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Harvest Bible Chapel: Growing in the Word Isn’t Easy
Leaders of Harvest church believe that outreach committees, projects and programs will extend God’s grace only if members are firmly planted in biblical truth.

Go deep, and let God go long. That’s the lesson to be learned from Harvest Bible Chapel, a vibrant church community in Oakville, Ontario, the second Canadian church planted by Harvest Bible Fellowship out of Illinois (known for its radio program Walk in the Word with James MacDonald).

The congregation worships at Harvest Bible Chapel, Oakville, Ontario.
Photo courtesy Harvest Bible Chapel.

Harvest Bible Chapel began as a small Bible study early in 2003. The young congregation soon united with an existing church, Calvary Baptist, and re-launched in April 2004. Today 1,300 attend the church each week, some coming to worship from as far away as Port Dover – almost 100 kilometres away.

Church members at Harvest dig deep in God’s Word believing that no outreach committee, project or program will ever pour out God’s grace if not firmly planted in biblical truth. The church’s leaders trust that, when people love God enough to go deep with their faith, God makes a point to pour out His grace far beyond human imagination. Sound easy? Not at all. But the congregation is committed to taking the difficult road – even if that means upsetting some people along the way.

Why neighbours know about this church

“We’re not making it [Christianity] popular,” says Robbie Symons, senior pastor. “It’s not easy growth. Whenever you’re going to stand up and open up the Bible you’re going to offend as Jesus did. I have people walk out on my sermons frequently. People leave, but then there are people coming too. They are starving for grace and truth.

“So many ministries are good at grace or truth. Why not try to be good at both grace and truth?

“One of our greatest goals is that people would encounter God – not experience God,” Symons continues. “If you encounter God, you’re going to change. Something will change. When you encounter God, He will speak to you.”

When that happens, “people will leave and, when they come back, they bring their friends. The reason is that there is nothing that compares to encountering God.”

The mission statement that moves them

“The number one thing that we’re trying to do is to glorify God,” explains Symons. “We keep things really simple here.”

Harvest prizes being biblical despite the human tendency to set the bar much lower than the Bible prescribes. “Our fl esh wants to do that,” says Symons. “We have to die to the self more than we’d like. But it’s biblical.”

“I don’t say the word ‘missional’ often because I don’t care [for the term] to be honest,” he continues. “First things first: the Great Commission. Don’t let what’s good become the enemy of what is best. If all you’re thinking about is ‘missional,’ it could be something that gets in the way of what is best. What is best? Loving God first, then loving others.”

The breadth and depth of an outreach mindset

Harvest has several successful outreach programs including a seniors’ luncheon and a radio ministry in addition to providing lunch for 125 high school students each week while seeking to teach them about Jesus. But Symons insists the church focuses first on deepening faith before reaching out to others through community projects and programs.

“If you focus on the depth of your church God takes care of the breadth,” Symons explains. “There has been so much focus on the breadth but a lack of focus on the depth. We are called to grow in Christ.”

“God is jealous for His own glory,” he continues. “When people are alive in Christ, it is so powerful. We’re not going to go out and establish all these [program] initiatives until we’ve established the depth. It’s easy to become so ‘missional’ that your people aren’t changing. And if you’re not changing you’re not in the will of God. The will of God is your sanctification. That’s pretty clear.”

Seeking to mirror neighbourhood diversity

If you’re going to have an authentic ministry in the Greater Toronto Area you have to mirror diversity, explains Symons. “Oakville is predominantly white but we get people from Toronto, Brampton and Mississauga. We have a strong Colombian [immigrant] contingent as well.”

Despite Harvest’s recognition of the diversity represented in its pews, Symons calls on the church to be reflective of Christ first. “I’m not so big into holding up multiculturalism as a sign of godliness,” says Symons. “Don’t build your church on that. Build your church as disciples of Christ.”

One challenge for the congregation

Symons hopes to see members of the congregation become better at overcoming their fear to share the Gospel openly with others. “We’re good at saying ‘Come to church with me’ but we need to increase our ability to share the Gospel on the spot. We’ve got a series coming up focusing on teaching people about evangelism. We’re going to do evangelism training. Over five weeks, you pray and ask God to help you share the Gospel with one person.”

For Harvest Bible Chapel, deep faith in God’s truth should go along with any genuine expression of God’s grace. “An authentic ministry will offend at times,” says Symons. “Truth itself is offensive. I think we have swung so far to the grace side; it’s time to call back some truth.”

Stephanie Tombari is a freelance writer in Burlington, Ontario.

Originally published in Faith Today, May/June 2008.




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