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Almost Heaven in West Virginia
The Titus Story continues with this excerpt from the Rev. Darryl Fitzwater, planter at Church of the Ascension, Martinsburg, West Virginia.
Jesus tells us, “What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops,” (Matt. 10:27). Church planting begins in the heart of Jesus. He said He would build His Church. We hear Him in prayer, and then He sends us out in mission to make Him known to the world around us.
If you were to ask me what whisper we at Church of the Ascension heard from the Lord to be announced loudly, we would tell you that “the Kingdom of God is near.” As a new church, we want to bring pre-Christians into a living relationship with God, in the Spirit. We believe the churches here can work together in local mission, keeping Sabbath, and celebrating Jubilee. I would love to go on and on about what we believe the Spirit wants to forge amongst Jesus’ people…
Church of the Ascension is a church plant about 75 miles west of Washington, D.C. across the state line in West Virginia. We are a bedroom community in one of the furthest points west of the nation’s capital. Many of the people who live in our area commute into D.C., Alexandria, or Baltimore. They work in the city, but live in a developing rural area.
As John Denver sang decades ago, “Almost Heaven, West Virginia.” That is our prayer, too, not that people would move out here and continue turning farm land into neighborhoods and suburbs, but that the living Presence of Christ would transform hearts and lives with His holy love and power.
“Church planting, and church leadership, is essentially spiritual work. Though we do well with demographic studies, visioning, and strategies, we must initiate and sustain these works in prayer. Anyone can start a Wal-Mart with enough resources. Church planters need resources (see below) and we need coaches, but there is no substitute for earnest prayer.
“It’s not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord,” (Zech. 4:6) the prophet told us. As one of our Anglican bishops is fond of saying, “The Church is not an ‘it’ to be organized. The Church is a ‘she’ to be loved.” Jesus will build His Church, and He calls us to join Him in the work, so let’s make sure we are with Him in prayer so we can be sent out in His power (Mark 3:13).
This is an exciting time because as this is happening, we are seeing the Lord bring about new connections with people who have been laboring in prayer for years for our locality. As our team is growing, both in number and in clarity of vision, our ability to develop more ministry is happening, too. We plan on open with a “soft launch” before a big opening so that we can take a clear look at the ministry systems we have in place to accommodate those whom the Lord sends. We have a small “Christ the King” service planned, and then will begin with Advent as a means of spiritual formation and outreach. We anticipate a large catch and are working on making sure the nets are strong here at the outset!
Please remember to pray for us! We trust the Lord to continue to grow, develop, and mature His Church everywhere. May He share with you His burden, let you glimpse your land through His eyes, and stretch out His healing hands through yours as you reach out to others.
Dear Jesus, be present in all church planting communities. Use all Your congregations to make their states “Almost Heaven.” Amen.
Guest Blogger, the Rev. Darryl Fitzwater December 2017
MOSAIC: The Community Superheros
Mosaic Anglican is a church plant in North Fayette, Pennylvania. Its planter, the Rev. Elaine Storm, and Titus’ managing director, Jenni Bartling, have done ministry together on and off since they were in their early 20s. Now, Jenni is Elaine’s coach.
“Elaine’s love for Jesus permeates everything she does,” Jenni notes. “It pleases me to no end, yet does not surprise me, that her Jesus-loving church plant has impacted their community so deeply.”
The Mosaic congregation is consistently present at North Fayette events. You might find its members running a crafts table for kids, or taking “photo booth” family pictures. They make the most of special events and holidays, hosting Christmas parties, participating in Easter Egg Hunts, and providing backpacks and school supplies in the early fall. The church plant has raked leaves for neighbors, and spent evenings at the laundry-mat, providing quarters and detergent to its customers.
Bob Grimm, the local township manager, attends Mosaic. Recently, Bob encouraged the congregation in their local outreach mission.
“I am going to ‘out’ my township,” he began. “With one or two exceptions, our experience has been that local churches have not been very involved with the community.
“When Mosaic approached the township about locating here you needed to go through a [formal] process to get approval. The Mosaic leaders spoke about what they hoped to do in our community, but we had no reason to expect much difference from what we experienced in the past…I could not have been more wrong!
“Mosaic has impacted North Fayette by being present in our community events, but there is another way that the township has experienced the Mosaic difference.
“Many people bring food in for the township employees in appreciation for services we provide. And don’t get me wrong…we are government employees. We love donuts!
“But, people don’t include a note of encouragement like those that accompany donuts from Mosaic. Those notes are an ongoing reminder that our hard work is appreciated.
“In fact, on this past Donut Day, one of our detectives asked where the donuts came from. When we told him, he remarked, ‘They are great people.’ That opinion comes from the notes and your involvement with our programs…not the donuts.
“Mosaic has a heart for service and it shows. Jesus is present in North Fayette Township and working through all of you. I truly believe that North Fayette Township is a stronger and better community because Mosaic is here.”
Read those last two lines again. “Jesus is present in North Fayette Township and working through all of you. I truly believe that North Fayette Township is a stronger and better community because Mosaic is here.”
Dear Jesus, be present in all church planting communities. Use Your baby congregations to make them stronger and better because they—and You—are there.
August 24, 2017
Jesus’ Words in Luke 10:2–
So Much More than a Suggestion
Every church planter knows the importance and challenge of recruiting a team to serve alongside him/her in ministry. Like most, I studied the topic, prayed about it, trained for it, and made intentional steps to adopt the best practices I could.
In the three years that I’ve been planting Village Church in Ambridge, Pennsylvania, recruiting’s alway one of my main priorities–and yet one of the areas I where I saw the least fruit.
I did all the “right” things: I intentionally placed myself around would-be leaders at colleges and a local seminary; I cultivated networks with pastors and senders; and I made regular invitations to men and women I discipled to join me.
Still, in these first three years, our leadership team grew by one member and lost eight! That type of math was not going to lead to multiplication. In fact, we were soon going to be using another kind of math skill–the countdown to our own closing.
I have a team of intercessors who pray with me and for me. (And I hope you do, as well!) While we had been praying for the recruiting efforts, I’d not been specific in my request.
When I learned that yet another member was going to have to leave the leadership team, I asked my intercessors to pray with me specifically–that God would provide a student to work with us for the summer.
Within 10 days, my senior past announced that our resident seminarian was interested in serving with us! WITH US! I knew it was God at work. Seeing that prayer answered, gave me the courage to ask my intercessors to pray to the Lord of the Harvest for one more team member. I am sure you can guess what happened next.
Yes. The following week, a worker with an evangelistic organization in the Anglican Church joined the team.
Days later, I also had the opportunity to meet with a young man who has existing relationships with the youth we serve, and is passionate about making disciples. He since come on board, and we are in the first stage of crafting the place, time, and team for making disciples of Jesus among youth.
You see, my “strategic” efforts brought no new ministry partners. It was the focused prayers of intercessors which produced good fruit.
I constantly remind my co-laborers that building the Church is not our job; it’s what God does, and we get to come along for the ride. In the last two months, God has taught me that it is He Who builds the team, as well.
The strategies and practices for growing a leadership team are good, helpful, and part of being faithful to our responsibilities as planters. The one thing that is necessary, however, is to ask the Lord of the Harvest to send laborers into these already-ripe fields. And to know that He will.
Guest blogger, the Rev. David Ketter, The Village Church, Ambridge PA
July 5, 2017
The Book You Must Read This Summer
Every summer as part of my vacation planning, I pick out two or three books that I want to read on vacation.
This summer I am looking forward to reading a novel by Walker Percy and a collection of short stories by Flannery O’Connor. Sometimes I choose fun novels without any real depth. Other times I choose tomes like War and Peace or Moby Dick. But I have never gone on vacation without a book or two in hand. You may do the same. Many of us read books as a way to relax, step away from ordinary life, and see things from a fresh perspective.
This past week I took up a practice with a friend that I have never done before. We read one book every day. Don’t worry, it was a very short book! Each day, we read 1 John from the Bible, straight through every morning. Each time I read it through I would discover a new theme, a new detail, a new connection with other Bible passages.
More importantly, I had a much deeper understanding of the book after each reading. With that deeper understanding, I have already started to notice new thought patterns. The way I see people around me is being transformed. The way I behave towards others is starting to be transformed as a result.
Reading and re-reading imprints the words of Scripture on our minds and hearts. In his book Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster argues that the Discipline of Study is the most critical spiritual discipline for our transformation. He writes, “The apostle Paul tells us that we are transformed through the renewal of the mind (Rom. 12:2). The mind is renewed by applying it to those things that will transform it (Phil. 4:8). Therefore, we should rejoice that we are not left to our own devices but have been given this means of God’s grace for the changing of our inner spirit.”
God has given us the Scriptures upon which to fix our minds so that our thinking and behavior can be transformed.
As you are thinking about books to read this summer, why not throw in a short book of the Bible to read through each day on vacation? Or pick a longer book and read one chapter each day.
In summer time, God calls us to rest. But the kind of rest He calls us to transforms our minds, souls, and behaviors. I invite and encourage you to include God in your vacation planning.
The Rev. David Trautman, Trinity Anglican Church, Thomasville GA
June 16, 2017
Reprinted with permission