Experiencing this year’s Gathering as executive director rather than interested participant gave me a new appreciation for the work that’s been done behind the scenes for many years by committed staff and volunteers. I’m grateful for prayer warriors who bathed conference staff and volunteers in prayer in the months leading up to and during Gathering 2012. Thank you for the emails of encouragement, and for the passionate expressions of hope that we, as a group of churches, will faithfully fulfill our great commandment/commission mandate.
It was evident that while our collective desire to be faithful followers of Jesus is strong, we struggle to understand how to minister in our rapidly changing Canadian context. The large group discussions at Gathering 2012 made it clear to me that we’re united in the “who” (Jesus Christ) and the “what” of ministry (great commission and great commandment), but we’re having difficulty with the “how” of fulfilling God’s call. We have a great deal to offer to and learn from each other.
Gathering 2012 was the convergence of our strengths and weaknesses, similarities and differences. We enjoyed the strength of our missional history, passionate worship, deep relationships, and community discussion. We also experienced our habitual struggle with trusting leaders, avoiding constructive conflict, and our tendency toward indirect communication.
While this may sound ominous to those who didn’t attend, I think there’s a silver lining. I observed our executive board listening to delegates’ concerns, and demonstrating a willingness to adapt, while still being committed to fulfilling God’s call on us as his church. I’m privileged to serve with a board made up of leaders who love Jesus, love the church, and desire to serve with Spirit-led, servant hearts.
Delegates understand that we’re living in an exciting time in the life of the church in Canada. In this post-Christian era, the church is awakening to the reality that we’re missionaries in our own land. As missionaries, we’re recognizing our complete dependence on the presence, power, and leading of the Holy Spirit if we hope to see lives transformed.
While some may mourn the church’s loss of privilege and influence in our society, history shows that the church has always been more effective when ministering from the margins of society. We will need to lay aside our self-sufficiency to make room for God to work in and through us for his glory. Self-sufficiency marginalizes God and limits what he can do. Canadians won’t be transformed by our best efforts, but rather by Christ followers whose lives are surrendered to Jesus and who live in obedience to his Word and leading.
Gathering 2012 reaffirmed for me the need for us to be unified in Christ. “I pray… that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17: 21). Jesus knew the greatest obstacle to the church’s witness was our lack of unity.
Bob Ekblad, in A New Christian Manifesto: Pledging Allegiance to the Kingdom of God, notes that “the greater the darkness, the more need there is for unity between people with diverse approaches to ministry, so that the full impact of Christ’s gospel can penetrate barriers to the point of breakthrough…. It is urgent that people from diverse sectors of the global body of Christ humbly learn from one another and partner when possible. God’s kingdom will break in sooner and with more power to a desperate world as people serve each other in unity.”
Finally, reflecting on the journey of this past year culminating with Gathering 2012, I look forward to our future as a group of churches with great hope and anticipation. Our churches are populated with passionate Christ followers who aren’t only in love with Jesus, but also desire to live as disciples in obedience, sacrifice, and courage.
We need to move from self-validation through church growth, to validation in Christ and ministry through self-sacrifice. We need to move from comfort to compassion, from security to sacrifice, from self-serving attitudes to kingdom mission in the service of the least and the lost.
I live with anticipation because our pastors are servants who express a deep, passionate desire to lead Spirit-filled, faith-stretching, courageous churches.
I live with anticipation because I see a growing interest and participation in faith-stretching prayer – expressing our dependence on Christ, and expectation of his in-breaking kingdom to be made manifest among us.