Thoughts from Heartland Regional Minister Mark Doerksen
In my line of work, it seems inevitable that one should think about church quite a bit. Here are a few questions I’ve been thinking about lately, and then I want to follow up on one specific idea that’s been festering for a bit.
Why do a lot of pastors want to pastor a big church? Why are some bigger churches considered healthy, when some health indicators I personally value are not in plain view when you visit said church? Why does it seem that pastors typically want to pastor an urban church?
When is the last time you’ve heard a speaker at a conference who pastors a church of less than 50 people? Why do many Christians look for “Christian heroes or celebrities?”
Perhaps I’ve been thinking about these things because I’ve read and had discussions with folks about two of Scot McKnight’s books recently. The first is called Pastor Paul, and the second, A Church Called Tov. Actually, Scot’s daughter, Laura Barringer, helped write A Church called Tov, and the book is about toxic and goodness cultures in churches. Scot and Laura write about the abuses of power at Willowcreek in Chicago, as Laura was a member there. It discusses the power that Bill Hybels had, the way he abused it, and how the church leadership struggled to navigate serious allegations against him by more than a few prominent and faithful women. After discussing the toxicity of the church culture, Scot and Laura turn their sights towards developing a goodness culture in churches, so that churches are characterized by things such as empathy, grace, truth, justice, service, Christlikeness, and by putting people first.
I think the book is hard to read, not in an Oliver O’Donovan kind of way, but in that it was tough to read about a pastor whose work has influenced so many, and yet has clearly behaved poorly for quite a long time. It was tough to read about Bill’s treatment of women. It was tough to read because of the steps and missteps that the leadership of Willowcreek took. It was also tough to read because it reiterates that numerical size may be a metric that North Americans value, but that metric might actually say very little about the spiritual health of a church. It’s tough to read because it seemed that so many were enamored with that church model and with the Global Leadership Summit, and now disappointment abounds. I’m not saying that smaller churches are void of issues and toxicity; I am saying that I do hope we can sort through misinformation we’ve been handed and have believed, and finally realize that faithfulness and treating people properly is a very important part of church work, no matter if you’re a pastor or serving as a volunteer in the church. The book reminds me to care for the people in front of me with integrity, goodness, and other characteristics as described by the Apostle Paul’s fruit of the Spirit. It reminds me to minister as John the Baptist did, declaring always that Jesus must increase, and I must decrease. And it reminds me to be vigilant about developing goodness cultures in our churches.
The Sunday after I had finished reading the book, I was at church describing the book to a friend. I mentioned how grateful I am for pastors who serve with egos in check. I had in mind a lot of pastors I know of through our association of churches, and I’m grateful for your faithful ministry, with and to the people in front of you.
God Makes a Way – Even in a Lockdown
By Jon Shierman – Lead Pastor at Moosomin Baptist Church
“Is that even a real place or are you joking?” That was the most common response my wife, Kate, and I got when we told people that we had answered a call from Moosomin Baptist Church in Saskatchewan and would be leaving Calgary. Our response? Usually some variation of, “Oh, it’s real. And it’s amazing.” That was in February when news stations were just starting to report on a mysterious new virus with a science fiction sounding name. Surely that wouldn’t affect us in any way…
The process by which Kate and I discerned our call from a large centre to small town Saskatchewan is one of those stories that best told over a cup of coffee, or four.
The kind of story that takes many diversions from the main narrative in order to understand properly the myriad of heartbreaks and false starts and a few too many “coincidences” to not have been ordained by God.
And so, Kate and I, along with Abigail and Charlotte (then ages four and one) felt confident that this was where God was clearly calling us. As we packed up our house, the news stations had started to mention this new virus more and more. Soon it seemed like something we might need to pay attention to.
By mid-March, the world had changed. Now the most common question we heard was, “So are you still moving?” After discerning the clear call and already having purchased a home in Moosomin, we knew that yes, one way or another, we would still move before I started at MBC on May 1. To say that the whole packing and moving process was difficult would be a massive understatement. But as we have found at every turn since we first engaged with this church, God has been clear in His direction and has provided a way even when things looked impossible.
We arrived in Moosomin in mid-April, and I began serving as a new pastor in a new community during the height of the COVID-19 lockdown. Not exactly ideal circumstances to meet a congregation and community. I began preaching remotely by recorded video while trying to recall the seminary classes that teach how to connect with people when a pastor has never actually met them. Spoiler alert: those classes don’t exist.
Through all of this, somehow, real ministry started to happen. We found new and creative ways to provide digital content. I preached to an empty room for the first three months but found that people were not only taking time to watch, but they were also actively engaging in discussion around the messages.
After coming through a long period of transition, the lockdown afforded us the time to focus on the many important things that are so often crowded out by the urgent. We started to look to the future and began preparing for what the next new thing might be.
We still don’t know when we will emerge from this situation. We still don’t know what the next few months hold. But this church and my family are proof that the kingdom of God has not
stopped advancing simply because we are asked to stay home or wear a mask or do church in new ways. God makes a way – even in a lockdown.
This regional newsletter is published quarterly within the CBWC’s monthly newsletter, Making Connections. Have a story idea? Want to tell us how great we’re doing? Or how terribly? Email our senior writer, Jenna Hanger: email@example.com