To the Church in Chippawap, Grace to you.
I noticed that Roll up the Rim started this week. In another casualty of COVID, what used to be a Spring tradition feels off in the fall. But more than that, it’s actually a great thermometer for how much our world has changed. Starting in 1986, Tim Hortons decided that they wanted to offer a thank you to its customers – that just happened to coincide with the annual drop-off in coffee sales associated with Lent. Lent is the church’s season of preparation for Easter, where traditionally Christians would practices fasting, and so a cynical person might suggest that Tims wanted to offer an alternative to Lent, or at least discourage people from fasting from Coffee.
COVID has changed the landscape of pretty much every area of our life, but in some cases it’s highlighted how much the landscape had already changed. In 1986 there was still some semblance of a Christian Canada; stores remained closed on Sundays by an Act of Parliament; general purity culture held Canadian content standards in check; and church attendance, while not at the peak it had been in the 1960s, was still healthy robust and dependable. Churches that moved out into the blossoming suburbs saw steady and measured growth. The fact that Tims isn’t worried about losing those precious Christian dollars anymore might be the clearest indication how much things have changed in a generation.
It’s a strange feeling for me as a Millennial to have grown up in the middle of this sea change. Whatever else you’ll say about my generation, we’re the ones who’ve grown up practicing the skill testing question Tims put out for when we inevitably win that sweet, sweet Mazda. For a long time I thought that was the only reason they taught Order of Operations in school.
BEDMAS: Brackets, Exponents, Division and Multiplication, Addition and Subtraction.
Sometimes putting things in the right order matters.
In 1986, the Church operated on a fairly specific order of operations: Check the right doctrinal beliefs, act in accordance with specific moral patters, and then a community of faith will let you in.
Believe Behave Belong
But as we navigate faith in a world that has changed that much, I’m not sure that the same order of operations will get us the answer we’re looking for.
We live in a world beyond belief. Event though roughly 80% of Canadians choose not to attend church on any kind of regular basis, that doesn’t mean we live in a nation of atheists. In fact, most continue to believe in the idea of God. But they’re indifferent to religion. It’s fine for people if that’s what works for them, but it’s not an essential part of being a productive member of society.
The Missional Church, the church who is sent, can’t make belief our primary standard for finding Life in Jesus in anymore, because belief isn’t basic. Belief is a willingness to open yourself up to God doing something in your heart, head and hands. Belief is trust. So to reach a world beyond belief, you can’t start with belief.
The Missional Church is the church who are willing to recognize how much things have been turned upside down and so to be effective means we might need to stand on our heads. We might need to be willing to look a little more foolish for the sake of being a little more effective.
The Missional Church starts with belonging. Rather than seeking to make people outside of the church think and act like us, we seek to see what God is doing in our neighbourhood and in the lives of its people and move together from that starting point.
Belonging changes the way you act. A 2020 University of Vermont study of College students during the Pandemic found a positive link between a sense of belonging and greater happiness and overall well-being, as well as an overall reduction in the mental health outcomes including Anxiety, Depression, Hopelessness, Loneliness, Social Anxiety, and Suicidal Thoughts. We’re made to be part of a tribe. And when we discover that we belong, we can’t help but reorient our behaviour patterns to conform to what’s normal in our tribe. Belonging leads people to be more Loving, Joyful, Peaceful, Patient, Kind, Generous, Self-Controlled and Gentle.
And how we act becomes what believe.
The Chinese Philosopher Lao Tzu put it this way:
Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.
But that’s a little wordy. I prefer the Catholic Theologian Richard Rohr’s simple take:
we do not think ourselves into new ways of living, we live ourselves into new ways of thinking.
This is Order of Operations for Evangelism in the Missional Church. Belong Behave Believe.
And it’s why I think our Chippawalks are so important. We can’t watch for God in our neighbourhood if we don’t know our neighbourhood.
We will see you Sunday, online or in person.
I remain yours in Christ,