How Canadians Can Save the American Church

Orginally published on Sunday, February 18, 2007 at 3:35 AM
by Earl Creps

A while back at a conference I met my very first Canadian missionary to the United States. To be honest it had not occurred to me until that very moment that such a thing was possible, any more than an American missionary being stationed in Montreal. Aren’t both of us supposed to be “sending” nations? After I recovering from the shock, I muttered something like, “Please go home and round up about 1000 more people like yourself and send them. We’re in trouble down here.”

I still believe that. The American church is desperately in need of help if we are going to have any reasonable chance to do mission among Pre, Post, and Semi Christians in emerging culture. Some of that assistance might just come from north of the border. Here’s why:

1. Canada is over the horizon. If Europe is roughly 50 years ahead of us in terms of evolving into a post-whatever society, Canada might be more like 20-30 years. Moreover, Canadians were dealing with multiculturalism long before those of us who live stateside ever heard the word. If these very rough estimates are anything close to correct, that means…

2. Canadians get it. I’m generalizing on a breathtaking scale here, but my Canadian friends seem to have a perspective, a sense of humor, and a critique of the US that feels like the future to me. I do seminars aimed at helping Americans get a sense of where mission in emerging culture is headed. But I’m not sure those would have an audience if they were held in Toronto. Why tell fish about water? Which means that…

3. Canadians should advise American churches. Last week I worshipped with a group of American college students being led by a Canadian who served full time as a staff pastor in a local congregation. It’s my dream scenario. Other examples would include Dave MacDonald, lead pastor at West Winds Church in Michigan, or Sean Kelly who trains interns for the Convoy of Hope compassion ministry. When I talk to these friends, it feels like I’m in dialogue with tomorrow. They know things naturally that Americans have to be taught. Which means that…

4. The American church has an opportunity to humble itself. American leaders are barely able to accept the help of missionaries and church planters from the southern hemisphere. Imagine the sanctifying power of having to admit that the help we need has been just across the border to the north all this time? That by itself might save us. At the very least, those of us born in the USA would have a chance to reorient out leadership toward the future rather than spending whole careers exhausting ourselves trying to get ahead of something called “the curve.”

Could the Canadians light the fuse on the next great awakening? I don’t know. But I think we should find out.

About the Author:  Earl Creps has spent several years visiting congregations that are attempting to engage emerging culture. He directs doctoral studies for the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, Missouri (http://www.agts.edu).  Earl and his wife Janet have pastored three churches, one Boomer, one Builder, and one GenX. He speaks, trains, and consults with ministries around the country. Earl’s book, Off-Road Disciplines: Spiritual Adventures of Missional Leaders, was published by Jossey-Bass/Leadership Network in 2006. Connect with Earl at http://www.earlcreps.com .



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  There are 28 Comments:

  • Posted by John Stackhouse

    As a Canadian whose graduate training in church history, theology, and philosophy was taken in the States and who regularly is called upon by Americans to talk with them about changes in North American religion and society, I appreciated Earl’s suggestion that Americans consider a Canadian perspective.

    May I agree that national differences are important, and go one to suggest that regional differences are important as well. Partly because North America historically has had, and still has, important north-south corridors of migration, trade, and cultural exchange, Vancouver is much more like Seattle and Portland than it is like Calgary, which is much more like Dallas than it is like Winnipeg, which is much more like Minneapolis than it is like Halifax, which is much more like Boston than it is like Toronto....

    One other observation, just to add to the discussion. As I showed in a batch of research I published a decade ago, Canada, like Britain, did not endure a large-scale fundamentalist-modernist controversy. The relationships of evangelicalism, cultural influence, and political power are importantly different on the national, as well as on the regional, levels. American evangelicalism continues to be deeply affected by worries, strategies, and aspirations forged in the f-m controversy that just don’t affect us Canadians as much. So far fewer of us see creation science, for example, as a kind of marker for cultural power and religious fidelity--which I daresay it is in the States. (I say this as someone who thinks both creation science and Darwinism are both bad science and bad theology.) And far fewer of us even aspire to “making Canada Christian again” in a resurgent theocracy. Such “dominionism” is seriously considered in the American Republic, but not (ahem) in the Dominion of Canada. George Marsden’s classic study, Fundamentalism and American Culture, continues to illuminate this territory.

    This is not to say that the Canadian church is stronger, wiser, or humbler (!) than our American counterpart. It isn’t. But we’re different, and we’re similar, and we could have more and better conversations on that basis than we do, couldn’t we?

  • Posted by Tyler

    I don’t quite get your article, Earl. As a Canadian, I hardly see how we could even remotely “save” the American church.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but is your point not that Canadians can “save” the American Church since we’ve traditionally espoused a multicultural attitude toward culture, meaning that we’ve been used to pluralism for decades already, and intuitively do not need to learn how to engage the culture?

    Although you admit that you’re “generalizing on a breathtaking scale,” I would be interested to know what, exactly, the Canadians you have known have been saying that was so revolutionary and prompted the writing of this article. Because from the Canada I see – we’re really not that different. Especially with regard to those of us within the Church.

    So the word is out – Canada encourages multiculturalism. While traditionally America has encouraged a “melting pot” model of conformity (best illustrated in Henry Ford’s “Americanization Play,” where a number of actors dressed as immigrants in their native clothing, would walk behind a giant pot façade, and, quickly changing, emerge on the other side dressed in “American” clothing (typically a suit and tie), waving an American flag, and speaking English. The message was simple: to become an American, you had to assimilate and forget about where you came from), Canada not only allowed but encouraged multiculturalism. To be fair, there have been stains on this image – most notably during WW2 when the government locked Canadian citizens of Japanese ancestry into camps, poetically mimicking the concentration camps of Europe – but for the most part this has been the attitude of Canadians.

    You don’t have to look too hard to find out why Canadians have acted this way. Since the British effectively pushed the French out of North America in capturing Québec and Acadia, Canadians have been forced to tolerate a large French speaking population within their borders, and acknowledge their existence and right as a distinct society. This has shaped the collective identity of our nation.

    Will this cultural background make us (us being Canadian Christians) better suited to reach postmoderns? Yes and no.

    Yes because Canadians have never had the cultural dominance in our land that Americans have (apparently) had (especially on the Canadian East Coast). We’ve all heard the stories of church growth south of the border. We all know about the massive number of seminaries and Bible colleges stateside. We’ve heard the legends about how in the South, everyone (or at least the majority) goes to church because that’s just what you do on Sunday. Good luck trying to find a town or city in Canada where every citizen has been “saved” at one time or another, “gone forward,” been baptized, or etc. They don’t exist (spare some town in Alberta, I’ll bet). We don’t have a “golden age” to look back to as “the good old days.” We can’t call our nation back to supposed Christian roots.

    So, in theory, because we’ve always had to deal with multiculturalism, because we’ve always been marginalized, because we’ve never had any considerable political clout (spare Bible Bill, the early NDP, and recently), because we’ve never been dominant by any means, in theory we should exhibit the following traits:

    -Our focus in engaging the culture should be missional rather than political
    -Our focus in church growth should be missional rather than constructional / quantitative
    -We should be ill concerned with Christian Reconstructionist ideologies, as we’ve not only accepted cultural and political marginalization, but learned to find new ways for the Gospel to not only survive but thrive within our spheres.

    Again; this is in theory. We’ve been unable to reap the rewards, as did our ancestors as they thrived among the catacombs of Empire (though on a much smaller scale, naturally), the persecuted and bleeding remnant rejoicing for being counted worthy to suffer for the sake of the Gospel.

    I digress. Can Canadians save the American Church? My answer (from the perspective of a Christian on the East Coast of Canada living in a have-not province) is a resounding negative. Why should I answer this way?

    From the trends I’ve observed, in churches with membership in the single digits to churches with membership in the hundreds and thousands, our multicultural culture has been unable to free us in the Great White North from the temptations of trying to achieve political and cultural supremacy primarily because we’ve been so concerned with trying to imitate the American Church.

    Following the lead of American groups, many if not most evangelicals long for the day when Canada’s same-sex marriage bill is repealed. Rather than working from the street level-up to bring about national repentance, some Christians have felt it more expedient that they start in Ottawa, making those without the Church nominally adherent to God’s moral law.

    Americans have a very shaky claim that their nation was founded on Christian principles (see Gregory Boyd); I would argue Deist principles at best. Canadians nil. Yet we too have mixed personal with political repentance, forming groups which lobby the government to return to our Christian heritage. What heritage? If it’s a myth that America is a Christian nation, then it’s an outright lie that Canada was founded on Christian principles.

    4mycanada.ca is a group that organizes concerts in Ottawa each summer praying for the country, calling out a generation that stands for traditional principles. It’s nothing novel, they’re imitating American Church life and applying it to the Canadian scene.

    So Canadian Christians are concerned with immigration principles regarding Islamic culture and whether Joe and John McSecular-Humanists can marry. Honestly. What Joe and John need more than Bill C-38 repealed is old fashioned street preachers proclaiming Free Grace to all who will come and take of the water of live freely. Nothing else. How deceitful is the lie that political legislation is anything akin to the Gospel! The two define the term “mutually exclusive.”

    Furthermore, those of us who don’t see the point to Church growth (Saddleback models) are seen as the ones who “don’t get it.” Canadian Christians are trying too much to be American Christians to see the forest for the trees. We don’t look at the American Church scene primarily as a mission field, we look to the south and see you as a model to emulate.

    When we read of trends such as the “4% panic attack,” we are the ones praying for 4%. As bad as the Church scene is down South, it’s a heck of a lot better than it is here; so say the majority of Canadian Christians. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m not one of them. I’m very skeptical. Again, as I said at the start of this comment, we’re really not that different. Perhaps the Canadians you met were more concerned with the Gospel than politics, but most of us are as concerned with both. It’s sad, but it’s true.

  • Posted by

    Help from the North................here on Cape Cod, MA, we have pastors from South Africa, Brazil, Portugal, Jamacia, and parts of Eastern Europe with the intent of saving America (actually the US).  We as “Americans” have become for the most part very self-centered in “our” desire for riches, a mega church, perfect singers, etc.  Although I do not see anything wrong with a large church (for God did add 3,000 in one day (Acts 2:41) our hearts need to be softened.  From where should the next awakening come from,...........from where ever God wants to send it, and let be soon so that we will be in compliance with 2 Chronicles 7:14.

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