We all want to journey to the sea, but we just might be better off if we travel in the opposite direction.

When I was a kid I always enjoyed watching the Bill Mason’s film adaptation of Holling C. Holling’s Paddle to the Sea. It’s the story of a small, carved First Nations man sitting in a canoe. The artist creates the wooden piece and paints it in bright colours before setting it carefully in the snow. A few days later the snow begins to melt and the figurine slides down the slope, into the creek, and on its way to the sea. It’s a nice story.

A couple of things this past week got me thinking about that story and how it relates to life and the church. We often think we want to leave the small streams and creeks behind as we journey down the river to the sea, which is full of excitement. If we are in a small church, we dream of when the church will be big. We want it to grow because often we believe that a big church is healthy while a small church isn’t. If we live in a small town, we want to upgrade to the city because we feel that’s where a better life can be lived.

And I think we see the problems with this. That is why we work hard at developing smaller groups within the church. But even when small groups are working well, unless they are a part of something bigger, we feel like something is missing.

Yesterday I read a great Twitter thread by Ari Lamm on the tower of Babel. I would consider this a must read. It is a rich analysis of the biblical account that comes to new conclusions not because of the influx of any new modern ideas but by simply looking at the text itself. I highly recommend that you take a look at the thread if you haven’t already done so. 

One of the key things that Lamm points out is that the tower of Babel was a means to keep humanity from spreading around the earth. God had encouraged — actually commanded — them to fill the whole earth but that didn’t seem to be something that humans wanted to do. Maybe because we like to be a part of something big? 

In reality, life truly happens on the creeks and streams, because that’s where authenticity dwells. That’s where one-on-one interactions happen. That is everyday life. Often in church we are trying to create something new, for example a new community better than the one that already exists. To do this we try to go big. But that is the wrong direction. A new direction is to turn around.

I have noticed this while watching Chef’s Table. One common part of everyone’s story is that they loved food, grew up to study French cooking, started hating food, returned home to their own place, started cooking and loving food again. Food didn’t have meaning unless it was connected to their place.

My childhood friend, Dwayne Harms, pastored a small church in a small part of rural Saskatchewan. I have written about him here. Even though some may see that as being a stepping-stone to something bigger in the future, Dwayne saw it as an opportunity. He said, “Mike, if I was a pastor in a big city church, I would be one voice among a multitude of others. Here my voice is clear because I am the pastor of the Baptist church and everyone knows it.” Dwayne wasn’t looking for fame but for a voice. The Baptist church in his community was one of the originals. It was a known entity. It was an accepted part of things. That meant that as the official representative of that entity, Dwayne was entitled to voice that entity’s concerns. He was already a participant.

That’s authenticity and that’s the direction the church needs to take. 

What is your experience with the streams and rivers of life? Have you tried journeying to the sea? How did that work out for you? Please leave a comment below to let us know.

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Image by Adam Rhodes on Unsplash.

Do I pastor a church or a community?

Photo by Mauro Mora on Unsplash.

Several diverse ideas helped shape the approach I take to pastoring.

A key Bible story for me is the story of the Father and his two sons (often called the Prodigal son) that is found in Luke 15:11-32. One of the key parts of the story for me is the fact that there are only three characters, which for me means that in God’s perspective all people are a part of his family. Some — like the prodigal — leave the family and then return, while others — like the older brother — appear to initially have everything together but then end up outside at the end of the story. Note that the father extends every effort to welcome both sons back home. This has shaped how I feel God views everyone in the world — they are all his children who he wants to return home.

Dwayne Harms was a friend I had growing up who ended up being a pastor at Midale Baptist Church in Saskatchewan, Canada. I had a chance to visit him after he had been there for a few years and he said something that has stuck with me since then. He talked about how being the Baptist pastor in a small town meant that he was more than just the Baptist pastor, he was the town’s pastor. This has also helped shape my philosophy of the church and it’s connection with the community.

David Fitch a few years ago said, “There is no dividing line between the church and the world. The church may precede the world today, yet it is only living today what the world itself is ultimately called to in the future. The church in essence bleeds into the world ever calling it to its true destiny. As a foretaste of the renewal of all creation, the church cannot be discontinuous with creation. It cannot be discontinuous with the world because the church is in the process of becoming that very world renewed in Christ. Neither can it merely blend into the world for then all Mission and renewal is lost. Its presence will be in, among and for the world even as it will be distinct from the world. This is what it means to take on the incarnational nature of Christ. It is this very incarnational nature that requires the church to be a discerning community which at times both refuses conformity with the world while at other times joining in (with what God is already at work doing).”

All of this helped me when my wife and I moved to Pingkian (a small community in Metro Manila). I must admit that it took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that I wasn’t simply a pastor with Metro Manila Bible Community or Pingkian Family Worship but that I was in fact the pastor of Pingkian! It has certainly shaped the way that I interact with the people who live around me.

If it’s true that we pastor communities like we pastor churches, what does that look like?