Convivium: For those unfamiliar with Break Forth One, could you describe the vision and mission of this conference?
Neil Josephson: We're fairly new to Break Forth One, and certainly to our leadership position, so we spent the last couple of years really kind of honing and refining the vision, that Arlen and Elsa Salte, the original founders, undertook.
We've talked to a lot of people. We've prayed a lot. We've distilled a simple vision statement that really covers what we think this event is about. Break Forth One exists to unify, serve, equip, and empower the Church in Canada to live out the mission of Jesus kind of every day in their community.
We stand on that vision. This is the one place where we all gather as the broader body to really experience our unity. You can't force unity, but how can you ever be unified if you don't ever occupy the same space?
Sharol Josephson: Digital space is great, but physical space is important too. Every once in a while, we need to stand shoulder to shoulder with people who love Jesus. They might look different from us in age, generation, or even socially, but we have the same faith. We believe in the same God. There’s something about gathering in the broader body to learn from each other and share best practices.
C: Take us back to the beginning. Where was the idea for this conference first born?
Neil: This year is the 40th anniversary of Break Forth Ministries. This gathering of people started in a church in Sherwood Park. Under the leadership of Arlen and Elsa Salte this gathering morphed and developed into an experience with a focus on worship but also equipping and empowering members of the church.
C: In January 2017, the Gospel Music Awards of Canada (GMA) also became a part of the Break Forth experience. What has this partnership taught you about the role of worship in the life of a person of faith?
Sharol: There's something about worship that goes to deeper places in all of us and unites us differently than the sharing of ideas, or even the sharing of experiences.
I love what Tozer said. "If there's any man or woman on this earth who's bored and turned off by worship, they're not ready for Heaven." I feel like it's the piece of eternal that we get to experience in a corporate way that almost defies explanation or verbiage. Everything is worship, but I’m reflecting specifically on corporate, gathered worship.
Neil: I spent the first half of my life heavily engaged in the intellectual pursuit of God as reflected in studies and advanced degrees. I was a professor at a Bible college. While I still cherish that, the second half of my life has been much more characterized by pursuit of God through worship. Worship reminds us that we are so small, and God is so great.
I find worship is this wonderful opportunity to realign things in my life. Within our culture there's brokenness, but when we gather in worship I think there's this wonderful move of the spirit to realign us with God and with one another.
Sharol: We just truly believe in providing a platform for Christian musicians and artists and speakers and teachers for that matter, because we don't have many of those platforms in Canada where we get to really enjoy the gifts that are in our country. We're really trying, and we really share that conviction with GMA, so we decided to partner together.
C: What has this project taught you about the kind of community that is formed by diverse people coming together for just one weekend?
Neil: I think that this experience has taught me that life in the body of Christ is always a breathing in and breathing out. When we breathe in, we gather for worship, the body of Christ for worship, encouragement, support, equipping. Then, we breathe out to serve the world and build a kingdom and share the good news of Jesus. That's what individual churches do, right? That's what healthy Church does. I like to think about Break Forth as a collective “breathing in” – all the churches come to breathe in, to be encouraged, supported, equipped, and sent out.
Sharol: As the Church, we need each other. I think it's so much easier to be united when we actually have a chance to look each other in the eye ball every once in a while, talk things through, sort of like a family gathering. We even talk through some hard things, but we talk it through as a family. Again, eye ball to eye ball instead of lobbying pop shots at each other over the digital space where we actually kind of gather together. I think there's something that's really strong and healthy about that. I think the Canadian Church actually, if we get it right, can be a leader in the world in this.
Neil: There's been a lot written about the echo chamber culture we live in. You go online and you look up your stuff and then the algorithms start only sending you articles that already agree with you. We only listen to people that are like us, and then we end up polarizing. I think you have to make a deliberate attempt to put yourself into broader circles.
Of course, Cardus is trying to do that. There are organizations, thank goodness, that are doing that, but unless you consciously do it, I think our culture is just designed to wire us up with people that are just like us more and more and more.
C: Break Forth One is gospel focused. In an age where “evangelism” is often framed as an uncomfortable concept or word, how do you seek to equip attendees to boldly share the Gospel in their everyday life?
Neil: The Saltes gifted Breakforth Ministries to Power to Change because they wanted this ministry to continue to carry on. The heartbeat of Power to Change is evangelism, following the example of Jesus who called the Church to go through the world and make disciples. Attendees will see this reflected in the Break Forth One program.
My hope would be that we could all sink deeper into the truths of the gospel, of its grace and it's mercy. Those truths makes me a better evangelist. If I only think into the theology of salvation I'm going to become a little harsh. When I sink deeper into the grace of God that saved me, then I'm a more tender evangelist. If we could reframe our thinking to sort of proclaim the truth with clarity and compassion I think that would be a great result from the weekend.
Sharol: There's just something about standing in a room with thousands of other people who believe and who care about our country, about their neighbors, about their friends and colleagues. I think there's something really empowering about that. We are the body of Christ, and there's strength in coming together and realizing that this truth and grace is being proclaimed coast to coast in neighborhoods, in coffee shops, as well as churches.
C: In an age that is often described as post-Christian or secular in nature, it is significant to learn that as many as 6000 Christians gather together in the dead of an Alberta winter for a weekend of worship, connection, and equipping to live out their faith boldly in the Canadian sphere. What does this tell us about the state of faith in the Canadian sphere?
Neil: I think the shift we're seeing within the Christian church in Canada is that churches are thriving that are really finding the right language to talk about the Gospel, which doesn't change, but sharing it in ways that can be heard. I think the other shift that I see with churches that are doing well is they're really paying attention to what we call relational apologetics.
I think Canadians have always done this gather together thing, you know, whether it's barn raisings on the Prairies or big Sundays in communities with small churches and big farms. Canadians, because they're so spread out, are particularly adept at it. Then, you know, there's theological reason. You go back in the Old Testament, the people of God always gathered together for festivals and celebrate and worship. I think all those things come to play, and I think the churches still got that. The church is still attuned to that.
C: The teaching portion of the weekend is devoted to equipping and educating Canadian Christians for life, work, and witness within the public sphere. What do Canadians of faith want to know? Where do they feel they need support and education?
Sharol: Neil and I have done a couple of listening tours where we've talked with pastors and Christian leaders primarily in Alberta to ask what people need.
We've heard Canadians say that they really do want to understand how to express the truth of the Gospel but in ways that engage people rather than put up walls. Our sense is if people can go away from Break Forth One with some spiritual nourishment, new ideas, and new tools they didn’t have before, this gathering will have been a success.
C: You work in full time ministry with Power to Change and Family Life Canada. What, in your experience, is the largest challenge facing Canadians of faith today?
Neil: I think the challenge for us in Canada is to live in the middle of the paradox between grace and truth and not cave to one side or the other. We have to ask, “How do you live fully gracious to one another, compassionate, empathetic, accepting, and yet committed to the truth of the Gospel and God's holiness and righteousness, and to live in that paradox?” It's too easy to go, "Oh, well I'll just be gracious and accept everything, or I'll become really angry and strident and criticize everything."
I think we got to care for each other. I appreciate Cardus is trying to stand in the middle of the intersection of science and research and faith. You know, we all need to try to stand there. It's hard, though, and you know it.
C: As thousands of Canadians gather to worship together and be equipped to live out their faith with joy and boldness at the end of this month, what do you hope they emerge with?
Sharol: You know, you don't get to choose who your family is, and that's true in the body of Christ too. There will be some people that you wouldn’t necessarily would have picked to have as family, but there's also a richness about sort of reminding yourself of your history, of your shared history.
Our whole goal is to strengthen the church, Big C church, advance the Kingdom in this country, and I just feel like God's going to honour that and I can't wait to see what happens actually.
Neil: I would love it if some people that have been a little discouraged or saddened or would come and go, "Wow, God's afoot. God's on the move," and leave encouraged, drawing strength from the collective.
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