Creating Conversation is a weekly editorial, curated by the Centre for Missional Leadership (CML), which gives opportunity for people to speak about issues they believe are vital for the church in Vancouver.
One of the goals of this weekly article is to spark dialogue – and action. We invite you to join the dialogue here on the Church for Vancouver website.
We also invite you to use the article as a discussion starter with your small group, church staff, friends and your neighbours. Thanks for participating in the conversation!
I believe the local church is the hope of the world. Jesus, hope of the nations, has built his church, and set it into motion as a beacon of light for the world to see his redemptive action.
It has been said that the church is the one institution that exists for those outside of it. As a pastor, I have dedicated my life and work to building his church so that those outside can find true flourishing in a real, prospering relationship with Jesus. From the original creation mandate to the Great Commission, God continues to empower his people to cultivate and communicate his redemptive purposes in the world so all can flourish.
Through my own personal experience working with my church and a not-for-profit, I have found that one of the most effective ways we can truly bring flourishing to the world around us is to build his church through the service of others.
The church going out into the world to bring about flourishing is not a new idea; in fact, it has been around for 2,000 years. Jesus set up his church and commissioned his followers, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to gather and to go.
For the last two millennia some form of this has taken place. The church has tried many different methods, but the message has never changed. For God so loved the world that he sent his one and only son, not to condemn the world but to save it. The flourishing of the world and the redemption of people has always been central to the heart of God.
The grand narrative of scripture reveals this theme repeatedly: The church has good news to tell and a mandate to tell it.
Although our mandate as the church was made very clear, somewhere throughout the history of the church we have lost our way. We went from going out and making disciples to going out and making enemies.
David Kinnaman suggests that the church today has an “image problem.” For many years now the church has been good at being theologically right, but we have not been leading people to flourishing.
We were making a point, but we were not making a difference. We have been so consumed with our private sphere that we have forgotten how important the public sphere truly is. We have been making sound theological arguments, but no one is listening.
In fact, the problem is much graver than just people ignoring us – their apathy has turned to anger. So, what are we to do?
The church is the called-out people of God, on mission to bring renewal to a broken world and to show that God is good and loving, and we are failing. If the church is going to get back to our original creation mandate to bring flourishing and be relevant again in the lives of outsiders, we will only gain our influence again through practical service.
The grand narrative of scripture is about the flourishing of the world and the redemption of people. Jesus offered the world redemption through burden-bearing. He bore our burdens and wore our iniquities to offer us flourishing life.
Should we not do the same for others? The Apostle Paul writes in a letter to the early Church that they are to bear one another’s burdens and do good to everyone (Galatians 6:1-10). That would include not just other Christ-followers, but outsiders, the poor and the vulnerable as well.
Jonathan Edwards argued that giving to and caring for the poor is a crucial, non-optional aspect of “living out the gospel” and doing good would most definitely include meeting practical needs like providing food, shelter and financial help. Jesus first bore our burden and now has commissioned His church to do the same for others.
Poverty, close at hand
God has placed me here and now, to impact people here and now. It is no accident that God has placed me in Vancouver in 2023.
British Columbia is a beautiful place to live but there is much brokenness. In stark contrast to the majestic mountains and stunning seas, there are many economically underprivileged families all trying to make ends meet.
Many of them are single-parent homes, refugees, at-risk youth, vulnerable seniors and children growing up in food-insecure homes.
According to the BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition, British Columbia has the highest rate of childhood poverty in all of Canada, at 18.5 percent (2020 BC Child Poverty Report Card). That means one in five kids in British Columbia lives in poverty.
Vancouver is the most densely populated city in all of Canada and the fourth most densely populated in North America, only behind New York, San Francisco and Mexico City. Here in Vancouver, it is easy to notice when so much brokenness and food insecurity is packed all into one place.
It can be tempting to see this as an obstacle, but Tim Keller chooses to see it as an opportunity. Keller says that since cities are the most densely populated places on the planet, that means there is more of the image of God per square inch in a city than anywhere else on earth.
Peace and prosperity
The opportunity the church has to reach people here and now in a city like Vancouver could be the greatest in all of Canada. The broken and vulnerable have come right to our doorstep and they are weary and heavy-laden. We the church have an opportunity to seek the peace and prosperity of our city and bring human flourishing to an unbelieving world by not only serving their spiritual needs but their physical needs as well.
Seeking the peace and prosperity of Vancouver has been close to the heart of Broadway Church for many years; it was founded in Vancouver in 1910 and has always sought to lead people to Christ-centred living through meeting the practical needs of others.
CityReach Care Society
In 2004, Broadway Church started its own not-for-profit called CityReach Care Society to help serve the growing needs of the community.
As we seek the peace and prosperity of the city God has placed us in, the mission of CityReach has become to ‘Help People Prosper.’ We do this by serving the poor, serving the city and serving the church.
We currently are operating the largest fresh food bank in Vancouver, which serves over 3,000 vulnerable people healthy and nutritious food every week. We also serve 250 hot meals every week to guests struggling with homelessness, addiction and mental health.
We offer before and after school care for 35 students to support families in our community. And we have ‘adopted’ 45 public schools to share our resources and offer practical help (fresh food hampers, Christmas gifts, backpacks, hygiene kits, care packages, and scholarships) to kids and families who need extra support.
The practical help CityReach is offering to the poor and to the city is starting to help the church fulfil its mandate.
It may be unpopular or maybe even radical, but I still believe the local church is the hope of the world. Together we can build God’s church as he designed it by simply putting others first and serving practical as well as spiritual needs.
I have seen in my own life and work true flourishing come to a city through the local church. This work is not to build our kingdom but rather make way for God’s kingdom to come. It can be done. It is happening now. There is still much work to be done.
Simon Gau is both an Associate Pastor at Broadway Church overseeing Outreach and Campus Expansion (there are campuses in Port Coquitlam and Surrey, as well as the original one in east Vancouver), and Executive Director of CityReach Care Society.
He was born and raised in beautiful British Columbia and has been in pastoral ministry for over 20 years. He married his high school sweetheart Ashlee, and they have three children.