The Horizon of Ministry in North America: Hope At The Margins from a Church Planter in Canada

We live on the frontier of the mission field – actually the far edge of it. Our family lives in the inner city of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, among a large Indigenous population. In 2011 my wife and I and our three children prayerfully moved into North Central Regina, and we have been living here ever since, living our lives for Jesus among the people. In this article, I would like to share several aspects of planting a church in this context that invites us to reflect on both the challenges and opportunities before us, as Christians in a rapidly changing world.

Post-Christendom. Recently we were having a Bible study with some younger adolescents. A girl who is about 12 years old, and whom I thought had a church background, asked if it hurt when Jesus was crucified. Imagine what the statement that “Jesus died on the cross for our sins” would mean to her. Little to nothing, given her question! The statement not only assumes a theological understanding of sin but also historical knowledge of crucifixion as an extremely painful form of execution. 

Post-Christendom can be described as the decline in the influence of Christian institutions in society – to the point where things such as the church and the Bible are neither central nor well-known. In Regina, there is a neighbourhood called Cathedral, which is named after the large churches (Roman Catholic and United Church of Canada) that are in the area, as well as several smaller ones. The Cathedral area is over 100 years old. But contrast that with two of the newest communities in Regina – Harbour Landing and Grasslands – developed in the 2010s. These neighbourhoods have no property set aside by the City of Regina for church buildings or cathedrals. A lot has changed in the last 100 years, and that includes the removal of the church as a tall, central figure in our communities, to disappearing off the map. So, what are the challenges and opportunities of the Christian mission on the margins?

The challenge on this front is clear. Biblical knowledge is little to none. Gone are the days when the youth went to Sunday school while their parents stayed home, as that was one to two generations ago. Gone also are a Christian moral framework and worldview. So our task is to help people learn the contents of the Bible, and especially the large story of God and his mission in this world. The opportunity here is equally exciting though. We help people learn to read the Bible in a new way by emphasizing the character of God, his mission to love and redeem the world, and the invitation to participate with him in this grand adventure.  What a glorious calling! In this missional way of reading the Bible, we are carefully observing God as he worked in the past, and listening deeply for how he desires to work in our lives now, all in eager anticipation for what he will do in the future to complete the story!

Residential School Impact and (Post-)Colonialism. In Canada, Indigenous peoples were for several generations forced to attend Residential Schools, run by various Christian denominations on behalf of the federal government. Among these schools, they were taught the English language and Christian teachings, but many also experienced physical torture, emotional trauma, and sexual abuse. So as one Christian Reformed Church leader described it, “They were offered a cup of cold water in the name of Christ, and it turned out to be battery acid.” So it is understandable that they would give us a long, cold look whenever we offer them anything of a Christian nature today. In fact, after the discovery of unmarked graves at a  number of Indian residential schools in 2021, several church buildings on and off reserves throughout the country were burnt to the ground. The backlash against Christendom was swift and strong. Today the hostility to Christianity is palpable in many Indigenous communities and I sympathize with much of that anger.  

Indian Residential Schools were a tragic marriage of Christianity with colonialism – European countries bent on empire. Unfortunately, the children of this marriage were not Hope and Dignity, but Despair and Poverty. Today many indigenous peoples, and other Canadians, want nothing to do with the church.  If that is what the church is like, who needs it?

So, what challenges and opportunities do this legacy of Christianity married to colonialism bring?  The big challenge here is to carry out the gospel mission in a context where many people are jaded and hostile toward Christians. This was a serious concern I had about 12 years ago when I was considering God’s call on my life to plant a church in the inner city of Regina. Would Indigenous people have anything to do with us? Would they even consider the Christian message? Would they even contemplate a friendship with us? We took comfort from one Indigenous woman’s wisdom.  She told us that while ethnicity is certainly a factor early on in a relationship, people sense whether you have genuine love in your heart or not and once they get to know you this is what carries the day. We have found that often to be true and so, while we will never be insiders to the culture, we have several relationships of mutual love and respect.  

The opportunity that this presents is very significant. Serving as a missionary from a position of weakness is very different from a position of power. As my Christian Reformed friend said, he was highly esteemed in Africa decades ago, as a white male Christian missionary. Now in the inner city of Regina, it is the exact opposite. Each of these words carries, in many people’s minds, a corrupting and coercive sense of privilege and power – white, male, Christian, missionary.  So how do we proceed? This challenge is also an opportunity because it forces us to be creative.  It requires that we dig deeper into the Christian story and reconsider how we tell it. No longer can we just construct a church building and sit back and wait for people to flock to it. Serving as a missionary requires that we go to the people, that we incarnate the gospel through our lives and actions, that we embody the message of sacrificial love and service to the world in real and tangible ways. The old question is relevant here: If our church disappeared tomorrow, would the community notice? Would they miss us? Would there be a serious hole? Our response to this opportunity lies in humility, self-sacrifice, and genuine love.    

Technology. While there are other things we have learned, I am choosing to focus on technology here because we work with a lot of youth. Let’s be honest. Technology has changed our lives, especially for young people. It has impacted how we shop (Amazon), relate (social media), bank, read (Kindle), access news (youth source their news from TikTok), listen to music (Youtube, Spotify), and go to school (Zoom). To lose one’s phone, or go somewhere with no internet access, is the kiss of death for many people.  

This immersion in technology has created several challenges. Most importantly, the advent of the smartphone with a reversible camera has had a dramatic impact on the mental health of adolescents (and adults as well). This development, in combination with social media, has created a context where people are able to get instant feedback on their public portrayals of themselves. Never before was this possible So a girl may be disheartened because her selfie did not get as many likes as her friends or boys may compare who has the most followers. Photos and videos are heavily curated, and some parents even hire professional photographers for their teens so they can publish the best possible pictures of themselves online.  

The problem here is that people are invited to form their identity based on their online activity. So they are elated when a photo is popular, and then depressed when a Tiktok they have created tanks. Their online activity becomes an extension of, and sometimes even the very heart of, who they are. In some cases people take on an alter ego, an alternate personality, assuming a different gender or ethnicity in an online game or social profile. The question becomes, what is their real identity?  Who are they really?  And what do they base their value on?

The opportunity in this is to help people form their identity in Christ. This is not a trite statement. In fact, the Bible holds up Jesus Christ as the ultimate reality. In a world of disparate versions of reality – virtual (VR), augmented (AR), and mixed (XR) – we as followers of Jesus are invited into the kingdom of God, where Jesus is the ultimate reality (UR)! This requires that we live into this reality deeply ourselves and that we teach it, model it, and advocate for it with all our hearts. It calls for us to embrace the teachings of Jesus as words of life, as words that have both a descriptive quality about this ultimate reality (the upside-down kingdom of God) and an imperatival call to adoration and obedience. To quote Simon Peter: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).

To sum matters up, church planting is an exciting adventure that is filled with many rewards and much adversity. The dynamic nature of Canadian culture, and its various subcultures, presents many challenges and opportunities for the Christian mission. With each challenge comes a requisite opportunity. As God’s people, living missionally requires us not to fall into the pit of despair over the rapidly changing landscape all around us. Our task calls us to be creative, listen deeply to our friends and neighbours, pray fervently, humble ourselves, serve sacrificially, and most crucially, listen carefully for the Spirit to lead us in His mission. And so in our corner of the world, we attest to the fact that there is hope at the margins of society!  

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Kevin Vance is a minister and church planter in the inner city of Regina, Saskatchewan. He works among youth in Regina and throughout the province to help them find hope and healing in Jesus Christ. He has a special passion for Indigenous youth and the reserves. He and his wife Lisa have been married since 1989 and have three grown children. Together they planted Gentle Road Church of Christ in North Central Regina in 2011, and dream about planting other churches in the toughest communities in Canada.

Reggie McNeal and the Missional Church

Below is a brief post by Reggie McNeal from 2009 in which he gives a simple description of ‘missional church.’ However, that is not what I want you to see. I want you to see the simple exercise one church did by cancelling the staff meeting and going into the community to pray. Note also they were so impacted they sent the entire church out to do the same thing. Would your church dare to do such a thing? Would you take the chance of upsetting the status quo by praying the prayer they prayed while sitting in the middle of your community? I dare you!

http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2009/october-online-only/reggie-mcneal-4-phrase-definition-of-missional-church.html

Reggie McNeal is a friend of Mission Alive. He is funny. He is irreverent.  Most of all he is challenging. He will speak at Mission Alive’s 2016 DFW Celebration. Mark your calendar now to join us on Saturday, April 9, 2016 to hear Reggie McNeal live at the Hope Center in Plano, Texas.

Listening to God—From Theology to Practice

Theology is like the rudder of a boatIn Mission Alive we move from Theology to Practice. Theology is listening to God and seeking to do the will of God. It is like the rudder of a boat—setting direction. I can remember how our children, when they were small, loved pedal-boats and always wanted to “drive”. At times they were so intent on pedaling–making the boat move–that the rudder was held in an extreme position, and we went in circles. Realizing their mistake, but still intent on pedaling, they would move the rudder from one extreme to the other so that we zig-zagged across the lake. Without the foundation of theology, church leaders and church planters tend to zig-zag from fad to fad, from one theological perspective and related philosophies of ministry to another. Theology helps center us so that we turn the rudder according to the will of God. It forms and guides the mission of God. Then, paradoxically, our practices of mission begin to inform and shape our theology–a movement from Theology to Practice and then from Practice to Theology.

Cultivate Personal Discipleship

In Mission Alive the first step in training is a two-day, interactive lab called CULTIVATE: Personal Discipleship. The theme is that “what God will do through us he must first do within us.” We would say that the two most important questions are: “What is God saying?” and “What does he desire that we do about it?” In these labs and through coaching and equipping huddles life transformation is sparked for both church planting and renewal.

In Mission Alive we believe in both church renewal and church planting. The impulses of growth, learning, and transformation are similar yet different. These impulses spiritually form searchers to become disciples of Jesus who then go on mission within growing vibrant communities—that meet publicly for teaching, inspiration, and testimony and in smaller groups in neighborhoods and relational networks for mission and community. Discipling-making leads to missions resulting in the development of community. We believe that “the future of the Western Church is . . . a powerful return to Jesus’ heart for making disciples, and multiplying them into missionary leaders” (Jon Tyson, Forward of “Multiplying Missional Leaders”).

There are two types of leaders: those who listen primarily to human voices to guide them forward and those who listen to God’s voice. Mission Alive aims to equip leaders to listen to God’s voice in both church planting and renewal.

Introducing Redland Hills Church planting!

Redland Hills bannerPraise God for new beginnings!  On Monday, November 18, 2013 the Redland Hills Church in Wetumpka, AL held its first gathering.  After months of conversation, planning, and praying, our core families, along with others who have been interested in what we are doing, gathered for a night of worship and thanksgiving.  And we have much to be thankful for!  God has been walking with us and far ahead of us each step we have taken.  We are grateful for the partnership, advice, and coaching from Mission Alive to even get to this point.  We have been blessed with a great space in a neighborhood clubhouse, with even space for a kids program.  We’ll begin renting this space each Sunday beginning in January 2014.  And we’re so grateful for the many prayers and encouraging words that friends and supporters have shared.  It is humbling to begin a new work like this, but so rewarding to see it come to fruition.

Redland Hills square

Cultivating Personal Discipleship

October 11-12 was a big weekend for Mission Alive! We launched the first Cohort of Mission Training, the new equipping process for church leaders we have been developing in the past year.

Thirty people in six teams came together to participate at the Williamsburg Christian Church building in Williamsburg, Virginia – three church planting teams and three renewal teams (from existing congregations).

Mission Training

Mission Training is designed to equip church planting and renewal leaders as missionaries in their particular contexts. They begin to envision how the churches they lead can make disciples, reach those who are searching for God, and embody God’s inbreaking kingdom in their communities.

Leaders experienced Cultivate: Personal Discipleship, the first Equipping Lab in the Mission Training process. Cultivate fleshes out our fundamental conviction that the most effective church leaders are devoted Christ-followers. The purpose of the Lab is to help leaders evaluate their own personal spiritual health, have an encounter with God, and identify spiritual rhythms they want to live out in the six months following the Lab. Throughout the weekend, leaders receive teaching input, engage in personal reflection and journaling, and interact with other leaders in Equipping Huddles.

Wes Gunn, team leader of the Redland Hills church planting in Montgomery, Alabama, enjoyed the personal formation and networking opportunities in Cultivate:

“I appreciated the focus on personal discipleship and the foundation that we must be shaped by Christ ourselves prior to being able to guide others.  A particular blessing to me was networking with other church planters and encouraging each other in our journeys.”

Jason Thornton, a team member from the Williamsburg Christian Church, was touched by the depth of community and spiritual intimacy in the Lab:

“The Mission Alive Lab reminded me of the importance of the ‘each otherness’ of walking with Christ. I found it refreshing to be in a Huddle and to share in a time of confession with other brothers in Christ. Having been in ministry, I have frequently felt like I was on an island in spiritual battle. From my brief time in the Mission Alive Lab, I feel like I had more true spiritual intimacy with brothers and sisters in Christ than I had experienced in most of my time in ministry.”

Cultivate is one of four Equipping Labs hosted every six months in the two-year Mission Training Process.

Mission Training diagram

Click here to download our Mission Training brochure.

We are excited and thankful to God for the opportunity to walk alongside kingdom leaders and equip them for the mission!

Charles Kiser

Director of Training

How are you gifted? Wired? Called?

How are you gifted?  Wired?  Called?

WateringSome Christians are gifted as church planters. They are like Paul the Apostle. Converted to convert others. Led by God to start new churches. Paul spoke about this gifting when he wrote, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow” (1 Cor. 3:6).  God uses called and gifted servants to both plant new churches and water existing ones.  Do you have the apostolic calling of Paul?

As you consider this question, read 1 Cor. 3:5-9 and specifically ask, “What type of servant am I—a planter or a waterer?

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task.  I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.  The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor.  For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.

As you reflect on this passage, realize that you are merely a servant.  Only God working through you makes things grow (vs. 6). This planter/waterer metaphor illustrates not only spiritual gifting, but more importantly, divine guidance and empowerment.  We are only “God’s fellow-workers . . . God’s field . . . God’s building” (vs. 9).  Ultimately the mission is God’s, and we are merely servants ministering in his vineyard.

Read 1 Cor. 3:10-15 about laying kingdom foundations.

By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it.  But each one should build with care.  For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.  If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw,their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work.  If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.

chiselWhat type of builder are you in the kingdom of God?   Are you like Paul—one who lays the “foundation” of the Gospel “as a wise builder”—or are you like Apollos, a minister building upon an existing foundation (vs. 10)?

The Lord’s work is not easy!  It is messy—as messy as people are.  Paul writes, “The fire will test the quality of each person’s work” (vs. 13).  How do God’s servants spiritually and strategically prepare themselves to lay new kingdom foundations of Jesus Christ (church planting) or to build upon these foundations (church renewal and growth)?  Are you willing to put your life in God’s hands and work in this messy world?

What type of material will you use to build the foundation of Jesus Christ?  Paul describes various materials used in the building—“gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw.”  What separates these elements?  The answer is that some are combustible and some are incombustible!

Since “the fire will test the quality of each person’s work,” some work will “survive” and some will be “burned up.” Foundations of gold, silver, costly stones will survive but those of wood, hay, and straw will be consumed.  How can we spiritually prepare ourselves for ministry in which some of God’s work will “survive” but some will also be “burned up”? Are you spiritually ready to experience loss?

Paul talks about ministering out of “God’s grace.” What does this mean? How do we minister out of God’s grace?

Paul called himself “a wise builder” (vs. 10). How did Paul—who once persecuted the church—become an expert builder? How does “God’s grace” work within us to form us into “expert builders”?

Answering these questions is a step in discerning how you are gifted, wired, and called.

For personal spiritual discernment contact us at Mission Alive at Contact@missionalive.org to connect and discuss a process of equipping. We would love to hear your journey and pray with you.

A ReVision Church’s Story

We in Mission Alive were invited to begin walking with Fred Liggin and the Williamsburg Christian church when he transitioned into his leadership role at WCC two years ago.  Fred calls Gailyn his special mentor and coach, his sounding board and partner in his personal journey to cast a new vision and lead this church toward spiritual renewal.

Fred said, “We came to a cross roads where I realized we needed a partner in the journey. I shared this with the elders and we invited Mission Alive into our journey.”  Theirs is an exceptional story, not just because attendance has doubled and children’s ministry tripled, but because they have begun to think of themselves as a kingdom community on mission with God.  In this story you will hear that growth is not primarily about numbers but a people’s heart on mission with God.

Transformed for Mission

Florence Pohl (Flo) was the quintessential American unbeliever: skeptical of organized religion, lonely and isolated, passionate about helping others, and open to faith and God.

She recently crossed paths with Kyle Mott, a Mission Alive church planter in Wichita, Kansas, with the River City Christian Community.

Flo’s story is about faith, community, mission in the workplace, and not least, transformation.

Through her interactions with River City Christian Community, Flo was transformed by God’s power from a lonely person who struggled to see how God was at work in the world to a disciple of Jesus on mission with God!

Click on the picture below to hear Flo share her story.

Oikos

Missional church planting is gathering people together to become an extended family of God’s people.  It happens incarnationally, life-on-life, through interpersonal and compassionate connection.

Last night Becky and I went to Roman’s Hair Salon to get our hair cut.  We were Roman and Lee’s last customers of the day.  Roman cuts Becky’s hair and Lee does mine.  As we were waiting, we heard Roman speak powerfully into the life of another customer whose daughter had recently come out of a deep coma.   Roman was encouraging her not to fear but to rely on the Lord for healing.  After the customer left, I kidded Roman that she is a counselor and should call her business “Roman’s Hair Salon and Counseling Service.”  She laughed and blushed!   It was evident that she was honored.

Lee was soon cutting my hair (basically cutting it all off and trimming my eyebrows as she does every two weeks!  The best kind of hair cut for an old man like me!).  Lee asked how often Becky and I exercised, and I then asked her about her exercise as well.  In our conversation I mentioned that there were two types of exercise, exercise of the “body” and exercise of the “heart.”  She paused and then asked what I meant by the “exercise of the heart.”  I described God forming our inmost being so that we think and behave like Him.  For the rest of the haircut she talked and talked about her understanding of this and how it was touching her heart.  Although speaking with a deep Vietnamese accent, I was able to hear most of what she was saying.  She wanted to know more about “heart exercise.”

In the meantime Roman was describing to Becky her role as a counselor.  “I love my customers,” she said.  “I believe God gives me a gift of hearing and advising them.  I am bold in my speech.”  Becky asked, “Who is your counselor?”  She paused, thought for a while, and finally said, “I guess God is.”  She also testified that a doctor helped her mother, a refugee from Ethiopia, with glaucoma surgery and only charged her $500, which her family was able to raise.   Becky reflected later that perhaps hair stylists are like proverbial bartenders:  When asked, “How are you doing?”, customers may likely respond, “I am having a terrible, horrible, very bad, no good day!”  People sit with aching hearts and words just come tumbling out.  The server listens and gives words of hope.

After our haircuts Becky and I congratulated Roman on new décor of her beauty salon.  With tears she began to tell us her journey over the past six months.   She almost lost the salon because of high rent and lack of customers.  She told how the owner, believing in her, reduced the rent; how an exceptional 25-year-old resource person through Groupon taught her how to advertise; and how a new friend had unexpectedly decided to redecorate her salon as a special favor to her.  “I know it was God,” she said, pointing up.  We were touched that these searchers with little Christian community were yet acknowledging God in their lives.

We began to talk about how lonesome North America is, how we live in proximity to many people but without neighborliness, and yet how we need each other to live and survive in this world.   As we shared, we asked both Roman and Lee to become part of our extended family, our “Oikos,” and begin a spiritual journey with us.  Becky and I gathered Roman and Lee in a small circle and prayed with and for them.

We are learning that people-gathering is done relationally, heart-to-heart, with prayer, calling people into community and allegiance to God.   We are on a journey . . . .  Pray for us.

Neighborhood Fellowship

“The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.”

(John 1:14 The Message)

This morning Becky prayed, “We thank you for all of our guests who came and blessed our home last night.”  We were indeed  blessed!!  Twenty-four folks from 8 families came from our cul-de-sac and the houses behind our home.  A great time of neighborhood connection!  Melanie, a vivacious lady of Cambodian heritage, was the first to come and the last to leave.  She has lived on our cul-de-sac for 14 years without knowing any of her neighbors.  We had simply left a flyer about our “Holiday Open House” at her home and she in turn called and began a conversation with Becky.  In one evening she developed friends, hopefully life-long, life-changing relationships.

Kim and Paul came with their two daughters.  We heard about their dating; their marriage; their work; and their connection with Travis and Tammie, our next-door neighbors.  Kim, who works in HR with a local company, remembered a person of the old Meadow Ridge home owners association who used to do large community gatherings.  Many mentioned our need for further connection.

I also noticed Becky’s gift of hospitality—her joy in preparing for the evening and then being with all of those who gathered.

Many years ago linguistic consultant William Smalley of the American Bible Society coined the phrase “living in proximity without neighborliness” to describe many in the Western world.  He said, “In our highly complex society we have built cultural devices for keeping people close by from being neighbors unless for some reason we choose to include them.  These barriers provide a protection for us, keep us from having to associate with people who are not compatible, whose race or education, or social status is different from ours.  We can withdraw within the barriers for security from people and social patterns which conflict with our own” (“Proximity or Neighborliness?” in Readings in Missionary Anthropology, p. 302).

Randy Frazee in The Connecting Church says that the church must redeem impersonal suburban communities by multiplying simple intergenerational, geographical home fellowships for the purpose of both incarnational evangelism and spiritually forming people into the image of God.  This is easier said than done given the cultural scenario so graphically depicted by Smalley.  But the hunger for connection that we experienced illustrates that within each of us is an innate desire to connect heart-to-heart, soul-to-soul.  We are created to live in relationship.

Gailyn Van Rheenen

Mission Alive