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% within (self-identifying) committed Christians. It is rare indeed that the church is granted room to provide leadership within the broader community. 58% 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.” 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,  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.” 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.” 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.”
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.” 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.”
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.” 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 , 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.