As Global Ambassador of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), Dr Brian Stiller represents 650 million evangelicals across the world. He talks to City News about what it takes to speak into the lives of presidents and to bless the land, and how the incarnation of Jesus into humanity is the prototype for churches to be the incarnation into their community.
At the Global Pentecostal Summit in early November, there were many influential theologians and pastors present, and Dr Brian Stiller was the heavyweight among them.
Dr Stiller is the Global Ambassador of the World Evangelical Alliance, an association representing 650 million Evangelical Christians. Prior to that, he was president of Tyndale University and Seminary—it was during his tenure that Tyndale became a university and grew to be Canada’s largest seminary. Upon his retirement from his presidency at Tyndale, Dr Stiller was named president of the Tyndale Foundation.
A youthful 81 years old, Dr Stiller has been a pioneer and leader all his life. In the ‘60s he was the President of Youth for Christ (YFC) Canada. He later became the president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, during which he founded Canada’s first national Christian magazine, Faith Today in 1983. He also started a weekly national television show called Cross Currents. Dr Stiller is also a prolific writer: his books include Evangelicals Around the World: A Global Handbook for the 21st Century (2015), An Insider’s Guide to Praying for the World (2016), and From Jerusalem to Timbuktu: A Global Tour of the Spread of Christianity (2018).
Today, Dr Stiller travels the world advocating for Christians, some of whom live and work in environments that are deeply hostile to the Christian faith. He chronicles what the Holy Spirit is doing in these places in his blog dispatchesfromBrian.com—continuing to employ media to give glory to God, just as he has done for much of his life.
Dr Stiller led two powerful devotional sessions during the Global Pentecostal Summit—in Professor Byron Klaus’ words, they were prophetic. City News had the privilege of sitting down for the following conversation with him.
Dr Stiller, we’re really privileged to have you with us. How did you decide to come to the Summit?
Well, the three people who have been doing work together were Doug Peterson. Byron Klaus, Murray Dempster. Murray and I were friends as boys in Saskatchewan. My uncle was his pastor, and my very good friend, Ken Bombay, led him to the Lord. Murray went to another school in Canada, and then he moved to the States.
Murray and I were friends, but these three—Peterson, Klaus and Dempster—wrote together. Murray now is ill and incapacitated so Doug and Byron thought I might be the one to fill in for Murray and asked, “Would you help us with it?” And that’s how I was invited.
Thank you for saying yes. But you did say that it’s not your first time here. How often do you come?
I was chair of Singapore’87 which was a Younger Leaders conference under the Lausanne Committee. I travelled the world in the early ‘80s, looking for younger leaders, and brought 350 together for a historic conference of younger leaders at the National University (of Singapore). So I got to know Singapore very well back in the ‘80s, and that’s what began my sojourn here. The last time I was here was maybe four or five years ago, before Covid.
You said in your devotion that “to live in the land is to bless it”. What is a living example of this?
There are a few examples: there’s a church in the heart of Venezuela, in the city of Caracas. Samuel Olson is the pastor of a Pentecostal church in the poor section of the city, and during the tragedies of Venezuela, over the last decade his church has been a place of refuge for the spiritual and social struggles of the Venezuelans living under a Marxist government. That is a church that blesses the city. Not angry, not fighting, not feuding, but blessing.
The Ukraine war days after Putin invaded: some Canadian businessman asked, “Can you make sure this money gets to help people on the ground?” I found pastors in countries alongside Ukraine whose congregations were caring for women and children fleeing Ukraine. And pastors and churches in Ukraine that we’re helping with medical supplies, accommodation, food, water. Those stories can be multiplied—where the people of God become the people of God wherever they are, and in effect, bless their land.
You truly are the living embodiment of Proverbs 18:16. Your gift brings you before kings. You pray for presidents; doors are open to you to speak into the lives of great men. So how do you prepare yourself to meet a president or prime minister?
For me it begins with understanding the nature of presence, in meeting someone who is in a high and responsible position. Humility is a factor I’ve tried to understand and have learned it is something one is called on to practise. Humility may not come naturally. Jesus said, “Humble yourself.” I worked some with Billy Graham, and people would say he’s such a humble man. My response is, “I have no idea whether he’s humble or not. But I do know that he practises humility.” Practising humility is to remind yourself that we are all common humanity in Christ. Regardless of who they are, that person and I, we stand on level ground before the Cross. So, I’m neither frightened nor impressed. I want to be careful in not overreaching, or going beyond what is appropriate. Because I’m a guest and I need to act that way. I don’t judge. I know there’s things that I don’t know, and some things I do know which may not be true. I’m careful to seek to only allow my mind to be a platform for grace. It’s knowing yourself and knowing the humanness of another. Deep within the heart of that other person—be it a king or queen, a plumber or a bishop, a taxi driver or a billionaire—there is a latent desire to be good, to be understood, and to be welcomed.
(Theologian and author) Henri Nouwen was my friend. He lived near me, and I did a documentary on him. He had a wonderful phrase, “We are the beloved of God.” So, anyone, regardless of their status, or their faith, they are the beloved of God, no more, no less than I am. And that is freeing. I meet people who I could easily judge, but seeing them as the beloved of God, mitigates that carnal inclination.
As chairman of the World Evangelical Alliance, you represent over 600 million Christians? What exactly are your responsibilities?
There are 2.4 billion Christians; half are Roman Catholics—1.2 billion. Five hundred million are under the World Council of Churches, (that includes 300 million Orthodox Christians). And there’s 650 million evangelicals which means that 25 percent of Christians evangelicals and WEA is their global representative. I’ve had a variety of life experiences—the last one, I was president of Tyndale University. When I retired, I was asked if I would come into this role as a face for evangelicalism to travel the world. So essentially, I’m an old white-haired man traveling the world to encourage younger leaders, taking me into difficult places where Christians are hurting and alone.
What are some of the countries where that you’ve been to that you’ve seen Christians suffer the most for their faith?
Somalia. A desperately hostile and broken country where there are very, very few Christians. Iraq, where there was enormous evacuation of Christians from that country. But finding small pockets of young people to speak to. Haiti, a very broken country. El Salvador—you would have heard Juan Angel’s presentation; I visited that prison. There are countries and then there’s places. Rwanda soon after the massacres. I’ve been to China a number of times, meeting with the senior minister of SARA to advocate on behalf of Christians in the country. Vietnam… about 100 countries with varying needs and difficulties.
If you go to DispatchesfromBrian.com, there are hundreds of stories. When I go to a country, I look for something that’s of interest to me and hopefully to others.
I understand you are the founder and first editor-in-chief of Faith Today, which still exists.
Karen Stiller is the editor now. She was married to my nephew. He died this year. Let’s face it—it is a great magazine. It’s Canadian (smiles). They do a great job—it’s a beautiful magazine.
What gave you the confidence to start the magazine and what has it achieved that you’re really happy with?
I was appointed national director of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC). (This is part of the world body the WEA which has 143 national alliances. Here in Singapore the national alliance is Evangelical Fellowship of Singapore or EFoS.) I was invited to lead EFC, but there was little to work with. They had a small magazine, and they had no funds with which to work.
In North America, you have Christianity Today. But in Canada, you feel overwhelmed by Americanism. I wanted something [for Canada]. In publishing the magazine, this became internal audit: “What are the tracks of the footprints of the Spirit across this land?” I asked myself that question. And this is how I write Dispatches: my prayer is, “Lord helped me see the footprints of your Spirit across this church or this people or this land.”
I loved magazines. I remember the first time I got Time magazine as a teenager. I was so enthralled with the idea of capturing ideas and stories. So, when I started Faith Today, I looked for people to write. And it became an instant success. That was 1983—40 years ago.
What do you feel is the role of media?
I also started a weekly national television show called Cross Currents. I wanted to show Christians that they need not be afraid of engaging with ideas. It was an interview show with guests and a panel.
Early in life I found writers like Francis Schaeffer and CS Lewis. And Jim Elliot (who was killed in the ‘50s by the indigenous tribe he was reaching out to in Ecuador). Reading their literature helped me refine ideas and guide my mind, plus give me awareness of things beyond my little world. I wanted to know about worlds beyond my little world.
Of course, the gospel is a story. And how do you know the story unless someone tells you? The favourite time of day for me as a little boy, at night when mom read us Bible stories. We were five kids. The harshest discipline was for me to be sent to bed without reading the Bible story. I loved hearing Bible stories. Early in my adult life I started producing films and documentaries of missions. So I guess it comes from my boyhood along with life experiences and interests.
What’s your view on social media?
I only read social media which I think is fair and informative. I don’t usually go into threads of conversation, or of hysteria. I find social media to be enormously valuable, both to keep up with friends and family, and to choose sources from which I want information. It allows me to pick and choose. When people talk about how bad social media is, I’m not tracking with them as I guess I’m not reading what they do.
On Facebook, I post my Dispatches and if somebody comes back angry, my heartbeat goes up. I don’t want to fight. I try and avoid arguments.
What do you feel that the church must concern itself with at this time? What should we be focusing on?
Given the church is the people of God, and God wants His Church to represent Him, then each church or each congregation, in each community or city needs to determine how best to represent God in that world. You’re here in the middle of Singapore, this unbelievable lavish, sophisticated, highly educated community. What City Harvest does is not what I’d suggest for Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea. Their needs are different.
The great thing about the gospel is that, as did Jesus, we live in the world. As John’s Gospel says, like Jesus, “we move into the neighbourhood.” The incarnation of Jesus into our humanity is the prototype for churches: to be the incarnation into their community where they become part of that world. They hurt where people hurt. They celebrate where there is celebration, becoming God’s light in that community. This will vary from my farm community in Western Canada from downtown Toronto.
What would you say is the significance of this Pentecostal Summit? What do you think its impact will be in a decade or two?
I was thinking about that today. I think it’s a marvellous prototype of how Pentecostals can delve into issues in ways that are salvific. I use the word “salvific” because it means that what you’re doing is saving and transforming. This Summit is a great example of how Pentecostals can work with scholars in better understanding critical issues: biblical and theological matters; social, political matters; ecological and human resource patterns.
It’s inspirational. We aren’t dividing thinking and worshipping—it’s kind of rock and roll together. The cerebral is celebrated along with the mystical. We aren’t dividing, we’re integrating. This has been done so well, funded by a church with resources to make it happen. It’s like imprinting a DNA which will replicated in other places. Were you a little concerned?
We didn’t really know what to expect of the Summit. I think Pastor Kong tried to prepare us as much as he could but we didn’t really know how it’s going all come together because, like you say, it’s cerebral and then there’s us…
When I was asked, I had never heard of this church or of Pastor Kong or the issues you’ve gone through. We had two long sessions on Zoom, and he was very open. Given I’m Pentecostal, and while I’ve lived my life in a wider Evangelical world, I’m greatly interested and intrigued by what God is doing within the Pentecostal and Charismatic world. Although I’m wary of hype. Even so, I was intrigued by joining in the Summit. And I knew Doug and Byron, I trusted them.
But I must say I’ve been in all the sessions (at GPS) and this is first class. The presenters are very well-prepared. They speak well on their subjects. The Summit takes seriously the examining of issues, of letting someone give an opinion and in letting people respond. It’s a true learning experience, it’s not fabricated.
It’s good for me to be here and to grieve with you and to feel the sorrow you’ve experienced these years. I celebrate Pastor Kong in being so up front and direct. It’s a commendable characteristic. And it’s a very important strategy. Like we talked about earlier, I’ve learned to remind myself not to judge, seeking instead to be an agent of grace.
I think your life has been amazing. I really cannot believe you’re in your 82nd year!
I don’t know, you just go on. You find you haven’t seen everything yet. I just fire on what can be done, how we can solve this, how we can encourage others. The ignition still works!
Thank you for being such a great example for us.
We are so flawed. As you age, you remember your errors, your failures more vividly than maybe it happened. But that is offset by His continual reminder that we are His beloved.
Watch Dr Brian Stiller’s devotions at the Global Pentecostal Summit website:
Day 1 Devotion (Friday 3 Nov 2023)
Day 2 Devotion (Saturday 4 Nov 2023)