“Ultimately,” said Gord Fleming, head of the C2C church planting network, “we are praying for revival in our land.” Reporting to Gathering 2014, the convention of the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches in Vancouver, Fleming harked back to early days when each province had a lone worker charged with ‘church extension’. “God has reorganized the team,” he said. “We are all one, now.” Delegates heard of church planting and opportunities in the cities and countrysides of Canada, and how Mennonite Brethren are working with other denominations to spread the good news of Jesus.
Johnny Thiessen of Alberta and Dwayne Barkman of Saskatchewan spoke of the in-migration to their province’s cities, because of the booming economies there. “We need to plant 15 churches a year in Calgary just to keep up with the people,” Johnny Thiessen quipped.
Fleming said it is too easy to “buy into the lie” that it is hopeless to try to plant churches in cities. “We need to remember,” he said, “that Jesus does have dominion from sea to sea.”
Earlier, Bruce Guenther, president of Canada’s Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, told delegates that part of the “Great Commission” in Matthew 28 is to teach. He said the early Pietist movement held that when they planted a church, they had to start a school as well. “They understood that starting schools that were not oriented also to make disciples would miss the mark.” He said in recent times, too many Bible colleges and seminaries in North America have closed, that that fact is sad. Seminaries are not as visible as many other causes, and so donors have not always seen seminary support with the same urgency. He said student loan debts in Canada and the U.S. meanwhile have increased dramatically. “We want to avoid increasing tuition.”
Guenther said MBBS is making seminary training more accessible and flexible, with on-line content, modular courses, and even – soon – live streaming.
The CCMBC executive board financial committee presented a brief summary of the findings of the recent financial audit for 2013, as well as the 2015 budget.
In order to separate investment funds from day-to-day operating costs of the organization, the Canadian conference has created a separate legal entity called CCMBC Legacy Investments, Inc. All investment monies – including deposit accounts and mortgages given to churches and pastors – will be managed through this new entity.
The financial committee is working toward building a reserve fund valued at approximately 10% of the total amount on deposit (some $26 million). However, the reserve fund is still low (at only $2.7 million).
“We discovered we had overstated the value of our net assets [on previous years’ tax returns], which greatly lowered the reserves we had to work with,” said committee member Len Penner. (He explained that auditors had recommended a change in how the conference should manage land held for development, which initiated the change in reporting.)
In order to offset this difference – which is close to $10 million – the executive board has agreed to move faster in selling some 10 properties originally purchased for development. Penner said the properties are currently being appraised and will go on the market in the near future, although he suspects it may still take years to sell all the land.
Penner noted that the original purpose of the deposit fund – to provide mortgages for pastors and churches who may find it difficult to get loans from traditional banks – still exists. To date, the conference has provided nearly $87 million worth of mortgages.
Looking at the 2015 ministry budget, Penner noted that revenue from member churches has continued to decrease over the past years. How can we move to a place where conference ministry isn’t funded so heavily by interest earnings from the deposit fund?
“The best opportunity is not a cost reduction,” said Penner, “but one of revenue generation. We are far from tapping out revenue potential. One [income] line that has been flat is church contributions. What will it take for churches to have confidence and vote with their wallets? We need to earn their respect and find a way to connect with heartstrings.”
One workshop participant asked about budget expenses, wondering whether every dollar was spent wisely and efficiently. “Every time you open the Herald, someone new has been hired at the conference. It feels like it’s getting top heavy. What’s the actual amount spent on staffing?”
Penner said he was willing to find and communicate those figures to the constituency. Finance committee member Harold Froese also ensured workshop participants that CCMBC staff have been “tightening their belts” and trimming expenses over the past year. Gord Fleming, C2C Director, agreed: “I want to reassure you we’re not living high on the hog.”
The blue of the ocean, the tall high rises, the ethnic diversity, and the organic sensibilities all felt familiar. My sister and brother-in-law live just blocks away from Reality Vancouver’s office space. My dad taught for 30 years at the high school near Christ City Church’s building.
So, it wasn’t surprising to discover that my heart is still very attached to this city. It wasn’t hard to get excited when Kris Martens told us his office space was a “redeemed” strip club, now being used for kingdom purposes. It wasn’t hard to be filled with joy to learn that Christ City’s children’s ministry is growing by leaps and bounds in a neighbourhood with one of the highest populations of children in all of Vancouver.
On Wednesday night here at Gathering 2014, Willy Reimer noted how the church in Canada is primarily rural, while millions of people live in the big city. He encouraged us to return to the city – on our knees and with open hearts.
I don’t think this means city ministry is better than suburban ministry (any more than international ministry is better than North American ministry). But city ministry certainly comes with its own set of factors – higher cost of living and housing challenges, for example. Kris told us about the large number of children with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome who are part of his Sunday school program, a reality that can tax volunteers and bring ongoing stresses.
I was moved by Kris’s honesty about the weariness he sometimes feels (which also might have something to do with the fact he has six children!). For Kristian, city ministry is “a long obedience in the same direction.” Indeed, we have faith in a God of power and transformation. But we also recognize that God’s ways and timing are often beyond our human understanding.
And isn’t that the truth of ministry in every place?
“Hoping does not mean doing nothing. It is not fatalistic resignation. It means going about our assigned tasks, confident that God will provide the meaning and the conclusions. It is not compelled to work away at keeping up appearances with a bogus spirituality. It is the opposite of desperate and panicky manipulations, of scurrying and worrying. And hoping is not dreaming. It is not spinning an illusion or fantasy to protect us from our boredom or our pain. It means a confident, alert expectation that God will do what he said he will do. It is imagination put in the harness of faith. It is a willingness to let God do it his way and in his time. It is the opposite of making plans that we demand that God put into effect, telling him both how and when to do it. That is not hoping in God but bullying God. “I pray to GOD – my life a prayer – and wait for what he’ll say and do. My life’s on the line before God, my Lord, waiting and watching till morning, waiting and watching till morning.”
“Theological reflection is like breathing; if we stop, we die,” says board of faith and life chair Brian Cooper.
In the main session, he and Bill Hogg briefly explained the three main considerations of the study conference (orientation to realities of current Canadian social landscape, review biblical understanding of human sexuality, hint at pastoral response) and some of the constituent responses to it.
The conference focused on the issue of homosexuality, but “the elephant in the room was not same sex relations,” says Cooper, but marital fidelity, cohabitation, premarital sex and pornography.
In the past, “we have been focused on identifying sin rather than restoring people who have been in sin,” says Cooper. “We want our emphasis to be on the latter.”
“We’re not just wrestling with ideas,” said Hogg, but “human brokenness. And each one of us is broken, messed up, and in need of healing and transformation.”
“We need a broader sense of human sexuality, and a broader sense of how we read Scripture.”
– Katrina Klauwe, Lendrum, Edmonton
Cooper: “We confuse – to our peril – our interpretation of the text with the text itself.”
A consideration of the subject is incomplete without considering how sexuality impacts singleness, widowhood, children, disability.
– Dave Chow, Killarney Park, Vancouver
“How did this come to trump all other sins?”
– Matthew Dyck, Fort Garry, Winnipeg
Cooper: “There are more pressing temporal consequences to certain sins…. We need to divest ourselves of this idea that sexual sins are worse than other sin.”
There’s a 10th bucket – where our convictions as a church interact with our obligations from the state, as seen in the B.C. law society’s opposition to the TWU law school. Left unaddressed, “this misses a substantial part of the pastoral problem.”
– John Neufeld, The Meeting Place, Winnipeg
“I don’t see New Testament precedents for getting the rules first, then applying them [cf Acts 10:9–47, Acts 15].”
–James Toews, Neighbourhood, Nainaimo, B.C.
Community hermeneutics is a difficult but worthwhile method of decision making. The divorce precedent needs more explanation.
– Paul Cumin, Pemberton, B.C.
Our children are facing crucial ethical questions every day – they don’t have time for years of theological reflection. “Clear case studies would give practical focus and be enlightening for older folk.”
– David Esau, Cedar Park, Delta, B.C.
“We need to rethink of theology of sexuality. [Forget Augustine], start with Jesus and his emphasis on relationship…. How does sexuality fit into human flourishing?”
– John Friesen, Point Grey, Vancouver
“There are boundaries [our confession of faith, heterosexual marriage] we will not cross. Don’t despair; the Lord will not abandon us.”
– Rob Thiessen, North Langley
We need to talk about formation of sexual identity. “We have an opportunity to say what we are for. We are for the protection of children. We are for healthy sexuality.” Why didn’t the church stand up when a B.C. said owning up to 1,000 pieces of child pornography was permissible?
– Chris Stevens, Waterloo, Ont.
Hogg: “What does it mean to be fully human? We live in a culture that has lost its way. God’s agenda is not happiness; it’s holiness.” “People are looking for a place to belong as they look to find God.”
– Joe Haynes
“Have conversations in person…. Don’t get squeezed [on our convictions] out of fear.”
– Vic Martens, North Kildonan, Winnipeg
“I’m concerned by the sandbox because I like the beach.”
– Katrina Klauwe
In the breakout session, Hogg identified 9 buckets into which the issues fell:
Other issues on the BFL horizon: Confession of Faith survey, cultivating more harmony around pastoral credentialing processes between provinces, human rights legislation, 2015 human sexuality study conference 2.0 in Winnipeg.
“Aslan is on the move”. Whenever this phrase is spoken in the C.S. Lewis book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe there is a hum of amazement and awe. People whisper it as a promise of what is yet to come in a time of immense darkness. The evil forces try to silence the words even as they quake in fear of what is to come. This is the phrase that kept popping up in my mind as we heard the stories on Experience Vancouver.
One space we toured was the C2C hub; a space once used as a strip club that has been redeemed into a space that God is using to unite His church in Vancouver. C2C has been using the hub for all of their church planters to have space. Soma has been using it to host discussion nights and coffee house style community times. Other denominations have been invited to share the space as needed. What a story of God redeeming a place that was once dark to proclaim His love and be a beacon of light.
Another story of God’s faithfulness is Christ City Church, a new church plant. Christ City Church is meeting in a space that has a long history in the Mennonite world as Vancouver Mennonite Brethren Church. One woman on our tour had attended the church when she was young fifty-plus years ago. The original church had planted Willingdon from which Norm Funk came to plant Westside who in turn planted Christ City; fruit from fruit. A beautiful example of God’s faithfulness.
We finished our tour at the Olympic Torch. As we turned and faced the city, hands outstretched, we prayed for the city of Vancouver. We prayed that the loneliness would be met by the One who is always present. We prayed that the church plants would be filled with those who are seeking and that the need for church planters would be filled by the Lord of the Harvest. And we prayed that the darkness that is always present, the enemy who comes to kill and destroy, would be vanquished by the King of Glory.
Aslan is on the move. God is on the move. The words may only be whispers for now, just glimpses of eternity, but He is coming. Praise be to God!
Church planter Lance Odegard’s flippant answer became the unintentional vision statement for the congregation that attracts skeptics and cynics and people who have been wounded by religion: Isaiah fortold of Jesus that “A bruisedreed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.”
“If there’s a place like that, I would like to be part of it,” she said.
“Me too,” said Lance, and they both became teary-eyed at the thought of it.
The congregation “of wounded birds and artists” that was born meets in the bowels of the Vancouver Public Library in the heart of downtown. With a communal worship culture of grieving, lament and questioning, Artisan is reclaiming the old idea of parish – a sense of responsibility for the people and activities in a particular geographic location.
“It’s the difference between renting a place or owning a home,” says Lance. You start to care about what goes on in your space.
The growing church is multiplying through a second parish in East Vancouver, where Lance lives with his wife and young children.
The church is relational and “keeps Jesus at the centre,” says Lance. “Where the gospel shows up is in between people.”
It was your usual Sunday school picnic: The pastor’s Buddhist friends were trying to convert his oldest daughter to the concept of reincarnation while he discussed who Jesus really is with some Muslims interlocutors.
At least, it was usual for Dennis Wilkinson of Meta Communities. His congregation consists of some 100 neighbours – only 10 confessing the lordship of Christ – who regularly cycle through his home for discussion, food and friendship.
These friends include a professional exotic dancer with 15 years’ experience but no high school diploma and a boy born to his mothers with the help of science who was so unfamiliar with the term “dad,” he thought it was Dennis’s name.
But more than inviting people into the protective walls of a Christian community, Dennis’s style is “to go outside those walls and be incarnated like Jesus.”
At the local school of more than 500 children, Dennis counts the principal and some staff among his friends, as he volunteers many hours each week and works to know the children’s names. Unless blocked by neighbor complaints, he holds community gatherings on the grounds.
Dennis is acquainted with those who vehemently oppose Meta’s community activities simply because he is a Christian. In an area where 50,000 people from all over the world live in a 10 X 10 block radius, “you have to work at not getting to know your neighbours,” he says.
The Wilkinsons occupy one of the few single-family homes left in the densely-populated neighbourhood, but he’s got his eye on a different house, “the mansion” – the neglected former palace of the Rogers Sugar baron. Dennis dreams of inviting Christians to come and be discipled and coached to live out the gospel in the everyday in a context where you meet people from a gamut of perspectives and geographies simply by taking a walk.
Through miraculous provision, Westside Church anchored a gospel beacon at one end of Robson; Dennis believes God could raise the mortgage and pay the taxes on a discipleship training centre to anchor the other end of a street known for anything but the self-sacrificial, loving good news of Jesus.
Executive Director Willy Reimer says scripture is clear on God’s plan to proclaim the Gospel: “God’s purpose is to use the church. The Church is Plan A. There is no plan B.” In that light, he told delegates to the Canadian Mennonite Brethren Gathering in Vancouver, the mission of the Canadian Conference and the methods of the Conference have been reviewed and focused to help local churches and leaders to achieve God’s purposes for their ministries. It is a process involving broad changes.
Delegates to Gathering 2014, the national meeting of Canadian Mennonite Brethren, heard how new priorities and purposes were developed in response to an internal review process discussed at the Gathering 2012 in Winnipeg. Reimer said the consultation process has brought realization that the heart of God for the conference is to have a “mindset of multiplication,” not numbers but a mindset. “It’s personal,” asking God, “how would you work in my life and my heart to multiply your kingdom?”
Finance team leader Harold Frose said a thorough review of conference financial practices was done, also in response to the assessment. He said the conference has been compliant with regulations, but “We want to move to ‘best practices’.” Further review is underway. (For details, see mennonitebrethren.ca/reports.)
Delegates also heard from Board of Faith and Life representatives’ report on follow-up to the 2013 Study Conference on human sexuality. Board chair Brian Cooper said, “We as a conference are about human sexuality, not homo sexuality”. Idolatries in the culture surround us, he said, including issues around marriage, pornography, live-in relationships and many other elements of modern life in North America. “We intended to expand on our confessional understanding of sexuality.” He added, “It’s not enough to have the ‘right definition’ if we cannot respond to people who live with a definition that we cannot support.” Board member Bill Hogg said 80 questions arose from the Study Conference, and the decision has been made to explore the topic further at the 2015 meeting.
“Welcome to CCMBC’s mission conference!”
So began Gathering 2014 at The Centre in Vancouver, with a welcome from executive director Willy Reimer. “We are a mission agency and our mission field is all of Canada.”
During Wednesday night’s celebration service, delegates and guests from across the country were introduced to the concept of being the church on mission in the heart of the city. Norm Funk, pastor of Westside Church who are hosting the event, shared the story of his congregation – from its genesis in a downtown movie theatre to its current home at The Centre. (See “Westside begins new chapter in The Centre.“)
Laying a scriptural foundation
Funk then unpacked 2 Corinthians 4:1–6, saying the ministry we’ve been given is a gift of mercy.
“We can’t be sufficient enough in ourselves – our education, our experience, our history. Ours is a ministry of the Spirit! If we just rely on ourselves, we lose heart or get cocky.”
Funk exhorted leaders to preach the full gospel. “Sometimes not all the gospel is taught,” he said, “especially the hard parts, or when we question it or don’t teach it with conviction. And sometimes we rely on bait and switch tactics, telling people that their marriage or their family or their health will be better when they come to Jesus. The gospel doesn’t promise those things.”
Funk also said the gospel we’ve been given calls us to preach with passion. “The gospel brings light and life. The gospel is not a what, it’s a who – Jesus! This should fire us up with passion!”
Following a time of celebrating the Lord’s Supper, Willy Reimer presented a keynote address centred on the Canadian conference’s new mission statement: “We exist to multiply Christ-centred churches to see Canada transformed by the good news of Jesus Christ.”
“I’ve been asked many times about why we talk about multiplication,” said Reimer. “Multiplying is a mindset, not a number. The kingdom of God is always growing as the people of God share the life of God. Jesus is always multiplying – with bread and fish… and lives!
“Multiplying for mission is always personal. It’s not about hitting targets. The more we know people [who don’t know Jesus], the more urgent it becomes.”
Reimer said he was excited to be in the centre of the big city for CCMBC’s biennial convention, noting the Canadian church is primarily suburban, even though the city is ripe for harvest. “Christians have lost the battle for the city because they have moved out of the city. To love the city, you have to be in the city.”
“You are all beautiful people!” said Reimer, referring to Romans 10:15 (“How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news,” ESV). “But are you sent? During Gathering 2014, I pray we’d all hear a call from God to move – to be on mission. Will we embrace the mission of being a sent one?”