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

November Update: Healthy Growth, Covenant Service, and More!

Autumn is fully upon us here in central Washington. The leaves have changed and fallen, the majority of the fields and orchards have been harvested, and our clocks have been adjusted to “normal” time—or if you are like me, the clock in your office is now correct!

The new season has brought new growth and excitement to the people of The River Church. God has given us new friends in our worship gathering, more people participating in discipleship groups, a deepening in our spiritual growth through missional communities, and a healthy anticipation of the new year.

I wish I could share the story of each person that has begun attending our worship gathering; hopefully you will hear their testimonies in time! One individual unexpectedly showed up a month ago. This was a person for whom I have prayed for over 18 months! Several other friends and neighbors have also begun attending our gathering. God is causing fruit to grow from our many relationships and gospel-conversations, and our worship gatherings continue to be a sweet time of singing, corporate prayer, scripture reading, and preaching.

God is growing our discipleship groups, as well. We began two more groups last month, each of them committed to praying for one another, studying the Bible together, and encouraging each other in gospel repentance and belief. What a blessing to see these men and women gathering to grow as followers of Jesus!

This fall we have only had one missional community meeting. Since last year we had as many as four communities meeting, but most of them were quite small and struggled to establish healthy rhythms as a community. Our obvious goal is to multiply missional communities, but it has been important to invest in the one this fall. The result has been healthy growth marked by sharing life experiences, growing in knowledge of God and his ways, and putting our faith into practice. We have rallied together several times to serve one another, love one another, and be there for each other. We have grown by focusing our time on what God is saying to us from the Bible and what we are going to do about it. In September we completed “We Are Family,” a series about what it means to be the church. Since October we have been studying John 13-16, in a series called “Disciple Life.” For both series I have shared a message on Sunday morning during our worship gathering, and later, utilizing a study guide, we have discussed the content of the Bible passage in our missional community. It has been amazing to see how God is using this process to transform our community and church!

We are very excited about what God is going to do in 2016. One of our challenges has been our meeting place on Sunday mornings. In many ways it has been a great blessing to meet in our city’s community center, but we have not had adequate space to do child care during our worship gathering. The good news is that God has presented us with a possible new location. We are in the process of reaching an agreement to meet there, and when we know for certain we will share the details. In the meantime, we are praying fervently for God to make a way!

We are also excited about a special gathering we have planned for January 3, 2016. Although we have been meeting as a church for some time, we knew that at some point we would need to mark a time when we as followers of Jesus committed ourselves to membership in The River Church. In a way, a special gathering like this is a technicality of sorts, but it is still a seriously joyful moment to formally recognize our membership into Christ’s body which is our local church! So on Sunday, January 3, 2016, we are gathering for our Covenant Celebration, a time when we will formalize our commitment to covenant membership in The River Church. Our core group is very excited, and we invite all of our partners to attend and celebrate with us!

Finally, as 2015 comes to a close, I want to share how grateful I am for each of you. God has been so gracious to us these past two years by bringing you into our lives. You have prayed for us and some of you have also supported us financially. We will remain eternally grateful for every way you have partnered with us. We could not do what we are doing without you. And that remains the case going into the new year. In fact, your financial support will help us in various ways next year: rental of new facility, support of church planter intern (more on this in next month’s update!), expanded sound system, summer children’s program, mailers and advertising, pastor and staff support, and various administrative costs. If you are a financial partner, thank you! If you have not supported us financially, would you consider either making a one-time, year-end donation, or sign up to be a monthly partner? You can visit our website for more info: http://theriverchurchmoxee.com/give. Even a small amount would make a significant difference for the kingdom of God here in central Washington!

On behalf of our entire church family, thank you for your prayers and support.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21, ESV)

Grace and peace,

Michael and Cheryl Johnson

First Baptism, New Missional Community

Greetings from The River, Moxee!

“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every payer 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.

Another month has flown by! The leaves are changing but summer is hanging on for all its worth as we’re still experiencing warm, sunny days. The high today was 84 degrees! Praise God for some extra love from the weather.

It has been such a delight to watch God work in the month of September. We have continued to enjoy gathering every Sunday at the local community center. We are so grateful God has provided that space for us but are constantly on the lookout for a bigger space. On Sundays when all of our “regular attenders” are there, it’s obvious there isn’t much room to grow. Please be praying for a bigger space or that we would be able to expand into the rest of the room that is currently divided by a wall divider. We are seeking what God would have us do and appreciate your prayers.

A very special highlight of September was the celebration of The River Church’s first baptisms. Our daughter, Maddie, and another young man were baptized in a watering trough in Moxee Park. (The excellent weather came in real handy on that day!) Each of the children shared a short testimony and then were baptized by their dads. Afterward, we celebrated by sharing a meal and fellowshipping in the park. Once again, we had to thank God we live in a place and a country where we are allowed to live out our beliefs in such an open way. Praise God!

We continue to actively seek out ways to reach and bless our community. This month we hope to help at a special event held by the elementary school. Will you please pray that as we participate in these types of events in the community we will continue to meet people that are seeking God and fellowship through the church, even if they don’t know it! We are constantly seeking to invite people into community and are praying for open hearts and doors to the gospel.

As part of the plan to multiply disciples in Moxee, one of our families will be starting a missional community in their home next week. Please be praying for the Melones as they seek to invite their friends and neighbors to missional community. Please also pray for the Springs as they have committed themselves to that missional community and will also be seeking to invite friends and neighbors into that community.

It has been my privilege, as well as other ladies in our church, to continue reaching out to the girls at Sunrise House, an alternative foster care home. God is still growing those relationships with girls who desperately need the love of Jesus. Please pray for opportunities to share Christ with these young ladies and that their hearts would be open to the gospel of Christ.

All of this requires empowerment from the Holy Spirit. None of us will have the opportunities, boldness and obedience we need without the Holy Spirit. But with Him, we have an abundance of strength both to fulfill His call on each of us and to persevere for however long it takes to see God’s light prevail in Moxee and the greater Yakima Valley region. Please pray every time you think of us that we would walk only where the Holy Spirit has empowered us to go and that our faith would grow as He leads us.

Blessings on you all!

Michael and Cheryl Johnson

The River Church