Christians everywhere pray for a movement of God, but most of us dont know
what to look for. Look north. Specifically, the Greater Toronto Area (GTA),
population 5.3 million, an urban sprawl that spans five Canadian cities. There,
an ever-growing group of church planters believes God has called them to live
out the principles of authentic Christianity as practiced by first-century
followers of Christ.
Using the New Testament church in the book of Acts as its blueprint, The
Sanctuary church-planting effort has increased from the shared hope of a few
couples three years ago to a leadership host of more than 40 people who have
left homes, careers and sometimes homelands to take part.
The book of Acts records Gods miraculous works as His followers turned their
backs on their earthly security and invested in more eternal pursuits. History
is still recording the results of those early evangelists. Christs disciples
were more than church planters. They were kingdom multipliers who used church
planting as their primary vehicle.
The callIn Canada, church planting is uppermost in
the minds and hearts of Southern Baptists. At the last annual convention of the
last millennium, the Canadian Convention of Southern Baptists (CCSB), 165
churches strong, unveiled its vision for 1,000 churches by the year 2020a
vision that first bubbled up during a prayer time at a gathering of dozens of
Canadian pastors and leaders in August 1998, recalls Gerry Taillon, the CCSBs
national ministry leader.
Jeff and Laura Christopherson were church planters in Calgary, Alberta, at
that time. Jeff believed in the CCSBs bold vision, and he and Laura began to
pray about what God wanted them to do to become involved. The Christophersons
were aware of the great need for churches in the GTA, and, although convention
staff were fervently praying for churches there, they had no funds to back it
up. The Christophersons and three other couples met in Oakville, a Toronto
suburb, in the home of catalytic missionary Barry Bonney one weekend in May
2000. They prayed. The call to do something bigger than they could have
imagined was confirmed.
The promiseand without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb.
11:6)Before the summer of 2000 ended, the Bonneys house
resembled a biblical inn as four families, pets included, converged en
masse and began the process of resettling uprooted lives.
Gods message to Jeff, the senior pastor, as he prepared to enter uncharted
territory and become more than a c hurch planter was clear:
1. Come and trust Me, and I will take care of you.
2. Im going to do an incredible work.
3. Dont try to steal My glory.
The vision: 2 5 Church Planting Centers by the year
2020What were doing is what Christ intended every church to do,
Jeff says. No church should say: We exist for ourselves and be satisfied with
giving a little to the Cooperative Program.
Every church we plant should be a Church Planting Center. We dont want to
grow a megachurch. A church chooses whether to gather or give
away. Most churches gather but thats when they stop multiplying and start
A church chooses whether to gather or give away, Jeff
Christopheron explains. Most churches gatherbut thats when they stop
multiplying and start adding.
Photos by Joe Westbury
The Sanctuarys Vision Statement:A growing
group of friends, giving themselves away under the direction of the Holy
Spirit, to see a glo bal church-planting movement initiate from the Greater
The plana planting of the LordJeff and the others
knew that to reach Canada they had to reach Toronto first. Toronto is the
financial center of Canada and a major media center. The first church was
planned for Oakville.
The leaders of Canada live in Toronto, Jeff says. And the leaders of Toronto
live in Oakville, a suburb of the GTA with a population of 160,000. If we can
reach these people we can plant other churches.
The name Sanctuary was prayerfully chosen to appeal to the fast-paced,
high-earning, over-committed families who predominate the area. Sanctuary
refers to a safe haven, as well as a place of spiritual significance.
The plan is to build a network of interdependent Church Planting Centers
that will help one another with programs, strategies, encouragement, finances,
manpower and shared office space.
Nine months before they began weekly worship services at The Sanctuary in
Oakville, they introduced a Team Kid ministry. Based on their research, a price
of $50 per child was charged. Fifty kids signed up, and one exciting result is
that many of their parents are now believers.
We promised the parents that Team Kid would be the best hour of their childs
week, Pastor Jeff Christopherson says, and they worked hard to deliver on that
promise. After the church was launched, they adapted Team Kid materials for
their Sunday school program. Oakville is a city with an average family income
of $99,000the highest in Canada, Jeff adds. Were dealing with a society of
professionals. They expect top drawer stuff.
Dozens of charter members of the Oakville Sanctuary are parents of happy
Team Kid attendees. More than 50 people came to Christ and were baptized within
the first year of the Oakville launch.
Seekers, new believers and more mature Christians were regularly reminded
that they were planting more than a church. For example, in order to
build multiplication into the DNA of every church plant, Jeff and the team
explained to worshipers at the five preview services of the Oakville Sanctuary,
the first church plant, that the entire offering would be set aside in a Church
Planting Fund for the second Sanctuary planned for Burlington, another city in
The calledfor whoever wants to save his life will lose it (Mark
8:35)From an initial group of four families in 2000, the
leadership mushroomed into 19 teams and is still growing. Church planting teams
are already in place for
Oakvillelaunched September 9, 2001, already one of the six largest churches
in the CCSB.
Burlingtonbegun January 12, 2003, and growing fast.
Mississaugafirst public worship on Easter 2003.
Hamiltonfirst service to be in June 2003.
Miltonsee www.thesanctuary.ca for
Stepping out in faith
While the Christophersons, still in Calgary, were praying about the need for
churches in the GTA, Ron and Susie Shepherd, in Bellevue, Tennessee, were
praying for the same thing. Along with their pastor, Mack Hanna, from Harpeth
Heights Baptist Church, they booked a flight to Toronto to see if God wanted
their church to get involved in Canadaspecifically Toronto.
The Shepherds and Pastor Hanna arrived the same weekend in May as the
Christophersons. Gary and Anita Kolb came from Winnipeg, and Jim and Joy
Danielson arrived from North Carolina. They all were part of that memorable
prayer meeting in catalytic missionary Barry Bonneys home where God revealed
His will to The Sanctuary team.
From the moment we sat in the Bonneys living room in 2000, I knew something
extraordinary was happening, Susie says. It was clear to me God is doing a
marvelous work in Canada.
When the Shepherds arrived at the Bonney home, Susie instantly recognized
Barrys wife, Lawanda, as the missionary she had randomly chosen to pray for
during the Week of Prayer for Missions a few weeks earlier.
Just over a year later, the Shepherds led a team from Harpeth Heights Church
to Oakville to help launch their first service in September 2001. Watching,
praying, giving and being part of Gods miracles long distance for three years
has had a huge impact on the Shepherds.
As Jeff and his team prepared to host the first of five preview services for
the Oakville Sanctuary on Easter 2001, they had everything they needed except a
sound system. They found the perfect system. All they lacked was the $15,000 to
buy it. They prayed and waited. And waited. And waited.
Hours before the stores closed for the Easter weekend, Jeff bought the
system with his credit card. He had no idea how he would pay for it. He and
Gary Kolb, the worship leader, loaded the boxes into Garys garage a short time
later, and Jeff got home just in time to receive a long distance call from Ron
Someone has donated a van to our missions team, Ron announced. We believe
God wants you to have it. Can you use the van or would you like us to sell it
and send you the money? Ron told him what the van was worth. Jeff realized the
amount after exchange would be $15,000.
Jeff has always sensed we should be a part of what theyre doing, Ron says.
But, with teens entering college, Ron thought it would be irresponsible of him
to leave his secure position and put their future in jeopardy.
When Ron shared his reservations, Jeff quietly responded, I have kids too,
Ron and Susie visited Oakville in April to determine whether God was leading
them to pull up stakes and move. Ron has worked for McDonalds Corporation for
27 years through the Indianapolis Office. Susie works as executive assistant to
the president of a large firm in Nashville. If God calls, they are willing to
go completely on faithwith or without jobs, salary or security.
On mission Christians from all over North America have become part
of the GTA Sanctuary network. The leaders homes often resemble B&Bs as they
host new families who join the effort but have yet to find lodging.
We have turned down church planters who want to plant a megachurch, Jeff
says. He encourages them to act on the vision they received from the Lord but
does not include them in his team. All the people who have joined:
came without any salary or any promise of receiving one
signed a covenant that outlines the vision for starting Church Planting
Centers, not churches
People have left high profile careers with secure incomes in business and
ministry to move to Canadas most expensive neighborhood to be part of what God
is doing there.
Having no money to offer has been a positive thing, Jeff says, because it
acts as a filter. Only those who are willing to walk by faiththose who have
counted the costare part of the team.
The partnersRight from the beginning, God called
partners to The Sanctuary networkagencies like the CCSB, the North American
Mission Board, and the Piedmont Baptist Association, as well as churches and
individuals, have volunteered to pray, to give and to go. God was there first,
preparing the soil for planting.
Piedmont Baptist Association (PBA), a relatively small Southern Baptist
association in South Carolina, has partnered with The Sanctuary work and has a
vision to sponsor one of the churches to be planted in the GTA.
It would cost about $130,000 per year to do this, reports Broadus Moody,
director of missions for Piedmont. Of course, this is a faith thing. We have no
funds, he adds. It has to be of God. The Sanctuary church-planting success has
excited our association like nothing ever has before.
The PBA requires a church to satisfy several distinctives before they will
agree to a partnership:
There must be theological agreement as to the inerrancy of scripture.
The leaders must be men of faith and integrity, who walk in the Spirit.
The church must be Southern Baptist, in compliance with The Baptist Faith
and Message adopted in 2000.
Taking the long way home from a trip to Chicago last year, Broadus Moody and
his wife drove through the Toronto area, doing something he called a windshield
prayer tour. On that trip and two more with his associate, Keith Mincy, he was
struck with the high number of rapidly growing communities with no evangelical
witness in them. Compared to his state that has 43 associations and hundreds of
churches, the Greater Toronto Area seemed like a vast unreached area.
After meeting Jeff and other members of The Sanctuary leadership team,
Broadus was convinced that God was actively at work, and we have to join
In December 2002, 15 pastors from the PBA visited the GTA. God touched their
hearts as they caught the vision for planting more than a church. Then
in February 2003, the association invited The Sanctuary team to South Carolina,
all expenses paid, to share its vision in the churches.
The timing could not have been better. Eager to step out as an on mission
association and wanting to lead their churches to be on mission, the
PBA was actively looking and praying for where God wanted them to become
involved. At that same time, The Sanctuary leaders were actively praying and
seeking partners to help them achieve their God-given vision. In His way and
time, the two were brought together.
Pursue your purpose with passionBrad Klinck
graduated from Queens, one of Canadas most prestigious universities, with a
degree in mechanical engineering. On his last day at a large firm, where he led
a team that designed robotic applications, Brad sent the following email to his
Toronto is such a rich mosaic, Broadus says. If you reach Toronto, you can
reach the world.
The harvestThe Oakville Sanctuary already has 35 lay
leaders, almost all recent converts, who are now on mission Christians and
integral parts of the vision.
Now, the 13 families sense Gods call to ministry. Instead of automatically
pulling them out of their situations and pushing them into full-time faith
ministry, Jeff encourages them to prayerfully consider whether God wants them
to leverage their influence in their current positions. Business leaders,
professionals and people from every walk of life are buying into The Sanctuarys
vision of planting more than a church, one heart at a time.
Connie Cavanaugh is a writer and speaker living in Cochrane,
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and theAnnie Armstrong Easter Offering® ©Copyright 2013 North American Mission Board, SBC