Implementing New Faith Communities in Rural Canada: Tim and Joel on Bivocational Ministry

This article is part of a series. Read the introduction “Same but Different: Implementing New Faith Communities in Rural Canada” here.

A reality facing many rural pastors is the need for bivocational ministry, that is, taking on another job in addition to their roles in the church. We spoke with two CBWC ministers, Tim Challen and Joel Usick, about their perspectives on the opportunities and difficulties they face as pastors in small-town Manitoba. I hope their stories encourage you towards deep thinking on the nature of pastoring as a calling, job, lifestyle and more! 

Joel Usick

CBWC Church Planting: Tell us a bit about you and your ministry context? 

Tim Challen: 
I’ve been a pastor now for three and a half years, serving in Virden, MB: a small town of 3000 people in South-West Manitoba. 

When I started looking for pastoral jobs, I didn’t give any thought to working as a solo pastor of a small town church. I expected to find a job as a youth pastor or associate pastor in Greater Vancouver, which is where I grew up. But after more than a year of searching, with no success, I decided to expand my search to the rest of Canada.  

I found that there is less competition for jobs in rural churches. So, when people ask me why I moved all the way out here, I usually respond, “this is the first place that offered me a job.” Although, to be fair, I wouldn’t have taken the job if I had not genuinely felt that God was calling me to serve in this particular church. And after all this time, I still believe that I made the right decision, and that this is where God wants me. 

Joel Usick: 
Shoal Lake Baptist Church became my first solo pastorate in July of 2021. In a town of about 700 people, we are located on the main street a short walk from the school. Through an incredible succession of God’s providence, it was clear to the church and us that we were to begin pastoring here. After a few years of ministry and completing my undergrad in Saskatoon, we ventured home to small town Manitoba where Heidi and I grew up.  

CBWC Church Planting: What does bivocational ministry look like to you?  

Tim: 
Because my church is quite small, I am employed in a 0.8 position. So, I have a second job, part-time, to supplement my income. On Mondays and Tuesdays, I work at a water and ice business here in town. It’s a good job, and my bosses are ok with giving me time off occasionally, so I can attend things like the Banff Pastors and Spouses Conference and go serve at a Christian camp for a week in the summer.  

But it is also physically draining work, and there are a lot of weeks when I just don’t have enough energy to put in a full day at the church on Wednesdays. 

Joel: 
Between our relocation to Shoal Lake, and beginning at the church, I served as a substitute teacher amongst five schools within a 20-minute drive. In this way, I met much of the community not as a “professional religious person,” but as a contributing member that allowed teachers to take a day off—a practical way to meet and bless teachers in our area. This opportunity continues to bear fruit of trust, relationships, connections, and cultivated some different skills in me! 

After starting at the church, I also began working for the municipality as a casual laborer (mowing lawns, upkeeping roads, operating machines for snow removal, garbage and recycling, and many other jobs) as teaching became harder to swing while working mornings at the church.  

Finally, I pivoted again to becoming the maintenance man for two elderly living complexes with 26 suites (and common areas and utilities) working under a committee appointed through the municipality. In this role, I was on call 24 hours a day, every day of the week. While this opportunity was best financially, it came at a considerable cost to my home life and ministry.  

CBWC Church Planting: Share your thoughts on having other work beyond your pastoral role.  

Tim: 
Having a second job is a necessity for me. I would much rather be employed full-time by the church, but that is simply not an option, given the size and financial capacity of my congregation. There is probably some indirect benefit to me having a second job, in terms of staying connected with the marketplace and getting known and respected by the non-believers of the town. But to be honest, in terms of my ministry, there haven’t been any explicit or obvious benefits to having a second job.  

The closest I’ve come to having my worlds collide was once when I was out delivering some bottles of water, and someone parked so close to my work van that I couldn’t open the side door to get the bottles. And that driver had lots of room on the other side, so it was completely unnecessary for him to park so close to me. I would have been well within my rights to snap at him. But I didn’t. And once he realized what he had done, he apologized, and he said “hey, you’re the Baptist pastor right?” So, I’d like to think that I made a positive impression on him that day, which I might not have had the opportunity to do if I didn’t have this second job. 

Joel: 
Vocational ministry, particularly in a rural context, is what I would call lifestyle work. Meaning, pastoring spills into all areas of one’s life – right from the way you make money, to the friends you have, to the way you use your time – pastoral ministry influences your life.  

The question, then, is can one effectively pastor while inserting another occupation into their life? You’d expect my answer to be a resounding yes since I committed to bivocational ministry. However, even with the best time-management, the best boundaries, the highest communication, the best bosses and boards, there will always be tension between two vocations pulling you in separate directions. 

Here are some pros and cons I’ve come to discover in the past 18 months or so as a bi-vocational pastor: 

Pros 

  • I’ve learned what it is like for nearly our entire congregation: trying to live out their faith in secular employment environments. 
  • Meeting people on their home territory (like in a staff room during a lunch break at a school) enables you to meet people where they’re comfortable.  
  • Working bi-vocationally means that your faith is on display – especially in the rural context. Everyone knows you’re a pastor and yet you’re not in the comfort of your office or pulpit. Instead, your elbow deep repairing a toilet, maintaining classroom discipline with rebellious teens, or tired from a day of shoveling asphalt and gravel. You’re still a pastor in all those moments – and you’re being watched and judged accordingly. And if that sounds like a challenge, that’s the challenge your congregation lives in daily! 
  • The community also sees you in a positive light when you’ve provided in practical ways to the labor force of the area – teachers were able to get off to a dentist appointment, or simply have a day off because I was available as a sub. I helped out the town when someone was off on injury. People appreciate this kind of practical contribution.  
  • For a season, I was able to say like Paul, “Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.”  

 Cons 

  • Just when you think you’ve achieved a balance between being healthy, ministry, and your side hustle, something changes (Maybe you have a baby! I became a dad in June!). To maintain spiritual, emotional, relational, physical, and vocational health while working as a pastor can be challenging – let alone another job with safety meetings, administration, an additional board to satisfy.  
  • Saying yes to a side hustle meant saying no to other ministry opportunities. 
  • Like with all employees and employers, tension can arise. Navigating the natural employee/employer conflict without tarnishing your witness and reputation in a rural community is not an easy feat. I’ve had to learn to take correction with tenderness and humility even if it’s extended to you with expletives.   
  • A natural tendency is to increase your expenses with your income. If you become dependent on your side hustle income, you may not have the mobility to adapt to the ebb and flow of ministry needs.  
  • Taking on a second role may allow a congregation to forget about paying a pastor full-time. This may not actually be what’s best for a congregation. 

CBWC Church Planting: Would you say there are unique challenges or opportunities when it comes to mission and ministry in rural Canada? 

Tim: 
Though my church is small, the people really know their Bibles well, so I can tackle a lot of controversial or unconventional topics in my preaching. I get to explore the nuances of Scripture passages, and challenge assumptions about theology, and that makes my job really interesting. While my church may be small (The most I’ve ever seen on a Sunday morning was 39 people, and that was before COVID), I have the freedom there to preach really intellectually-stimulating sermons. So, I’m very grateful for that. 

The challenges mostly have to do with the fact that rural areas are generally in decline, and their populations are generally getting smaller, or at least older. Family farms are increasingly being consolidated into large corporate farms, which require relatively few workers, meaning young people have more reasons to move to a city to find work or to attend college. Granted, some young people do stay, and some small towns are growing because a certain industry is thriving. But most rural areas are not growing, and it’s hard to grow a church in an area that itself isn’t growing.  

Joel: 
There’s nothing like the joys and challenges of rural ministry. In just a few months, a person can make a real impact and impression on a small town. Unlike the urban context, a new person in a small town moves quickly from stranger to acquaintance to friend. There’s a natural assimilation that happens in the rural culture of togetherness. 

CBWC Church Planting: If someone was planning to plant a new congregation in a rural setting near you, what advice would you offer them? 

Tim:
People who live in small towns are often very family oriented. Many people who choose to live in small towns know that they could have a more exciting life, and often a better-paying job, if they lived in a city, but they’re willing to give those perks up so they can raise their kids in what they consider to be a more wholesome environment. This means that ministry in a small town doesn’t need to be flashy. Don’t devote too much attention to the “production value” of the service. Be authentic and dedicated, and that will be enough for most people. 

Joel:
Before taking on a side hustle, ask yourself, “Can I swing this financially by decreasing my expenses rather than trying to increase my income?” 

Through your work, volunteer committees, coffee shops, or bars, meet people where they are at. Find the cultural “good” and serve in that good. If you’re in rural Canada, think about the community rink, family events, foodbank, school programs/sports. Pretend you’re a missionary to a culture you’ve never been in before – implement the same cultural assimilation strategies and efforts in learning what makes your community (both the Christian and secular community) tick.  

And no, it won’t be exactly the same as the previous town you were in—just 10 minutes down the road can make a huge difference in the needs of the community. Be curious. 

Implementing New Faith Communities in Rural Canada: The Heart of Rural Church Life

This article is part of a series. Read the introduction “Same but Different: Implementing New Faith Communities in Rural Canada” here. Jenna Hanger is part of the CBWC Communications team and, having grown up in rural Alberta, has a first-hand view of the joys and difficulties of small-town church life. Thanks, Jenna, for your honest and thoughtful reflection!

By Jenna Hanger 

I live in the middle of nowhere.

That’s how I jokingly describe my small rural community. To many people who are used to bigger centres, that’s exactly right. The hamlet of Brownfield has a church, community centre and a K-9 school with approximately fifty kids. We drive at least 25 minutes to get to the nearest grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants, and approximately two hours to the nearest city. Most people out here are involved with agriculture in one form or another, and the weather is a constant prayer request. 

I grew up attending Brownfield Baptist Church, as did my dad and his parents before him. I was dedicated as a baby there (see the photo above!), baptized, married and dedicated my own kids (second photo) in that same building. Many people in the city say that their church is their family, having few family members around them. For me out here, that is literally true when it comes to my church. I am blood-related to many if not most of the members, if you go back far enough!  


It takes everyone to keep things running. The adults are hands-on involved with the kids’ programs and youth group. Many people end up running several different events at once, and our limited number of musicians means the same faces are often up on stage every week faithfully leading worship. I love that aspect of our church: the intergenerational community that we have. My daughters are learning from the same men and women who taught me when I was young. It’s a beautiful thing to see. “It takes a village to raise a child” is a serious saying out here. We all feel it and live it out.  


I remember growing up watching the adults in church on their knees during worship, and hearing their powerful emotions when their voices were raised in song. I didn’t always understand the words of the sermon, but I understood the importance of faithfully gathering. That is something that can be missed, I think, when churches separate kids, youth and adults from each other. There is something significant that occurs when a child is able to learn from those older than themselves. To watch the adults they respect engaged in worship or sharing their testimonies or being vulnerable in prayer is incredibly influential. I learnt much about my own faith from witnessing these moments as a child. 


Relationships run deep in our small church community. There are generations of families that have sat virtually in the same spots for the past fifty years. It is quite a thing, to be not just another face in the crowd, but to be known––all the good and the bad parts of you––by everyone. The people in my church have watched me grow up; they have comforted me in my most painful times. They have celebrated all the milestones of my life. In down times I know I have people who will rally beside me. It’s a kind of intimacy that is hard to replicate, but it comes at a price. 


Lack of diversity is one of the major challenges rural churches face. At times, it can be hard to feel you have a place, especially if you think a bit differently about certain things. In a bigger centre you have options, you can find your niche. Out here, you have to just force a way for yourself to fit what’s in front of you. That can be hard and constantly feel like an uphill battle simply to belong. I know many in our area who would relate to this feeling. 

Relationships run deep, but so do hurts. That is a truth about a rural community. There are long memories and histories that can at times be painful. Problems cannot be solved by simply moving to a new church, even if you felt the drive would be worth it every Sunday. You are so closely integrated with people and family that running from problems and conflicts is not an option. Whether this is a good or a bad thing depends on who you talk to.   


One of the biggest challenges for a rural church when looking at local outreach is how do we be a welcoming option for all types of backgrounds and remain true to our identity? How can we be light and truth in the community when everyone knows your faults and flaws? 

It’s a tricky line to walk: being welcoming but firm in truth, being a leader but also authentic. The responsibility of being the only local church in a small area means in theory our doors should be wide open and inviting. Although we strive for that, we sometimes miss the mark, and going backwards is very hard to do. There are people who refuse to come to our church because of a hurt that took place nearly a decade ago, and some of them rightly so.   

Despite all that, I am blessed to have been raised in such a community, and even more blessed that I now get to raise my own girls in the same environment. I know my children are loved and cared for when we go to church on Sunday. I know we have a solid community to stand with us whatever might be down the road. We might not get everything right (indeed, what flawed human does?) but we do our best to serve God in the area He has placed us in, and I know He will continue to use our little congregation to further His Kingdom.     

Implementing New Faith Communities in Rural Canada: Hubert’s Story

This article is part of a series. Read the introduction “Same but Different: Implementing New Faith Communities in Rural Canada” here.

Hubert Barton attends Grandview Church in Vancouver, BC, and has been serving as the coordinator for the Indigenous Studies Program at the Vancouver School of Theology, after graduating from the program himself in 2019. We had the opportunity to connect with Hubert, hear his story and get his perspective on rural church planting in western Canada. You won’t be able to miss his pastoral heart and huge love for Jesus and for his community in this interview! 

Hubert Barton

It’s great to meet you, Hubert. Tell us a bit about where you came from.  
I’m from the North Coast of British Columbia, from a community called Ging̱olx, BC, right at the mouth of the Nass River. There are four communities that make up the Nisga’a nation. The furthest inland is Gitlaxt’aamiks, with 2000 people in that community. If you drive about 15 minutes down the highway, you get to the smallest community, called Gitwinksihlkw: roughly 150 to 200 people. Drive a little bit more towards the coast. You will travel along a lava bed, you will travel along the river and through the mountains, past hot springs and waterfalls and you get the community called Laxgalts’ap. It’s similar in size to my community: roughly 250 or 300 people.  

Drive another 30 minutes to the end of the road, and you’ll get to Ging̱olx, where the river meets the coast. We’re surrounded by mountains and wildlife; still very, very untouched by the outside world. We have a few mom-and-pop type corner stores, but up until a few years ago, we didn’t have cell service or paved roads. 

It’s so peaceful. It’s absolutely beautiful and very pristine. That’s probably my favorite thing about it. If you stop and listen you could hear two rivers flowing by. You can hear the birds, the eagles in the air.  

And what was life like for you growing up?   
I’m the youngest of four brothers and one sister. They’re all really close together in age, and there’s a seven-year gap. And then there’s me. I just remember being surrounded by family, all the time.  

When I was 13, I had two options because there was no high school in my community: I could either move to Prince Rupert or to Gitlaxt’aamiks. I chose initially to go to Prince Rupert because that’s where a lot of my brothers had gone, but I only lasted for a couple months because I just couldn’t stand being away from my community, staying at some strangers’ place. It was pretty tough. So I ended up doing high school at Gitlaxt’aamiks.  

At that school I stayed in a student residence with all the other students from the Valley. So even moving away for high school, I was surrounded by my people.  

I’ve actually been really homesick lately. That’s the thing about being an urban indigenous person. Growing up in Gingolx and in my culture, I was always surrounded by family. Living in Vancouver, that’s not the case anymore. I appreciate the opportunities of city life, but I really miss home—even something as simple as meals. These days I usually eat alone. I’m used to eating with my whole family, or my 17 closest friends at high school! Totally different.  

Share a bit of your own faith journey?
I grew up in a Christian family. My parents are Christian. My grandparents were Christian, so I was the kid playing in the pews. I grew up in that environment, but it didn’t actually become real until 2010. That’s the year that I lost my mother. We were finally approaching that point in our relationship where we could become friends. We were getting close. But she just left, and my world kind of fell apart at that point.  

I remember very clearly: I was sleeping downstairs in my bedroom and my dad came running downstairs. He said, “Son, come upstairs. Your mom’s not doing well.”  

She was in a lot of pain and she couldn’t say a single word. We rushed her to the hospital in Terrace, which is about a two-hour drive. She was only in the emergency room for about 15 minutes, and I was rubbing her back and trying to comfort her. In true mother fashion, she was more worried about us than anything. She was telling us to get food and check into a hotel. And then, just like that, she took her last breath while I was literally rubbing her back.  

My world fell apart. In the weeks and months that followed, my family would have family dinners to encourage each other, to bring a laugh and lift each other up. It worked for a while—sitting in my living room being surrounded by 30 or 40 brothers and sisters, nieces, nephews and cousins and friends of the family. But two or three months into this, I remember being surrounded by my loved ones, but feeling really, incredibly alone.  

It was during one of these dinners that I felt something inside me kind of stir up. And it told me to get up and move. So I grabbed my sweater and I just walked out the door. I went for a walk and I had no idea where I was going. But I eventually found myself outside my home church, Gingolx Church Army

I snuck up the stairs, opened the door as quietly as I could and peeked inside. I could see everybody inside peeking back at me. About a dozen of them, having a Bible study. But their faces lit up when they saw me and they immediately welcomed me in. They asked me if I wanted to have tea and to hang out with them. I remember stepping inside that church and feeling this Presence. I remember feeling this calm, this peace and this love that I didn’t quite fully understand at that moment. So, I kept going back for a couple of weeks after that to the regular church services.  

A lot of my aunties and uncles, especially on my mom’s side, were part of the church, and I just remember learning from them about the love of God and Jesus. During one of these services, I recognized who that Presence was. That Presence that I could sense continued to go with me after that moment. And I remember just bawling my eyeballs out, just saying, “God, I can’t do this anymore. Here: You take complete control. Just take over because I can’t do this anymore.”  

I poured out all my garbage, and in return I felt Jesus’ peace, and this love. From that moment, He kind of just put the pieces of my heart back together. Losing my mother was one of the biggest challenges in my life, but that’s also when everything became real for me—when my relationship with God, Christ, Holy Spirit came, one-on-one, and I realized what this was all about.  

And that kind of started the path I’m on right now to be living in Vancouver.  

So how did you end up in Vancouver?
One of my aunties invited me along to summer school here at the Vancouver School of Theology Indigenous Studies program. I happily said, “yes!” and I came down to audit some courses. I got to meet so many people from different cultures and backgrounds and different places across Canada, the US, Australia, New Zealand. It was so encouraging to hear everyone’s stories, I kept coming back to audit courses and eventually was encouraged to work towards the Masters degree. Through a lot of hesitancy, I said yes.  

I studied at a distance for the first few years, but in 2016 something stirred up inside me again. I needed to stretch and to grow. So in 2016 I left my home and moved down here to study through the VST Indigenous Studies Program full time. I graduated 2019 and I’m very blessed in the fact that I’m now coordinating the program that I graduated from.  

Tell us more about your work? 
The Teaching House that Moves Around is a smaller part of the Indigenous Studies Program. My favorite thing about it is it’s all Indigenous-led. Typically, Ray Aldred or myself will visit a community and will have a meal or coffee with either the community or the leaders. And we’ll see what they need and we’ll do our best to help them now. Then we go through the planning, we secure appropriate faculty members—qualified facilitators, and we do our best to keep it Indigenous. 

We do our best to help strengthen their strengths versus trying to build something new. We do our best to help them with what they’re good at already so that they can do it better and help people more. The two most popular courses that we offer are “Ministry in the Midst of Trauma” and “Indigenous Christology.”  

One of the biggest things for Indigenous communities is trying to wrestle with your Christian identity and your Indigenous identity. But also there’s a lot of trauma in communities and it’s not uncommon to experience so much loss and death in a short period of time. And that tends to compound on each other. And so that’s probably the most popular one: “Ministry in the Midst of Trauma.” Especially with the recent discoveries in Kamloops and other places of the unmarked graves at Residential School sites. There has been a lot of grief in our communities and so training on trauma has become even more important. Grief is hard to process—especially to do it in a good, healthy way, to know that it is okay to feel like that. So we aim to help equip people with these types of tools and skills that they can help themselves and use to help others. 

Each course goes anywhere from three days to five days at the most. In the morning there are teachings and then in the afternoon, we try to do the fun activity or a land-based activity. This structure helps balance the intellectual side and the grounded and connected, relational side. 

Sometime later we’ll do a follow up and just go for coffee, have a meal and check in to see how everyone’s doing.  

We have done them as far as Ontario, Alberta, we’ve even done them in Hawaii. 

Is there a place for Settlers to be the ones bringing the Gospel into Indigenous communities, especially in light of Canada’s history? 
Most Indigenous peoples really love the Gospel. They love Jesus, but when it comes to the institution of the church, that’s when it gets quite challenging. 

It would depend on the community honestly. I can’t foresee it being an overall positive thing—unless you go with the Anglican approach back home, where it’s a very long vision: kind of just show that here you want to be a part of the community and you genuinely care for the people. 

Yes—tell us about the history of Christianity in the area you grew up?  
Unfortunately, it didn’t work out so well with the first missionaries to arrive in in our area. They came to our communities and basically were very, I guess, stereotypical when it comes to the history. They looked at us as evil or devil worshippers. They made us scrap all of our traditions. They did their best to make us get rid of all of our traditional ways of knowing and being. It went so far as, in the community of Laxgalts’ap, they made them gather all their regalia, traditional drums and totems and they put them in the center of the community and they burned them. They just made a big bonfire of everything we were as Indigenous peoples.  

And then they ditched us. They left. 

However, after that the Anglicans arrived, and they did things very differently. They didn’t try to change us completely. Yes, they shared with us the Gospel and shared with us the love of God, but they also lived with us. And what I mean by that is right beside my house growing up was a big Christ Church that was built in early 1900s. Right in front of it was a place called the Mission House, and that’s where they stayed. And so they literally came to live with us. They stayed with us. They learned our culture, they went as far as to learn our language.  

They journeyed alongside us. They became so close to us that the Bishop of our diocese was adopted into the Wolf clan. He was so welcome and loved, they gave him a Nisg̱a’a name, loosely translated in English as “Wolf Shepherd,” because he came in and just cared for the people.  

I remember church services being packed out as a kid. We had two churches in my community. One is Christ Church, which is the typical Anglican church. Services are very liturgy-filled and the space is very sacred. But then afterward they would make us breakfast and we’d all eat together. Even something as simple as boiled egg, toast and jam, and coffee. This is truly why I believe that Anglicanism is strong as it is in my area when it comes to denominations. 

We got excited about the stories, and can easily get with Jesus’ ways of knowing and being. We wanted an opportunity to celebrate. So, in the afternoons we’d gather at the second church: Church Army. That was more expressive, more Anglican-Evangelical, with guitars, drums and bass guitars.  

People would be standing, singing, clapping, raising their hands and praying. And to be honest I think we kind of drove the regular Anglican church nuts at times because we would take the Gospel and make it our own. We started preaching ourselves and we started reading and learning ourselves, and we started sharing testimonies. It was our way of living out the good news they had brought. 

But in terms of bringing the Gospel, they did it in a really good way in the sense that they actually came and journeyed alongside us. They lived, celebrated, cried with us. They genuinely care about us and basically lived the Gospel to us. In essence, they embodied God’s love when they came versus trying to completely change us. 

What advice would you give for those considering rural church planting? 
Your question reminds me of when I did chaplaincy training in the Downtown Eastside. And I remember arriving there for my first day, and I just reminded myself over and over and over and over again: “God, I know you are already here, so I’m not gonna be bringing You anywhere. You already exist everywhere and in all things. You created all things, you are already here. So just give me the eyes to see You. Just help me to stay grounded in love through the process.” 

One of the questions I would get asked about the most is “Why? Why are you a Christian? Why did you go to VST?”  

I would tell them, for me personally, it’s never been about a denomination. It’s never been about a building or worship space or about a Bishop, priest or anything like that. It’s about when my story of brokenness collided with the gospel and the story of Jesus. He got broken. And beautiful love was displayed in that moment.  

One piece of advice that I tend to give the most is don’t be afraid to make mistakes. I notice a lot of people, especially non-Indigenous people, often get afraid to take a chance because they’re afraid they’re going to do something wrong. They might offend someone, so they end up being paralyzed in that fear, and they don’t do nothing at all, right? But mistakes are kind of expected from us, you know, Creator expects some mistakes from us. There is forgiveness. Do it in a good way, from a genuine place, and especially grounded in love.  

All Planters of the Gospel

By Shannon Youell

Planting the Gospel helps give us definition in ways followers of Jesus are all called to participate with God in His mission to the world. Rather than opting out because we already belong to and/or minister in an existing congregation, take time to listen to the Spirit for ways your particular community can join God at work in seeding and harvesting new places and spaces for faith to be discovered and grow. 

At CBWC Church Planting we are always engaging with creative ways your local church community can join in the Planting the Gospel from intentional, relational discipleship within your own community to engaging with the people in your neighbourhood and joining them in fulfilling the values and dreams of a healthy and flourishing greater community. 

For inspiration of a few of the ways you can start participating with us and for some of the ways We Are Better Together, by watching this entertaining video by our own Cailey, which premiered at NMO recently.   

Connect with us on how we can start you or help facilitate your journey towards developing fresh expressions and intentional implementation of the Gospel right where you live, work, play and pray.

Joining God in His Work: Reconciliation

By: Rev. Shannon Youell

“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one spirit.”  Ephesians 2:14-18 

Like most I am weary of the increasing divisiveness in our society.  And I am saddened that Jesus followers seem just as susceptible to falling into polarities as the rest of our culture. It hurts me.  It hurts us.  Equally important, it hurts our witness of ‘joining God at work’ in his mission in the world. We preach and posture God’s love towards humanity, his redemption through the submission of Christ and his invitation to follow Christ and to join him in his work of reconciliation and restoration of humans to God and to one another.  

Joining God at work is a phrase often used to describe a posture of participation in his mission. The question we must always be attentive to is what is God doing in that work? The overarching answer is his kingdom has broken into the earthly realm to facilitate his shalom in the human experience through the birth, life, and death of God’s Son. We often simply call it Good News – Gospel. 

Of course, this inbreaking work didn’t stop at Jesus – we are each called to be God’s ministers of reconciliation as a priesthood of all believers. We should not attempt to minister in this alone. God invites us into the work where he is already present and we must take the time to be attentive to him and to what he is doing in that space. 

Reconciliation is a key word in our understanding of the Gospel. Paul reminds us that believers are to be ministering reconciliation – participating in the reunification of people who have been separated by some means, whether political, religious, societal, racial, or behavioral, through the grace, mercy, love, and salvation of God extended through Christ. While the foremost aspect of that reconciliatory work is between God and humans, it extends from there to reconciliation between humans and one another and reconciliation with all of God’s creation. Reconciliation in all three aspects facilitates God’s kingdom of his Shalom. It breaks down the barriers that divide which Paul speaks of in his letters for the purpose of unifying the (two) divisions and making peace – Shalom.  It opens up space to foster healing, forgiveness, redemption.  

Reconciliation (originally named Reunion) is a sculpture by Josefina de Vasconcellos.

Theology professor and pastor David Fitch, in his book Faithful Presence, writes on reconciliation, emphasizing that in times of division the posture Christ invites us to take is one of mutual submission. Engaging conflicts with any other posture perpetuates the us/them divide; the I’m right/you’re wrong divide. Coming together in a posture of mutual submission – submitting to listen and hear one another – allows the Spirit of God, who is present, to guide us to love, grace and mercy towards one another and towards God’s kingdom breaking in.  

When I spend time with others each of us have different ways of viewing the world and those views are not only shaped by ‘those who believe’ and those who are ‘not-yet-believers’. I have found that when I back off the argument aspect of different opinions, (even though I can personally thrive on those hearty discussions!), and am attentive to discovering how my neighbour thinks, then I am more aware of how they came to a particular conclusion.  

It opens up space for a deeper kind of conversation and makes me aware, if I am attentive, of not forging ahead for God, but rather recognizing that God is already at work and I am joining with God as he enacts his Gospel in the hearts of each of us.

Engaging Mission with Coaching and Cohort Opportunities

Wow! Fall is looming up before us already and most of us are making plans for how we can be salt and light, the Church, in our neighbourhoods in this next season, whatever it may hold for us in the ongoing changing landscape of life disrupted by a pandemic and other world events!

It also means deadlines for engaging in some of the amazing opportunities and pathways available to you and which you can read more details about HERE including the contacts for registration.

This past year (September through March) two of our CBWC churches participated in the Year One Course From the Centre for Leadership Development – “Forming and Reforming Communities of Christ in a Secular Age. One of those churches was where I attend. Five of our leadership team took part in reimagining engaging in mission right in our own area. This has benefited us greatly in understanding together how we can move deeper in shared practices within our church community and engage more relevantly and meaningfully by discovering where God is already at work bringing his presence, his shalom, into our neighbourhoods. The good work we did in that course and the consultation with Tim for our whole Leadership Team (board, elders, staff) is now being fleshed out with a larger group of our folk as we endeavor to discern together how God is forming and reshaping us to engage in his mission. Registration is open now for a mid-September start!

More than a decade ago when I was an Associate Pastor at another church, I brought some our leaders to an event brought to Victoria from The Forge Missional Network and facilitated by our own Cam Roxburgh (who I did not know back then). This opportunity was sponsored by our City-Wide Ministerial, and leaders from a wide range of churches and denominations in Victoria attended this workshop/course Friday and Saturday. It changed and began to reshape my understanding of evangelism, discipleship and mission, and gave words to what had been a growing passion in myself and the leaders who attended with me. Fast forward to today and we have The Discovery Project pathway to begin the conversation with your church and leaders. “Many leaders have gone through some missional training and are asking how they might help their people to “discover” some of the exciting opportunities presented to us as followers of Jesus in these difficult days.  The Discovery Project is one response to this question.”  Registration for this pathway is flexible as is church specific but don’t delay as space fills up!

For our churches who are already exploring what it means to be the Church in our day as missional engaged people, The Neighbourhood Project is here to help! This pathway brings together cohorts of groups to explore, equip and implement what the Spirit is leading them to. This pathway is filling up so fast, its now added a second and likely a third cohort and there is still some room so don’t delay!

Again, you can access more information and contacts for registration HERE

Don’t miss out on these great opportunities as we all desire to participate in the advancing of God’s kingdom here on earth!

Summer Reading 2021

by: Shannon Youell, CBWC Director of Church Planting (and initiatives)

It’s time for my Annual Summer Reading List! 

This year I am featuring books that I’ve read or am working my way through.  This past year I’ve been working my way through some of the books around topics that challenge the church.   I offer two of the ones that I found most helpful in seeing the historical, theological and ethical contexts. I also include a commentary that I am thoroughly enjoying, and a couple of books helpful for us as we re-think and re-form our church communities around the mission of God in our time.  Without any further ado, let’s dive in!  Let me know if you tackled any of these and perhaps consider writing a review. 

Two Views on Homosexuality; the Bible; and the ChurchMegan K. De Franca, Wesley Hill, Stephen R. Holmes, William Loader – from Zondervan’s Counterpoints Series – editor Preston Sprinkle (from the Center for Faith and Sexuality) 

I have read a variety of books from differing viewpoints on this topic.  I find this book to be one of the most helpful I’ve read as the essayists both articulate their viewpoint and interact with one another’s essays.  Contributors are four “accomplished scholars in the fields of biblical studies, theology and topics related to sexuality and gender”; two from an affirming position and two from a non-affirming position.  For each view, the editors “intentionally enlisted one theologian and one biblical scholar to articulate and defend each of the two views.  I quite appreciated the respectful, academic, theological, ethical and pastoral tone with which each approached the topic and how in each essay I discovered things that I both agreed with, disagreed with and was challenged in my thinking on. 

The making of Biblical Womanhood:  How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth by Beth Allison Barr 

Anyone who knows my husband knows he is a history geek.  I, regretfully, was not, (being far more of how-do-we-live-now-so-we-do-well-in-the-future kind of thinker), until I studied Church History!  Then I started reading history in general and realized that as much as I love Church history, reading it removed and outside of political, economic, social and cultural histories was reading it out of context.   

Beth Allison Barr is a historian, a Christian and a professor of history at Baylor University.  Her studies in history, and in particular her academic specialties in European women, medieval and early modern England, and church history disrupted her understanding of complementarianism that she understood from her Southern Baptist roots.   Written with well-honed academic muscle in a very accessible narrative, Barr tackles the idea of Biblical Womanhood from scripture, history and church practice over the centuries.  She poses, using and citing historical evidence, that the concept of “Biblical Womanhood” was constructed by the patterns of patriarchy in societies and cultures and how, over the centuries, they seeped into the church.  

Whatever your view of women in the church, this is a must read and, in my humble opinion, should be added to the reading list of all seminaries.   

The Story of God Bible Commentary:  Genesis by Tremper Longman III 

This is the seventh commentary in this series that I own (thank you Kindle!).  This Commentary series delves into the meaning of the text both in the past and for us today.  Each commentary uses the pattern of Listen to the Story; Explain the Story; and Live the Story.   I love reading commentaries and I am really enjoying this offering written by Tremper Longman III, Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies at Westmont College.  Genesis has always been one of my favorite OT books (to be honest there are many!) and Longman guides the reader through the richness of this book of ‘beginnings’.   

What is the church and why does it exist?  by David Fitch 

Practices, Presence and Places.  These 3 P’s shape Fitch’s recent book calling the church to renewal in our disruptive times.  As Fitch writes in his Introduction: 

“When things get chaotic, and no longer seem to make sense, we must go back to the “what” and the “why” questions. We must ask all over again: What are we doing here when we gather as the church and why are we doing it? Only then can we get to the “how” question. Only then can we discern how to be faithful to who we are and the mission we have been given. Perhaps this is a cultural moment that offers us an opportunity to reset the church in North America. Perhaps this is an ideal time for Christians everywhere to reexamine what it means to be the church. It is an occasion for us to ask all over again what we are doing here, who we are, and how we should live as a part of the local church.” 

 This book is for those who have long had a sense that God is reshaping us as his church for just such a time of this and for those who just know something has changed and yet don’t know what it all means.  I recommend this for all who love the church that God loves and long to see God’s kingdom flourish right where you live, work, play and pray. 

Why Would Anyone Go To Church? By Kevin Makin 

Kevin Makin is a church planter and pastor of Eucharist Church in Hamilton Ontario, a church associated with Canadian Baptists of Ontario & Quebec (CBOQ).  In his book, he tells the story of the planting and establishing of an innovative and creative community that engages both people of faith and those seeking for some kind of meaning.   For Kevin and his team the big question was planting within the context of the next generation.  They asked themselves big and important questions:  “What does Christian community look like for this next generation?” “Who will it be for?” And the big one: “Why would anyone go to church?”  

Kevin writes in his introduction: “People ask me if I’m surprised that so many are leaving the church. Surprised? Are you kidding me? I can’t believe anyone still does this church thing. And yet they do. For two thousand years, people have continued to be a part of the church, despite war and persecution and corruption and organ music. Why has church survived? Surely something has made it so meaningful to so many people for such a long period of time. That’s what we were trying to understand when we started a new church a decade ago. What we discovered is that few of our peers are interested in competing with the culture around us. The Jesus followers I know aren’t sticking with the church because church is better than a concert or more interesting than a podcast. They’re staying because there are primordial elements of Christian community that are far more rooted than all that superficial fluff.” 

 Kevin’s book is written with humility and candor of the triumphs and challenges of planting something contextual and cultural that invites people to faith whether it is an ‘old’ faith or a ‘new’ faith.  This is a fun and insightful quick read – I read it in a day.  

Eucharist has been recognized as one of the most creative and innovative churches in the country and spotlighted on national television and radio outlets, in newspapers, and on podcasts. 

Pick up one or more of these (or download onto your e-reader) and let me know your thoughts/reviews on books.  Happy Summer Reading friends! 

Shannon Youell – Director of Church Planting CBWC 

syouell@cbwc.ca 

Rebooting What Matters

(A reflection in response to Shannon Youell’s “How then, Shall We Meet?”) 

By: Mark Archibald – Pastor of Spiritual Formation, Lethbridge First Baptist Church

 Prior to COVID-19, I was WAY off in my ministry approach and priorities.  A friend from several years of summer camp moved his family down to Lethbridge for a 3-month contract job.  In years previous we had very important conversations about life and faith.  This is a good and dynamic relationship, one that continues to grow.   In the three months this important friend was in town, how much do you think we saw each other?    

 ONCE!  And that was to help him move in!  There’s something wrong with my lifestyle, including both busy-ness and work, when there is no space on the schedule for a friend like this.   

 I am busy with community stuff outside of church (a flag football team, school council, and other community connections), and parenting takes its share of work, but the fact that I took zero time to nurture this relationship with a friend is significant!   Much of my busy-ness was church stuff, which doesn’t always have the community building and connecting benefit that it should.    

 See if you relate to this pattern in ministry: 

  •  Step 1 – “I need to help our families with parenting resources.” 
  • Step 2 – “I will prepare an event for families and spend hours and hours investing in it.” 
  • Step 3 – “I need to convince families at my church to attend or I will have wasted my time.” 
  • Step 4 – Advertise and convince families to attend, and be a little sad more didn’t show up. 
  • Step 5 – Begin planning the next event – fingers crossed that more show up next time! 

 There is a LOT of time expended coming up with programs that I think are important, and just as much time convincing people to attend them.  The time spent on programming may have been better spent personally with those attending families AS WELL AS other ones! 

Walk With Me

 I’m trying to shift away from “attend my event” to “walk with me” approach.  That seems to be healthier for everyone and puts less pressure on everyone.  It allows for real community to grow. 

 COVID was bad.  Awful.  But few things have given us permission to shut things down and re-evaluate life patterns as much COVID has.  I have written down “In what ways do we meet again?” on my office white board as a reminder of how we best move forward as a community of believers.    As I reboot, I’m returning to a familiar and favourite verse: “let us spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24).  

How then, shall we meet?

By Shannon Youell

“The most missional question we can be asking is: in what ways do we meet again’?” 

Summer is here!  Many folks have at least one vaccine and, increasingly, two; Provincial Health Orders are being incrementally relaxed, and people are just aching to get back to normal activities.  Perhaps your church has already started meeting again, (in some provinces, such as BC where I am, we haven’t been able to have even limited church services until a few weeks ago), or you are just now experiencing an increase in the number of people who can congregate.  

Whatever your current situation, I am hoping we are not so excited to finally see our brothers and sisters gathered for worship that we quickly forget everything we have been learning these past fifteen months about ourselves, our societal and church cultures, our mission beyond a Sunday service, our discipleship, and our gatherings. 

So I draw us back to the question I asked last month:  

                                   “In what ways do we meet again?” 

As much as I am looking forward to meeting in person again, I must also confess that some aspects of online is enticing, especially the aspect where I actually have a Sunday left to be present with family, friends and neighbours.  For people involved in hosting, facilitating and ministering on Sundays there is often little time and energy leftover for just hanging out with whoever might be around. 

I am a walker.  I have walked and prayed in my neighbourhood for more than a decade, usually after work or in the early evenings when the days are longer, and I rarely met other people.    With a one hour service online, my walks have often been in the middle of the day and what I observed was how many people are actually home and about the neighbourhood on a Sunday!  It turns out the one day I may have more opportunities to meet people who don’t know Jesus is the same day I predominantly spend with other believers. 

This has alerted me.  Here are the ripening harvest fields, yet the harvesters are not in the fields but beautifully and meaningfully gathering together in a building.  I will say again as I have previously:  I am not advocating brothers and sisters in Christ cease gathering – I am simply asking the question through a missional lens: “in what ways do we meet again”.   This is a rapidly growing conversation being engaged by pastors and denominational associations and, I pray, by all of us who are followers and co-labourers of Christ. 

As I was writing this article, my inbox box reminded me of unread emails (I hope I’m not the only one who has those!) and one of them was a post from Carey Nieuwhof earlier this week on his blog.  The title caught my attention, “5 Confessions of a Pastor about Online Church Attendance”.  It caught my eye since I am in the mood for confessing.  In the blog Carey confessed his own enjoyment of a more relaxed Sunday and also shared the same observation in his neighbourhood as had I. Hmmmm.

 Read it HERE and let us know what you think; what worries you; what challenges you and what excites you; and where you see God at work amid the things that are shifting.  In everything we’ve gone through and learned during this pandemic experience, what have you been learning about joining God on His mission of reconcilliation, redemption and restoration in the world he so loves?   

Shannon is the CBWC Director of Church Planting (and passionate voice for churches growing towards missional communities).  Drop her an email at syouell@cbwc.ca – we’d love to hear from you! 

Flexible Existentialists

By Guest Blogger Kevin Vincent – Director of the Centre for New Congregations Canadian Baptists of Atlantic Canada

Recently I heard Simon Sinek explain his philosophy of “existential flexibility”.  He said, “existential flexibility is the capacity of a leader or an organization to shift 180 degrees and begin to plan and behave in an entirely new way, given an entirely new reality and environment. It’s the capacity to make a 180 degree shift to advance your cause.”

In addressing that specifically for churches, he said that as the church moves past the COVID-19 chapter, many faith leaders are simply moving back to the way it was, to what they know and to what they have always done. He said, “They know they can’t do what they used to do, but they don’t know what to do!” 

Perhaps you can relate.  As it relates to your church, you would say, “I know we can’t go back now!  But I don’t know where to go now!”  Let’s be “flexible existentialists” for the next few minutes.  Let me prompt your thinking by heading down what would be a 180 degree shift for most churches moving forward and let’s begin with a radical question. Here it is.

Is it time for your church to cancel your Sunday morning worship service?  Is it time to say that the current model of how most of us “do church” has run its course? Is it time to embrace the reality that the culture has shifted, people have little interest in weekly, larger, group gatherings and POST-COVID it’s not coming back.  Is it time to abandon a tired old model of church?

If I’ve already said enough to tick you off, stick with me because I’m much more hopeful than I’m sounding.

A recent survey in the United States by the UNSTUCK group reported that churches that have re-opened have seen about 36% of people return.

Now I know those are American statistics. Hold your fire!   BUT at least anecdotally, even if we don’t have as clear Canadian survey results, a lot of pastors are experiencing the same and are wondering, “Who’s coming back?  When will they come back?  Who’s not coming back?” 

Let’s just imagine that we’re twice as good as the Americans (Canadians like to think that!).  Let’s imagine that we get 70% of people back!  Are we OK with that?  Is 70% good enough?  Perhaps we should just conclude that those that don’t return are simply the hard soil, the rocky and thorny ground, of Jesus’ parable. They’re a good excuse to clean up our membership list.

Even more shocking is that the American survey discovered that only 40% of those under the age of 36 prefer larger in-person gatherings.  That means that 6 in 10 church-goers under the age of 36 aren’t sure that they care about your Sunday morning worship service anymore and aren’t looking to return. So should you cancel Sunday?

I believe the answer is No!   But let me suggest an “existentially flexible”, new way forward that was true pre-pandemic and has been dramatically accelerated as we move toward becoming a post-pandemic Church.   Here it is.

The future of the church in Canada will not be grounded in a single site expression but in a multiplicity of congregational gatherings, meeting at different times, in different places, with different people.

Single site. Single gathering. Single location. Single time. See you Sunday at 10:30 is not the future.

Now what could that look like for your church if you adopted that type of a posture?  Is there still a place for a Sunday morning worship gathering?  Of course!  There are many who love that expression of church.  In fact, 70% of the church-going Boomers surveyed want to go back to that traditional Sunday gathering.  It’s still meaningful.  It’s what they know and love.  We can’t steal that. Moving forward it needs to be a piece of the reimagined church.

But the great majority of younger generations don’t share that conviction. They’re finding connection in the digital church.  They’re enjoying a house church that has emerged with 4 other families.  They’re creating dinner church experiences with a dozen friends on a Thursday night.  They’re a Sunday morning “huddle church”.  Some are creating their own “worship gathering and liturgy”.  Others are joining together for a “watch party” of their church’s online service.

What would it look like for your church to consider a multiplied model?  What would it look like to embrace a true hybrid expression of church that still celebrates the traditional Sunday gathering but also cheerleads and celebrates multiple, smaller congregations meeting during the week, in various locations, at various times, with many groups of people? 

I think I can already hear some push-back.  “Yeah but we’re a little church!  We’re only small! We can’t multiply anything!  That’s a big church model!” 

No it’s not!!  Don’t take your “existentially flexible” hat off yet!   What if there were 31 people meeting on Sunday at 10:30am in your church facility.  Perhaps there’s another group of 14 on Thursday night over dinner?  And another group of 23 on Tuesday night over coffee in a café?

And what if fellowship happened?  What if care happened? What if teaching happened?  What if you started serving together?  Could that in fact be a true congregation by New Testament standards?  Could that simply be another expression of your church, another congregation, at a different time, in a different place, reaching different people, tethered together as multiple congregations and still ONE church?

Could THAT be a new forward?  Could that be the answer that your church needs to consider?  As Simon Sinek asks, “Do you have the capacity to make that 180 degree shift to advance your cause.”  We must! It’s a new day for the Church!   Jesus is still building His Church and His cause is too great not to try!

Kevin Vincent is the Director for the Centre of Congregational Development with CBAC. He is part of Canadian Baptist National Cohort along with Cid Latty from CBOQ and Shannon Youell from CBWC. Together we dream and vision and work towards sharing resources and imagination for our churches as they join God in extending the Good News into multiple communities in which the folk in our churches live, work, play and pray. And we laugh a lot.