Faith News Niagara presents another instalment of "5 Questions", the continuing segment where readers can get to know the local ministers of the region a little better.
Today's 5 Questions article with Steve DeBoer is from an interview from February, 2017.
1 What is your name, the name of your church ministry, and the length of time you've been at that ministry.
My name is Steve DeBoer and I’m the pastor of Providence Church in Beamsville. I’ve been there since 2005. I came to Providence out of seminary; I went to school in Grand Rapids, Michigan called Calvin Seminary. That puts me into my 12th year here.
2 What is your favourite pastime: reading, sports, outdoors, etc.
I’ve never been overly into sports. I wouldn’t call myself a voracious reader of books. I do read, and enjoy some different genres of books. But probably a favourite pastime that I do have… and this may seem simple… but it’s connecting with people over coffee. Again, it doesn’t sound overly interesting or exotic, but I really do enjoy meeting people, getting to know new people, and hearing their stories.
I appreciate things like travelling— going to Japan (as a ministry opportunity) was a highlight. I dream of the day when I can travel more.
As a family, we try to do things such as birding, for example— which again, is rather seasonal. But (we love) anything outdoor related; lots of walking, hiking, canoeing, etc.
3 Favourite all time (or current) Bible book, Bible story, or Bible passage, and why.
Psalm 139 is a text that I find comforting for a couple of reasons. It starts— and ends— in a way that you wouldn’t expect, simply because of the way it ends. When it starts, it says, “you know when I sit and when I rise… you know every word before it’s on my tongue… you know my coming and my going…” there’s this idea of a God who knows me completely! It goes on to say, “no matter if you’re on the heights or in the depths, whether here or on the far side of the sea, you can’t escape my spirit… no matter how far you try to run or hide, I’m still there with you, in those places.” It goes on to talk about God knitting me in my mother’s womb and knowing me in that secret place, and all my days are in his hands, and are ordained before one of them even came to be.
But then just at the very end, it almost seems like it shifts, and it turns into this prayer where he says “search me, and know me, and investigate or search my anxious heart, and see if there's anything offensive in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” What I like about that prayer is it’s honest, because there are things about ourselves that we’re not honest about to ourselves… or to God… or to others.
This prayer models for us a relationship with a God who can handle what we bring him, because he knows everything already, and loves us anyway.
4 Briefly describe the series of events that brought you to your church, your current role, ministry in general.
Growing up, I was waiting for a ride home from school. My pastor at the time drove by. I didn't see him, but he did a U-turn, came back, and said, “hey, you need a ride?” I had been waiting for a while and my ride hadn’t shown up, so I said sure.
As he dropped me off at my home, he said, “you know, Steve, I really think that you have gifts to be a pastor. I think you should give thought to that.” I was in high school, and it was the last thing I was thinking about. But that feeling persisted, and it never fully left me.
I went to school in Grand Rapids, but I never had it in mind to be a pastor. It was a liberal arts college, having multiple disciplines. But I just had this sense of there being a spirit in the world, and a sense that people want to have hope, and live with hope, and that the God of heaven and earth really did have an answer for it. I felt that somehow, in some way that was completely vague to me at the time, that this was something that I would be a part of.
I remember my parents calling me one time when I was at college, and I just said to them, “you know what? I think I’m going to be a pastor.” I had just woken up, and soon after I said that I thought, what did I just say? I had never heard myself say it before! But that started me on a trajectory.
I felt that Beamsville was a place that I could grow as a pastor. And when I look back, it hasn’t always been an easy road. I don’t think ministry or leadership ever is, it’s always uphill. But I’m really thankful that this place that I call my church has given me a lot of grace, and other leaders have given me a lot of room and space, and a lot of license and freedom to stretch some muscles and try some things. There were certain key leaders around me that had certain mantras, like let’s fail forward, or let’s die trying, or let’s go for it. And for me, that’s been really important. They didn’t put me, or ministry, in a box. They let me imagine and try new things, and experiment.
We’ve been on a trajectory of renewal, and reimagining the future, and not just being a closed community, but a church that’s really for our wider community. So as much as it’s been an exhausting journey at times, and one that really pushes me to the edge of my field, it’s also been very life-giving. To see life— new life, young life— in our church, and to see a certain spirit awakening in certain individuals— young families, young people, young men— that gives me a lot of personal satisfaction.
5 Briefly describe how you met Jesus.
Jesus was someone that I always grew up with. Our family had certain disciplines. We didn’t just go to church once on a Sunday, we went twice. We had rhythms in our home of Bible reading and prayer after supper. Church was just part of our life. I can’t say however, that I lived in a bubble. I went to a public school in town. It wasn’t like we were just a church family and only knew church people. My parents were really connected in our community. But church was a big part of our identity.
I remember in high school, having certain leadership roles as I grew, like in the young people’s group. But I would say that a lot of that was a bit by default. I was a bit of a leader, and I don’t know if there was a real connection between head and heart.
But there was this mission trip planned to Mexico, designed for people who were thinking perhaps of career mission work. I wasn’t, to be honest, but it was something my church was going to sponsor me on, and was willing to pay for half. So I was going to go hang out with a bunch of young people and go to Mexico for the summer… that seemed like a fun thing to do. My motivations, looking back, were definitely not in the right place. But I’ve realized that God even uses our bad motivations to get us into the places he wants us to go.
I remember one night I was by a fire on a beach. Some people gradually left and went to bed. I was there was a couple of other people, and then they left. So I was just there, and I wasn’t tired— I’m a bit of a night hawk— and the sky was completely bright from the stars and the moon, it was totally glistening on the water. It was so perfect and so still. Suddenly, it just became a conviction: there has to be a Maker behind this. There has to be a Creator.
The language I grew up with, and the teaching, began to give me an understanding of what I was feeling at that time: that God is the Creator of all things, and there is a spirit that moves in the world. And so, I had knowledge, and I grew up with teaching, but it became a conviction later. It’s not like conviction came, and knowledge came after. Certainly, I’m still growing in grace and knowledge, but on that beach… I would say if there was a conversion moment, that would be it.
* * *
Growing up, I remember having this picture of Jesus: that someday, there would be this judgment, and we would stand in this line. We would all be waiting our turn, just shaking in our boots until it was our time to stand before the judge at the bench. And every sin and every thought would be disclosed, and there would be this grand shaming. Then the judge would say, “you just made the grade”, or “you just eked in”, etc.
Today, I experience a God who is not like that at all. I’ve experienced that the gospel is really not about a long list— my long list that keeps me out— but it's about God’s long list that brings me in. There’s a phrase that Tim Keller uses, and it’s gold: “Jesus Christ came to earth, lived the life we should have lived, and died the death we should have died.” Jesus does something for me that I can’t do for myself. And he brings me to a place that none of my shiniest trophies or best efforts or worthiest of enterprises could ever bring me to. And this God who fully knows me, fully accepts me at the same time.
I’m worthy because of Jesus. And I can now stop trying to achieve. It’s not about just kicking up your feet and not developing or growing, but I don’t need to earn God’s approval or acceptance to get his embrace.