In one respect, every Jesus devoted body of believers is a Jesus-following community of missionaries. We traditionally think of missionaries as people sent out over-seas to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Good News as we appropriately call it for all who believe in Jesus’ blood as being shed for them, turn from their sin, and forsake the world, following hard after Jesus’ manner of life when He walked this mortal plane. Missionaries are however simply people living out a mission. You could technically be a missionary for your business or non-profit cause or for some other good or even bad cause. In this sense, all who follow Jesus and truly are living out His mission for His followers to make new followers of Him, these people are the peculiar people I would call Jesus’ missionary communities. We are individually responsible to follow Jesus, yet we can so easily make our focus personality worship and an “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Peter,” or even as Scripture says, “I follow Jesus,” with our understanding of Jesus Himself as just being another Apostle or Prophet to follow. Jesus is a Prophet, Priest, and King. He did function as the initial top Apostle in a sense during His appointing of the twelve Disciples, etc, yet when all is said and done, Jesus is not just another amazing person for humanity to consider following.
By following Jesus, the real and true and risen Jesus, by following the actual Jesus as we meet Him in His Word, as God’s Holy Spirit leads us into all truth, and as we coordinate and work with one another in the work of faith, labor of love, and steadfastness of hope (1 Thessalonians 1:3), we become more and more in this life Jesus’ missionaries. We more and more identify ourselves as Jesus’ and not our own. We more and more identify as being bought at a price, the price of our Jesus’ blood! We are less and less content with “business as usual,” and we become more and more missionary-like in our willingness to abandon our comforts and seek the King’s intentions for us as long as we have breath!
As I pray and pray and listen for God’s direction, enjoying slow and methodical chewings on 1 & 2 Thessalonians and Colossians and other gifts from our Jesus all through Isaiah and John, Genesis and Joel, etc, I can’t help but to land on this likely “name” for a network of house churches I believe God is leading me to plant starting here in Merced in God’s timing. Jesus’ Missionary Communities is less a name in my mind and more a description, yet there is a lot of power in taking on a name that you believe the Lord has provided. I’ve deeply enjoyed being involved in naming our children. Carrie and I have really worked hard at it each time and have been so pleased as we have waited on the Lord and enjoyed selecting the names (three counting our child who we believe to be with Jesus) Samuel/Samantha “Sam,” Jackson, and Amelie.
The whole thought of this house church network actually happening still seems too good to be true and is certain to garner criticism and skeptics’ raised eyebrows. It’s still very much in embryonic form and nearly fully only in my prayer journals and close discussions with close friends (elders, pastors, close buddies, my wife, and now a family of believers we’re moving toward joining for the next year in preparation for doing this house church-planting house church). The family of believers we’re sensing God’s call to assist starting in September of this year is called Kaleo Community Church. It’s lead by a good friend of mine, Raf Renteria. His amazing wife, Diane, and their children have been close friends for six years as of next month. Raf and I have wrestled over much and don’t agree at every turn but we deeply love the Lord, God’s children, and the lost. We agree on all the major points about what is primary and we make a practice of agreeing to disagree on any secondary issues we don’t agree on, choosing rather to love and serve alongside each other toward the fulfillment of the Great Commission. Raf’s passion in particular is the student body out at the University of California Merced campus. Rick Park is the other leader among the KCC community and is now Raf’s and my pastoral mentor. Rick and I have met and narrowed in on an initial vision for me to assist as God guides with KCC’s efforts to reach the lost and shepherd/care for the found from September 2017 to Sept/Oct/Nov/Dec 2018. God will confirm whether we are sensing His guidance, but the idea is to serve for roughly a year and see what God wants going forward. He and I at this point do sense that God is joining Raf and I in caring for the KCC community and encouraging those who are already participating there in biblical fellowship. The plan is to also begin to labor together to reach the lost both among UC students as well as in the broader community. My particular passion is the reaching of the lost in the homes, neighborhoods, and workplaces of Merced, CA. These are the contexts where I find myself most natural and I look forward to seeing how God opens doors day-by-day.
During this year or so, my wife and I are humbly praying for God’s provision of a right-hand shepherd-hearted brother in Christ to join in my leading of our first multiplication out from a traditional church into more of a house church kind of expression of the local body of Jesus followers here in Merced, CA. My prayer is that this brother will either find out about this vision in word of mouth or internet ways, maybe through this blog, or through the time ideally we spend in ministry here in Merced as a part of KCC’s efforts here. As we join into KCC’s community, we don’t plan to do anything dramatically different than we’ve been doing as family in some respects, yet in other respects we are very refreshed by the thought of once again being more consistent in a local body of believers.
We’ve been sort of like missionaries for the past three years. When we first moved to Merced we really enjoyed laboring in love with a community of believers called Faith Bible Church. Raf and I served there with him as part of the paid pastoral staff and me as one of the brothers pouring into the efforts there to build up Christ’s people in His Word, worship, and outreach. The Gospel was preached and the lost became found one by one. Raf was led by the Lord to disciple just a few key UC young men. They were used of the Lord to in turn reach out the UC community and brought many students. The students ministry grew to around 50 UC students, definitely the largest in town UC ministry this community has seen since and before that point. My prayer is that with Lucas (another brother who moved from PA to help Raf) and many others’ help including my wife and me, God will once more use Raf’s leadership to reach the campus of UC Merced. Raf & Rick believe in exegetical preaching of God’s Word and all around humble orthodoxy, biblical theology of Jesus’ Gospel being at the heart of God’s Word, God’s quickening Holy Spirit being the source of our conviction of sin, repentance, faith, etc as well as our power to obey God as believers and actually, consistently, joyfully follow hard after Jesus’ way of life as He modeled it for us until His return. I look forward to serving along-side these brothers without a title and simply to be a Barnabas of sorts, a fellow shepherd of sorts, an encouraging friend and co-laborer. I’m ready to help as they need it with any preaching of God’s Word, worship leading, evangelism/disciple-making training/equipping for the members, lawn care, shuttling, manual labor, etc… *sheepish grin*… I should have put it in the opposite order!
My wife and I are weary and could use your prayers, friends. It’s been a long road of learning a totally different sort of ministry than we were raised under. We have felt at times that we have made departures from health in certain ways, and our marriage has struggled at times. However, as we have practiced what we see in God’s Word and really sought God’s heart, and as we encountered We Are Church more recently in San Francisco, our confidence has increased that Torrey’s not a complete loony for sensing visions for several years now in the direction of this: Plant a house church that from its inception is designed to be spread out and replicated by more leaders and family members, eventually to become a family of house churches in each city it spreads to… Pragmatically, my vision is to not extend any one “family of house churches” any more broadly than any given city. From what I learned while with the We Are Church house church pastors and elders, it seems realistic for any group of elders and pastors to more officially oversee the making of disciples in their city… Yet, it’s all in God’s sovereign hands of love and grace in the Gospel of Jesus. Who are we to try to carve out boundaries on GOD!
My prayer is to build a team of three to four elders in time and as many house church pastors as God provides to reach Merced, CA in the powerful name of Jesus Christ. We would essentially be a church plant without walls and without salaries. We would spend our giving on those in hard places as God’s Word breaks down the priorities for our giving. We will also work to reach countries and other cities God guides us to focus on in His wisdom. I don’t view myself as anything special. I am surprised continually when I receive any affirmation of my calling to pastoral ministry, and yet the feedback I get is that I am unconventional and don’t fit in well in the American system as I like to think of it. I respect so many pastors and members of traditional churches and believe the addition to God’s people through those ministries is beautiful. My prayer and hope through this approach to church planting is to see multiplication instead of addition, yet the harvest is not my harvest. It’s the Lord’s, so we will watch and see what He wants.
Lastly, I’m humbled by three brother’s encouragement in particular: Charles, Rick, and Raf. I’m also humbled by my wife’s support! She sees my craziness and my weakness. She knows my sinfulness intimately and has been harmed by my pride and laziness, my lust and anger, my jealousy and slander, my doubting and fear, my loneliness and resentments, my lack of work ethic at times and missing of priorities… She knows my lowest lows and my highest highs. She knows my faith and my friendship, my longsuffering and encouragement. She knows my hopes and dreams and courage and faith, my love for God’s people and intense desire to know Jesus more intimately. She has encouragement me that I’m not losing my mind when I dream big and see God as so often not taken as seriously as we ought to take Him. She knows that I truly believe what I’m reading in God’s Word and that I’m not as concerned about people’s fears and doubts as I have been in the past. Carrie’s faith has been growing along with mine and her love is welling up to overwhelm me. Her hope in Jesus’ return and intense desire to know Him more build up my soul into Christ’s heart for the lost and found. Carrie and I met with two kinds of missionary work in our dreams – hers has always been more international than mine, and mine has always been more domestic than hers. There is a glamor of sorts in international missions. A pastor friend of mine, Miles, says that missionaries are like super Christians to those they go to and those who send them, though they can be some of the most lonely followers of Jesus they know. I understand that more than ever after these last three years with Carrie as we’ve sought Jesus’ heart for the nations including our own.
Until the next update,