Tenth Church: Open and Vulnerable
A historical church experiences renewed growth with a unique vision for the gospel, expressed through diversity, vulnerability, and social justice.
Fresh from co-planting a vibrant, Asian church in California, 29-year-old Ken Shigematsu had just returned to Canada. It was 1995 and he was trying to discern his next steps. He touted an American university education, Japanese corporate experience, and had even dabbled in journalism. He was now temporarily crashing at a friend’s pad. Anything was possible. But he didn’t just want the possible. His ambitions were keenly attuned to a simple yet elusive thing: the will of God. He was in the midst of a seven-day bout of fasting and prayer.
On the third day, the words “Tenth Avenue Alliance” came clearly to his mind, even though he had no formal connection with that church. On the fifth day, the words “senior pastor” bubbled up in his consciousness.
Ken was baffled. But so began a journey that would evolve into a story that only God’s hand could have written.
Ken did visit Tenth Avenue Alliance. The church already had a senior pastor—and it was filled with senior citizens. Ken kept his sense of God’s leading in prayer to himself. But circumstances confirmed that leading. Eight months later, Tenth Avenue Alliance hired a young, single, Japanese-Canadian named Ken Shigematsu as its senior pastor.
Almost twenty years later, Ken still tells that story at least seven times a year. The church, now known as Tenth Church, has grown to over two thousand members across three sites with five worship services. As bustling as church life is, Ken prioritizes hosting seven Newcomers Connections dinners a year. If you didn’t know he was the senior pastor, you’d assume by his bearing that the slight, polite Asian man in jeans and an oversized plaid shirt was a newcomer himself.
“On one of my first Sundays here, I introduced myself to a church member as the new pastor,” Ken tells a group of thirty newcomers. “And she said to me, ‘I know who you are. Why did we have to hire someone who was our enemy during the war?’”
Ken then recounts the various intimidating challenges of pastoring a historic Anglo-Saxon church, whose attendance had dwindled from over a thousand to one hundred and something, and had cycled through twenty pastors in twenty years. On one of his first days on the job, he remembers the church secretary walking into his office and announcing, “If the ship sinks now everyone will blame you because you were the last person at the helm.”
But his mentor, Leighton Ford, encouraged him. “I received the strength to walk those first wobbly weeks and months at Tenth,” says Ken. “In the presence of a friend, something in us lifts and straightens. So that is what I have done—not perfectly, but I have resisted the temptation to copy the others, and have sought to seek God for a unique vision for Tenth Church.”
His personal, informal signature storytelling style doesn’t alter as you think it might between the intimate setting of a newcomers’ dinner for thirty or a sanctuary filled with hundreds. Ken acknowledges crying babies and latecomers alike, responding intuitively to signals from the congregation—from laughter to boredom. He draws deeply from Scripture and always references the gospel, but also quotes from the likes of poet John Donne or writer Malcolm Gladwell. Touch points surrounding McDonald’s, Domino’s Pizza, the corporate world of Tokyo, or the work ethic of Pablo Picasso abound.
It’s a relevance that over two decades has translated to the community at large. The church’s vision statement is to be “a place where people of all different backgrounds can find Christ; a community of healing for the broken; and a mission-sending base into Vancouver and throughout the world.” The congregation takes this vision seriously. From countless new baptisms to sold-out Christmas hampers, international missions trips, community gardens, a bustling homeless shelter, and cross-generational ministries firing on all cylinders, the church’s four Community Life Pastors—all Regent alumni—have their plates full. (Ken himself has been a sessional lecturer with Regent's Summer Programs and a guest speaker at Regent's Pastors Conferences.)
On his day off, Regent alumnus and Community Life Pastor Andrew Cheung takes the time to attend the Montreal Massacre Memorial. It’s a rainy December morning in downtown Vancouver, and in a room full of liberal feminists, Andrew sticks out. But on behalf of Tenth Church, he’s partnering with the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter. Andrew’s presence at a panel discussion on BC's first human trafficking conviction under the Criminal Code weaves seamlessly with the church’s emphasis on social justice; it has been working to help Canada rewrite its prostitution laws in an effort to protect the victims of sex trafficking.
On the panel that day is CTV reporter and anchor Mi-Jung Lee, also a long-time member of Tenth Church. She’s there to share her investigations into the controversial issue of human trafficking. “The girls and women who were suffering drew me to the story,” she says. “But shining a light on darkness, a new story can expose [the sex traffickers].”
Asked why she and her family attend Tenth Church, Mi-Jung answers decisively, “We like the diversity and welcoming community at Tenth. We agree with Tenth’s commitment to helping the needy in our own city—and internationally.”
Tenth’s mandate to be a “community of healing for the broken” resonates deeply with Community Life Pastor and Regent alumnus Jay Ewing, especially when he pauses to think about the ebb and flow of church life this past year. Recently, a tough young police officer came to Christ. In the midst of community, he began to recognize and surrender his brokenness and addiction. A barista from the Starbucks across the street from the church building also embarked on a journey to know Christ this past year—church members would regularly pop in to the coffee shop, allowing her to catch glimpses of their authentic interactions.
“Many Protestant churches have created a culture where brokenness is something to hide,” says Jay. “Tenth is the most open and vulnerable church that I have been a part of. It is a beautiful picture of the body of Christ coming together and being formed by Jesus.”