Long-time leader wrestles with faithful response in a secular age

MONTREAL, QC—We live in a culture that is "illiterate to Christian ideas, often hostile to them," says John Vissers. "Clearly communicating the heart of the Christian faith presents a very significant challenge, especially in the midst of hostility."

Vissers is moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Canada. He has also been ordained minister for more than 30 years and was the former principal of Presbyterian College in Montreal.

As a Christian leader, he wrestles with how to respond faithfully and effectively in a secular age.

"I am encouraged by the Church's openness to explore new forms of worship and models of leadership. The Church has made a concerted effort to understand the culture, but we need to engage the culture more outside the Church's four walls."

This summer, Vissers spent three weeks in Ghana and Malawi visiting churches, seminaries and relief projects. He describes their evangelism, discipleship, and social justice work all flowing as one effort, "focused on following Jesus, and bearing witness to Him in word and deed… It makes you wish that Canadian Christians had more passion."

He believes the Church is witnessing a dramatic shift in the global Christian movement where the next century will be propelled forward by leaders from developing countries.

"We need to listen to, and learn from, our cross-cultural brothers and sisters. This is a partnership and their society is in a different place where people are opening up to the gospel in ways that aren't happening in Canada right now."

One concern Vissers has for the North American Church is that "as people become Christians they get absorbed into the institutional church and disconnected from the culture. We use their time to run the church rather than bear witness to Christ out in the world."

He sees a lack of credibility and deep suspicion of church leadership within the culture. "It comes down to a question of character, integrity, and commitment. We need to shape leaders who are capable and also carry integrity, speaking with authority in the culture."

Maintaining a personal relationship with Jesus is absolutely imperative in developing that character. Vissers says prayer, studying Scripture, and a strong atmosphere of fellowship provide crucial sustenance in his relationship with God. He also participates in bi-annual retreats with six other men, for a time of reflection, prayer, accountability, and Scripture reading.

"One of the essential ways I read scripture is Lectio Divina," says Vissers. Dating back to the third century, Lectio Divina is a spiritual discipline Vissers describes as "reading Scripture as a conversation with God, rather than just information." The practice was established through the Benedictine monks, but spread throughout the Church and recently made a resurgence. "It is essentially a prayerful, reflective way of reading Scripture, and listening to God's voice."

Whether the culture is hostile to the gospel or hungry for it, Vissers says, there is no better response than prayer, passion, and walking with God.

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About the author

Senior Correspondent

Craig Macartney lives in Ottawa, Ontario, where he follows global politics and dreams of life in the mission field.