It was a sunny, breezy, end-of-summer day eight years ago when I stepped foot on Whitworth’s campus for the first time as a student. I remember like it was yesterday the confidence I had as I waltzed around campus with my nerdy lanyard–student ID card in full view for all to see. I don’t want to be unnecessarily hard on myself, but I do remember feeling like I was pretty cool already, like I was going to take this university by storm. Just like high school, I was going to get all the jobs and leadership positions, make a ton of friends, do all the right things, and you can bet I was going to stuff my calendar full of all the right activities. (Yikes!)
I would run into friends around campus, and at times I’d find myself sort of bragging about how busy I was. A full plate and a growing resume of success, however small, were badges of honor. I think I was a little blind to the love around me, and of course, I was also blind to the suffering around me. I was living in to a twisted theology that said I was loved only when I really proved myself. Busyness and a good reputation were my idols, and the unsustainable approval from my community replaced the unconditional love of God.
“I want to plant a church because I believe in the possibility of the local church as a vehicle for meeting with and being transformed by God’s love…”Phil Moore
My older sister Allie, also a Whitworth graduate, told me that I wasn’t allowed to graduate from Whitworth without taking one of her favorite courses – Rob Fairbanks’ Jan Term Missional Church class. After my freshman year, I switched majors to theology and speech communication and found myself in Rob’s class the following January. I spent that icy month discovering that church could be SO much more than I’d imagined, that God was much larger than the box I put him in. I began to see justice, peace, redemption, belonging, restoration, and more as God’s big mission that, by a huge work of grace, we get to take part in! God was bigger than I thought and as my awareness of his mysterious vastness grew, so did my awareness of his profound love for me.
Toward the end of that January, Rob shared that he and his wife Robi were seriously praying about starting a new church that embodied this missional way of God together. Of course, I joined their community as we began gathering in each other’s homes to dream, pray, and worship. We called ourselves Immanuel–“God with us.” It has been almost seven years now of doing real-life and attempting to follow Jesus’ alternative way of love together. Being embedded in this community and watching Rob, and more recently Leslie McAuley, do their thing has confirmed in me this deep desire that I think I’ve known all along–I want to be a pastor!
I want to plant a church because I believe in the possibility of the local church as a vehicle for meeting with and being transformed by God’s love; for being agents of God’s peace in our neighborhoods; for becoming human together; for disciple-making; for fostering a community that acts justly, loves mercy and walks humbly with God; for discovering our vocation as peacemakers in God’s mission of the restoration of all things; for so much more.
I think a lot of people in 2020 can resonate with St. Augustine’s cheeky and audaciously accurate definition of the Church: “The Church is a whore, but she’s my mother.” Before we slap a fresh brand on a new church, I think all pastors in training, like myself, should understand that the Church at large has some deep and serious lamenting to do for our complicity in injustice of all kinds, and for the myriad of ways people who claim to follow Christ have done unspeakable damage to others.
We find ourselves in a culture in the U.S. that is truly divided. I think our culture is longing for authenticity in everything we do, balance and rhythm in our lives, real connection, and true belonging within community, challenging and real conversations that are educational and brave, deep breaths and uncomfortably long moments of silence in a fast and chaotic world, membership in something much larger than ourselves… Our culture needs good churches that worship and follow the active triune God.
I have the gift of getting to be in this really sweet space as a pastoral resident at Immanuel. In my role, I get to be apprenticed by pastors Rob and Leslie and follow them around town, preach and help organize and lead our Sunday gathering experience, help structure and lead our church small group ministry, partner with a local nonprofit called Side by Side, create a church podcast around interviewing church and local community members, and more.
“Before we slap a fresh brand on a new church, I think all pastors in training, like myself, should understand that the Church at large has some deep and serious lamenting to do…”Phil Moore
A short time ago, I got to go on a three-day multicultural ministry experience run by our denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Church, called “The Journey to Mosaic” or J2M. The trip was centered around exploring historical and present-day injustices related to ethnic communities in the Pacific Northwest. Powerful, challenging, beautiful, and full of lament are a handful of words that come to mind as I reflect on the experience.
Whitworth University’s The Office of Church Engagement helped make J2M possible for me and a handful of folks from Immanuel. The OCE has also done incredible work around empowering church planting efforts through this thrilling new group called the PNW Movement. Through monthly educational gatherings, conferences, small groups, books, and more, the PNWM is catalyzing movement for church planters like myself.
Lenore Three Stars, one of Immanuel’s leaders, once said, “When we weave our stories together, we are stronger as a people.” One of my goals as I begin this church-planting adventure is to think seriously about which voices or “stories” I listen to and ask myself who might be missing from the “table.” Our world does not need another dominant culture, male, entirely white-normative, colonizing, dominating pastor. So, as I begin to imagine co-pastors, leadership teams and as I build my library of commentaries for sermons, I am asking myself what kinds of voices are loudest and which voices are missing?
I made fun of myself earlier, but I do like to look back at freshman-year Phil and imagine God next to me, beaming with a powerful, warm and unconditional gaze, enjoying how uniquely he made me in his image to reflect his love. As I’m aware of all my shortcomings now too, I like to imagine him doing the same thing at this moment. I’m a little nervous to be a pastor sooner than later! But more than that, I’m wildly excited. This is going to be good. Because it’s not going to be about me and my kingdom at all