We continue to seek clarity around how our ministry will take shape in the coming decade. Below are some of my recent thoughts on this
The Church – at Forest Grove and everywhere – exists as a physical manifestation of the Body of Jesus Christ and of the Kingdom of God in this age. We are called as Church (Ecclesia – lit. “the gathering”) to proclaim, live out, and grow into the fullness of all to which God calls us. Paul tells us in Ephesians 4 that
11 The gifts [God] gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 14 We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
This text expresses what it means to be the Body of Christ, what is the very nature of the Kingdom of God, and how God intends for all this to be accomplished. As each congregation lives out this calling, we will look different, but be the same in purpose and essence. The following is an expression of some of how this might look at Forest Grove.
Verse 12 either contains a parallelism, in which the second phrase is a restating of and thus equivalent to the first, (the work of ministry is equal to the building up of the Body) or, the second expands the first (building up the Body is the result of the work of ministry). Either way, the saints – that’s Paul’s way of referencing all disciples of Jesus – are to be equipped for the work of ministry, and the Body of Christ – the church – should grow up as a result.
Forest Grove seeks to intentionally develop a continually maturing faith among all we contact. Jesus is continually calling us into relationship with Him, from even before we have heard His name for the first time. The family unit is the foundation of spiritual education (Deut 11:18-20). The role of the church is to come along side families of faith, and to bring individuals and families to faith, that this primary work of spiritual nurture might happen in relationship in families and communities. We seek to teach the Scriptures contained in the Old and New Testaments, and to teach and affirm those ideas from secular thought (particularly in the areas of sociology and psychology) which are consistent with the Scriptures and profitable, as Paul says – 16 All scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3). We understand that people have various learning needs, influenced by age, gender, experience, personality, and culture among other factors, and we will teach in ways that honor those needs. This will impact how we program (schedules and types of activities), as well as how we resource (curriculum, facilities and staff). We are a church for all ages – children, youth, and adults – at all stages of life, and we will program and resource accordingly. Some education is best done at the church in more formal settings, and we will have facilities and resources to enable this to happen. As the learning needs of our participants change, our programs, resources, facilities and staffing will need to remain flexible to meet those new challenges. Other learning is better done off campus, in homes, communities, “in the midst of life” and ministry – and we will work to support and resource this kind of learning as well. The most formal setting of our teaching may be our preaching within the context of a worship service. We will pursue excellence in preaching and teaching, acknowledging the gifts and abilities of various voices within and from outside the congregation.
Forest Grove celebrates God as revealed to us primarily through the incarnation in Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, our Lord and Savior. We celebrate through acts of worship – a word literally meaning “worthy of praise”. Worship is both corporate (an expression of the gathered Body of Christ) and individual – and we will teach, nurture, and encourage both. As God began to design the worship life of Israel during their wanderings in the wilderness, He made provision for various roles by gifting and enabling writers, musicians, singers, dancers, and craftspeople of all kinds. In addition, He provided a tribe of Servants – the Levites (comparable to modern day Deacons, perhaps) and the priestly tribe of Aaron – a role typically – though not exclusively – filled by Preachers and Elders today. Behind this design are affirmations of both excellence in worship and broad communal leadership and participation in worship. Likewise, Paul speaks in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 of the Church as a body, in fact THE Body of Christ – wherein there are differing gifts and differing callings and ministries. We seek a balance in our worship life as elsewhere– helping individuals discern, develop and work with in their areas of gifts and talents, while also providing space for the earnest and heart-felt if not perfect ‘performance’ of a particular ministry of worship. This celebration and acceptance of “the gifts we bring” is an affirmation of our communal nature as the Body of Christ. We will ask and expect that all who offer a ministry – whatsoever and wherever – do so with their fullest effort – “doing all things as unto God” (1 Cor 10:13; Col 3:17).
Forest Grove understands that we are made for relationship – with God and with one another. The two greatest commands are to Love God and Love Neighbor as Self – three forms of love all interconnected, though still prioritized: Love for God, Love for Neighbor, Love for Self. We cannot have one without the others. So, one role of a congregation is to nurture and encourage relationships. We do this by understanding them, and by creating time and space within the gathered community for expressing them. We also teach, nurture and encourage fellowship among believers – and with not-yet-Christians – to be integral in our daily faith lives. Our programs and facilities will foster community in the way they are designed, to both “fit” into the way we live our lives, and to continually call us to a better way of living the life for which God has designed us. Individuals and families – neighbors in our society – are disconnected so many ways. Some of the first words of Scripture are: “It is not right that man should be alone…” (Gen 2) God is in relationship – a testimony of the doctrine of the Trinity – and we are made in God’s image (Genesis 3). We will seek a balance between “programmed” community – church fellowship events, small groups, etc – and “organic” community – folks just spending time with one another at their own initiation. Programming should serve to support the more organic forms of community.
Forest Grove understands that alleviating suf
fering wherever possible is an expression of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We seek to teach this as a personal discipline, as well as practice it corporately through financial contributions and direct involvement in ministries locally and beyond. Our immediate geographical area (2 mile radius) is primarily an upper income community. Centralizing services is the best way to serve low income families, and a good stewardship of resources. Few such families live within this radius, so on our campus, our focus will be on supporting individuals and families spiritually, emotionally and relationally. Our education and fellowship ministries will offer teaching that addresses these needs in a variety of ways. Off-site we will engage, financially and physically, in ministry with lower-income individuals, as well as those isolated because of limited mobility. The congregation as a whole will focus effort and emphasis on a limited number of ministries throughout the year, directed by our Outreach Ministry Team. We will directly and publicly partner with Allen Community Outreach and similar organizations as extensions of our ministry to low-income families in this area. At the same time, we will actively encourage and celebrate the work of individuals and groups of all sizes within the church to alleviate suffering.
Forest Grove believes that God’s deepest desire is for us to be in relationship with the Father through an active and growing faith in Jesus Christ the Son, by the inspiration and ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. As such, while we respect other faiths and will work together with them where to do so advances the Vision and Values of the congregation, we at the same time open ourselves to God’s working in us to draw all people to Himself. We will engage the broader community in areas of mutual interest because to be in relationship with others is God’s design for human kind and a primary purpose for and expression of the Incarnation itself. While as a congregation we will undertake this work collectively, we also recognize that God is revealed to us in and through relationships, so we teach, encourage, and assist our members to be in intentional relationship with those who do not know Christ, that He might reveal Himself through us. Our job is the relationship – revelation and conviction are the work of the Holy Spirit. Relationships are for relationship sake – we do not objectify our neighbors as simply “targets” of our evangelistic efforts. If we, in Jesus’ name, can help someone better live their life, but their heart has not yielded itself to Christ, we have still done the work of the kingdom. Therefore, Forest Grove will host or support events in the community that provide people with a greater ability to thrive in their lives and relationships. Our ultimate prayer and striving will be that all we encounter might come to know God through Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.
Forest Grove celebrates music and the arts as expressions of our corporate and personal faith. They are at the heart of our worship life as a congregation, as well as nurturing our spiritual growth through our education and prayer ministries. We encourage individuals and groups of various sizes to express their faith through the arts and invite them to share these expressions in a variety of settings, both formal and informal. We want to financially support this priority through programming, facilities, resources and equipment, and staffing – both volunteer and paid. The arts become a primary way that Forest Grove can connect with the secular culture, building relationships, celebrating beauty, and looking for God’s revealed love in these creative expressions.