Speaking the truth in love
CCMBC church planting director Gord Fleming reflects on meeting Jesus, C2C Network, & interdenominational partnerships
MB Herald: Tell us a bit about your personal faith journey.
Gord Fleming: I was born and raised in Glasgow, Scotland. With a mother who was Catholic and a father who was Protestant, I saw the animosity between religions. As a young child, I didn’t want to have anything to do with religion.
I moved to Canada at 16 and was a rough kid – smoking, drinking. When I was about 20, I met a guy who was a Christian – Neil – who introduced me to the Lord. It was a radical experience, to hear the story of the gospel!
It’s amazing to me how many times we don’t share our faith because the enemy wants us to think: “Everybody knows this. Don’t tell people about Christ. If they want to know, they’ll ask.” For me, it was: “I’ve never heard this before. How come nobody’s told me this?”
Was the message you heard from Neil substantially different from what you learned about religion as a kid?
I thought of religion as steeples, and robes, and candles. You kneel down, you stand up. What I didn’t get was this: God becomes flesh – he loves us so much he invades the planet!
So, I became a Christian. At the time, I was managing the White Spot in Langley, B.C. There was a waitress, Marcy Penner, who worked there and always brought her Bible to the restaurant. She would read it on her coffee and lunch breaks. When I became a Christian, I thought she could recommend a good church.
I ended up at South Langley MB Church with her. We got involved with the youth group, and Marcy and I were eventually married there. Then, White Spot transferred us to Kamloops, B.C., where we attended Valleyview Bible Chapel. That’s how I was introduced to the MB church.
How did you get involved with church planting?
We moved back to the Lower Mainland and bought a house in Langley. Paul Fast announced he was going to plant a church in Walnut Grove [Langley], so I joined the steering committee and helped plant North Langley Community Church.
Eventually, Geoff Neufeld, executive director of B.C. church planting, approached me and asked me to join the board. I thought, “What a great way to see more people come to Christ!” A while later, Geoff asked me to take the chair position. I got to know the church plants and church planters.
Then, in spring 2006, Geoff told me he was going to resign and asked me to be his replacement. My first thought was, “No. This isn’t going to work for me. I have too much of a love for sparkly things!” It was a struggle for me. Materialism really can distract us from advancing the gospel. Marcy and I had a beautiful home and a good salary. I knew there was no way we could make the mortgage payments if I left the marketplace.
However, I agreed to pray about it. As I was seeking God, I felt him saying to me, “You’ve lost your first love. You’re running a business, leading Alpha, and serving as church elder and chair of church planting. There’s so much going on. Where’s your time to be in love with me?” So, I resigned from all responsibilities and took a season to just love Jesus, being a child at his feet, fasting and praying. God started ministering to my heart.
During a prophecy conference at North Langley, Marcy and I were listening to Jerome Ocampo’s teaching. As he was wrapping up, Jerome picked us out, asked us to stand, stretched out his hands, and spoke a word of prophecy over us: “My son, my son. My daughter, my daughter. I know what you’ve been praying through. You don’t have to worry. I’ve put the necessary tools in your belt to accomplish what I’ve called you to do. You can step out in faith, knowing that it’s me doing the calling.” I was absolutely blown away.
I met with conference leadership and started getting really excited [about becoming executive director of what’s now called Church Planting BC]. There’s not a day in 5 years I haven’t said, “I love this job!” I was born and bred for this.
Are there some unique gifts you bring to ministry from your experience in the marketplace?
Speaking truth to people – honestly, sensitively, and frankly – is a marketplace gift that I think is lacking in the church. The desire to be nice creates distrust. We’ll say something to somebody’s face because we want to feel nice, but it’s actually not what we really think. We owe it to a person to say, “You’re falling short in this area. I need you to pick up your socks here. I’m not pleased with this.”
Here’s my commitment: I will always speak the truth in love. Let’s not allow the enemy to subvert leadership in our nation by saying things about each other that we don’t say to each other.
In addition to your ministry with Church Planting BC, you’ve taken on a national leadership role and launched C2C Network. In terms of prior national MB church planting strategies, what do you see as the successes and failures?
Church planting does not have a good reputation. Why? A lot of church plants fail. We spend millions of dollars on something and don’t see a lot of success.
Before, the model looked like a cone. It was really easy to get into church planting, and really hard to succeed. With C2C, we’re doing something very different – an inversion of the cone.
We want to be intentional about the “how and why” of church planting, to make it hard to become a church planter and easy to succeed. Our assessment and apprenticeship programs – which all church planters must go through before they’re accepted – are intense. Monthly meetings, cadres, and task forces are some of the other new practices we’ve launched. The objective is to ensure every church plant succeeds and becomes healthy, reproducing, and financially independent.
Talk a bit about C2C’s posture toward other denominations. What does it mean that C2C is birthed in the MB denomination but open to others?
We’re inviting church planting organizations within the MB tribe across Canada to unite together under one umbrella called C2C Network, that together we will adopt best practices in order to have the most effective methods of planting churches across Canada.
The same is true with other denominations in Canada. Everything we come up with, every idea we have, every manual we write, every great system we create we’re going to share with as many people and denominations as possible, so they too can have best practices for church planting. It’s working in partnership – interdenominationally – that we’re going to see Canada reached for Christ.
What happens to MB distinctives when you partner interdenominationally?
If the MB denomination has some theological distinctives, should we seclude ourselves to maintain those distinctives, or should we partner to share those distictives? What we have to offer the bride is very sweet and attractive. As evangelical Anabaptists, these are the values that permeate our church planting: we are gospel-centred, mission-focused, and Spirit-led.
I think most people would nod at the idea of being led by the Holy Spirit. How does this value affect how you operate?
Everything we do is based on prayer. Every decision we make, we pray through first. Every meeting is prayed through first.
It’s a sobering responsibility for us in leadership – to be people of prayer. That’s why we recruit prayer warriors, both to pray for our church plants and also to pray for kingdom advancement in our cities, our country, our communities.
Basically, we try not to initiate where God doesn’t want us to work. We say, “God, we’ll plant wherever you tell us to. You send the workers. You orchestrate the finances. You lay the location on people’s hearts.” We don’t want to manipulate things.
So, you’d say that C2C is more prayerful than strategic?
We think of it as God sailing a ship. The objective is to keep our hands off the wheel. Our job as sailors is to trim the sails because we want to catch as much of God’s Spirit as possible.
How do we accomplish our church planting objectives? We don’t. God is doing it.