Easter Sunday, Growth & Challenges

What is church planting like?

After two years and four months on this journey with The River Church you would think I have a good answer to that question. On one hand, it has been the most difficult thing we have ever experienced. On the other hand, it has given us a front-row seat to the most amazing works of God that we have seen. Some liken church planting to riding a roller coaster. Indeed, there are many ups and downs. But we didn’t know that often the coaster encounters obstacles that must be removed from the track, or that the tracks themselves are in constant need of repair while in motion, or that individuals are jumping in and out of the coaster at most inconvenient times. Yes, there are many highs and many lows to church planting, and all along we are learning to trust and keep our focus on our Father in heaven, his Son Jesus, and the mission to which he has called us.

So what has this roller coaster been like lately?

EASTER WEEKEND

Like most of you, we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus with our church family the last weekend of March. The weekend began with something we had never done before. On Good Friday we met at a family’s home for Underground Church. You ask, “What is Underground Church?” Great question! Underground Church is something I have wanted to do for some time: a night to gather together to pray, study the Bible, sing, and share testimonies—just like many of our brothers and sisters do around the world who cannot meet like we do in the West. The theme of the night was “Persecution and Suffering.” We studied a host of New Testament passages related to that theme, and read testimonies from Christians suffering persecution in other parts of the world. The evening was very encouraging to all who attended; we felt a new solidarity with the universal church.

Our Sunday morning gathering was another highlight from Easter weekend. One of the most significant aspects of the day was our cooperation with our partner church, Terrace Heights Baptist Church. The River Church hosted a sunrise gathering in Moxee Park, and afterward Terrace Heights hosted breakfast and a mid-morning service at their building. Our music teams worked together for both gatherings. Our church had a high attendance for our sunrise gathering! Terrace Heights also had a high attendance for the year at their gathering! It was a great time of fellowship, and our experience of unity in the kingdom and the gospel has grown because of that weekend.

GROWTH

Since Resurrection Sunday we have been encouraged by a steady attendance at our worship gatherings, as well as in our missional community and discipleship groups. We were also blessed to take a record number of young people to our annual Northwest Student Conference! God is on the move in exciting ways! He has been present in our newly formed Elder Team, which consists of two ordained elders and three others serving in an interim capacity. Already, God is using that team of men as an encouragement to me and as a way for us to move forward with the vision God has given The River Church. Part of that vision is to re-focus our church on the Great Commission. Specifically, we are working to develop a more comprehensive strategy to equip and mobilize our church to share the good news of Jesus with more passion and greater frequency. We see this as a key element of accomplishing our vision of transforming lives, families, and communities.

CHALLENGES

It has not been easy to keep that missional focus. Nor has it been easy to maintain a positive and hopeful outlook at all times. Discouragement and difficult circumstances have driven us to the gospel and to our knees. We have had to remind one another that God is greater than the trials we face. James 1:2-4 says,

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

We trust God, knowing that every circumstance is an opportunity to know God in a new way and to receive from him all that we need for his purposes to be accomplished.

Please continue to pray with us that God will be glorified as we pursue his mission to make disciples and plant churches that transform lives, families, and communities with the good news of Jesus. Pray that we would continue to make the gospel known to everyone. Pray that God would provide for our financial needs as we seek to increase our outreach and move into new communities with the good news. Pray that we will find a new location for our weekly worship gatherings. Praise the Lord that we are outgrowing our current location!

You are our support and our partners in the gospel. We cannot do it apart from your prayers. We thank you also for your financial gifts through the church, http://theriverchurchmoxee.com/give.

Grace and peace!

Michael and Cheryl

michael@theriverchurchmoxee.com

(253) 830-4382

Membership, Church Plant Intern, Financial Need, and more!

My friends, it has been far too long since the last update went out in November. We knew that a December update would morph into a December/January update, and sure enough, here we are! And we have a lot to share with you!

RECAP

The Christmas season was a beautiful time for our church. In one way, we were blessed to participate in amazing worship gatherings together, focusing our hearts and lives on the good news of Jesus in the Incarnation, “the Word made flesh.” In another way, this Christmas we have enjoyed more snow in the Northwest than we have for many years! This has certainly added to the beauty of the season, but has also given us some logistical challenges. It isn’t easy to get the trailer out of a driveway filled with ice and snow! We almost decided to cancel one of our December gatherings, but decided to persevere instead. I’m glad, because some of our local friends, who we have been reaching out to, unexpectedly braved the weather and joined us for worship that morning!

The snow also tried to affect our Covenant Celebration January 3. All night Saturday and throughout Sunday morning it snowed, preventing some of our partners and guests from making it. Even so, we had a very encouraging time of worship together and one of our largest attendances of the past year. Our charter covenant members signed a beautiful membership covenant that is now framed and humbly displayed each time we gather together. We were especially encouraged by the prayers and words of encouragement of our partners. We are continually amazed at the way God supports us and lifts us up.

NEW YEAR

Our new year looks very exciting. What follows are some of the things we are anticipating in 2016. Once again, we look forward to serving our community at Moxee Hop Festival in August. Also in August we will hold our annual Summer Children’s Program. A missions team from one of our partner churches in Georgia is making plans to come and serve with us, as well. Please pray for them, and us, as we finalize the plans for this exciting trip! In addition to these major events we are looking forward to Easter weekend, in which we are planning a Good Friday event, and a possible sunrise service with other local churches. We are also planning various training and discipleship events, including Financial Peace University.

We are also very excited to introduce a family who God has called to work directly with Michael in ministry. Chris and Chelsey Bell began worshiping with The River Church in the early months of our gatherings. As we began to get to know them it became clear that God was doing some very neat things in their lives. As Chris and I (Michael) talked, it became evident that God was calling him into ministry. He admitted that indeed God had called him! After some thoughtful prayer and consideration we realized God was leading us both to bring him into a church planting internship. He and his wife (and now 1-year old daughter Abbie) live in a part of Yakima that has not had a Baptist church for years. This year we will pray, study, and begin mobilizing the Bells to start a new work of disciple-making in and around Yakima Valley Community College. Please pray for financial support, clarity of vision, and perseverance necessary to continue this next phase of church planting in the Yakima valley. And stay tuned for more of their journey with us!

FINANCIAL NEED

Finally, pray specifically for our financial situation. Just before the start of the year we were notified that the financial support that comes through the partnership of NAMB and our Northwest Baptist Convention has changed. The number of church plants in the northwest has more than doubled in the past year, but financial support is not available to meet all the church planting needs. Bottom line, the financial support our church plant was expecting to receive has been reduced by $8,000 in 2016. Please pray that God will raise up financial partners from other places who will help us get through the next couple of years of growth. God may move in many hearts to begin supporting us monthly, perhaps with as little as $15 per month. Check out http://theriverchurchmoxee.com/give for more information. God can use little to accomplish great things!

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all, making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:3-6, ESV)

Grace and Peace,

Michael and Cheryl Johnson

michael@theriverchurchmoxee.com

(253) 830-4382