To boldly go in Christ’s name

Published January 31, 2014

This article first appeared in the January issue of the Anglican Journal.

After graduating from seminary, I served as the mission and outreach co-ordinator for a small Presbyterian congregation in Toronto. My contract was the result of a bequest focused on youth ministry and outreach, a bequest that had been untouched for years, even as the roof was crumbling. Its congregation numbered 35 on an average Sunday, though the church, built in the late 19th century, had a capacity for over 1,000 people. Perhaps the money hadn’t been touched because it was difficult to figure out what such a job description might look like in an ever-changing inner-city neighbourhood or perhaps it was a lack of imagination. I’m not sure.

Recently I recalled this time in my life while considering a sermon by the popular author Canon Herbert O’Driscoll. His topic was the Old Testament book of Ezra. The temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed. After some time, an exiled people returned. They gave whatever they had, in time, talent and treasure, to build it anew.

Ezra tells us that even though it was difficult, oversight of the project was given to those as young as 20 years old. If today’s church is any indication, such a move must have triggered deep internal conflict. The story, as recorded, tells us that as the foundations were laid, many of the older generation wept in despair. Some also shouted with joy to see fresh foundations, built for a new day and age.

Sometimes I feel we live in such a time and place, as though this story from Ezra is our own. The way in which we have structured our church is being replaced by new wisdom. There’s some anxiety in that. And yet there is new, vibrant and passionate energy to build something beautiful on our ancient foundations. In a time such as this, we too may find it impossible to distinguish between the sounds of despair and those of joy. And yet, if my life as a Christian has shown me anything, it is that we must look faithfully forward into God’s future.

We must build ministries that make sense, responding in loving service to our neighbours. Building new facilities that seat thousands might work in some places, but not most. Whatever our ministry context, what each of us needs, and what our church needs more than anything, is a gospel-based discipleship that transforms our lives and the ways in which we extend God’s love to this world.

Throughout the country, I meet young leaders in their teens, 20s, 30s and 40s who are passionate about building a church that ministers within our emerging postmodern culture. All too often, I hear that their insights into new ways of being church are undervalued.

I wonder: if we’re serious about renewing the church, when will we stand aside and release our young leaders to take us boldly, in the name of Christ, out into the world?


  • Andrew Stephens-Rennie

    Andrew Stephens-Rennie is a member of the national youth initiatives team of the Anglican Church of Canada.

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