By Dallas Friesen, Director of Congregational Development
This blog post is part of a series on the core values of the New Leaf Network. Advisory Team member, Dallas Friesen, reflections on how New Leaf is full of Professional Wrestlers.
My grandfather was a rural Manitoba bi-vocational farmer and Mennonite minister for 40 years. While he never planted a church he was a starter. He began pastoring in the 1920’s and at some point started Sunday School and a choir. While that doesn’t seem radical today, at that time and in that localized church culture, those were big innovative ideas. Wrestling with church innovation is part of my heritage.
In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, years before I was born, my parents were part of an awakening of the gospel in southern Manitoba that developed into a missionary sending church that has made massive kingdom impacts locally and worldwide. Wresting with church on mission is part of my DNA.
In the 1980’s, I was part of splant where our church leadership was exploring how to remove some of the common barriers that kept people from church. Their desire was to communicate the Gospel in a way that was accessible for everyone. Though I was young, there was something in their desire to reach others that rang true in my heart.
In my early twenties, I recognized church planters were expressing faith with an urgency that I found compelling. I had wrestled with not wanting to abandon my church for the new thing in town. So I sought the wisdom and the blessing of my pastor and elders and I left my established church to attend and serve in a church plant. Church planting was now an active part of my life.
Fairly soon after making that move, I was invited to serve in a church plant in the Greater Seattle area that had recently begun regular Sunday gatherings in a café. For the next three years, I was a part of the leadership of this faith community where we wrestled with deconstructing and reconstructing our understanding of how we could live out the gospel. We were looking to create a community that was both grace filled and made sense in the post-modern, post-Christian Pacific Northwest. Church planting was part of my call.
Upon returning to Canada, after my visa expired, I ended up in a young church plant in Calgary. I was battling with depression and God. This was one of the darkest seasons of my life. Our Sunday night practice was to gather in the round and to walk up to the table to receive communion every Sunday. I can remember often walking up to that communion table with little to offer God and being captured by grace and belonging. My wrestling with God ended with God winning and it was a little Canadian Church plant that provided the ring for that wrestling match.
After only nine months in Calgary, I ended up moving to Hamilton to attend seminary in order to prepare myself to become a bi-vocational church planter. It was in Hamilton that I met my wife and got involved in the early days of a Salvation Army church plant – The FRWY.
One of the reasons I wanted to be a church planter was because I didn’t want to have to deal with the politics of church, the bricks and mortar discussions and the discussions about the colour of the carpet. Of course, as is often the case, God had other plans and my wife and I pastored an established church for a decade plus.
During that season, I had an opportunity to mentor a church planter and that church became a daughter church for a number of years until it could become independent.
I often wondered how God would use my heart for church planting when the doors never seemed to open up for me to be a lead planter.
Fast forward to today. I have the privilege and responsibility to serve with the Canadian Baptists of Ontario and Quebec (CBOQ) in the area of Church Development and Church Planting. We are a family of 350 churches, many of which are 150 or 200 plus years old. Many were planted in an area before cars and so the distance a horse could travel was often the measuring stick of where a church was planted. Today, we are still planting mission plants and church plants in neighbourhoods and communities throughout Ontario and Quebec.
In the last few years, I have also had an increasing opportunity to be a part of the NewLeaf Network. The CBOQ has chosen to use the NewLeaf Network to help us train and coach church planters.
One of the first things I fell in love with the NewLeaf vision was reading the guiding values of NewLeaf, particularly the value…
Professional Wrestlers – we will wrestle with: with God, with ourselves, with each other, and with Canadian realities. We will do what it takes to understand, invest in, and build resources that support and nurture planters and starters in the Canadian context.
I feel like Jacob’s story is my story… “Your name will no longer be Jacob,” the man told him. “From now on you will be called Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have won.”
Now while Jacob’s wrestling with God was captured in a short episode. I feel like I have had a lifetime of wrestling with God, with myself and with how to communicate faith in post-modern, post-Christian cultures. I am so grateful that there is a network of Christians that also takes seriously the invitation to wrestle well with God, with others and with Canadian realities.
I hope we continue to wrestle so well that we become people who can hold differences lightly and commonalities tightly. If we can do that in a way that honors God, each other and our Canadian context well then we have some truly great gospel news that can make an impact in our localized mission posts throughout our country. I believe God is up to something and I am grateful for those who are looking to start, plant and innovate fresh expressions of the gospel.
The irony of being a professional wrestler is that my name “Dallas” means peaceful dweller. For most of my life, I have desired to embody peaceful dwelling. The New Leaf Network is allowing me to be both a professional wrestler and peaceful dweller in an effort to live out part of my calling to support church plants and church planters.