It was a Sunday evening. March 8th, 2008. It was our “burden inculcating” gathering. We met at a local coffee shop to begin the church planting conversation among 30 adults from Cornerstone PCA who lived in the target area that would soon be called the “West Valley.” That night, we discussed the necessity of studying our culture and the people in our neighborhoods even as we study the Word of God. It was at that meeting that we first prayed, “Thy Kingdom come in our West Valley as it is in heaven.” We discussed everything from the musical tastes of our demographic to the children of our neighborhoods. We avoided all banter about style of music in worship or philosophy of kids ministry. The good ole days! It was a time set apart by God to talk about “doing KINGDOM” in our community. We still talk about that. In many recent conversations about West Valley, I find myself confessing that we are only eight months into public worship and only a year old in totality. We are infantile, immature, adolescent, and a bit toddlerish. And yet, so much has happened. Church-plant years are like dog-years, I think.
After our March 8th meeting, we entered formation mode. We sought a biblical philosophy of ministry for our North East context. We landed on five core values (the Word, the Gospel, the Kingdom, the Church, and the West Valley). We painted a vision to be a church for the West Valley, in order that Jesus Christ is celebrated as the only hope for the brokenness in us and around us. We committed to seek after it as the church of God, according to the Word of God, in the enjoyment of God, for the glory of God (our mission). It was exciting to craft a model of KINGDOM to the best of our discernment of both the Word and our culture. But then again, it was what it was. Just a model of ministry. Just words on a paper. Just a plan that started like many conversations do… at a coffee shop.
How goes it now?
Well, we are still praying, “Thy Kingdom come in our West Valley as it is in heaven.” We are seeing neighborhood friends join us in worship and God-exploration through the Word. We have intellectual skeptics joining us Sunday after Sunday, even embarking on one-on-one discipleship journeys to test the gospel more intimately. We have become a small home away from home for college students who bring friends. We are doing a community assessment to learn what physical and spiritual needs are untouched in our target demographic (i.e. we have been burdened by the lack of transitional housing for people without shelter). We are partnering with other churches that likewise declare the gospel as the only hope for the brokenness in us and around us. We are seeking the Lord regarding our facility stewardship, as we can fit no more than the 160 chairs we have in our worship space. Specifically, we are curious as to how we can continue to be a blessing to our community by inhabiting and perhaps transforming a warehouse or spacious building into a place of transformative KINGDOM engagement. (Our main Street space has affected our DNA.) We are engaging 120+ people each Sunday with the gospel incarnate – through fellowship, through sacrament and through declaration. We are so thankful that God would continue to gather us weekly to exalt his loftiness, his glory, his gospel, and his PLAN to redeem his people. The gospel of Jesus Christ is, I hope, intruding on the lives of believers and inquisitive unbelievers alike, regardless of their connection point of brokenness.
There may be a glaring need in our midst. Even as we have celebrated the centrality of the Word of God, that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God”(Rom. 10:17); and even as we are confidently desperate in our celebration of Jesus Christ, the only hope for the ravaged and wrecked among us. Even still, it seems we are just now growing HUNGRY for the transformation that only the Holy Spirit can bring to his church, to his people in this sin-soaked, self-saturated, spiritually-suffocating world.
John Calvin summed up the Christian life as “rejoicing in the Holy Spirit.” Christians glory in the presence of the Holy Spirit, without which glorying Christianity itself does not stand! As I consider the people at West Valley – both those who have been historically churched and those who are newly engaged – I am seeing hunger for transformation… a simultaneous awareness and desire for God the Spirit to be in our midst! People are weighed down by personal pain, relational scars, financial debt, identity crises, guilt, anger, fear, lust, depression, despair. I look into their eyes every Sunday with the Word in my hands. And yet, what I am learning is that God’s people do not merely need to hear me wax about “Jesus Christ, the only hope for our brokenness.” They do not merely need to learn the power and purpose of expositional preaching in context of celebratory worship. They do not merely need to be reminded to incarnate Christ’s love to their neighbors and business partners. No. We ALL universally need the Holy Spirit to change our human hearts, to “reform our affections,” to transform us!
I am committed to gospel-centered expositional preaching and I have been called of God to pastor a missional church plant. Yet in this winepress of sanctification (as one of our members so affectionately termed church planting) I habitually forget that effective gospel preaching depends wholly on the power of the Spirit as Christ offers himself in the gospel. If we neglect to proclaim the work of Christ or to beseech the work of the Spirit, all preaching is lifeless and impotent (Thabiti Anyabwile). Paul made the point CLEAR in 1 Corinthians 2:12 – Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given to us. Wow. No believer will understand the Word and experience the transformative power of the gospel apart from the Spirit. No skeptic will grasp the relevant dead-to-life promise of the gospel apart from the Spirit.
So, one year into the planting of West Valley Presbyterian Church, I ask one thing of you: will you pray for the Spirit’s transformation through the Word – as Christ himself is offered to us in the gospel? Will you pray that for every person we engage at West Valley? No, that’s not big enough. Will you pray that for the entirety of our mission field of the West Valley, for our city? Will you? Will you pray that for my life, my family and the families of a growing church plant? Will you?
Today I pray it for you. May God transform us all for his glory by his Spirit through his Word.
Rejoicing in the Spirit, jim
If you desire to partner financially with West Valley PCA, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and/or send any gifts to West Valley Presbyterian Church, 326 Main Street, Suite 1 – Emmaus PA 18049. All gifts will be tax-deduct and a year end statement will be provided.