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God at Work in Denominations: Vision Ministries Canada

Church leaders are busily focused on their own congregations and communities. Why should they sacrifice time to participate in the efforts of a larger network of churches?


This column is a part of a series by leaders of affiliates of The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.

Actor and director Robert Redford has earned the nickname the Patient Revolutionary in recent decades for helping change the entire movie industry by opening it up to artistic diversity.

… an idea was born in me. We should start a kind of home missions organization …

A profile of Redford in the Harvard Business Review noted: "His multifaceted approach to change includes developing grassroots initiatives; earning credibility and then leveraging his successes; practising the art of compromise and persuasion in order to get projects accomplished; gathering support along the way; and, most important, demonstrating persistence."

This sounds a bit like the journey Vision Ministries Canada has been on. My part in this journey dates back to the 1970s, when my wife and I returned to Canada after four years of evangelism and church planting in Ecuador and Colombia with International Teams.

The leaders of a new and young Christian Brethren congregation in Waterloo invited me to do in Waterloo what I had been doing overseas.

In some parts of the Body of Christ such an invitation may be commonplace, but there it was in fact an innovative exper-iment. It was a new thing during the 1970s and '80s for such congregations to experiment with having full-time pastors.

At that congregation, where I ended up serving more than 30 years, we learned a great deal. Over the years God blessed us and we had the joy of being fruitful and of seeing a number of new church plants emerge.

I began finding others like me who were also emerging as pastors among this informal network of churches. We discovered we had much in common and could elevate our ministry capacity by learning from each other.

Then, at the 1990 Canadian Consultation on Evangelism in Ottawa, an idea was born in me. We should start a kind of home missions organization that would facilitate church planting, leadership development and cultivate a collaborative network of churches to support this holistic and evangelistically oriented enterprise.

It seemed God had set the table for this vision. Supportive partners, finances and other resources came together to launch Vision Ontario in 1992. In 1997 Jay Gurnett joined the ministry and we broadened our ministry as reflected in our new name, Vision Ministries Canada. Jay now manages our western office in Calgary.

In the beginning we established a theological and values-based vision that would appeal to congregations receptive to change and to interdenominational co-operation. Since then we have linked up with additional churches that share our ministry vision and values.

Today we function like a mission with a high focus on church extension and planting while providing some of the services and benefits of a denomination to the 130-plus congregations we serve.

Lessons we are learning

The benefits of working together may not be immediately obvious. Sometimes the extra effort just doesn't seem worth it. Church leaders are busily focused on their own congregations and communities. Why should they sacrifice time and effort to participate in the efforts of a larger network of churches? My observation is they will not do so unless the benefits are obvious, continuous and well focused.

People want to see new people won to a life of following Jesus …

Language and motives matter. The same words mean different things to different people. When we listen carefully to what people say we discover what truly matters to them. It is easy to perceive differences, disagreements and divergences. But if we persist in our relationships and dialogue we will often find that, with some adjustments, we share deep-driving kingdom motives that can lead to fruitful co-operation.

Persistence pays. It takes time and exemplary ministry to develop leadership credibility. To be positive, faithful and fruitful counts.

Seeing is believing when it comes to leadership. People want to see new people won to a life of following Jesus, they want to see them growing and maturing, and they want to see it happen in a way that makes it obvious that this is God at work!

And that old saying about keeping the main thing the main thing? It's a lot harder than you'd think! But being a patient revolutionary can make a difference.

Gord Martin resigned as pastor at Lincoln Road Chapel in Waterloo, Ontario, in January 2007 to work full time with Vision Ministries Canada.

Originally published in Faith Today, July/August 2007.

 

 
 
 
 

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