I first encountered Tim Day in the back of the Jacob Javits Centre in New York City. Three football fields in length and constructed largely of glass and steel beams, the Javits Centre was being prepared to welcome 3,000 “ministry, marketplace and non-profit leaders passionate about cities and the Gospel of Jesus” from around the world.
They were coming together for the Movement Day Global Cities gathering hosted by the New York City Leadership Centre.
“There’s the Canadian,” I heard as I surveyed the crowds beginning to stream through the Javits Centre. Standing amid swirling crowds, Tim was an unobtrusive figure observing the preparation for a major gathering of Christian leaders.
I would soon learn that while this posture of watching and waiting was inherent to both Tim’s person and mission, he was also a man on the move. Known as a man prepared to listen with no agenda (save a desire to bring greater unity to the church) he is known in the faith community as someone who eschews the limelight while tracing and shaping the pulse of Canada’s faith landscape.
In an age where the Christian community is considering Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option, with its call for Christian retreat from the secular world, I sat down this past month with a man that is following a very different call: engagement with the world in a spirit of anticipation for how the Lord will continue to build and transform His kingdom through an engaged church.
Convivium: You are giving leadership to a new vision in Canada called City Movement. This vision is to help business leaders, para-church ministries, and churches work together to advance the gospel in their city. Would you share something about the story behind this initiative?
Tim Day: I spent 15 years of my ministry serving with The Meeting House (TMH), a multi-site network of home churches and teaching locations in Canada. We operated on a system that used four-year missions to cast vision and raise money to help us grow, develop, and expand in different areas of our ministry. We wanted to keep large groups of people on target, ensuring that we were challenged and stretched, that we engaged and served in our local communities more effectively, that we partnered internationally. This was working for us. And then the iPhone was invented.
Suddenly, we entered into the digital age. Younger generations weren’t sticking with institutions and as we looked around and had conversations with our partners both locally and internationally, we began to realize that we needed to spend more and more time thinking about this. This wasn’t just “a Christian reality” – not-for-profits, governments, and those in business, finance, and media were contending with the advent of the digital age.
At the time, the New York City Leadership Centre and the Lausanne Network within the Christian community were convening these conversations on the massive changes happening in the global world. They were asking the question, “How do we adapt to where the future is headed? In this new, digitally connected age, how can Christian leaders in all segments work together in new ways to serve and impact a generation?”
A version of that question just started to appear everywhere. People were struggling to know where to impact these massive cities in which they were dwelling. Everyone was overwhelmed by the size and complexity of these questions. In a city of five million people, how do you check in on the spiritual pulse of a city?
And so our small team ventured out to do this City Movement project. We felt that while we could be comfortably situated in a large church and be fine perhaps as individuals, we might as well be on the Titanic. We felt called by God to get out on a scout boat, so to speak, zipping around and asking, “Is there something that could happen that would enable us to navigate together to address this question and be in listening posture?”
We are not executing a program. We are creating a space for safe conversation and for trust where people can walk together, and we start to sort out a path forward.
Convivium: The City Movement has you travelling across the country meeting with various pastors, churches, and ministry leaders. If you could share one discovery from your time spent on this cross-country tour with fellow Canadians, what would it be?
Tim Day: Change is the order of the day. Whether it’s known or not well known, every institution that I know is going through massive change in its internal world. This is actually an encouraging thing. Acknowledging this reality allows for deeper changes because all this change is happening together around who we are and how we understand ourselves. There’s a real opportunity right now which I think is exciting.
Change is nerve-wracking for those involved. It is almost as though we can’t imagine the new world. In that spirit of lament, I’m trying to encourage optimism. It’s true, we have no guarantees that this is the heaven we’ve all been waiting for, but God is doing new things. The challenge to build an effective community that is living for Jesus in a broken world— that is something we should be optimistic about!
Convivium: As you encounter those within the Millennial generation of faith, what do see being both their largest challenge and opportunity to live out their faith in the public sphere?
Tim Day: It is always challenging to keep one foot in a faith community and one step in the public sphere. It’s like having one foot on the boat and one foot on the dock. As the two get farther apart, this can feel like an impossible position. I often sit with the Millennial generation and try to help guide them towards what might be the wisest themes and questions for us to consider right now. As I engage with Millennials, I also speak to the older generation. The most common thing I say to them is: “Welcome the new.”
I ask, “Can we be in a place to welcome the new thing that God will do?” We need to pray in anticipation.
One of the greatest challenges for the Millennial generation and for the Church consequently is that, at the core of faith communities there is a very low sense of self-esteem. This comes from a culture that thinks that if you are a person of faith, you are odd. If you look back through history, church leaders were community leaders; you were a person of status, you had an education, you probably had letters after your name. It used to be that if you sat at the same table as a pastor at a wedding you were a little intimidated. Now, when we encounter faith leaders there seems to be this lingering, unspoken question, "Are you really employable?” And so this sense comes with devastating dynamics. Your leaders don’t want to go into leadership.
So much of this challenge and opportunity has to do with identity. We need to take the Apostles’ Creed as the starting place for our formation of identity, but also add the Beatitudes to this foundation. There are rallying points in the Beatitudes. They help us say: “We are the people who are poor in spirit and want to be generous. We are the people who are about mercy, about working for fairness in the world.” When you start defining yourself after Jesus like that, it becomes an identity shift.
Convivium: You are the author of God Enters Stage Left, a book that is described as “a fresh, front row view to an ancient faith.” Can you speak about what led your write this book, and the response you’ve received since it was published in 2013?
Tim Day: I wrote a commentary on the Bible and did my own version of the New Testament for my kids. I realized that they would likely not sit down and read an 800-page commentary. So I decided to write them a Cole’s Notes summary. That led me to write this book. The response has been really surprising. Forty thousand copies have been shared. There are also a few audio versions in different languages around the world. I consistently get feedback from those new to the Christian faith, that they are surprised by the meaning of the Bible and they find it intriguing.
From those who grew up in the Church, even people who are late in life, I get equally positive feedback. I knew the stories but I never put it all together. All from different Christian backgrounds as well as different religions. This was very surprising, and also pretty cool. I think telling it like a story helps many people.
Convivium: What is currently on your bookshelf?
• Mindsight by Daniel Siegal, on Neuroscience and the emotional brain
• Second Temple Apocalyptic Literature: Enoch studies and the role of Essences in the early church and New Testament.
• Creativity Inc. by Amy Wallace and Edwin Catmull, on the story of Pixar
• Exponential Organizations by Salim Ismail
Convivium: What would be the one thing you would teach, not to convince but to promote fuller understanding, about the importance of the relationship between religious faith and the daily life of Canadians?
Tim Day: In the past, I think there was more of a broadly held assumption that religion existed to help us be good people, maybe symbolized by the Ten Commandments posted in courtrooms and sermons in churches about “repenting of sin.” It seemed that in the past we were convinced that we just needed to figure out where the line in the sand was, and then police that line so as many people were standing on the right side of the line. This has led to a lot of conflict and not a lot of understanding about how people actually grow to become more loving and wise people.
Today, people want to know how spirituality can bring peace and meaning to our lives and to our world. People struggle with inner anxiety, relational conflict, and watching a world at constant war. Is religion just about do’s and don’ts? Is it about saying “I am right and you are wrong. Some are in and some are out, and if it things get bad enough, then we better go to war?” Or is there a way to understand and experience God that can lead to inner peace and peace with others? Can living in a faith community result in personal growth, deepening friendships, and creating a safer, fairer, and loving world?
It's very much the Good Samaritan story. We need to ask: “Who is my neighbor? Are you a neighbor? What does that mean to be a good neighbor to another person?”
If we don’t trust, we don’t belong. There is a new kind of trust that needs to happen. We need to begin to bring about new ways of dialogue and modeling.
So often, we are in a defensive posture, shouting past each other and we are afraid of what happens when we allow people to just be. I think it’s a beautiful thing to realize and anticipate that there are sparks of life all over the place. Some will be bigger and some will be smaller but we are all part of a whole thing that God is going to do. None of us need to worry about the whole thing. We just get to be a part of it, listening to God and listening to each other.
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