Psalm 145:4 says: “One generation shall laud (or commend) your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.”
For 2000 years, Christians have passed on their faith to succeeding generations–older believers investing in mentoring younger ones. As I write this, MPC is in the midst of running another superb Vacation Bible School, a wonderful expression of one generation commending God’s works to another. I am praying for you all as you minister to children in our congregation and our wider community even as I continue to live into the rhythms of Sabbatical rest and learning.
The main theme of my Sabbatical is to learn how to better meet the challenge of Psalm 145:4 today. As I write this, I am one month into my Sabbatical. I am deeply encouraged; both by what I am learning and how God is meeting me. I will have more to share when I return home in early August, but here is a brief progress report.
Over the past few Sundays, Carrie and I have worshipped with four different congregations, each one unique, each one seeking to share the gospel with their community. The congregations are: Access Covenant Church in Portland OR; SOMA Church, in Spokane WA; First Presbyterian Church in Santa Rosa CA; and Cedonia Community Church in Cedonia, WA.
Next month I will write more about additional congregations, in North America and Europe, and try to share insights that will both strengthen my pastoral ministry at MPC and encourage all of us to find ways to help our friends, neighbors and colleagues see how their story connects with God’s story of redeeming people for Christ and His Kingdom.
Being on Sabbatical has allowed me the time and space to not only worship with each congregation but to talk with their pastors and some of their members and learn from them.
The first church we worshiped with was Access Community church. The pastor is Joel Sommer and the church was planted a few years ago in East Portland. I have added to this post a couple of pictures of Carrie standing at the entrance to the Access church and of Pastor Joel as he welcomed people to the worship service. Joel describes his congregation: “Access is a new church for our changing community in East Portland. No matter where you come from, what you’ve done, what’s been done to you, what you’ve been through (or what you’re going through right now) the truest thing about you is that you belong to Jesus. We seek to love, and learn how to serve our increasingly diverse community as a sign that all the peoples of East Portland belong to Jesus. This is Access: Where anyone can know God.”
What we observed was a group of adults and children who are deeply committed to these values. Over coffee with Joel, I learned that their goal has been to create a safe space for people in their community. Most Access members are in a weekly small group. These groups help people to go deeper with each other over a meal, and to band together in a common mission to serve their community. They help combat the isolation that is so common in 21st Century North American culture. Portland is one of the most unchurched urban areas in the United States, a truly post-Christian environment. So simply opening the doors on Sunday and having great music and good preaching isn’t enough, Joel said. He thinks people are looking for two primary things, community and transcendence. In other words, they need to find a place where they can love and be loved, know and be known by others and by God.
We also worshipped with the SOMA Community in Spokane, part of the SOMA network of churches. I learned about SOMA from their founder, Jeff Vanderstelt, when he spoke at the 2016 National Gathering for our denomination: ECO. www.eco-pres.org. You can hear Jeff’s talk here: SOMA Video
The SOMA community in Spokane has been going about 10 years. Our son Alex and daughter in law Rebecca have been members there for the past 5 years or so. We worshipped with SOMA on Sunday morning and then attended one of their small groups which they call Missional Communities or MC’s. SOMA states: “We believe the good news about Jesus changes who we are. The best way to dig deeper is to join a Missional Community—that’s where you not just hear about these ideas but work them out in real life by God’s grace. What if church wasn’t a place you go but who you are? What if a few neighbors lived out faith with you in the everyday rhythms of life? You’d share meals, watch each other’s kids, party together, serve neighbors, restore what’s broken in your community, talk about Jesus a lot and see people begin to follow him. It would be messy and it would be glorious.”
This description really fit what we observed in both Sunday morning worship and in the Monday evening small group. One of the members, a young mom, told me: “We visited other churches in town before we found SOMA. What we found in SOMA was that the community was real, you could share real life with all of its struggle and complexity and joy with other people and live out the life of Jesus and his kingdom in the messiness of life.”
Both Access Covenant and SOMA are recent church plants with the support of denominations that are widely seen as on the cutting edge in church planting and reaching those in the Millennial generation (those born between 1982 and 2004).
The two other congregations we worshipped with, First Presbyterian and Cedonia Community, are both more traditional, established congregations. In my conversation with one of the pastors and an elder over lunch, I asked: “So how do you reach and disciple people from the Millennial generation, He said: “We aren’t doing a very good job, but what we’ve learned is that unless people connect deeply with a small group, in friendship and also genuine service in the community, they won’t connect with the wider congregation or show up in worship. It’s all about authentic, deepening relationships and making a real difference in the community.”
I hope that this brief glimpse is encouraging to you. Thank you for your prayers and for the gift of this Sabbatical! Carrie and I are praying for you as you face the challenge of living for Jesus in Palm Beach County. Watch our MPC website for my next post in about a month.
Warmly in Christ,