Thoughts on Engaging Culture from Vancouver, BC
Talking to Jonathan Chan about his work at Company of Disciples, one feels freshly convicted of the call that each of us has to engage the culture of our own particular sphere of influence for Christ.
Throughout his three years of ministry, recorded for us vividly in the gospels, Jesus engaged the culture of his day. He interacted not only with religious leaders but with a diversity of groups - from fishermen to tax collectors, from doctors to untouchable patients, from the wealthy to the poor, from women to Gentiles. For each, He contexualized His message wisely, but never compromised it.
In Acts, the apostle Paul gives us a beautiful example of cultural engagement in the intellectual arena - at the Areopagus on Mars Hill, the place where the highest court in Greece met and where philosophy, religion and law were routinely debated among the learned and intellectual set in Athens (Acts 17:16-33). If you read this account you'll see Paul demonstrate both insight into the cultures he's addressing and inspiration as he introduces the gospel to them.
Jonathan Chan, who heads a New Venture called Company of Disciples in Vancouver, BC, is contextualizing the gospel in the marketplace with insight and inspiration. When God led Jonathan to begin Company of Disciples, he gave him a passion to connect the values and message of the gospel with the business world today:
We are convinced that the gospel narrative can manifest itself practically and relevantly in the everyday lives of business and working professionals if we allow the Holy Spirit to fully direct and form our ethos.
Today we’ll look at how this New Venture is fulfulling its vision practically and creatively at the intersection of faith and business.
Acknowledging a Great Divide
With degrees in economics and business, Jonathan began in the business sector as a retail buyer and a product manager. Over the years he noted that his faith was becoming more and more isolated to the Sunday of the week, and not the other six days. It bothered him.
At that time he and his wife Rosanna were also leading a small group. Here the stuff of life happened: in the span of their group’s time together they witnessed two couples divorce and one person struggle with sexual orientation. In all of this Jonathan felt that he didn't have the tools to talk about the real world problems of those in his group. In his words, I couldn’t find anything to address these real life issues in the most caring and loving way.
Jonathan and his wife concluded that they'd been living Christian lives with “faith on one side and reality on the other, and the two were not connecting.” They were identifying a divide that many of us can relate to, and one that Tim Keller addresses and challenges here:
We cannot separate our spiritual life from our so-called secular life. Every part of our life—vocational, civic, familial, recreational, material, sexual, financial, political—is to be a presented as a “living sacrifice” to God (Rom. 12:1–2.) We cannot conduct our vocational life with the same values and attitudes as everyone else and confine our spiritual life to weekends and evenings. We must learn to ask questions such as, If God is the most important thing, how should I be conducting my business? How should I be spending my money? How should I live in my neighborhood and municipality? - "What is Cultural Engagement?"
Increasingly uncomfortable with this dualism, Jonathan decided that maybe more spiritual training would be the remedy. He enrolled in a Masters of Divinity at Regent College.
It did not, however, help settle the disparity within.
At his convocation, he met a man from City in Focus, a marketplace ministry, who asked him where he was headed. Given how unsettled he was feeling about pursuing full time ministry, Jonathan replied, "I’ve found a headhunter and I’m going back to work."
But the man dared to take it one step further: "Have you ever wondered why God gave you a Graduate Diploma in Business and an M.Div, and fully funded too?"
"Is there a salary?" Jonathan wondered.
"Nope. Raise your own funds."
Jonathan jokes that at this point, being “very Asian,” he said a polite, "Forget it."
But throughout the cruise that he and Rosanna took to celebrate his graduation from theology, they never stopped talking about what the man had asked.
In 2011 they stepped out in faith and founded Company of Disciples.
“Let’s give it a try,” Jonathan said.
Seven years later, Jonathan admits that it’s a disposition they’ve come back to as each new ministry year approaches: Let’s give it another try.
Terminal City Club is one of downtown Vancouver’s oldest and finest private member clubs for business professionals. Offering an “elegant transition point between business and pleasure,” it aims to give their members the best opportunities to connect, relax, exercise, socialize and learn. Enter Jonathan Chan, committed to engaging business culture with the gospel.
For a year now, Jonathan has partnered with the club: Jonathan provides an array of insightful programming, related to whatever content he’d like. Usually centered around relevant topics in the business world, the afternoon and evening talks intersect current topics with gospel values and principles. Meanwhile the club provides him the space to hold these gatherings and free marketing to a 1500+ audience of regular club members, via website information and email blasts.
It’s an elegant deal.
The Lunch Exchange, which takes place on the last Friday of each month, features a younger set of professionals, 25-40 years old. Most are interested in career development, sense their need for wholistic care, and seek purpose in life. To this crowd, Jonathan searches for creative springboards through which he can start conversations, develop relationships and build trust and mentoring relationships:
What comes out of these exchanges is the one-on-ones. Someone will come up afterwards and say, "I love what you said and what you do, can we chat further; I need some help discerning process in my career…”
For Jonathan this becomes a time to mentor and share his life and worldview.
Here’s a sampling of creative ways Jonathan has sought to bring faith into the arena:
A lunch talk on food security that addressed how to minimize food waste. Jonathan brought in a friend and developer of the app Eco Eats. She talked about the need for a more effective connection between individual consumers, charities, food vendors and restaurants---to better manage the network of food for less waste and ideal distribution. Jonathan was able to tie this mandate into the picture of the Lord's Table, Communion: of Jesus giving himself for all, as the bread of life---and the gospel idea that enough has been given for all to flourish.
Ron Reed, a Christian and the artistic founder of Pacific Theatre, a seminal theatre company in Richmond, spoke on Seasons of Leadership, highlighting the blessings to be found in struggling times and prosperous times.
David Robertson, another Christian and the owner of The Dirty Apron, an avant-garde cooking school, catering co. & delicatessen in Vancouver, discussed and challenged the popular concept of success.
Jonathan discussed SCARF, a popular neuroscientific model that highlights the social concerns for Security, Certainty, Autonomy, Relationship and Fairness that underlie much of our positive and negative human behavior. He used this model to discuss what our ultimate, modern-day sources for all of the above were, and then proposed that we could find all of these needs met in Christ.
The Tuesday Evening Discussion Groups are held the last Tuesday of every month. The attendees here are mainly baby boomers, retired partners of law and accounting firms; Jonathan is usually the youngest in the room. The juxtaposition of his age and mission and theirs is intriguing to them, nonetheless, and he comments how many of these seasoned businessmen carry with them an old-school respect for "the pastor."
So, when Donald Trump’s former kindergarten classmate (also the owner of one of Vancouver’s ports, the Celebration of Lights fireworks show and Granville Island’s Bridges restaurant,) yells out,
Shut up, I want to hear the pastor talk!…
...the rest listen. Jonathan shares with them that he’s a part-time pastor at Crucible Church in Richmond BC as well as the director of a Christian ministry that empowers business professionals to become exemplary leaders in their field.
I asked Jonathan to share some lessons from his particular experience at engaging the culture around him. Here are his top three:
1. Encourage Christian professionals to get themselves involved in non-profit secular boards: United Way; Kiwanis; Vancouver Symphony, foodbanks. Why? That’s often where the centre of influence is. People who sit on these boards are people of influence. There’s no pay attached but it’s a great way to lead from your Christian values on decision making for an organization that is supposed to serve the public and community. You can connect what you know as a professional to your faith, in service to your community.
(For example, as a member of the Regional Advisory Committee for the Vancouver Foundation, Jonathan can play a part in approving grants for community projects and community development. He's also a volunteer mentor with SUCCESS, an organization that helps new immigrants settle into Vancouver. In this position he can mentor entrepreneurs who have landed here and want to start their own business. In fact, through this connection he was invited to speak at an event in Chinatown, Vancouver, attended by local politicians and counsellors alike. He prepared a talk on volunteerism called “Love Your Neighbour… Even Though They Don’t Deserve it.” In it he asked the question, “Who is my neighbour?” and suggested to them that it was anyone who could not give back to us, like in Jesus’ example of the Good Samaritan.)
2. Don’t use Christian jargon: it’s way too abstract, nonsensical even, for the majority who have no Christian background.
3. Don’t be afraid of committing your time. I was born and raised in church; I’ve seen my parents burn out by serving the church. Passion turned to obligation. For a while I vowed to go the opposite way. But as Christians we can’t just say no. We need to devote ourselves to doing God's good work, and that will take creativity and effort.
Jonathan leaves us with something that Howard Jang, Executive Director of the Arts Club Theatre and Ballet BC said, in a meeting at his church:
"Crucible Church exists primarily to engage in the conversations happening around the city."
"We have to be active parts of those conversations."
It's what Jesus intended His church to be: Active in the conversation of this world at whatever cost. Committed to being involved in our culture. Bringing the presence and message of Christ into it.