Jake* was in his early 20s and searching for God’s call in his life when he found a place as an apprentice at The Journey Church in Kitchener, Ont.
Through his mentoring relationship with The Journey’s lead pastor, Rev. Andrew Zantingh, Jake developed skills in preaching, coaching, and prayer that he now uses in a new ministry and in his seminary studies.
“I live in a neighborhood called Traynor Park. Our buildings are in disrepair, I guess you could say,” he said, referring to the 88-unit low-rise buildings he and his neighbors occupy.
MoveIn encourages young Christians to live in neighborhoods that have high crime rates, high poverty rates, and low standards of living.
“There’s a range of different people ... mostly families trying to make a go of it here,” Jake said.
The Kitchener-Waterloo area, sometimes called K-W for short, has a culture that welcomes immigrants and refugees and includes many technology companies and startups. Home to nearly half a million people, K-W is one of the larger metropolitan areas in Ontario.
Kitchener-Waterloo also is home to The Journey Church. The Journey is comparatively large for a church plant, with between 150 and 200 people typically attending Sunday services. It doesn’t have a building. Instead, the congregation meets in the local Community Centre, a gymnasium attached to a firehouse.
The Journey isn’t in a hurry to find a building. As Zantingh explains, “The best stuff that happens at the Journey doesn’t happen on Sunday.” The real passion is to make disciples and join God on mission in the community—something that drew Jake there in 2015.
Christian Reformed Home Missions, Classis Huron, parent church Community CRC, lead planter Adrian Van Giessen, and others partnered to plant The Journey in 2003. Van Giessen is now the regional leader for Home Missions’ Eastern Canada region and has continued to make partnership a key emphasis.
“Partnerships plant churches,” said Van Giessen. “In the Bible, missionaries went places, discovered where God was already at work, and joined in. In Kitchener-Waterloo, we find the same synergy.”
Churches such as Community CRC are partnering with Classis Huron to plant new churches like The Journey and, more recently, a new church plant in Fergus, Ont.
Van Giessen said he sees a bright future in the region and is grateful for the passion for church planting he sees there. He sees young people like Jake as the future of the church.
“In part, I believe we’ve got the ‘youth leaving the church’ narrative backwards,” he said. “While some millennials are leaving, others, like Jake, are taking the church back out into the world where it is meant to be—and we have an opportunity to follow them.
“We need to offer pathways into ministry for young adults like Jake beyond our neat, traditional categories like ‘pastor’ or even ‘church planter.’ We need to listen to and partner with our young adults as they lead us into a new future.”
Jake ran from pastoral ministry—his words—for a long time.
“I tried out social work, coffee shop ministry, neighborhood ministry, restaurant ministry . . . community development work in Romania and Moldova. . . . I worked for four different denominations.” Then he heard God calling him back to the Christian Reformed Church. “I knew I needed someone to disciple me; I needed training.”
As Van Giessen put it, “Jake called me, not really sure what he wanted. I introduced him to church planters in the area. . . . He and Andrew really hit it off.”
Zantingh, lead pastor at The Journey since 2010, has a passion for discipleship. “Mission and pastoring is everyone’s vocation,” he said. His vision for The Journey is for groups within the church to start neighborhood-based worship gatherings of their own “led by emerging church planters like Jake.”
For eight months, beginning in January 2015, Jake embedded himself in the leadership team at The Journey. He shadowed the team—pastors Andrew Zantingh, Emily Vandonk, and Toyosi Awesu—and learned about preaching, discipleship, small groups, leadership development, prayer ministry, and much more.
Home Missions and The Journey both contributed small grants to help him find a place to live, though he is mostly self-supporting through jobs in construction, painting, and more recently as a leader for MoveIn.
“I try to equip him to be able to make his own money and not rely solely on external church funds,” Zantingh said. “[Bivocational ministry] is significant to moving forward in church planting.”
Jake is using this bivocational model now, working 20 hours a week for MoveIn, completing his Master of Divinity at Tyndale, and still doing a painting job here and there. His work for MoveIn involves ministering to his community but also leading six other teams.
“We have seven teams of ‘tentmakers’ praying and doing incarnational ministry in urban poor neighborhoods [in Kitchener-Waterloo],” he explained.
In Traynor Park, Jake’s ministry is taking root. He’s helped to form a tenant association and made connections. His neighbors are getting organized to make a difference in the neighborhood. They are committed to stand up for each other against infestations of bedbugs, absentee management, unjust court cases, and anything else they face.
The community is also forming partnerships outside their buildings. Jake worked with a local hockey association to let the kids in his building try hockey and join the local league for free.
“The ambition and determination of some of the youth here—people who have grown up with the odds against them—is really encouraging,” he said. “We are going to put a rink in the neighborhood!”
“A big part of my journey has been [the Christian Reformed Church’s] network of support and accountability,” Jake said. “That started with Adrian but then became this network of people at The Journey.”
Zantingh still mentors him, and they meet regularly. Van Giessen partners with Jake to network with young adults doing ministry in Kitchener-Waterloo and the Greater Toronto Area. All three are active members at The Journey.
The Journey is partnering with four other churches in Classis Huron, along with Home Missions, to continue planting new churches in the classis. “This is a movement,” Van Giessen says. “It’s more than just one church plant.”
How You Can Pray
Zantingh and Jake provided these prayer requests:
- Please pray that we learn to trust God more and more in our work.
- Please pray that we will not shrink back from challenges or changes.
- Please pray for the neighborhoods around Kitchener-Waterloo where the people of The Journey are joining God’s mission.
- Please pray for the MoveIn movement and praise God for the lives he has already transformed through it.
*Name changed in 2021 for protection in current ministry.
Connecting the Gospel and the City
Since 2010, Dwell Church’s pastor, Peter Armstrong, has been working to share the gospel in a neighborhood called the Bowery in Manhattan, a place he describes as “an unreached people group unlike any other place in the world.”
“Jesus is using churches like Dwell to reach out to these folks,” Armstrong added.
Described as America’s original skid row, the Bowery comprises a “mashup” of cultures and is a place people from every part of society call home. The goal of Dwell is to bring these cultures and people, no matter their background or social status, together to be a place of hospitality.
Home Missions partners with ministries like Dwell in communities across the United States and Canada through coaching, training, funding, and more. For its first three years, Dwell received grant funding from Home Missions in addition to partnership and support from regional staff and other partners in the region.
“This city just needs to be lifted with some sort of faith,” said Dwell member Jeffrey Oliver. “It’s hard out here. I’ll brush shoulders with millionaires and a homeless person at the same time.”
Armstrong tells the story of a woman he met who had grown up in the city without any faith background. In her 20s, she found her interest piqued by Buddhism.
After visiting Dwell one day, she also became interested in Christianity and sought to compare the two religions. She joined a small group at Dwell, began learning about the gospel, and became a Christian. She professed her faith and has been a member of the community for two years now.
“What God does when he makes disciples is that he changes an apartment building. He changes a block. He changes a neighborhood. He changes a city,” reflects Armstrong. “We want to be part of that. We want to be on the front lines of doing that.”
Armstrong’s sermons focus on connecting the gospel to what’s happening in the city and the neighborhood. More than half of the congregation walks to church; nearly all are within a couple of stops on the train. This physical proximity allows the congregation to focus on loving and opening up to neighbors.
As Oliver put it, “Dwell is there for the people. Period.”