I pick off the word fragmented. I thought of the word lonely. But it’s not just individuals displaced or an individual on their own. But that there is now a sense that because of a lack of a meta-narrative, there’s a contest happening in our culture. There is a power struggle - who gets to define what everyone else has to agree with. And I think that is growing in our culture, this sense of people needing to win a war or a fight in order to gain their space in the world that they live in.
LEE: Well, let me just shift this a little bit: what are some of the trends/markers/key characteristics that you would say define our culture? We touched on that in some of the commentary on our words, but can we think of some key contours of culture that we see emerging, or maybe they’ve even been around for a while, that we go you know, we have to keep our eye on this, we can’t understand our culture unless we understand this.
VIJAY: I think have a youth have a much greater role in shaping culture now. Because of the Internet and social media, their voice is equally heard. Whereas in past cultures if you weren’t a CEO, or the head of a family unit, or you weren’t the head of a school or you weren’t writing curriculum for such-and-such a place, or you weren’t the pastor of a church there was no platform for you. And to each other. Even as a parent, one of the things they’re talking about is that at school, here’s what kids are saying to each other. This isn’t like playground conversations, these are the Vines they’re following, Youtube and all this stuff… my kids are much more aware of the conversations that are happening around them. So youth’s ability to shape culture, which isn’t a negative thing, is just a thing that hasn’t existed previously.
DOM: I think one of the words I was thinking of that I think you’ve articulated more at the grassroots, is there’s a certain rethinking about where authority comes from. The idea that there was an authority structure that was assumed and it came mostly from the top - age, position, wealth, resources, influence… It has a positive sense, it’s been democratized and flattened by the web/digital resources/information. And that can be a gift.
VIJAY: And not just flattened even, but anything with position, role, or power is almost suspicious.
DOM: So yeah, it’s a new day that way. There’s positives to that but if our version of Christianity is that power always comes from the top we’re going to need a new lens.
JOANNE: On the idea of social media and connection, people might feel more socially connected with one another but we have this relational poverty. Relationships don’t go deep because they’re so broad and often superficial because of superficial.
JOSH: Factors that I’m seeing in the world and that I think shape our sense of ourselves and our sense of engagement in the word… I think 9/11 is still a huge thing. I mean I’m an American so I’m going to say that out loud here. But Canada was very much involved in 9/11 and impacted. The ripple of this event both shows the magnitude of contestation. It hits home. It’s very personal now, it’s very big. There’s a macro level of contestation happen. There’s a lot at stake. Various political climate-created, economic-related factors have created more immigrants in the world. So many people are looking for a home, looking at us in privileged Western democracies, asking for a place to belong or a place to start again. The pressure that that brings, their physical presence, their cultural differences, their economic shifts, all of this kind of stuff. This seems to dominate so many narratives that are going on politically and in communities. Even impacting the Canadian border. I mean who would have thought that Canadians would have an issue with their border, but that’s a thing. The church has to learn to engage and step into it.
One of the major emotions that has come out of that is fear. These are the spark plugs that drive our sense of fear, that shape how we respond if we’re not careful.
LEE: I think that fear and the reality that we live in times of real change and thus uncertainty. Everything’s changing whether it’s economics and work, how people are employed or will be employed. Sexual morays are completely fluid. And so what always happens in a time like that is a blowback, which is what we’re seeing with Donald Trump and Rob Ford here in Ontario, the people grasp and believe that the only way forward is to go back. You know, “We have to make America great again,” we have to go back to old-fashioned values. This is generally a fearful response.
DOM: Do you think that it’s because fear is the simplest or the first response? I don’t think we’re ever going to get away from the human dynamic of being afraid when things are changing. The challenge is that the church has never figured out how to live with people in their fear and then begin to move them out of that. We can’t deny that. It’s normal to be afraid.
LEE: A normal response for some people in the midst of that is to want to go back to what they knew was normal before. That’s how they deal with their fear. They say let’s go back to the day when we weren’t afraid and we’ll be okay.
NATHAN: It’s funny because we were talking about a cultural moment but we’re just talking about humanity now. Because it’s not like there’s ever been a cultural moment where people weren’t scared.
JOSH: I think the particular kind of fear we’re dealing with in the West is fear of the loss of the power and privilege that we’ve had. The fear of a refugee is very different: fear of rootlessness, physical insecurity. We’re not experiencing that. The dominant culture would say we’ve gotten used to a certain lifestyle, the good old days, freedom, safety, homogeneity, feeling safe in our own culture and our own community. And that’s shifting as new people come in, as economies change, as systems get taxed because of the sheer needs that need to be met in the world.
DOM: I agree, and I think it’s shifting but I don’t feel less safe because there’s new people in my neighbourhood. We’re told in some ways that we should feel less safe. It’s possible that fear comes out of that but this doesn’t have to be the case.
JOSH: Not everyone will be fearful, but when fear occurs in the West it’s because we’re losing something we thought we had. Something has shifted from the positive to the negative. Our growth is no longer growing as quickly There’s more shootings/more crime, there’s more people changing our landscapes, and buildings and housing. The kind of disruption we’re feeling is a disruption privilege. We built this and it worked for us and suddenly these new factors are threatening whether I can pass this goodness onto my kids or into the community I want to grow old in. This doesn’t look like where I grew up anymore. What happened to our Canadian values? We have certain code language to use to describe the good old days, but the good old days is code for a time where we had privilege and power.
DOM: I think that the language of privilege and power is loaded. I think I could also say what you said but saying a time where things made more sense or felt more safe. Privilege and power feels pregnant
JOSH: Yes I use this language specifically. I think it would ruffle the feathers of folks who don’t hear their angst in that way. And I think I would want to say, “Could you reflect and think about why your fear is the way it is.”
15:21 NATHAN: So I had a guy in our church the other day being really critical: he didn’t think our prayers go to God on an eagle like some of our First Nations people think they do. Oh, so you think they go on a dove, or with our incense, like in the Bible. And he was like oh, crap… You just get caught that way. One culture’s metaphor isn’t necessarily wrong. You can actually grab it and leverage it. But I think our move, if we’re not scared, is always to look to leverage it before shutting it down.
JOSH: Part of this conversation I want to bring up is that culture isn’t just the enemfy. We’ve created our own culture as the church. Sometimes we need to deconstruct some of that culture isn’t necessarily biblical. It’s more modernist, or other kinds of -ist. We’ve imported our versions of syncretism into our expressions of faith, and we run into problems all the time in a cross-cultural setting. You know, I can tell a story about my mom in China and how working with Muslims, the biggest question is can I believe in Jesus and still be Muslim. And for her to be able to say to them, Look you can embrace Jesus and still have Muslim practices in your life as a culture. You don’t have to become Western, but that’s what it feels like for them. So, how did this happen? How did a Jewish faith contextualized in the Middle East suddenly feel North American to Chinese people of a Muslim background. What happened? Something got re-contextualized for us but we call it Christian now.
17:19 DOM: We believe we somehow have this purist gospel. Like we have a pure version of first century Judaism in how we talk about the gospel. And we don’t. We have as best as we can, the person of Jesus as the Truth. But we have all these other parts - and by God’s grace he lets us do that. So how do we say that?
NATHAN: There’s an interesting anecdote with the Aboriginal sun dance, which actually some white colonizing powers tried to make illegal, where hooks go into the chest of the young Native warrior and he’s pierced on behalf of his people and the people receive purging because of his personal sacrifice. I mean that’s just like… we’ll throw the pitch right over the plate. I mean, all we have to say is you don’t have to do that anymore because the faithful Son did it for everybody. So the impulse you have to do that is actually God-given, because it leads you toward the antidote for that. But we tried to make it illegal. How many examples of this are we looking at? That’s kind of the trendy place where Christians can give a lot of ground right now. Gender isn’t. What are we not seeing about the image of God in a gay person that you can actually capture uniquely because of what is being expressed in a way that we’re not sure about. If you start there, you’ll sure end up somewhere better…
DOM: But to go full circle, the only way that you care to go there is to not be afraid. You’re just like, we don’t have to be afraid. Part of it is just being human with other people. But man, the fear bells ring everywhere for that.
21:33 LEE: Let’s talk a little more specifically about the church in culture and how we understand the place of the church in terms of how it is perceived, in terms of where we’re at in terms of the role and location of the church. What are some ways we might speak into that to understand a little more about where we sit on the cultural landscape today.
DOM: I think of this in the context of having young kids or being a pastor, but I also feel that one of the challenges we’re going to have to deal with is that we just disagree on what the role of the church should be in culture and we don’t know how to get past that. We have moments where we feel like the church should be in the centre of the culture and share the culture. Another whole stream says we’re outside/countercultural. And there’s another movement that says we’re supposed to redeem. Another will say we’re just supposed to save people before Jesus gets back. I think that one of the questions we need to be a lot more sensitive about is that different Christians/communities answer this very question differently. And this is something you have to sniff out in a local church fast. Because if you come in with a redemptive lens where you say that the church is going to be a redeeming light in this community in a value set that says we don’t want to do that, we’re just getting people people saved before Jesus comes back. It’s almost unspoken, but you’re going to have a massive church in between church and culture.
VIJAY: I hear people say we have to stand up for what we believe in. And, you know what does this mean. I think some of it comes out of we are being pushed to the margins and we don’t want to be there. Part of me is like, maybe it’s just my temperament, but like yeah we actually are.
JOANNE: I know a guy who wrote a good book called The Church in Exile…
VIJAY: I think there’s a fear that comes. We have to fight to not be. And I think, do we? Because it’s kind of when the church was at its best. When it became the state religion, it was, you could argue, kind of the beginning of the downhill.
VIJAY: Okay, but Jesus seemed to be quite happy in the sense that the Galilean ministry to outcasts, there was marginal ministry and there was majority ministry… and do we have to fight? Is the centre the only place we can thrive as the church? I hope it’s not, because that’s where we’re going.
NATHAN: We’ve kind of jumped to how the church ought to think of itself, but in some sense it doesn’t matter how we think of ourselves until we first think about how people think of us in this moment. So for us to go from a place of more or less in different ways saying everyone’s freaked out in new ways and now we need to think about discipleship… there’s a space between those two things. And I’m sick of the perceived irrelevance of the church.
So I have these conversations, I’m sure you guys do to, So what do you do for a living. Well, I’m a pastor. And they either tune out or ask the token next question, Oh, what kind of church? And no matter what you say, they usually say, I think my grandma goes there. And then you’re like, sometimes you’re just like, the name of my church is “No Grandmas Allowed” and they’re like, I think my grandma goes there. But they’re just like totally tuned out. So it’s this weird place of missed hope/potential where you’ve got everybody is scared witless and the church has this solution—do not fear, fear not—which isn’t just about assuaging future fears but actually a victory now narrative, and the church is wringing its hands. I think our location is of perceived irrelevance but our gift is to figure out how to tap into that fear, not like fear mongers who are like, You know how you feel now? It’s actually way worse than that. It’s terrible. If one more person who doesn’t look like you moves into this neighbourhood… Our way of dealing with fear is way more beautiful and amazing than you’ll ever know. Let’s start moving in that direction.
LEE: I think that something you said is really key for church leaders is to understand before we get to solutions—or maybe it’s simultaneously—we really need to understand that we can’t get to solutions before we understand what the realities are. I think that’s really important for us to understand. One of the big jobs we have is to help people understand what the reality is. Max De Pree, an old leadership guru, said that the first job of every leader is to define reality. If we don’t do that, we can’t move toward how to respond before we understand where we’re at and how we’re perceived in culture. It’s a big piece of doing ministry today, I think.
25:00 DOM: Would you guys say that one of the things we’re all tempted to do is to exegete culture in a simplistic way that usually leads to a wrong way? It’s so easy to be like I’m going to exegete culture: people are totally depraved more than ever. The end. Now we’re going to give them the gospel. That’s my exegesis.
JOANNE: Let me jump in here. You say, Now we’re going to give them the gospel. But I think that the church really needs to broaden its understanding of what is the gospel and if we really begin to live into kingdom values, people are going to be drawn to Jesus. People are going to be reconciled, and healed, and experience wholeness.
DOM: I just think that one of the things is that it’s very hard to exegete culture.
NATHAN: But why is it hard to exegete culture? We’re not like, foreign missionaries. We’re living in the thing.
DOM: It’s hard because it’s fluid. It’s not one-dimensional.
NATHAN: But shouldn’t we, simply by being ourselves, naturally be exegeting culture because we’re swimming in it?
DOM: I agree, but I think that just because we’ve exegete the ebb and flow of where people are finding value and experiencing fear, we don’t always know what’s going to stick or what’s going to work. I think that step is harder than ever before. I also feel that the church has never done this well: we’ve never admitted together that the narratives of unbelief we’re seeing our world are way more complicated than we ever thought they would be. Narratives of why people don’t believe. I was raised in a world where when people don’t believe it’s just because they’re bad people. It’s because the Devil… maybe they had a bad childhood, or they didn’t have a good church. Total depravity, the magic catchall. I’m not trying to be mean. They’re not part of the elect. There’s all kinds of catchphrases that we use. Versus entering people’s stories, living with people—like I think of someone in my family who doesn’t believe—and as I’m with them, I’m like, your unbelief is very complicated. Like, there’s no verse for this.
JOSH: So let’s talk about that Dom, because you’re right, we haven’t been very good at it because our seminaries haven’t trained us, we haven’t seen it modelled well, we have settled for simplistic responses to thing, but we need desperately to learn this skill. Because if we don’t practice it and deepen it, we will always be shooting at the most random things, and not hitting the mark, or offending, or we’ll pick a hill to die on that’s not worth dying on. Or we’ll come up with a response that doesn’t meet a need in the room. What I’m hearing you say is a better way of doing this is to learn the skill of stepping into other people’s stories.
JOANNE: And that’s going to change depending on whether you’re in a rural context or an urban context and so we need to teach leaders in the church the skills it takes to do an actual assessment of the demographics in a particular community and how we can address the needs.
DOM: And I think we would feel that. We’re learning how to do that with church planting. I think most people would say, Who cares? Preach the gospel, tell them the truth, and it doesn’t matter what the culture is. Already the fact that we would care about exegeting the culture is a unique posture about our relationship to a community but a lot of people don’t care about that.
31:05 VIJAY: Nathan, you were saying earlier, Why is it hard [to exegete culture?] But isn’t some of it saying, do I know the Scriptural story well enough to be able to… and do I know my friends and my community well enough that when we’re talking about story I’m at least able to put words to things that they’re expressing—and I know they’re Biblical narratives, they may not. But in a sense I know the stories well and I know my own story in it, because if I’m not in it then I don’t have anything to say.
NATHAN: That’s a good way to get to a more full picture. You’re starting to talk about reflex. There’s an element to reflexive response that is learned, you know, you do something a thousand times. You submerse yourself in the text and it becomes a reflex. You’re not exegeting in the sense like, “How does a Kingdom narrative interact with something like these ad for… Nike shoes or whatever.” That’s not the flow of discipleship. There is going to be this beautiful thing where you’ll get somewhere by God’s grace, where your response is correct most of the time. What I do think is useless to do ministry somewhere like a senior’s home when you’re 19 years old and to consistently go, I don’t get these people. I can’t seem to exegete this culture. I’m watching Murder She Wrote all the time, and I’m just not understanding how to do this. So, there’s needs to be a cultural affinity, sort of a native land sense of where you are and you shouldn’t have to work super hard at it. I would say you have to work harder at the kingdom narrative side of it, because all of that other stuff is going to sink in.
LEE: That’s good. I think that’s true. Why I would say it’s not easy [to exegete the cutlure] is that part of the reason that exegesis is hard is that yes we live in this culture, we go to work, we shop for groceries, but it’s easy to live in a bubble and particularly in the church it’s easy to live in this bubble. At best, they read the newspaper or watch the nightly news. And if people are content to live in the bubble, they don’t know the culture. And if we then want to innovate in ministry and we say look, this world has changed, we have to do things differently, they’re resistant. And part of the reason is that “it’s working for me!” In fact, I think we’ve already gone too far. And that’s why cultural exegesis isn’t always easy. It can be easy for those of us who are attuned to it, but there’s lots of people in the church who don’t. I don’t think these people don’t have a firm grasp on reality, not even close. And in their minds, most of what cultural exegesis will produce is how corrupt and terrible and horrible this culture is.
DOM: And there’s a certain style of preaching that fuels that by saying, you don’t have to worry about that. Just tell people the truth and tell it straight. And here’s a catchphrase, “The gospel should be offensive”—you know, like, the gospel should bother people. And I’m like…
LEE: Things are changing. I had a moment where I was happily teaching away a few years ago, on this kind of stuff about culture, and church, and how we needed to learn to interact in a new culture. And I told a story or two about how the place of the church has shifted in culture. A student put up his hand in the back and was like, “Lee, I kind of get what you’re saying, and I understand why you may have had to deal with this, but this culture, it’s the only culture I know. I’ve always lived in a culture where church has always been on the margins. The friends I grew up with didn’t know anything about Jesus. That’s all I know.” It’s shifting. It’s changed. But we still live in a time where we're helping the church get its head around it… and it’s not always easy. Especially if some of us have found ourselves positioned in a different time, moving into a newer time takes more effort.
34:25 LEE: I want to move to the solution side here. We’ve talked a lot about culture and where we’re at. So let’s think about how the church needs to respond to that. Let me ask a question. Do you ever get discouraged? Do you ever just go, it’s hard… it’s hard leading a church. Being discouraged in ministry isn’t anything new, we know that. But does it ever just get inside you like, oh man this is hard.
DOM: I feel that regularly in the context of being a church planter. But these days I’m thinking that what’s harder is that sometimes with people in our churches—they’re surprised that it’s hard. It’s like, if you’re the spiritual leader, shouldn’t you know how to fix these things? Like, there’s almost an expectation—maybe it’s always been there—that we should kind of have the answers to these problems. So just saying to them like, we don’t always know, but we’re just listening to the Lord’s leading and praying and studying Scripture and trying to make sense of this. And I think that for the first time on the frontlines of church planting in the very new context that I’m in, it’s discouraging to be aware that people don’t want you to be discouraged.
NATHAN: So your discouragement then is a very internal, personal, micro issue. Are you ever discouraged when you look out at the landscape that we’ve been describing, the fear, the position of the church. Are you ever scared because wow, in this cultural moment this is especially hard.
DOM: Yes I think so. I think that there is something about Quebec, there is something about how secularism, or how themes around secularism, has developed in a way that makes it hard for a church to understand the shifts, have a voice of influence in any way in the future. The Catholic-Protestant divide is a really complex thing to have navigate. I’m hopeful sometimes I think because I’ve learned to exegete a bit of that better. But some of the personal stuff… the perfect storm is when it comes together. Yeah, I think it can be discouraging sometimes.
JOANNE: What’s discouraging for me is when you talk to church leaders who don’t want to talk about relevant issues that culture is dealing with, whether it’s gender identity, whether it’s sex trafficking in Canada—that’s discouraging. When church leaders will not talk about the key issues that our culture is wrestling with.
DOM: Joanne, there is in that an assumption that for you to be a good church leader today is to be someone with deals with very relevant topics and topics.
JOANNE: If the church doesn’t deal with issues that our Canadian culture is wrestling with, we will soon become irrelevant.
JOSH: I’m very discouraged by—and I’m reflecting on an American context that I’m beginning to see bleed into a Canadian landscape—in the American context, there is a growing, huge, unbridgeable divide between conservative and liberal in the culture. To be put in one camp or the other completely shuts you off from being able to have conversation across. So how this is playing out is Christians tend to choose the conservative camp because of certain moral positions that they’ve been engrained to hold to as gatekeeper ways of evaluating what they should care about as they engage culture but the problem is that the conservative worldview has also decided that things like social justice is just somebody who is a tree hugger who cares about climate change that we’re not even sure is real. There was a recent story of a pastor in Vancouver that recently shared that he preached a sermon about different issues of morality facing Canada and included some social justice issues in his sermon and the elder board’s response was that we deal with social justice in this church, we focus on morality, and that was their language. “Social justice” is considered a liberal term for conservatives. The derogative word now is a “social justice warrior.” And that’s the problem for me. I’m so discouraged because I want to embrace both moral issues and see social justice as a moral issue because it’s about people, but I see this divide growing, where as a Christian you have to choose. And depending on which one you choose, you’ll get written off by the whole other group.
LEE: Vijay, you can have the last comment and then we’ll move on to another issue.
VIJAY: Just to Josh’s point, to be honest, one of the discouraging things for me is to see the divide growing. And I think it doesn’t seem like we’re all trying to fight to keep the divide from happening. Unity is a theological issue just like all the other theological issues we’re arguing about. And in fact I would argue that based on the New Testament letters, unity is one of the most preeminent theological issues. Which is to say that we should be fighting for it, more than anything else. It feels like we’re much quicker to fight or argue or say things strongly about the other theological issues than to say, Hey friends, what’s it going to take for us to learn how to be a community who doesn’t need to draw a line as hard as maybe everybody else does, other denominations, other seminaries, or whoever that seem to have landed hard, part of our DNA is to say hey, we actually parse these things out and because we care about being a community… not to say that these aren’t important, I just don’t see a fight for unity, not uniformity, but unity that is key to fighting this divide.
43:42 LEE: What are the key resources or what are some key ways that we engage this culture in terms of how we address some of these challenges? What do you think is helpful to help the church think about how to properly engage this context.
NATHAN: The stance we need to take is one of hope-fulled optimism. Regardless of what we do and no matter how discouraged we might be, we’re the only ones who know that the grave is empty, and it always will be empty. Every single time we think of that, we realize it’s better than our bad day, it’s better than how intimidating the landscape is, and we live in that reality of an empty grave. So whether you’re driving through a rural First Nations community or whether you’re in an inner city part of your community, you have that empty grave reality. So, in a world of fear, your posture is optimism. If you’re carrying that, the technique doesn’t matter much.
LEE: That’s great. So where is the hope? We’ve voiced a little discouragement. Where is your hope for the church these days?
DOM: Well I think that this conversation is hopefully a sign of the way that hope is developed and nurtured in our hearts. I mean I think Nathan said it best, Christianity’s hope line is “He is risen”—that is it. Everything falls or crumbles on that truth. But how that hope gets nurtured is in community and with others who are saying, I’m not alone in this, right? You guys are feeling this? Yeah, we’re feeling that too. Our hope and prayer is that others listen to this, they might feel a sense of hopeless and discouragement, but hey I’m not alone, too. The importance of unity, social justice issues. This is the way hope has always been nurtured in the church, with us gathering together and learning to do together. So I’m hopeful about that, and the future. And how technology can help us with this too, if we maximize it. We know how technology can be used to keep people afraid and to destroy hope but I think that the church has to look for ways to use technology in this way.
JOSH: We’ve been preaching through 1 Peter this summer. 1 Peter is really a book about suffering and the reality of increased suffering in a world that’s increasingly anti-Christian. The question Peter poses to the church is “How do you understand your suffering?” And then I think of the verse in chapter 3, “Always be prepared to give answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have but do this with gentleness and respect.” To me, that’s what we need in our culture right now. People who are trying to make their point are doing it violently because they feel threatened and victimized and if Christians join that vocal posture and way of living in the world, and don’t preach and teach… it doesn’t matter whether you have an answer or hope… how you present it matters too. Like how you engage someone who has a different hope and a different answer matters. And to have gentleness and respect. I think if we took some time and just reflected on those two words, and thought about how does that change our tone, how does that change our posture, how does that change our relationships and the way we gain our right to speak our answer and our hope, it would change a lot.
NATHAN: Have you ever had someone offer you a bite of something and you’re like yeah, I really don’t want it. Or they’re like giving you a straw and you just watched them for the last 3 weeks like fight a head cold, and they’re like Here, sip my drink! Sip my drink! And you’re like, no, and they’re sharing it with you, right?
Surely one of the things is to so very much enjoy what you have, that other people are asking for a bite. So, if you are so excited about what God is doing inside of you not just because it’s what he’s doing inside of you but because someday it’s what he’s going to do for the whole world, no matter what you do or not—it doesn’t ride on you—but if you’re so excited by what’s happening in you because someday it’s going to be everywhere, that’s going to be contagious, and people are going to ask for a bite. That gentleness and respect comes not necessarily out of an urgency of mission, but moreso out of a fluidity of just what’s happening inside of you.
DOM: Yeah, it’s that hope lived out.
LEE: For me, one of the things that I find hopeful is seeing so many leaders of all ages who are embracing some of these realities and trying to figure out how to respond. I see more and more churches in different communities, and we have a great representation of people from all across Canada here, and there are a lot of churches in Canada and North America who are really trying to figure out how to do ministry in different ways. For me an encouraging thing is to be in a seminary with students, and so many of my students have moved past some of the conversation about traditions and old ways. They can get trapped and bogged down but they’re to say how can we be the church in this moment. And it can take a long time for things to change. We’re in a moment, I think, that is a transitional time, we’re working at it. We’re struggling it though… but I have a lot of hope for another day because I see so many people, I’m around so many people, who really are committed to trying to find a way forward. So maybe others of you can tell stories where you’re seeing this happen in your church or your life with people around you.
JOANNE: I’ll share our story as a church plant in Ancaster. So when our pastor Aaron went, at the beginning of our days in Ancaster, he met with our town councillor. He went to his office and asked the question, We want to start a new church and new family of faith here in Ancaster, and how can we serve Ancaster? What are the needs in Ancaster that our church can meet? And the councillor kind of looked at Aaron and wasn’t quite sure what he was asking, and so Aaron tried to unpackage that a little bit more, and in the end, they started brainstorming about different ways that Ancaster Village could serve Ancaster. And the councillor said to Aaron as he was leaving, I’ve been in politics 25-30 years and not once has a clergyman come to me and asked me that question. And so, we’ve had many opportunities as a 6-year-old church serving our community in a lot different ways. But it all started from that conversation with a town councillor who had never had a clergyman visit him.
VIJAY: We were running Alpha in our home last year and our neighbours, the mom is Hindu and the dad is Sikh and she came over to my wife one day. She’s in her 50s and she said, hey, like you guys, go to church, right? Can you pray over me because I think there’s spirits in our house. I think Jesus does this. I mean, I didn’t know how she knew that but so, my wife Jen prays for her. So we go over there and we’re sitting in her living room and her 19-year-old daughter is standing on the side and the mom is trying to figure out this Alpha thing, and the daughter is like, I think I’d like that. Mom and daughter came to our first Alpha night—the mom stopped coming—but the daughter attended the whole time. And at the end of our first go-round, she said, you know what, after this I’m still trying to figure out what I believe but I think that Christianity is going to be a big part of it in the future. And she prayed for the first night on prayer. We didn’t expect her to and told her she didn’t need to, and she was like, I don’t know how to do this but… we were just watching it and it was like multi-generational, multi-ethnic, multi-religious and we were in the middle of that. And we’re like, we don’t know where this story is going but we’re just excited because we know that God is at work in ways that we didn’t expect. And we would have thought that well, a 19-year-old who is the product of a Sikh and Hindu home would have no interest in Jesus and yet she was the one who said, I think I want that.
LEE: What that story reminds me of is this bottom line of hopefulness that we need to embrace, that God is still at work. Jo, earlier you talked about exile, and about how Israel was sent into exile in Babylon. I mean this was a catastrophic reality for them, but they survived exile. We are here today because Israel survived exile. God stayed at work. We talked about 1 Peter and the first church, and boy you want to talk about marginalization? They were a group who were marginalized, and yet we know how God was at work. Again, we’re here today having this conversation because the gospel went forward in this tough context in which the early church found itself.
So, here we are today in our cultural moment. And perhaps it’s a tough context. But these stories remind us that God is at work in his church. We are called to lead his church and to embrace this cultural moment and to figure out how do we do ministry well in this particular moment, knowing that God hasn’t given up on his church and that he continues to be at work. So, let’s embrace our cultural moment and continue to try to figure it out and continue to have conversations that give us hope and give us life.
REGAN: The New Waters Podcast is brought to you by New Ventures, a ministry of the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada. Today’s episode was produced by me, Regan Neudorf, and our theme music was created by Dad vs Son. If you’d like to continue the conversation with us, follow @newwaterscanada on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or check out newwaters.ca for additional resources, collective learnings and info about upcoming live events. Thanks for listening and joining Jesus at work in Canada as we love the church and learn to think differently with curiosity, hope and wonder.