Friday, October 31, 2008

Touching Base! Part 12

Inspire Me

Who in your life inspires you? What person challenges you to raise the bar, push the envelope, and go the extra mile? Without people like that in our lives, I am afraid we will settle for less, coast along and under deliver! Scripture often highlights the value of others around us:

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” (Eccles. 4:9-10)

One place in life where I see a lot of inspiring and perspiring going on is the club where I work out. Go into the work-out area and you are inspired by the RMC students’ dedication to early morning work-outs, Other fitness buffs are pumping iron, riding bikes, running on treadmills (and going nowhere fast) while sweat, the evidence of one’s labour, pours forth! Walk by the double gyms and you can hear shoes squeaking on the wood surface floor as volleyball and basketball teams practice, hoping for perfection on game day. Then meander over to the indoor track and there you will find students taking the Shuttle Run (also known as “the beep”) test. The beep test is where one has to run back and forth between two lines faster and faster, beating the “beep” as the beep goes off faster and faster. The last person standing is, I guess, the new Rocky and insanely exhausted!

This is what I call inspiring! Watching these men and women motivates me to push a little harder and commit a little more often to getting to the gym. I think the church can work the same way. Since arriving, I have been inspired by the many who call Bethel their home. I have been inspired by:

- The senior who prays and how their prayer reflects the depth of their relationship with God that has come through decades of following Christ.

- Students who are living out their faith on the campus they attend. In many ways they are on the front lines.

- A number of individuals who are wrestling with some of the trappings of North American Christianity and desiring to see the church set free to reach its full redemptive potential.

- The person who speaks to me passionately about their involvement with the homeless, the drug addict, the prostitute.

- Being present in the body of Christ on Sunday mornings and witnessing the many passionate worshippers that fill the building.

- The extreme dedication of the many too the local church, people who have full time day jobs but reserve some of their best energies and thinking for the local church!

Thanks for inspiring me!


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Touching Base! Part 11

Build your perfect church?

This past Sunday night about seventy-five college students showed up at Bethel for free pizza and some interaction on issues related to the church and the community. Bethel hosted this evening for students because students matter at Bethel and we want to listen to them and learn from them. One of the questions we asked was, 'How would you build your perfect church?' Their answers are listed at the end of this article. Let me make two observations regarding their responses.

The younger generation desires community. Note in the list of their answers, all the responses related to authentic community. I have highlighted those answers in orange. I think they're saying that to truly experience church as they desire it to be (and as it was meant to be) that nurturing deep, trusted friendships are a great priority. One comment I heard that night was that because Bethel is a big church with so many students, that it is easy to slip in and out without any accountability. Church for many has been reduced to 'something I attend' as opposed to 'a community I am part of'. I have heard it said that many students attend Bethel because of the location, music, and the teaching. However, in listening to them on Sunday night I think many are attending because they are looking for relationship and community. If this is the case, how should we adjust our ministries?

The younger generation values YOU! This generation is telling us that they want in on our world and they want us to step into their world. Note in the list they are asking for mentorship and for community to be inter-generational. Several of the Bethel leaders I talked to that night were surprised by how strongly the students stated their desire to connect with different generations. They seemed to be saying that they don't always want to be sent off to a generation-specific ministry. The picture they painted that night was of the young and the old sitting together, learning together and serving together.

If you are reading this and not a student at Bethel I trust that you will take this as a challenge to embrace the student culture at Bethel and pray for Bethel as we seek to build community amongst all generations.


The List:

. Know and be known
. Unity
. Music
. Welcoming
. Gospel-centered
. Live life together
. Open discussions
. Serving communities outside church walls
. Face issues head on - For example- same sex marriage, gender roles in church, minorities, abortion, sex outside of marriage
. Outreach
. Connected to world
. Growing inward/outward
. Inter-generational
. Mentorship
. Supportive of its members
. Prayerful
. Dynamic activities for children
. Accountable leadership

Friday, October 17, 2008

Touching Base! Part 9

Humanizing Leadership

Have you noticed in this season of elections, both here in Canada and south of the border, that political leaders are attempting to humanize themselves? Harper is the father who walks his daughter to school, Palin is a hockey mom, Obama grew up in a single parent family, Jack Layton can be seen riding a bike through the streets of a Canadian city. What this illustrates is that the leader can be lost behind a title, a party, a platform.

What is true in the political arena can also be true in the Church. Instead of leaders being personal and vulnerable, leaders can become remote and aloof. Rather than hearing a leader’s heart, we instead are kept at bay with impersonal rhetoric. Oftentimes in churches, permission is not granted for leaders to be human. All must appear happy and whole. What can then happen is that, sooner or later, “stuff” surfaces that has never been processed and a leader leaves in disgrace.

At Bethel, we believe that it is good for leadership to be personal and vulnerable. As we share aspects of our journey, we can contribute to building an authentic community and encourage others who may be having similar struggles and victories. As an elders’ team we believe that modeling this kind of leadership needs to start with us. We believe that in order to build a caring community we must build an honest community. Thus, over the next several months in the Sunday morning services the elders will be taking some time to share aspects of their journey. We desire that you not only know who we are, but that you also see into our hearts and understand aspects of our growth.

Mark Kotchapaw

Touching Base! Part 10

So close but so far!

What is it about the human make-up that allows us to be so close yet so far? We can be with the same person day in and day out, work on the same team, discuss issues in depth, pray for one another yet barely know anything about that individual. Sometimes marriages can experience this. Living together but not connecting, talking but not sharing, and the result is two lonely people in a relationship that skims the surface. Sometimes this happens with our children. As they get older, we can sense them distancing themselves from us even though they are still under our roof, close but far!

This happens in ministry all the time. We know each other on one level, yet on another level we really don’t have a clue what is going on. It’s like we have been taught that we must put our “game” face on for each other. Church has for some become a place where they need to keep it all together, show no weakness, share no pain, cry no tears - sustain the plastic smile. Why do so many live like this? Let me share with you my observations. Let me know what you might add.

Fear - For some, they have managed their public persona for so long that they are fearful what people might think if they ever shared some aspect of their life that might not be seen as a strength. They fear that people accept them for who they have projected themselves to be not who they really are. That is a terrible prison to live in.

Modeling - For some they have never seen real community modeled. It’s always been about the Sunday face, the “spiritual” smile.

Appropriateness - Some believe that if they are serving on a ministry team, it is not right or appropriate to take time to share on a personal level. The meeting agenda must be accomplished, the to-do list must be checked off.

Permission - Some don’t feel they have the permission to be honest about some of the deeper issues of their soul. No time is allowed to draw out individual team members on how they are really doing.

Pride – I know of situations in people’s lives that have exploded to the surface because they were too proud to share the problem in the earlier days of the issue. Keeping it private gave the issue greater life until it became obvious to everyone that something had been brewing for years. Pride often prevents us from dealing with issues in seed form and thus they are allowed to grow and establish strong roots.

Shame – We feel we should be victorious but have walked in defeat for a long time.

Let's work together at building authentic community at Bethel. If you are a team leader why not schedule some heart-to-heart-time in your next meeting agenda. Oh ya, be willing to go first!


Saturday, October 4, 2008

Touching Base! Part 8

Answering Our Own Prayers

One of the great things about Bethel is that there are many who realize that we, in many cases, are the answer to our own prayers. Now let me explain before you write me off as a heretic.

Last week in the service, we talked about how we are the body of Christ. In short, we are Jesus’ hands and feet to demonstrate His character and accomplish His work in the world in which He has placed us. We see this truth in Matthew when Jesus said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field" (Matt 9:36-38). Right after saying this, Jesus commissioned the disciples to go out and begin the harvesting. Instead of looking around wondering who was going to get the job done, the disciples stepped up.
How often do we pray for something or someone without seeing that God wants us to be the answer to our prayers? James put it another way: "Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?" (James 2:15-16)

The Bethel House ministry is a great example of taking responsibility for being part of the answer to our prayers. For years, Bethel has understood its strategic location and the immense need that surrounds us right here in the downtown core. But instead of just praying and trusting that others would get the job done, Bethel stepped up and has shouldered part of the responsibility of touching that core.

We are the body of Christ, thus it is not enough to pray and trust that God will raise someone up to address the need. We also need to pray, realizing that we, in part or in whole, might be the answer to our prayers. So, be careful what you pray for, God may ask you to get busy!

Mark Kotchapaw

Touching Base! Part 7

Finding the right balance

You would probably admit that your past week had a lot to do with balancing your priorities, making sure you were not neglecting certain things, being careful to not work too much, eat too much or sleep too little. You can probably think of certain areas in your life right now that are out of balance, areas that are your greatest challenge when it comes to keeping all the balls up in the air and not going crazy.

Well, balance is a key issue at Bethel these days. For example we realize that there are many good issues we are addressing (i.e. staffing, governance issues, communication, pastoral care) when it comes to in-house issues. There is a lot of energy that goes in to ministering to the church. We are grateful for the many who have stepped up to fill the holes and shoulder some responsibility here at Bethel. Yet, to stay in balance we need to look beyond ourselves, to the world around us, to the world that Christ has placed us in. We need to continually give our best for the body of Christ and also to give our best to the community around us. The Aberdeen clean-up teams and Bethel Houses are two examples that come to mind when thinking of the larger community.

As we journey together it is imperative that we stay balanced. We need to live with the good tension of intentionally allocating our resources to minister to the body and at the same time generously allocating our resources to the world around us. Sometimes believers in the North American Church think first and only about themselves. They are the centre of the universe. Their language is very “I “centred. However, there are other Christians who have been so turned off by that kind of self-consumed Church that they have swung to the extreme where it’s all about those outside the Church. Let’s do what the writer of Hebrews said we should do, keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. Then and only then will we strike the right balance and be the church that pleases Jesus!

Mark Kotchapaw

Touching Base! Part 6

Location, Location, Location

One hears this mantra when buying a house or when choosing where to set up a business. We want a house conveniently located so we can dash off to Costco or pop over to Timmy’s. When setting up a retail business we look for high traffic and high visibility areas. Nobody wants to be stuck at a dead end!

Well, one of the many things that is great about Bethel is our building. We score a perfect ten when it comes to location, location, location. We are in the bull's-eye of activity. This is the perfect location for a church like Bethel that has a growing heart for the city and a growing vision to touch and restore the core. When reading of our history I am deeply grateful for the leadership that chose not to move out to the suburbs but chose instead to stay in the heart of the city. Now, we must ask ourselves the question: How can we maximize the use of our building to serve the body of Christ and to serve the greater community of Kingston? How could our building be a means of blessing
people who walk by it every day? How could our building be used to help needy people be
resourced so they can get back on their feet? How could our building serve others significantly?

I believe that being a good steward of our building will involve seeing it used 24/7, multiple groups addressing a broad range of issues, investing in people and demonstrating Christ’s love.

Church buildings are not supposed to be sanctuaries where Christians retreat to be safe from the rest of the world. They should not be mystery buildings that the vast majority of the community sees but never enters. They should not be relics of the past but tools of the present to embrace a needy world. Our building should be an aid to achieving our aims of glorifying God.

How do you think Jesus would use our building? Got any ideas? Let’s talk.

Mark Kotchapaw

Touching Base! Part 5

“Attractional” versus “Go To”

If you were to ask people attending Bethel, “What attracted you to Bethel?”, you would get a number of answers such as,

Children or Youth Ministry

Over the last decade, Bethel has grown substantially because of the strong attractional aspects of its ministry. However, the vast majority of those individuals that have been attracted to Bethel are already followers of Christ. They were attracted because they already knew Christ! Thus, while Bethel grew, the kingdom of God did not grow proportionally. Followers just traded places, shifted venues, traded in soft chairs for the hard pews of Bethel. In light of this reality, there are two commitments we as a Church need to make:

- Commit to discipling those followers of Christ who have come to Bethel. Our goal is to move people along in their spiritual growth. Anything less is a mockery of what Christ’s Church is all about. It is our privilege and responsibility to care for these people.

-We need to think deeply and biblically about the majority of people in Kingston who would never be attracted to Bethel. For them our Church culture is like a foreign culture. While it is true that there are still many folks who are not followers of Christ that would be attracted to Bethel, the hard truth of the Canadian landscape is that those numbers are decreasing. The only way we will ever influence this growing majority of people for Christ is to go to them. We must learn to love them deeply, listen to them carefully and pray for them faithfully. We must earn the right to be heard. We need to find ways to be carriers of God’s kingdom to them. Maybe then God’s Kingdom will grow!

Mark Kotchapaw

Touching Base! Part 4

Best-Kept Secrets

Now that I have been here at Bethel for 36 days (I probably will soon stop counting) one of the things I am discovering is the incredible people that call Bethel their home church. Many who I have talked to are full of passion, vision, love for God, storied pasts, and a love for people. As I have had the opportunity to talk too many of you, I have seen great evidence that God is at work. It has been very encouraging to listen and learn about the path that God has people on and how they are growing, struggling, wrestling and attempting (by God’s grace) to keep in step with the Spirit of God. One thing I am discovering in listening to peoples’ stories is that many of these stories have never been told. These many treasure chests of life lessons and experiences have not been tapped into by the rest of the body at Bethel.

I strongly believe that people’s stories are important. Not stories where there is always a great ending or where the prince finally gets his princess, but stories that show we are people on a journey, in process, battling, wrestling and over time experiencing God’s transformational work in our lives. Stories, I think, keep church real. They keep us from becoming sickly sweet (where people settle for pat answers and wear plastic smiles). Stories help us understand our own journey and help us understand other people much better.

I encourage you as you meet people at Bethel to ask them to tell you their story. Listen and learn. These “best-kept secrets” need to be told. You will be glad you asked!

Mark Kotchapaw

Touching Base! Part 3

In & Out!

When I think of “in and out” I think of how I like to shop. Get in, get what you need, and get out, unless it’s Costco, of course. I think of going to the doctor’s office – get in and get out as quickly as possible. Long waits and full body examinations are not my idea of a great way to spend the day!

For some the in and out pattern applies to their experience of church. Sunday morning represents the one and only time in the week that they have contact with the body of Christ. They come in the same entrance, down the same aisle each week. They answer the most commonly asked and insincere question, “how are you?”- the same way – “fine”, even though it may be the furthest thing from the truth (excuse my cynicism). Then they proceed to find their safe space (not too close to the front) where they can view the action up front. Once the service is over, they make as little eye contact as possible, smile when necessary and move toward the exit. Once the exit door is behind them, their in and out experience is over until the next week, same time, same answer (“fine”) same pew.

As a Bethelite, how many do you think essentially experience church like this each week? How many never connect, don’t want to connect or cannot find any engaging opportunity to connect? How many experience this kind of crowded loneliness in the pew each week? I have talked with several of you who feel this is a challenge area at Bethel. Several feel that we need to somehowcrack the code of insular living, cocooning, and help people experience authentic community.

Is this your experience: in and out? Let’s work at changing it for yourself and for others!

Mark Kotchapaw

Touching Base! Part 2

Diversity Celebrated

One of the realities of living in Kingston is the incredible diversity that shapes this city. When you walk the streets you can see a little of everything on any given day: students, tourists, retirees, young mothers with kids, the poor, the very rich, military, joggers, walkers, etc. You get the idea, this city is a collection of extremes! Bethel is no different. We are not a one dimensional church. We have a broad group of people representing every season of life and pretty much every economic level. Bethel does not pride itself in being a church of one kind, colour or taste but like Baskin and Robbins we have a number of “flavours” making up this body.

At times during Bethel’s history this diversity has created fracture lines and disrupted unity. We do have some healing wounds from learning to live together and thrive in our diversity. As I talk to people who come to Bethel I hear often the theme that Bethel is learning how to celebrate diversity, learning from each others’ differences, and becoming stronger, not weaker, because we are not all alike. There is a huge desire by many to see a better integration amongst the generations and to see how we can strengthen the ties between people of extreme differences.

Let me encourage you as you attend each week not to always move toward people who are like you, but to step out and embrace diversity. Look for people unlike yourself, and engage, pursue and learn from them. You may be surprised what they can teach you about being a Christ follower!

Mark Kotchapaw

Touching Base! Part 1

For the next several weeks, I will be writing a short update on what I‘m learning as I settle into life here at Bethel. I think it is important that I share some of my insights with you so that we all share the same current reality, and so that you can make comments and add to my growing understanding of the Bethel culture. Please feel free to send me your comments or leave a comment here!

Trust is being restored.
I’m sure that all of us have experienced a relationship where trust was broken, fractured or totally destroyed. As many of you know the restoration process takes time and lots of intentionality. Even then, sometimes trust is hard to recapture. Trust is an essential part of any relationship. It is key to a healthy functioning church. Without it all kinds of complexities emerge…

· we make policies to control rather than to empower

· we harbour deep suspicions of each other (especially leadership)

· we tend to see others through a skewed lens

· we create unhealthy “camps” in the church (the “us/ them” mentality)

· we allow old wounds to fester and as a result nurture an unhealthy spirit

· we use words that at times create walls instead of building bridges

One of the things that I am learning at Bethel is that we are walking through a process of building trust. One of the ways we are attempting to do this is by growing in transparency as leaders. This involves engaging in dialogue on issues, informing the church body on relevant issues, and modeling transparency in our teaching. It also requires a concerted effort by all to deal with the root causes wherever and whenever we see a lack of trust immobilizing the body. We all need to be builders of trust! Bethel is on a great journey and is in a good season. Let’s all realize our part in helping Bethel grow into the purposes God has for her!

Mark Kotchapaw

Touching Base

Touching Base is a temporary weekly info byte that is intended to help you stay connected with some of the observations I am making about Bethel culture. I think it is important that I share some of my insights with you so that we all share the same current reality, and so that you can make comments and add to my growing understanding of the Bethel world. Please feel free to send me your comments at or leave a comment!