John and his younger sister were born in Vancouver. Their family home was unhappy and John’s dad left when he was four. In time his mother remarried and the family moved to Brooks, Alberta. More heartache followed over the years ahead as the situation grew from bad to worse. To escape abuse, John’s mom took him and his sister and moved out. John was 14 at the time.
Angry and confused from years of tumult, John was unimpressed when a year later his mother introduced him to another man and he was absolutely not in favour when things progressed and they planned to get married. The family had a lot of baggage, to put it mildly. John’s new stepdad recognized the mess they were in and had the foresight to realize changes would have to happen or they wouldn’t make it. He figured they had to get out of Brooks and make a fresh start somewhere else. They decided to move to Red Deer.
17-year-old John stayed in Brooks a little longer and moved in with two other guys a bit older than himself. This was not a good situation but somehow, despite the partying and lack of structure or expectations, John managed to stay in high school and got by.
Understanding grace, love, commitment, and fatherly care
A year later he went to Red Deer for a visit. He was surprised to see some positive changes in his family, but he was wary at first. There was less anger in the household and a conspicuous lack of partying. “Good for them,” John thought. His stepdad had talked his wife into going to church and they were attending Oriole Park Missionary Church. John decided to stay with his family and moved into the house.
About 6 months later John was idling in the living room when for no particular reason he decided to flop open the big family Bible that lay on the coffee table. It fell open to the story of the crucifixion. He hadn’t read it before and found it interesting. As he continued to read, he anticipated how the story was going to go; Lightning would strike down and those soldiers were going to be sorry they’d ever been born! He was shocked when he read what actually came next. Jesus said, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
“I had an understanding right there of grace, love, commitment, and fatherly care. I hadn’t known much of any of that in my life so far.” John became a Jesus follower, as did the rest of the family, and on the same day, they were all baptized at Oriole Park.
“I had grown up not trusting caregivers, or authority figures. I found Jesus to be totally trustworthy. I knew that if everything else fell apart, I’d still trust Him. I’ve never looked back.”
Becoming a Pastor
John had aspired to a career in professional soccer, but when he committed his life to Christ his dream changed. “I wanted to devote my whole life to following Jesus, go all the way with it.” He finished high school in Red Deer and attended youth group at Oriole Park. Then he headed straight for Bible College even though he had been a Christian for just a scant few months. He learned all the Bible stories for the first time at Mountain View Bible College in Didsbury, AB.
“Back in the late 70s there were not a lot of career options for those coming out of Bible College and so I assumed I was training to become a pastor.”
In his 2nd year, he met Trish who was also a student. They became friends, and their relationship blossomed. They married in 1983 and John graduated with a Bachelor of Religious Education in 1984. The couple moved back to Red Deer where both worked in retail for 3 years while John “waited for a church to take a chance on me.”
During his retail years, John had the opportunity to be involved with some district denominational youth ministry and got to know people throughout the District. In 1987 someone he knew phoned with the question he had long been waiting and praying to hear. A pastor had resigned and the church was searching. Would he consider it?
Opportunities as a pastoral couple
John and Trish became a pastoral couple at Bowden Missionary Church in Bowden, Alberta. They threw themselves into the life of the church and community and these were good, fulfilling years. John was involved in leadership in the community as well as the church and he volunteered at the fire department and taught soccer skills. He stayed with the church through a building program and saw the church grow. All three children, Joshua, Jordon, and Alana were born in Red Deer, the latter 2 while John was serving as Pastor in Bowden.
In 1996 another church called. Athabasca needed a pastor. In talking with them he found this church was at a similar place as Bowden was when he began there 9 years before. “They needed new vision, purpose, a more positive identity.” After soul-searching and prayer, they decided to go and gave 4 years to ministry in Athabasca. The congregation responded well, and again they went through a building program.
The year 2000 brought a new opportunity. Something a little different. The pastor at the Evangelical Missionary Church Bridgeland, in Calgary had a vision for a multi-ethnic church and he wanted John to join him and another, to work as a team. John and Trish prayed for God’s direction and decided to make this move. But after only six months the pastor got sick and resigned, leaving just the two of them. Even so, God’s blessing was evident and the church crossed cultural barriers and grew.
Something was not right
Also during this time (2002-2003) John began a Master’s Degree in Christian Leadership from CREST. All was going well at the church, but the leadership decided there should be one leader, not two, and they were struggling to decide which leader to keep.
Although there was nothing wrong per se, John had a deepening sense that something was not right. “I was becoming disenchanted with how we do church. I felt like an event coordinator. Like everything depended on how many people, how good an event was. And even though things were going fabulously at the church, underneath there was always this pressure — how to keep everyone happy.”
Before the leadership made the staffing decision, John pulled out to do something entirely different. He resigned in 2005 and they moved to South Africa. John needed a new version of what church could be like, and a friend of his with a mission in Africa asked John for his help.
“Ministry in South Africa felt freer and the impact greater. Everything doesn’t depend on buildings, events, and numbers.”
Tragedy struck six months in when his friend died of a sudden heart attack. John and Trish found themselves leading a mission in a very foreign country and yet God was preparing them for a new work back home. New people were trained to lead The Seed Of Hope in South Africa and the Pritchard family returned to Calgary.
The Edge house church network
John was invited to come on staff at Centre Street Church in 2006 to start a campus on the east side of Calgary. John set about this and launched The Edge, using the house church model. Thus began a journey of experimentation and discovery that he has been walking ever since. The Edge consists of approximately 30 house churches today. They are not based on programs, buildings, or events, but are each churches in their own right; groups of people gathered together as communities of believers, doing life and mission together.
These house churches flourish in several provinces, and via their network provide various resources for one another depending on the gift mix within each house church. Initially, house churches were particularly attractive to young adults, but now the demographic has changed and house churches may be of mixed ages, while some are built around people of a certain life stage. In 2017 John left his position at CSC and he and Trish continue to provide leadership to The Edge house church network as “tent-makers,” along with several others.
Empowering others to be their own best
John is a Lead Facilitator for CREST Leadership Development since 2015. With CREST he gets to help mid-life leaders flourish in the second half, a time when many get stuck and flatline. CREST helps men and women embrace their own stories, establish their core values, and figure out their dreams. Once participants have a grip on these they discuss skills and strategies.
John is passionate about following Jesus into people’s lives and empowering them to live fully alive. He’s in a sweet spot at this time of life. “With The Edge, I get to empower people to be the church, and with CREST I get to empower people to be their own best.”
Part of being your best means taking time for personal pursuits. John loves hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, and camping…anything to do with the outdoors. The kids are all grown and married and they have the additional blessing of five grandchildren. Trish works as a doula, supporting women through pregnancy and birth. They also run an Airbnb in their home.
John is available to provide coaching on Understanding Yourself and Community Engagement
John brings a wealth of experience from working with people struggling to sort out who they are and where they fit as they seek to serve God. Using proven tools John helps leaders discover how God has designed them so they can flourish while serving from their giftedness, taking into consideration personality, barriers to maturity, and other aspects that affect performance.
Here’s an opportunity to look at your own story, embrace it, and see God’s redemptive hand in it.
Many today are looking for alternatives to the traditional church. Spirit-led house churches can offer freedom, flexibility, and a place to use your gifts while doing life and mission together as a community. How can we re-engage those walking away from the traditional church or those who never belonged to one in the first place but are looking for a different sort of spiritual home?
John is available by phone, email, Zoom, or in-person and is willing to do weekends for groups of up to 12 people. Visit emccenrich.ca to connect with John.