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.”

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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.”