Church Planter as Viking

Church Planter as VikingI have had an ongoing interest with Vikings for a while now. And this interest only grew when we moved from the US to the UK. Through my amateurish search for knowledge on the history of Vikings, I’ve come to believe that church planters can learn much from them.

“Disruptive” is a buzzword often used (aka over used) in talking about new startups, new churches included. The Vikings epitomised what disruptive meant. They leveraged their uniqueness in a way that has shaped many countries to this day, not just those that would become their own.

The first image “Vikings” often represent is one of battles and pillaging and gruesome violence. It is true they were violent (though maybe not as violence obsessed as some TV shows and films depict), but they weren’t merely violent. We can learn a lot from them and apply it to the world of church planting.

Caveat: I have a rudimentary and very basic knowledge of Viking history. Apologies if I misrepresent some historical facts. For most of these points, I’m focussing on early Vikings, ca. 800s and 900s.

Caveat 2: I am aware that some material out there on church planting can be a bit hyper-masculine. Talking about Vikings could add to that fire except that Vikings themselves were quite egalitarian. Women would fight and rule as well. Also my selectivity on what we can learn from them doesn’t really focus on that anyway.

Caveat 3: Killing people is bad, let’s not do that, ok?

1. Exploration.
Vikings weren’t content to stay where they were. They often left the areas that would eventually be Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and were fearless explorers. They would set out towards continental Europe (did you know they controlled Paris for a short while?!), Scotland, England, Ireland, farther out to the Faroe Islands, farther still to Iceland, then at extraordinary distances like Greenland and other parts of North America.

They forsook their comfort and safety for bigger dreams and these voyages themselves were often deadly. The ships weren’t large and navigation wasn’t precise. The journey itself was not enjoyable. Once reaching land they would often raid other towns and villages (again, deadly), or try and set up settlements (without enough resources, yep, deadly).

Like Vikings, church planters ought to lead the charge to new worlds, to places people haven’t been before and wouldn’t normally go, despite the real possibility of failure and danger.

2. Connections with others.
The villages that Vikings came from were often small, somewhat far apart, and had geographical boundaries to traverse between them. Cities were not popular in Scandinavia at this time. Though small, these villages had firmly established trade routes with each other. This meant if one village needed something it was easy enough to get it, and if one village had something to offer there was a structure in place to sell it. This was all the more important as these villages didn’t have massive stores of resources by themselves; they depended on trade.

Like Vikings, church planters (especially in post-Christian environments) will find themselves with scarce resources. Making good connections with other churches, pastors, and planters in the area is a necessity for small communities to have space to thrive.

3. Sharing stories together.
During the winter time, it gets very cold. Every village had a Great Hall as a gathering place. It was warm and everyone would be there together. During these times, they would share stories of the gods, or of past journeys and conquests (they were a majority oral, non-literate society at this point). Every Viking would know these stories as they would be told or sang of often. This led to a shared common history. It was in their bones. And these stories of the past gave them dreams of the future.

Stamps from the Faroe Islands: Everyday life in the Viking Age

Stamps from the Faroe Islands: Everyday life in the Viking Age

Like Vikings, church planters must make space for sharing stories with each other: the story of Scripture, our individual stories, and also the shared story of the church we are planting. Sharing these often, we soak them up, and they become a part of us. We hear how God has changed us and others, and that inspires us to continue in the mission.

4. Limited resources leads to toughness.
Speaking of the winters, an ongoing problem was limited resources, especially food and warmth (their closest conception to hell was one of perpetual coldness, not fire). This gave the Vikings a kind of toughness that others, especially on the European continent, didn’t have. They were masters of figuring out logistics of food during their longer campaigns. And when many armies would take a break during the winters, that was when Vikings love to strike. Compared to their homeland, campaigning in England or France was not at all difficult. The tough environment made them tougher fighters.

Like Vikings, church planters are forged in tough situations. Often our first response is to undo the scarcity and move towards comfort, but there is something to be said about embracing the hardship, knowing that God is doing something within us that is unique in a challenging situation.

5. The mission shaped the people.
One advantage Vikings had early on was their boats. They chose to focus on speed instead of strength, and their boats were fast and agile. They used oars and that kept them in very good shape. So not only were the boats an advantage, the product of using those boats, the way they chose to carry out their missions, gave the individuals a distinct advantage.

Like Vikings, church planters can use the “how” of mission for the good of the people. This is where incarnational ministry comes in: how we participate in mission is just as important as the mission itself. The mission is not just a goal, it’s the context for discipleship.

Viking Siege of Paris

Viking Siege of Paris

6. They knew when to adapt.
The first ruler of Normandy was a Viking (the word “Norman” was a French word for north men, or Vikings). Rollo came to the area of France, raided a bit, and eventually was given land. The king of West Francia at the time couldn’t afford to make them leave by paying them off (a common practice), so he gave them land and it was their job to protect against future Viking raids.

The adaptation from raider to landlord was massive. Rollo marries a French woman, the Vikings take on French names and the French lineages they marry into. They make important alliances with the community. They change their fighting styles to mounted knights, and lead the way for the feudal system to develop. In all of this, Rollo set the tone and kept his fellow Viking vassals in line when necessary.

This is a bit selective as there are other instances where Vikings didn’t take to change very well. But nonetheless, a good example!

Like Vikings, church planters need to know when and how to adapt. And when that adaption takes place, the church planter needs to lead in what that looks like. This is especially true in incarnational ministry. What do we take on, what do we confront, what do we accept? These are hard questions that demand good and thoughtful answers.

7. The afterlife informed the here and now.
For a Viking, the best outcome one could have would be to die as a strong warrior, and in death to eventually be chosen by Odin to join his Great Hall, called Valhalla. This led to a fearlessness in life, especially in battle. There was honour in dying bravely and an expectation that the best was yet to come. Their common battle cry was, “Odin owns you all!” This belief transformed their passion and their motivation. They knew how to die well, and therefore how to live. This passion was known and feared by many.

Like Vikings, church planters need to live out of our belief of a new heavens and earth. Our future determines our present, and if that’s true we are freed from anxieties, fears, and failures. We are also given new motivation, freeing us from using others and enabling us to truly selflessly love others. If God is bringing this world to come, we don’t need to rely on ourselves to see it through, and we will strive to join God with all our might to become a part of it. We don’t want people to fear us, but we do want others to know about our passion for life, our motivations for living in the ways we do. And we want our battle cry to be, “Jesus owns it all!”

Homeless for a Year

What is it like to not have a home for a year?

We have moved around 15 times since September. With a toddler. Add that last part and what could sound kinda fun sounds like quite the opposite. There have been fun and enjoyable parts, but they have been the exception to what has been a chaotic, stressful, and generally depressing year for me.

We are Americans living long term in England, planting a church. We needed to leave England temporarily as we were applying for new visas. This past September we moved to America for what we thought would be nine weeks. When all is said and done, it will have been over a year. We still have a house in England that pay rent on, all our stuff is there, our car, our friends, our church, and my job. When I packed I only brought a few clothes with me, I thought it was going to be a short trip!

A few of the places we've lived since September.

A few of the places we’ve lived since September.

Now as far as the history of displaced people go, we’ve easily had it the best that anyone has ever had it in the history of the world ever. We aren’t fleeing because of war or threats, we have churches that love us, friends that take us in, we aren’t lacking in resources like money (though it is crazy expensive to not have a home!). We’ve been cared for. People have asked how we’re doing and have given us real help. All of this caveat isn’t to say that it’s been easy, but it does put it into perspective. The typical experience of someone who cannot get to their home is far more dramatic. We’re thankful that we’ve been cared for and that we have a support network.

Continue reading

Five Days in Korea

It’s crazy the places that church planting will take you. I just came back from a five day trip to Seoul. I was invited by SaRang Church (SaRang means love in Korean, by the way) to their missions conference because they want to partner with Redeemer. I met Pastor Sam Ko, SaRang’s Director of Global Ministries, in Manchester this past November and he was very enthusiastic about partnering with Redeemer.

A photo/essay overview:

Continue reading

The Church is not a Social Network

The church is not a social network. It might be a place where social networks are found or overlap into, but it isn’t one in itself. Let me explain.

Social networking is a phrase we always hear because everyone is supposedly always doing it. A social network can be built off a club, a product, or social media itself. Social networks can be helpful and good, but we need something more than social networks to thrive in life.

 Social Networks

“Social network” is the phrase we use when we want to get something out of it: customers, ideas, help, notoriety, etc. A social network based on social media (like Facebook, Twitter) is helpful when connecting to friends and family who live far away, or staying in touch with people that you just would have lost touch with otherwise. The rise of Facebook allows us to have more friends than we ever have, but we’re limited as humans to really be connected well to thousands of people. A social network based on a club allows people with shared interests (like a sport, charity) to get together and do the thing they already like. A social network based on a product (like Apple fans, Porsche owners) allows people to gather together who get something out of a product they already bought. If these social networks aren’t working, or the businesses behind them aren’t worth it, we move on. We buy a PC and forget about our Apple era.  Continue reading

An overview of the Sabbath

The concept of the sabbath is an important one, and not one we probably typically think of very often. I’m not talking about what you can or cannot do on the sabbath, or what exactly are your weekly practices. I’m talking about the big picture of the sabbath, from the beginning of time. Why is the important? The sabbath is where creation is going, it is our trajectory. The world isn’t an endless cycle, it’s a story. And the sabbath is one way to tell this story. The sabbath is the end goal of creation.

Here is a (very) brief overview of the sabbath story, from Genesis to Revelation.

Sabbath Overview

Continue reading

The Glory of Inadequacy

I Am Inadequate blog series

This is the seventh and last post in a series on our inadequacy. Read the others here.

I’ve written for six weeks about how we are inadequate in a bit of detail. Back in the first post I said this reality is gloriously freeing. How can something like this be glorious, be freeing, why do I believe that?

I don’t know about you, but I often feel like I’m under the burden of needing to have everything all together. A productive work life, changing lives in radical ways, an amazing social life where I look good all the time (at least on Instagram), the most caring and yet care free parent in the world where my kid looks and acts cooler than any other kid on the block. This is just the scraping off the top of the world’s expectations on us. Do you feel any of that? I know I do. And it’s crushing. Continue reading

Inadequate in Power

I Am Inadequate blog series

This is the sixth post in a series on our inadequacy. Read the others here.

Growing up, my father used to call the television remote, the “power”. “Can you give me the power?” “Where is the power?” “I need the power.” He liked having the power. Of course he did, we all do. But real power, deeper than a mere remote control, is often not handled rightly. As Lord Acton famously said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

We have a problem with power. We can be corrupted in our use of it (having too much and not able to handle it) or we just don’t have the power we think we need.

Both of these are true: the power we do have is ruined, not because power itself is bad, but because we are corrupt. And, we really don’t have the power we need. The proof of this is the fact that we still have problems. We aren’t powerful enough to fix the big things in life that need fixing (especially starting with us). Continue reading

Inadequate to Provide

I Am Inadequate blog series

This is the fifth post in a series on our inadequacy. Read the others here.

How long can a human survive without water? Without food? Without air? I don’t know exactly (I’m sure Google does) but the exact time doesn’t matter as much as the big truth: not long. We are not exactly autonomous creatures, we depend on so much in our lives. Even for the most basic needs like food or drink, we are dependant.

But for most of us in the West, our “needs” are much more than mere survival. We need all sorts of things that we don’t really need. The size of our houses, the cars we pick, the compressed and inhospitable calendars we keep attest to this. And with these needs come the mortgages, loans, working hours, and anxiety that inevitably come along. But we want to present ourselves as self-sufficient, able to conquer all. Problem is we know we aren’t. And the more we prop up this shallow façade, the more we feel its weight. Continue reading

Inadequate to Protect Ourselves

I Am Inadequate blog series

This is the fourth post in a series on our inadequacy. Read the others here.

We spend so much time with protecting ourselves, though don’t we? Comfort, or the logical end of protection, is what we chase after. It’s why we sign up for 55 hour work weeks, why we spend so much of that money we earn on recreation, alcohol, big homes and new cars. Comfort is one of the chief gods of the Western world. But this god never tells the truth. No matter how much you sacrifice in the name of comfort, we are never completely protected. Tragedy is no respecter of persons. And when it comes, and it will, we learn this:

We are inadequate to protect ourselves.

When it really comes down to it, we do not have the power in ourselves to protect ourselves. And if anything, that reality presses on the nerve of our sense of self-preservation. And when that reality does come to bear down in our lives, how do we react? Do we embrace it or attempt to ignore it? Continue reading

Inadequate By Ourselves

I Am Inadequate blog series

This is the third post in a series on our inadequacy. Read the others here.

Whenever I come out of a superhero movie, I feel a bit of a superhero myself. I’ve watched Batman be awesome and cool and save the day long enough to think of myself as Batman. When I leave the theatre, I’m not in my Golf, I’m in the Batmobile. I think of getting the bad guys, seeing justice reign, and I feel my muscles getting bigger and my stomach getting flatter. I like Batman as the hero, but really, I want to be the hero. And who doesn’t? Being the hero looks pretty cool.

But reality is obviously different than a two hour Hollywood version of a comic book. We can’t be the hero, we just don’t have what it takes. We can’t do it alone, we need others. Continue reading