Have you ever accused somebody of doing something they didn't do? Probably. We've all been there. How about this: have you ever accused somebody of doing something they not only didn't do, but that you yourself did, only you don't remember doing it? Probably not! And yet... we, the church, are doing this very thing. There's been a noisy movement among us to accuse "the world" of putting X in Xmas and taking Christ out. Well guess what? In fact, we did that. "X" is a long-held symbol for "Christ" that the earliest scribes of New Testament Greek used. Then it got picked up by English copyist Christians when Greek met Anglo-Saxon cultures; everywhere, "X" meant "Christ." In this episode, Mark apologizes to our unchurched friends for our accusing them of a crime they didn't commit, gives us a brief history of the X, and underscores the transforming power of listening to our past and to our neighbours.
Then Mark sits down with Ryan Sim, pastor of Redeemer Church in Ajax just east of Toronto. Ryan is the creator of Redeem the Commute, an app for everyone, primarily GTA residents who spend hours on the train or bus each week and want to find more enriching ways to spend that time. Ryan talks about his formation growing up Anglican and how he was affected by a thriving and united high school group of fellow student-Christians. Then he talks about how the Canadian church context is more similar to the U.K. than the U.S. and what fresh expressions of church might look like. Then he talks about church planting Redeemer Church in the context of a Toronto bedroom community where over 80% of working adults don't work and live in the same city. He shares what it was like to listen to the needs of his city, implement an innovative solution called Redeem the Commute, and start a gathering called The Family Room from a model of missional listening.
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Notable Quotes from Ryan Sim:
"I joined a Christian fellowship group when I was in Grade 9 that wasn't affiliated with one of these big sort of campus crusade groups for IVF or anything like that. It was just an independent group of students are met together for Christian fellowship. And I credit that with really forming me as a Christian leader. Because we were self led – we had a teacher who gave us a room – but other than that we were leading ourselves. That's what I learned to pray with others and lead Bible studies and organize events. That's where I saw evangelism happening for the first time as we really grew from a pretty small group when I first started attending to almost 200 students when I graduated."
"Pentecostals and Baptists and Lutherans… there were all kinds in that group.... The most memorable moments for me were moments in prayer. I remember gathering in different sizes of groups for different kinds of prayer – that's what I remember most. And that probably means something if that's what was the most memorable. That's probably what united us."
"I remember being in a cluster of about four people in those little desks we used to have in high school all pushed together, and we were right beside the door to the room. We were praying that God would send us some good leadership. And somebody knocked at the door. And he walked in and said, 'Hi my name's Dave; I'm a pastor in the area and I wondered if you guys needed any help.' It was astounding, and probably my first time ever feeling like a prayer had been answered so obviously and so directly."
"People would always ask..., 'What do you do?' And I stopped leading with a title. Because my default used to be to just say, "Oh, I'm a minister, I'm a pastor, I'm a this and that." And so I just started not starting with the title and just saying, ' Oh, I work at a church.' 'Oh! Well, what do you do at the church?' 'Well, I lead things like this.' 'Really? So what else do you guys do like this?' Then I got to talk about the other ministries we house including our worship service. So it was an opportunity to lead in a way that prompted them to ask more questions rather than just shut it down because I started with a title they thought they understood."
"I kept trying to tack ministry onto other choices that I'd made first. I wasn't choosing my career or anything like that out of a sense of Christian vocation it was out of the pursuit of money or statute and things like that. I was choosing those things first and then, 'Oh no. I'm supposed to be a Christian. How can I be a Christian too?' So that's where I think my mistake was in terms of my priorities being backwards. So when I actually stepped back and said, 'What's God calling me to do first,' it did look like vocational ministry. Other people could ask that same question and decide, 'Yes, God's calling me vocationally to be an engineer. And that's how I'll live out Christian faith and calling.'"
"In the 1970's in the UK... things started to shift. People started to notice the new communities of faith that were starting that didn't really fit the mold. They were often lay-led; they were trying to reach people who never had any experience of church before or at least didn't right now - all about making new disciples, and generally didn't start with worship. Somebody eventually labeled those ' fresh expressions of church,' thinking back to their ordination vows in the UK where they had to promise to proclaim the gospel afresh in every generation."
"...He brought in an American speaker who talked about an American model of church planting, and after one year of it, the people who were leading that conference said, ' this isn't working. This doesn't fit our Canadian context. Were much more unchurched and the church than the US.' So they started looking to the United Kingdom and saying, 'They seem to be about 10 years more secularized than Canada, and they are leading the way confidently - after probably making lots of mistakes. This fresh expressions model seems to be their best way of engaging with a secular culture. And so we started looking for inspiration from the UK."
"To say [fresh expressions are] all niches, I think there's some truth to that, but this isn't just about connecting with a niche because it's cool or pandering to anything. It's about identifying people who are not connecting with existing forms of church and saying, 'Well, what form of church would connect with them?' and actually make disciples. That's the end goal - to make disciples who become a church."
"We wanted to reach the kind of people who were never at home but very much needed help with these areas of life. They are really busy people – my job was to plant a new church in Ajax. And Ajax is a commuter suburb right outside Toronto... I think it's over 87% of working age adults who work outside of Ajax."
"As I looked at planting a new church in Ajax, I was really struggling to figure out how we would connect with people. When they drive right into their garage at the end of the day and they leave early in the morning, how do you actually build relationships and serve needs when you can barely find people?"
"The commute was always a problem. This is why people have no time; as we did surveys of people we found that this was their most hated time of the day. It felt like a waste of time, and yet moving closer into the city just meant more debt, so people didn't like that idea either. So people felt stuck in life. ' I have to live here so I can get to my job. But I hate the commute.' And so we wanted to be good news in that place, and eventually the idea occurred to me that we should try to reach people on the commute. During that wasted time – we should try to redeem that."
"Our default I think as churches is to say, 'We can help them best as they come to our Sunday service.' But these are people who – they only get to sleep in Sunday morning, it's precious time, it's the only day they get to spend with their kids, they're not running to every activity. And church would just look like one more activity. And as much as maybe you and I know it would be a great exercise - they would meet Jesus, their lives would be transformed - they don't know that yet. And I don't think it's their job to come to our thing in order to learn that in the first place. I want them to meet Jesus and some Jesus followers even while they're trapped in a busy lifestyle."
"I was really committed to not just drawing Christians from other churches – unless they were really in it to minister and serve. But I didn't just want to start another cool church that would attract people from other churches who thought this was better music or better preaching – this of that. Not that I can necessarily do that. But I was really committed to trying to make new disciples. I think that's the point of planting a church, so I wanted to see that happen."
"Locally, we have a community called The Family Room.... The concept there is that here are families who like the idea of learning to follow Jesus, being a part of the church, but aren't sure how to do that with young kids. The churches they've tried before either expect your children to sit quietly through the service and not make any noise and not ask questions and not go to the bathroom and all those things, or they segregate children to a children's ministry – excellent as it may be, it doesn't work for all children...."
"So The Family Room is meant to connect with young communing families. So what we do is a Sunday service that keeps everybody in one room together called The Family Room. Because the church is a family – this isn't just for people who happen to have children, but the idea is the whole family – the whole family of God is there in one room, learning and worshiping together."
Next Week, Episode 15:
Guest: Kevin Makins, pastor of Eucharist Church in Hamilton and podcaster of the Good God podcast.