I sense some fresh winds blowing in the Canadian Christian & Missionary Alliance, fresh winds that are stirring up what it has always meant to be “Alliance”, with just a few new twists, that in some cases are pretty old! A few fresh winds stirring up our historic roots, reigniting an old fire. It was early this past November at the Western Canadian District Prayer Retreat, in Banff where I really began to notice them.
And no I am not confusing “hot air,” at a conference for fresh wind, as some of my cynical friends might assume! God was clearly breathing and blowing through three key servants who spoke and led at this retreat: Brent Trask who has just completed his first year as District Superintendent, Dave Hearn who has just been elected as the president of the Christian & Missionary Alliance in Canada and Gordon Smith, who has just been installed as president of Ambrose University College & Seminary. Each building on the solid foundation of those who led before them, have a clear vision that on one hand is in sync with the past, yet on the other hand clearly represents some significant shift from where we have more recently been.
With a year under his blest, Brent Trask was the veteran of the trio. I was struck by two things he brought to the week. While Brent knows all about how to work with mission, vision and values to move a group forward like a denominational district, having done so, so well in his previous role as Lead Pastor at RockPointe in Calgary, he is also deeply gripped by the Source of any missional effectiveness we yearn for. It’s not that what Brent brought to the table was all that new, it was just he went back to our roots with a renewed passion to see old embers become a powerful fire yet again. His fresh old message is that it is only through the centrality of Jesus and the unmistakable supernatural empowerment of the Holy Spirit that we will be able to become effectively missional within our district and around the world.
At the same time there was a message that Brent gave that was clearly new. He’s the first Alliance denominational leader I’ve heard speak so tenderly and gracefully about the reality of sexual sin among licensed pastoral workers. He began to create a safe place within our District family for those caught in sexual sin of various sorts to find hope and healing. Most guys I know who are struggling don’t find it safe to find help – maybe now some will. I look forward to seeing many healed and re-empowered to be effective missional agents revealing Jesus to our world. While rarely stated this way, this is totally consistent with our historic understanding of healing.
Our newly elected denominational president Dave Hearn continued to do as Brent had done, bringing again some fresh wind, stirring up our roots, fanning warm embers from our history back into flame. His core message had the same three-fold track: Dave said, “A Christ centred, Spirit empowered people will be on mission with God.” He noted that only 15% of Canadians will likely turn up at church (although David, where did you get that stat?), and called us to teach and encourage our people to run where the unchurched run.” He called us to enter into and even enjoy the world where people far from God live.
I was most fascinated with Gordon Smith, the newly installed President of our denominational college and seminary who was the keynote speaker of the Retreat. Gordon is deeply rooted in all that makes for the Christian & Missionary Alliance, with his personal upbringing in the home of Alliance International Workers and then his own stint in local church ministry, let alone his previous work with Ambrose. He starts there but then moves us further back. He reconnects us with our Holiness, somewhat Wesleyan Holiness heritage and then links us back much further to some of the more experiential/mystical leaders of our faith like Bernard of Clairvaux and St. Patrick. The “new” that Gordon brings to the movement is that he gets us connected further back to how God moved and worked prior to the Protestant Reformation. Rather than simply seeking to unite the Charismatic tradition to the Bible Church/Word tradition that has been typical of the Alliance, he adds the depth and beauty of the sacramental/liturgical tradition stretching as far back as Patrick of Ireland.
By the end of the week what I saw emerging was a true “Alliance”, that embraced the strength of the diversity of multiple current and historic streams of the Christian faith, with a passion to be truly rooted in the words of Scripture, while remaining totally dependent on the abiding Christ through the fullness of His Spirit. A Scripturally committed, charismatically open and sacramentally enriched movement, where Christ is the centre, the Holy Spirit supernaturally empowers, and the mission of the church advances locally and globally – besides being really wordy, is actually phenomenally exciting. I really am looking forward to being a part of the next chapter of Canadian Alliance history!! And to those three wise men I say, lead on!!