On a mission for the church to succeed

An interview with Ewald Unruh

Ewald Unruh served as pastor and church planter in Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia for 13 years, and, since 1992, has been working for the Canadian Conference of MB Churches in church planting, evangelism, and leadership development. He is now director of ministries. He and his wife Linda live in Winnipeg and are members of The Meeting Place. They have three grown children and three grandchildren. Herald assistant editor Karla Braun spoke with him about his enthusiasm for church planting and his vision for Regenerate 21-01.

Braun: You seem very passionate about your job. After so many years, what keeps it fresh for you?

Unruh: What I’m about is to see lives transformed. It’s the smallest form affecting the largest. Often what excites a family is the birth of a new child, and the same thing happens in the church. When there’s the birth of new believers, there’s excitement. My life is changed when I’m relating to a new believer. So, to see that happen and to hear those stories from our churches – that’s what drives me.
I really think that we have something to offer people that doesn’t only change their here and now; it actually changes their eternity.

Can you comment on the trends you’ve seen over the years you’ve been involved in church planting?

We’ve moved from where church planting was the thing you might do if there wasn’t another place for you, to it being a very specific calling. We’ve moved to saying that the apostolic gift, or spiritual entrepreneurial expression, needs to be in the wiring of the person planting a church. The other shift I’ve seen is from a solo church planter trying to parachute into a place and draw people to a church plant, to church planting as a team. When you do that, you have a variety of gifts in that church plant team, so the pressure isn’t on one person in the same way.

A more recent shift is moving from denomination-initiated church planting. We want to see most of our church planting take place where churches will actually start new churches or start new initiatives. It could be starting a new meeting time, or a satellite group. It could be a different model of church.

And, we’re on the verge of moving toward being involved in a missional way in the neighbourhood, the community, fulfilling Christ’s mission. The results of mission then form a church. Rather than saying “we’re going to go put a church in a community and hope they’ll get involved in mission so that they reflect Jesus,” let’s reflect Jesus, do mission his way, and a church will result.

How does your passion for church planting translate into Regenerate 21-01, the conference initiative you’re leading now?

A number of things catalyzed Regenerate. We’ve had the Key Cities Initiative (KCI) going for 10 years now, and we learned different things through KCI, one being that we needed to see our churches become more involved.

If a church is going to become involved in church planting, it needs a “second string” of leaders. If you’ve got a good “bench depth” in your church, you’re free to give up leaders. But how do you develop leaders if the church is not healthy?

So, church health, leadership development, and church planting are all connected. That’s what we learned through the KCI project. Then, as we were asking what God was calling us to next in terms of our vision, the Regenerate vision began to develop.

But it’s not a departmental thing. We see ourselves as a conference as a whole on a mission, calling the church as a whole to mission. We are beginning to see ourselves in the conference not so much as an organization or denomination, but as a mission agency.

How will local churches become involved with this vision?

First of all, Regenerate is a process. It’s a call for personal renewal, and for church renewal. The core of “regenerate” is becoming new. It’s revival.

Further, we want to help churches succeed in fulfilling their mission in their community. That means we come alongside them and ask them how things are going, “what do you need, how can we help,” rather than coming in with an agenda.

It seems that MB work among marginalized people in Canada has largely failed. How will Regenerate support people with a passion to do things in ways the conference has not historically done?

One of the core principles of both KCI and Regenerate 21-01 is that we’re kingdom minded. So, where we’ve maybe not been as effective or gifted, we’re moving into partnerships with others. For example, in Toronto we’re involved with the Salvation Army in a church plant, 614 St Jamestown. The Salvation Army has been gifted and effective in inner city-type ministry in the past, and so it was a very good move that we went into partnership with them. We’re not saying “we won’t do any of it, we’ll leave it to the Salvation Army,” no, we’ll join them in doing something and include that learning.

As I’ve said earlier, we’re moving away from the conference initiating projects. We may still need to do that where we together try to do something one church can’t do alone. However, the focus of our ministry is not we as a conference saying, “come and help us do it;” it’s us coming alongside, helping the church succeed in the ministry in the vision that God has placed in them.

How will that happen, practically?

Practically, when we come alongside a church and help them go through a ReFocusing process, we’re asking them to identify where have they’ve been led in the past, and based on that, who are they today, and what is God calling them to do. It comes out of a place of surrender; the church says “God we’re here for you, how should we be expressing that today in our community?” It’s going to be God putting that in people. We’re helping churches get in a position where they are actually listening to God.

Regenerate 21-01 is defined as a “process” and a “prayer.” How do we get at the prayer component of it?

We can’t program revival, renewal, regeneration. That’s why we’re talking about it as a prayer, a prayer for that renewal.

We could probably be more intentional about prayer-related aspects of it. We had a strong prayer emphasis at Gathering 2008, a real sense of call for that. At the core of the ReFocusing process, there’s a strong emphasis on surrender.

In the New Testament, Jesus’ followers were told to wait for the Spirit to come. They were in a process of prayer, and that’s when the Holy Spirit came.

We recognize that Regenerate 21-01 both transcends and comprises program. Some people may be uncomfortable with that. They’re used to getting very specific answers, things they can hang their hat on. We do need to communicate those specifics, however, there are also intangibles here.

How does revival come? You don’t program revival, regeneration. It’s the work of God.

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