Dr. Gary Nelson is the President of Tyndale University College & Seminary and author of “Borderland Churches: A Congregations’ introduction to Missional Living” (Chalice Press, 2008).
The church he attends in Toronto is a reflection of his community. It’s very diverse and it is known because of its involvement in the community. Yet the pastor feels like a failure because there are only about 90 people there and the worship leaves a lot to be desired. Yet 60 of the 90 people weren’t even going to church before they went there. This is actually success. The measuring sticks that we’ve been given are wrong. If we use the wrong measuring sticks we’ll miss what God is doing.
Jeremiah 29:4-7 is experiencing a revival of interest. You can’t understand it without understanding Psalm 137. Jeremiah 29 is a response to 137. Gary’s paraphrase of Jer: “Get over it. I brought you here. Deal with it. Be the church here and now.”
We get stuck remembering the good old days, but they were never actually as good as we remembered. Memory has a way of making things seem better. We think having services at different times or not wearing ties is revolutionary, but it’s not. A lot of our responses in the last 20 years have been a response to what our memories told us. People are not waiting for your worship team to get better before they start attending your church.
Between 1955 and 1989
1955 – Canada was still a churched culture. Edgar Bailey was named one of the top 10 preachers in Canada by a national magazine. Now? Would MacLean’s run such a story? No (although Doug Koop says “Maybe…” and he’s thinking of pitching . This would not be an acceptable idea. [this is more humor than anything else]. Canada is no longer a churched nation.
He recommends a book by Mark Noll called “Whatever Happened to Christian Canada?” Church became meaningless in our society because we stopped believing in evangelism.
1989 – We wake up to discover that people aren’t going to church anymore. The big churches were ok but overall attendance took a nosedive. People weren’t angry, just apathetic. While we were doing attractional church, we became irrelevant.
We are driving people to get involved in their neighborhoods but everything about church structure pulls us back. But being with people destroys their caricatures and preconceptions of what Christians are.
More and more Canadians have less and less Christian memory. They’re not looking for a better church experience; they’ve never had a church experience. More people sail in Vancouver than go to church. Not only are people not coming, they don’t even has the inclination to.
It’s time to listen to what God is saying to the church in Canada. Our context is profoundly different than the USA – our present is their future. Until we understand that small church pastors will feel like failures.
The church doesn’t have a place at the table in Canada. We’re on the edges and that’s where we should be. It makes nominality impossible. The missional conversation has not emerged in Canada from the seminaries like it has in the US. It started in an urban context with churches struggling to understand the urban context. Nelson say this is a much better way.
It’s not 1955 anymore and it’s time the church in Canada wakes up to that fact. God wants us to do what he wanted Israel to do in exile in Jeremiah 29. Settle down, plant ourselves in our place of exile and seek the prosperity of the cities around us.
What people need to know is who we are, but they won’t until they’ve met one of us and begin to wonder if we’re actually different that their preconceptions. It’s time for the church in Canada to become itself and to stop mimicking others.
Nelson makes a good point about the differences between Canadian and American religious culture. If our present is their future, why do we rely so heavily on literature that emanates from their experience?