chair of the board held the title
“president.”) The EFC had just
weathered a season of hardship
and managed to retire its debts.
MacLeod and his colleagues
on the executive brought new
energy, and organized a national
leadership seminar that drew
some 1,500 Christian leaders
from all across Canada to learn
from a roster of exceptional
Evangelicals including John
Stott and Donald McGavran.
“We had a great meeting in
1975 at York University,” he recalls. “It was the breakthrough as
far as evangelicalism is concerned
in Canada. It was inspiring to
see 1,500 people praising God –
certainly the capstone of my work
with the EFC.”
MacLeod explains the group
was very diverse and included a lot
of mainline church people. “
Anglicans came for John Stott. It was
also the wave of the church growth
movement and Time magazine proclaimed
1975 as ‘the Year of the Evangelical.’ ”
In retrospect MacLeod sees the event as
a major tipping point that revealed a shift
of growth and momentum from mainline to
evangelical churches in Canada.
Christian & Missionary Alliance churchman Mel Sylvester first began attending
meetings organized by the fledgling EFC
in 1973. He later became a member of the
executive, and in the early 1980s was asked
to serve a term as president.
He reluctantly agreed. “My qualifier
was that we needed a full-time executive
director. I knew I wouldn’t have the time or
abilities to do what needed to be done.” This
wasn’t a new conversation for the board, but
Sylvester was adamant and argued forcefully that Brian Stiller, a fellow executive
member then serving as executive director
of Youth for Christ, was the right person for
“I had a strong persuasion that Brian was
the one, if he would leave YFC. I said, ‘Brian,
I think God has prepared you for this.’ ”
On a January morning in 1971, John Ir- win received a phone call asking him to serve on the board of The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. He declined.
His dad had recently suffered a heart attack
and was in hospital. And John had just been
named president of a major publishing company. It was not a convenient time.
Two days later the phone rang again.
The caller Jim Clemenger reported that the
prominent evangelical politician Robert N.
Thompson had been elected EFC president
and wanted to meet with the full executive
“Why tell me?” asked Irwin. “Oh,” replied
Clemenger, “you were unanimously elected to
serve as treasurer.” After consulting with his
father, Irwin decided to accept the position.
It’s a decision he does not regret, but his
first year was very busy – and very hard.
The organization was strapped for money.
In December 1971 his father died.
The day of the funeral is indelibly etched
in Irwin’s memory. His friends from EFC
were there, and despite the sadness of the
day, the business of the fellowship could not
be neglected. “I wish I had a photograph,”
says Irwin. “After the funeral, ten of us
signed $4,000 notes on the trunk of a car in
order to borrow $40,000 to help us pay our
Irwin also recalls how he talked the
principal of a major accounting firm into
auditing the EFC books pro bono. Forty-
three years later the EFC is still using the
same auditor, and Irwin still sits on the EFC
audit committee. “I’m 76 years old. I need to
get off,” he says.
Don MacLeod was a young Presbyter-
ian minister from Nova Scotia when he
attended an early EFC gathering at Cooke’s
Presbyterian Church in Toronto in 1964. As
he watched the small group of mainline and
evangelical Christians cluster in the large
auditorium, he wondered how they would
“get it together.”
Several years later, as pastor of Bridle-
wood Presbyterian Church in Toronto, Mac-
Leod joined the EFC executive and began a
term as president in 1973. (Until the EFC
reached the stage of hiring staff in 1983, the
From Early EFC Leaders
By Doug Koop
Mel Sylvester and Brian Stiller
in the early 1980s.
Sylvester describes himself as “a strong be-
liever in the providence of God, of providence
and placement.” Citing the biblical examples
of Joseph and Mordecai as people divinely
situated to meet the demands of the day, he
maintains it is part of the Christian calling “to
seek to catch God’s signals, to discern who God
has prepared ‘for such a time as this.’ ”
According to Sylvester, Stiller later con-
fided “that he was in the process of finishing
up at YFC and wasn’t at all sure what was
next for him.” Within a few months Stiller
took the reins and the organization began to
grow in every way.
Sylvester calls Stiller “a true visionary,”
a man with “great capacity” to see what
needed to be done long before others, and to
work effectively to get it done. “Along with
that capacity was a pile of courageous faith
– the courage required to step out in faith
and trust God to see projects come to pass to
“Brian repeatedly demonstrated that. In
God’s timing he was there to serve for those