September/October 2009 Issue
A Church You Should Know
New Life Church, Duncan, B.C.
By Charlene de Haan
Winning the heart of the "Cowichan Valley” is a pretty big hairy audacious goal but Mark Buchanan and New Life Community Baptist Church in Duncan, B.C., seem to be up for the challenge. The congregation, known generally as New Life Church, formally aims to “Do that, not which makes us feel good or look good – though it may do both – but by which we actually do good.”
A Look at the ’Hood
Pastor Buchanan reflects on the First Nations band office across the street and the First Nations reserve immediately left of the church. First Nations people are one-eighth of the parish community and one-twelfth of the congregation.
A church program that is especially helpful to First Nations people is called Jump Start. A single mom started it seven years ago in response to Buchanan asking the community “What would help you most?” Jump Start aims to help during seasons of high stress. It sees hundreds of neighbours show up just before school starts each fall. While vehicles get a 32-point mechanical check and car wash, parents and children receive haircuts, select gently used clothes and shoes, and pick up age-appropriate backpacks filled with new school gear.
Each Christmas Day, 600 people gather at the native gym in the centre of town for a Christmas dinner. Community businesses comment: “We’ve heard about your church. We want to help.” Together they provide dinner, age-appropriate gifts, winter jackets, toiletries, milk and eggs.
The principal of the local high school admits to “unofficial segregation” between economic and ethnic cultures. To address such issues, members of the congregation drop by at lunch hour to mentor youth, hang out or tutor a specific subject. Working with a nutritionist and partnering with a local business donating vegetables, volunteers cook a healthy soup while others ladle it out to 200 teens. Grades and behaviour have improved as a result. A Sikh employee from the local business now attends the church.
Core Vision: Up, In, Out
“Looking outward has always been part of the genetic code of the church,” says Buchanan, but about eight years ago the congregation became more intentional. Reaching “up, in, out” expresses their priorities: reaching up to God as God reaches down to us, abiding in Christ expressed through community, sharing the Good News out in the neighbourhood. About 40 per cent of the 700 people attending New Life seriously live it out.
“Effective leaders always monitor vision leakage,” the motto of American megachurch pastor Bill Hybels, is important to Buchanan. New Life reinforces vision at several levels. Pastor Mark’s Notes provides an online epistle to the community on Fridays. The God Walk emphasizes basic discipleship: Bible reading and prayer. Leadership Jazz addresses character issues and cultivates spiritual gifts, and Carey Theological College comes alongside with credit courses at a deeper level. Kingdom world-view training equips a royal priesthood, a holy nation and as-you-go missionaries.
Creating a Climate of Dreams
The Council of Cowichan Christian Leaders instructs: “Walk the length and breadth of the community. Ask God to reveal His role for the church.” As a result, Prayer Walk, a weekly journey of 20 to 25 people, might begin at any one of 12 churches in town, taking God’s presence into the community – blessing and listening, asking where God’s heart is breaking, creating a climate of spiritual dreams.
Cop Care grew out of the dream of an RCMP chaplain who attends New Life. With all the criticism police receive, he suggested: “Tell them what they’re doing right. Say thank you!” At the first banquet, a high-end event for 50 police officers and spouses, the story of Jesus and the centurion left these police officers with tears in their eyes. Now RCMP police officers flock out of the local detachment each month when the lunch grill arrives. Through serving and friendship-building, the cop population at New Life has grown to eight.
Celebrations and Challenges
God-stories from the congregation create celebrations. “While driving, I felt prompted to pick up a hitchhiker. This First Nations girl was going farther than I was but I felt compelled to take her to her destination. She shared her story – raised in a residential school, afraid of church. But this Sunday she said she’ll visit New Life!”
Challenges? Buchanan responds immediately. “Sometimes we’re over-extended. We have difficulty with dispersal of energy.” People beyond their own resources phone for help. A young unmarried couple, around 15 years of age, were informed by Social Services they would lose their baby if they didn’t find a good home. They are now housed separately with church members and attend New Life, learning what it means to walk with Jesus.
Occasionally other churches criticize New Life for walking the in-between spaces. Sometimes people leave because lives get messy. “New Life welcomes a ton of recovery people,” says Buchanan. One woman addicted to cocaine decided at Alpha to follow Jesus and wanted to marry the common-law father of their two children. Some state they will be unequally yoked; others feel compassion for a family in need of unity. “It often puts relationships at risk,” sighs Buchanan. Is it easier to lead a church where people leave to worship elsewhere or where people return to lives of torment because they are not accepted in the Body of Christ? Buchanan declares: “Jesus never left behind a book. He left behind a community.”
Charlene de Haan is a freelance writer in Toronto. She is also manager of educational services for The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. Read all the profiles in this ongoing series at www.faithtoday.ca.