Identity in the Father

I feel like the apostle Paul in Philippians 3 when he lists all of the reasons he could use to boast in his faith. I am a man well blessed. I have had many wonderful people and experiences in my life.

My maternal grandparents were deeply involved in ministry, overseas and in Canada. My nana was a missionary in Africa for years before marrying my grandfather in Canada. They helped start the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, a Bible-printing business, and a Christian school, and they served as leaders in several churches, including The People’s Church in Toronto.

My parents were also very involved in Christian ministry. My mother, besides teaching and being involved in music, was an incredible prayer warrior. My father, after a dramatic conversion, became a pastor—even in the NAB for a while at what is now Village Green in Glen Ellyn, Illinois—and he had a fair reputation in the States, Canada, and Europe. He was close with many well-known evangelical leaders like David Watson, J. I. Packer, and John Stott. I was privileged to grow up in a house where God was honoured and ministry abounded.

I had numerous rich spiritual experiences as well. My baptism was a profound experience, and although I consider my conversion date to be early in life (at the age of 5, or was it 9, or 13 at camp, or . . .), I had several other conversion experiences as I grew in my faith. One other experience that comes to mind is hearing my uncle, a well-known writer and teacher, teach on the question, “What is the Gospel?”

I had a rich educational upbringing as well. I was fortunate to go to Wheaton College, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Regent College, and Fuller Seminary. I wanted to become a Psychologist/Counsellor, but wanted to have a degree in Theology also. By the time I had finished my Master of Divinity at Regent College in Vancouver, I felt I had enough of schooling for a while and wanted to put some of what I had learned into practice.

I was invited to consider either becoming an associate pastor or planting a church. The problem is that I never wanted to be a pastor.

By the age of 27, I found myself in Vancouver; married to Shelley, a former tennis player; and with a one-year-old daughter and another on the way. I decided to plant a church in Burnaby, British Columbia, part of the greater Vancouver area. I figured I would stay in church planting for a few years and then either go back to Sports Ministry—soccer was my game—or go on to get my Ph.D. in Psychology. Now almost twenty-five years later, I am still the pastor of Southside Community Church, after many wonderful, and a few difficult, periods.

When I look at these twenty-five years of ministry, there is much to celebrate. We planted in 1992 and by 1996 had multiplied, becoming a multi-neighbourhood church. Many were coming to faith and the church grew. By 2000, both of our existing congregations had multiplied and we were now one church in four neighbourhoods. We were gaining notoriety for being a church that did not do things in traditional ways and for having a big heart for our neighbours and neighbourhoods. We continued to see people come to faith, and the church continued to grow, even in this very post-Christian environment. It was this growth, in numbers and depth, that opened doors for me to lead in organizations such as Athletes in Action, Church Planting Canada, Canadian Baptist Ministries, and Forge Canada. My involvement with Forge is what has allowed me one of the greatest joys of my life—being a part of what God is doing in the NAB.

It seemed that everything I did in the early years, just, well . . . worked. But things have not always stayed that way. There have been difficult times in ministry as well.

I used to introduce myself just as Cam. I was not embarrassed with my last name, but many people had a physical reaction in hearing my last name. The reputations of my father and uncle had gone before me. In some ways I have lived in their shadow here in Canada. One woman, after hearing me preach the best I have ever preached, asked me if I was related to Bob Roxburgh at all because “he was a really good preacher.” Likewise, those who knew my uncle had deep respect for his knowledge but perhaps were or are intimidated by his often prophetic statements. When people learn of my last name, they have at times lumped me in the same categories as my dad or uncle.

Throughout my years, I have struggled with issues of identity as a result of some of the success my family has seen in ministry. I felt at times as if I had to prove myself or grow a church to certain size to be worth anything. I have worked too hard, not become a man of prayer like I would have hoped, and have hurt people who were a part of our church as I have at times put being right before relationships. I am not proud of these, but grateful that God is full of grace and continues to be patient with me. I continue to try to learn from the past but look more to the future, and I have loved discovering of late what God wants to really do with me.

Following in the footsteps of a father and family such as mine has not been easy. However, it is the later part of Philippians 3 that has begun to resonate with my soul more and more of late. I am learning to say that I “count them (education, family, teachers and experiences) as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (vs. 8 ESV). Perhaps this is yet another conversion story in my life. Lately He has been teaching me about what real identity is—I am His son. He continues to form me into a new person with a new character so that I might, like Jesus, reflect the nature of the Father in all that I do. And He has been working in me to get past the idea that I am a pastor; vocationally, I am really a missionary sent into our neighbourhood. And I am loving every minute of it.

So whether in family life—with four grown kids now—in local church life, or in my role with the NAB, I experience great joy, not so much in the accomplishments, but in the journey. It has taken a while to get on this road, and I am looking forward to where it will take me in the years to come.