Hi everyone. I wanted to give you an update on our plans for reopening the building for church services. Recently I visited a friend’s church in California who has been meeting in person for several weeks. It was great to worship with other people and feel the energy of the church gathered together. We miss it. We miss you.
Every week the Leadership is evaluating and assessing the viability of meeting. We feel it’s not the right time at this moment, but we are actively rearranging our meeting spaces to accommodate for social distancing and the other guidelines needed. Our plan right now is to roll out a few gatherings of 100 or so later this fall, beginning with leaders and home churches, people who are serving, and continue from there.
In the meantime, our community needs us. With schools not meeting in person, I want to challenge our home churches and every Westsider, to look for ways to help families around you, in your neighborhood, or from work. Maybe it’s providing daycare once a week or group learning opportunities. Our city needs us, not just to meet on a Sunday but to meet their needs on a Monday. So let’s do what we can to show them we love them, we care for them, and we are here for them. westsidechurch.org/outreach
If you’re not in a home church, I encourage you to start one or find one on our website. Nobody needs to walk alone. Gathering in small groups all over our region is one way to receive the connection and community we all desire.
For more information check back here at westsidechurch.org/reopening. We will be updating the church every two to three weeks on our plan to reopen the building.
We love you. We miss seeing you in person. And we are praying every day that Jesus will have his way in our lives, in our church, and in our communities.
This past week, the president of our denomination, Randy Remington, sent a statement to all the pastors entitled “Uniting the Foursquare Family Against Racism” and calling us to a corporate time of prayer and fasting for three days beginning tomorrow (https://resources.foursquare.org/uniting-the-foursquare-family-against-racism/). Many people in our community struggle with what to say, think, or how to respond in light of the many political narratives in the media regarding racism. Inevitably any statement I make will be categorized as left or right, not enough or too much. For me and many in our church, this is not a political issue; it is a personal and moral one.
As I mentioned two weeks ago, when Keith Jenkins spoke, my silence, in the past, regarding racism in our nation has spoken volumes, and I can no longer be silent. First, racism is wrong in every form. I stand with my black brothers and sisters against this evil that has ravaged our nation.
What should our response and engagement be with a politically divided and emotionally charged issue such as this one? Here’s what I’m doing and would encourage our church to follow: I’m listening. I’m learning. I’m reading. I’m seeking to understand. I’m turning down the rhetoric the media and social media is pushing on us and turning up the voice of Jesus and His word. I am not choosing a political agenda. Instead, I am wholeheartedly seeking the agenda of Jesus. And here’s what I know about Jesus: He is near to the brokenhearted. Listen, there is brokenness in our nation. And people are grieving. Some are doing it in anger. Rather than standing in judgment over their grief or anger, I am choosing to be near to them; to stand with them; to walk with them; to weep with them; to sit with them, and listen to their stories. Minimizing or disregarding the pain and perspectives of others, especially when it challenges our worldview, is, at a minimum selfish, if not sin. And it certainly does not represent the way of Jesus.
Jesus is also concerned about justice and injustice. Justice is God’s business. The entire Bible is one long narrative of God’s restorative justice at work culminating in the resurrection of Jesus and His invitation for reconciliation with Him and each other. That’s why the church must lead in this, not follow. It has always been God’s heart for justice in the world. So we must enter into that work with Him, with grief, lament, humility, and courage. As Randy concludes his statement, he writes, “Our struggle against the evils of racism must be intentional and prolonged. In the coming weeks, we will craft and communicate the concrete steps we are taking as a movement. These steps will be rooted in our fundamental identity as the children of God and founded on what is eternally and gloriously major, our common, unique standing among all of creation as the image-bearers of God and those redeemed through the blood of Jesus Christ. We are the church, and we were made for this moment.”
Pastor Steve shares plans for future relaunching of our larger gatherings and current news on the smaller gatherings that are beginning to happen in homes across our region based on our Phase 1 status.
I wanted to take a few minutes to describe our strategy for deciding when we might open up our building to Sunday services again as well as our home church strategy launching.
First, and most important, the church hasn’t been closed. We’ve been more open than ever – between the number of people who have heard the gospel message to the number of people we’ve served practically – the church has been arguably more engaged in our community than ever before.
But we do miss gathering together and we do know it is an important part of our spiritual development.
Share vision of the waters overflowing the banks of the river… how we do church has taken a different shape and I believe God is using this moment to reshape His church…
Our denomination, Foursquare, not only provides covering for us, but also wisdom. They’ve given us a framework of four guiding questions for us to consider as we discuss opening up our buildings to services.
First, Is it ethical?
Is opening up our building, right now, the right thing to do? When will it be the right thing to do. Just because we can, should we? In other words, what does love require of us in this moment. What does wisdom require of us? For us, the love for God and for our neighbors is our primary motivation. Not fear. But love.
Second, Is it permissible?
It’s possible, with the Oregon Supreme Court hearing a lawsuit regarding reopening churches and some of the comments President Trump made over the weekend, that churches may be allowed to bypass the phase-in process and begin to gather in large groups.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:23-24: “You say, “I am allowed to do anything” —but not everything is good for you. You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is beneficial. Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others.” 1 Corinthians
Paul limits his own rights for the sake of love. There is more going on here then issues of religious freedom and constitutional rights. Jesus is wanting to do something in his church – to break some mindsets – to shift our thinking.
So we will follow the guidelines of our state and county regarding gathering sizes, but is it permissible is not the only question we are asking.
Third, Is it missional?
For me, this is the most important question of the four. Like I said, church isn’t closed. Matter of fact, we’ve had more influence and connection with people outside of the church than ever before. In some ways, our mission to help people know Jesus and become like Jesus is at an all time high.
Not only that, this moment gives us an opportunity to strengthen parts of our strategy that were inherently weaker because of the focus on the Sunday gathering. This is an opportunity to go deeper in connection and community and broader in serving and acts of kindness.
Our Discipleship team has been working hard getting our Home Churches up and running. We already have 27 OPEN GROUPS in process (meaning they have room for others to join) and at least 17 other groups in process that are already filled to capacity.
These Home Churches represent over 70 leaders and hosts that have stepped up to launch this important ministry. We need at least 30 more leaders or hosts to adequately care for and connect with those in our church who would like to meet together in homes.
Listen, we will get back to meeting again on Sunday. No doubt of that. Gathering is important in the disciple-making process. But we don’t have to hurry to get back to the large gathering right away.
Carey Nieuhof’s latest blog from outreach magazine email…
But the biggest mistake most leaders will make is that in the emotional rush to get back into a facility, to see everyone again, to assemble their teams and get back to “normal,” they’ll reembrace a model of ministry designed to reach a world that no longer exists.You’ve learned so much and your church has learned so much in this disruption so far that to simply reembrace what was will destroy what could be.
So what’s the danger as you get ready to gather again, whenever that is? Simple. Thinking that when you walk back into your building things will go back to normal. In other words, you don’t really need to change anymore—which is the fastest path to irrelevance.
Things have changed. Radically. The world has changed. Radically. Irrelevance is the gap between how quickly things change and how quickly you change. And even as the world slowly reopens, you’re not reopening to normal, but to a new normal.
Our framework: is it ethical; is it permissible and beneficial; is it missional; and lastly:
Fourth, Is it practical?
This is an important question as well. When we look at the social distancing guidelines, the cleaning needed between services, the ministry to children, and so forth you begin to realize how unrealistic gathering would be.
For instance, right now we could gather in groups of 25 or less… Some churches are more able to do this because of less size and building constraints. But for us to minister to our entire congregation in the building, that averages about 2,000 per Sunday, we would need to provide 80 services on any given Sunday. Add to that what type of service would it be?
Nobody can touch. No hugs. No handshakes. Worship with masks on. That sounds fun.
And not only that, you know what demographic of our church will absolutely show up as soon as we open up the building? Our older people. They are so faithful and so committed, if the doors are open they will be here. Is putting our at-risk population in an enclosed space with others practical, wise or ethical?
And what about young families? You remember what it was like when you had your first kid? Suzanne wouldn’t even let me hold our first child. Many young families are like, “I’m going to wait a little while even after you open up the building.”
Is it ethical?
Is it permissible?
Is it missional?
Is it practical?
These are the questions that we are asking. And because of these questions we know that we probably won’t be one of the first churches to resume Sunday in building services, we will probably be one of the last.
But I’m not worried. Because we know what the church is and what is isn’t. And we won’t be passively waiting – we will be actively meeting in homes and online. Growing closer with one another as we grow closer to God and as we serve our city in even greater ways.
God is opening up doors of relationship with people in our community like never before. This isn’t a time to fight for going back to what was, but leaning in to what could be. Finding new ways to innovate and create opportunities for the way of Jesus to flourish.
Let me finish by referencing some of the language from the For the city Vision from over a year ago:
We desire to embody the way of Jesus: to love God and love people. Like a river overflowing its banks, we see the gospel of Jesus moving into our neighborhoods, transforming lives and communities. As we intentionally engage in proximity to our city, we will see the life and love of Jesus bring transformation to everyone, everywhere across Central Oregon.
The gospel is transformative, expansive, Jesus-centric, and for everyone, everywhere. This gospel gives us a clear mandate to be present with people; to be by their side in their suffering and in their celebration; to meet needs and champion the lives of others. We are compelled to move outside our familiar and comfortable environments to be with and for others – all others – always.
We envision a world where the Gospel is seen and not just heard; where the Church has a reputation for abundantly and generously loving people everywhere, always. We see ourselves with a seat at the civic table, working side by side with leaders in our communities to address the greatest needs and invited to this table because the evidence of our love for others has given us a seat. The love of Jesus will become clear for many, some for the very first time, both by what we say and what we do. As culture continues to drive people apart, we entrench ourselves firmly in the middle, showing people the love of Jesus and inviting them into the family of God.
As the lead Pastor of Westside Church, along with our leadership team, I would like to respond to some of the frequently asked questions regarding the current restrictions on large gatherings which directly affect churches across our state and the nation.
Q. Why are we allowing the government to dictate how we worship? Simple answer: we are not. Our primary concern is the health of every individual in our congregation and in our community. As a large church, we have almost 2,000 people in our building every Sunday. To ensure we keep our congregation safe, we have chosen to not gather on Sundays.
Q. I’m not worried about the virus. Can’t you leave it up to individuals if they want to attend or not? Eventually, that will be exactly what happens. Once we decide to begin gathering in our Sunday space, people will have the choice to continue meeting online or in person.
Q. Why are we shutting down the church building now, and not every year during flu season? Until there is a vaccine for the COVID-19 virus, as there is for influenza, it doesn’t make sense to put our people at any more risk than necessary.
Q. I can go to the grocery store, why can’t I go to church? Soon we will be able to gather in homes and coffee shops as the church. Most Christians think of “going to church” as Sunday mornings in a designated “sacred” space. We know the church is anywhere two or more are gathered in the name of Jesus. It’s time for the church to return to her roots of meeting both in the temple and in homes. We’ve met for far too long just in the temple and very little in homes. This will be an opportunity for the church to reframe what it means by “going to church.”
Q. Isn’t this a form of government persecuting the church? Studying the persecution of the church throughout history there is one primary common denominator: Jesus. Whenever governments tried to stop people from worshiping Jesus, being baptized, making a confession of faith and so forth it was always about denying Christ. Right now, this is only about gathering together. It is not about denying our faith. If that ever happens we will be the first to non-violently oppose that type of persecution.
Q. When will we be able to have church in-person again? We are evaluating this question every week. When we do gather again it will be in small groups first, probably for several weeks, before we gather on Sunday.
We are excited about this opportunity to pray with brothers and sisters all around Central Oregon. 50 Days of Prayer is an initiative led by a group of prayer warriors from various churches, encouraging the body of Christ to pray during the 50 days between Easter and Pentecost. Their website will have focused prayers, worship and inspiration to help guide the collective Church. Join us for the next 50 days as we seek God’s presence in focused prayer.
Hi everybody. I wanted to give you a quick update on some things going on in our faith community. It has been a moment for us to rethink how we do church. Thankfully we know, we are the church. It’s never been about a building. Still, without having our normal Sunday morning services we’ve become very aware of the need for greater connection during the week.
You may have noticed I have been on social media – which is not my norm. It’s actually been really great to do some Facebook and Instagram live conversations and see and interact with many of you.
Our discipleship team and volunteers are calling people in our congregation just to check in. Many of our Blue Groups have moved online and our Women’s Bible study this spring will also be online. Our local outreach crew is busy meeting needs both with individuals and with community organizations. We had a drive-through food bank recently and it was really cool to use our atrium and parking lot to meet some critical needs in our community.
In addition to all that, we still have our Sunday services online! It’s amazing how powerful our times of worship still are even online. Nothing can restrain the presence of God as we worship together in our homes.
Personally, Suzanne and I are doing well. Even though exhaustion is always present, we are choosing to not worry or be anxious. We are very aware of the hardships that many are facing in our community. Thankfully we know our hope is not in this world, but in God who is watching out for us, even when it might not feel like it. He is for us! I believe that with all of my heart. Love you all and praying for you every day.
Hi Westside Family. I, like many of you, received the information from our Oregon Governor to ban gatherings larger than 250 people in order to protect the public from the COVID-19 outbreak. I believe our response to this announcement should not be one of fear, but of wisdom and care for those in our churches and our communities as we implement what our state leadership has put in place.
Starting this Sunday, all of our Sunday services, including our evening service, will be online and available throughout the rest of the week. There will be opportunities online to pray and to continue to give financially, even chat with a pastor and others during the livestream.
We already have a robust online presence with our weekly Sunday services. We will continue to gather online at westsidelive.org during the suspension of our gatherings. Our team will provide full worship and the regular teaching we had planned. So, while we will not gather at our physical location for a few weeks, we will still gather online in strong community.
This is a time for the church to be adaptive, responsive, and demonstrate Christlike leadership. The church has never been limited to the four walls of the church building. We have seen throughout Church history the many ways the church remained connected, stayed on mission and supported one another in unique ways, even under tremendous persecution.
We have an opportunity to love people in the midst of their fears. We can walk with empathy toward people who are genuinely afraid and love them through it. We are still the church – the visible representation of God’s kingdom. So, let’s go out of our way to love on our neighbors, to encourage people who are afraid, and to pray for those who are sick and the families who have lost loved ones all around the world.
I’m grateful that we can continue to gather as a faith community, even under these challenging circumstances, in homes online. My hope is that we can navigate this together, and in a way that honors Jesus and each other. See you online this Sunday!