Did you “go” to church?

“Where is your church?” “I’m going to church.” “I just left church.” “Did you go to church today?” “Church is boring.” “What time does church start?” “When does church get over?” “I do church by myself.” “Do you want to get together after church?” “Did you like church today?” “I wish we had a traditional church” “I wish our church was more contemporary.” “What kind of church do you go to?”

We all talk about “church” in this way at some time or another. Intellectually we know that church is more than a building, a time in a week, a worship service, a style of worship, or a liturgy. And yet, our language and our actions often betray us. We put on our “church hat” for a couple of hours on Sunday morning, get our “church” done, and then move on with real life. We sit in service thinking about all of the things we will do when “church” is done. And yet, we know that this is not the way that we want it to be. We long for something more!

The early church was never perfect – as long as sinners have been gathering there have been conflicts (remember Jesus’ disciples arguing about who was the greatest while they were with Jesus?).  Nevertheless, as we seek to reflect on what it means to be the church, it is helpful to look at the birth of the church in Acts 2. When we do this, we see a very clear picture: the church is people sharing life together as they follow Jesus (“koinonia” in Greek). The church is not a “what,” “when,” “where,” “why,” or “how.” The church is a “who!”

As Mountain View moves through the process of planting a daughter “church” in the Stanwood/Camano Island area we have been trying very hard to take this “who?” question seriously. We recognize that the Church is already alive and well in the community, but that there are many who are not yet a part of it. God is calling us to seek to reach them and to faithfully model what it means to be followers of Jesus. As part of our strategy, we are planning to use the missional community model of organizing a church. In this model there is not as much time and energy spent on programs. Instead, there is an emphasis on multiplication of leaders, service in the neighborhood, and introducing people to the Biblical story at home and in “third places” (public locations where people already gather). There is an emphasis on sharing life together, supporting each other, and accountability for living as “the church” in our work, school, and home. Small “missional communities” will meet weekly to seek how to live life out on mission together and reach their neighborhood.

Of course, our daughter church will still have weekly “gatherings” where all of the missional communities come together to worship, share in the sacraments, and engage the Word of God. And yet, the details of “where?,” “when?,” and “how?” to do this do not seem as pressing when our focus is on the “who?”

Very soon we will have a final version of our mission plan available for you to see. We ask that you continue to lift up our discernment team in prayer as we push toward the end of the process and creating our “missionary plan.” We will be taking a day-long retreat on June 9 to work through a big chunk of this. Also be praying that God will lead the right group of mature Christian leaders to join us as missionaries on our “core team” once we are ready to launch.

As always, the ultimate answer to the “who?” question will always be Jesus Christ! May Mountain View always be a church that centers its life and way of being the church around Jesus and following him into the world!

Confessions of a Youth Pastor

First confession: I’m not yet an ordained “pastor,” but the title I used sounds more interesting than “Confessions of a Youth Director.” Second confession: I’m scared to death of being the parent of teenagers!

I have two boys, ages 6 and 8. By all accounts, I should not worry about being the parent of a teenager yet. However, if 14 years in youth ministry have taught me anything, it is that kids grow up faster than parents expect! When my oldest son turned 8 in December I realized that I had less than ten years left to plan for a college fund and only eight to plan for him driving on his own! Yikes!!  Scarier still: only 5 years until he is officially a “teen!” In recent years, some of the teenagers I work with have asked me if I wouldn’t like to have a girl. I have a pat response: “Yes, I would love to have a little girl, I just don’t want to have a teenage girl.” This usually gets a good laugh from the boys and indignant protests from the girls. It’s funny, but it is also totally honest! It’s not that I think boys are going to be so easy, it is just that I at least understand some of what they are going to face, and I hope (probably naïvely) that it will help me a bit.

So what does any of this have to do with this blog about our new church development? This brings me to my next confession: one of the biggest reasons that I want to be part of planting a church is that I have a desire to see my boys living and growing up in a community of faith that is deeply woven into their lives – in their school, on their sports teams, in their neighborhood, in their home, etc. I want them to “see” and “feel” what it is to be the church more than I want them to hear and talk about it.

Now please do not hear the wrong thing: I am NOT saying that Mountain View cannot be that kind of church or that there aren’t other churches in Stanwood/Camano that are like this. What I am saying is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to use our current models of being and doing church to disciple young people. This is not a radical statement – almost any book or conference on youth ministry today will be talking about this phenomenon of young people leaving the church after high school. I think that older generations in the church are finally admitting that this is not simply a repeat of previous patterns of young people leaving the church and then returning when they have a family (the statistical trends are simply too obvious for that kind of speculation now. See #5 in Five Myths by Barna). So what we need in order to disciple young families are new models. Models that can be integrated into the lives of families, equipping them to live out their faith together during the week where they work and play in order that more people may come to know and believe in Jesus Christ. 

So we need to experiment. We need to try new things. We need to fail, try again, fail, and try again. We need to embody the church as people more than place. Since I know that the church is going to have to change in order to be faithful to God’s calling in the world, I might as well get on board now! I want to be able to look my boy’s in the eye someday and tell them that I at least tried to live out what they hear me preaching from the pulpit, even if it means letting go of some of what has been comfortable for me.

Vision Statement

We’re finally done with the “Vision Statement!” It was worth the extra time to get it just right.  Before you read it, here is a short description from the “Starting New Churches” handbook of what this statement is supposed to do:

Vision Statement: The second task of the team is to develop a one page description of “who” this new church is being started for and “why” it needs to be started. The temptation is to try and start a church for everyone, which usually leads to communicating clearly the love of God to no one. The vision statement will be developed after several site visits, much prayer, and significant time to reflect. It is really the discerning of the heart of God at this time. 

Vision Statement: Mountain View PC New Church Development

 Who are we called to reach?

 Primary Group

  • Stanwood/Camano Island, WA
  • Pre-Christians
  • Young Families

 Secondary Groups

  • Busy on Sundays
  • Negative Perceptions of the Church

 We are called to the Stanwood/Camano Island area to establish a faith community that seeks to live their lives as followers of Jesus. Recognizing that this requires a core group whose faith is strongly established, we nevertheless feel most compelled to reach out to those who do not yet know Jesus. Specifically, God has continually placed young families on our hearts. These families, consisting of children, parents and potentially grandparents or other extended relatives, will be a core area of focus in establishing a healthy multi-generational church body.

Significant subgroups that we hope to reach include those whose family obligations and work schedules have made it difficult to be part of a worshipping community on Sunday mornings, and those whose negative perceptions of the Church or sheer lack of contact with the Church act as barriers to receiving the love of Christ. These are those to whom we may be called to present the Good News in ways that look different from what people traditionally perceive church to be. This may also require scheduling gatherings on nontraditional days (not Sunday/not only Sunday).

 Why Stanwood/Camano Island?

In some respects, the Stanwood/Camano Island area is similar to other communities in Washington State and the Northwestern United States in general. There are already churches present in the community, some of them very old and established, and yet a large percentage of the population is not connected in any way with these churches. People may consider themselves quite spiritual, but they do not see the value in the Christian Church as it is often presented to them.

What may be unique about Stanwood and especially Camano Island, is that among those who identify with the Presbyterian tradition, a number of them choose to travel to neighboring communities to worship. For these reasons, and many others, we have clearly sensed God calling Mountain View Presbyterian Church to be involved in starting a new faith community in the area.

Why pre-Christians?

It is the very DNA of the Church to be engaged in making disciples, baptizing, and teaching people to love, obey and follow Jesus (Matt. 28:18-20). And yet, so often new churches end up attracting mostly those who are already Christian and simply want a new place to worship. While we will be seeking mature believers to do the discipling, baptizing, and teaching, it will be our focus to reach those who do not yet know Jesus rather than creating a church that draws in believers from other existing churches.

Why young families?

Many young parents desire to raise their children in stable, loving families that can provide all they need to grow, even thrive in the world. But the reality is that apart from Christ, none of us have the foundation, the support, the community, the tools, or even the love sufficient to accomplish this. We have a longing to see that no family has to go without the Savior who knows and provides for all their needs.

There are many parents in this generation who didn’t grow up in a church community, or fell away from the church early in life. These people are now having children of their own who have never heard the Good News, or cannot understand its significance. In these cases, people either can’t or won’t seek the life, love and light available to them in Jesus Christ, no matter how desperately they need it. Consequently, they live lives without clear meaning or purpose. They will not seek out a church; the gospel must be taken to where they live and work!

Why people who are busy on Sunday?

For many people, family obligations often take priority and can quickly fill up a schedule. In addition, there are those who must work on Sundays in order to make a living. While we are not ruling out having Sunday gatherings, we want to reach out to and walk alongside these people who often fall through the cracks, and equip them for the life Christ intended them to live. It appears that there is room in the Stanwood/Camano Island area for a church that provides options for worship in addition to Sunday morning.

Why people who have a negative view of the Church?

We want to do everything we can for those who have simply written off the church – everything we can to help them hear the loving call of their Savior. We want to reach those who dismiss the idea of church because of inaccurate perceptions or painful past experiences, and provide an environment where individuals can go deeper in building a sense of authentic community and friendship in Jesus Christ. Establishing a new faith community with the support of Mountain View Presbyterian Church and the Presbytery of North Puget Sound enables us to explore novel, nontraditional approaches needed to reach people with the love of Jesus Christ.