Jesus likes to do the most unexpected things to build His kingdom. One of these unexpected things was taking me, a guy who had never been to church before, into an old dying Baptist church in downtown Toronto. I was 23 years old at the time.
After spending less than a year there, Jesus took me all the way across the world to Australia to teach me about repentance, faith, relationship, responsibility, faithfulness, the scriptures and so much more. One of the final moments in Australia was marked by a call from the Lord to come back to Toronto to join with others to start a new church in downtown Toronto, my home, where there are many people like me who have never been to church, or have very minimal exposure to the Christian community of faith.
I am now 32 years old and so much has happened in the interim. We have laughed a lot, cried a lot, prayed a lot, hoped for things that seemed insane, and we have certainly learned some things along the way as well. Trinity Life Church officially launched in September 2013 and this fall we will be celebrating six years of grace! I have never been a member at another church. I have never served in ministry anywhere else and I am still not finished my formal seminary education. Who knows what the end of the story will look like, but we are not closing our doors any time soon and there are some things we have learned as a team that have helped keep us going over the past six years. Hopefully these things will help you if you are in a season where you are looking to obey God’s call to step into something new, or take a bold step of faith within your present church or ministry.
Our three little learnings
Jesus is the only One who can truly build His Church.
There will be moments of intense joy, excitement, and anticipation as well as moments of incredible doubt, uncertainty, and hardship if you ever plan to start a new work like planting a church.
There was a particular period of time, about four years into the work, where things were really hard. We had lost one of the founding families the year before, which took an incredible toll on all of our people. Then my mother passed away suddenly and unexpectedly, and we had our first child. Money was really tight. Also, the Lord revealed to us that we had a massive blind spot in our church that we had no idea how to fix.
Surprisingly, our church still managed to grow in this season. Our core leadership team tripled, we had many new people coming every week, and people were coming to faith and being baptized. Then we took one of our biggest leaps of faith in reaching out to the urban poor community that we were called to serve. We opened a community space called “The New Common”, to partner locally and globally with organizations and individuals. They also wanted to see society renewed by equipping the church to use its gifts to engage the community around them. God was so faithful to us in these hard moments, even though all we knew to do was to pray and to be obedient to the little that God put in front of us. It is Jesus who truly loves and builds His Church.
How success is defined in the Kingdom of God
At Trinity Life Church we now know what success is for us. We know we were successful if we have heard from God, and obeyed what He has told us to do. This helps us know where to go and what we need to do, and not do, in each season.
One year we ran an Easter weekend event in our low income neighbourhood, reaching out to around 200 Muslims and other people from the community. We had a wonderful opportunity to explicitly share about Jesus and everyone was having an amazing time enjoying each other’s presence. It was tempting to despair then when on the Sunday after that event not one of those people came to our Sunday service, even though we had personally invited many of them to come. If our metric for success was a larger worship service, then we would have failed and stopped that event. However, if our metric for success was sharing the love of Jesus, then our event was a huge success. We chose the latter metric and by doing so we learned we can trust God with the Kingdom-wins that may come in the future. For example, it turned out that after we did this event for two years in a row the city took notice. They saw religious reconciliation and racial reconciliation happening in a place where this was not so common, and offered to resource future events with people and finances! This was an amazing Kingdom-win in a city which, in many cases, views the church as a parasite, taking from society rather than being a blessing to it.
How to intentionally develop people into their Kingdom calling
This was a huge blind spot for us as a young church. We had many people attracted to our church and there were many exciting things that we wanted to do. It was tempting to take people who seemed mildly passionate and knew a little bit of Christian lingo and just put them into a spot where they had to lead people and execute tasks. We didn’t know their spiritual gifts, we didn’t know their specific leadership competencies, we didn’t know their level of faithfulness and we only had a mild sense of whether they understood the vision of our church.
This led to frustrations when things were not getting accomplished or were being done poorly. There were uncertain expectations on all sides as well as vision misalignment. And as a result, there was high turnover in the people we had been placing to lead our teams. This created a culture in our church where we were very comfortable ‘placing’ leaders instead of ‘developing’ leaders. We needed to repent of how we did things and embrace more intentional leadership development.
The shift started when we realized that we were stewarding the calling of other people. As a result, we needed to come back to a few things that were part of our vision but hadn’t fully manifested in this area of our church. Better discernment helped to make sure people were operating in their calling. Building teams based on spiritual gifts helped us to realize the greater potential in the entire local body of Christ.
Lastly, building intentional pathways to develop individuals helped make sure that someone who was going to lead other people knew how to do this themselves. This required our being generous with our time and experiences to develop them as leaders. This hasn’t been an easy transition, so I suggest having a plan from the beginning rather than trying to shift your culture later on. We noticed when we started operating in this new culture, however, people were experiencing more joy, more fruitfulness in their leadership, more perseverance through hard times, and more transparency when dealing with issues of wrongdoing. Also, more people were able to lead at the appropriate capacity level and God was then able to call people to higher levels of service. It has been amazing!
My hope for you
By your shifting things as we had to, you too may experience more joy and fruitfulness in your ministry so that many people will come to faith in Jesus Christ. Remember that Jesus is the only One who can truly build His church, so operate in His strength and not your own. Know what success is in the Kingdom of God and use that as your plumb line when measuring your ministry success. Lastly, have a plan for the intentional discipleship and development of people so they can realize their Kingdom potential and walk forward in their calling.
Have fun, be bold, and be blessed to experience amazing kingdom transformation in your family, neighbourhood, and city.