When we hear about secularization in North America, it’s often an assumed reference to the United States. But our neighbor to the north, Canada, is actually farther down the “post-Christian” path. To learn more about TGC Ontario and how you can pray for the advance of Christ’s kingdom in Canada, I corresponded with two chapter leaders—TGC Council member John Mahaffey and TGC Ontario chairman Paul Martin.
Tell us about the Ontario regional group. How long has it been together? What types of ministry does it offer to pastors there?
John: The TGC Ontario chapter has technically existed since 2010 when we held our first conference in Hamilton, Ontario. A second conference was held at Heritage College and Seminary in 2012. Both of these events were well attended by more than 250 pastors, but it’s only been in the past year-and-a-half that a broader leadership team has been in place.
While the first two conferences were successful in attracting a crowd of pastors, they didn’t produce the kind of community of pastors we envisioned would be needed to make a larger impact for gospel-centered ministry throughout our region. So since late 2013 a larger leadership team, of which Paul and I are a part, has been meeting regularly to plan for this year’s conference and to lay the foundations for an enduring fellowship of pastors who are passionate for the gospel and hold to TGC’s theological convictions.
Talk a bit about the conference. How did you arrive at the theme, and how do you hope attendees will be edified and helped in their ministries?
John: From the first time our leadership team met almost two years ago, we all expressed our burden for revival in Canada. Our country is in a desperate way. Our largest Protestant denomination, with roots in the great Methodist revivals of the 1800s, is hostile to the gospel. This permeates the religious landscape across Canada. Evangelicals have grown only marginally—if at all—over the last 20 years. Though there are some great things happening, doctrinally sound churches that are growing and expanding their outreach are a few healthy islands in a sea of dysfunction. We believe getting back to the gospel is the first step toward renewal.
As we considered our goal to encourage pastors, to form a broader fellowship throughout our province and country, and to labor cooperatively toward a growing gospel movement, there was unanimous agreement that revival should be the theme of this year’s conference. We are attempting to adjust our sails, and our hope is God will put wind in these sails as we meet together in Toronto. Our hope for those who attend is that in addition to connecting with other pastors and Christian workers in the region, they will be deeply encouraged toward faithfulness in sound doctrine and gospel ministry. In spite of the massive challenges we face, the fields are white for harvest in Canada. We are praying for the Spirit’s work of renewal in all who attend.
How often does the regional chapter have events (not just conferences, but get-togethers for pastors, and so on)? How much of Canada does the Ontario group serve?
Paul: This will be our third chapter conference, but we’ve also sponsored several other events. In May we co-hosted “Men, Women, and the Bible” with Andreas Kösteberger in Central Ontario; in November we will co-sponsor the Scripture Alone conference in Woodstock, Ontario. We’ve also hosted several general invitation lunches for pastors in Southern Ontario.
The province of Ontario is massive—more than 1 million square kilometres. You can drive for more than 20 hours and still not cross from one side of the province to the other. Much of Ontario consists of small villages and hamlets, but almost half the population is centered in the Greater Toronto area, the fourth-largest city in North America. Most of our attention as a local chapter focuses on this densely populated area and its environs.
That said, we’ve built a unique element into this upcoming conference. Generous donors have allowed us to sponsor representatives from most of the country’s regions. We have pastors flying in from Newfoundland, Quebec, Northern Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia. These men will meet the day before the conference to discuss the potential of collaborating to create TGC Canada. Please pray for this meeting. We are eager for a united voice in our country for the gospel of Christ.
What are the major issues facing evangelical churches in Canada, and how is TGC Ontario seeking to encourage pastors to address them?
Paul: The major issues facing pastors in Canada are the same as anywhere else. Churches need to be centered on the gospel, the surrounding world needs to hear that gospel, and the leaders of those churches need to walk in the good of that gospel. In some ways, Canada is farther down the road of moral relativism than the States. Social issues America is now just coming to terms with are things we’ve been dealing with for more than a decade.
Thankfully, we have a Bible robust enough to answer these trends. If our conferences and meetings accomplish anything, we hope it’s greater confidence in the Lord and his Word. Churches fed on the Word of God by men who live the Word of God will be a powerful reflection of God in the world.
Even more, we’re praying these little gatherings are the signal of genuine revival. Too many in our country are living and dying without Jesus. Toronto is the most culturally diverse city in the world, so we have a remarkable opportunity to reach the globe without ever getting on a plane. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see Jesus draw in thousands from every tongue, tribe, and nation from this strategic location?
How can we pray for the conference and the Ontario regional chapter in general?
John: The evening before the conference there will be a special meeting composed of the Ontario leadership team and several key leaders from Atlantic Canada, Quebec, the Prairies, and British Columbia. Don Carson and John Neufield will be part of this meeting. You prayers are greatly appreciated because our evening together is dedicated to exploring how we can work together more closely and perhaps develop a transnational fellowship. We sense the need for a united Canadian voice that shares TGC’s confessional convictions and theological vision for ministry and that can speak with gospel perspective into our unique cultural and national context.
This will be our biggest conference to date, as we anticipate upwards of 500 in attendance. In addition to praying for all the logistics that make a conference run smoothly, pray also that the Lord will visit us powerfully in the plenary sessions, the workshops, and the times of prayer.