Mike Blackaby returns to grandfather’s stomping grounds

VICTORIA, B.C. – In the same province in which Baptist statesman Henry Blackaby played as a child, where his banker father started a church because there wasn’t one, in the very area where Henry Blackaby prayed for more churches, his oldest grandson is planting a church. It’s not going to be easy.

Mike Blackaby with his wife Sarah and their two sons, Everett, 3, and Luka, 1, moved Jan. 1 from Georgia to Victoria to start a church in the Oak Bay area. It’s a well-established, “old money” area with a European/British ambiance, coupled with the high-energy exuberance of 20,000 students from throughout the world at Oak Bay’s University of Victoria.

“There’s very little evangelical presence in Oak Bay that we know of,” Blackaby said, three weeks after his arrival. “I’m coming from the Bible Belt USA, and we’re seeking to do ministry in a place and on a university campus where neither are friendly toward Christianity.
“Many Oak Bay residents and university students don’t think they need God. Many are indifferent or even hostile toward Christianity. We’ve got a challenge out in front of us.”

Blackaby credits his year in the Samuel program at the Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary & College for his initial thrust into his pastoral role. It was his first year after high school. He felt God’s call to the ministry, but resisted, afraid of public speaking.

His father, Richard Blackaby, then-president of the seminary – now chancellor – and today president of Blackaby Ministries International, suggested the Samuel program, a one-year “gap” program at CSBS&C for recent high school graduates to learn God’s direction for their life.

“I loved it,” Blackaby said. “I loved all my professors. … To be able to be in classes with people who were older and wiser than I was – they were a great mix of people from all over the nation – it was fun for me.”

A chapel message early in the fall semester by CSBS&C graduate Jeff Christopherson, now Vice President of the Send Network at the North American Mission Board, cleared Blackaby’s thinking.

“In the service Jeff spoke about the Israelites crossing the Red Sea, and that we have to trust God to take us through our fears, not around them,” Blackaby said. “God used that to call me into ministry.”

While in college, Blackaby had volunteered at Bow Valley Baptist Church in Cochrane to work with recent high school graduates and college students. After graduating from seminary in 2010, he was asked to join the staff at First Baptist Church of Jonesboro, Ga., to start a similar program.

During the seven years that followed, the young adult group grew to more than 100 actively engaged in missions and ministry as well as discipleship; Blackaby earned a Ph.D. degree; and First Jonesboro planted Canvas Church on the west side of Victoria, B.C.

Last fall, that church planter, Ashley Austin, asked Blackaby to start a second Canvas Church on the east side of British Columbia’s capital city.
“Sarah actually felt peace about it before I did,” Blackaby said of his wife. “She feels specifically called here as well. …

“Our first meeting was last Sunday,” the new church planter continued. “Had a great group of about 50 people, about half from the other church. But there’s a small group that has been meeting for a year at a fancy hotel ballroom, so there already was some groundwork.”

That hotel is the historic Oak Bay Beach Hotel.

“There are people from First Jonesboro who more than 10 years ago prayerwalked the area we’re in,” the church planter continued. “We’re just the latest chapter in this.”

First Jonesboro, which supported Church Planter Austin and the first Canvas Church for five years, has re-directed its support to Blackaby and Canvas Church Oak Bay. Additional prayer and financial support is needed, as well as mission teams and longer-term volunteers.

Direct mail, door-hangers, a parenting seminar and tennis camp are initial ways the Oak Bay church is reaching out.

“We’re figuring out what the community needs and how we can help,” Blackaby said. “Being in this area and on the college campus, with my Ph.D. in apologetics and world view, I’m able to engage people – college students and people skeptical about their faith – on tough issues.”

Never did Mike feel pressure to “pick up the family trade,” the church planter said.

“Eventually I realized God has a unique call for me,” he said. “For it to be here in Victoria brings it full circle from my grandfather, who is from British Columbia.
He’s always had a heart to see churches planted in this area. To be back near where he started is pretty amazing to me.”

In the same way, his year at CSBS&C was pivotal to his current life, Blackaby continued.

“I appreciated that all the professors went the second mile,” the church planter said. “They all had experience in doing ministry and would tell stories of how what they were teaching would play out in ministry. They were all great mentors and they all had great senses of humor. They were all real, very approachable.

“I taught a seminary class last semester, and tried to be like that with my students,” Blackaby continued. “They told me they liked that it wasn’t just book knowledge I was giving them, but a passion for doing ministry.”

Written by Karen L. Willoughby