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Joining God on a Mission to Redeem the World
What does it mean to love God and our neighbours in a changing culture? A pastor of a coffee house church seeks the answer.

"The Church has become like a group of people in the waiting lounge of an airport...They've bought their ticket and they're waiting for their flight home. Meantime, the entire city around them burns. And every once in a while, they send out a specially selected person to try to recruit more people to buy tickets" (Pernell Goodyear).

It's a Sunday evening at The Freeway—a coffee house located in one of this country's poorest neighbourhoods — in Hamilton, Ontario. The coffee house is officially closed. But its doors are open.

Pernell Goodyear

That's because this coffee house, with art-adorned walls and fully-equipped coffee bar, is where The Freeway Community Church— a Salvation Army affiliated congregation—gathers to worship, fellowship and learn each week.

But you won't find uniforms or band instruments here. This is an eclectic group. Young moms with strollers. couples with kids. Students. People evidently of means and evidently of none. Those whose bearing hints at mental, developmental or physical disability.

They spill informally onto tasteful brown leather couches or collect at the small round tables scattered throughout the large, pumpkin-pie coloured space.

The service opens with prayer—casual and comfortable—and singing, soft but sincere. Pernell Goodyear, 34, lead pastor of this community, flip flops his way to the mic attired in shorts and T-shirt.

The Salvation Army's first ordained pastor who is not an officer prays, asking God to, "inspire us to join you in your mission to redeem the world."

He delivers a sermon based on Luke 12 and the parable of the rich fool. He speaks passionately. Quoting Bono, Dostoevsky and Tony Campolo, Goodyear tells his attentive audience they're not to worry about money. Man was never meant to live for himself or for his possessions. "True community is what we were designed for."

Later, in conversation, he uses a simile to explain. The Church has become, in large part, like a group of people in the waiting lounge of an airport, he says. They've bought their ticket and they're waiting for their flight home. Meantime, the entire city around them burns. And every once in a while, they send out a specially selected person to try to recruit more people to buy tickets.

"We've reduced the Gospel to being about individuals," says Goodyear. "But Jesus came for the whole world. God showed Himself in community. That's why we have the Trinity. You can't escape the notion that there's more to [being the Church] than trying to get more people to go to heaven."

It's a notion Goodyear can't escape. Talk with him for any length of time, scroll through his blog or read any of his many musings scattered across the Internet, and you sense it's a notion that chases him. Relentlessly. Trying to develop more ways for people to ask what it means to be the Church today is a driving force in Goodyear's life.

It's why he became a founding leader of Resonate, a network of Canadians who talk about what it means to love God and our neighbours in the midst of a changing culture, and why he co-leads church planting networks across Canada.

It's why he began Cultivate, an annual conference to resource and inspire church planters, and why The Freeway operates a coffee house rather than a soup kitchen as a way of ministering to their community.

And it's why—when he was asked by his denomination to plant a church in downtown Hamilton—he moved his wife and three children from the safety and security of suburbia to the heart of the third poorest neighbourhood in Canada.

"If I have to choose between physical safety and spiritual life for me and my wife and kids, I'll choose spiritual life for sure," he says simply. Such choices have their rewards. Spend time with Goodyear and you come away with the unshakeable impression he is a man who knows Jesus. Intimately.

Slowly, the community is being transformed. One heart at a time.

"In terms of budgets and butts, we're always broke and there's hardly anybody around," Goodyear jokes. "We have tried to measure our 'success' not by 'coming in' but by 'going out.' And we're having an impact on this neighbourhood."

An ex-gang member is about to graduate from business school. A couple on the verge of separation find new love. And countless others find new purpose—living out their lives for Jesus.

"This is about more than the proclamation of the Gospel," says Goodyear. "It's about the incarnation of the Gospel."

And for Pernell Goodyear, it's always about finding out what it means to be the Church.

A national recognition project, 35<35 is an attempt by four Canadian agencies to identify, profile, celebrate, equip and encourage young Canadian Christian leaders. Surge magazine features 35 strong young leaders under the age of 35 not because they are the “best of the best,” but because they represent what God is doing to raise up leaders across the country. Visit the ChristianWeek website to learn more about the 35<35 project, or to download the pdf file of Surge magazine

Patricia Paddey is a freelance writer based in Mississauga, Ontario.

Originally published in Surge, Fall 2008.

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