‘Lord, Set Our Church on Fire!’
by Sandra Reimer
For months, Don Valley Bible Chapel (DVBC) Children’s Ministry Director Sue Craig had been praying, “Lord, set our church on fire. Fill us with love and passion for you.” Married to Matt Craig, pastor of DVBC in Toronto, Sue’s prayers are being answered in an unusual way.
On Sunday, December 11th, around 9:30 pm, members of Toronto China Bible Church, who share the building with the DVBC congregation, had just finished an evening program when the fire alarm went off. The fire department was automatically alerted and everyone exited the building. Fortunately, firefighters arrived quickly and extinguished a fire that had started in an old kitchen in the church basement. Unfortunately, it may take six months to repair the smoke and water damage.
Right after the fire, Pastor Matt wrote on his blog:
The timing seems awful but we can't help but identify with the first Christmas. As we seek alternate space to meet in we can identify with the plight of Jesus' parents as they were told 'no room'. The messy circumstances in which Jesus entered our world are less theoretical as we work through the mess of this fire. Just like that first Christmas there is anticipation too - anticipation that God's glory is being revealed. He is doing something new, and in spite of the mess, there is rejoicing.
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea...” (Psalm 46:1–2)
It may take six months to repair the smoke and water damage caused by a December 2011 fire at Don Valley Bible Chapel.
“Obviously it has shaken us up a bit and made us uncomfortable,” says Matt. But he adds that it has been good for the congregation. “We have a real sense that God is with us. He has not abandoned us.”
Before the fire, Matt and his leadership team had been reminding the congregation that their church is the people—not the building. Forced to relocate their services and programs while the building is repaired, the congregation is learning this truth first hand.
A member of the DVBC congregation works at a retirement home that quickly offered the church use of their party room—free of charge. Toronto China Bible Church (TCBC), which normally meets at the same time as DVBC in the church auditorium, also found an alternate place to meet. Regrettably, that means the two congregations are unable to share children’s Sunday school classes like they usually do.
Not only have the two services, children’s and youth programs, and other programs been displaced, but the daycare centre that operates during the week has had to find a temporary location. The daycare, which is a ministry of the church, provides an essential service to parents and has a good reputation in the community. The congregation saw God’s hand as they were able to secure a new location at another church and proper licensing within three weeks (it usually takes months)!
Ironically, this experience is bringing TCBC and DVBC closer together even as they occupy separate buildings. “We are partnering on a leadership level. We are doing more talking than ever before,” says Matt.
Without a church building, people have been meeting in each other’s homes more often. The joint TCBC and DVBC youth group has been going from house to house. Though less convenient, there is a greater sense of community. “We are also more aware of the community around us, because we have been forced out into it more,” he says.
The crisis has also had a spiritual impact. Though Matt was a little distracted by the situation, he says people in the church who weren’t Christians yet were watching how they handled it. One woman in particular was impacted. “We had just modelled for her that when there is crisis you cry out to Jesus,” he says. “She told me about a crisis in her life and how for the first time she cried out to Jesus and it made a difference. And she wanted to be one of God’s children. So I led her to the Lord on Christmas day in the party room at the retirement home.”
Matt admits the situation is a loss, “but not a total loss.” He adds, “I am so proud of how people have conducted themselves. I am confident that [once] back in the building there are good things we can build on.” ■
Leaders Challenged at Church Planting Canada Conference
Nineteen leaders connected to VMC attended the bi-annual Church Planting Congress in Winnipeg. Some are already in the process of planting new churches, others are actively planning to do so and still others are considering this as one of several ministry options. Participants connected with people from coast to coast who share a heart for evangelism and church planting.
VMC has contributed to and benefited from this event since it began in 1997. Because of relationships developed through CPC, we have planted three new initiatives in cooperation with the Mennonite Brethren and the Associated Gospel Churches. We are in conversation with two other denominations about cooperating on evangelistic outreaches to some of the spiritually neediest communities in Canada.
Comments from participants
The three days at Congress was such a blessing. It gave me the courage again to respond to the call of Christ, so I have started working toward starting another Iranian church in the city of Calgary for all Iranians to share the gospel...
– Hamid Arzanipourm, Calgary
(potential planter among Persians)
Two major themes popped out at me that really were instrumental in Lighthouse coming together: hospitality and space. In my circles, I still get the sense that a lot of people from traditional settings think our work is kind of shallow even though it has produced some pretty amazing results. The conference was encouraging. We feel more permission around the idea of hospitality and impacting our local community.
– David Leung, planter in Newcastle, ON (Lighthouse Church)
I am challenged by the conviction that I need to re-enter some of those old monastic practices (soaking in the Word, lectio, prayer, solitude, etc). For my own community I brought some of that to the table this past Sunday and we are entering into some of those practices. I sense that the Lord really wants to grow this community in terms of intimacy and passion for Him. – Jeff Pascoe, planter in Peterborough, ON
My context is a little different than the urban, culturally-diverse setting that so many of our Canadian brothers and sisters find themselves in right now... but I do believe we should all be asking these questions of what is our "theology of place" or context for doing the work of God in our place and with the people God has entrusted us to serve and reach out towards. – Joel Lock, pastor at a new church on Manitoulin Island, ON
New Ideas from Nashville
It’s hard for Jay Gurnett to feel like a legitimate participant whenever he replaces Gord Martin representing Vision Ministries at the Church Planting Leaders Fellowship (CPLF) that gathers twice annually in Nashville, TN. VMC has been part of this group since it began meeting a few years ago. Jay was at the gathering in mid-November 2011(while Gord was at the biannual Church Planting Canada conference in Winnipeg).
What made Jay uneasy is that everyone else among the very few participants seemed to represent a large church-planting denomination or parachurch ministry (like the Southern Baptist Church in the US, or Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada). Vision Ministries has initiated/coached/come alongside about 60 new churches since it came together 20 years ago. Encouraging, but Jay still feels like small potatoes when the CPLF gets together.
Mind you, Jay should have felt a little more legit in November. CPLF was considering “organic” or “incarnational” or “non-traditional” approaches to widening the impact of God’s kingdom—usually through smaller communities of Christians intent on reaching the community around them. Jay has been thinking about this, trying it (at New London Community in London, ON), and giving others permission to try it, for a number of years. Most of the groups Jay works with have concluded that the way church has been “done” in North America for the past 50 years won’t effectively preach the gospel to every creature. Of course some new groups have become frustrated enough to verbally take it out on the established evangelical church. That’s plainly not helpful, and Jay tries to teach that to his friends.
CPLF does things up right. Key leader Ed Stetzer (he has a whole list of books and accomplishments and is currently helping plant a church), ensures that good research is done, and that key thinkers/practitioners are present to stimulate strong dialogue at the Nashville gathering. Alan Hirsch, Neil Cole, Hugh Halter and Robert Logan were in Music City for the conference. They talked about changes in their thinking. Bob Logan, author of the classic resource guide The Church Planter’s Toolkit, and one of the key people in the modern church-planting movement, has come to the conclusion that the old approach of assessment, training, strategic planning (bathed in prayer and teamwork, etc.) just wasn’t enough. They told stories (mostly Cole and Halter) of small groups in the USA that really got to know their neighbours, and then duplicated into hundreds, even thousands, of home fellowships. And they did some good Bible teaching (particularly Hirsch) to consider how leadership should be done in these groups.
So, what did Jay come back with? Renewed vigour and confirmation—Vision Ministries is still strongly committed to facilitating work to expand God’s kingdom in all kinds of ways. VMC will continue to encourage churches to grow by increasing attendance or adding new more-or-less-dependent congregations. They will help nurture brand new independent “daughter” churches, and others that spring up around a gifted planter or small group that want to “start a church.” And they’ll do what they can to help “little weird groups” get going. Jay particularly likes experiments with new ways (which just might be old ways). But like Gord and the whole organization, he isn’t willing to put all his eggs in one basket, and stays committed to “the freedom of the AND,” intent on seeing the kingdom grow any way it can. ■
Thinking Shrewdly V: The Gospel and Your Church
VMC NATIONAL CONFERENCE // MAY 10–12, 2012
Lakeside Church: 7654 Conservation Rd, Guelph, Ontario
Greg Paul has been involved with inner-city ministry for more than 25 years. Author of God in the Alley: Being and Seeing Jesus in a Broken World, he is the founder and director of Sanctuary Ministries of Toronto and pastor of the Sanctuary community. Sanctuary welcomes those who are hurting and excluded, including addicts, prostitutes, and homeless people.
Dr. Gary Nelson became President and Vice Chancellor of Tyndale in Toronto in 2010, after ten years as General Secretary of Canadian Baptist Ministries (CBM). He helped CBM expand their global impact in leadership development, theological education, and sustainable community development. An urban missiologist, international lecturer, and author with a doctorate from Fuller Theological Seminary, he has also served as a senior pastor and in other pastoral roles.
Bruxy Cavey is the Teaching Pastor of The Meeting House—“a church for people who aren’t into church.” This multi-site community in the Greater Toronto Area creates safe places for spiritual seekers to ask questions and develop thoughtful faith. Bruxy’s accessible style, historical rigor, and refreshing candor make him a popular guest on television and radio programs and at universities across Canada.
This is an interactive event. Although you will be listening to some expert presenters, there will be plenty of time for developing relationships and wrestling with truth together. We will also be talking about collective initiatives through VMC. We believe God shows up when his people get together! Register online at www.vision-ministries.org or by phone at 1-877-509-5060.
We Want You to Come! Here are some incentives:
- Travel subsidy available for the first 50 registrants outside of Ontario and Quebec
- Younger leaders (30 and under) pay only $100
- Register as a group of 7 or more from the same church and the 7th registration is FREE!
- Early Bird Registration (by April 10, 2012) $250/individual or $300/couple
Did we mention that registration includes five meals, snacks, and more delicious teaching and conversation than you can possibly digest during the conference?
Conference Schedule Highlights
Thursday, May 10
- Registration begins at 9 AM
- First session 10 AM
- Keynotes with Greg Paul and Gary Nelson
- Two stream sessions
Friday, May 11
- Keynotes with Bruxy Cavey, including 7:30 PM session open to the public
- Two stream sessions
Saturday, May 12
- VMC Dialogue and Vision Session
- Final Keynote with Greg Paul
- Lunch and leave for home
See www.vision-ministries.org/calendar.php for the latest info.
Conference Streams—Choose One
The themes we are addressing at Thinking Shrewdly V have the potential to polarize people. The Bible itself often presents contrasting emphasis on the same issues. In addition to the main presentations, participants will join one “Dialogue Stream” that will meet four times over the two days of the conference.
You can be part of the dialogue in advance (and hopefully post-conference), by reflecting on key questions listed below.
Start the conversations now. Consider which stream(s) is most relevant to your church. Discuss the questions at an elders’ meeting or over lunch with key leaders from your congregation.
Contact the session facilitator at the email address listed with your thoughts or related questions (replace "[at]" with "@" and remove spaces in email addresses). Or post your comments on our Facebook page at http://facebook.com/VisionMinistriesCanada or on our blog at www.vision-ministries.org/news.
1. Tell a 2000-Year-Old Story to Unresponsive Canadians
Bruxy Cavey with Ken Taylor
The majority of Canadians do not share our Christian faith or values and are not responding positively to the Gospel message we proclaim. We will identify challenges and pursue ways to become more evangelistically fruitful.
- What makes the Gospel good news for today’s Canadians?
- What is the Gospel? How do people come to faith—crisis or process?
- What comes before “telling the story”? For how long? Is it different for people that are gifted as evangelists?
- How can we equip people to witness?
Contact ktaylor [at] creeksidechurch.ca
2. Practice Effective Church Leadership
Gary Nelson with Mike Stone
Good leadership makes a big difference. Getting the right leaders into the correct roles and helping them commit to humility, servanthood, integrity, faithfulness and effectiveness is the key to flourishing churches.
- How can the effectiveness of a church or its leaders be evaluated or measured?
- What is the best way to build effective church leadership teams?
- What is the role of faith in God on a leadership team or in a church?
- What is the ideal organization and structure for each size of church?
Contact mike.stone [at] forestviewchurch.ca
3. Show Compassion and Fight for Justice
Greg Paul with Jeremy Horne
Jesus set a very high standard for compassion and justice. His reputation attracted many and his cause threatened major upheaval to the status quo. What would it take for us to have a similar impact and reputation?
- Should ministries of compassion and justice be rooted in discipleship?
- How can we read the Bible through the lenses of poverty, pain, violence and brokenness?
- Should we start new ministries or release people to work in existing ones?
- What happens when priorities are reordered and church life becomes living kingdom justice? Or should a church allocate 30% of its budget to compassion and justice ministry?
Contact jeremy [at] vision-ministries.org
4. Reach & Learn From Millions Who Are New to Canada
Gord Martin with Binghai Zeng
People arrive in Canada from all over. The character of our cities and towns is undergoing massive change. Can more of us learn to think like missionaries? Or will we continue to send costly mission teams elsewhere while ignoring the people coming to us?
- What can long-time Canadians and churches learn from new immigrants to Canada?
- How can first generation leaders raise up new leaders and deploy them well?
- How can established churches best work with new immigrant churches?
- Can Kingdom values be distinguished from those of our contemporary cultures?
Contact gord [at] vision-ministries.org
5. Start New Outreach, New Congregations and New Churches
Terry Wiseman with Jay Gurnett
New kingdom initiatives are the church’s frontier. What hinders us from being more daring and adventurous? Can we face our fears and apprehensions and stay on the cutting edge of new ministries, new congregations, new sub-congregations, and new communities? Let’s do it!
- Why is it necessary to have ongoing “fresh expressions” of church?
- Can we predict who can successfully start a new ministry?
- Training and coaching—how much and what kind?
- How can we overcome the hurdles that loom large in our paths?
Contact jay [at] vision-ministries.org
VMC Network News
Holy Land Tour – October 13-27, 2012
In October Mike and Sharon Stone will be leading a trip to Greece, Turkey and Israel—countries rich in biblical significance.
The two-week adventure begins with a cruise through the Greek islands which departs from Athens and includes excursions at Ephesus, Patmos, Rhodes and Crete. After exploring the beauty of the Aegean Sea, the tour will culminate with a week in the land where Jesus, the apostles and patriarchs walked. Plans are also underway to offer the option of travelling to the ancient Nabatean ruins of Petra in the country of Jordan.
The Stones are delighted to have Paul and Dorothy Fletcher join them for this odyssey. Paul has extensive experience in the Middle East having visited on more than twenty occasions.
This will be a memorable journey filled with biblical insight, meaningful fellowship and spiritual refreshment.
For more information please contact one of the following:
- Mike Stone (mike.stone [at] forestviewchurch.ca or 905-331-8531)
- Sharon Stone (sharon_stone7 [at] hotmail.com or 905-331-8531)
- Paul Fletcher (pfletcher [at] kwic.com or 519-669-4569)
Thinking Ahead Email Update
The monthly Email Update features a profile about a church or leader connected to VMC and informs you about upcoming events. If you aren't already subscribed, sign up now to receive the email update (as well as the electronic version of the printed newsletter). See previous updates on the Newsletters page at vision-ministries.org/resources/newsletter/.
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To see financial statements, please download the PDF of this newsletter.
Dear Friends and Partners of VMC,
It seems very strange to be producing a year-end report without the help and active participation of David McClurkin. He was a wonderful friend and co-worker who we have been missing a great deal. A big thank you to many of you who wrote, called and came to his “thanksgiving service.” His wife Gladys expressed her gratefulness “that Dave was given the huge privilege of working with VMC in a ministry where he felt he could truly make a difference. He sensed that the ripples (but I think maybe even a tidal wave) would be felt in many parts of the world.”
As you know, most of the work of VMC can be summed up in this sentence: “We help new churches get started and help existing ones succeed more.” We also sponsored a VMC-like ministry in Kenya in 2011 and anticipate involvement in Burundi, France, Poland and perhaps other countries in 2012.
We were particularly encouraged in 2011 by:
- The 10 regional leadership development events (Moving Your Church’s Mission Forward) held in the spring, and the faith-filled activities they spawned
- The new church plants/initiatives in Vancouver, London, Peter-borough and Toronto, plus church leaders who are saying things like, “Oh and we now have a Bhutanese congregation here.”
- The eight VMC-related people, each of whom are mentoring at least a dozen young leaders
- The people who pray monthly over the 3-4 pages of praise and prayer items we send them
- Finishing our June fiscal year-end and our December calendar year-end in the black.
Thank you very much for working with us to extend the Kingdom of God.
Executive Director of Vision Ministries Canada
As the Chairman of the Board of VMC,
I am privileged to have an “inside” look at this great organization. I have listened to what Gord Martin is considering for the future of the ministry and interacted with many of the staff and other board members who provide direction.
As our culture continues to change rapidly, VMC must change as well. VMC will:
- Continue to focus on church planting as well as looking at new models and paradigms for making disciples.
- Continue to offer great seminars and conferences like Thinking Shrewdly but also introduce new ways to communicate the changing dynamics within the current church culture.
- Keep building up the existing church in Canada and look for new ways to impact the church in other parts of our world.
- Connect with churches in familiar ways and seek alternative ways to partner strategically to move the mission forward.
- Raise funds to meet financial needs as it has in the past but also look for new funding models.
The things I respect about VMC are: a clear vision, strong organizational systems, financial stability and a great team. All of these things are needed to make the changes that will move this ministry forward.
Board Chair, Vision Ministries Canada
What will “MORE” look like in the future?
The motto of VMC has been “More Flourishing Effective Churches.” To us, more has mostly meant planting increasing numbers of evangelistically-motivated churches. But as the poet said, “the times they are a-changin.”
The mission of God is to redeem what is fallen, distorted, and in rebellion. That’s the world as we know it but not the world as He intends it. His ultimate plan is to establish an eternal kingdom that cannot be shaken. His purpose, from a great commission standpoint, is to redeem individuals and gather them into many collective and life-changing expressions of His body which is the church.
As I said, our focus has primarily been on helping to establish new congregations. But the working of God is broader than that. Established churches are extending their reach in creative and diverse ways. People are always looking for something more—for some fresh expression of the body of Christ.
Often various movements or streams of effort have ignored each other while focusing on their own work. But what if we were glad for each other?
Here’s what is happening:
- Some established Canadian churches are interested in planting new daughter churches. But more are interested in growing larger and in starting additional services, sub-congregations, and simulcast church services or missional outposts. This is the current reality.
- Newcomers to Canada have no hesitations about planting new churches. They are starting churches everywhere. In the downtowns of every city, just about every church has one or more immigrant churches meeting in its facilities.
- And something new has been happening on a smaller scale but in a persistent manner just the same. Small groups of people are binding together to live out the Gospel and its mission in their communities. Some call it incarnational, some call it communal, some call it organic and some don’t want to call it anything. They simply want to live out their faith, in faith, and see what happens.
- There aren’t too many, but there are some genuine Christian entrepreneurs who want to start a new church from scratch that transforms people through the power of Jesus and brings glory to God. This is a good thing too.
- There are renewal groups that are looking for greater freedom, more reality or perhaps a rediscovery of orthodoxy in ways that their present congregations don’t seem to allow. Is that bad? No, we think it’s a sign of vigour, life, and of the constant need for renewal as individuals and as congregations.
Though VMC acknowledges and rejoices over each of the above kingdom expressions of “more,” we want to get better at celebrating them.
What if we all learned to rejoice more freely and widely? It may sound odd, but what if we agreed that each of the following equalled a life-transforming congregation to be celebrated:
- A congregation grows by 50 or 100 people. Let’s celebrate!
- A congregation starts a new service, sub-congregation, or ministry out-post. Let’s celebrate!
- A new ethnic congregation forms. Let’s celebrate!
- A new incarnational/organic/semi-communal group forms to intentionally live out their faith in Jesus in a community. Let’s celebrate!
- A new faith venture is started to make disciples and form congregations in a way that is not yet defined. Let’s celebrate!
- A group leaves a church to recover greater freedom, more reality, or perhaps rediscover orthodoxy. It may be hard because there is some hurt, but can we celebrate what is good in this?
I know that we could spend a lot of time talking about what qualifies as a real church. And then we could write some articles, maybe a book—and then have sharp debates over who was right!
What if we said, you know, if God is in this, it will show. Let’s believe in each other, support one another and celebrate each other’s faith ventures and victories. Wouldn’t that be good?! That’s where we’re headed. ■