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

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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

 

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

Family Update; How We Baptized Three; Our Summer Plans

To our partners in the gospel:

Greetings from Moxee, Washington!

We have allowed several weeks to go by since our last prayer update. We pray you are well and that God is blessing your families and churches.

It has been an intense and fruitful spring here in the east valley of Yakima. After a very mild winter, summer has come on strong. The orchards are producing quickly and the hop vines are spreading. Cherry season started several weeks earlier than last year and is keeping our community busy.

Our family has been busy with a number of things, but God has been very good to us. The girls are doing well in school and have finished the year strong. Michael participated in commencement from the Pacific Northwest Campus of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. It is quite a relief to finally finish that long journey.

Cheryl was offered an unexpected job opportunity. There is a cafe in our city that we love to frequent. The ladies who opened it one year ago have been pouring their lives into their small business. As we have gotten to know them, Cheryl recognized their need for help and volunteered. Her offer has turned into a part-time job! Now she is working almost every day for a few hours, sometimes more, and is building relationships with dozens of people in our community. Many of those relationships have resulted in gospel conversations. Please pray that much fruit would develop from this opportunity.

One of the highlights of our spring was the opportunity to share baptism with three believers. On Sunday, May 17, The River Church gathered for worship in the park and baptized two adult men and one girl. It was a beautiful time as each one shared their short testimony of how they came to faith in Jesus, and we baptized them into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Along with a certificate of baptism we gave each of them a study Bible to help them grow as followers of Jesus. (Please take a look at our Facebook page for pictures.)

Here is a little about each one: One man had professed faith as a child, but his life has been full of difficulties and struggles since. Yet, God worked in his life to steer him back to Jesus. He finally came to realize that if he was going to be a faithful follower of Jesus he needed to be baptized. Another man grew up in a religion that does not teach the biblical truths of Jesus. As a young man he came to a complete, saving faith in Jesus. He desired to experience believer baptism, too. Finally, one young girl also expressed her faith in Jesus through baptism. She was saved last summer during our Summer Children’s Program but needed time to understand her new faith and what baptism signified in her life in Christ. Pray for these three, that they will grow as followers of Jesus and grow in their understanding of God and his will for their lives.

We are very excited for another summer in Moxee. This week we will be participating in the first of several “Movie in the Park” events. We will be there to do face painting, give out balloon animals, and distribute invitations to our Summer Children’s Program.

This year our Summer Children’s Program will take place August 10-14. Our theme is “The Great Campout: Journey with Jesus.” During four days of games, crafts, music, and snacks, we will share stories from the Gospels that will help children understand what it means to be a follower of Jesus. At the end of the week we will have a Block Party with the entire community. Last year we had a great response from our city, we reached around 70 children, and several of them made decisions to follow Jesus. We were able to give out more than four dozen Bibles and several families began attending our worship gathering as a result. It was very apparent to us then, as it is now, that we cannot do it without the support of our partners. We want to thank you in advance for your generosity and prayer support. With your help we hope to reach more than 100 children and their families.

Please keep us in prayer:

  • that we will witness about Jesus with boldness and faithfulness.
  • that God will send faithful, mission-minded believers to join our church family.
  • that God will send us or raise up a worship leader.
  • that some property will sell so we can use the proceeds to invest in our city.
  • that God will provide all the resources needed for the “The Great Campout.”

Pray as we Grow, Connect, Worship, Bless

This update that was sent out at the beginning of February. Thank you for continuing to pray for us as we pursue God’s vision for The River Church in 2015.

2015 is shaping up to be a busy year at The River. We held the meeting for Vision 2015 on January 18, and planned for several events and ministries that we believe God is leading us to do. Thank you so much for your prayers! Here’s what The River Church is going to do in 2015:

PRAY: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:12.

It’s so important to remember where the real battle field is. What a marvelous, simple and yet profound opportunity we have to approach the throne of God and ask for everything we need and know that He will provide! We pray that our prayer life as a church will be deepened this year and our intimacy with God through prayer will be greater. We pray the same for each of you, our praying partners. We pray that this year you experience a new intimacy with God through your times in prayer.

GROW: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2

We plan to grow through continuing in our Discipleship Groups, special Bible studies, and by personal and corporate Bible reading and scripture memorization. We are praying and ask you to pray for God to multiply our Discipleship Groups. We are praying to grow through both new disciples and through contact with Christians who do not have a church to call “home” but are ready to renew their commitment to gathering with God’s people on a regular basis. Please pray God would bring us into contact with people who need the good news!

CONNECT: “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same functions, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” Romans 12:4-5.

We want to focus on the health of our Missional Communities. We are planning several events to further equip our leaders and teachers. These will be excellent times to learn new skills and to check in and encourage each other in the work. We plan to continue using “The Storyformed Way” with new Missional Communities as well as “The Gospel Project” and other studies that help form a strong foundation for believers, new and old, alike.

Please pray that we find and use effective ways to not only stay connected and encouraged as a body but to connect with those in our community as well.

WORSHIP: “Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!” Psalm 95:6.

If prayer is our strength, worship is our joy! We look forward to continuing to gather for singing, prayer, and the Word on Sunday mornings. But this brings me to some very important prayer requests. We have been meeting in the Moxee Community Center since last June. But it is just one room! There is no place for childcare except for in the hallway which we do use to the best of our ability. We know that not having adequate space to care for small children is a huge hindrance to families with young children.

That said, a property has come up for sale in the center of town that we are working diligently to try to procure. One of our local partners does non-profit work and business-as-ministry and is interested in developing the property with us. We need favor from the city and wisdom about the decision. Finally, we need financial provision for the work that will need to be done to develop the property. There are some buildings on the property but they will need considerable renovations. To sum up: if this happens, it will be a GOD THING!! In the meantime, would you please pray that God would help us “think outside the box” in finding ways to meaningfully reach out and minister to families in our community despite serious space constrictions. We know God has a plan and a way, we just need to find it.

As a follow up, we also need God to lead us in finding a music leader. Michael and Olivia are doing a great job leading in worship every Sunday, but we would really like to find someone else to lead in this area so that Michael will be able to concentrate on other aspects of the ministry. Please pray that God would send more workers!

BLESS: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” 1 John 4:7.

We believe blessing our community is one of the best ways to show God’s love. Could you please look over the following list and pray God would lead as we plan and prepare for each event?

  • Ministry to teachers at our local elementary school
  • Backpack blessings/end of school or beginning of school party
  • Helping with movie nights in the park
  • Summer Children’s Program
  • Summer sports camp
  • Parent’s Day Away
  • Christmas Eve service

In addition to these events, we are continuing to volunteer at Sunrise House, an alternative foster care home.

Whew! Are you tired? I am! Taken all at once, the year ahead looks daunting, even impossible. But we serve a great and mighty God! If He is for us, who can be against us?! This letter might be a good one to keep and pray over each area of ministry individually throughout the year.

Love and blessings to you all. Thank you for your diligence and patience in prayer. God is moving and we’re excited about the year ahead and look forward to sharing it with you!

Michael and Cheryl Johnson

The River Church

God Is Faithful

Greetings and Merry Christmas to all our wonderful partners of The River Church!

We pray that this season of Advent is turning your heart to Christ, remembering what He has already done for us and looking forward to His second coming to establish His rule and reign once and for all. We truly have something wonderful and amazing to celebrate this season!

We are so grateful for all that the Lord has done this year. Last year at this time, we weren’t sure if we were going to have a house to live in once we got here. This year we will celebrate our second Christmas in Moxee. It’s hard to believe! What is amazing is how God has sustained us this whole year when honestly, we didn’t know if we’d still be here six months after the move. You see, it’s not the first time we’ve stepped out in faith to move to Yakima. The first time God had as much purpose as He has this time. Only his plan and purpose were radically different from what we ever imagined, and instead of leading to the beginning of full-time ministry, it led to the beginning of a 10-year career in the military. During that time, God grew and matured us in ways we never saw coming. And then, he sent us back. But that first move to Yakima had left a very bad taste in our mouths and we NEVER imagined doing it again. There is a quote in an autobiography of Bear Grylls, the star of “Man vs. Wild,” and it seems to fit here, “So often, God’s callings have a birth, a death, and then a resurrection.” How true this is in our life. God has never abandoned or forsaken us and He and He alone has resurrected a calling and sustained us through the fulfillment of that calling this year. All praise and glory to Him and Him alone!!

As we consider God’s faithfulness over the last year, we look forward to His faithfulness over the next year, “for He is good, and His steadfast love endures forever.”

In the coming year, we expect to officially launch as a local church body. Will you please pray with us as we approach that milestone? There is still some work to do and a lot of details that have yet to be ironed out but we are getting there and really need your prayers to see us through.

Please pray that over the coming year our Missional Communities will grow and be strengthened. MCs are one of the primary ways we envision reaching our community with the gospel. It has proven to be more difficult to sustain growth and momentum than we first imagined and we imagined that it was going to be pretty difficult in the first place! We are from the NW and the hard soil is what we were born and bred in, but that doesn’t make working the soil any easier. We just went in with our eyes open. Please pray that God would show us the most effective ways to reach out to our neighbors. Please pray for opportunities to reach out to and engage the people in our neighborhoods in meaningful ways. Pray that the Holy Spirit would go before us and break up that hard soil and make it fertile. But pray also that we would have our eyes open to people who are ready to hear the gospel and receive Christ for salvation. Holy Spirit, please do your thing!

Please pray for us and the rest of our core team that we would remain faithful throughout the next year. As the reality of the marathon-like nature of church planting fully settles in, we’ll need your prayers to stay obedient, faithful and enthusiastic. Pray that we remain steadfast and keep our eyes on Him and not our circumstances. God continues to grow and shape us and that means sometimes things don’t go the way we think they should. I know that happens in your life as well. But in those times, we’ll need God to come alongside us and reassure us of his steadfast love and grace. Please pray for Jesus to be our comforter.

The final thing we are praying for in the coming year is more partners in the ministry. We are praying for more partners that pray, give, go and advocate. We are asking that each person pray how God would use you in the next year in the mission field of Moxee. Would God have you find one other person who would be willing to receive our updates and pray for us? Would God have you step up to give financially? Would God have you come join us in the work here on a temporary basis? Would God have you share our story with others who would be blessed to hear and interested in helping? These are things we would like to see each of you pray about in a serious way. Know that we are already praying that God will work in each of your hearts and speak to you clearly about what He would have you do.

Thank you, so much, for your faithfulness this year. We truly appreciate your prayers, giving and attentiveness to our letters. We pray that God would bless each of you in amazing ways this Christmas and throughout the coming year.

THANK YOU and God bless!

Michael and Cheryl Johnson
The River Church

Video Update for November

Our friends and partners at Hillcrest Baptist Church (Enterprise, AL) received a short update for their Missions service on Wednesday. Hope you enjoy it!

(Filmed by one of the Johnson girls — comment with your best guess!)