The Story

Here at Norman Kennedy Presbyterian Church, we have just completed a great year of reading, studying, preaching, teaching, and talking our way through the Bible using Zondervan's The Story resources. A year ago, our session discovered and reviewed these helpful resources, and committed to improving our congregation's biblical literacy in 2013 by following The Story. In brief, The Story is an abbreviated, chronological, easy-to-understand version of the Bible that is written in narrative format (in continuous paragraphs without chapter and verse numbers). The Story gives an account of who God is, and of His plan to rescue and redeem His people. Its 31 chapters of selected scriptures and brief commentaries cover the Bible's main events and themes, telling the greatest story ever told!

The Story Resources
The Story Resources


Our congregation embraced this program in many ways. Most Sunday morning worshippers purchased either the book or a set of CDs, and read one chapter per week. Each week's sermon was based on the reading. Since each chapter covered large sections of Scripture, selecting a specific story to preach on was both a challenge and a delight.

We also used The Story as our Sunday school curriculum. One elder, also a Sunday school teacher, remarked: "The Sunday school material was easy to use, and loved by the children. There were lots of activity choices, and the accompanying DVD provided illustrations of each chapter and totally captivated the kids."

Throughout the year, two small discussion groups met biweekly to delve deeper into the Bible with questions, reflection, and discussion. On numerous occasions someone would interject, "I never knew that before!"

Collectively, our greatest learning probably centred on the concepts of Upper Story and Lower Story. Max Lucado and Randy Frazee (co-pastors of Oak Hill Church in San Antonio, Texas) explain that each stage of history, including our own, has an Upper Story (what God plans and does) and a Lower Story (what plays out in the lives of ordinary people). According to an elder who hosted a study group in her home, "The concept of God's Upper Story interacting with our Lower Story encouraged us with the awareness that God can and does use us to further His purpose. This awareness grew week after week as we discovered how God used the patriarchs, kings, and prophets to accomplish His great plan."

It seems that many folk – even those who have gone to church all their lives – now have a better grasp of the biblical narrative and of how all of the Bible stories fit together. We also have a fuller understanding of God's love for us and of the lengths He will go for us to know and love Him. For that outcome, I praise God!

— Ronda Bosch
Lay Missionary/Pastor at Norman Kennedy Presbyterian Church in Regina, SK
(with comments from Leanne Irving and Judy Page, Elders)
For more info go to www.thestory.com
or email Ronda at <nkpreschurch@sasktel.net>

Good News Journey – Find Life In Jesus

To the untrained, secular ear, "Presbyterian" sounds every bit as mysterious as Shiite, Sikh, Druze, or Methodist. At Chippawa Presbyterian Church, Niagara Falls, Ontario, when we were inviting people to worship, we began to realize that people with no faith background felt quite uncertain about what exactly it was they were being asked to consider and experience in a Christian church.

We also recognized that when faced with questions such as "Why would I come to church?" or "What do you do there?" people in our congregation struggled to articulate answers in a succinct way.

Some call it the "elevator pitch", the ability to "pitch" your message in the time it takes to have a short elevator ride, which is to ask, "Do you have a clear, easily-communicated and understood message of why you exist and what you do?"

Worship Serve Learn Connect
Worship Serve Learn Connect

We worked to get this in place. We got the message down to eight words. "Find Life in Jesus. Worship. Serve. Learn. Connect."

We use these words everywhere. This logo is posted in our foyer. We fit it onto a wristband, below, and distributed them.

We have shaped our programming to ensure that all four of these areas of the life of discipleship are encouraged and supported.

So now, as quick as a short elevator ride, we can share who we are and what we do.

We can tell people that "We find life in Jesus." We can quickly communicate that the life of a growing Christian is active in four areas; in worship – loving God; in serving – loving one's neighbour; in learning – knowing the Bible; and in connecting – sharing one's faith.

Wristband
Wristband

Who we are and what we do has never been clearer.

—The Rev. Douglas Schonberg, Lead Minister <doug.schonberg@chippawapc.ca>

Good News Journey – Life Through Christ

As the oldest church in Scarborough, Ontario, St. Andrew's Presbyterian exists to help people experience life through Christ. An integral part of this vision statement is what we call our Adult Discipleship Studies, consisting of our pastor's bi-weekly Tuesday morning Bible study, a laity-led bi-weekly Wednesday evening study, and a between-the-services Sunday morning study.

Alpha was part of our study curriculum for several years. But in 2009, we decided to explore a variety of other studies coming on the market, including DVD short-term studies. We have been truly blessed by the variety of study themes that we have studied, which have helped us to grow in our faith and knowledge. Each time we start a new study, it is exciting and heart-warming to have first- timers from our church and people from other churches and faiths join in with us.

In 2010, the first study in our new curriculum was Prayer Ministry – It's Easier Than You Think. During the Alpha studies we realized that most of us were not comfortable praying aloud. This 4-session study was based on Sandy Millar's Prayer Ministry Training Manual and Max Lucado's book, Discovering the Power of Prayer. We designed a post-study questionnaire to help us assess the study and its impact on our participants.

Later that year, we turned to Challenging Lifestyles by Nicky Gumbel. The theme of the study was Practical Guidelines for Living out Jesus' Teachings. The topics included how to have an influence on society, how to find life, getting our relationships right, dealing with anger, sexual sin, avoiding divorce, how to respond to evil people, loving your enemies, and dealing with criticism. This 6-session study was held in the spring and again in the fall.

In the last two and a half years, we have held seven other studies – usually accompanied by a DVD presentation. Listed below are the titles of the studies and a brief report on each of them. Our format is to meet at 7 p.m. for a short social, prayer and refreshment time, viewing the DVD presentation, going to our individual groups for study and discussion, and adjourning at 9 p.m.

St. Andrew's Scarborough
St. Andrew's Scarborough

Pastor Duncan Cameron is usually with us during the large-group time, and then is available in his office whenever we need clarification and assistance during the individual group discussion times.

Becoming a Contagious Christian – Bill Hybels and Mark Mittelberg.
Both of these individuals are associated with Willow Creek Community Church. Bill Hybels is the pastor and Mark Mittelberg is an evangelism strategist and author. The themes in this study are on developing a natural evangelism style, building spiritually-strategic relationships, learning how to direct conversations towards matters of faith, and sharing biblical truths in everyday language. It is a 6-session study.

The Power of a Whisper – Bill Hybels.
This 4-session study taught and encouraged us to listen and discern the "voice" of God from all the other voices that vie for our attention; and how to allow heaven-sent input to direct our lives toward making a difference in this world.

A Life Worth Living – Nicky Gumbel.
This 5-week study is based on Paul's letter to the Philippians. It is a practical and positive guide to uncovering a new heart, purpose, attitude, and confidence in the way we live our lives.

God's Story – Your Story – When His Becomes Yours – Max Lucado.
This 6-session study gives us perspective on how our daily life relates to God's grand, epic story. He peels back the chaos and confusion of our story to reveal God's loving and orderly purpose and perspective.

The Case for Christ – Lee Strobel.
The author is a journalist who was an atheist determined to prove that our Lord Jesus was not the Son of God. In this 6-session study we see and hear him using his journalism and legal skills to cross-examine a dozen recognized theological authorities with doctorates from leading schools. He questions whether any evidence for Jesus exists outside the Bible and whether there is any reason to believe that the resurrection was an actual event. The responses he received are helpful for us when we deal with people who are not believers.

The Reason for God – Pastor Timothy Keller, Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan.
The format of this 6-week study is with Dr. Keller hearing the doubts and scepticism of non-believers. Questions to him include how a good God can allow suffering, how a loving God can send people to hell, and why have so many wars been fought in the name of God. He responds using literature, philosophy, and reasoning.

The Prodigal God – Pastor Timothy Keller.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son is the best-known but least understood parable. In this 6-session study we watched and listened to the entire video the first evening, and it was mesmerizing. All of us realized that we had not truly understood the message before and now looked at each of the two sons in a different light than we had previously.

Future Studies

Gospel In Life – Grace Changes Everything – Timothy Keller.
This is an 8-session study on the gospel and how it is lived out in all of life: first in our hearts, then in our community, and then out into the world. This study will start on September 24th and be completed in mid-November.

Grace – More Then We Deserve – Greater Than We Imagine – Max Lucado.
This is a 6-week study starting in January 2014.

On a final note, in 2009 and then again in 2011, we held the exciting and inspirational Discovering your Spiritual Gifts Workshop. Most people are not aware of the spiritual gifts they have received from our Lord. Often we are surprised when we are complimented or thanked about a work area we are involved in at our church. It is exciting when you realize you have an unexpected spiritual gift. This encourages us to explore new areas of activity. We are planning to have another one in 2014, again being led by Rev. Dr. Jeff Loach.

— Margaret MacIver, Elder <margaret.m@bell.net>

Follow-up article

Good News Journey – PA Day Camp Nassagaweya

At Nassagaweya Presbyterian Church in Campbellville, Ontario, we rejoice in the arrival of our new minister, Rev. Reuben St. Louis. And, with his arrival, we have consequently made both changes and an exciting addition to our youth ministries.

One of our youth ministries has been KOTH – "Kids-on-the Hill" Club, established as a mid-week after-school programme for children aged JK-Grade 8. Recently this outreach was cancelled in large part due to the difficulty faced by any after-school ministry – the on-going challenge of the time it takes to transport children to the church. Rural parents, in particular, struggle with work schedules and other transportation issues in order to drop the kids off in a timely manner. Session is currently considering a revision to this valued programme.

In place of KOTH, recently we started Camp Nassagaweya on PA/PD Days (professional activity and development days for teachers), from 8 am to 5 pm. We offer music, skits, crafts, games, and stories. This is a free ministry to the families in our rural community, but we do mention that a freewill offering would assist us in planning camps in the future. The children are asked to bring a lunch (a light breakfast and an afternoon snack are provided), weather-appropriate clothes, running shoes, and a water bottle. The first day attracted 16 children, and the second day 20 children. We rejoice in this good beginning and ask you to pray for us as we plan more Day Camps in the fall.

— George Myers, RF Board Member and Treasurer <glmyers@bell.net>

Last Chance For New Courage?

Editor's Note: This article was received at the Renewal Fellowship early in 2012. With the upcoming General Assembly likely to spend considerable time invested in considering the many facets of renewal, it is felt appropriate to share this with our readers at this time.

Gordon Haynes, who was retiring as Associate Secretary in June 2012, sent the following invitation to the Presbytery of Kamloops:

    I want to invite members of your presbytery to a roundtable discussion we will be holding at Gordon Presbyterian Church, Presbytery of Westminster, on Wednesday, January 11th. I will be present to be part of the discussions so that the issues facing the church in 10 years – and facing each presbytery – might be openly shared.

This event was one of a number held across the country in preparation for his final report before retiring. Approximately 25 people attended, including three who braved the snowy roads through the mountain passes from Kamloops Presbytery.

What impacted me the most was the introductory comment by Gordon indicating that there are already on file precisely 16 similar reports to the national church dating from 1964 on, indicating that change needs to happen in the Presbyterian Church in Canada to reverse our declining membership!

The participants rotated through five tables, each one having a question to be answered. Our comments were written on the newsprint that covered each table. The five questions focussed us in the area of where God might be calling the Presbyterian Church In Canada today and what our barriers are to following Jesus Christ and to growth.

The event was personally significant for me as it was at Gordon Church, my home church, where it all started for me. It was there that I felt and initially resisted God's call to the ministry. In the fall of 1958, our family left Kelowna, where I was attending grade six, to move to Burnaby. Then as a married student, we left Gordon Church in 1970 to attend Knox College in Toronto, Ontario. Now I was living in the Okanagan again and went as a newly-retired minister to speak on what I had learned and observed about my Lord and my church over almost 39 years of pastoral ministry. The recently-heard words of Tony Campolo resonated with me deeply. Speaking of the church in general, Tony said, "My mother is a whore, and I love her very much." Yes, and so I write these words with a prayer for the Presbyterian Church In Canada to find faithfulness.

At the end of the event, I spoke of how impressed I was with the passion of the attendees to seek ways to bring our beloved church to faithfulness. But with 16 reports already on file, what was the point of adding another? Ought we not to be arranging hospice care? Our problem is not with analysis but with a lack of courage to pay the cost of change, I commented.

Gordon Haynes will have collected hundreds of comments from the various Presbyteries. But to demonstrate accountability and for the information of Kamloops Presbytery, I raised the following needs apparent to me:

1. More significant roles for the laity in ministry through less emphasis on the narrow stream of "Ministry of Word and Sacrament".

2. The need for more practical training at the seminary level for our clergy and laity, particularly in the areas of evangelism (and I don't mean pancake breakfasts but rather how to effectively talk with people about coming to faith in Jesus Christ); and as well, we need training in how to lead effectively in a culture that is suspicious of authority and where everybody is an "expert".

If we are willing to pay the cost of significant spiritual revitalization, we will not need renewal (sewing a new patch on an old garment) but instead experience "renaissance". We will need to be willing to think of, and do, ministry in altogether new ways. For that to happen, I must be certain that I am first personally committed to Christ and only then to the church. The church is no substitute for Christ. In baseball terms, the church may be first base, but it's not home plate.

The reason I resisted God's call to ministry in the Presbyterian Church In Canada in my early years at Gordon Church was that to me, church was about church, and I wanted no part of it. It wasn't until I was converted during my Simon Fraser University years that I came to discover that which has been reinforced to me many times over in pastoral ministry: church has never been about church. It's about Jesus, and it's about whether or not I will seek to know Him and love Him.

Will The Presbyterian Church In Canada pay the cost of renaissance? We are all familiar with the seven last words of the church, "We've never done it that way before." I would like to propose the six first words of a new church. They will also be familiar to you: "Untie him and let him go." (John 11:44)

By Rev. James H.W. Statham <jhwstatham@shaw.ca>
(Jim has recently retired from service at Lakeside Presbyterian Church, Summerland, British Columbia)

A Word of Challenge and Encouragement

Church of the Global North, be encouraged! The Spirit of God, of Jesus Christ, is present and willing to outfit us for life and ministry.

"It is finished!" Jesus, Son of God, Messiah, shouted from the cross. What's "finished"?

Wholeness is ours as we believe; salvation is ours in Christ; healing is His plan for believers (Isaiah 53, following). "By His stripes we are made whole."

    Too long we have followed a "Yeah, but" Bible. God makes rich and many promises and instead of saying "Yes Lord" we respond with "Well, yeah, but". So we don't really believe, or give, or move forward and into "all the fullness of God". We shortchange ourselves, the church of Canada, by unbelief. Try the way of believing instead of the way of unbelief.

Whoever said that was "right on".

I think of Jesus' words in the summit of the New Testament, John 14: "the things I do you will do and greater than these will you do when I go to the Father". We, who are called "more than conquerors", are short-changing ourselves and renewal or revival escapes our experience.

You know God, in Jesus Christ, wants to be experienced. He longs for an intimate closeness with each of us who are called "living stones … precious living stones" … the church. We are the people of God called the church … not a social club or even a place to gather. We who believe in Jesus are the Bride of Christ. We are the Church! And our renewal will be found in believing the Word of God, through being in dance with His Holy Spirit, and acting on what we hear.

Through the Gateway studies of Dunamis we discover that the Holy Spirit is ready and excited to come into us the moment we trust Christ, and willing to come upon us with power for ministry for each episode of serving. As we study the person and work of the Holy Spirit, we all get seriously excited to press forward with Him. He has a plan unfolding even in the Global North church. "I will build my church and even the gates of hell will not be able to stand up against us." So, with us or without us, Jesus will build His Church.

How serious is this plan? I love Spurgeon's picture of the church being built, living stone upon precious living stone … with the history of the world as the scaffold which He uses to build His people. At the end of time, the scaffold will collapse, and all that will remain for all eternity is the Church of Jesus Christ, precious living stone upon precious living stone.

Renewal is getting on board with His plan, listening for His voice and direction. Then worship will be vivacious, the Word of God will be front and centre, and abundant life will result.

I loved the days of March For Jesus. I loved the life, the songs, the colour, and the taking to the streets to announce the church on the move. Sitting on a pew once a week in some building is not the picture of an alive church, not to me.

Studying the person and work of the Holy Spirit, implementing the gifts or tools of the Spirit, and learning to dynamically pray like Jesus … great studies and greater life to experience!

By Patricia Allison <jandpallison@bell.net>

(Pat and her husband, the Rev. Dr. John Allison, are retired after 50 years of ministry in The Presbyterian Church in Canada. Pat's present ministry is to support John who is in a wheelchair as a result of multiple sclerosis, and to serve as a Dunamis facilitator. They are founding members of The Renewal Fellowship and presently live in Smithville, ON.)

For more information about Dunamis please go to dunamisfellowshipcanada.org

Good News Journey – In British Columbia

There are several dynamic, growing churches in British Columbia and we have heard from two churches in the Presbytery of Westminster that have 'good news' to share and encourage the whole church.

1. St. John's Presbyterian Church, White Rock

By Sheila Jakus <sjakus@shaw.ca>
(Sheila is a joyful member of St. John's)

Like many other churches, St. John's Presbyterian Church in White Rock suffered a steady decline in attendance. Faithful members moved into nursing homes, and many passed away. The youth in the area were attending more "vibrant" churches. The congregation prayed for renewal and growth. God heard our prayers, but answered in some unexpected ways.

Recently, a small Lutheran group asked for space in our building and began worshipping in one of our halls. After worship the two congregations join for coffee and fellowship. They also join some of our other activities: Alpha, the Women's Missionary Society, and Proclamation. We welcome them with open arms and they add fresh vibrancy to our gatherings.

God also brought a day care to our building. Not only do they add life to our building through the week, but they have transformed our Sunday School space. A support group for moms and tots has also started, using our space for a time of sharing and advice from a nurse.

We opened our hearts in prayer, and we opened the doors of our building. God has filled both and continues to take us on new adventures. Praise God!

2. St. Andrew's and St. Stephen's Presbyterian Church, North Vancouver

By Rev. Robert Allison <boballison@shaw.ca>
(Bob is a retired minister of The Presbyterian Church in Canada)

Another church in the Presbytery of Westminster, St. Andrew's and St. Stephen's Presbyterian Church, North Vancouver, also decided to make some changes. Commencing about 24 years ago the elders became really concerned about reaching young people with the Good News. Realizing the need for different service and music styles, they inaugurated an early service, making it less formal and using some of the old lively gospel music. This eventually grew into music led by a praise team with song leaders, drums, guitars, piano – the whole bit. The second service remained more traditional with the use of organ music and the hymn book.

This church has for many years employed a full- or part-time youth pastor – a necessity, not a luxury – so there are well-led youth groups and summer day-camps for children. The Senior Pastor chairs the Presbytery's summer camping ministry which is promoted.

It is not surprising that the early service has a full house with many young families, and children who hear a great message from one of the ministers before going on to Sunday School.

Members of the church are also "freed up" to do their ministry, so there are committees that specialize: one that prays for and promotes missions, another whose concern is evangelism, and the list goes on.

The April Presbyterian Record has an excellent article, Trusting and Trying – Weighing What Works at Westminster, by the Rev. Matthew Ruttan about Westminster Presbyterian Church in Barrie, Ontario, that has risen from the brink of extinction to becoming a vibrant, growing church. This is because they called a minister who "believes in the gospel" and "courageously" preaches it; a church that "realizes it is all about Jesus"; and a congregation that specializes in getting to know the names of, and in warmly welcoming, newcomers.

This North Vancouver church likewise loves the good news of Jesus, and Sunday by Sunday at both services, they have a teaching and evangelizing pulpit. And here is a little word for interim moderators and search committees: as a friend of mine says, "strong churches are not built around weak pulpits".

Intentional Community

by Fred Stewart, published May 1, 2013 in The Presbyterian Record

As I write this, the March issue of the Record has been available for only a couple of weeks. In that time I have had more feedback about my article, Minding the Minister, than I have received for all the things I have ever written for public consumption combined. I hit on something significant: many ministers in our denomination are burning out.

This is a problem worthy of our attention. What is needed is focus and strategy. After consultation with our national board over the past year and a presentation to our annual general meeting at the beginning of March this year, I believe the Renewal Fellowship has both.

While renewal, in all of its facets, can be an overwhelming agenda, focusing on ministers is strategic. Their capacity and potential for renewal impacts congregations directly. Their spiritual health directly influences the spiritual health of their people. Their ability to model discipleship in their own lives gives leadership to their peers and their people.

Our strategy can be simply stated but will need much more than we alone can bring to the table. It needs the help of every part of our church. We need the help of our courts, our national offices, our laity, our theological schools and our ministers themselves. That is still not enough. Our strategy needs the prayers of all of us … Read More

Best Practices


by John-Peter Smit, published May 1, 2013 in The Presbyterian Record

Over the past six years, as the congregational development consultant for my synod, I have been in literally hundreds of churches. Many – maybe even most – of these congregations are in gradual decline and are searching for solutions to reverse direction and increase vitality and growth. Sadly, almost all are going about it in exactly the wrong way. While there is no simple answer to how to turn churches around, there are some markers that point us in the right direction; there are practices that can lead to a renewed sense of mission and purpose for Presbyterian churches.

Before we get there it is foundational that we understand three things:

  • The world has changed and, for the most part, we have not.
  • We are called to adaptive change, not technical change.
  • This cannot ever be about more bodies in the pews or dollars in the plate.

First, the world has changed. Most of us grew up in a world where church was seen as an integral part of Canadian life … Read More

Maturing Your Faith


by David Sherbino, published May 1, 2013 in The Presbyterian Record

Is it possible that faith and doubt can exist together? It seems we have faith and then challenges arise and we are filled with doubts. A few years ago on an adventure holiday, I tried zip-lining. I am not very comfortable with heights. I love to fly in airplanes, but to look over the ledge of a high building is another story. I went to the zip-line centre, was given instructions, strapped into a harness, and suddenly found myself standing on the edge of a platform hundreds of feet above the earth. I had to make a choice. Would I go back to the parking area or would I trust myself to the process? The term “leap of faith” came to mind. A leap of faith I discovered is not about believing that which seems impossible but rather a commitment to action in spite of my doubts. So I jumped!

It is interesting to see how many people in the Bible had serious doubts … Read More