Freed to live through the death of another.

Tag: Church Plant (Page 1 of 3)

75 Sundays

January 16, 2011 was a monumental day for us at Grace Fellowship Church. It was our first Sunday together officially holding a Sunday worship service. As of this past Sunday, June 17, 2012, we have met on 75 Sundays now.  I simply cannot believe how gracious God has been to us.

Here are some of my reflections.

God clearly loves his church …

He must. He continues to build it. We have seen slow, but steady growth through the entire time. And almost every person that comes has a story that makes me think, ‘Wow, God must be in this.’ We’ve had young people, single people, married people, young families, middle-aged people, and even retired people, from all different races join us. God is building this church as only he can.

I can’t describe or quantify what God has done or what we have felt in planting this church other than saying that we have sensed the divine smile every step of the way. Even when we’ve had to do hard things. And it’s not that we’ve done everything right; it’s just because he loves his church and he wants to prove it over and over.
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Grace Connexion!

The Grace Connexion

One of the greatest blessings I have known in my time pastoring is the fellowship I’ve been able to have with other pastors. The accountability, the friendship, the collective wisdom of more-experienced brothers, and the perspective they have provided has had huge benefits for my soul (and I’m sure for the life of our church as well). I’m well aware that there are many pastors who go many years without having such fellowship with peers, and so I want to give thanks to God for allowing me to have relationships with godly pastors in my first years of pastoring.

That has been great. But I’m eager to pass it on as well. I want our church to have fellowship like that with brothers and sisters! I want our people to know that the church of Jesus is bigger than our little work in Don Mills.

That’s one of the reasons why I love having our church get together with other churches from around the city of Toronto. Fellowship, friendship, partnership, worship together. We get to celebrate what God is doing in calling a people to himself in Toronto.

‘The Grace Connexion’ (name taken from here) is simply a semi-annual event held by four local evangelical churches. Twice per year Grace Fellowship Church Rexdale, Grace Fellowship Church Don Mills, New City Baptist (downtown), and Grace Chapel (Markham) get our people together to worship and sit under the ministry of the word — and then enjoy some fellowship together. I love these events!

This year, we’ll be holding a Grace Connexion service on Monday, February 20, at Richview Baptist Church. We planned it for Family Day so that as many people could come as possible. We’ll be having our worship service, then enjoying lunch together, then taking the Lord’s Supper. What a glorious opportunity for fellowship with believers outside of our own local church!

If you live in or near the city and you’re interested in joining with us, click below for details. If you’re a member of any of these churches, please make sure you get all the details, then RSVP so we know how much food to bring.

I’m so thankful for the chance to see Christ building his church close-up. I can’t wait to see all our brothers and sisters on February 20!

Eight Things I’m Pretty Stoked About

There’s lots going on these days. It’s keeping me too busy to write much of substance lately. But, here’s a little glimpse into a few of the things that have got me pretty excited right now (in no particular order).

  1. The Lord keeps adding to our number. We ran out of chairs again yesterday in our Sunday morning service. I’ll need to ask the school to begin to set more out for us. Several people have indicated that they’re interested in becoming members and sticking around. How encouraging!
  2. We’ve had some pretty awesome visitors lately. Over the past two weeks we’ve been blessed to fellowship with saints from sister churches in Toronto, as well as those who’ve travelled from Saskatchewan, BC, and England.
  3. It’s been such a blessing to witness the prayerfulness and enthusiasm of Paul McDonald as he begins his ministry at GFC. It’s contagious and I can’t wait to see how God is going to use Paul in our midst.
  4. I’m excited to begin our evening series on the spiritual disciplines. I anticipate it will be a special time in the life of our church as we learn to pursue God even more earnestly.
  5. I’m really looking forward to our new small groups starting up in just a few weeks. Those are always used of God to do great things in the life of our church.
  6. I haven’t preached the past two Sundays. It has been a blessed break and I’m thankful for it — but man, I’m excited to get back into the pulpit! Especially since I’ve been studying 1 Peter for a while now. I’m praying that the ministry in this next series will be out of the overflow of all that God’s doing in my heart as I prepare for it.
  7. I’m playing hockey again this winter for the first time in a while. Man oh man, I’ve missed it. I just hope I don’t stink as bad as I’m anticipating I will. I’m pretty excited to have some guys from church joining me on the team this year as well. We’re hoping God opens some good doors for evangelism.
  8. We are starting a new Fighter Verse schedule this week. For the first time we’re trying to match our memory verses with the teaching schedule in such a way that our memorization will help each week by reminding us of what we’ve just heard on Sunday and what we’ve been learning together. I’m excited to give it a try and see how it works!
There’s lots more, but that’s a little highlight list. God is far too good to me and to our little church. I can’t wait to see his goodness even more in days to come.

Looking for a Great Church in Toronto?

** Updated: October 30, 2014 **

Sometimes the assumption is that church planters plant churches because they believe what they will do is better than what has come before. Sometimes church plants do actually think their church is the only real church around. Sometimes church planters envision themselves as being the saviour of their city. Thankfully, that’s not the case with our church plant.

I’m so thankful to God to be able to write this post and actually have something to say about good churches in the Greater Toronto Area. There was a time not too long ago when I didn’t know that many great churches to recommend. Now, however, by God’s grace, there are many churches I would happily recommend in and around our city. Of course, there is always a need for more great churches and more godly, Christ-exalting, gospel-loving, church-planting pastors. But I think God is at work in our city, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

Below is a list and a map. The list is broken down into different categories.

Our Church

Grace Fellowship Church Don Mills

I’m a little bit partial to this one, as it’s the church where I serve. Our church was planted in Don Mills in January 2011. I happen to love this place most of all. The people of this church love their Saviour. I count it pure joy to be one of them.

Churches with whom We Are Organically Connected

Grace Fellowship Church Rexdale

Founding pastor Paul Martin has served the church since it’s plant in 2000. I was a founding member and know no other church like this one. I was a member for 10 years and was pastored by Paul for 3 years before that. Since I left, Tim Challies has come on to serve in the full-time ministry there as well, and I recommend his ministry as highly as anyone I can think of. I cannot recommend this church enough. Sound doctrine, genuine fellowship, authentic worship, and biblical expository preaching. I don’t have a single bad thing to say about this church.

New City Baptist Church

Planted by my good friend John Bell with the support and commissioning of GFC Rexdale. I’ve known John for years and still feel like I have much to learn from him. I’ve been blessed to watch this church grow under his leadership. You will be blessed by the teaching and the fellowship at this wonderful church in the downtown core.

Churches whose Pastors I Know and Trust

  • Sovereign Grace Church Toronto – Pastor Tim Kerr is one of the godliest men I have ever had the privilege of meeting. This church is associated with Sovereign Grace Ministries and is a Reformed Charismatic church plant meeting in King City.
  • West Toronto Baptist Church – Pastor Justin Galotti is a close friend of mine whom I highly respect. He is labouring to renew this urban church in a part of the city that is close to my heart (the West Toronto Junction).
  • Westminster Chapel – Pastor Joe Boot is well-known both nationally and internationally. The church has recently moved to the High Park area.
  • Grace Toronto Church – Trained and sent by Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, Pastor Dan MacDonald is a gifted communicator, evangelist, and theologian. He has a heart for the city and this church has grown tremendously under his ministry.
  • Liberty Grace Church – Led by my friends Darryl Dash and Nathan Fullerton, Liberty Grace is a church plant opening its doors to reach the Liberty Village neighbourhood with the gospel of Jesus in September 2013.
  • Thistletown Baptist Church – Another church in Rexdale pastored by my friend Hassan Bell, who I know as a man who deeply loves the church and her Saviour
  • Covenant Baptist Church – Pastored by Chris Powell, Covenant just celebrated their 40th anniversary of ministry in the city of Toronto.
  • Harvest Durham Region – Pastor Ian Hales has been used of God to work mightily in the lives of some of my friends. I know him to be a humble, gracious, gospel-loving brother.
  • Harvest Brampton – A church plant of the Harvest Bible Fellowship out of Harvest Oakville. This plant is led by Chris Shippley, a personal friend and a godly man.
  • Mount Pleasant Road Baptist Church – Pastor Lucien Atchale is a friend of mine from seminary days and they are placed in a strategic location for reaching the city.
  • Harvest Oakville – Pastor Robbie Symons is a man whose love for Jesus is so evident and joy-filled that it is contagious
  • Harvest Toronto West – Another church plant of the Harvest Bible Fellowship out of Harvest Oakville. This plant is led by Jason Matta and launched in 2013.
  • Faith Reformed Baptist Church – I have known Pastor Brian Robinson for many years and have been blessed to witness his faithfulness in preaching the word and loving the people of God on the east end of Scarborough.

And the map to prove it…

View Great Churches in Toronto in a larger map

What about you?

What churches have I missed? Are there other great churches in Toronto? Anything you’d add to what I’ve said?

Autumn Church Plant Updates

Hired Help

Paul & Georgie with Caleb

We are thrilled to announce the hiring of Paul McDonald to a half-time position where he will oversee ministries relating to evangelism and discipleship. Far from being a hired-gun evangelist, we’re desirous of putting Paul to work equipping the saints for the work of the ministry, creating a culture of evangelism and discipleship within the body.

Some of his work will include:

  • Training for evangelism and leading evangelistic efforts
  • Some one-on-one discipleship and mentoring
  • Small group studies
  • Preaching and teaching various series as appropriate
  • Labouring for the church in prayer
  • Providing the church with global missions vision & awareness

I’m so excited to work with Paul! In God’s providence we attended seminary together and have laboured together for a number of years at GFC Rexdale before the church plant. He is a man of unquestionable character, by God’s grace, and is, as Titus says, ‘zealous for good works.’ I can’t wait to see the impact of his ministry in our local body.

A Meeting Place

We continue to meet at Greenland Public School. We are so thankful to God for the renewal of the permit which just came through last week. God has provided for us in great ways! With this permit we have been granted the use of two rooms we were previously denied access to—and they are great! They will facilitate better ministries to children and families, so we are thankful for that.

From Mark to Peter

We have finished working our way through our first book studied together on Sunday mornings: Mark’s Gospel. From there we will launch into 1 Peter on September 18. Please pray for me as I study and plan out that series in the coming weeks.

A Full Fall

This autumn we launch our full ministry schedule for the first time. We’ll be meeting for corporate worship Sunday mornings, doing group studies and children’s ministry on Sunday nights, and our small groups (Truth Application Groups) midweek in various homes. One thing I’m really excited about is the prospect of having all of our small groups led by members of the church rather than pastoral staff. What a blessing to have the congregation ministering to each other! I’m so thankful to God for giving us so many mature men & women from the start.

A Big Sunday

This past Sunday we ran out of chairs and bulletins. The gym where we meet felt full. In reality there was a lot of room to grow, but compared to previous summer weeks, this felt like a big change. It was an anomaly in the sense that many of the visitors from this past week were only visiting for one week, but it gave us a taste of great things to come.

A Week of Prayer

Beginning programs and ministries and beginning to see growth, far from making us feel strong, makes us feel our weakness, inadequacy and dependence more than ever. As a church we’re dedicating ourselves to prayer this week as we launch into our new fall schedule. Would you please join us in prayer? Ask our God and Father to strengthen us and equip us for the work he has called us to. Ask that we might be granted strength through his Spirit to comprehend the magnitude of the love of Christ, so that as a church, we might be built up to maturity, and that we might be increasingly conformed to Jesus, made a suitable dwelling place for our Lord.

The Joy of the Lord

** This is written as part of the series 30 for 30: Reflections on Life at My 30th Birthday **


Around the time we were about to begin the church plant, two separate individuals pulled me aside to give me a word of encouragement and exhortation. Both of these individuals (one man and one woman) were unconnected with each other, both tremendously godly, both of whom have been in the faith longer than me, both of whom I love, and yet neither one of them has typically pulled me aside for such conversations. And so when they did, I took notice. Especially when, independent of each other, they both called my attention to the same verse from Nehemiah 8, reminding me that ‘the joy of the Lord is my strength.’

I received that as being from God, and took great encouragement from it. I believe that God, knowing my heart’s tendency to emotionalism, was reminding me of that verse to prepare me to be steady, strong, and full of joy as I lead GFC Don Mills, regardless of how things look from a worldly perspective.

Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill once quipped about a political opponent (Clement Atlee) that ‘He is a modest man, who has much to be modest about.’ Harsh, maybe, but he evaluated his opponent from his perspective and spoke realistically about him. Sadly, in Nehemiah’s day, he could have spoken of Jerusalem as a ‘modest city, with much to be modest about,’ and the statement would have been accurate.

Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Babylonians about 70 years previous. The walls, the temple, the palace, the houses, everything that was glorious about the city had been utterly ruined, and the people who lived there had been taken captive in a foreign land. Now they had come back. They were intent on rebuilding the city which had once been the dwelling place of God on earth.

But the numbers were small (see the census in Nehemiah 7). The opposition was strong. There were many discouragements and disappointments. Even once the walls were built, it still wasn’t that great of a sight: ‘The city was wide and large, but the people within it were few, and no houses had been rebuilt’ (Neh 7.4). And then there was the Law. In Nehemiah 8, the leaders gathered all the men and women (‘those who could understand’) and read the Law of God which had been completely forgotten, to the extent that the leaders had to offer running commentary on what the words meant (Neh 8.7-8).

This was a pretty bleak scene. The people knew it. They had much to be modest about. They had broken God’s Law, and even now their attempts at rebuilding what had been lost fell pathetically short. They felt their failure and their weakness. Even though they worshipped (Neh 8.6), still they mourned (Neh 8.9). And that was appropriate given their circumstances and what they saw and felt. It was in this context that Nehemiah spoke these words to the people of Israel:

Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Neh 8.10)

The people of God, when faced with their weakness and their failure and the bleakness of their circumstances, were right to mourn. Just like Jesus blessed those who mourn (Matt 5.4). Having an accurate view of yourself means being poor in spirit. But the people of God who mourned, were comforted. They were told they that have a strength not their own; a strength that they couldn’t account for and one that would not let them down: ‘the joy of the Lord.’ The people of God were being called to preach truth to their hearts. They were being called to consider that God was for them and not against them; that despite what circumstances look like on any realistic view, they could have joy in remembering that God would complete the work he had begun. He would be faithful to his covenant promises to deliver his people.

I offer this all to you because it’s something I’ve been thinking about over the past few months as I consider the work that God has called me to, pastoring a small church in a really big city. Realistically, there are all kinds of reasons why I could be discouraged from looking around our city. In Toronto there are churches being turned into condos and lofts; the churches that do grow seem to all be led by health & wealth charlatans; and the big, beautiful new religious buildings that are being built are Mosques and Sikh temples and the like. Where do we fit in all of this? What difference could we possibly make, as small as we are?

But we are called to remember the joy of the Lord. Our strength is not in the prospect of us doing much but rather in the remembrance that God is for us. He has shown us that definitely and conclusively in the cross.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Rom 8.31-32)

So we remember that we are more than conquerors through him who loved us, regardless of what the circumstances appear to be. And when we remember that God loves us, and is for us, we are filled with joy. An indestructible joy anchored in an indestructible hope. And that gives strength.

I pray that God gives me grace to heed this word. To remember that he is for me. To live with the joy that this knowledge brings. I believe that if I cling to this word, remembering the covenant of the cross and the resurrection, it will give me joy that will empower me to endure for another 30 years… or however long my Lord gives me life. Not because I’m strong, but because his joy gives strength.

The Messiah They Never Imagined

This morning we looked at the two Sabbath controversy stories in Mark’s Gospel (Mk 2:23-3:6). What we saw is that Jesus continues to ‘burst the wineskins’ of Jewish expectations for their Messiah (Mk 2:18-22). As with demons, disease, forgiveness of sins, and association with sinners, Jesus continues to take every opportunity he can to proclaim his greatness and superiority to all that has come before.

That kind of a claim is either loving and kind (if true) or arrogant and insane (if untrue). The question the Pharisees faced on that fateful Sabbath is the same question we face today: Who is this man Jesus?

As usual, stream or download below.

05 – Mark 2:23 – 3:6 – The Messiah They Never Imagined – Julian Freeman – GFC – February 13, 2011

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