November/December 2009 Issue
A Church You Should Know
Redwood Park Church, Thunder Bay, Ont.
How does a congregation, 65 years in the making, shift focus to become more “missional”? For 17 years, pastor Doug Doyle of The Christian and Missionary Alliance has been assisting Redwood Park Church in Thunder Bay, Ont., to recreate itself.
Life, Passion, Adventure
“Knowing and chasing after God and His ways is anything but boring!” emphasizes Doyle. He sees the chase as an experience of “life, passion, and adventure” made possible by God’s Spirit. Redwood Park is “a loving community of Christ-followers who together are stumbling forward in this God-led missional journey.” God is leading the congregation, members believe, to help shape the future of their city through the life-changing power of God’s love. They want to be a church with city-wide influence, a “missional cathedral” of acceptance, wholeness and transformation where people find love, hope, encouragement, forgiveness and healing.
A Grace-Filled Congregation
“God is crazy in love with you,” Doyle preaches to his congregation and the community. The congregation seeks to make this love evident – and at the same time to make their city a better place to live – through sports, theatre and hanging out with the neighbours. Amazingly, others in the city are referring seekers to Redwood Park. The grace-filled congregation seeks to welcome everyone, including people whose lives currently exhibit rough language, messy divorces or high alcohol consumption. Groups such as Alpha and Celebrate Recovery speak to specific needs. Children bring parents and grandparents. Seniors follow Jesus and are baptized. In 2003 Redwood Park relocated to a renovated school and new worship auditorium. Sixteen months later, their previous facility was transformed into the Redwood Park Opportunities Centre serving those who are poor, addicted, discouraged and hungry in Thunder Bay. Some congregants serve 20 hours a week delivering food, stocking shelves or working in the centre. Doors of conversation open as each family arrives. Many consent to a brief prayer.
Living Beyond Themselves Locally
An exciting boomerang impact returned when community organizations began asking the church for help. Partnerships formed with the Regional Food Distribution Association. The Catholic Teachers Association asked Redwood Park to help distribute hundreds of winter coats.
And Confederation College requested a joint venture with Redwood Park’s three-year pastoral apprenticeship program. This program enables students to work alongside staff pastors while taking online theology courses. One apprentice is now invited to live at the college, seeking to make a positive difference in the student residence.
First Nations people account for eight per cent of the Thunder Bay population. Some worshippers house young people from the reserves while they attend school. Redwood’s youth ministry offers a coffee drop-in centre at a nearby high school dedicated to First Nations. (The vice-principal attends Redwood.) A First Nations presence is growing in the Sunday evening student ministry service. Doyle dreams of offering an aboriginal worship service at the Opportunities Centre.
Grand Chief Stan Beardy of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation believes the African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child.” Born and raised on a trap- line at Bearskin Lake, he attended high school in Thunder Bay. Now he invites the “Redwood Village” to step over culture into First Nations reserves to assist with medical work and to train young people to become difference-makers.
Farther Beyond Themselves
Doyle has shared his city-wide vision through mentoring relationships with other pastors for several years. That vision spilled out from Thunder Bay to Barrie when The Christian and Missionary Alliance church there experienced rapid decline. Barrie is now a satellite campus using video of Doyle’s preaching, which allows commissioned pastor Nathan Barnes to develop local relationships. During the summer, sermons travel in the opposite direction from Barrie through DVD video back to Thunder Bay.
“Technology today allows larger churches to mentor smaller groups,” says Doyle. “It multiplies God’s resources.” Internationally, Redwood Park partners with a member serving in Spice Island [pseudonym] where 95 per cent of the population is Islamic and many are militant. A few years ago every church on the island was burned to the ground. Now Redwood Park teams give one month each year to come alongside a church that has been weakened through persecution. The teams work on water pumps, teach English as a Second Language, offer holistic education trying to reverse the hostile environment through caring action until the face of Jesus is revealed.
Transition and Risk
While some shy away from numbers, this community of passionate, adventurous believers has grown from 200 to 900 at some services, with 1,600 identifying Redwood Park as a place to call home. At least half bring no evangelical background, which perhaps explains why regular attendance is not growing at the same rate as adherents. There are those who are excited and those who were aghast as Redwood Park transitioned its vision over the past decade.
“It takes time to become missional,” reflects Doyle. “Our environment is always in transition. The culture changes.” He tells the congregation: “Forms are expendable. Don’t get too comfortable.” Doyle believes it’s unhealthy to live in a protected Christian environment. “We throw them out into the world and the kingdom advances. Following Christ is not risk-free.”
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.