I never thought I would write the words I just did. Starting a church? In Steinbach of all places? Why would I ever want to do that? The truth is, I never wanted to do it. Fought it pretty hard actually. But God kept nudging me and directing me and annoying me with the idea until I began to really pray hard about it. Then the answer was clear – I had to do it.

If you want to know why Steinbach needs another church, you can go to the Covenant Reformed Church blog here. The post you are reading is all about why I feel the need to return to pastoral ministry. I know that there are a number of people who will read this who are or were a part of the previous church I pastored, and this is mostly directed to them. I want to be open and honest about where I am at and what is going on. Eliminate the rumours with honesty and openness.

It begins with a story from my past; something that happened when I was about 20. The Bible school I was attending at the time was a good, fundamentalist Christian school pumping out good, fundamentalist pastors and missionaries. We were all required to wear ties to school and jeans were strictly forbidden. There were pink and blue sidewalks for the guys and the girls (not literally but it sure seemed like it) and the place was filled with legalism. As my time there progressed into the third year it was clear that this kind of Christianity and I did not get along – we still don’t by the way. So the school and I ‘agreed’ that it would be best for me to leave. I forget the exact wording that was used, but it was something like, “God can’t use people like you”. I just didn’t fit the mould. I wasn’t a stereotypical Christian and my desire to be a pastor just didn’t fit within the Prairie Bible College mould. Thus I either need to fit in or get out. I chose the latter.

This experience left me pretty disillusioned and to be honest pretty pissed off at God. I felt called to ministry, but then I was told that I couldn’t fulfill my calling because I didn’t fit the Christian / pastoral stereotype so I couldn’t be used by God. Soon after that meeting, maybe a couple of days, my favourite professor pulled me aside to chat; he was concerned about me. It was the most important conversation I’ve ever had. Dr. Gerald Wheatley was the stereotypical pastor of that time and the exact opposite of me.  I never saw him without his plaid blazer complete with brown elbow patches. He wore polyester ties in a full windsor so big you couldn’t see his neck. His hair was parted on the side and slicked with brill cream. Under his nose was a big, bushy black moustache, while on his nose was a wide pair of glasses  with lenses about as thick as the windshield of a 747. He was 65 years old or so, a hymn lover, and the most stereotypical picture of a fundamentalist pastor you could ever imagine. I liked him because he understood me; despite our differences we connected. He saw the gifts and the call and it didn’t matter much to him what the stereotype was nor did he care about how I would fit within it. I think he genuinely liked me as well. When I would say or do something stupid or idealistic or brash he would just laugh his deep laugh with a scrunched up face and gently remind me of the need for continuing sanctification, grace and love for people. I don’t remember all of our conversation, but I do remember one clear statement he made. He told me, and I paraphrase, “The church has enough pastors like me, what it needs is guys like you. Don’t give up on God or his call on your life.”

I have reflected a lot of that statement from Dr. Wheatley and have found it to be true 25 or so years later. It’s strange, but I feel like those moments at Prairie have been re-played over the last few months. Since February I’ve tried to go to churches around Steinbach and it hasn’t worked – there are too many of the same churches that are too much of the stereotypical Christianity that I just don’t fit in with. So I was stuck. It was in those moments of frustration and feeling lost that God renewed his call on my life to minster to people. There are more out there like me, I know it because I’ve met many of them. Those who strive to be godly, strive to deepen their theological understanding, strive to mortify sin, strive to minister, but just don’t find that they fit in with the ‘typical’ church for whatever reason. The mould just isn’t for them. The stereotype just doesn’t fit. It is these that I have always connected with because I understand them, and it is these that I will continue to pursue. It is these type of people that I hope will flock to Covenant Reformed Church.
So with that background I share with you a few reasons for returning to pastoral ministry: (Please read these caveats! Granted, there might be some broad brush thoughts here, so forgive me if I’m out of line a bit. Although I do believe the generalities to be more true than not. Also, I’m not criticizing any specific pastor in our town, nor am I saying that the churches are not effective. What I am saying is that they are not for me.)
  • The churches in Steinbach seem to be all the same. Most of them are Mennonite churches, and therefore related to each other. The ones that aren’t explicitly so are the cousins of a Mennonite church somewhere along the line. It’s like a Mennonite colony of Mennonite churches in this town.  The churches worship the same, feel the same and look the same. The pastors are all the same, nice pastors who dress up nice for Sundays, with nice little families that fit the pastoral stereotype surrounded by leaders that are all playing the same game of nice. My former church could not come to grips with my style of pastoral ministry after 10 years, so why should I think that I would fit in anywhere else?
  • I see a bunch of places of worship where men are not fulfilling their biblical mandate to lead the church. I agree with many church culture commentators that the church is increasingly becoming feminized and that needs to change. Now, before I get nasty comments, I’m not against women or women’s ministries or anything like that. I’m not a misogynist or anything like that. But I do believe that the Bible is clear that marriages and churches need to be lead by men; men who understand the Bible, understand their role and who take it seriously. As a result, our churches need to minister to men with more energy and deliberateness, lest we lose the next generation. If you get the man you get the family; if you get the man you change the family. I still do a lot of discipleship and mentoring and these male relationships continue to remind me of this desperate need.
  • I’m tired of the Arminianism and semi-Pelagianism that runs rampant in our churches. I’ll spare the historical details, but Mennonites are notorious for both of these errors and it is a huge part of the teaching in our town. What’s worse, the biggest church in our area spews anti-Calvinist rhetoric and Arminian / semi-Pelagian errors to thousands of people each Sunday. This town is in desperate need of a church that speaks the truth of Scripture and that boldly declares the theology of the Reformation – unhindered by wishy-washy doctrinal statements and political backlash from members. I am, and our church is, thoroughly Reformed in all aspects. Call us Calvinist if you like. But the best name for what we teach is biblical theology.
  • I miss ministry. Some have said that I am not a ‘people person’ or that I ‘don’t have a heart for people.’ That is simply not true. I’m not an extrovert and I don’t like small talk just for the sake of it. I may not smile at you when you walk by and I may not go out of my way to talk to you if I see you at Smitty’s. As a result you may never know how many times I have gone to the hospital to visit the sick, or to someone’s house to talk, or sat with somebody as they approach death. It is these things that I miss. I miss truly getting into the lives of people. I miss discipleship terribly; it is what I am called to do after all. I miss the openness, honesty and raw nature of discipleship and I miss working together for God with those whom I would normally never be ‘friends’. Ministry deepens relationships and it gives meaning to our relationships that goes beyond smiles and casual hellos. I miss it so much and I can’t wait to get back into it.
  • Personally, I am not done yet. Not by a long shot. I’ve struggled with my place and my call and all of that. I’ve wondered whether maybe Prairie was right all those years ago. But God has clearly reaffirmed his call on my life over the past few weeks to both Tanya and I. We have both realized that I have been put on this earth to go flat out for the gospel no matter the cost – no games, no politics and no crap, just flat out for the gospel until God takes me home. Athanasius is one of my heroes. He was banished and exiled numerous times throughout his life, but he kept coming back because he was called by God and nothing, not even an emperor exiling him from the kingdom 5 times, would stand in his way. I love that! I want to be that guy! Cornerstone may have wanted a different kind of pastor, but that does not mean that I am done with my call.
Put this all together and it seems the time to step out into ministry again. I am not stepping back into a church plant because I’m disgruntled or because some ex-Cornerstoners want me to lead them. I’m not interested in that; this town has way too many churches that were formed this way. But I do recognize, as a friend told me, that I am still a pastor to a great deal of people, and I take that call very seriously.
So I start my new role with a desire to meet actual needs in our town and for our church to be a place of worship that is needed in our town. We will seek to be a place where people can truly come as they are and meet Jesus in the word. We are not seeking to be different or new or innovative, just biblical through and through. A place where what you look like, or who you are doesn’t matter. A place where your type of spirituality will not be defined for you, the Bible will define it. A place where uniqueness is welcomed. A place where the gospel is held highest and our only confidence is placed in the saving and sanctifying work of Christ.
I want Covenant Reformed Church to live on long after I am gone. This is not happening for today, or for the small group of people who will come to call it home on August 7. It is for as long as God desires to have this church ministering in this town. Whatever it is that happens at Covenant Reformed Church I want it to be only about the pursuit of God’s glory and to be focused on the three things that I have built my ministry upon – the gospel as the center, the Bible as the foundation and discipleship as the ministry. I just want to be the messenger.
So if you are in the area and you would like to be a part of what we are doing, please join us. You can find more information here and here.
Soli Deo Gloria