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.

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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:

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Between Home and Somewhere Else

Have you ever felt like “home” was a concept and not a reality?

Sunny RoadWe haven’t lived in Manchester long enough yet for it to feel like home and sometimes it feels like we are living “somewhere else”. We are in between home and somewhere else. Some days are hard, some more than others. For us, this is just a reality that we live in at the moment. It can be hard to live in a place full of reminders that this isn’t your home, a place that feels like somewhere else. Hopefully as time goes on and we grow in our connections to people here it will feel more like a home.

This is not a feeling reserved for people who move to different places, for refugees, or wanderers. A full length album of mine came out of this search for home, and I was living in the culture where I was born and grew up. We all ache for home.

It is in this ache that we find this truth: we will always be living in this world, between home and somewhere else. Like Abraham, we are searching after a city whose architect and builder is God. Like the Israelites in the wilderness, we are caught between where we came from and where we want to be.

What a wonderful hope we have as part of the Father’s family. Our hope is that all aspects of our homesickness, and there are many aspects, will all find their home in the gift of God Himself when we are finally with Him. Finally at Home.

We Ought to be Overwhelmed

There is a good side to being overwhelmed even though it almost always has a negative connotation in our culture. In spite of my own reactions, I believe we ought to embrace being overwhelmed. See, in my own life, I mostly try and avoid this feeling and for many different reasons. In my modern world I have complete control over pretty much everything and this feeling of “being overwhelmed” is unnerving. I try and avoid it or dominate it, really whatever I can do to undo it. But I think I’m missing out on something important because of this. Continue reading

The Importance of Feeling Insignificant

The first day I moved to Manchester (almost two months ago now!) I walked quite a bit around the city centre. I was halfway trying to just stay awake, halfway powered by the adrenaline of having just moved to a new continent. I wanted to take in as much as I could. Plus it was a nice day without rain and I knew I had to take advantage of that.

crowdI was struck that day, as I have often been since, of my own insignificance. I passed hundreds, probably thousands, of people. Buses full of people. Cars struggling through the city traffic. People on the street hurrying to their next destination. All of these people could care less about me. I’m nothing important, especially to them. As the taller buildings in the centre loomed overhead I realised in a new way how insignificant I truly am. Continue reading

Top Three Reasons American Missionaries Leave the UK

Americans have not always had the easiest of times moving to the United Kingdom. One would think the transatlantic move would actually be somewhat of an easy transition, given the similarity between the two cultures. It surprised me to hear that the average stay of an American in the United Kingdom, in any type of industry, was about two years. That’s hardly any time at all. Why is this the case?

Weekend BusLet me start right from the top and say this post is not a result from a large scale survey or replicable experimental model. It comes from my conversations with Brits who have experienced Americans in their culture, Americans who have lived there and moved and Americans who have been able to reside there long term. Basically, anecdotal evidence. So this really is just my perspective but I’ve had quite a few conversations with people from the above three categories (due to an obsession to learn as much as possible from them), so hopefully this information is somewhat on track. Either way, here’s what I have found. Continue reading

Last American Thanksgiving

My last American Thanksgiving was a normal Thanksgiving. There wasn’t any kind of grand revelation or overflow of emotion. It was a typical holiday well spent.

Last American ThanksgivingThese normal rhythms of familial celebrations will soon be disrupted, though. Next year, living in a new country with a new child surrounded by all sorts of new people, we will most definitely feel the loss of normality. I have fond memories of driving to our grandparents’ house as a child, seeing aunts, uncles and cousins, enjoying each other (as well as annoying each other). Our child won’t have those kind of memories, and there’s a type of loss in that. And especially the longer we stay in England, which is indefinite for now, something like Thanksgiving will be more foreign to our British child. Continue reading

Lecture: Discipleship in the Arts

A couple months ago I was able to speak to a group of church planters in South Carolina through the Carolina Greenhouse. It was an honor to talk to these leaders about discipleship in the arts. It’s fairly brief, and includes a section of the Q & A. You can listen to it below, and download it here.

I also created a sample reading list, you can download that, too.