if someone is embedded or not. I could
throw out a name like Billy Graham and
every Evangelical in the box would know
who he is, and the same would be true of a
variety of people, like musicians and authors. The deeper you are in, the more likely
you are to know. People know about publishers like InterVarsity Press or Zondervan.
Evangelicals learn about these beliefs,
boundaries and subcultural stuff at their
F T: In the States it feels like to be Evangelical is to
be Republican. But that is not the case in Canada.
SR: Lydia Bean is a scholar who has studied
evangelical identity ( The Politics of Evangelical Identity: Local Churches and Partisan
Divides in the United States and Canada,
Princeton University Press, 2014). She
spent a lot of time in two churches on each
side of the border. She found that they talk
the same language and have the same basic
moral boundaries. Everything was similar,
but in the U.S. there were much clearer
Republican partisan political cues than in
Canada. Congregations kind of spawned
an in-group or out-group status between
Democrats and Republicans. But they
didn’t do that in Canada. There is a marrying of conservative political views in the
U.S. that does not exist in Canada.
FT: Do you have a sense of how Canadian
evangelicalism is viewed by the broader culture?
SR: Normally Evangelicals in Canada are
painted with the same brush as Evangelicals in the U.S., particularly the loudest U.S.
voices, to our chagrin. Canadians don’t like
that. Some Canadian Evangelicals don’t
even like the term evangelical because they
view it as American. We tend to be viewed
largely based on conservative, sexual political issues, previously abortion, and now
same-sex marriage. That tends to be the
perception out there.
FT: And how do Evangelicals tend to view the
SR: As antagonistic, especially when we pay
attention to what we are hearing in the
media. Some younger Evangelicals are
working hard to avoid being rubber-stamped
as a certain kind of people, like those who
are politically conservative, sexually con-
servative in fuddy-duddy churches. So they
grow beards and get tattoos and become
part of the emerging church movement.
F T: It sounds like a bit of a no-win situation, this
mutual suspicion between Evangelicals and the
wider Canadian culture.
SR: In some cases we’re dealing
with unfair public representations. When the only things
that make the media are the
sound bites, especially ones
that are very offensive to another group, we are limited by
the media. However, Evangelicals can make space for reasoned conversation by being
reasonable and communicating in a way that is not reactionary. That
tends to be much more micro, winning
people over a conversation at a time. One
of my concerns about Canada is there is
no place for religious conversations at all.
We don’t do a good job in the universities,
or any kind of public sector where pluralism can actually be discussed.
FT: Tell us what you learned about clergy wellness,
a big part of this project.
SR: We asked pastors what their areas of
strength were, those things that add energy.
Administration was clearly an area of
weakness in the sense that most pastors
didn’t like to do it and found it draining.
Most pastors find preaching empowering and energizing. They like to do it.
The default for a lot of pastors is to spend
a lot of time preparing a sermon and enjoy
delivering it on Sunday mornings. It is
very important to them. Based on gifting,
some pastors aren’t as strong outside the
church as inside. Yet most are trying to
get their churches to do the outside
things. We talk about being missional a
lot, but I’m not sure that’s where pastors
consider themselves strong. They consider themselves stronger preachers than
missionaries. For a pastor’s well-being it’s
important that laypeople offer some administrative support. If you have the
pastor making the bulletin and photocopying, it doesn’t play to their strengths.
FT: And what’s your advice for pastors of
evangelical congregations, given what you
learned in the study?
SR: One of the first suggestions for church
leaders is to be careful what they do with
social scientific data. I hear a lot of them
misuse it or argue that it justifies what they
are doing. Just because social scientists say
[a certain initiative brings] more bodies
into the pews, is not equal to
what God may intend for your
church. We have to remember
faithful witness in Canada might
not be what social scientists say
is working. Social science is
more about describing what is,
instead of what ought to be.
Social science would say if
you want to grow a church, you
need to place it in a growing
neighbourhood, and you want to target a
certain type, and you want to distinguish
yourself from competing churches near-
by. Where is faithful witness in the older,
shrinking rural areas? There is a real call
of God on certain pastors to be involved
in churches that might not have good
My second piece of advice is to think
carefully about how churches integrate and
care for new immigrants. A lot of churches
are doing the reactionary instead of the
proactive thing. Immigrants are coming to
their community. And when a few show up
in their pews, they think maybe they should
be reaching out. I see a lot of those things
happening by default instead of deliberate
action. The long-term vitality of evangelical churches is related to our ability to integrate and settle immigrants and have them
be part of our congregation.
The third is youth. How do we embrace
and keep our youth? That is a chapter in
our book and remains a real concern. Key
is a good program in high school and
good linking across generations, making
sure they are engaged in the church.
Serving in the church and not just served
by the church are important. We’re finding a lot of youth are disengaged during
high school. Another thing churches
could do much better is help high school
graduates link better with university
programs when they leave their church.
Link them to people. Give them a church
to check out. Alert the youth pastor this
person is coming. We could do much
better with that. That would be a min-
THE FT INTERVIEW