“A Pastor…What’s That?”

I had this wonderful experience with a kid on my soccer team this week. He said, “Coach, what do you do for a job?” I answered, “I’m a pastor.” He gave me this funny look and said, “What’s that?” Keep in mind that this was in the middle of me trying to explain a drill to nine boys, most of whom were asking me questions at the same moment. I knew I didn’t have a chance to even begin to explain it to him right there, but it just confirmed to me that I was in the right place. It is exactly where I want to be and exactly the kind of conversations that I hope to build on in the future. I would love it if for the rest of his life, regardless of what happens, he thinks of a “pastor” as a person who cared about him on a rainy soccer field. My prayer is that he one day discovers that I was able to care for him because of the grace of Jesus in my life.

Here is an awesome video that connects in with this way of thinking about being “the church” and the role of “pastor.” I wish I could articulate it as well as Jeff does:

Moving Forward and Gaining Momentum!

I feel like every day we just keep taking small steps forward and they seem to come faster as time goes on. Here are a few updates from this week:

  • Grant approved! We received a $25,000 Mission Program Grant. What an answer to prayer (and a lot of hard week by our discernment team). Details here.
  • Website, Facebook Page, Email (Brandon@stanwoodtidelands.org) up and running!
  • Mountain View PC’s Session approved a bunch of proposals by our core team including setting up a bank account, approving Core Team members, and setting the date for our first worship gathering on Sunday, October 28 (time/place TBA)
  • We had our first informational meeting last Saturday, and we have another one coming up on Thursday, October 25, 6:00 PM at the Stanwood Library
  • There are some solid leads on possible spaces in the community for offices and worship gatherings. Already I’m dreaming about ways to incorporate these spaces as part of our mission in the community.

What to Measure? Beyond Butts, Bucks and Buildings…

We’re at a fun point in the discernment process right now where we have completed our mission plan (rough draft) and are beginning to think about how to measure success and/or failure in the future. If your primary measure of success is not worship attendance, income, and facilities (the “three B’s” – Butts, Bucks and Buildings), then what do you measure? There are some great thoughts at the end of this short video:

I especially love that last comment by Alan Hirsch: “A mission church is a church that measures its effectives by its impact on those outside the church not simply those inside the church.” It might be a little more difficult to do, but it seems to be worth the effort.

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!

Here it is! Our Foundational Statement

I’m excited to finally be able to share this statement! We have worked hard on it, grown together in the process, and feel like we now have a good grounding for moving onto the task of “who” and “where” we are being called (the vision). Before you read the statement, take a look at the following description for the Starting New Churches guidebook so you know what we are after. We intentionally tried to avoid theological terminology (or “churchy” language). We also knew that we were not trying to say everything (If you come from outside the Presbyterian tradition and want to see a fuller theological statement take a look at our Book of Confessions). We would love to hear feedback. We want this to be a “living” document that will grow with our new community.

The first task of the team is to develop a one-page statement that answers the question, “Who is Jesus?” and then defines “church,” “salvation,” “evangelism” and “service.” We realize that when it comes to answering the question, “Who is Jesus?” the writer of the Gospel of John is right by saying, “the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” (John 21:25) The key to this first task is that when a team discusses, debates, and writes down their absolutes about Jesus, church, salvation, evangelism and service, they find out if they can move forward together to start a new church. This also determines what the team will start.

FOUNDATIONAL STATEMENT

Jesus:
Jesus was in the beginning, is now, and always will be. He is the visible image of the invisible God who came to walk among us fully human, passionately pursuing us with unconditional love and the ultimate expression of sacrifice. He chose to die for us and, conquering death, gave us life overflowing with abundance:  a life of joy, peace, freedom, and purpose; an eternal life in relationship with God.

Church:­­­
The church is God’s beloved. It is a community of people committed to following Jesus: gathering to worship and learn, and showing love and mercy through service and relationship. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the church is called and sent to demonstrate God’s all-consuming and irresistible love to others.

Salvation:
Salvation begins and ends with the grace of God. In our brokenness we are separated from our Creator. Through the sacrifice of God’s son, Jesus, we are redeemed and forgiven. When we accept this free gift, we experience true freedom and we begin a journey of growing in a relationship with God and being reconciled to others. When we receive the love Jesus longs to give us, we experience life as a child of God.

Service
Salvation cannot be earned. We are, nevertheless, called to live sacrificially in humility and love. Service is the natural response to God’s love for us and an essential act of worship. Working as the hands and feet of Jesus, we are called to bring love, healing, mercy, and justice to the world.

Evangelism
Evangelism is good news! It is sharing the way Jesus has and continues to love us. It is sharing the way Jesus longs to have an intimate relationship with us. It is not a program or an agenda, but the living out of God’s heart for a lost world. Evangelism is the Spirit-led engagement of others – showing God’s love through actions and words to guide others in choosing a life in Christ.

Travel Light

Too often concern for the status of the church tempts some to employ desperate measures to insure that the church will remain socially significant or at least have a majority of the population. But the church is not called to be significant or large. The church is called to be apostolic. Faithfulness, not numbers or status, should be the characteristic that shapes the witness of the church. Indeed it may well be the case in our time that God is unburdening the church so that we can again travel light.

I ran across this while reading Stanley Hauerwas’s commentary on Matthew 10 (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible). I’m preparing to preach on this text this week and I continue to find God affirming that the task ahead is about faithfulness. If I begin fall into the trap of thinking about success/failure rather than faithfulness then my focus begins to be more about me than about Jesus and his mission.

Tozer’s Take

Just this week I picked up a book I have long been meaning to read: The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer. I immediately recognized that the Spirit was behind this as I read the first chapter and realized how relevant it is for the work we are doing in our discernment team right now. Here is an excerpt:

     Before the Christian Church goes into eclipse anywhere there must first be a corrupting of her simple basic theology. She simply gets a wrong answer to the question, “What is God like?” and goes on from there. Though she may continue to cling to a sound nominal creed, her practical working creed has become false. The masses of her adherents come to believe that God is different from what He actually is; and that is heresy of the most insidious and deadly kind.

The heaviest obligation lying upon the Christian Church today is to purify and elevate her concept of God until it is once more worthy of Him – and of her. In all her prayers and labors this should have first place. We do the greatest service to the next generation of Christians by passing on to them undimmed and undiminished that noble concept of God which we received from our Hebrew and Christian fathers of generations past.

I find it interesting that Tozer points out that we can have a great “nominal creed” (as we Presbyterians do in The Book of Confessions), and yet our “working creed” or what we really believe about God and act on can be distorted. That is why it is essential for us to begin here, and specifically to begin with the incarnate Word, Jesus. What is it about Jesus that we believe at our core? Is that accurate? How do we act on that understanding as we seek to follow him in our place in our time?

Who is Jesus?

As part of the “homework” for our discernment team last week we asked people the question: “What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘Jesus?'” We asked the same question about the word “church.” We talked about the various responses in our second “gathering” with the team this past Sunday and also about how we respond to those same questions. We spent some time in Matthew 16:13-25. Now we are digging even deeper and this week we all have to come up with our own short answers for the following:

Who is Jesus?
What is the church?
What is salvation?
What is service?
What is evangelism?

Our goal is that in the next two meetings (or perhaps three) that we will be able to bring all of our answers together and create a “foundational statement” that will answer all of these questions in brief, everyday terms. We are not trying to create another creed for the Book of Confessions, but rather to find our heart and common ground around these questions so that we can work from there as we seek God’s vision for our new community. Once we complete this task I will be sure to post it here for all to read and comment. In the meantime, feel free to leave your “gut response” to the question: “Who is Jesus?”