God in the Gritty, Quiet Places

My latest column in ChristianWeek

I always thought of Halifax as quaint, like a big small town. I had a hard time believing that Halifax faces urban issues like crime, homelessness, and poverty. On a Thursday in May, I drove down Gottingen Street (nicknamed Got-a-gun Street) in the north end and turned onto Cunard Street. There, beside a transmission shop, is the Souls Harbour Rescue Mission, dedicated to rescuing “people from poverty, addiction and despair by offering emergency help, such as food, clothing and shelter, life-changing recovery programs, and the Gospel Message.” Downstairs I found Brad Somers talking and working in the crowd of men who had gathered from the community.


Brad used be a youth pastor in a large suburban church in Cambridge, Ontario. Five years ago, he planted PAXnorth, a church that meets on the main floor of Souls Harbour. PAX means peace; north means that they’re committed to the gritty part of the city. I was in Halifax to speak to our denomination’s regional conference, a small gathering of pastors and church members from the Atlantic region. I came to teach; I left having learned.

I learned, for instance, from a member of PAXnorth who had lived on the street. He spoke of the difference that the gospel had made in his life. “PAX means I don’t have to go back to the streets and the gang, drugs, violence, and addictions,” he says. “PAX means I’m with Christ. This is where God sent me to meet his Son, and his Son was here waiting for me.”


I learned from the Glenn Goode, who serves as the only part-time Regional Director in our denomination. He travels through Atlantic Canada encouraging pastors and helping churches on top of his day job.

I learned from the pastors who gathered at the conference. Many of them had taken hard assignments in relative obscurity. As a pastor, I find myself tempted sometimes by the desire to make something big out of myself. That’s clearly the opposite of Jesus’ way, but I’m still tempted. I was encouraged that I met pastors committed to serving joyfully in small places with no expectation of making it big.

I was encouraged as we broke bread and drank the cup together, sensing the very real presence of Jesus Christ who was active in the gritty side of a city in the smallest of our denomination’s regions.

If you read the statistics, things are in rough shape in Canada. The culture is in decline, and churches are losing. It’s not hard to find the stories, or believe them. Some of them are true.

But it’s a little too soon to give up hope. Across this country are hundreds of churches where God is at work, making a difference in lives and communities. It doesn’t get much attention, but God seems to often choose the places we tend to overlook. I keep discovering God at work in the gritty, quiet places.

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Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

Setting Gospel Grassfires

My latest column at ChristianWeek:

There’s no question that ministry in Canada is a challenge. According to Bill Hogg, National Missiologist with C2C Network, that’s not a surprise. “Canada is further down the track in terms of liminality, the marginalization of religious ideas and religious institutions,” he says. “Canada prizes social pluralism and religious pluralism, which is obviously a challenge as you seek to proclaim Jesus.”

Not only is Canada pluralistic, but many churches are stuck. “The reality is that 85% of North American churches have plateaued or declined.” Hogg believes that churches often follow a life cycle that resembles a sigmoid curve. “Something that started, where lives are being transformed, can eventually decline, and needs to experience renewal, refocus, restructuring, or replanting.”


Despite the external and internal challenges, Hogg is encouraged. “There are pockets of hope across Canada. There are little gospel grassfires.” The C2C Network exists as a nationwide, indigenous Canadian church planting and renewal network. “If we want to reach Canada for Christ, it’s going to require fresh, vibrant, innovative, gospel-centred, Spirit-led, mission-focused new churches,” Hogg believes. “But it’s also going to require the established church to get on mission, steward the gospel well, and embrace the mission fields where God has placed them.”

According to Hogg, the Canadian church faces three challenges. The first danger is gospel drift. “A lot of evangelical and charismatic churches are not centred around the gospel,” he says. “There’s a danger that evangelicals are no longer evangel people.” Hogg identifies the danger of preaching the prosperity gospel, or its “kissing cousin success,” moralism, or just old-fashioned legalism instead of the gospel. Churches must continually recalibrate around the gospel.

The second danger is missional retreat. According to one author, the dominant North American ecclesial motif is church as private club. Our challenge, Hogg says, is to first look to Jesus, and then to look outward to the town, village, city, and community in which God has placed each faith community.

The third danger is seeing the church as human enterprise. This means that we often look for technicians, not ministers, and for techniques and programs that promise success. “We have to be Spirit-empowered, Spirit-dependent, and Spirit-led. This is messy and defies the cookie cutter approach.” Our starting posture is important: “It’s not about coming up with a plan. The first order of business is to surrender to Jesus. The idea is not to work a plan but to hear from the Lord, and then from dependance upon Him walk in obedience to what he speaks into the life of the church.”

This underlines the importance of prayer. “Jesus, who commissioned the 72, said that he’s sending them out as lambs among wolves. There is peril and danger. We’re in a spiritual combat zone, and we need the wisdom and power of the Lord.”

Hogg believes that we have every reason to hope. “The gospel hasn’t lost its power. God is still on the throne, and Jesus has not rescinded the Great Commission even for such a time as this.”


Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

Making Sense of Weakness

My latest column at ChristianWeek:

I spend so much time trying to be strong that I have a hard time making sense of what the Bible says about weakness.

"I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling," the apostle Paul writes. Later he says, "For when I am weak, then I am strong." What kind of Kingdom math is this? And if it's true, why do we try so hard to be strong?

Rose Marie Miller, in her book Nothing Is Impossible with God, helps me make sense of this. There are three kinds of weakness, she writes.

The first kind of weakness is presumptive weakness. It's what we usually think of as strength. "Presumptive weakness is when I am strong in myself. I think, 'I have the ability, the gifts, the understanding, the wisdom to get the job done or get on with life.'" It turns out that our strengths, until surrendered, are liabilities, because "it is impossible to fully trust in God while you still cling to something in yourself."

The second type of weakness is despairing weakness. This is usually what we think of as weakness, but it's not what we should aim for. When we despair, we look at our own resources and discover they're not enough, and we begin to lose hope.

I find that I tend to alternate between these first two types of weakness. I try to make it on my own strength, or give up. There's a third way, though.

The third type of weakness is what Paul talks about, and it's what we should aim for: true weakness, "born out of a deep sense of inadequacy and need, which drives us to Christ and unleashes all the redeeming energy of God's grace in our lives."

Charles Spurgeon put it this way in his sermon "Paradox": "We are strong when, under a sense of absolute inability, we depend wholly upon God...When we are weak we are strong, again, because then we are driven away from self to God."

What about our abilities and talents? Oswald Chambers writes, "God can achieve his purpose either through absence of human power and resources, or abandonment of reliance on them...He chose and used nobodies only when they renounced dependence on their natural abilities and resources."

The exciting part about true weakness is that it's freeing. We don't have to pretend to be more than we are, or that we have it all together. I spoke to a man last week who with genuine joy said to me, "There's nothing you could tell me about yourself that would surprise me, because there's no way that you're a worse sinner than me." He had encountered God's grace and strength in his weakness, and it set him free.

I'm a weak pastor in a land of weak churches. That may just be my greatest strength. I'm slowly learning to turn away from my own resources and despair, to find that God's strength really is enough and more.

Planting is for Every Church

My latest column at ChristianWeek:

I used to think that church planters are deviants—nice people with a rebel streak. I liked them, and I admired them, but I couldn't relate to them, and I certainly didn't want to join their number.

Tim Keller, a pastor and church planter in New York City, changed all that. I read an article of his called "Why Plant Churches?" (PDF) and I still haven't recovered. Church planting, he argues, is the biblical strategy for reaching people with the gospel. Church plants reach people that established churches won't.

Church plants are also the best way to renew established churches. Keller answered every objection I had to church planting, and he convinced me to see church planting as essential. It's not for deviants; it's essential for every church.

I remember sitting in my office a decade ago while pastoring an established church. A friend of mine had just planted a new church. We had a huge building, money in the bank, and a couple hundred people. They had a dozen people meeting in a basement.

A decade later, that church plant has outgrown the established church I pastored, and they have also planted a number of new churches that are also growing. While I'm still convinced that we still need to work on renewing existing churches, I began to appreciate church plants like never before.

I also remember sitting in a meeting with two pastors of established churches and three church planters. As we talked about our churches, the two of us from established churches struggled to articulate our vision. We lacked clarity. The three church planters spoke with great clarity about the vision of their churches. I walked away from the meeting wondering how their vision and clarity could rub off on us.

I've come to believe that every church needs to be involved in church planting. It's not just because I'm now a church planter—it's because I've spent 20 years pastoring established churches, and I now realize what I was missing.

First, church planting is strategic. In every city and town, we need new churches to reach the people that existing churches can't. According to Keller, the average new church brings in six to eight times more new people than an older congregation of the same size. I agree with Peter Wagner: "Planting new churches is the most effective evangelistic methodology known under heaven."

Secondly—and this is new to me—church planting benefits established churches. My mother is often asked why she seems young for her age. She has a one-word answer: "Grandchildren." Because she's investing in the lives of those who are young, she's stayed young. Every church was once a church plant; the way to maintain some of that energy is to continue to live close to the youth of other church plants.

Church planting isn't for deviants. It's the way to reach new people, and it's the way for the established Church to maintain its vibrancy. Church planting is for every church.


Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

Friday Questions: An Interview with Doug Koop

Doug Koop is one of my Canadian heroes. For the past 25 years he's served as editor of ChristianWeek, a Canadian Christian paper. He recently announced that he would be stepping down. I really appreciate the contribution Doug has made to the Canadian church, and I know I'm going to miss his work at ChristianWeek.

Doug was kind enough to allow me to interview him.

120113You’ve had a unique view on the Canadian Christian scene. What encourages you?

I’ve been reporting on Christian faith and life in Canada for 25 years, so I’ve had time to observe a number of encouraging developments.

Certainly we’ve seen a maturing of many evangelical institutions. The entire field of Christian higher education, for example, is much more sophisticated than it was a couple of decades ago. Many types of academic programs are now available in more places for credits that are officially recognized. Countless charities and congregations are also delivering services with greater professionalism and accountability.

Signs of increasing cooperation among Christians of many stripes also encourage me. In one very visible expression, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and the Canadian Council of Churches currently communicate and collaborate with a level of comfort unthinkable in the 1980s. At least six denominations are full members of both groups. Denominational distinctives are significantly less divisive than in times past. Joint worship services and other demonstrations of practical unity are bringing worshipers together in many cities and towns. Ecumenism used to be a dirty word among conservative Protestants, but evangelicals are taking a lead in many of these efforts.

I’m also happy to report that the missional impulse is alive and well. While many formerly effective methods of evangelism and outreach are disappearing, the people of God in Canada are discovering countless new ways to engage the world in the name of Jesus. Lives are being transformed; neighbourhoods are being positively influenced; the entire world is being touched through the mission of Canadian Christians.

What concerns you?

The usual stuff: Christians caught up in materialism, consumerism and spiritual indifference. Nominalism, if you will. Perhaps I highlight these things because I struggle with them myself. Way too many church people show up on Sundays to get fix of religion that creates very few ripples in the rest of our lives. It’s as though church is the premium to pay for a celestial insurance policy, a dose of spiritual medicine in order to extend our comfort zone into eternity.

I’m also concerned about arguments. More specifically, I’m troubled by the polarizing tenor of public discourse—especially when church people are the agitators. It’s one thing to stand forthrightly for one’s convictions; it’s quite another to be belligerently assertive. Some of our efforts to retain elements of the Judeo-Christian ethic in the fabric of Canadian society have reinforced the largely unwarranted reputation of evangelicalism as cadre of angry social conservatives. Just about every year some situation prompts me to write an editorial lamenting or lambasting this reality.

Concerns? One more is the decline of biblical literacy, even among churchgoers. I’m constantly astounded that people who claim to value Scripture so highly seem to actually read so selectively, so infrequently and so condescendingly. Some of us hew to it like a talisman; others pretty well ignore it; some study it without devotion; some are piously literal to the point of absurdity. The irony is that no generation has had easier access to more good resources to help engage the Bible for all its worth. It’s worth a whole lot more than we manage to derive from it.

Twenty-five years is a long time to serve as editor. What are some of the ways you’ve seen yourself change?

Some years ago I bought an image a young photographer had captured on a river in Africa. It’s a picture of an eager-eyed young boy at the front of a canoe, peering inquisitively to see what’s around the next bend. At the back of the boat, slightly out of focus, is a serene looking man calmly using his paddle to keep their craft on course.


For many years at ChristianWeek, I was that young boy, bursting with curiosity about every new story that crossed my desk—keen, enthusiastic, raring to go. As time passed, however, I began to realize that most news is not really new. Things keep happening, of course, but patterns keep unfolding like bends in the river. And once one has traveled that way a few times, it’s easier to predict the course of events. So, increasingly I’ve identified with the man at the back, working to keep things on course without getting too wrapped up each time the “news” strikes someone else as new.

I hope this doesn’t too jaded, although that has sometimes been a temptation. It’s more like my experience of Christmas. I don’t get anywhere near as excited as I did when I was a child, but I love the season nonetheless.

I’ve also seen my vocational interests morph. I came to ChristianWeek with a desire to be a writer. That passion still burns strong, but journalism is no longer my favorite milieu. These days I’m more interested in producing longer works, both fiction and non-fiction. And I’ve learned that I have gifts and desire to provide spiritual and pastoral care.

I’ve noticed that you keep an eye out for new talent. What qualities do you look out for?

The first thing I look for is ability. Not everyone who wants to publish articles is capable of producing the quality of work that serves readers well. But many people do have a desire to write and are able to do so. I love connecting with them. Encouraging people with ability, providing a platform for writers to develop their skills, is one of the great joys of editing.

The second thing I look for is availability. Throughout the years I’ve worked with many writers, some for just a single article or a short season. The list of those who’ve contributed frequently is still rather long, but significantly shorter. We have needed people capable of being on site at events or well-connected enough to get the right story. We usually managed to find the right writer at the right time. The availability of reporters has been a factor in news selection.

I should also add that affordability is a factor. ChristianWeek has never had the dollars to maintain professional writers at professional rates. I am grateful that so many of our contributors have been so generous with their time and talent, and that they have often been very patient waiting for their honoraria to arrive.

Could you share how we can pray for you as you transition from ChristianWeek?

Well, I need to find a job. I am looking for an occupation that enables me to use my abilities both as a writer, and as a spiritual care provider. In the process, I do need to earn a living. Please pray that I connect with an opportunity that allows me to pursue my vocational passion and that supplies for my material needs. That’s top of my list just now.

Thanks, Doug.

1 Comment

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.