Volume 27 - Number 2 - Winter 2020 - Healing for the Hurting Church

Meet Shawn Brix

This article appears in the Volume 27 - Number 2 - Winter 2020 - Healing for the Hurting Church edition of the Calvin Seminary Forum

This Fall, Rev. Shawn Brix was named Calvin Seminary’s new Canadian Church Relations Liaison. In this new role, Brix will serve as a “pastor-ambassador” who builds and strengthens bridges between Calvin Theological Seminary and Canadian churches and ministries. This position is a part of Calvin Seminary’s strong commitment to serving churches in Canada, and our desire to imagine and build new partnerships and initiatives. This connecting, listening and serving role will help Calvin Seminary be more present and available to serve leaders and churches in Canada.

The Forum Magazine Editors sat down with Shawn Brix to ask him some questions about his path to ministry and his vision for this new work.

The Forum: Describe your call to ministry. How old were you? Was it a specific moment or more of a discovery process?

Brix: The Lord impressed a call to vocational ministry on my heart at a very young age. Throughout my teen years especially, my pastor gave me a lot of latitude to test my gifts in ministry. One opportunity in particular seemed to shape me and my call. For a number of years, I read the pastor’s biblical text in worship each week just before he preached. That not only allowed me to develop a love for reading the scriptures publicly, it also connected me to the pastor’s sermon in a meaningful way at an impressionable time in my life.

I struggled, however, with how to respond to the call that I sensed. I had a lot of evangelical influences in my life and, already as a teen, I knew that the mainstream denomination my family was part of was not my theological home. As part of my geography degree, I studied international development in university and, soon after marriage, explored missions work, but in the end, I still couldn’t see the way forward.

My wife and I finally parted ways with our former denomination, discovered the rich theological heritage of the CRC, and started our family. By that point, I was enjoying a career in the world of educational publishing and I had allowed the call to vocational ministry to recede to the back of my head and heart. But the Lord was persistent.

One day, the call to ministry came back in a dramatic, urgent, and pressing way. For the first (and only!) time in my life, the Lord spoke “audibly” to me and instructed me to listen to His calling. That began a year-long journey of exploration, discovery, affirmation, and preparation! We moved to Grand Rapids in 1990 to begin studies at Calvin Seminary and have never looked back!

What was seminary like for you? How did you view seminary during your time as a student? How do you view theological education now?

My years at Calvin Seminary were a time of genuine spiritual growth. We committed ourselves to a local congregation that loved us, supported us, and gave me opportunities to further explore and test my gifts. Without any source of significant income for four years, we also learned to trust in God’s providence and care in a way we had never experienced before. We learned humility through the use of food banks and community health clinics, and we discovered the incredible generosity of God’s people who silently loved us with gifts that no one else ever knew about.

Theologically, too, I grew in leaps and bounds. Because the denomination I grew up in was so theologically eclectic, my understanding of the scriptures was not well formed. Although I knew lots of biblical stories and teaching, I had no overall framework in which to place them. Calvin Seminary gave me the ability to see the biblical narrative as a story of God’s covenant dealings with His people. Through the lens of creation, fall, and redemption, I was able to see for the first time that Christ was at the center of the entire story. Those new discoveries excited me and laid a foundation for ministry that has served me well.

Few things have brought more joy in ministry than watching congregations grow in their desire to love and serve the neighbors God has given them.

- Shawn Brix

What has your life in ministry looked like? Where have you served? What is your favorite part?

My year-long student internship was in a rural farming community. Our first congregation after ordination was in a small town. Since then, we’ve served a congregation in a suburban, professional community, and a congregation in a small city in one of southern Ontario’s prime recreational areas. Although all the congregations have been in Ontario, they’ve each been in a very different stage of their life cycle.

I’ve loved serving the local church in ministry. Without a doubt, preaching has been (and remains) my first love. Especially in the last number of years, the freedom I’ve been given has allowed me to stretch and grow in my ability to communicate the Gospel.

While preaching has allowed me to serve the congregation at the “macro” level, I’ve always been grateful to serve God’s people at the “micro” level of pastoral care as well. Learning what resides in the hearts of those I serve has helped shape my preaching to address the hopes and challenges of where people really live.

In Canada, where the immigration experience is still only one or two generations removed, a significant part of my ministry has also been challenging and leading God’s people to engage with their community. Few things have brought more joy in ministry than watching congregations grow in their desire to love and serve the neighbors God has given them.

Talk about your vision for your new role with Calvin Seminary as the Canadian Church Relations Liaison. What drew you to this role? What are your hopes for this new opportunity?

In 25 years of serving the local church, I’ve watched Calvin Seminary grow and change in a number of exciting ways. Heart formation is now considered as critical as head formation. The curriculum has become increasingly shaped by God’s missional calling upon the Church. Context has become an important consideration in how leaders are encouraged to share the Gospel. These and other changes have placed Calvin Seminary in an excellent position to continue to serve the Church well!

I’m looking forward to taking the rich resources at the seminary’s disposal and drawing alongside local congregations and ministry leaders to say, “How can we serve you? How can we partner with you to help you further flourish in your ministry?” Equally exciting for me will be meeting emerging leaders who are sensing a call to vocational ministry but are wondering about what that might look like for them. Lastly, the role is also going to give me the opportunity to listen to leaders about the issues they face and how the seminary might continue to grow and change to respond to the challenges of ministry in the 21st century. I’m thrilled to be a small part of what God has in store for Calvin Seminary and the CRC in Canada!

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