Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

A Line with Good Bait

Written by: on March 7, 2019

I’ve just arrived back from a regional church leaders’ meeting. During some small talk with a stranger, I acknowledged how complicated it is being the church in the present time. He responded that he was much more concerned for our children. While I certainly agree there is cause for concern, I inquired what in particular he was concerned about. His answer was that Islam was taking over our nation. This was not what I expected. His fear of the future was rooted in a fear of a people; of the ‘other.’ At the same meeting our denominational global outreach branch had a representative speak. She glowed as she celebrated the success of our part in private refugee sponsorship programs. This is a common undertaking for churches in Canada and my own little church is in the early stages of sponsoring a refugee family. The majority of the refugees are Muslim. Love for our neighbour and the faithful extension of hospitality is increasing the diversity and the complexity of our nation.

It is a complicated time for the Canadian Church. Evangelism in Canada is viewed with indifference at best and suspicion at worst. Only 8% of Canadians have a favourable view of Evangelism with the number only rising to 29%[1] within (self-identifying) committed Christians. It is rare indeed that the church is granted room to provide leadership within the broader community. 58% [2]of Canadians believe all religion should be kept out of public life. Many Canadians would feel toward the Christian church the same way my small talk stranger feels about Islam. The relationship status between Canada and the Christian church might best be classified as ‘it’s complicated.’

Canadian context benefits from Hunter’s view of the intentional practicing of faith in the midst of culture. That “faithful presence in practice is the exercise of leadership in all spheres and all levels of life and activity. It represents a quality of commitment oriented to the faithfulness, wholeness, and well-being of all. It is, therefore, the opposite of elitism and the domination it implies.”[3] Embracing difference over assimilation is an increasing value in Canada with 53% of 18-34 year olds holding that minorities should be encouraged to preserve their language and culture, [4] and valuing the well being of all becomes a strong witness for Christ. Within the Cynefin framework, the challenge of improving the relationship between the church and nation is complex. I would echo Batchelder’s view that “(o)ne of the greatest problems that leaders face is leading from a place of assumption, instead of understanding.”[5] For some time many leaders have assumed that the resources and methodologies available out of the U.S. will translate into Canadian culture. But we must “(t)race the patterns of (this) system and explore what it is currently inclined to do.”[6] I would venture that this has contributed in part to the predominantly negative view of evangelism. Thus to lead the church through this season will require that “(l)eaders…(pay) deeper attention to the present.”[7]

In order for the church to reach the nation, and particularly the emerging generation we must be willing to listen.“Leadership is about gathering people together—even people with quite different goals and understandings—and helping them build bridges that take everyone to a new place.”[8] Perhaps it is time that we look for destinations that a broader demographic can agree upon. For example, refugee sponsorship. I’m learning that this process takes connections with a diversity of stake holders. In our case, there are relatives already here that we can work at communicating with. However, given we don’t have anyone at the church who speaks Arabic, we will also need to connect with someone willing to translate. The paperwork and process is complex and so we have partnered with a local organization who has experience sponsoring refugees. On this committee there is a diversity of backgrounds, some of different faiths, some with none. A couple of our financial partners would prefer to keep their distance from the church. There is also a reasonable chance that as we prepare for the arrival of the family it would be helpful to connect with the local Imam. “It takes a collective sharing of power, creativity, and perspectives to become agile and nuanced enough to lead into the uncertain future.”[9]

I’ve never been under the illusion that this undertaking would lead to myself as the pastor looking like a hero or our church even being publicly celebrated. “The point isn’t to be the hero and solve things; the point of the leader in a complex world is to enable and unleash as many heroes and as many solutions as possible.”[10] In truth, I hope this family might be seen as the heroes for having endured the hardship they have and maintaining hope. I am all too aware that we have not heeded Berger and Johnston’s advice to put up guardrails. Our failure could be catastrophic.

However, if it goes well, perhaps our church will grow closer as a community. Perhaps we will rediscover our passion to be a faithful presence in our world. Perhaps collaboration across faith divides will increase an openness to having religion play a role in public life. Perhaps someone will soften to the name of Jesus. Perhaps we will break down lingering fear of our Muslim neighbours. Perhaps we will gain new friends. It is a complex time with an uncertain future. But God has a deep heart for my nation and I long for it to be poured out through me. Our experiment is not the answer. But if I borrow Burger and Johnston’s fishing analogy [11], it is one of many possible lines with quality bait.


1. Wyatt Graham, “Ten Things You Should Know about Religion in Canada,” The Gospel Coalition | Canada, June 07, 2018, accessed March 08, 2019, https://ca.thegospelcoalition.org/article/ten-things-you-should-know-about-religion-canada/.
2. “What Makes Us Canadian? A Study of Values, Beliefs, Priorities and Identity,” Angus Reid Institute, December 08, 2017, accessed March 08, 2019, http://angusreid.org/canada-values/#what-divides.
3. James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 260.
4. Jennifer Garvey Berger and Keith Johnston, Simple Habits for Complex Times: Powerful Practices for Leaders. (Stanford, California: Stanford Business Books, 2015), 43.
5. Colleen Batchelder, “Keep Asking “Different” Questions!” DMINLGP.com, February 28, 2019, , accessed March 07, 2019, https://blogs.georgefox.edu/dminlgp/keep-asking-different-questions/.
6. Jennifer Garvey Berger and Keith Johnston, Simple Habits for Complex Times: Powerful Practices for Leaders. (Stanford, California: Stanford Business Books, 2015), 49.
7. Ibid., 218
8. Ibid., 22.
9. Ibid., 30.
10. Ibid., 217.
11. Ibid., 228.

About the Author

Jenn Burnett

Jenn is lead pastor at The Well church in Kelowna. She longs to see the body of Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit and contending for unity across difference. She also loves rugby, the outdoors, the colour orange and the chaos that goes with raising 4 kids.

8 responses to “A Line with Good Bait”

  1. Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    Thank you for being a leader (hero?!?!?) in Canada as you aid a Muslim refugee family. Needless to say communities of faith are working together to minister in this realm here in the States, but I have only heard how much better the Canucks are at it. Bravo!

    In my local context I am lucky, each community of faith in the entire Interfaith Council in town has helped with this effort. One church invited a refugee family to live in their manse for free. The Synagogue and us (the Presbyterians!) intentionally purchase food for our events from a restaurant started by a refugee family. Thank you Jenn!

    • Jenn Burnett says:

      Up here we are blessed to have the opportunity to directly sponsor families so we work on the paperwork, raise the funds and commit to supporting the family for the first year that they arrive. It is usually a two-three year process. Do you have something like that? It sounds like you are doing your part as well! What is the general feeling towards refugees in your neck of the woods?

  2. Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Jenn, we are hearing the same things in America and it is complex indeed. I honestly believe “faithful presence” that is filled with the Holy Spirit is the answer to these VUCA times. I am glad you are there leading as you are.

  3. Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Jenn, Thanks for your unique perspective as a Canadian pastor (who also happens to be an amazing and super awesome person!) Yes, I would say Hunter would view you as striving to lead your church as faithfully present within your locale. What will come of it, who knows? But like you have already alluded to , may the Holy Spirit lead you and your leadership to trust him during this process in these VUCA times.

  4. Andrea Lathrop says:

    Jenn – I so appreciate hearing more about the reality in Canada, where you live and serve and lead. A couple things struck me while reading your post – the 8% of the population that is favorable to evangelicalism; the many heroes instead of a few elite heroes; and the complicated relationship the Church has with Islam. Cheering you on as you work to build bridges, not ditches, in your context.

    • Jenn Burnett says:

      Thanks my friend! I have never been so motivated to understand my own context as now, while studying with my American (and Kenyan and Kiwi) colleagues. Every time I think differently on something, I’m asking myself why? And is that me or my culture? It is an interesting journey.

  5. Sean Dean says:

    My friends from Calgary lived in Tacoma for a while and they frequently commented about how open Americans are about their faith. For instance we have a church that sits right next to the highway and has a big sign that says “JESUS CARES ABOUT YOU”. My friends never got used to that level of explicitness in the U.S., which frankly irritates me as well. I think the U.S. could (and should) learn a lot from the Canadian church since we’re probably a decade behind you.

    • Jenn Burnett says:

      I’m going to need to look for that sign when I’m in Tacoma this summer! It is a strange thing. Even as a Christian I’m not always sure how to feel about the Jesus marketing in the U.S. On the one hand I am encouraged as a Christian, on the other hand my Canadian side finds it brash. I wonder if it’s about learning from us or simply us each working hard to minister into our own context well. Perhaps as Berger suggests, you are feeling that more work is needed for the U.S. church to pay attention to the present?

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