Bert Thomson is pastor of Every Nation GTA, a downtown church that meets on the University of Toronto campus. He's served in churches in Calgary, Nashville, and now Toronto.
I'm grateful for Bert's ministry. When I visited Every Nation GTA, I saw the video below, and I wanted to share it with you. Bert's also been kind enough to allow me to ask him some questions about ministry in Toronto.
Bert, you've started, built, and led ministries and churches in Canada and the United States. How is Toronto different?
Toronto is the first city where we have lived and ministered where the city itself is both nationally and even globally connected. Vancouver, Calgary, Nashville are known more by the region they are in.
Toronto's multi-cultural, multi-ethnic society is really, really unique. We get use to this diversity after a while, but we need to keep drawing the lens back and see this phenomenon.
How would you describe the spiritual climate of downtown Toronto?
Spiritual but not Christian. I found out early not to make the mistake of insinuating that Torontonians are not spiritually interested! People consider themselves very spiritually enlightened. They might not have a high regard for the church but many people look to other sources for self-help and personal guidance.
There are also some strong misconceptions and/or bad experiences with church that some people in Toronto are carrying. One person commented, “after the intense pressure of working in a dog-eat-dog work environment, why would I want to go get beat down on Sundays?”
The cultural saviors of education and success are very powerful. On the surface, people don't have obvious needs for Jesus.
Given this reality, how is ministry different here?
When people meet us, they really need to see us as good news people. One the things my wife and I heard on a regular basis when we first arrived in the city was, “We really like your energy!” We took that as a compliment and worked from there to show where our “energy” comes from!
We must be sure to connect with what we agree with — i.e., things that people are passionate about that are actually kingdom realities. If we jump too quickly to how we differ, we can lose them.
We must also build a bridge of relationship to get beyond the veneer of apparent success. Many couples are in conflict. Families have many problems. Many people struggle with personal issues like anxiety, depression and addictions of all sorts. You have to seen as a person they can trust.
In other words, we need to reach out more than ever. You just don't get much traction with a Sunday service and traditional church programs. Ministry Monday to Friday is the key. Dwelling among the people is a must.
What does ministry success look like in downtown Toronto?
First of all, survival! I heard from a Toronto church planter that in the last number of years 20+ plants south of Bloor Street have already failed. It takes more time than in other cities where I have been involved in church planting. I've found that it takes a lot of outside financial support to keep going because of the expense of living here and the lack of built-in Christians who are just looking for a church to attend. After three years, we are still not financially self-sustaining.
Success is also seeing real unchurched, non-Christians find Jesus! When we baptize new believers, all the pain and struggle comes into perspective.
When we hit a point of spiritual momentum and the hard work of pioneering will move to the phase of disciples making disciples.
Ultimate ministry success will come when we can reproduce and plant another church. We hope that this will come within the next couple of years.
We love Toronto, in part because we live here. Why should others who don't live here care about this city?
It is a wonderful place! Torontonians are amazing; they really care about making their city better.
Toronto's influence throughout the nation is undeniable. Its population is greater than B.C, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba combined. All the major banks are headquartered here. The stock exchange is here. All the major television and media outlets are here. There are more than 250,000 university and college students in the GTA.
For Canadians, we all must realize that as goes Toronto, so goes our nation.