21 Ways To Make it Happen…or Not

I know I’m skating on thin ice with this one.  But it should be a fun and I hope rewarding discussion.

Let me preface it all by saying Canada is my home.  I love our country.  I’m called here.  I’m staying here and I love that I get to do what I do.

But I frequently speak and work with leaders in the US, and one of the questions I get all the time is ‘what’s the difference in leadership between Canada and the US?”

For what it’s worth, here’s what I think.

In the US, leaders sit around a table with a new idea and discuss 21 ways to make it happen.

In Canada, leaders sit around a table and think of 21 reasons why the idea can’t happen or shouldn’t happen.

Now there’s a bit of hyperbole in there.  But you see the point.

I’m not trying to be unpatriotic but I am frustrated by the seeming lack of progress in the church we see in our country.  I am frustrated by the constant stories I hear from church leaders about why they can’t make a difference and why their church can’t grow.  I’m baffled by the relative peace some people seem to feel with a status quo that’s far from desirable.

At Connexus, where I serve, our team works hard every day to try to create a culture where great things can happen.  I love the heart and attitude of our team.  Next week on the blog I’ll share some ways we try to shape that culture.

In the meantime, what do you think?  Do you agree?  We have readers from both sides of the border on this blog.  What do you see?  What frustrates you in your culture (Canadian or American)?


  1. Will Ingram on February 18, 2011 at 7:02 pm

    Chuck — thanks for your insights. Appreciated.

    Carey — believe it or not, we have always agreed on a whole lot more than Jesus (for example, we agree that, in light of the delay in responding to my invitation, you should now buy the lunch.)

    If it’s any interest, and at the risk of seeming self-promoting, there is a section about today’s meeting in Geneva with leaders of the Church in Iraq — including pictures — at http://www.standrewstoronto.org/wcc/geneva_2011 and look up “February 18, 2011”. It was a fascinating day.

    It’s midnight in Geneva. G’night.

  2. Chris Lema on February 18, 2011 at 4:10 pm

    Hey Carey,
    I think any broad generalizations a) come from some reality and b) miss some nuance. I think that applies to your observation but also to what I’m writing. 🙂

    Having spent several years coaching ministry leaders (in the US) I can tell you that there are still many places where groups of 20 or more are still sitting at the table talking about who they will anger if they kill an already dead ministry, or try something new that will rock the boat.

    But as a person who works his day job in a US company owned by a Canadian one, I can tell you that one of the things we talk about is the state of venture capital and the overall entrepreneurial differences between the two countries. Canada funds about 10% of what the US does each year in venture money (suggesting that the US has longer history, instruments, processes and experience with this form of risk taking). What may be more interesting to you is that exits (where money comes back to investors) has better returns and arrives quicker in Canada (suggesting that Canadians may have better approaches to getting to win scenarios faster). In the US, we’re trying to get more people learning about Lean Startups because they help get to success faster – by learning to listen better, and to learn faster (dare I say, to be more Canadian).

    How does this apply to the Church?

    Maybe it suggests that the Church continues to be a reflection of the culture it’s in, rather than one that has deep impact on the culture around it. Maybe the US church needs to learn to listen and learn better. Maybe it means the Canadian church needs to risk more and try more (knowing it may fail more as well).

    I don’t know, but I appreciate the thought provoking questions.


    • Carey on February 19, 2011 at 12:22 pm

      Chris…interesting insights. I wasn’t aware of the differences between US and Canadian start ups. I’m going to be thinking about that. I’ll bet it does have implications for the church. Thanks! Love how you think.

  3. Chuck on February 18, 2011 at 3:15 pm


    Totally dig your perspective, but would like to weigh in on an observation you made:

    “[You] think that part of the difference, such as it is, is the fact that there is a profound cultural difference between the US and Canada. One such difference is that the church in Canada tends to be less divided by the extremes of liberalism and fundamentalism as is the case in the States (which is also reflected in the extreme partisanship and outright hatred in so much of contemporary American politics).”

    Being from the US, I would offer that we’re not as polarized (liberal vs. fundamentalist) as you state. I agree, those extremes exist, but there are TONS of intermediate positions here, very many shades of grey, if you will. THAT however, is indeed what results in a good deal of what you say about Canadian churches being more tolerant of one another. I think that U.S. churches take too much pride in “their” shade of grey on the wrong issues.

    There are some issues that are black and white, on or off. Murder is wrong in God’s eyes. (Check the 10 commandments or trust me on that one.) However, so many different moderate views exist here that obstinately think they’re the “only” shade of grey. When we cross swords over what style of worship, what order of liturgy (or lack thereof), or what political or social stance to take on this or that, we miss the point. And I think THAT is what you’re getting at — and I AGREE with you on it.

    “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:15-17, NIV)

    ‘Nuff said?

    I’m with ya!

  4. Marilyn Muller on February 18, 2011 at 1:30 pm

    Carey, I do agree with you – we are the people who have someone run into us with a cart in a supermarket and apologize for them running over our toes; we don’t want to in any way offend, so we dance around issues; I have actually had a former volunteer (in another church) tell me that her and her husband take pride in maintaining a “Switzerland” philosophy – neutral… I do find that (some) people are always trying to poke holes in anything new and innovative, while always wanting to “be the cutting edge” – we revel in endless “discernment” processes and consultations but often miss just taking a risk and stepping out… well that’s my 2 cents (or my toonie:-)

    • Carey on February 18, 2011 at 2:22 pm

      Thanks Marilyn…sometimes I think neutrality is really a mask for a lack of passion. Great point!

  5. Will Ingram on February 18, 2011 at 1:09 pm

    Carey — I would love to hear any response as well!

    In general, however, I do not agree with your original premise since it seems to play into stereotypes about the American and Canadian churches, and it seems to be rooted in the myth of American exceptionalism. There are many struggling and dying congregations in the US, and many healthy and vibrant ones in Canada.

    I think that part of the difference, such as it is, is the fact that there is a profound cultural difference between the US and Canada. One such difference is that the church in Canada tends to be less divided by the extremes of liberalism and fundamentalism as is the case in the States (which is also reflected in the extreme partisanship and outright hatred in so much of contemporary American politics). The church generally gets along better in Canada — which means that we do not have to have to premise our life on the success of our own congregation at the price of others. Track, some time, how often the rapid growth of seemingly ‘successful’ churches wreak havoc on congregations in their neighbourhoods.

    As well, and more importantly, there is a fundamentally different history in relation to the philosophical and political traditions in the two countries. In Canada, there is a greater sense that we need to be strong together in order to be cared for individually — which is reflected in our much more just and equitable health care system, and even in the greater wisdom of proper regulation on things like banks (which served us well in the recent recession). In the States, there is a greater sense of the need for the individual to ‘succeed’ if they are going to be able to provide for their health, family, etc. I believe that it is this cultural need to do whatever is necessary to succeed — reflected in the 21 things — that is the reason for your original observations. For what it’s worth, I think that the Canadian vision of a just and equitable sharing of resources, and common care for the weak and vulnerable, rather than a more individualistic perspective, is closer to the Gospel vision. That sounds like a rather ‘lefty’ mixture of politics and religion, but my journeys in the world — and in the States — usually confirm that the success driven model of certain parts of the American church do not always serve the Body of Christ well.

    This is, of course, premised on stereotypes as well — but it’s offered in response to your original comments.

    In the end, we are one in Christ, but shaped by our different cultures — and need to learn from each other.

    Again, just some thoughts.

    And, by the way, you still owe me a response to an old email inviting you to lunch.

    • Carey on February 18, 2011 at 2:25 pm

      I’ll be booking the lunch soon Will. And it’s good to know that since back in seminary, you and I haven’t been able to agree on anything except Jesus. :0) Makes life interesting. And you do make some good points.

  6. Chris Wiersma on February 18, 2011 at 12:42 pm

    Population density and resource concentration south of the border means it’s a different reality there. This combines with a stronger entrepreneurial ethos to make conversations there more practical in terms of making things happen. It’s true. I’ve experienced it — and I love the difference (and seek it out).

    But I’m also here, too. Our question is how to turn our differentness into strength. Being more reserved keeps us from certain excesses. That said, there’s a lot of naval gazing in church world here. My experience is that Canadian leaders have merely articulated what they want to avoid: they want to avoid losing influence and closing their doors; but they also want to avoid popular American Christianity. You don’t create the future by focusing on what you want to push away from.

    We have a unique opportunity in Canada. There’s more cultural resistance here. Less can be taken for granted. This can make our breakthroughs incredibly significant because nothing but a truly significant breakthrough will work. Our effort exploring the intersection of gospel and culture can actually lead change elsewhere.

    I’m willing to help, Carey. There’s a cluster of wide open and committed thinkers in each of our major urban areas. I know a few. Let’s get them talking. I’ll fly anywhere in Canada in 2011 to meet with at least 6 other ego-less dreamers willing to be honest about the Canadian reality as long as I get at least 4 weeks notice.

    • Carey on February 18, 2011 at 2:00 pm

      Chris that would be a fascinating conversation. I’ll join you in that offer. Betcha Scott Cochrane would too. I could easily get some leaders together here in Ontario. I’ll follow up with you on that.

  7. Darren on February 18, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    My experience with the Canadian church in comparison to the American chuch is that Canadians try to make the church too much like the world – church finances have a business driven model, instead of a spirit-lead model. We think it will work because the financial model looks viable, not, because it is an initiative that has been lead by the Spirit, prayed over and is God-driven.
    American churches belive in faith and live in the culture of Christ so that what needs to be done can be done. They believe it before it happens. Sounds like a Christ-centered model?
    Effective US ministry happens when Christ permiates all of life – “Christ is Lord”. In Canada, Christianity/church is one of many social structures that shape life. Christ doesn’t inform our other work/play/social structures as much He needs to…

    • Carey on February 18, 2011 at 2:21 pm

      Rob…the cyncial comment is insightful. You are not alone. Change is always easier when optimism is our default.

      Darren…that’s the first time I’ve heard someone call the issue the way you have. Thanks for a different angle.

  8. Rob on February 18, 2011 at 12:11 pm

    I find this challenging. Naturally being inclined to the negative I tend to think around ideas of how something might fail, and then working on it from there to make it work. I should probably have a more positive outlook on things.
    One the other hand I wonder what the societal implications of this concept are. i wonder if it is because, I could be way off on this, but in many ways Canada is further away from Christendom, or has been post christendom longer then many believe the US is. Though I don’t think that the US and Canada are that different in reference to Christendom, I think in the US you have more clergy who are unwilling to concede defeat in the culture wars, possibly giving a sense of optimism when it comes to dialoguing on church and society issues.
    Not having too much experience with the US, I could be way off, but I’m challenged by your comment and it got me thinking.

  9. Chuck on February 18, 2011 at 11:49 am

    I’m a US citizen born and raised, but with direct Canadian lineaage, so I have vested interest on “both sides of the border”, if you will. In this case, I hear a familiar tune, and while I acknowledge that I hear that tune, it doesn’t matter who’s blowing the horn–stars ‘n stripes or the big red maple leaf…doesn’t matter as far as I’ve seen it…

    I am in the academic profession–a hotbed for change on many, many levels. Some of it is vital and absolutely has to happen. Some of it, perhaps not. Regardless, there are people that fight like a bulldog to resist that change. There are people that embrace it, with equal fervor and desire.

    I am also involved in ministry leadership. Guess what…it’s there too, to both extremes.

    I recognize and acknowledge the hyperbole, good sir–but trust me, I see plenty of both. Plenty.

    “We all know that much of what worked yesterday in programming and ministry is not as effective today. This also suggests that what works well today will need to be changed tomorrow. The question is, are we willing to create a culture of constant change within our ministries for the sake of connecting with people and culture?”

    OUCH!! That hurts!! In a very very good way. No matter who’s flying the flag over the building outside the office I just read that in, that stung!

    I think you know where that came from. It’s true down here too, my friend.

    • Carey on February 18, 2011 at 2:19 pm

      Chuck…I love constant change. Love challenging the status quo. Preach it!

  10. AJ Thomas on February 18, 2011 at 10:52 am

    Love that you are talking about this. I genuinely think the church in Canada would benefit from a comprehensive analysis of the differences between US and Canadian church and culture, how we need to do church differently because of the culture and places where our culture negatively impacts the expansion of the kingdom here in Canada. I think you have nailed one of the reasons right on the head. I think another, related issue is that we Canadians tend (whether consciously or not) to define our identity in terms of how we are different from Americans. I think that many Canadian pastors think that if a church was effective it would get big and big churches are seen as being American. We don’t all carry guns because we are “Canadian” (read not American), we make sure everyone has healthcare because we are “Canadian” (read not American), and we don’t want larger churches that are reaching hundreds or even thousands because we are “Canadian.”

  11. Jeff Futers on February 18, 2011 at 10:52 am

    As a bit of a Canadian over-thinker myself, I may, at times, resemble your remarks. However, as someone who serves with a visionary leader on a large team, I think this happens more often than any of us would like to admit. I’ve seen too many great ideas talked to death out of fear of failure, fear of overtaxing volunteers (before even casting the vision and asking for their help), fear of financial implications, and sadly sometimes, fear of a little extra hard work. Lately, I am subscribing more and more to the ‘ready, fire, aim’ approach to ministry. Let’s find ways to try and even possibly fail so that we can make the necessary adjustments needed to see growth and progress.

    • Carey on February 18, 2011 at 10:57 am

      Jeff..you are so right. There are always a hundred reasons not to do something. And often only one reason to do it – the right reason. Love your thoughts!

      AJ…Interesting stuff. A negative identity is no identity and all. Agreed.

      Brandon… I was having this conversation with some friends at North Point yesterday. There is something about the entrepreneurial spirit necessary in all leadership, regardless of what side of the border we’re on. So true. Long for that too!

  12. Brandon Duff on February 18, 2011 at 10:42 am

    Great thoughts Carey. I believe the American church has done a better job welcoming entrepenuers into church leadership. We need more of the entrepreneurial spirit in the Canadian church. I believe that would help with the can do spirit we are lacking.

    I would love to help people of all different job, life, education experience to plant new churches in Canada.

  13. Carey on February 18, 2011 at 10:26 am

    I’d love to hear an American response to what’s you’ve written Will.

  14. Will Ingram on February 18, 2011 at 9:41 am

    I guess context is interesting.

    I am at meetings in Geneva, and read your blog after a lunch meeting with Christian leaders from Iraq, whose lives and communities have been devastated by the actions of the invasion of their country, under false pretences, by the armies of foreign powers, led largely by the American government. Their congregations and people are suffering and being forced to leave their country because of the difficulties that they are facing, not only as Iraqis in an invaded land, but as Christians in a land where Christianity is too often misperceived as a ‘western’ religion. At the same time parachurch groups — largely from our part of the world — come to their country and seek to “evangelize” people from those Christian communities. I’m not sure if I should even send this, but I simply hope that American church leaders might add — to their list of 21 things — the Gospel’s call to seek justice and peace for all people, including — but not limited to — their Christian brothers and sisters.

    Blessings and peace.

  15. Carey on February 18, 2011 at 8:58 am

    Jeff…thanks for the input. For sure it’s a little mixed, but do you see a gut wrenching fire in the belly in most of our leaders? I think we might see sparks and a contained slow burn for the most part.

  16. Jeff Loach on February 18, 2011 at 8:53 am

    Carey, I think what you say is mostly true, but not universally so. It would make a very interesting PhD thesis for someone to find out if in fact this is culturally bound – it probably is, given the small-r-republican nature of the United States; they are innovators by historical tradition. Canadians aren’t. If we’d fought a revolution, that might be true, but we haven’t.

    I’m grateful to work with a group of leaders who, mostly, tend to the innovative side. Very energizing.

  17. […] February 18, 2011 by Becky I read a post this morning by another blogger that inspired some thought in my head. He theorizes that the reason the Canadian Church is having difficulty with progress is that we look for reasons things won’t work. The article can be found here: 21 Ways to make it happen…or not. […]

  18. Becky on February 18, 2011 at 8:38 am

    I’m a Canadian and I love my country as you do.

    That said I think you hit the nail on the head. We will never see change until we believe in it and I feel in some ways I feel I am constantly battling against those who do not believe it can be done. It’s strange really as we follow a man who healed people, brought people back from the dead, fed 5000 and was resurrected after his own death. Jesus did some pretty powerful, amazing things. He could help us do some amazing things too if we let him.

    Thanks for this message!

    • Carey on February 18, 2011 at 8:46 am

      Becky…Great to hear from you. Your points about Jesus are just so true! Thanks! Keep trying to make a difference.

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