Thiessen helps inspire church to reach its community

Julie Cole | Jul 9, 2012
Kevin and Cristy Thiessen. Kevin and Cristy Thiessen.Kevin and Cristy Thiessen.

Kevin Thiessen’s vision for his life’s work is contagious.

It’s hard to believe he once struggled to find that vision.

“When I was in my twenties I didn’t even know what that word meant,” Thiessen said.

The Briercrest alumnus was working with Athletes in Action and regularly visiting Ireland where he helped put on sports camps and used that as a platform to introduce kids to Christ. Although many kids initially responded to the invitation, Thiessen saw a need for more follow-through.

“I’d come back (to Ireland) a year later and because we weren’t partnering very well with the local church or figuring out how to be intentional about discipleship with the kids, it would be a very small handful that were still walking with Christ. So that became a pretty big burden for me.”

One of Thiessen’s financial supporter’s gave him the challenge that set his ministry on course.

“He said, ‘Why don’t you go be the followup?’” Thiessen recalled. “When he suggested that, I was flooded with vision. I knew exactly what that looked like.”

Thiessen left Athletes in Action and took a job as a youth pastor in Dublin for the next four years.

“For whatever reason, God just decided He was going to bless everything we tried,” Thiessen said. “They were the best four years of ministry I’ve ever been a part of.”

At the end of those four years, Thiessen came to Briercrest College and Seminary for a master’s degree in leadership and management to help him better develop young leaders in Ireland.

He had no idea his next assignment would be in Victoria, B.C.

While living in Caronport, Thiessen went on a ministry trip back to Ireland. Two days before he left he got a phone call from Central Baptist Church.

“They were looking for a brand new role,” Thiessen explained. “It was pastor of outreach and missions.”

David Lee, one of Thiessen’s professors at Briercrest, had suggested him for the position.

“If I remember correctly he said, ‘This is the guy you want, but I think he’s going back to Ireland,’” Thiessen said with a chuckle.

Although Thiessen did hope to return to Ireland after he completed his graduate studies, his ministry trip revealed that the opportunity for full-time ministry there was closed for the time being due to a poor economy.

“A lot of the guys I’d been working alongside in ministry had either moved on or had lost their jobs,” Thiessen said. “So the landscape was just not open.”

After prayer and more conversation with Central Baptist, Thiessen accepted the position and moved his family to Victoria in 2010.

Now he helps to cast vision for how the 85-year-old church can more effectively reach its community.

“How can we move from being just a missions-minded church to being missional in all of life?” Thiessen asked. “Not just using our cheque books but also our hands and eyes and feet and ears.”

Thiessen draws inspiration for his vision from a book written by Erwin McManus that he read in seminary.

“It talked about how our churches have become safe houses for Christians,” he said. “It’s not just about us sort of staying safe and being pure until Jesus comes, but actually living all our life as if God’s a part of it. If people aren’t coming to church anymore to find God, how are we bringing God to our community? I think we have a lot of work to do to rebuild trust and relationship with our community.”

Congregants are starting to catch the vision.

One sign of this is a relationship that Central Baptist has formed with Artemis Place, a school in Victoria for at-risk girls ages 15-19.

The connection between the church and the school started with a plate of cookies some church women brought to the school.

“Before I came some ladies started bringing over some cookies just to say, ‘Thank you for how you’re invested in these girls,’” Thiessen recounted. “That turned into this wonderful relationship where we hosted their graduation. Six of their girls were able to complete their graduation equivalency. Twenty of our ladies got on board with decorating, cleaning, preparing the meal, serving them, cleaning up – everything.”

Several of the women have deepened their relationship with the girls by making personalized birthday cakes for them and regularly visiting the school.

“The students who are quite vulnerable and have a lot of hurt in their lives have gone from ‘Who are these strangers?’ to thanking Central (at graduation) and hugging the ladies who have helped,” Thiessen said. “Two of the staff shared with our church on Sunday and were just overwhelmed with the amount of love.”

The Briercrest alumnus sees his pastoral role as not only a shepherd, but also as an equipper who empowers those within the church to reach out and minister in the areas where they have influence.

“If we just want a pastor who’s going to stand at the gate and protect us and do the work for us . . . then okay. Now I can understand why we’re not doing any work, because we’ve professionalized the ministry,” he explained. “If Ephesians 4 is accurate then if we (pastors) are doing our job, then so are you (the church). God has built His Body with unique hands, eyes, feet, and ears and all the rest so that together we can honour and glorify Him in our city and around the world.”

In Thiessen’s mind, if he is successful in helping to equip the church, he just might be working himself out of a job – and he’s fine with that.

“I am passionate for helping people see their faith as encompassing all of life,” he said. “I personally think if our church falls in love with Jesus again, they don’t need me. Because I think if you’re in love with Jesus you know you owe Him your life, so (serving) is just a natural response.”