Out of the Mold

CBM Executive Director Terry Smith recently sat down with a group of Canadian Baptist leaders for an open and honest conversation on contextual evangelism. It is a topic close to Terry’s heart. Prior to joining the CBM Canadian staff team, Terry and his wife Heather served in France as Global Field Staff, focused on evangelism, church planting and training leaders.

Discussion Participants

Leanne Friesen

is Lead Pastor at Mount Hamilton Baptist Church in Hamilton, Ont. She grew up in Newfoundland but found a home in Hamilton while attending McMaster Divinity College. She has been pastoring at the church for 12 years.

Colin Godwin
is President of Carey Theological College in Vancouver, B.C., and former CBM staff who served overseas for 17 years – church planting in francophone Belgium, training leaders in Rwanda, and providing regional leadership as the CBM Africa Team Leader based in Kenya.

Franky Narcisse
comes from Haiti and is pastor at a new church in Gatineau, Que., after leading a church in Ottawa for 26 years. Franky is also on the executive staff of the French Baptist Union, a community of Baptist churches in French- speaking Canada.

Joel Russell-MacLean
is Lead Pastor at First Baptist Church in downtown Regina, Sask. He lives just a few blocks from the church. Over the last 10 years, he has held different positions within the church. Before becoming a pastor, he worked as a hospital orderly.

Kevin Matthews
is Lead Pastor at The Point Church in Miramichi, N.B. Kevin served in camping ministry and as pastor at Moncton Wesleyan for 15 years prior to coming to The Point Church, which meets in three locations.

Mosaic is a community forum of local and global voices united by a shared mission. Mosaic will serve as a catalyst to stimulate and encourage passionate discipleship among Canadian Baptists and their partners.

Fall 2017

Table of Contents

Terry Talks – Jell-O

This edition of Mosaic explores the rich and diverse topic of evangelism through a wide prism.

A Taste of Home

Bringing Food, Faith and Family to Chinese Students in Germany

Focused on Bolivia

First Baptist Church in Wallaceburg, Ont., launched a year-long outreach.

TERRY: WE KNOW THAT YOU ARE ALL COMMITTED TO WHAT GOD IS DOING THROUGH OUR COUNTRY AND OUR CHURCHES AND THAT EVANGELISM HAS A HUGE PART IN RENEWAL OF OUR BAPTIST FAMILY. I HOPE THAT WITH OUR CONVERSATION TODAY YOU SAY WHATEVER IS ON YOUR HEART, ON YOUR MIND, ON THIS TOPIC. DO YOU BELIEVE THAT CANADIAN BAPTISTS HAVE LOST THE PASSION FOR EVANGELISM?

JOEL: I want to begin by talking about the guilt and shame and hurt that I feel. It’s not just me, but it’s in the hearts of many people in the congregation, and people I have grown up with in church, around this question. Why aren’t we converting people and what does that say about us? Why aren’t baptisms really common? … When we think of the lost, this isn’t a nebulous group, these are our parents, brothers and sisters, close friends … so I don’t think that there’s a lack of passion or love for these people – there are just things beyond our control in our culture.

LEANNE: I don’t know if people have lost the passion, but many believers I know have developed an apprehension. I see a lot of apprehension towards evangelism and there’s a lot of reasons … I think there are many people who feel that they don’t know how to do that or that maybe the pastor should do it. They don’t feel skilled, or think that they have the answers. I also think in my generation, and those before and after, that there’s just a lot of negativity around forcing our views on other people, around the ways we’ve sometimes been treated when we feel that people were evangelizing us. I think sometimes the way we get lumped together as Christians and we see certain types of evangelism that we don’t appreciate, don’t really see as reflecting our faith, and we want to be separate from that, there’s a fear of looking like those people … I remember talking to a neighbour who said, “Man, the Jehovah’s Witnesses came to our door at 10 a.m. on a Saturday morning. Why do you guys do that?” It was so frustrating for me and I said, “We’re not the same. We’re not them.” It’s a good example of why I have apprehension sometimes.

KEVIN: I believe that many have lost their passion for evangelism, as evidenced in declining church attendance, baptisms and involvement. However, I see others emerging who have both an increased passion, and a new creativity in their methods, while staying true to the message.

FRANKY: In the francophone community, I can say that we’ve lost a passion for evangelism, especially in some churches where there was not a strong biblical understanding of the gospel and it became less important, or not urgent, to expose people to the gospel and bring them to a place where they have a decision to make to the call of Jesus. And I think of how with plurality many are less convinced that Jesus is the only way; that nice people and good people are lost; that spiritual death is a real condition, is a reality; that Jesus chose to use us as his own agent to communicate the good news of his grace. Without these things we will continue to lack passion for evangelism, and I’m very concerned about it. It’s a real challenge for me, and for our French Union churches and leaders, to tackle this problem.

COLIN: I don’t think there’s a lack of passion for evangelism, but there’s an inability to translate that passion into appropriate and contextual responses on a local congregation level. A quick story: I spoke in one church awhile back, I was invited to speak as a representative of Carey … and in my messages I often have an opportunity for people to respond to the gospel in their lives, but as I got to the end of teaching there was that moment when I was not sure what to do in that setting. After the service, I was approached by an elderly man who leaned in and said, “Son, you should have done an altar call.”

In another context, I was talking with a pastor about being the visiting speaker and I asked, “How do you normally have the congregation respond?” And the pastor said, “Well, we don’t do altar calls here.” And so my question was, “Then what do you do?” and there was no answer. We don’t seem to have mechanisms besides what we don’t do. We lack models and examples of how it can be done.

TERRY: WE HEAR A LOT OF PEOPLE BEING MORE RECEPTIVE TO DISCUSSING FAITH IN GOD. WHAT ARE THE SIGNS IN OUR CULTURE THAT SHOW AN OPENNESS TO SPIRITUAL THINGS?

JOEL: “Evangelism” itself is problematic, even “passion.” These are awkward words if we’re not seeing success. How do we measure success? Maybe it’s time to push that back on God … instead, where are we not being faithful, let’s look into those things, whether it’s prayer, or whether it’s resisting evil, overcoming my own spiritual deficiencies. Yes, there is an openness to spiritual things in our culture, but there’s also a resistance, and I’m not separate from my culture, I’m a part of it. I have the same resistance. I’m so attracted to seeing God’s presence in my life, so attracted to that sense of an intimate relationship with God, but I’d really like it to be on my own terms, to not interfere with my other passions … so yes and no, people are more receptive but on their own terms.

KEVIN: It’s obvious in popular media that our current culture is as hungry as ever for spiritual things, but they are turning to places other than the church to have their needs met. Every small town in Canada has travelling mediums coming through like the travelling evangelists of days gone by. The spiritual content of our movies, video games, and discussions along with the acceptance of “anything but” Christianity in our schools is certainly proof of our spiritual hunger.

FRANKY: There’s a lot of presence of spiritual things in the air, in our culture; a number of new movies with a background of Judeo-Christian beliefs, in general, such as good and evil. But when we want to become specific, people become uncomfortable. When we want to be more personal, people consider that we are being too narrow. We can use bridges like movies, literature, that offer us an opportunity to walk beside people with wise questions to better understand what they really think and believe. I continue to believe that God is in the business to prepare hearts (like the account in Acts of the encounter of the eunuch and Philip, and also that of Peter and Cornelius). My prayer is that God puts in my way people with prepared hearts.

TERRY: FRANKY IS RAISING AN IMPORTANT ISSUE HERE ABOUT CULTURAL BRIDGES TO DISCUSSING OUR FAITH WITH PEOPLE.

LEANNE: I agree with Franky. When you listen to the music and the poets of today you hear that people are very much looking for meaning. Whether or not they’re interested or recognize that that can be found in God may be a different question, but I think there’s a lot of desire for meaning.

COLIN: I think there is very much interest in the spiritual in Canada and that it is growing … we have more people now who are “nones.” They know nothing about faith whatsoever and can be curious; they don’t have any experiences of church when they were kids; don’t know what Sunday School is. They’re looking for existential answers to life’s questions, practical answers, such as how to have a happy life, how to keep your marriage together, take care of your aging parents, raise kids … so we are seeing interest, but I think the challenge is now an increasing polarity in Canadian culture, where there can be outright opposition to Christian faith as well as people who are very interested. As Canadians, I think it’s very uncomfortable for us to come out and say this is where I take my stand. We don’t like to blow our own horns, and we live in the shadow of a big neighbour down south. What we understand is what we’re not, as opposed to who we are.

TERRY: THIS QUESTION REALLY HAUNTS ME AND I THINK WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT IT. IT IS AROUND YOUNG PEOPLE. DO THEY STRUGGLE WITH STRONG, DOGMATIC AFFIRMATIONS OF OUR FAITH OR ARE THEY POTENTIALLY MORE CONSERVATIVE THAN YOUR GENERATION WAS?

LEANNE: Well, I can’t speak to all young people, but the ones I know, I do think that they are more hesitant and I think there’s a lot of cultural influence … but I think there’s other wonderful opportunities and potential there. What I certainly see is a huge passion for service and for helping others and for stepping in and really doing what I would call ‘God’s work’. At our church, we have two sisters, one is 15 and the other 22, and they actually formed an organization called Sisters for Sisters. Every year, they do a fundraiser for an organization in the city. One year, it was a breakfast to raise money for the native women’s health centre. Another year, they were doing a dinner for a different group. What’s interesting is that they don’t necessarily feel insistent that they have to get up, like I would have at some point, and say, “By the way, we are all here so I can tell you about Jesus.” I was taught to do this … yet there’s such a longing in their hearts for social justice, so there’s a lot of great starting points with our next generation that may look a little different than my generation.

Looking back in my early 20s, there are stories that I would be embarrassed to now tell about my own methods of evangelism. I was known to hold megaphones on street corners. I spent many nights knocking on doors, part of many travelling mission teams around the country. We’d get in at the end of the night and say we didn’t pray with anyone, but we knocked on 100 doors today and we told them about Jesus, whether they wanted to know or not [laughs] … maybe I’ve lost some of that desire that I probably do need to reclaim. I don’t know if that starting point would work for my young adults now, as it did for me then, but I absolutely sense that if we say we’re going to plant gardens, we’re going to go downtown and hand out sandwiches, they’ll be there. So I think it’s different starting places.

TERRY: THIS QUESTION REALLY HAUNTS ME AND I THINK WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT IT. IT IS AROUND YOUNG PEOPLE. DO THEY STRUGGLE WITH STRONG, DOGMATIC AFFIRMATIONS OF OUR FAITH OR ARE THEY POTENTIALLY MORE CONSERVATIVE THAN YOUR GENERATION WAS?

COLIN: I think in the greater Vancouver area there’s actually a real dynamic movement of young people engaging with greater zeal in Christian faith than I’ve seen in a long time, and as Leanne pointed out, they’re very socially engaged, socially conscious … some of it is young people looking for answers. I think for young people the issue of gender orientation is a major issue they’re struggling with, if not themselves then for how it impacts their friends. Christian camping is thriving, a lot of youth groups are booming, there’s dramatic interest. I think there’s something going on, I really do.

But one of my fears is that older generations – my generation and boomers and so forth – would not have the resources to engage young people in faith through ways that are relevant to them. Maybe it’s because we’re too reactionary – you know, we were so insensitive when we handed out tracts on street corners, or knocked on doors, we turned some people off. We forget about the wonderful times when we shared our faith with a random person on an airplane and that person made a decision or came closer to God, and the joy that comes with that when we did take some risks. So either we don’t have the tools or we haven’t thought through some of the major life issues youth are facing, and we can’t welcome their faith in ways that are significant for them. But something is going on and there are opportunities for churches to grab hold of it.

TERRY: SO I’M PICKING UP A SUBLIMINAL THEME HERE IN THIS CONVERSATION THAT HAS A LOT TO DO WITH THE INTEGRITY OF OUR APPROACH WITH THE PEOPLE WE ARE DEALING WITH, AND I THINK THERE’S A LITTLE BIT OF MEA CULPA GOING ON ABOUT THE WAY WE MIGHT HAVE DONE SOME THINGS IN THE PAST. HAVE YOU RECENTLY COME ACROSS SOMEONE WHO IS A NEW BELIEVER AND WHAT DO YOU THINK LED THAT PERSON TO FOLLOW JESUS?

JOEL: I appreciate Franky talking about relationships … it was a process he was talking about. It isn’t so much about getting people to the point of decision as much as about discipleship, which I think is actually our explicit calling in scripture – the call is really to create disciples. This last week I had this young fellow come up and say, “I’m new to Canada, I’m a Muslim, but I really want to think about my faith and I’m just intrigued by Jesus. Can you tell me? Can you answer some questions?” … And I think about this young lady who was in a serious car accident and in the middle of that heard God speak to her, and in response to that, searched us up on the Internet. She eventually was baptized here. Those are just God doing things. The relationships that I’ve been involved in have been much more painful and difficult. I think of sitting on my steps with neighbours who are drunk, and a woman who has been beat up, and she tells me she wants to change, wants to follow God. I trust that years of those conversations are going to amount to something. I pray that all of that discipleship amounts to a lifelong faith in Christ – and that it does spread like ripples into other people’s lives as well.

KEVIN: We’ve recently had a man contact the church through our website, ready to end his life just as his father ended his. He was addicted, his relationship was in a mess, had lost his kids, had no job … his world was falling apart. We met, and we gave him hope. A year later, his whole family comes to church, his addictions are behind him, he has a job and was recently baptized.

Another lady started coming to the church because of a special Tim Horton’s Sunday that we held where we invited and honoured your favourite Tim Horton’s employee … she came, won a prize, and kept coming. Soon she went through a very dark period, her husband left, and her world began to fall apart. A year later, she has accepted Christ, her husband is back and not only attends with her regularly, but has also accepted Christ and comes by himself when she is working.

FRANKY: A woman who was divorced many years ago has a good friend who is a member of our church and very interested in the spiritual and emotional well-being of her friend. She put me in contact with her friend, and many other young ladies with a lot of struggles in their lives. We began to have Bible study together, and just last Thursday she committed her life to Jesus Christ. She made this journey with us for many months before making a decision and I think the relationship – the good relationship of the member of our church with her – was a very key factor of this spiritual journey. Two of her other friends have also opened their lives to Jesus Christ and I’m in the process of having discipleship meetings with them every two weeks, as well as the daughter of this lady who also made a commitment to Jesus Christ. She’s 17 years old. So I think relationship is fundamental – a good relationship. I can also say that there are lots of people who have suffering in the heart, a broken heart, because of some circumstances in their life. I think meeting those people in their need can be a good start. The difficult circumstances in the lives of these young women prepared their hearts.

TERRY: LASTLY, WHAT WOULD YOU OFFER TO OUR CANADIAN BAPTIST CHURCHES THAT ARE ASKING HOW THEY CAN ENGAGE, OR RENEW THEIR ENGAGEMENT, IN OUTREACH MINISTRIES AND EVANGELISM; TO FIND THIS PASSION AGAIN. WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO THEM?

COLIN: I would encourage churches and their leaders to engage in a season of prayer, to ask God to give discernment to see what he is doing in their community, in their families. The big lesson that I have learned in evangelism, the hard way, is that it’s not all up to you. God cares about people, God’s spirit is working in people’s lives all around us. God is a missionary and drawing people, so we need to figure out what God is doing in people’s lives and align up with that. You look at the Acts of the Apostles, the whole book is about God’s spirit going ahead of the church and the church struggling to figure out how to cope with that. And then to enter into that, they needed to change some things, change mindsets. They needed to have programs that involved sending out people, they needed to be ready to give an answer to the faith that they had and call people to respond to the redemptive message of Jesus.

FRANKY: I think about when someone falls in love, we don’t have to tell him or her to express it, to demonstrate it. I think one of our problems, I include myself, of our churches, is that with time we lost the excitement that we are in a love covenantal relationship and we become old married people who are no longer excited about the relationship, nor demonstrate the relationship. My prayer for myself, and for my brothers and sisters, and our churches, is that we can fall again in love with Christ; there will be a refreshment in our lives and we can become more excited. We can know we have to share the gospel, and not because of constraints or guilt but because of love – love for our Lord, love for people and love for church.

TERRY: THAT’S BEAUTIFUL, FRANKY. WOW, THANK YOU! THAT’S A LOVELY THOUGHT.

LEANNE: I would suggest churches consider how you are creating a church base that sends the message to your congregants and to people who are part of your church that this a place where new people can always belong; that also then echoes that message to new people, so when they come there is really a sense for them that this is a place where they can belong. I think God is often looking for places to lead people towards where they will feel that safety and where they will feel they can connect. In our congregation this is an important thing for us, that we have this environment … we should always be aware that God may be bringing new people among us and be open to being hospitable to them.

JOEL: I would summarize two things that are on my heart. One, that we don’t separate evangelism from discipleship. That’s always in view and if that’s the old married couple, that we just continue to blow on the fire, continue to fall deeper in love with Jesus, as Franky said. At the same time, pastorally, my hearts goes out to people who’ve grown up in this culture and measure their love by the affect they are having on the world around them. That’s just often out of our control and I would hate to see people suspect or doubt their love of Christ because they don’t see crowds of people coming … we really can’t measure the impact we are having on friends and family who don’t outwardly demonstrate a faith in God, or in Jesus. We need to trust that it is having an effect.

KEVIN: If you want to reach the next generation, your community, and the people closest to you, you need to set your personal preferences aside. Too many people choose their favourite music and preaching styles over the salvation of their children and grandchildren. If you know you are going to heaven because of a relationship with Christ, it’s time to set your preferences aside and do whatever it takes short of sin to reach others. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost, not to listen to his favourite hymns. Our purpose must be his purpose – to seek and to save the lost.