The New Guy

This past week I had lunch with a group of amazing pastors from the Stanwood – Camano Island area. This is a group that has been meeting about once a month for many years. Pastors have come and gone, but many of them have been serving in their current congregation for a very long time. And just to be clear: these are NOT Presbyterian pastors (there are no other Presbyterian churches here). These are pastors from a number of different denominations that gather to talk and support one another.

After we had lunch this past week I left marveling at their humility and genuine concern and support for one another (not for the first time). I reflected on how they so willingly allowed me to join them when I came to the area 18 months ago as the new church planting pastor. Not only that, but every time I meet with them I go away feeling encouraged, supported, and connected with the larger Church. I’ve often wondered: Would I be as supportive and caring to a new church pastor in our community if they were starting a new church?

When I think about this question I think back to when I was in staff in Marysville. When I search my heart honestly I have to admit that whenever I saw a sign or advertisement for a new church I often felt threatened and competitive. Why? Ok, sometimes their advertisements were basically saying: “We are way better than any other church! Come here and see what you are missing” (not in those exact words – but not far off). In other words, their advertising was clearly being directed at those already connected to other churches and offering the “new and improved version.” However, sometimes the advertisements were nothing more than a sign with a new church name, service time, and an invitation. Why would I or any other pastor/church leader feel threatened by that?

There are perhaps many different ways to answer that question, but probably the #1 reason this happens is when a person’s focus is not on Jesus and the Gospel but rather on the institutional church. Institutional focus results in the need to produce results and the measuring of success revolving around “butts, bucks, and building” (attendance/membership, money/budget, facilities/survival). Focus on the Gospel and on Jesus results in the ability to say (with the Apostle Paul) “…Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true; and in that I rejoice” (Philippians 1:18). The truth is, there are many people that have not yet believed the gospel and who do not have a church community. There is no reason for competition unless our goal is to get everyone already connected to a church to come to profess the same doctrinal statements and to leave their church and come to us.

So I am humbled and grateful for the many pastors that already serve this community and their friendship. I know that God has called us here to participate in what the Holy Spirit has already started. We know that we have a unique role to play, and that we are being called to disciple a unique group of people, but we are all part of Jesus’ body – the Church. My prayer is that as I continue in ministry that there will be more unity among church leaders and that I will be as humble, kind, generous, encouraging, and hospitable as the pastors of this community have been to me.

 

Getting Caught Up

It has been quite some time since I have updated my blog. I don’t want this to be misinterpreted as a sign that things aren’t going well. It is actually quite the opposite. Things are getting busier as Tidelands grows, and that means that I am going to have to be more focused and intentional about making time for my blog. I also took some time off over the holidays to be with family and relax. There you have it – my best excuses. I can provide more later if requested.

In other news, we had a few more “firsts” in December. Last December we were still only meeting once a month for worship, so this was our first time moving through an entire Advent season of worship together. I would typically preach one of the sermons during Advent when I was at Mountain View, but this was my first time planning and implementing all four weeks on my own. I have to say that I enjoyed it – other than the business of preparing for three worship services at once the week before Christmas with family in town (Christmas Eve, Sunday before and Sunday after Christmas). But it was worth it so that I could enjoy time off with family after Christmas. Having a Christmas Eve service was another of our “firsts” for Tidelands.

Our Missional Community had some wonderful time together over the holidays. We had Thanksgiving and Christmas meals together (not on the exact days, but close enough), we made cookies for the elementary school staff, had a “white elephant” gift exchange, watched some football, and continued to share the “Story of God” with our kids. A new family has begun joining us on Sunday nights. Christmas is a great time to introduce people to life lived for Christ! Most of our MC families also helped out with the giving tree at the local school again. We are still working toward helping the school district and the food bank develop a local “backpack program” (a program that provides food for the weekend to kids that need the extra help). The idea was that we would be launching the program this week, but we are running into some snags. Tidelands donated a significant amount of our local mission giving to get the program up and running, so the barriers are more procedural (and perhaps spiritual as well).

Some of the more mundane (yet necessary) things that we are currently working on have to do with the logistics of starting a new church. We registered for a EIN (Employee Identification Number) with the federal government, and we are now working on getting incorporated with the state. This also requires creating some articles of incorporation. Fortunately for us, this process is made easier by being under the umbrella of the Presbyterian Church (USA). We’re also getting more people involved with all of the details that go into Sunday morning worship: set-up, tear-down, children’s ministry, offerings, coffee bar, etc. Thankfully God is leading some amazing people to partner in this with us!

For me personally, I’m beginning to feel like the “honeymoon” is over. I’ll share more about what I mean in another blog post (hopefully on its way before another two months pass!).

Sheep Stealing?

wolf_sheepThere is an interesting tension we are beginning to experience in our start-up year as a church. While we are convinced that our first missional community is becoming all that we hoped it would be, and it does seem to work as a way or reaching those that have never been part of a church community, it is likely going to be quite some time before people coming through the missional community end up in worship with us on Sundays. More importantly, it will be some time before we develop mature leaders through this process. So how do we go about recruiting/attracting potential leaders in the community to join us without “stealing” from the existing congregations?

I’m convinced that churches (especially new church “plants”) are not always honest with themselves in this area. So often they  end up attracting a large number of people from other congregations because they are “fresh”, have better programs/music, more energy, or people are just unhappy with their current congregation. I’m sure anyone who has been in ministry for any amount of time can relate to having a conversation with visitors on a Sunday morning who begin explaining to you that they are at your worship service because they are unhappy with their current church. For me, this always triggered a red flag. More often than not (though I understand that there are legitimate exceptions), these people will “hop” on over to another place once they realize just how imperfect and messy your church is.

So now we are at a place where we are considering doing some of the things that we have not done much of up to this point. Namely, getting a building space, and doing more promotion to invite people to join us for worship. I think we need to do this because going forward we are going to have to find more people to join us in this work. We need a worship leader, we need a church administrator, we need people to help with children’s ministry, and we need others to join our missional community leadership so that we can multiply and start missional communities in other areas. And the big question in my mind is: How do we do this without simply pulling people out of their existing church community?

I have already met people that have recently moved to the area and are looking for a church home. The demographic research tells us that the Stanwood/Camano Island area will continue to grow. So that would certainly be a group to focus on. I also know that there are some people who travel a very long way to go to worship. While I understand that there are a variety of reasons for this, I also know that it is hard to truly be the church in your neighborhood or community if all of those in your worshipping community live 30 miles away. So perhaps there is some room there for people to reconnect their worship life with their community life.

We are just beginning this conversation as a leadership team. It will be interesting to see where this all goes. In the meantime, I have Jesus words ringing in my ears:

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask
the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Tidelands – What’s Next?

Many people have been wondering what the next steps are for Tidelands now that I am ordained and will be moving into the “organizing pastor” role full time. Right away I will begin setting up a temporary office at our Camano Island home since many of the early steps in the church planting process will involve administrative work (setting up financial accounts, contact information, advertising, meeting times, website, etc). I realize this isn’t the glamorous stuff of church planting, but it will need to be done! I will also be trying to set up meetings with the many leads that I have with people in the Stanwood/Camano Island community. I’m very excited to be able to spend my days entirely in the community and to get to know people better! This is the exciting part of church planting! We delayed the “informational meeting” in the community until my job transitioned, so I will also be helping to set a date and location for that meeting.

Packing up the office

Packing up my office at Mountain View

Our discernment team has begun the transition into a missional community and we will also be setting up our “core leadership team.” Our primary focus will be on getting one missional community up and running. Already we are meeting people from the community that are interested in being a part of this group, but it will need to remain small to start. I will be working on learning more about what it means to lead a missional community and trying to set the foundation with this first group so that we can multiply quickly and train new leaders. Because we have sensed God leading us in the direction of missional communities the process may appear slow from the perspective of traditional new church development. We will only be having worship gatherings once a month at the beginning so that we can put most of our effort into building the missional communities. This will take time; there is no way to shortcut the process of building relationships and reaching out to those that do not yet know Jesus.

For those of you that are just dying to locate our new church community in a place, you will be thrilled to know that in the coming weeks we will also be looking for a building to lease for our worship gatherings. It may be a school, a storefront, or other suitable semi-large space. As funding from grant and other funding begins to come in we will also start looking for a suitable office space to lease.

Of course, now that I have written all of this, I expect that the Holy Spirit will shake things up a bit. For me, there is no greater joy than anticipating the next wave of the Spirit and feeling the push and pull in new directions. Please continue to pray for us as we get started.

Give Us a Name!

How often do you get to have the chance to name a new church? For a long time now we have been referring to this new faith community in many different ways: Mountain View’s daughter Church, Mountain View’s sister church, Stanwood New Church Development, etc. Now we have arrived at that point where we need to find a name. Our discernment team has begun brainstorming, but we would love to hear your ideas as well. Below is a word picture from the documents that we have created so far with the most often used words in bigger type (as a way to spark ideas). What do you think?

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!

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.

First “Gathering”

Our discernment team had our first meeting last Friday night, and our second meeting is scheduled for this coming Sunday. It feels wonderful to finally be underway and moving into the discernment process! Currently, our discernment team consists of the following people: Adam and Andrea Anderson, John and Jackie Fuller, Jason and Becca Kreutz, Brandon and Kristina Bailey.

I am very excited about the group that God has called to this process so far. They bring a wealth of experiences and insight to the table. Our first gathering was exactly what I have hoped and prayed for. We spent time eating dinner together, praying, reading scripture, planning, laughing, and talking about Jesus. What could be better?

We have a lot of work ahead. In the next two gatherings we will work on creating a “foundational statement.” This will be a one-page statement that answers the question, “Who is Jesus?” and defines “church,” “salvation,” “evangelism,” and “service.” The responses will determine what is started.

If you are interested in knowing more about this process, take a look at the Starting New Churches handbook (the above definition comes from that document). When we complete the foundational statement I will be sure to post it on this blog.