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I left early to avoid the traffic. I decided I’d find somewhere to work for a couple of hours, and found a coffee shop with plenty of room to sit with my computer. I found a spot downstairs, and found myself alone except for a group of young adults in the corner.

I started working, beverage and butter tart in hand. But I found myself overhearing a conversation about sexuality among the young adults. One of them was transitioning genders. All of them bristled at the way they’d been treated by people who disagreed with their sexual ethics. Some spoke about Scripture, the church, and parents. I heard a lot of pain and determination in the voices of the young adults in the room.

They left, and I continued my work. But I got thinking about a study retreat I attended in May with pastors from all across North America. At one time, I felt like I lived in one of the most progressive cities represented by the pastors in that group. No more. This year, it felt like every pastor — urban or rural, conservative area or liberal area — seemed to face the same cluster of issues.

It all reminds me of Lesslie Newbigin, who returned to England after serving as a missionary in India for 40 years. When he returned, he found a different culture than the one he’d left. “England is a pagan society and the development of a truly missionary encounter with this very tough form of paganism is the greatest intellectual and practical task facing the Church,” he wrote.

It’s the same challenge we face today.

How should we respond? I’m no expert, but a few ideas come to mind.

First, we must learn about the culture we’re trying to reach. In other words, we must learn the skills of a missionary. Books like Carl Trueman’s The Rise and the Triumph of the Modern Self help us understand how we got here and how people think today.

Second, we must recover our confidence in God and the gospel. The challenges we face look insurmountable, but God is not worried. Psalms 1 and 2 help me: I want to be a person who’s rooted in God’s Word (Psalm 1) and confident in God’s reign even when it looks like the world’s out of control (Psalm 2).

Third, we must ask God to give us love for the people we’re trying to reach. I felt a little of that as I sat in the basement of the coffee shop. It’s hard to pray for people you don’t love.

Years ago, John Stott wrote, “I pray earnestly that God will raise up today a new generation of Christian apologists or Christian communicators, who will combine an absolute loyalty to the biblical gospel and an unwavering confidence in the power of the Spirit with a deep and sensitive understanding of the contemporary alternatives to the gospel; who will relate the one to the other with freshness, authority, and relevance; and who will use their minds to reach other minds for Christ.” That’s my prayer too as we face new missionary challenges in Canada.