3 Lessons from Planting a Church in Vancouver

How God Did the Miraculous by His Grace

On July 11, 1982, my wife Josselyn and our four-year-old son Peter drove the last few kilometers of the  Trans-Canada Highway into the vast metropolitan area known as Vancouver, British Columbia. We arrived rather naive, certainly ill prepared, lacking in training, and vastly underfunded. What I did not know about church planting could fill a book, but we were confident that God had called us here to do just that and, by His grace, to make a difference in the heart of Canada’s third-largest city.

The Lord was gracious in helping us locate a house to rent and a community center that would serve as our first church location. The Lord helped me secure employment to help pay the bills, and I remained bi-vocational for nearly eight years. Once we were settled in, with freshly printed brochures and lots of youthful energy, we began the task of sharing the Gospel and letting people know a new church was about to begin.

Church planting in Canada has no unique formula, but we soon came to understand that the Gospel held no special attraction to the neighborhoods where we knocked door after door. In such a beautiful city surrounded by mountains, ski slopes, the ocean, and many rivers and lakes, Vancouverites had other things to do on their weekends. Less than two percent of the population was in any kind of church on any given Sunday.

The day came for our first service, August 22, 1982. How blessed we were with seventeen in attendance, ten of whom were friends from out of town. Yet, we could sense God’s hand at work and in a couple of months, we were able to organize the church with eleven charter members. Early on, it became clear that our ministry would reflect the multi-cultural makeup of the eastside of Vancouver.

Those early days at the community center were not marked by explosive growth—we held “all church” fellowships in our living room. But less than two years after we began, the Lord opened the door for us to begin renting an actual church building. We shared the building with Wilson Height United Church for six years. The United Church of Canada is a theologically liberal denomination, and I thought it was great fun to have their “Good News for Modern Man” stacked next to our KJV Bibles in the pew racks. Their pulpit was located to the side, ours in the center. We even had two church signs out in front of the building. Because a lost world thinks of a church building when they think of a church, this move became a very good one for us.

The next step came in 1990, when the Lord provided a $1.5 million church property to us for free. There is more to the story, but needless to say, it was a miracle of God’s grace. Down through the years we have invested well over $600,000 in renovations, with God’s provision each step of the way. It is rare today for a church to be able to operate “debt free,” but God has enabled us to operate year after year with no financial liabilities.

There is a familiar expression found in Luke 12:48 that has often been impressed on my heart down through the years. “…For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.” God has given us an opportunity to do more for the work of God, not only here in Vancouver, but also around the world. Though God has given us a healthy church, we are not what many would consider large or affluent. However, with the Lord’s leading, we have been able to give over $1.5 million to missions and have been directly involved in planting five churches in our city and closest suburbs. We have also been blessed to send several church planters across Canada and have seen many of our young people surrender to serving God in ministry in Canada, the USA, and around the world.

Now, I know our church testimony sounds rather idyllic, but I want to assure you that we experienced the same trials and struggles every church seems to endure. Like the Apostle Paul, we may have been given an “abundance,” but also many “thorns in the flesh” along the way. Through it all, God has shown Himself mighty on our behalf.

Are there lessons I could share from this ministry journey? There are many, but three stand out:

1. Be Ready to Follow God

Though I certainly love this city I have called home for the last thirty years, when God began to make clear His leading, I wasn’t so sure. It was far away from everything I knew and the people I loved who loved and supported me. As I traveled to Vancouver for a survey trip in 1981, all the counsel I had received had been to go to the suburbs where there was new growth, young families, and opportunities to get land. All of it was good counsel, but God had other plans; He broke my heart for the city itself. I often wonder where I would be if I had ignored His place for me. In the years since, I have often counseled young men to let God break their heart for a city or community. When God makes His will plain, be ready to follow Him anywhere.

2. Determine to Give Your Best in Doing What You Know to Do

I wish I could tell you I had a grand vision and plan when I came to Vancouver, but as I said earlier, I was not overly skilled in church planting. What I did know was that I was to preach the Word, endeavor to reach the lost, and care for God’s flock as best I could. I could do those things and give God my best in doing them. The rest would be up to Him. The fact is, this principle still holds true for me to this day. I have seen that God honors our faithful and diligent service in far greater ways than we can ever imagine.

I have come to believe that God is far less interested in our ingenuity and far more interested in us simply giving our best for Him. As Ecclesiastes 9:10 states, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.”

3. Keep on the Firing Line

I fully understand that God does not always lead a man to spend his whole life in one ministry, but I would urge men to not be so hasty in searching for a new “opportunity” when things don’t go as planned.

Ministry is filled with tests, trials, dry times, and also with showers of blessing. We must determine to be “instant, in season, out of season.” God has called us with a high calling and a noble purpose, let us not shirk our responsibility when things are a bit rough.

A few years back, when going through a disappointing time in our ministry, I was studying and preparing for a message when I came across a statement by Matthew Henry: “We must never be driven off from our duty either by the malice of our foes, or the unkindness of our friends.” Those words still remind me that I need to be “stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.” I then can rest in His promise that my labor is not in vain in the Lord.

Greater Vancouver Baptist Church stands as a testimony to the grace of God. I am so glad that when He decided to do a great work, He allowed me to have a part. Truly it has all been by His grace.

February 26, 2013

Gordon Conner

Senior Pastor, Greater Vancouver Baptist Church

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