On day one of Ontario Conference’s virtual Mission and Leadership Summit (Friday and Sabbath, March 4 and 5), Pastor Alina van Rensburg quoted this challenging statement from leading congregational researcher Scott Cormode. Shockingly, she noted, he made this statement “before 2020, when our world and church were turned upside down by a global pandemic.”
All weekend, global thought leaders including van Rensburg (pastor, Pine Rivers Church, Australia), urged attendees to embrace and adapt to the ever-shifting post-pandemic world. Allan Heacock (elder, Bronte Church), summarized, “We should always adjust our approach as society changes; never the message, just the approach.”
The event itself modelled a changed approach. Unique elements included devotionals by a diverse group including deaf and blind members, children and young adults, brief motivational talks, roundtables and workshops on relevant social issues.
Ultimately, the summit aimed to demonstrate what connecting like Jesus means in 2022. Friday’s devotional speakers made Jesus’ example of servant leadership personal. Furthermore, as Reynold Hazelwood (Personal Ministries directory; chair, summit planning committee) stated, “Their diversity expressed that God can use anyone as a servant leader.”
Leadership and Team-building Foundations
On Friday, Dr. A. Allan Martin (teaching pastor, Arlington Church) defined keychain leadership as “passing on the key of leadership to the next generation,” a key determinant of thriving churches.i Later, Martin expressed, “This is what church is [about]; all generations coming together purposed to give God glory and share His good news.”
Next, van Rensburg shared tips for being relevant as leaders in a rapidly changing world. “Leadership begins with listening. Before I can invite [someone] into the gospel story, I must listen to what is on their heart, their hopes, worries, dreams and fears.” She added, “We nurture our people by creating an environment conducive to growth. Then we hand them over to God. Only God can give the increase.”
Expanding our Horizons
On Sabbath, Dr. Leslie Pollard (president, Oakwood University) stated that, like Jesus, we should expand our mission geographically, sociologically and ethnically. “Jesus’s mission was not [limited] by class or race; whenever He found someone open to the gospel, He ministered to them.”
Pastor Joanne Cortes (Beltsville Church) followed with an eye-opening presentation on inreach vs. outreach. Speaking from personal experience, she said, “A church that solely focuses on self will become isolated, irrelevant and disconnected. It will lose sight of its purpose and not grow. A church that focuses on outreach will have a DNA where love is expressed continually. It will be relevant, actively seeking to find ways to be Jesus to those it encounters and will grow. What kind of church are you a part of?”
Day two co-host Pastor Sherry Augustus (chaplain, Crawford Adventist Academy Main) responded, “This pandemic has [been disruptive]. But it gives us an opportunity to reassess and learn from our mistakes.”
Leaders as Agents of Change
Pollard’s and Cortes’s presentations segued into a section called “leaders as agent of change.” It featured seminars on mission areas including social justice, Indigenous ministry and ministry to immigrants/refugees; other helpful topics were resilience and the great commission.
Pastor Esther Knott (associate director, NAD Ministerial Association), speaking on the great commission, noted, “In our conversations with others, we are either Cultivating the soil, Planting the seed or Reaping a harvest. Cultivating, Planting, Reaping=CPR. CPR for eternal life.”
That day, viewers also saw a real-life example of being an agent of change. Pastor Aleksandr Kozyareskiy (Toronto Slavic International Church) shared how his congregation of mostly Ukrainians and Russians was staying united throughout the Ukraine crisis. “If we’re looking for love, mutual understanding, friendship and brotherhood, that’s what we’ll get. These are the values [our church] strives to be guided by.”
Viewers were moved as he outlined the church’s various inreach and outreach efforts, including a church fund offering support overseas and a Camp Frenda weekend retreat attended by President Mansfield Edwards and Executive Secretary Jakov Bibulovic. Ljubica Bibulovic wrote, “Pastor Alex, may God give you strength and wisdom during these difficult times.”
Mansfield Edwards, Ontario Conference president, concluded with a powerful charge. He contrasted Mary, who understood her calling and mission—connecting with Jesus, then with others—with Jewish leaders like Judas, who were associated with Jesus but not following Him. These leaders were an obstacle to a sincere believer like Mary, shunning her because she didn’t look like them; we must be careful not to fall into the same trap.
“I pray like Mary, we will return to the feet of Jesus with our alabaster box of repentance, praise and worship and thanksgiving, then rise with our tears wiped and our future having its door flung open for ministry and mission to the glory of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
His message hit home. Aliana Griffith wrote, “Jesus is searching . . . will WE answer the call?? Please help us, Father!”
As happens, there were a few technical glitches; however, the Holy Spirit superseded these challenges and the content reached a wide audience. One of them, David Hunte, IT director, Atlantic Union Conference (Massachussetts), wrote to Dr. Martin, “I am very happy to have come across your program this evening. The content and training were phenomenal.”
Conference leaders viewed this summit not as just another event but a tool to inspire members to connect like Jesus in strategic and adaptive ways. Attendees like Pastor Daniel Kurek (Ottawa Church) would agree: “This program reminded me of ministry essentials that have always been true … things like cultivating relationships, meeting real needs, communicating in new ways, authenticity and Spirit-led commitment. It was a great review.”
“This is just the beginning. We truly hope this summit will have a measurable impact on our leaders and [the laity] and how they approach mission,” Edwards said in a post-summit reflection.