Would you know where to look on a map for Prince Edward Island? Have you ever wondered what God is doing in places like New Brunswick or Novia Scotia? What is it like to be a pastor in these places, and what particular obstacles stand in the way of gospel fruitfulness there?
This week several hundred pastors and other believers will gather in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, for the The Gospel Coalition Atlantic Canada Regional Conference. To explore what God is doing in this region of the world, I corresponded with Stephen Bray, lead elder of vision and preaching at Grace Baptist Church in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada, and Atlantic Canada director of The Gospel Coalition.
Tell us a little bit about how God called you to serve in Prince Edward Island. Are you originally from there?
I’m originally from Newfoundland and worked many years in the retail business sector. God called me to Prince Edward Island around 15 years ago, and soon after he called me to ministry. After moving to Prince Edward Island we had started attending Grace Baptist Church, and they needed an associate pastor. God opened the doors and the church called me and my family to ministry. We have been enormously blessed, humbled, and privileged to work here ever since.
What exactly is Atlantic Canada? What regions are included?
Atlantic Canada consists of four provinces in Canada’s Eastern region: New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland. It is known for its fishery, natural resources, beautiful scenery, and often-extreme weather. Our number one asset, however, is that we are known as a culture of hospitality and friendliness. Atlantic Canada is a unique region with a small, mostly rural population of only about 2.3 million people spread out over a combined landmass larger than California.
What are some of the greatest challenges in ministry in your area? What particular cultural idols or areas of resistance to the gospel stand out?
The small population in such a large geographical area can lead to a sense of loneliness and isolation. Our churches are smaller, so finances are challenging, and it’s often difficult to find broader fellowship and cooperate in larger missional efforts. Many pastors here don’t have budgets for conferences, books, or further education, and they will often have to travel several hours to find fellowship with other pastors.
The number one resistance to the gospel in Atlantic Canada is the fact that people truly have to admit that they are sinners and only Jesus Christ can save them. People here are friendly, and they often tend to think they’re not that bad. The combination of the geography and smaller population—coupled with a general lack of felt gospel need—can make ministry challenging. The Gospel Coalition Atlantic Canada chapter came into existence partly to help meet these challenges.
Where do you see God at work in Atlantic Canada? What encouraging trends do you see?
The advent of the internet has enabled people in rural areas to gain access to podcasts of men like John Piper, Matt Chandler, and David Platt, as well as other kinds of ministry resources. This access has created thirst and longing to ask more questions and to dig deeper into the Word of God. Partly through the influence of social media, pastors are realizing it’s okay to ask questions and to admit their need of fellowship, and that we can accomplish much more for Christ when we are centered on the gospel rather than polarized around fringe beliefs.
This ability to partner in the gospel encourages me, and it is what has driven me to The Gospel Coalition. With a TGC chapter established in Atlantic Canada, we are seeing people come to Christ, we are seeing sound doctrine made a priority, and we are seeing Christ-centered, gospel-focused sermons being preached more regularly. Now there is an energy and urgency to see biblical, Christ-centered churches established all across Atlantic Canada, where orthodoxy and orthopraxy can work hand-in-hand, not separately.
Tell us about the Atlantic Canada Regional Chapter of the Gospel Coalition. What resources does it offer?
TGC Atlantic Canada was started three years ago by myself and a close pastoral friend, Josh Singh. We had been exposed to The Gospel Coalition website and had both attended TGC national conferences. We were drawn by the singleness of purpose, the camaraderie and sense of fellowship, but more than anything the safe environment for pastors to come and fellowship, ask questions, and be okay with struggling through the answers.
In addition to our regional website, TGC Atlantic Canada offers an annual conference in Charlottetown. The purpose of the conference is to provide the experience that one would find at a national conference in the United States, but one that is accessible and affordable to Atlantic Canadian pastors. We provide books, speakers, and breakout sessions that we hope will bless those who attend, and we work to foster an atmosphere of fellowship and encouragement that will bolster the churches of our region and encourage a deeper urgency and compassion for the lost of Atlantic Canada.
How can we be praying for the spread of the gospel in your region?
Please pray that the glorious light and power of the gospel will penetrate into the darkness of legalism and form religion. Please pray that God will raise up pastors who will not only fill pulpits in Atlantic Canada, but that we will see a resurgence of new churches planted in Atlantic Canada—churches built upon the Word of God, centered on Jesus Christ, and passionate about the gospel. Please pray this week for our TGC Atlantic Canada chapter conference, especially as we seek to introduce a women’s track for the first time. Finally, pray that we would always be open to expanding our vision for how we can create better resourcing and fellowship, and advance God’s kingdom and glory in this part of the world.