While ForestView does not belong to any official denomination, it enjoys strong affiliation with Vision Ministries Canada (VMC)—a missions agency that seeks to catalyze church multiplication across Canada. Most of the churches from this network share some degree of connection with the historical restoration movement known as the Plymouth Brethren. Beginning in the British Isles in the 1820s, this movement emerged with an emphasis on strong Bible teaching, weekly communion, plural leadership, social activism, the priesthood of all believers and Spirit animate spontaneity. Two hundred years after its inception, the Brethren Movement continues to enjoy a global impact that is disproportionate to its numerical size.
Despite a positive impact within Evangelicalism, the Plymouth Brethren have struggled to establish long term, church-to-church, cooperation. Gord Martin, the Executive Director of VMC, believes this is due to what he calls “anti-joining genes.” Fear of heavy-handed denominational control has led to radical congregational autonomy. Independence is preferred to interdependence as a way to preserve the freedom of the local assembly. While the movement has avoided the bureaucratic burden of excessive centralization, it has also forfeited the synergistic and symbiotic benefits of genuine collaboration.
In the summer of 2012, VMC set out to form a collaborative partnership among constituent congregations to stimulate church multiplication across Canada. The pursuit of this new partnership was motivated by the conviction that local churches continue to play a central role in God’s redemptive activity. God’s Spirit—the One given at Pentecost to form and empower the Church for mission—is the same Spirit that continues to invite local churches to discern what God is doing and to participate with Him. Rather than allowing affiliate churches to pursue multiplication in isolation, VMC has invited a couple dozen core congregations to form a catalytic partnership to birth new churches or ‘equivalents’ (additional worship gatherings, alternative congregations, multi-site or traditional church plants).
ForestView is one of the churches that have been invited to join the Moving the Mission Forward (MMF) partnership. Though ForestView has a history of supporting VMC, this new opportunity required prayerfully and extended deliberation by FV’s Leadership Team before the decision was made to opt in. For VMC, the process of ‘courting’ churches has been a slow and challenging, but by the beginning of 2014 about a dozen congregations had signed on, with a few others ready to ink the deal. The willingness among several congregations to official join is, in itself, a significant shift within our church tradition. Vision Ministries Canada hopes that addition churches will eventually come on board as the partnership sees traction with its early multiplication efforts.
How will the partnership work? MMF churches have agreed to share resources, personnel, creative ideas and communication channels to fuel the vision. The pooling of expertise, talent, money, innovation and story telling opportunities will enable the partnership to focus on supporting and resourcing a few ‘start-up’ opportunities at a time. Representatives from partner churches will convene quarterly (physically or via technology) to consider proposals and offer constructive input. Not only will the MMF team vet proposals but will determine the best way to utilize partnership resources to support the approved initiatives. Finally, the MMF team will seek fresh ways to agitate prayer, communication and celebration among VMC congregations across Canada.
After a year and a half of working with my friends at VMC to form this partnership, it is gratifying to finally see churches getting on board to advance this national vision. Coming from BC, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec, these congregations could have easily ignored the call, explaining that there is too much to do in their own back yard. Convinced that more can be accomplished through collaboration than solo effort and with a sense that God might bless congregational selflessness, these churches have decided to band together for greater missional effectiveness.
Over twenty years ago the Spirit gave birth to what we now call ForestView. Two decades of learning, growing, floundering… and more learning means we have something to offer to a whole new generation of church pioneers. Others can benefit as we share from our triumphs and our blunders. We are so resource blessed—it would be wrong not to practice church-to-church generosity. In the not-too-distant future, I anticipate times of celebration as we hear stories of new congregations being rooted in some distant corner of our country—communities of faith committed to the proclamation and embodiment of the good news of Jesus in their own unique context.
Lots to look forward to…