Let's Try Toronto: An Interview With Daniel Yang

Daniel Yang is planting Trinity Life Church, a new church in downtown Toronto. He's an American who's moved into Toronto to serve.

I'm grateful for Daniel, and that he was willing to answer my questions.

You're not originally from Toronto. What led to you planting a church here?

That’s right. I’m was born south of Chicago and at the age 9 my family moved to Detroit. I spent most of my childhood and teenage years growing up in inner-city Detroit in one of America’s most dangerous zip codes. I left for university, got married, started a career in engineering, and bought a home in the burbs.

Our move to Toronto is somewhat of a long story. And I often joke that moving here was the most spiritual decision I ever made because I essentially leaned over and asked my wife, Linda, “Where do you want to raise our kids?” And she replied, “Let's try Toronto.” There was more to it than that, but really that was what I needed to hear from her to confirm what I felt God already stirring in my heart.

Most Canadians don’t realize that Detroit is the closest large city to Toronto if you don’t count Hamilton. It’s closer than both Montreal and Ottawa. So as a kid, I grew up coming here for weekend getaways and the occasional Chinatown Pho trip. In 2007, while I was still working as an engineer, I took my wife and kids here on vacation and we loved it as a family. Growing up as a refugee immigrant, we fit in well.

Before moving here, I did all my stats research and realized that Toronto —
 and all other Canadian cities — are in a desperate need of Gospel renewal and a fresh wind of the Holy Spirit. Our call to Toronto is definitely no less than that. But I’ve always had a realization in my heart that my greatest disciples are my four sons:  Justin, Conor, Joel, and John-Abraham. I want to expose them and their faith to a global, pluralistic, and diverse society. That’s the reality of the world we live in. So planting a church in a global and diverse city like Toronto is one of our best ways we figured out as parents to disciple our kids for the world. We’ll see how they turn out in the next couple years! But none of this diminishes our genuine love and concern for seeing Torontonians people come to know Jesus and walk in the abundance of their identity and destiny in Christ.

What do you love about Toronto?

There’s just so much to say about Toronto. I love the creative energy it has. I love that people move here to try to make a difference. I love that all the nations are here. I love the food! I love what God has done here in the past and the sense that He’s doing something new in our time. But Toronto's also paradoxical. Some of the things that make it great are also what makes it complex and overwhelming. The values of creativity and social good can bring a level of pressure and anxiety that'll exhaust even the most well meaning people.

I love that Toronto is open minded and I can appreciate certain aspects of its liberalism. I don’t have in mind the social/political issues that tend to divide the conservatives from the liberals. But what I do appreciate is that because of its openness and inclusiveness, there’s a greater variety of people that sit at a table to address societal issues. And more often times than not, that has allowed guys like me — an evangelical pastor — to sit down as well.

How would you describe the spiritual condition of downtown Toronto?

I don’t want to circumvent this question, but let me answer it a different way. Before I moved to the city I was praying and a term came to mind: neo-urban-charismaticism. It’s the idea that the Spirit of God must release and activate his gifts in the Body of Christ in a new and fresh way. It’s true that Toronto is more secular than most North American cities, but I try to stray away from the gloom and doom mentality. (But to be honest with you - there are times when you can physically feel the gloom and doom.) And I’m not just trying to be an optimist. I really do believe that we can pray in faith that the Spirit of God move in a fresh way. That prayer may fall on a ripe harvest field or it may fall on a valley of dead bones. Either way, the Spirit of God can bring life out of it. So I often find myself praying, “Come Holy Spirit” the same way the first century churches prayed Maranatha.

What have you learned about how to minister here?

I’ve only been here three years, but I hear the lessons get better after the third year! So far I’ve learned that you can only give what you receive. If you want to give the Gospel, you must receive it and consume it in large amounts yourself. If you preach community, you must truly and genuinely invest in and enjoy the one you’re in. If you preach rest and resistance to the city’s stronghold of fear and anxiety, then you must re-orient your life around a different principle than the one most others rely on. You have to douse and drench your identity in the Trinitarian God and believe that's enough to carry you through whatever season of ministry you’re in.

How would you define "ministry success" in downtown Toronto?

Hear God’s voice. Trust Him. Obey Him. It sounds cliche, but most times that’s what keeps me going. “Am I obeying as far as I can discern?” If I can answer “yes”, then I have to believe I’m “successful” in the ministry.

But in terms of what it means to establish a ministry legacy in downtown Toronto - I think the most important thing we can ask ourselves is, “Is what we’re leaving behind going to help the next generation?” If the kids in our church who remain in our church over the next few years grow to learn how to live in the Father’s delight, live under Jesus’ Lordship, and are led by the Holy Spirit in community — I have no doubt in my mind that whatever I did to contribute to that will receive a, “Well done good and faithful servant."


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.

What I Learned Blogging About Toronto

When I decided to blog about Toronto for a month, I wasn't sure how it would go. I worried about people tuning out, or that I'd run out of things to say.

The month is over, even though I'm stretching it with one more interview this Thursday. I've been pleased overall with this experiment. Here's what I've learned.

  1. People care about Toronto. I've been encouraged to see some response from people who don't live here, but who still care about this city. Some have expressed a desire to move back. That's great news. I hope this catches on.
     
  2. We're not alone. It's been encouraging for me to interview others who love this city as much as I do. Their voices made a big difference. It's also been encouraging to see other pastors and planters respond to this series by sharing posts on social media, and responding with comments. I love being reminded that we're not alone, even in a city with a relatively small percentage of evangelicals.
     
  3. Success is hard to measure. I had two goals in this series: to get people to pray for Toronto, and to prompt some people to consider moving back. I have no idea how to measure how well this series has achieved these goals. Both goals are ambitious; the second goal borders on crazy. Time will tell if this series made a difference.
     
  4. Focus is good. Although I worried about one topic being too constricting, I enjoyed the focus.

Two articles (here and here) total only 5,400 words, but literally changed my life. This series is going to weigh in at at just over 8,000 words. That's not a lot, but I'm hoping that a simple blog series may contribute, even a little, to people praying for, moving to, and serving in a city that needs the Lord.


2 Comments

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.

The City of Borrowed Gospel Ethics: An Interview With Dan MacDonald

Dan MacDonald is one of the first Toronto church planters I met. He pastors Grace Toronto, a downtown Presbyterian (PCA) church. I'm grateful for his ministry, and for his willingness to answer my questions.

I've heard you say that there are harder places to do ministry than Toronto, but
not many. Why do you think this is true?

Did I say that? If our context is North America, I think that is fair. There are three things that come to mind, that jump out at me when I read your question.

The first is, that the speed of life in a busy global city makes doing anything (other than work), well just... hard. Everybody is not just busy, they are slammed, gasping for air and margin.

The second reason is that Toronto has such a powerful culture. I grew up in Montreal and spent almost a decade in Vancouver, but they don’t seem to have anything close to the force of the Toronto culture. By that I mean, Toronto really tries to squeeze you into its mold, in terms of values, priorities, outlook, and cultural zeitgeist, much more powerfully than other Canadian cities do. New York is the only North American city where I have seen the like. And so fighting for a fully-orbed Christian world and life view is tremendously strenuous.

The third reason, and I don’t think I will say this well, but I will try — the third reason, is that Toronto is a really successful, magnetic, counterfeit version of the gospel promises. Toronto has affluence without too much inequality, diversity without much racism, safety without being dull, excitement without being dangerous. Toronto, more than any other city I have lived in or experienced, has borrowed gospel ethics, re-articulated and re-configured them in secular expressions, and done better than just about any global city in the world in balancing all these things. Almost every conceivable cultural good that Christianity promised other cultures throughout the centuries — freedom, equality, dignity, safety, etc. — Toronto has delivered on, without any self- conscious reliance upon God. Toronto is not just a secular city; it is proud, with some justification, of the cultural achievements it has earned while being avowedly secular. And that makes it a very spiritually complacent city. They think they have got it figured out.

Tim Keller, in a private conversation a few years ago, put it succinctly: "no matter how much New Yorkers pride themselves on being a secular city, in the United States, Christianity is still a creditable world and life view. In Toronto, it simply is no longer."

How would you describe the spiritual climate of Toronto?

My answer above probably spells this out as much as I can. The climate is intensely secular, spiritually apathetic or passive-aggressively hostile to Christianity. We are in a spiritually pulseless place, generally speaking. This has its obvious implications for evangelism, but what caught me off guard was its corrosive effect upon Christians. Discipleship in Toronto is far, far different than other contexts, partly because the culture — the ‘world’, in biblical terminology — has never been this enticing, or intimidating, in any context I have ministered before. I was stunned at how much Christians in this city struggle with temptations, and with upholding basic Christian disciplines, ethics, and priorities. Like the effect of Mordor on Frodo, this city wears down disciples of Jesus. Now that I have been here long enough, I can testify from personal experience that this is true.

What does ministry success look like in downtown Toronto?

Good question! I think it really depends upon your calling, and gifting, and God’s particular providence upon your life. For some laypeople, it might be staying faithful to Jesus through the temptations of the street. For a pastor or a church, ministry success is so hard to measure. The population of the downtown core seems to turn over about every 6 years, so if you are a downtown church — and you and I both are such — you must be prepared to have a massive turnover in your church pretty regularly. We feel at Grace as if we have people for a time, and it is precious, and then we will release them to gospel ministry in other churches and other cities. Ministry success is seeing fruit in the lives of the people you minister to, and watching them soar often after they have left you.

What keeps you going despite the challenges of ministry here?

The electing love of my Father, the redeeming grace of my Redeemer, the encouraging work of my Paraclete. And my wife. Seriously. And the opportunity to express Christ to a needy and strategic and beautiful city.
    
What are your hopes for this city? How would you like people to pray for it?

Pray that Toronto would become a place of shalom, a place of spiritual, and economic, and cultural renewal after the pattern of the glory and love of God and Jesus Christ.


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.

Pray for Toronto

Jeremiah Lanphier loved his city, but he was also concerned. The spiritual condition of the city wasn't great. Families had moved out of the city, leaving churches struggling. Efforts at evangelism hadn't changed things.

So he prayed. He handed out thousands of flyers inviting others to pray too. On September 23, 1857 at noon, he held the first meeting to pray for New York, but nobody showed up at first. Half an hour later, five men showed up.

Over the coming weeks, thousands gathered. It's estimated that 50,000 eventually joined prayer meetings for New York. Over the next 18 months, a million people became followers of Jesus Christ.

For the month of February, I've been blogging about Toronto. I love this city. I am encouraged by the number and quality of people who love this city too, and who are working hard at planting and revitalizing churches.

Still, we need more. Toronto is one of North America's largest cities, and also one of its least evangelized cities. We need more Christians to move back and commit to the hard but joyful work of serving God here.

We need all of this, but we need more. We need God to do his work. I'm asking you to join me in praying, regularly, for Toronto, even if you don't live here.

  • Pray that God would raise up workers for the harvest (Luke 10:2).
  • Pray for pastors and church planters who are committed to serving here.
  • Pray that many would respond to the challenge to move back and commit to living and serving here.
  • Pray for the many communities that lack any Jesus-loving church.
  • Pray for the real estate needs of churches: that we won't lose more church properties that we can't get back.
  • Pray that God would send revival to Toronto.

Please join me in praying regularly for Toronto.


2 Comments

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.

Toronto as a Ministry Incubator: An Interview with Barry Parker

Barry Parker is rector (senior pastor) of St. Paul's Bloor Street, an Anglican church in downtown Toronto. I'm grateful that Barry was willing to answer some questions about ministry in Toronto.

You've served as Rector at St. Paul's Bloor since 1998. How would you describe the spiritual condition of downtown Toronto?

What you see day to day is urban veneer. I think urban Toronto is spiritually elastic and that often exhibits as pluralistic, materialistic and secular. However, when you scratch the surface in any way—whether it be honest interaction, a crisis, or general life exhaustion—our experience is that there is a deeper hunger for hope, meaning and purpose.

A lot of downtown churches, like St. Paul's, began when Christianity was conflated with Christendom and held a privileged position in the culture. What adjustments are necessary as we adapt to a context in which the church has lost much of its influence?

All of our historic systems, structures and understanding of ministry, the positional authority of the pastor for example, are going or gone in this post-Christendom era. Adaptability in numerous small and seemingly irrelevant ways instead of the big large group connections now are the norm. The historic attractional model of ministry, open the doors and they will come, is gone. Even the missional movement has been co-opted by expediency and innate institutionalism. In other words, we always seem to inevitably try to program or package all aspects of ministry. I think the organic contextualization of the unchanging Gospel of Jesus Christ is the way forward. It is messy, challenging, yet faith inducing.

We can learn lessons from churches in places like London, New York, and Seattle. What are the benefits and dangers of applying these lessons here?

The benefit is that we can see what ministry looks like on the ground to help us think/reflect through what we need to do where we are in downtown Toronto. As a caveat, where we look matters. I think London and the U.K. are a decade farther down the secularization road than the U.S. I see Americans as still culturally religious, even in the NW & NE. Hence I find it more profitable to lean into the British experience than the vast majority of American material.

The real danger is that we often look anywhere else but where we are planted in panic or trying to find an easier way to do ministry. We habitually think that ‘they’ have the solution/answer/ministry I need because it looks easier somewhere else than the challenges of where I am planted.

What does ministry success look like in downtown Toronto?

I don’t like the word ‘success’ as it is fleeting and inherently secular. However, effectiveness through relational evangelizing and formational discipleship is crucial. This includes missional engagement, dynamic worship, Gospel community, contextualized service, whole life learning—all bathed in prayer.

It's easy for us to love Toronto because we live here. Why should others care?

Urban ministry is the proverbial canary in the mine. Contra the Canadian joke, it is not that Toronto is the center of the universe. Rather, Toronto increasingly reflects the urbanization and globalization of our day with all of its complexities, challenges and humanly limiting/flourishing lifestyles and worldviews. It is a ministry incubator of sorts.


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.