Todd Chapman, pastor of Auguston Neighbourhood Church in Abbotsford, BC., is a graduate of Northwest Baptist Seminary at ACTS (Master of Religious Education 1999). He and Karen have three children: Delaney, Macaulay and Theo.
Todd, in a life filled with many significant choices, perhaps the biggest is the determination to be a follower of Jesus. Tell me a bit about that choice.
I was raised in a godly home and grew up with a strong sense of being part of a church community. I became a Christian at age six and was baptized on Thanksgiving Sunday when I turned eight. It’s a fabulous thing to come to faith and to grow up in this kind of environment. But there is a whole other world beyond the shelter of such an upbringing, where personal choices have to be made and this can be tough.
Tell me a bit more.
Well, being a Christian parent, I can appreciate much more the way I was raised and I’m trying to model this with my own kids. When I was in my mid teens, my folks entrusted me to God’s care in the task of making certain choices. They stood by me in the process, watching as I made my choices—some good and some not so good—and there were great times of interaction. I deeply respect my parents for giving me the freedom to grow in this way. The choices we often have to make are not always black or white; right or wrong. God will sometimes say, "There was a better choice to be made. But Todd, I am with you and I love you." That’s what my parents modeled to me.
I learned to trust God and prove his reality. Choices were also a way of showing me where my heart was. This was an early schooling to prepare me in the weightier choices that I would eventually make—like whom I would marry and what calling or profession I would choose.
Your choice to study at Northwest Baptist Seminary was a pretty momentous one. How did it occur?
That’s an interesting one. I was doing my fourth year of studies at Trinity Western University moving toward a teaching degree when I sensed that I needed to do a check on the direction of my life. I asked God for time away from my studies to reflect. This meant getting a job in fairly short order. My sense that God was with me in this process was immediate. The next day, I was approached by someone who asked me if I would be available to work up in Powell River at a fishing lodge. It was during this five month period of time that God helped me to an increasing conviction on many important life decisions, including going to seminary.
When you make a choice to follow God, you actually commit yourself to engage a whole sequence of choices. My first day at seminary was the day after the birth of our first daughter, Delany. She arrived 6 weeks early. I remember thinking, "I’m starting seminary. My wife Karen is now mom to a premature newborn and can’t work at her job as an ER nurse and we have to live with our parents. Finances are going to be low and expenses high. God is going to have to put this together." I had to renew my trust in him all along the way, and God came through.
I wouldn’t describe myself as a ‘formal education’ kind of guy. But the choice to trust God in this new venture energized me. The studies were a challenge. But there was also an amazing joy and sense of fulfillment in pursuing the choice; my grades were never better! I got the formal education. I was also positively affected by the professors who respected me and encouraged and challenged me to grow in my relationship with Christ. Through seminary there were numerous opportunities for experiential application of God’s truth—especially in the internship I did at North Valley Baptist. I was faced with opportunities to try new things and to trust God further. What I’m saying is that the big choice to prepare for ministry was followed by a whole sequence of choices to live and learn and trust God.
Todd, your ministry at Smithers Baptist Church was not a short one as first pastorates sometimes are.
No. In fact, we served there for seven years. Smithers was a big change for us. I had been interested in taking an associate position after seminary. God’s open door to me was a senior pastoral one. The choice to go to Smithers in October of 1999 had to be filled with trust in God’s provision. The move carried implications for Karen’s nursing career. It meant moving away from extended family and we would miss them greatly. It meant moving to a church community with a young family to a church with few young families. By the way, in Smithers they have real winter; that was another change!
Over and over again, though, God proved his goodness as we chose to follow him. I was a pretty young and inexperienced senior pastor—only twenty-five years old. But the church was amazingly flexible, giving room for me to grow and to try new things. Then there were those defining moments of assurance: an amazing sense of restfulness and confidence that God gave to us as we entered our second year of ministry in Smithers; the day that one of the elders came up to me and told me, "Todd, you’re my pastor and I’m going to follow"; and when my father-in-law took me aside to tell me, "You and Karen are meant to serve this church."
We are called to stand by God-honoring choices. But the great joy is that God also stands by us when we take them!
You’ve been at Auguston Neighbourhood Church for just over a year now. Tell me about the transition to this new opportunity to serve God and the choices it’s entailed.
Well, it is absolutely fundamental to choose a course of action for the right reasons. That’s especially important when it’s a choice to answer a call to a new church. Karen and I always affirmed to God that we would continue in our choice to serve Smithers until he indicated otherwise. The process of being approached by Auguston, interacting with the search committee and then moving through a more intensive exploration process was God’s means of providing us the information and encouragement we needed. I remember wondering how long it would take to sell our house in Smithers. The ‘for sale’ sign went up without our knowledge by a friend in Smithers. A lady came to the door asking to view the house the day we got home from the Auguston interview, and three weeks later the house was sold. Getting into our house in Abbotsford was as remarkable a sign of God’s provision and assurance.
Coming to Auguston required real choices; calling for us to trust in God’s continuing help. There are some very significant cultural differences between the communities at Smithers and Auguston and the churches. God expects me to serve faithfully, but he also expects me to serve in different ways. I can hear him saying to me in all of this, "I will provide. You’ll have what you need. In fact, all you need is me; trust me." We miss our friends in Smithers. One of the big changes for me is to have my office at home. It calls for discipline in carving out focused time for study and preparation. There is always more for which to trust God and in which he proves himself faithful.
I wonder, as you’ve reflected on choices and changes, is there a passage of Scripture that you’ve found particularly helpful?
One passage that I’ve found particularly helpful is 1 Corinthians 1:26-31. Paul invites the Corinthians to reflect on what they were when God called them. Not many were wise, influential, or of noble birth by human standards. But, he continues, God chose those who were foolish and lowly by earthly standards to achieve his marvelous ends. This passage reminds me of three things: who I am; who God is; and what he can do through you. You can have absolute confidence in God through the challenge of choices. That’s how life should be lived.