“This is what the Lord says: Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” Jeremiah 6:16
When Jeremiah wrote this, he challenged a rebellious people to look to their roots with God, to look for the ancient paths. They had lost their way and their rest by wandering away from God. He was calling them to a crossroads, to a choice, to the good way.
Leaving the comfort of the familiar and stepping onto the trail can be daunting. We grow accustomed to how things are, and we like them that way. Rinus Janson, "Travelling Light"
When Rinus wrote this, both he and I had no clear sense of where the next bend in our present path might lead. We realized that Varsity Bible Church was in a season of transition, but from a healthy place, with solid footing rooted in Jesus. But we also knew that to follow the good way we might be stepping into territory that will be uncomfortable. As I shared in the service last Sunday morning and in a brief email this week, I now find myself leaving the comfort of the familiar to serve at Crossroads Community Church as a transitional pastor from February 1 – June 30. I want to give you some insight about how this decision was made and why I think that going back where I came from is actually a step forward for both churches.
One of my annual spiritual practices is to study and preach on Ecclesiastes at the end of each calendar year. Two weeks ago, I found myself listening to what I was saying! I quoted the psychologist Susan David saying, “Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life.” I also quoted Qoheleth, the writer of Ecclesiastes, who said there is a “time to plant, and a time to uproot”. God was using these ancient words of Scripture, along with the recent words of the psychologist, to prepare me for some discomfort, and for some uprooting, but also for some planting.
Crossroads is the church where I cut my teeth as a pastor. It was 1983, I was still working on my Master of Divinity Studies at Regent College in Vancouver when I got a call from Crossroads Community Church in Calgary to work with them as associate pastor of Evangelism and Discipleship. So, I quit school (I negotiated a deal whereby I could complete the final 3 courses I needed by distance education and summer school), loaded up the truck, and moved to Calgary.
Shirley and I had a wonderful introduction to church ministry at Crossroads and for that I will always be grateful. A church planting team grew out of our time there and this team merged with a small church in Varsity Acres (formerly Ambassador Baptist Church). This merged church then invited me to join Varsity Bible Church as their pastor in March of 1987. Many of the original church members as well as the church planting team are still with us at Varsity. Crossroads Community Church made a deliberate sacrifice to send out a team of young, thirty-something leaders to begin a new church. It cost them something.
It is now 2019, and it’s been about 32 years since I started at Varsity. The pastor-church relationship can be a beautiful thing. I have been loved and accepted and cared for in more ways than I can count over these three decades. Good pastors lead good churches, and good churches develop good pastors. I suppose it’s a chicken and egg thing. But I know I have been blessed with a wonderful church and now I can share those blessings with my ‘mother church’ who is in need of pastoral leadership. We can return the blessing, but it will cost us something.
Varsity is also in a time of transition, from a healthy place, but nevertheless, in transition. We once had a tagline for our church culture: “a fresh approach to a timeless message.” Mission approaches need to change, and the way we preach, teach and engage people has to adapt, so we need to keep listening to what the Spirit is saying to our church. Although the message of the gospel is timeless and remains eternally relevant, our mission strategies to get that message out change from culture to culture and from time to time. What I am getting at here is that in my three decades at VBC we have experienced all kinds of change, and that is why we are still thriving. Now it’s time for some more!
With our change in preaching strategy last year, I found myself available to help Crossroads by preaching two sermons during Advent. Two days before I preached on December 9, the transitional pastor they had hoped would come sent notice that he had to withdraw his application. This discouraging letter was read to the church the morning I preached, and of course I began to sense the deep disappointment they experienced.
Later that week, Rinus and I had lunch with our Western Region Director from the Associated Gospel Churches, Russ Wilson, and the idea surfaced that perhaps Varsity could help Crossroads as we were strong in pastoral leadership and they didn’t have a pastor at all. I began thinking perhaps I could preach for them. So, I met with the leadership of Crossroads and it seems that what they really needed was a full-time transitional pastor. Someone who would not only preach but help with the pastoral work of congregational life and walk with them toward a new vision for their mission and ministry.
I discussed the model of transitional pastoral leadership with my good friend Hugh Fraser who has led more that 18 churches in this type of work, and I began to see how a transitional team is needed and how my particular gifts were needed on that team. I consulted Susan, Rinus, and Mat, and eventually our church Advisory Council, and everyone felt this was a kingdom-minded decision that would be a blessing to both churches. As the book of Acts puts it: “it seemed good to us and to the Holy Spirit.”
The Lord has spoken to me from several Scriptures about this decision. After I preached at Crossroads in December I thought of the passage in the book of James where we are challenged: “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?“ (James 2:16). It seemed the Holy Spirit paraphrased this in my mind as: “Suppose a sister church is without a pastor . . .” I had been praying for God’s guidance for them as they looked for a pastor. It seems like praying can interfere with our lives. It might invade our calendar. It might cost us something.
This coming weekend Cliff Underwood will be continuing our series about loving our neighbour. He’ll unpack Jesus’ story from Luke 10 where an expert in the law, seeking to justify himself, asked, “Who is my neighbour?” As I considered this question I felt the nudge to identify Crossroads Church as the man in need in the story Jesus told. Was I not in a position to help with that need? How could Varsity Bible Church be a neighbour to Crossroads? How could I be a neighbour? What might it cost us? What might it cost me?
One final image that the Lord brought to mind was the idea of ‘honouring your father and mother.” In this case, I envisioned Crossroads as our ‘mother’ church and Varsity would be the ‘daughter’ church. Honouring your mother means, among many other things, to take care of her when she needs you. We see examples in the book of Acts of churches banding together to help the mother church in Jerusalem in a time of need. They honoured their mother.
Soon I will be standing at a literal crossroads, near where Deerfoot Trail meets the Trans Canada, at Crossroads Community Church, and I’ll be asking God to help me see the ancient paths, the good way to go. Let us pray together that our churches together in this new year will experience the rest for our souls promised by the prophet Jeremiah.
With hope and love,