Last week, I had the pleasure of joining several of our pastors and church planters in the North Sound Network, a group of Converge Northwest churches lead by Jonathan Alexander (Northshore Community Church) and Nate Hettinga (Cascade Community Church) who have gathered to pool resources and knowledge for the cause of planting more churches in the North Sound region. The mostly bearded and flannel-clad day was complete with great fellowship, messy BBQ, and a pair of adorably curious boxer pups who greeted arrivals in the parking lot of Todd’s blueberry farm. Here’s what we talked about:
The first part of the day was devoted to planning for the upcoming year at Adelphia Bible School, a gap-year program based out of Lake Retreat Camp in Ravensdale, WA. The school runs from the end of September through the first week of April and is split into two, 11-week semesters featuring what can only be described as a “greatest hits” line up of one-week courses taught by visiting professors from the surrounding area. As each professor shared their course and content with the rest of the faculty in attendance, I couldn’t help but get excited for the 30-or-so young adults who will experience it together starting later this month. The majority of the professors are currently active pastors or church planters, and there is an undeniable overarching theme that this immersive experience is designed to get students to engage and wrestle with the idea of ministry as a calling regardless of vocation.
Aside from the intimate camp setting and the all-star lineup of teachers, the school has another big attraction that cannot be understated. Adelphia’s Dean, Sean Post, is one of our movement’s best and brightest thinkers when it comes to addressing the millennial generation. Unlike some academics who have approximately 150 words on their subject of choice queued up and ready to be spewed out at a moment’s notice, Sean is an delightfully thoughtful conversationalist, and is incredibly insightful when it comes to addressing the church’s casualties in the messy collision of the church and current culture. There were moments in our meeting when I looked over at Todd (our host/blueberry farm proprietor) in disbelief and simply asked “Where did we find this guy?” We are so blessed to have him in our tribe. I have just begun reading his book, One Year, about gap year programs in which Adelphia is a case study, and I just ordered his newest book, The Stories We Live, on Amazon for later. I believe that Adelphia’s best days are ahead, and I am excited to see how Sean leads this unique community in days to come. Please carve out some prayer time for Adelphia, Sean, the rest of the faculty, and the incoming class of students that will arrive on campus in the next few weeks.
Lee Stephenson, Converge’s newly minted Executive Director of Church Planting, kicked off the church planting portion of the day with a quick intro and summary of what he’s been up to since stepping into his new role. I think I speak for everyone in the room when I state how excited we are to have him leading the charge. His passion for and understanding of church planting is unparalleled amongst leaders in his generation, and his practical experience on the ground coupled with his tenacity and determined nature affords him the unique ability to rally others around a singular and central cause. I’m glad he’s on our side. I truly believe that Lee is the right guy to lead our national efforts and can see him having a great amount of success in all of our districts and church planting settings from rural to urban. If you’ve not met Lee, or haven’t had a chance to hear him speak, please take a quick look at this quick video (shorter than a Taylor Swift song) to get an idea of where his heart is.
Nate Hettinga, the pastor of Cascade Community Church, followed Lee with more regionally-specific updates. I’ve only ever heard great things about Nate, but up until last week, our schedules had never aligned and I’d never faced his intense dark eyes and soul-bearing gaze in person. Eager yet terrified, I was curious about how our first interaction would go. My sky blue VW Beetle (rental), hipster glasses, and skinny(ish) jeans weren’t doing me any favors confidence-wise, and it doesn’t help that Nate is often photographed with fully functional and noticeably used hunting gear. I was pleasantly surprised and wholly relieved to find that he is extremely funny, quick to smile and almost, dare I say, surprisingly giggly. By “giggly” I definitely mean he has a deeply guttural but highly contagious laugh whose frequency helps distract me from the fact that his meat hook-sized hands could crush my windpipe like a soft serve ice cream cone on a summer afternoon.
Nate’s role (in addition to serving on the Converge Board of Overseers, teaching at Adelphia, raising 6 kids, and pastoring Cascade) is, simply put, to turn conversations around tables into missional actions in the communities of the North Sound area. He spent the better part of his time casting a compelling vision for why the North Sound Network (and other regions of the US) needs to create a “farm system” for church planters. Obvious tie-ins with Adelphia aside, this decree makes a ton of sense on a national level in which many baby boomer pastors are reaching the end of their ministry careers. Regionally, Converge Northwest has set some goals to double the amount of churches in the district in the next decade. We imagine that while church health will be a sustaining effort in that timeframe, church planting will be absolutely critical as we push to start more ministries and claim more towns in the North Sound area for Christ. I personally think that guys like Jan and Nate Hettinga are living proof of how church planting can become engrained in the culture of your ministry, passed through the generations, and prioritized amidst other pressing needs. I think that the most astounding part of this meeting was the overwhelming sense that the churches represented were truly a family of churches, unified and on mission together, each unafraid to bring their best and first fruits to the table for the cause of Christ. I envision a picture of heaven in which a hardhat-wearing, clipboard-toting St. Peter looks on as angels and a celestial construction crew widens the gates of heaven per his instructions. I believe that we will see a revival in the Pacific Northwest, and that God will make his name famous though the efforts of our church planters.
At this point, someone from my marketing department is running over to my desk to ask me to split this article into multiple smaller pieces for the sake of having more new content on our website. But alas, we continue on!
Pastor Jonathan Alexander of Northshore Community Church (the grandparent church of the North Sound Network) wrapped up the day by giving some practical insights on building a culture of generosity within a church. He framed giving and generosity as an issue of the heart and something that compliments other aspects of holistic spirituality. In a limited amount of time, Jonathan did an incredible job presenting practical methods employed by his ministry that focused in on three specific values that he encouraged pastors to emphasize when refocusing discussions on generosity. The first is that generosity is a discussion of “for vs. from” in the sense that giving of resources (tangible or otherwise) is something that God desires for his people as opposed to something that church leaders want from their congregation. The second point is that the mechanics of generosity are more a function of “through vs. to” in that we are not called to give to our church, but rather to God’s kingdom through our church. The last point he made is that generosity is about spiritual formation, not financial transaction with the emphasis that a heart overflowing with the Holy Spirit would naturally be generous.
In the midst of these meetings and several church visits, I was further blessed by the accommodations and hospitality I received from Lake Retreat Camp, a Converge camp and conference center in Ravensdale. Rob Neumann, the camp director, gave me a full tour and helped me fully understand the mission, capacity, and potential that Lake Retreat has to offer our movement. In addition to hosting Adelphia Bible School for the better part of the year, Lake Retreat offers a variety of lodging and meeting spaces for ministries to come in and experience the Lord in a unique setting, removed from distractions and surrounded by natural beauty. With enrollment in Adelphia increasing each year and the camp’s reservations growing with each season, we are so excited to watch as Lake Retreat’s influence in the region increases. Over some local fare at a neighborhood haunt, Rob gave me some color commentary on the surrounding area which highlights the unique nature of this part of Washington state. Protected from encroaching developments by the Kent watershed, Lake Retreat is still only a quick drive (again, shorter than a Taylor Swift song) away from a bustling commercial development and new gated communities. The area has become a go-to for the Seattle folks looking to purchase large plots of land to build estates. Houses start at $750,000 in the planned communities nearest to camp, and these locations offer an incredible backdrop while maintaining a manageable commute into the city. To say that Lake Retreat is located on prime real estate would be an understatement, and I think there is a unique opportunity for these incoming new neighbors to encounter Jesus in casual settings as they rub shoulders with camp staff and students in town.
On my flight home, I thought through a few ways to pray specifically for Converge Northwest and the North Sound Network. I invite you to add these bullet points to your daily prayer time and maybe even consider adding some of your own if something in this article stuck out to you!
1. Praying specifically for Nate and Jonathan as they lead and find the necessary financing for the North Sound Network… Pray that the Lord would guide them and provide for the financial needs of the church planting movement.
2. Praying for Sean, AJ, Rob, and all the professors of Adelphia… Pray that the Lord would (even in this late hour) be calling the students he desires to enroll in the Adelphia program and that the students who arrive would experience His presence in radical new ways.
3. Praying that members of the churches in the Pacific Northwest would hear the Lord’s call in their lives to be generous in all aspects of their lives… Pray that God’s kingdom would be manned and resourced by people who believe whole-heartedly in the transforming power of the Gospel.
4. Praying for protection over our pastors and church planters’ families… Pray that the Lord would continue to protect the families of our ministers from spiritual warfare and attacks from the evil one who seeks to deceive and destroy those who do good works for God’s kingdom.
5. Praying for victory! Praying for new territory! Pray for an overwhelming sense of God’s spirit in the neighborhoods surrounding our ministry efforts and that our network of many churches around the Pacific Northwest, the US, and the entire Globe would be untied in intent and purpose and share in the victories together as ONE church, the bride of Christ.
That’s all for now, tune in later this fall for a recap of Converge North Central’s THRIVE meetings and a Converge Southwest/Vision Arizona report from North Valley Community Church’s first service in their new facility!