Many of us know Tim Challies as a blogger and an author. You may not be as familiar with Tim as a pastor. I’m grateful that he was willing to answer some questions, mostly about his role as a pastor at Grace Fellowship Church in Toronto.
Could you tell us a little bit about how you became a pastor at Grace Fellowship Church?
It was about six years ago that I became a member of Grace Fellowship Church. In those days my blog was starting to grow in readership and I was eager to put myself under the authority of leaders who shared a vision for the site and who could keep a loving but watchful eye on me. Also, ironically, while my blog was gaining a lot of attention in the Young, Restless, Reformed movement, I was attending a church that was non-Reformed (and, in fact, closely modeled in the styles of Bill Hybels and Rick Warren) and whose leaders considered my blog a liability. Through what seemed a coincidence but was clearly God’s providence, I met Paul Martin, the pastor of Grace Fellowship Church, and we immediately hit it off. Two days after meeting him, I took my family to Grace and we have never looked back.
After a few years of being a member at the church, the elders approached me and said that they would like me to be examined by the elders and the congregation for ordination as an elder or pastor (we make no distinction between the terms). In 2010, after that examination process, I was ordained as an elder. Not too long after, in January of 2011, our church sent out a plant led by Julian Freeman, who had been associate pastor. This left a position open that the other elders asked me to fill. And just like that I became associate pastor.
The funny thing is that years ago, all the way back in eighth grade, I underwent vocational testing and I recently came across those results. Right there at the #1 suggested vocation for me was “clergy.” I guess that counsellor knew something I didn’t at the time (especially since, to my knowledge, I was not yet even a Christian then).
How has blogging helped you in your role as a pastor?
I think there are two main ways that blogging has helped me.
First, blogging has taught me the value of perseverance even without spectacular results or spectacular skill. Preaching week-by-week quickly shows a man that he will have to become accustomed to delivering average or normal or ordinary sermons. Years of daily blogging had taught me that I will have some hits, some misses, but mostly just ordinary blog posts. I think this helped me adjust the expectations I brought to the pulpit.
Second, blogging has taught me to communicate. If I had been doing something other than blogging for all these years, I would not have been training myself to communicate with clarity and in a way that is appealing to people. By writing articles day-after-day and year-after-year, I have been quietly and unintentionally teaching myself to communicate. I believe this has helped me in the pulpit as I’ve sought to adjust to the preaching medium.
How has pastoring helped you in your role as a blogger?
It may be a little bit too early to tell, but I do know that some of my long-time readers have let me know that they’ve seen a difference in my writing since I became a pastor. When I ask them to define that they tell me that my writing seems a little less abstract and perhaps a bit more sympathetic. I suppose that makes good sense. For the first 6 or 7 years of my blogging I worked out of my home and would only rarely be around other people; now that I am in the ministry, I spend more time with more people and I am often with them as they deal with difficulty in life.
Can you talk about some of the challenges of pastoring in Toronto, and what encourages you?
I suspect that the challenges of pastoring in Toronto are not all that much different from the challenges of pastoring anywhere else. The particulars may vary, but I doubt we are all that much different from anywhere else.
Having said that, Toronto has a pronounced multiculturalism with over 50% of the population of the city having been born in a different country. This is both a challenge and an opportunity. It is a challenge in that many of the cultures remain very closed and united and it can be difficult to break into them. It is an opportunity in that once you do break in, you can see people be saved and then take the gospel with them back to their home countries, many of which would otherwise be closed to the gospel. It is a true joy to see Grace Fellowship Church increasingly reflecting the diversity of the city.
Another challenge is that Toronto is a sprawling city, which means that many churches are “commuter” instead of “community.” Our church is no exception. This means that as we try to build community and fellowship among the believers, we are always faced with geographic challenges that it may be a one-hour drive from one person’s house to another’s. While it is certainly not an insurmountable challenge, it does require careful thought among the leaders so we can be sure we do not isolate those who are farthest away.
How can we pray for you?
Thanks for asking! I am eager for prayer when it comes to the balance between ministry to my church (my priority) and ministry to the wider Christian world. I am in a season of life where I am trying to do a few things well (having learned that the alternative, at least in my case, is to do a lot of things with mediocrity). So I am always wondering how many and which speaking opportunities to accept, which writing opportunities to take on, and so on.
I would also appreciate prayer for me as a husband and father. If I am going to do anything with true excellence, I want it to be that. I have to keep reminding myself that being a good pastor is not a qualification for being a husband or father, but being a good husband and father is a qualification for being a pastor. There is an order to these things. I have seen a long list of pastors sacrifice their families to the altar of ministry and I know that I will need to guard myself against this temptation.