Church Planting Lessons from Canada

Many thanks today to Mike Seaman, a Southeastern graduate who is a church planter in Canada. We’re happy to demonstrate how NAMB, the IMB, and SEBTS are partnering together to plant churches among the darkest places in the world. We hope that you enjoy this post and insights from Mike and check out what the Lord is doing through Trinity Life in Toronto.

I just want to say up front that in responding to Sarah Bessey’s blogpost, What church planters can learn from Target’s failure in Canada, and I do so with a heavy heart. Target, you will be missed; our children will grow up only hearing tales and legends of your wonderful shopping experience and efficient checkout lines. You’ve left the taste of French Vanilla Almond Crunch cereal in our mouths and it will not be easily forgotten.

But I know there’s hope….maybe not in Target’s return, but in the Kingdom that we’re ushering in through church planting in Canada’s largest and most influential city—Toronto.

Here’s the good news: We’re in a church planting boom in Canada!

The bad news: Some of what Bessey has noted still plagues church planters.

Here’s 2 things you need to know before you read any further:

1. Bessey is a Canadian with some clearly-stated biases based on her “experience” that’s left her “a bit wary now of outsiders coming into Canada as self-appointed missionaries….”

2. I’m an American church planter in Canada who God has saw fit to bless in our ministry in large part because, the Spirit hasn’t led us into the same mistakes that Bessey points out Target made.

So overall, I agree with Bessey’s points generally and historically. However, I think she may be missing the dynamic landscape that we’re currently experiencing through not only Americans planting churches in Canada, but also, Australians, Filipinos, Chinese, British, Nicaraguans, Sri Lankans, South Africans, Koreans, Brazilians, and Canadians themselves—all friends of mine planting multi-ethnic, Kingdom-centered, multiplication-minded churches in Canada.

Also, what’s important to recognize is that this isn’t a specifically American-Canadian thing, but a larger cross-cultural issue. Have Americans messed up in Canada? Yes. Is this because of how Americans view Canadians? Perhaps. Is this because of an inability to properly engage cross-culturally? Of course.  Can Americans succeed in planting churches in Canada? Most definitely. Here’s some thoughts going off of Bessey’s 5 points that will help:

1. Target tried to open American stores in Canada.

Bessey is right on here. Americans don’t just do this in Canada though. This may seem like a massive oversight in sub-Saharan Africa and not a big deal in Canada, but that’s the essence of the blunder. Americans, you need to recognize that Canada is not only a different country, but it’s not as much like America as you think and Canadians are not Americans.

2. Target was out of stock of the essentials.

I’m actually not sure how different this point is from Bessey’s previous one, except to hammer the point home to Americans to stop looking at Canada as the 51st state. But, contextually speaking, we need to learn from the religious, cultural, and social history of our church planting cities in order to effectively contextualize the ministry of the gospel.

3. Target went too fast.

Wow. Bessey’s comments here need to be given some serious consideration as to how we view our ministries and how we accomplish God’s calling on our lives. Unfortunately, the emotions behind her comments are real and most people probably aren’t as forgiving as she is. One of the biggest obstacles in church planting as an American in Canada has been overcoming this oft-grounded perception. All I can say is, if the Spirit’s fruit of humility isn’t a daily presence in your life, you don’t belong in Canada, build your megachurch kingdom in the Bible belt. Actually, you probably don’t belong there either.

4. Target refused to allow people to lead in Canada.

Indigenous leadership. Somehow, we’ve overlooked this in Canada because on the surface they look so much like Americans. Putting aside our American and clothing ourselves with Christ has fueled our goal to raise up Canadians to take hold of their city and their country—our city and our country. Canadians need to see this as much as Americans—it’s not about being American or Canadian, it’s about being Christian.

5. Target didn’t connect to the communities where they set up shop.

Networking. Presence. This is Church Planting 101. Anybody church planting needs to recognize that they stand on the shoulders of those who came before them and they need to link arms with those who are in the trenches with them now. If you think you can church plant on your own or that God has given you a specific calling that isn’t a part of the plan He’s already been working out, then your fate will be the same as Target’s.

In my opinion, Bessey, in some ways, is speaking to the old guard. The old guard is still poking around, but there’s a new guard that isn’t comprised of the stereotypical American and lives in the light of the Kingdom, not our nationality or culture. It’s my hope that this Kingdom mentality will reign and that we’ll see a revival of Canadians coming to Christ here in Toronto and across our nation.

CGCS Administrator
Center for Great Commission Studies
The Great Commission Studies (CGCS) is the hub of Southeastern’s Great Commission efforts, helping develop students and faculty members who are Great Commission servants of their local churches. The CGCS serves the Southeastern community in four major areas: academics, research, mobilization, and convention relationships.
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