Baptisms are bracing. As the water hits, we celebrate nothing less than a person moving from death to life in Christ. The words of Jesus hit us with that same bracing power: I have come that you might have life and life to the fullest, to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, and to set the oppressed free. In Christ, we are wholly new creations. The old has gone, the new is here!
This is our story. We receive abundant life today and for eternity and are welcomed into the body of Christ. As we invite people to taste and see God, we are inviting people into goodness.
We have experienced that goodness this year; new life is sprouting up in our church. People are being transformed by meeting Jesus through Alpha and other ministries. We are in the middle of a baby boom. Newcomers to Canada and Toronto are finding a home and a family in our church. But the funny thing about spiritual hunger is that the more you taste of God’s goodness, the more you want. We want more.
We want our church to grow by 25% by the time you pick up next year’s report. We will be disciples making more and better disciples.
We want this because we see both the hunger in our city and the goodness of God. Toronto is filled with people chasing after that which will not satisfy them. They are experiencing loneliness, anxiety, the pangs of unmet hunger, and the weight of unforgiven sin. When we talk about salvation, we mean that God not only saves us from judgement, but he also saves us right here and right now. As Tatiana shares in our latest newsletter, “Jesus’ forgiveness has changed my life.”
We want our church to grow by 25%, but we are not chasing a number: we are hungering for people to know and love God and his kingdom.
The way that the church has talked about growth in North America can be unhelpful. The deep work of spiritual growth has been pitted against the work of bringing people into God’s kingdom, as if these two commands of God were mutually exclusive. Healthy growth means both growing in maturity and growing in size. One of the great signs of spiritual maturity is that we are focussed on bringing the gospel to others through word and deed. Maturity is not measured in demanding more and more theologically complex teachings as consumers of teaching, but in bearing fruit.
We are not going to be able to do this without faith, hope, and love. We are declaring our desire against a backdrop of decades of decline in church attendance in both Canada and our church. We do not believe that this story of decline is one that God wants. We do believe that by getting to know the heart of God for his church, we can partner with him in a better story. Growing by 25% will be impossible if we are faithless or hopeless or if don’t believe in the power of God’s love.
We believe the table is set. Our renovations open us up to the community. We are coming out of an era of taking care of things inside of our house: clarifying our vision and our structure, implementing important safety and care processes, and making a plan to ensure that our building stays standing and is useful for ministry. Our church is ready.
So how do we do this?
The short answer: together.
Pastoral staff have a part to play, but our leaders cannot accomplish this goal on their own. We can’t relegate this work to a single ministry, even a fruitful one like Alpha. Our elders can’t make this happen single-handedly. No committee can accomplish this. This is a calling for the entire body of Christ.
As we enter into a new chapter for our church, we are shifting the role of staff. We believe that staff are here is to nurture and disciple people as they live out the gospel and grow in their giftings. This means that we are shifting away from a staff team that is executing programs to one that is building up leaders and disciples who are equipped to do the good works God has prepared for them.
We see this shift in the Worship Pastor position. As Session said when we announced the creation of this role:
“Currently, our staff positions are based on a model of excellent execution of music in our services, sometimes with the help of paid, professional musicians. Our hope for the future of worship at our church is that we will experience the overflow of what God has been doing in a team of worship leaders, musicians, and artists from our church who are being discipled and mentored by a pastor. We believe that this model will lead to worship that is truly participative, multicultural, and responsive to the Spirit’s leading in our church.”
The position of the Home Church Pastor is another great example of this model. Ashlee equips and nurtures the Home Church leaders, who are able to do far more collectively than she is able to do alone.
We believe that this shift will be transformative for our church, but alone it will not be enough. Together, we all need to invite people to taste and see God at church, at Alpha, in home churches, and wherever else the Spirit leads us.
If this plan seems light on details, that’s because it is less about launching new programs and ministries than it is calling us to a new posture and renewed faith. We have spent the time nurturing home churches, making Alpha a regular practice, offering regular baptism and membership classes, strengthening our family ministries, renewing our building, and making our worship more welcoming for newcomers. All of this good work will continue this year. What is different is that we are committing together, in a new way, to invite people to see God’s goodness and the good that is happening through his church.
What kind of year are we heading into?
For this goal to be reached, God will be doing a deep work in our church. There may be idols we need to smash, broken relationships that we need to reconcile, or lies that we believe about God that we need to be freed from. Yet, for all the challenges ahead, God’s growing kingdom is marked by joy.
We are not talking about pasting on shiny, happy faces. Joy takes note of difficulty and trial yet still remains rooted in gladness because of the greater hope of God’s Kingdom, his sovereign rule that will come. “Joy, not grit,” Richard Foster writes, “is the hallmark of holy obedience. We need to be light-hearted in what we do to avoid taking ourselves too seriously. It is a cheerful revolt against self and pride.”
It’s the joy of baptism. The old is gone, the new is here. It’s the joy of the gospel. Jesus has saved us and brought us into his family. That kind of joy, the very joy of the Lord, will be our strength.