Dwayne Cline, the lead pastor of the Hughson Street Baptist Church in the north end of Hamilton, Ontario, and a graduate of Tyndale (MDiv ‘09), says that he willingly questions his “ability to lead at the beginning of each chapter.”
Dwayne Cline, the lead pastor of the Hughson Street Baptist Church in the north end of Hamilton, Ontario, and a graduate of Tyndale (MDiv ‘09), says that he willingly questions his “ability to lead at the beginning of each chapter.” His church is currently in an interesting chapter. The congregation worships at the school across the road from the church because their sanctuary is too small. They have recently purchased a nearby building that is already being used for a food bank, a clothing depot and is the home of two local organizations. The new building will eventually house a new sanctuary and become the base for many of the church’s ministries. However, much time and many offering plates will need to pass before the building will be fully renovated.
Dwayne grew up in a rural area and likens it to living in the city. Both can be tight-knit communities where people know each other. “I believe God has placed us in church for a reason—because that’s where He wants us to be and the end result of us being anywhere is to introduce people to Jesus Christ,” he says. Dwayne also believes the same principles for seeking the peace and prosperity of the city are transferrable to any village, town or rural area. “How can your church bless local businesses? Bless the power brokers, the MPs, the MPPs? How can you bless the local school or hospital? Where in the community is there poverty? It may be only situational poverty, like a burned house, a car accident or a divorce, but ask where you can come alongside people.” Dwayne sees community as the street where you live, where your children go to school and play sports, where you work and volunteer and where you worship. It is not just where the church resides. For some, their community is consolidated into one geographical location, for others it is spread throughout a city or rural community.
Hughson Street Baptist Church is in north Hamilton where fifty-five percent of the children live below the poverty line. One hundred and fifty people use the church’s food bank every month and members of the church volunteer at a local breakfast club every Wednesday morning. Sixty-five percent of the congregation lives within walking distance of the church and ninety percent of the congregation serves in their community. Together, Dwayne and the congregation have been able to nurture and mentor individuals in the church, discern where God is at work in the neighbourhood and answer His call to go out in the name of Jesus.
“Individuals are asked to come alongside some of the ministries and choose to be a part of the programs the church runs,” says Dwayne. This is where the serving happens. “We ask people to be involved in a sacrificial ministry as opposed to being a big events volunteer,” says Dwayne. The congregation takes seriously God’s instructions to Israel in Jeremiah 29:7 to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” This verse challenges the typecast of apathy and narcissism of our culture and the younger generation— the average age of the Hughson Street congregation is under 30 years.
Those who attend Hughson Street are invited to celebrate, grow, serve and share. Celebration happens six to eight times each year through free-flowing celebration Sundays that highlight what God is doing in people and the community. The nurturing and growing of people primarily happens in community and covenant groups, and in one-on-one mentoring. “Community groups are nine to eleven people who meet in their homes,” says Dwayne. “These groups are the first line of care for families. If a baby is born or someone is sick, by the time pastoral care gets there, the community groups are already there.” Covenant groups are smaller, three to four people, who have more flexibility about when they meet, have a higher level of commitment between members and foster deeper intimacy. The community and covenant groups are not where the great commission is fulfilled.
“Community groups are the place where they vet their dreams—where people are known well enough by the group to have them say this makes sense or not. They discern their calling together.” It is the inward focus of listening and discerning God’s call which moves them out into the community. One couple felt strongly called to welcome and integrate new Canadians into the area and brought the idea to their community group first where they discerned together that it should be presented to the church.
Sharing is about “making sure that the gospel is changing your life and that you’re talking about it,” says Dwayne. It’s not just about talking. To become a member of Hughson Street a person has to read the eighteen-page membership manual and consider moving into the neighbourhood. Being there, living in the city, is a big part of seeking the peace and prosperity of the city. What Hughson Street Baptist Church is doing comes out of an authentic expression of who they are in Christ.