Mission Style

Croix cloche Photo par Anthony Delanoix sur Unsplash

A lot has happened since last I posted here, including finishing my M.A. and starting a PhD in missiology. I’ve got a lot to share from the last two and a half years, but to start I want to give an overview of my PhD project, which has also inspired me to rebrand this blog. In short, I’m exploring a renewed way to think about missions for our changing cultural context. The title is “Lifestyle: The Key to a Post-Modern Contextual Missiology.”

We are facing a crisis of involvement that hits us in two ways: in evangelism, it is harder and harder to get the interest of non-Christians, and in mobilisation, it is harder and harder to get people involved, be they volunteers or new missionaries. I think this is because we are often recruiting them, as non-Christians, to join an institution, and as potential missionaries, to build institutional ministries. As you well know, institutional trust, be it for governments, churches, ministries, or corporations, is very low.

This isn’t simply a temporary situation, caused by a wave of church leadership scandals or ethical breaches by politicians. Those things have always existed. It reflects a much, much broader cultural change. It is a facet of the transition from modernity to post-modernity.

Community happens in the little things...

Voisinage BBQ

Last night we had our first official activity for the Voisinage: a community BBQ. In all about 40 people came, including members of the ministry, their friends, and some perfect strangers. It was a good star to the year, and I think everyone enjoyed themselves, but for me the most encouraging moment was a little experience a friend told me about:

Community or Society?

Québec Parliament Building, 1901 Québec Parliament Building, 1901, from Wikipedia

Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people – 1 Peter 2:10

What is a people? Unfortunately we usually take the word to simply mean the plural of “person”. But the meaning of the word here is distinct – it speaks of a cohesive people group. In Quebec we have a somewhat clearer idea of what a people is than elsewhere in Canada. We often speak of “the Québécois people.” We argue about the definition of the Québécois nation – is it ethnic, linguistic, or cultural? Can you become Québécois? (I used to think so, but with time I’m losing hope…)

Rebuilding the parish

Notre Dame Photo by Nivenn Lanos on Unsplash

I recently spoke with some friends who are members of l’Église du Plateau in Montréal. They were telling me about their church small group, and how it is made up of good friends who all live within about three minutes’ walk of each other. I find this amazing, but it is not terribly surprising, since about half of the members of the church live in the neighbourhood around it, which allows for an organic community and natural involvement in their entourage.

If, as I suggested last week, we need to show people a complete picture of the Kingdom of God so that they can understand the message of the gospel, I believe that in our context, a hyper-localised approach is the way forward. Unlike in the past, when Christianity was everywhere, we no longer have the resources or the people to saturate our society with lights that shine before men, so that they may see our good works and glorify our Father (Matthew 5:16). But if we concentrate on, and concentrate ourselves in, a specific neighbourhood, we can make the Kingdom very visible there.

The Last Piece of the Puzzle, Or, Why Evangelism Doesn't Work Anymore

La Joconde

Have you ever done a puzzle? Imagine you’re sitting at your kitchen table, in front of a beautiful image that’s almost done – to be a bit artsy, let’s say it’s the Mona Lisa. There are just two or three pieces left to go, right in the middle of her face. As you place them – the pieces that form her smile – you feel the joy of seeing one of history’s greatest works of art, finally complete, before your eyes.

Seek First The Kingdom of God


Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his justice…

If you have spent any time in the chrurch, you have surely heard, sung, and listened to sermons on these words. And I suspect that I am not the only one who deeply misunderstood them for quite a while. I always assumed what Jesus is saying here is to work on my personal relationship with God. It’s the idea of the quiet time or personal devotions. Alone, in my inner room, with the door closed.

And we often tend to belive that the “real thing” of our faith happens in these personal moments, set apart, when it’s just me and my God.

Work, Community and Isolation

Barn Raising Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

“In traditional societies, people’s daily labour rendered a service to the community, strengthened its social cohesion and gained them public respect”

A theory from the economic sociology of Karl Polyani1 underlines modern work as a source of isolation and community dis-integration in our society:

“when people become wage labourers… their daily labour is ‘disembedded’ from their social matrix and they lose their inherited values and cultural identity … they labour for the money needed for their survival.”

The Gospel of the Kingdom


Last Sunday, my pastor started his sermon by asking a question:

“Why do you come to church?”

He asked the question in the context of a decrease in Sunday morning attendance, and the answer that came to my mind was:

We don’t come to church, we are the church. That’s what God made us for.

Community is hard -- and that's a good thing

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves… - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

As we’ve been sharing the idea for Le Voisinage with our students, several have made comments along the lines of, “This is a really exciting project! But I could never be part of it, because…” and then some variation of, “I don’t know if I could live with other people,” “I like living alone,” or even, “I don’t want to be around awkward Christians.”

Or to paraphrase, “Living with others is hard and uncomfortable”.

They have a point.

Le Voisinage, or, So what are we doing?

Voisinage header

We want to reach three types of people at once. Jesus promises that the supernatural love between Christians will make the world see that God sent him, that God has loved us, and that we are his disciples. What’s more, our society is experiencing a crisis of community.

It is on the foundation of these three principles that the student ministry team in Quebec City is building our plan for the coming years. We want to build a community based on this love, which will show convinced Christians, questioning Christians, and people who have no experience of faith, that Jesus changes everything.

The Model of This World : Bad Maps

USS Jeannette The eighth of July 1879. The USS Jeannette leaves California on an expedition to reach the North Pole.

Following a map created by the cartographer August Peterman, who believed that a temperate current flowed northward through the Bering Strait and would bring the ship to an open polar sea.

Peterman’s theory is false, the ship finds itself stuck in the ice, and after two years of drifting, it is crushed by the building pressure. Captain George Washington De Long, along with 20 of his 32 crewmen, die trying to find their way back to land.

What if we are following bad maps to plot the course of our lives?

The Pattern of This World : The Age of Authenticity according to Charles Taylor (Part 2)


Beyond his general description of the Age of Authenticity (remember, a period characterised by a social imaginary of expressive individualism and mutual display which allows us to make our chosen identity seen), Taylor also offers insights about its effects on faith and spirituality:

  1. The shining promise of the next new product, which always offers a greater satisfaction, is like a “stronger form of magic” than faith, which draws us away from traditional belief.

  2. The spiritual life I undertake must be my own personal choice.

  3. This spirituality must speak to me personally, and help me to develop according to my own understanding of meaning and purpose.

  4. Spirituality is a personal quest, something which each person must discover for themselves, without taking anything for granted.

The Pattern of This World : The Age of Authenticity according to Charles Taylor (Part 1)


So far I’ve made several references to Charles Taylor’s philosophy. Taylor is a philosopher and expert in secularisation from Montreal, and I’ve taken these ideas from the book How (Not) To Be Secular, Reading Charles Taylor by James K. A. Smith (Eerdmans, 2014).

Taylor has many insights about our modern society, and I would like to share a few of them as part of the theme of “The Pattern of This World”. Here I’m summarising part of chapter 4 of Smith’s book, particularly pages 84 to 90.

According to Taylor, we are currently living in an “age of authenticity.” We got here from the a starting point he called the “ancien régime”, where our religious identity was closely linked to our local community. We then went through an “age of mobilisation”, which believed, more or less, that in order to experience the presence of God, we would have to build a society that followed his precepts and his model, since he is not directly present in within creation.

The Pattern of This World : Sexuality


(Note : This post is the continuation of a series. If possible, please read it in the context of the two previous posts : Do Not Conform to the Pattern of This World and The Pattern of This World. )

Last year my wife and I found ourselves surrounded by Christian couples, not yet married, who were not following the Christian model of sexuality. We work with a student ministry, so obviously questions about sexuality are always current. But what really surprised us was that these couples weren’t among our students.

Evidently it’s a sensitive subject, so I won’t speak in details, but I’m not talking about new believers either. These were Christians from every age group, people who grew up in the church, or had been there for decades as adults. Some had even accompanied young adults in consecrating sexuality for marriage. They were all, still, committed in the faith – they all should have known better.

Parenthesis : Cohabitat Québec, an example of community, here and now

Cohabitat Québec

A quick parenthesis today. I’ve recently thought a lot about the absence of community in our context, what a real community would look like, etc.

So when I saw the description of this report from Pas banal, la vie, a radio show on Radio-Canada, it piqued my curiosity. It’s about Cohabitat Québec, a condo development built around living in community. About a hundred people live in apartments and town houses, with common living spaces and regular community activities. Personally, I find this really attractive, and I find it looks a bit like Acts 2, just without the Jesus part. The church could draw a lot of inspiration from this model, and it clearly demonstrates that there is a hunger for community among the people around us.

The Pattern of This World

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. - Romans 12:2 (NIV) Last time, we spoke of our need to expose the unquestioned beliefs of our culture. The NIV speaks of “the pattern of this world” ; so, what is this pattern that we must not conform to?

A Christmas Present

I’m really exited today to release a prayer journal Android app that I’ve written! Download on Google Play I started working on it a few years ago, but once it got to the point that it met my own needs, I moved on to other things and never finished the project. But recently I realised that it worked well enough that others could get some value from it, and I’ve also been pondering ways to use prayer to help others get to know God… so I spent some time this Christmas break to fill in the features necessary to publish it.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. - Romans 12:2 (NIV) In my first post I spoke of Charles Taylor’s social imaginary – the idea that we accept many narratives, values and priorities from our society without thinking about them.

As I have loved you...

“I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35 The last couple weeks we have talked about how Jesus connects our love and unity with our witness, in John 13:34-35 and John 17:20-23. Briefly, if we are truly united in the love of God, the world will see:

We Have Never Seen A Real Community

Last week I wrote about the fact that our society seem interested in community, even if it’s a fundamental need of our created nature. But why? I propose that the answer is that In Quebec, we have rarely, if ever, seen a real community. Matthieu Bélisle, in his book « Bienvenue au pays de la vie ordinaire » made this observation about the Québécois : « He remains persuaded that his connections with others come from a free association to which it would be possible to put an end : I am from this country because I wanted to be, but I could easily move elsewhere ; I live with this man or this woman, but I could easily separate from him or her and share my life with someone else ; I have this job, but nothing would stop me from pursuing another career ; I have these friends, but I could easily break with them and make other connections, etc.

Québécois aren't looking for community

The student ministry of Power to Change in Canada is currently pivoting our approach to evangelism, putting more emphasis on relational ministry instead of “random” evangelism in public places (cafeteria questionnaires, large-scale surveys, etc). On the one hand, this is an important and necessary change to our ministry. In the past we have put so much emphasis on randoms that we’ve neglected a relational approach which is often much more effective in the Canadian context.

Reaching Three Types of People at the Same Time

This year at Power to Change, Université Laval, we are trying to reorient our activities to serve three audiences: The committed Christian, who wants to grow in their faith and maybe even help others to know Jesus, the young adult who grew up in the church, but who is asking himself whether this faith is really for him, and the student who has never known faith. We want to offer a space where each of these people feels comfortable to share their questions, struggles, joys and victories.