How To Take the Assembly Home: Four Next Steps that Won't Weigh You Down!
The flight home from a conference is always a mixed bag.
A number of years ago, I returned from Plano, Texas, where we held our Anglican 1000 gathering affirming our commitment to new churches. I was full of vision and energy. Scribbling in a notepad on my seat-back tray, I wrote notes of new friends and old, ideas and vision, challenges and goals. Could there be a more exciting time for a minister of the gospel? We were planting churches!
But as the beverage service passed and our flight miles accumulated, my mind turned to the coming sermon that sat barely begun, the email from our treasurer, and the note from my wife that the sliding door lock was still bad. I could feel the concerns of home siphoning off my gas. Do you know the feeling?
How to Land in One Piece
I’d like to offer you some advice. It’s advice based on many years of ministry—Anne and I have been pastoring and raising up congregations for (a startling) 33 years. And we have been to many conferences and sung many songs and returned many times when the plane has successfully landed, but the vision has not.
I don’t want this to happen for you. I think the global vision of the ACNA Assembly can actually help your local ministry and not feel like extra weight. The opportunity is in your next steps.
Start Under a Tree
In the waves of the East African Revival that continue to our day, we have witnessed the Spirit moving so rapidly that nobody had time to rent a room to meet in. The solution wasn’t hard—just gather people under a tree. The tree and the people: that was all you needed. You don’t have to have a lot of infrastructure to follow an idea. You actually don’t even need an idea.
I mean this: it’s not that the ideas for mission won’t come. We pray they will. But when we are presented with a big vision of gospel, local and global, and even if we manage to keep our head above the daily pressures enough to dream—the next steps often still translate to frustration.
One frustration is that idea that quickly forms on paper, but seems unfeasible. A church plant when you don’t have leaders or resources, an evangelism project that seems too large for your congregation. Or maybe you are plagued by the other another common frustration: no idea at all!
So without a working idea, or money or infrastructure, what is it you need? The answer is simply: Saints! The people. It can be a motley crew. They need only one qualification: a willingness to pray together with you. Prayer together is where revivals and revolutions begin.
Prayer together is where the simple gifts become powerful. Where the Holy Spirit comes in presence, shaping our hearts, shaping our vision, and yes, shaping our ideas. Gather a few people (even under a tree if you like). Pray. See what’s next.
Look for Interruption
I remember the Sunday because it wasn’t our typical lunch: Anne had the wok steaming with oil and was stir frying. She was just inviting me to sit down to eat when I looked at her and said, “I’m supposed to walk across the street.” This was the day that I would walk into a public school auditorium and meet Pastor Michael Wright and his African-American congregation, but I didn’t know that yet. All I knew was that Anne was putting the lid back on the wok. “It’ll stay warm.” she smiled, “go.” She has learned this rhythm of listening for the interruption of the Holy Spirit.
If you’re a planner, it can feel shaky to peg mission to the chance that something could happen. Where is the event or program, the budget and deadlines? I truly value these: well made plans. Yet I’ve found they may also have a subtle effect: masking our human limitations. We have less knowledge of the future and less control than we sometimes imagine. When the disciples are with Jesus, the story so often takes an unexpected turn! His attentiveness to the Spirit has him feel the touch of a bleeding woman, even en route on another mission to heal the centurion’s son.
We learn to recognize when the interruptions are a call. The voice of God asking us to eat lunch later. Pastor Wright, now a co-pastor in the Cornerstone Parish of Chicago, has become a key partner for reaching the West Side of Chicago. I couldn’t have planned that. Roland Allen writes, “The great things of God are beyond our control. Therein lies a vast hope.” Amen!
Think Local before Mission
The theme for the ACNA Assembly was Local Mission, Global Family, Shared Gospel—let’s talk about the first. For a local pastor, the push for local mission can quickly translate to a new program. We go home thinking, “we need an evangelism event.” And you very well might! Yet before we plan the mission, let’s stop on “local.” Leslie Newbigin taught us that the church needs a “genuine missionary encounter with modern Western culture.” Like a fish in water, it can be hard for our own congregations to describe the neighborhood pond they swim in. We are soaked in our own clothing styles, language and bank account norms.
In our neighborhood in Oak Park at the edges of Chicago proper, we’ve had to open our eyes wide. We’ve learned we can’t just ask “what is the culture,” but “what are the cultures?” Our Chicago Redeemer Parish congregation Albany Park worships in a Swedish/Lebanese/Korean/ Hispanic neighborhood. If you don’t sit in an obviously diverse urban context, there are still currents of sub-culture that may need intentional notice if you are part of the majority.
So we notice race and demographics, but we also notice needs and institutions. Where are the students or campuses? Where are the elderly or the poor or the marginalized? Where are the pockets of artists or business people? Here’s a key step. Do a Google Maps search for churches in your neighborhood. No, it’s not to scope the competition! The question is: where is God working? Who has he already sent into the communities and cultures of your neighborhood? If you’re like me, you’ll see some church names you don’t recognize. Churches you may not typically think of as natural friends.
In the Austin neighborhood down the street, there are black Pentecostal storefront churches that seemed far from my Anglican parish, despite being less than half a mile away. Yet the Holy Spirit unites his Church for the sake of mission. We started by simply sending small teams to attend several of these churches on a Sunday morning to say we wanted to be unified in Christ. Now we are praying with neighborhood pastors and congregations.
The Training Is in the Trying
My son Nate learned to swim in in the Wheaton Sports Center pool. He and the other preschoolers were sat down in rows of desks with a manual for swimming. “Turn to page 1,” the instructor said, and began with a paragraph on what swimming was. I’m joking. Of course they didn’t read a manual! They were invited to jump in the water. The instructors were there to catch them and show them what to do next. My Yale Divinity School discipler Henri Nouwen repeated Biblical wisdom when he said, “You don’t think your way into a new kind of living. You live your way into a new kind of thinking.”
The gift for you is this: you don’t need to wait for years of training to prepare someone for ministry. The qualifications to begin are simply to find those Christians who are willing and teachable. Humility is that Spirit-given ability to adopt the posture of learner in relation to the teacher of experience. Think over folks in your congregations. Don’t dismiss because of age (God will use both younger and older folks more than you might imagine). Don’t dismiss because of what talent you can perceive at the outset (gifting appears when the Spirit moves). Scratch a short list and invite one person to try something with you. Train leaders by letting them try.
I pray for you that the Holy Spirit would use this renewal of the Anglican Church to not simply bless our church, but to bless the world. How else except by raising up leaders like you, who can lead and love and pursue mission? Don’t let the pressure of big plans and big needs stop you. What you need is only to gather some willing people who will pray. Attend to the interruptions. You can even find local partners in the Spirit you didn’t know you had. Try things. They may have to turn the seatbelt sign back on at this point. Hold on! You are in for a glorious ride. God bless you!
Guest Blogger: The Rev. Canon William Beasley was the chair of the 2017 Provincial Assembly of the Anglican Church of North America, is the founder of the Greenhouse Movement, and lead pastor of Cornerstone Anglican Church in Oak Park, IL, along with his wife Anne.