MennoNerds Book Release – A Living Alternative

A Living Alternative

“The challenges and opportunities of post-Christendom will require us to draw on the rich resources of many Christian traditions. Anabaptism may be an alternative to the Catholic and Protestant version of Christianity that have been dominant for many centuries but are now struggling to adapt to a world they can no longer control. On many topics it offers a ‘third way’ that many are finding refreshing and provocative. But, as the essays in this book make clear, what is even more urgently needed are alternatives to the military-consumerist culture that dominates, dehumanises and destroys so many across the globe. We need to search out authentic ways of living alternatively as well as thinking alternatively. And we will need the insights and experiences of our brothers and sisters from many other traditions as we offer the best insights of our own, albeit for many of us adopted, Anabaptist tradition. My hope for this book is that it will enable all of us to continue the conversation as we journey on together.”
Stuart Murray, author of ‘The Naked Anabaptist’

This is a quote from the foreword to the recently released book, “A Living Alternative: Anabaptist Christianity in a Post-Christendom World”, an amazing anthology that explores a diverse understanding of Anabaptism and what it has to offering the wider Body of Christ today.  I am both thrilled and humbled to be one of the contributing authors of this book, along with AO Green, Benjamin L. Corey, Brian Gumm, Chris Nickels, Christopher Gorton, Deborah-Ruth Ferber, Donald R. Clymer, Drew Hart, Hannah Heinzekehr, Jamie Arpin-Ricci, Joanna Harader, Justin Hiebert, Micael Grenholm, Robert Anthony Martin, Ryan Robinson, Sam Wilcock, Steve Kimes, Tyler M. Tully, and William Loewen.

The book is now available (and already hit top ten lists on Amazon), so order yours today.


Admitting Powerlessness

“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol–that our lives had become unmanageable.” – Step 1 (Alcoholics Anonymous)

More commonly, many Christians whittle down the great Gospel to some moral issue over which they can feel totally triumphant and superior, and which usually asks nothing of them personally.  The ego always insists on moral high ground or as Paul brilliantly puts it, “sin takes advantage of commandments to mislead me, and through obeying commandments kills me” (Romans 7:11,13).  This is a really quite extraordinary piece of insight on Paul’s part, one which I would not believe myself were the disguise not so common (e.g., celibate priests focusing on birth control and abortion as the core of evil, heterosexuals seeing gay marriage as the ultimate threat to society, liberals invested in some current political correctness while living lives of rather total isolation from the suffering of the world, Bible thumpers ignoring most of the Bible when it asks them to change, a nation of immigrants being anti-immigrant, etc.).  We see that the ego is still in charge, and it just wears different disguises on both the Left and the Right side of most groups and most issues.

Richard Rohr, “Breathing Underwater: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps.” page 4.

Surely it cannot be possible for the Gospel to be manipulated to be a clean cut, comfortable, and controllable morality?

Could it be, that we are all in some state of recovery?  And that we need to claim or confess powerlessness…

If we are all in need of this kind of admission/confession, what does this say for relationships?  It radically levels the playing field doesn’t it?  Is this justice?

What would it look like for you to admit powerlessness?  How would your spirituality change if you take the harsh perspective that you are in need of recovery?  How would this define who and how you relate with others?

*This book has been recommended to me by a number of different people, and has been a real blessing for me.  The questions I pose above, are the very same questions I posed to myself during my reading of the first chapter.

Sacred Pauses Author Interview: April Yamasaki



April Yamasaki is my boss.  She is forcing me to post this interview… Winking smile

Well, not really.  April and I work together at Emmanuel Mennonite Church in Abbotsford, British Columbia Canada.  It is a privilege to work with someone as talented and ‘with it’ as her.  Her book, “Sacred Pauses: Spiritual Practices for Personal Renewal,” just came out and it is good.  For a nitty gritty equipper for the average person attempting to find time in our noisy world for spiritual practice, this is the book for you.  Because of her writing style and pastoral presence you will put this book down and feel encouraged to participate in spiritual practice.  For this type of content, that is extremely important.

It was a joy to interview her on about this new title.

1.  With many books on spiritual practices available, what prompted you to write this book?  Where does it stand apart?

I wrote Sacred Pauses as a user-friendly guide to spiritual disciplines–for those who may or may not be particularly disciplined, who may or may not think of themselves as spiritual, but who long for rest and renewal in the midst of everyday life. In this book, spiritual disciplines are not a burden; instead, they’re spiritual practices that can delight and refresh us. The book is personal–filled with stories from my own life and others. It’s practical–with simple exercises that you can try for yourself. It’s a fresh approach that is both rooted in ancient Scripture and addresses life today, including both the classic Christian disciplines like Scripture and prayer, and more unexpected ones like making music and having fun.

2.  Describe the process in writing the book.  What was important and helpful to your work?

As I look back on the process, it was helpful to work with a small publisher where there was both a sense of collaboration with the editors (questions, comments, emails that helped me reflect on my writing and helped to shape the book) and also simply being left alone to write. When the writing seemed slow or difficult, it was helpful for me to remember the writing advice of Canadian author David Adams Richards “just to finish.” After all, he said, “It may not be the greatest thing in the world, but then again it might be, and you never know it might spark someone or something else.”  

3.  What is the meaning behind the title Sacred Pauses?  How did you come to this title, and what is it’s connection with spiritual practices?

My original working title for the book was “Time Out”–since so much of life feels like Time On for me, “Time Out” sounded like a welcome break. But when I tried to explain my Time Out title to one of my friends who is a teacher, she immediately responded,  “When I think of time out, I think of my students–you know, how kids sometimes need a time out.”

Well that was definitely not what I meant! So in collaboration with the editors of Herald Press, a new title emerged: “Sacred Pauses: spiritual practices for personal renewal.” After all, that’s really what a spiritual practice is–a sacred pause. I came to love the new title and re-worked the manuscript to reflect that. 

4.  How would you like to see individuals and churches use this kind of material?  What is your hope with the message of this book?  

A friend who read an advance copy of Sacred Pauses was so deeply affected by it that she gave her copy to another friend who was leaving on an 18-day trip to India. That friend read through the book as a way of grounding herself while she was travelling, and then decided that a third friend who lives in India also needed to read it, so passed the book on to her and resolved to buy another copy for herself. Hardly two weeks old, and the book is already making an impact in people’s lives and already on the other side of the world!  I am amazed and grateful and humbled by that, and hope people will continue to discover the book and explore spiritual practice–to experiment and be refreshed, on their own or in groups, reading straight through the book or dipping into it here and there. It’s a practical and flexible resource that’s meant to be used and shared with others.

5.  What other projects and work can we find you getting into in the future?

I continue to explore spiritual practice, faith, and life on my blog, and plan to develop it further–with my own original posts, plus Sacred Pauses interviews where readers can share their experiences and encourage one another, and with guest posts like the recent “Lectio Divina Goes Swimming.” My next writing project for regular print media is a series of sermons for CSS Publishing, which has published preaching and worship resources for over 30 years, primarily for “mainline” denominations. I appreciate being able to reach out in these ways, and also continue with my other main passion for full-time pastoral ministry, serving with you and others at Emmanuel.  Thanks for hosting me on your blog!

Be sure to check out this title!

Review of Part 4 and Conclusions: Creating a Missional Culture

“Creating a Missional Culture: Equipping the Church for the Sake of the World”JR Woodward

An engagement of 4 parts:

Part 1 – The Power of Culture

Part 2 – A Leadership Imagination that Shapes Missional Culture

Part 3 – The Five Culture Creators

Missional Culture

In part 4, JR does well to make connections to past promises in the book and tie up loose ends.  Most notably, he does so with a strong leaning toward practicality.  Here, JR paints the picture of what polycentric leadership as missional culture creation looks like.

It also answers the ‘so what’ question.

It’s the “you have given me all this information on a bunch of important stuff, but so what?” question.  Every book needs to answer this question.  He sets out with purpose with an opening question himself that works to serve this purpose…

How do we create a missional culture that helps shape mature disciples who live in the world without being of the world, for the sake of their neighbourhood? (page 171)

When reading this opening line I thought to myself, ‘this is why I read this book!’

Within this first question of part 4 we have an interplay of some of the most significant topics of formational conversation that lay ahead of the missional church, in my opinion:  Shaping mature disciples, maintaining Kingdom values (and not a whimsical liberalism… in my opinion) and participating and identifying what our ‘missional spaces’ are in each our own particular time and place.  These are conversations that need to be pushed further into the depths of experiment and praxis.

Without giving away too much of the book, JR does this well engaging this opening question in part 4 while keeping within the framework of the polycentric leadership of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.

It gets practical, very practical.  At this point the readers need to know what it looks like.  This leans heavily on his experience as a missional practitioner.  Because of the high degree of practicality in this section, if informs the way in which the reader is to work though this material.

This book is not merely a one and done read.  It is a resource.  JR has been doing this for more than a decade and has saturated these pages with content that gives the feel of a very readable and engaging field guide.  It is one of those books that you put on your shelf and pull off from time to time looking for ‘rubber meets the road’ wisdom.

This book is well done.  JR has given his life to this work and you can tell.  He offers resources in the appendix and on his website which speak to the reality that this is not merely a book JR has pumped out, but something that he has embodied.  As a result, his book benefits greatly.  This is a work that challenges, inspires and pushes the reader to understand and ultimately facilitate a missional culture.

Read this book.  But as with any book I engage, there are places I would like to ponder further…

When I read books I like to identify further points of conversation I would have with the author would the opportunity present itself.  I picture myself sitting with them in a coffee shop having a good ol’ conversation on the content.  Hopefully the questions would be pointed and help me engage the material with my context.  This is what I would chat with JR about:

  • Unity – Ephesians 4 is a compelling text and uses powerful metaphor to explore what the church is and is to be in a particular place.  Themes revolving around the church as “body” which grows/matures/and is unified in Christ.  Amidst all the diversity that polycentric leadership embodies how can we be unified?  Particularly in a missional sense where we engage a diverse world, and invite diversity into a community with diverse leadership.
  • Bi-Vocational’ism’ – Sometimes I get the feeling, when I read missional literature, that I am ‘uncool’ or miss the point on missional theology and praxis because I am a full time paid pastor.  In an institution wherein paid pastoral staff is important how can we engage this kind of material?  Does this structure (fulltime paid pastors) need to be completely blown up?
  • Next Steps – What is the next step in this conversation?  Where are the future points of engagement on this material?  Where would the author (JR) like to see this conversation and praxis head next?

If you haven’t done so yet, check out the reviews of the first three sections.  Links found at the top of the post.

Review of Part 3: Creating a Missional Culture

“Creating a Missional Culture: Equipping the Church for the Sake of the World”JR Woodward

An engagement of 4 parts:

Part 1 – The Power of Culture

Part 2 – A Leadership Imagination that Shapes Missional Culture

Missional Culture

JR draws the discussion of polycentric leadership, culture, and the Ephesians 4 text into the whole of the Biblical story.  This link to the Biblical narrative is tremendously important and proves to be a major strength of this section.  To start us off, we are introduced to Jesus as the archetypical culture creator in chapter 10.  It draws on the life of Jesus as the prime example for the culture creators we find in Ephesians; apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher.  All these in practice contribute to and facilitate our participation with God in the pursuit of shalom on this planet and in our contexts.

In this section JR is definitely in his writing sweet spot.  His years of practical, earthed discipleship shine through as he describes just who and what is an apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher.  As JR unpacks each, the common thread is that each is shaped by it’s goal of facilitating God’s shalom in our time and place.  A stark reminder as our goals do end up shaping us.  If the goal of a church community is merely to survive and maintain a status quo, or be different just for the sake of being different, the structures will communicate this reality.  As we learned in part 2, our structures are theological statements.

In the church world (though it could just be my context) it seems that we are quite good at equipping people to become teachers and pastors.  Our seminary’s and Bible Schools do well to empower and train people to be those kinds of leaders.  I have heard some amazing sermons and read some amazing books in my time.  I have also participated in conversations with some amazing pastors whose gifts have indeed healed my soul.  This is significant and should not be understated.  Yet, JR argues that they should not be the only leaders and culture creators in our communities.

Many writers and bloggers have rightfully stated that we do not empower our apostles, evangelists and prophets enough.  As a result our church communities suffer.  I can go over a seemingly endless line of stories that point to this reality.  Painful stories of where our communities have failed empower and encourage apostles, evangelists and prophets.  This is of particular concern as these are the leaders who often find themselves pulled into places beyond the metaphorical walls of church communities and into a Post Christian world not familiar with Jesus.  This is one important point of engagement that this book offers.  Church communities need a healthy understanding of apostles, prophets and evangelists.  Further yet, church communities need to create cultures in which these gifts are allowed to flourish.  The interplay of all 5 cultural equippers creates a missionality that empowers communities to pursue shalom.  It is difficult for this to happen if we are only formed by our teachers and pastors.

It also raises another set of questions too broad for me to engage in this post but very important to engage when working through this material.  Do we ask our vocational pastors, because they are paid, to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, and teachers too?  What are the implications?  Is bi-vocationalism the answer as many in the missional conversation claim?  Do institutional churches which pay pastors miss the point?  Can institutional churches which pay pastors participate fully in polycentric leadership structures?  Important questions for me, as I am a full time paid pastor.  Another post for another time perhaps.  Winking smile

I was thankful for the engagement and definition (or ‘re’ definition) of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher.  JR offers stories and contemporary examples which encourage the reader to think about what each culture creator could look like in their particular context.  In the name of praxis (or practice) the ‘living it locally’ section at the end of each chapter on the 5 different equippers plays on a compelling strength of this section.  It offers practical examples of what each equipper could look like all the while pointing to the ‘goal’ of facilitating or pursuing shalom in a particular time and place.  Our goals shape us, and our structures are theological statements.

This section of the book is an encouragement and a blessing and offers the stinging challenge, “how do we empower our apostles, prophets and evangelists?”

My review of Part 4 and Conclusions drops next week.  If you haven’t done so yet, check out the reviews of the first two sections.  Links found at the top of the post.