Michael Krause writes in the Foreword —

In response to my efforts to engage seminary students with the concept of a world beyond Christendom, I see everything from knowing nods to blank stares. Some of the students have experienced the disorientation of the Postmodern context while others think that post-Christendom is just about people not coming to church anymore. I struggle to find language to express to them the massive shift that we are currently experiencing in our culture. On the one hand, I want to fan into flame their passion for God and for mission. On the other hand, I want to open their eyes to the reality that the entrenched models they rely on are from a different time and no longer communicate effectively. Are we truly in a new world where the old rules no longer apply or do we just need to try harder and be better Christians? Maybe both are true to some extent. Broken Futures expresses it this way:

“It’s difficult enough to recognize we are lost when the territory is obviously unfamiliar. How much more difficult when the familiar markers of church, home and community seem intact? Our physical environment has not changed, but our social and cultural environments are shifting like quicksand. Are we lost, or are we not?” (Hjalmarson, p. 37)

This ambiguity surfaces in different ways. We see some churches growing while others struggle to keep the doors open or to even find pastors. Certain denominations are seeing a resurgence while others are closing a church a week. Students in my classes communicate personal testimonies of encounters with God and effective ministry, while at the same time presenting case studies of dysfunctional church systems, broken relationships and oppressive leaders. So are we lost, or are we not? Hjalmarson leads us through the process of recognizing that being lost is not such a bad thing. We just need a new way of orienting ourselves. Instead of the old maps that served us well in Christendom, we need to become navigators, learning new skills so that we can navigate our way through the shifting currents of our new realities.

At the turn of the century, I planted a church – what our denomination would call an entrepreneurial church start. I was excited about what I had learned while doing some innovative work among marginalized youth in downtown Toronto and thought this innovation could be translated into a new church start up. I was convinced that starting new churches was an effective way to evangelize and to make a difference in our communities. I had done my demographic research. I read church planting books. I attended a church-planters boot-camp. I focused my research on one of the least churched neighbourhoods in the Greater Toronto Area because I wanted to be missional. I prayed for guidance. I moved into this new neighbourhood with my young family. I prayer-walked the community. I gathered a committed and talented team to help lead the church plant. We prayed and strategized together for months. This team was committed to the vision financially. We had the support of my denomination. We sourced out a key location. We communicated the vision to friends, key supporters and neighbours. We sent out fliers. We planned the first gathering event and put together a fabulous worship team. I prepared a great message. Everything was ready and we launched.

After the initial excitement, where all our friends came from far and wide to see what was going on, we settled into the reality of setting up in a school auditorium every week for only 15 people – mostly family and team members. Why weren’t we growing? I thought I had done everything right. Why was everything so wrong? The books said we should have a large stable group of people by now. What had I missed?

All the markers of success were there – at least the markers that I had come to believe were necessary for success. We were biblical. We preached the gospel. We were praying and saw answers to prayer. Worship was amazing. There was a tangible sense of the presence of God as we gathered. We reached out to our community and invited our neighbours. We advertised and communicated our vision. A number of people had made commitments to follow Jesus. We were committed to discipleship. But we weren’t growing.

Looking back, I realize I had not understood how much the world had changed. However, there had been some clues. The rate of response to our mailings was minimal – about 1 contact (through a visit, phone call or email) for every 50,000 pieces sent – usually from Christians. I had some great conversations with numbers of people but not many positive responses. People seemed to like me but they didn’t seem to like coming to church. The only people who did come to church were people from other churches – and they were often disgruntled, looking for something new and different. I was trying to reach non-Christians with the techniques that were attractive to Christians. I wanted to be missional in a way that was attractive to me. The path to the successful future I had imagined was laid out using a map that was printed decades earlier. Since the publication of that map, the paths had all changed.

“North American evangelical churches arrived at a fitness peak in the 1970’s and 80s (when I attended seminary and studied those maps). In a stable and settled culture, the Christian story was accepted and even had a certain dominance, though eroding. Our impact on the culture around us was waning.” (Hjalmarson, p. 59)

I had planted an innovative church service geared towards attracting Christians who were looking for one more innovation. I had planted a Sunday service not a church. The result was not a worshipping, missional community of followers of Jesus. The future I had imagined was broken.

“Our cultural experience is of dislocation. We know that we need to find ourselves, but we aren’t sure how to go about it, and our anxiety at our sense of being lost causes us to try harder, rather than to slow down and reflect. Overwhelmed by vague emotions, our brains have stopped working and we are watching for the smallest signs that the landscape might somehow be familiar. We won’t find those signs, because too much has changed.” (Hjalmarson, p. 38)

I’m wondering if this kind of failure was what I needed to get me to recognize that my vision of the future was broken. To invest everything and fail was humbling. I came to the end of my vision, to the end of my finances and to the end of myself – the dream had died. Not until I had done all that I knew how to do, did I actually try something I would never have dreamed of doing when I first imagined the church plant.

I moved the church into my house.

We had gathered everyone together and said “What do we do now?” Meeting in a house seemed to resonate with everyone. It wasn’t just a prayer meeting or a bible study. It was a house church. We stopped advertising but people who were never interested in coming to church in the school somehow found us in our house. My Jewish neighbours came to our events. They invited us to theirs. We hosted neighbourhood Christmas parties. We participated in block parties and gathered on the neighbour’s lawn for Victoria Day fireworks. We became the neighbourhood hub. We increased in numbers and I had other people inviting me to help start house churches in their neighbourhoods. I felt like I had found my way again. These words from Broken Futures resonated with me:

“The process of locating ourselves is not mystical so much as it is difficult. It is difficult because it is counter-intuitive (slowing down, not speeding up); it is communal, not individual (it requires conversation and collaboration); it feels risky (we admit we have no map); and it feels powerless (we don’t know the next steps). Finding our way again is outside our control: it requires surrender to forces we don’t understand. The feeling of powerlessness is a clue that this is much like a 12 step process, or a reminder that to enter the kingdom, “you must become like children.” (Hjalmarson, p. 38)

The lessons learned in that season were transformational. I learned that I’m not in control of the church. I learned that God is not impressed with size or speed or innovation. I learned that God loves the one lost sheep and will leave the 99 to go find it. I learned that God is not afraid to take the long way around if it gets us to where we should be going. I learned that God is not afraid to let something die. I learned that it’s okay to experiment – and that most experiments are unsuccessful. I learned that sometimes he does some things just for me – because he loves me.

Although we remained fairly small as a house church we were able to establish a network of house churches and actually facilitate the start of another more traditional church. At one of our house church gatherings, I shared that I felt that, even though we had not grown large nor had become an “established church,” my time in the house church was transformational and my transformation wouldn’t have happened if we had been a more traditional church. “In some ways,” I said to them, “I feel like God has done all of this just for me.” To my surprise, nearly all of the other people in the room that day said they felt the same thing – God had established this church just for each of them. “I’m not lost. I’m right here!”

I wish I had found something like this book to walk with me on my journey through those years. There are a number of other books that describe the challenges the church faces in this new Postmodern and post-Christendom cultural reality. But there are few that take us by the hand in our lostness to walk us through the valley of disorientation and then out the other side. Broken Futures does that and helps us embrace the destabilization of our times. As I read the book I used my highlighter on phrases like “nowhere land,” “edge of chaos,” “too much has changed,” “liminal space,” “transitional places,” “hinge points of history,” “massive destabilization,” “uncertainty rules,” and “synchronous failure.” Len encourages us to move through disorientation, to re-orientation and then find new forms and possibilities that emerge from the chaos. “Transition is a process of disembedding and unlearning. It’s painful and uncomfortable; but it’s preparation to enter the unimaginable world.” (Hjalmarson, p. 88)
Some denominations openly state that the way forward is to be more like they were in the past. While I was writing this foreword, I heard a sermon where all the illustrations were about revivals that happened a hundred years ago. The pastor’s challenge to the congregation was to find our way back to the fire of those days so that God could move again. To embrace the certainty of a successful past, we were encouraged to project that past onto our future. But that future is broken!

Those who lead churches (and those who teach seminary students) face deep challenges as we enter this new “unimaginable world.” One of the theses of this book is that special demands are made of our faith communities in these transitional times. I believe one of the biggest tasks of pastors is not just to preach the gospel, nor merely disciple others. It is to participate together with their congregants to help them become “local communal theologians” who are able to discern what God is doing in their neighbourhood (their place, or locality), do it together (community) in such a way that they are able to partake in the work that the Spirit is doing around them (theology).

Broken Futures is a navigational guide that captures the journey from hope, to the end of yourself, and then back to hope again, to rediscovering the purposes of God. Hjalmarson is a synthesizer (gathering together insights from various sources and making something new) and a synergizer (making things work together in a way that is greater than the sum of the parts). Bring your highlighter and make sure you read the footnotes.

Michael Krause
Assistant Professor of Leadership & Ministry
Tyndale University College and Seminary, Toronto