To be truthful, we have found a sense of belonging and connection in our Middletown community that we've not experienced at any earlier point in our lives. We were willing to wait longer for a job opportunity if necessary, but the more we waited the more God seemed to be developing a different path for us.
About six years ago, I met Ves Sheely. Ves is the New England District Superintendant of the Evangelical Free Church of America. Over the years, Ves has been an incredible voice of insight and encouragement in helping Amy and I determine where we may fit best in ministry. Ves made his thoughts clear early on - but I was very reluctant to even entertain his idea of planting a church. However, during the fall of 2013 that call seemed to be crystalize for Amy and I and we went to our knees to ask God to confirm His call.
Over several weeks of prayer, consideration and planning we met with a few families who shared our convictions about the mission of the church.
Then, after overcoming some logistical obstacles, we finally met as a group made up of about 30 people the first week of January. As we shared the vision that God had been cultivating in our hearts others resonated with it and the sense of unity grew. We all had more questions, but the unity we shared compelled us to move forward and we decided that evening to begin meeting together the following week.
Truthfully, I expected it to take more time... I guess I wanted it to take more time... but after that first time of sharing and worship together we knew it was time.
Our Core Values are as follows:
- Gospel Centered Worship
- Gospel Centered Discipleship
- Gospel Centered Family
- Gospel Centered Community
- Gospel Centered Generosity
- Gospel Centered Mission
You can read about these core values here. But in short, over the course of the last 15 years of ministry Amy and I have become more and more burdened to help families become the primary discipler of the home (Dt. 6:4-9; Titus 2:1-5). Up until the early 20th century that's the way it was. Unfortunately, over the last 50 years or so, that leadership responsibility has greatly deteriorated. Today, many church families struggle to grasp Jesus' call to discipleship (Mt. 16:24) - and because Gospel Centered Discipleship is not happening in the home it's failing everywhere else. Therefore our value of Gospel Centered Family is naturally tied to Discipleship.
Jesus call to discipleship is radical...and since the Church is - unfortunately - more known for what it is against; along with its hypocrisy - the Church has become anemic and irrelevant. Anemic Christianity is not compelling - so together we surrender to Jesus and continue on the relentless pursuit of The Father and His will for our lives. We will never be perfect - but as a church we are compelled to run after Jesus with all we've got... and lead and love the next generation to do the same.
Therefore, discipleship must be a primary focus and - as a church - we have an obligtion to help others learn who Jesus has called them to BE... to help them DO what He's called them to DO. This sense of duty must come from the overflow of The Gospel. That's what Jesus expected of his first followers too. From the first conversations Jesus had with his soon-to-be disciples -- He called them to be "fishers of men." (Mt. 4:19) -- in essence leading them to be not just "lemmings" but disciple-makers. That sense of mission carried all the way through His ministry!
Unfortunately - especially over the last 100 years or so - Jesus call has deteriorated in the family which has deeply affected the modern church today.
So, discipleship and family will contiue to be deep convictions for Covenant Life Church.
The value of Generosity was also forged through the last several years of ministry experience. As Amy and I were praying about how to make the greatest impact in our world (Acts 1:8) for The Gospel... we were struck with the fact that the average American church gives less than 10% of their budget to missions and most of that small amount goes into US based minsitry. Today, the US Church spends an estimated 2% of their budgets on the most needy of the world.
Considering the fact that Americans are less than 5% of the World Population and that about 2 billion pepole, representing over 3000 people groups have not heard The Gospel.... we wanted to think differently about way we structured our budget.
So, we felt God callng us to do something a bit unique - to live on 50% of our Church income, and to give away the other half. (inspired in-part by 100x Church in Huntsville, AL)
Now, we don't believe that every church - necessarily - is called to do the same, and we don't really know how long God will have us continue our budget structured in this way. We will continually analyze and evaluate the best use of ministry dollars. At this point, however, God has been blessing us abundantly - and providing for us, so we march on.
These ministry dollars are strategically placed with organizations and ministries that build bridges in our community and advance the kingdom of God. The criteria we have to provide fiancial support is specific enough that we are not spread too thin, but general enough that we are not constricted by perameters that would prevent us from supporting wholesome efforts to build bridges of relationships in our region.
What it looks like on Sunday
On February 6th the New England District Board of Directors voted to officially approve Covenant Life Churchas to be a part of the Evangelical Free Church of America. This association provides excellent oversight but also the freedom to lead our church in the way that God has convicted us. We have not been more "terrified" and excited at the same time... Every week is is an adventure.. and I'm sure it will continue to be. Currrently, we meet in a small community center with about about 10 families. So there are about 20 adults and about 30 kids. Since family is a core value, we all meet in the same space together.
When we discussed this idea initially, it was a little hard to imagine for some of us - especially since many folks who have any church background are accustomed to separate kids' programs. However, we have decided to build our entire church experience and worship service around integrated learning and intergenerational interaction. Now, we have seniors investing into middle aged couples, who are interacting with newly married couples who spend time with collegiates who are investing into teens and children.
This environment provides a platform even to children and young adults to share the wisdom they have gleaned. So, some of the most profound questions and insights during our discussion time have come from teens and children. If a comment is shared that is somewhat off course, we redirect if necessary to correctly understand the text, but the beauty of the connection is that we all learn better, together.
To facilitate this envioronment, we don't sit in rows, but instead at tables and our teaching is essentially broken into three segments.
- Introduction (with Children)
- Table and Group Discussion
The time allotments to these sections vary somewhat week to week, but essentially we begin the teaching with the kids, introducing the concepts of the text, then we will dig a little deeper into the passage when the children return to their seats with their families. Then based on the text, we will discuss two questions - which require the families and table groups to look at the text themselves to determine the answer to the discussion questions.
We have a lot to learn, but we are excited about what God is doing in this small community of disciples. Each week brings it's own adventures... and frustrations - It's inevitable that something doeesn't go as according to plan. That said, we are so thankful for how God has led us so far, and we look forward to what lies ahead!
If you are local to us and don't have a church home, join us on Sunday mornings at 10am. We'd be glad to see you! We meet at the St Francis Society Community Center at 79 Freestone Ave, Portland, CT. 06457
The adventure continues...