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  • Elizabeth Whitworth

FEBRUARY 2015 NEWS


S + R – UB = TL* ELIZABETH WHITWORTH | ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR

Did you hear about the two shoemakers who went to the distant, hard-to-reach, isle of Smorlandia? Shoemaker Al sent a wire back home: “What an impossible market! No one here wears shoes!” Shoemaker Bill sent this message: “What incredible market potential! Everyone here needs shoes!”

Now apply that story to real life: The region is greater Vancouver, British Columbia; the shoemakers are Jonathan and Teresa Penner (and they’re both Shoemaker Bill!); the shoes are the gospel — the restoration of relationship with ourselves, others, and God.

The vast majority of the people in Greater Vancouver are like the shoeless inhabitants of that distant land. They know that they need shoes, but they’d rather go barefoot than wear a pair of black, stiff, stuffy, hard-soled, poorly-styled, strange-looking dress shoes sold to them by some pushy, obnoxious salesman.

In other words, most are aware of the broken relationships in their lives — their unhealthy relationship toward themselves, their broken relationships with others, and their disengaged or non-existing relationship with their Creator. But for many, organized religion holds about as much help as a lighthouse on top of Mount Everest. Church is viewed at best as a quaint artifact from another era, and at worst as a boring, pointless, dreary, confusing, ritualistic, fear-instilling, rigid, unnecessary, controlling institution. (These are just a few of the actual words that the Penners received from 30 friends who don’t attend church that were asked, “What’s the first word that comes to mind when you hear the word church?”)

It would be easy for Jonathan and Teresa to throw up their hands and say, "What an impossible mission field! No one here wants God!" Instead, they got on their knees and cried, "What incredible potential! Everyone here needs the everlasting gospel that restores relationships!"

We first told you about LIFE+APP in November, as this new faith community was just getting started. They are in the Assembly phase — gathering a team and holding monthly Friday night gatherings called Soul as they build toward an official launch. They also meet in small groups, which they call Circles, during the week.

Already, they are experiencing God-sized stories. Stories like Sara’s. Sara is a teller at a local credit union. For over a year, the Penner kids have been building a relationship with her — going to movies and sharing meals. So when they asked Sara to come to the first Soul event, she was all in. That is until she heard that there was a spiritual component to LIFE+APP. Two months and two Soul events later, her boyfriend suggested she check it out. She did. And she loved it!

Here’s Jennifer’s story. Years ago, when she was in a church youth group, she was raped. That horrific event sent her into a spiral that swept her away from church and God and fully living life. Over the years, she returned to church but never felt safe or worthy to sit in the main auditorium. While attending a recent LIFE+APP Soul event, she was deeply moved by a song that spoke directly into her brokenness. It helped her see that her past was over and that she could begin to live her life, a life that she knew was changed that night. She plans to make LIFE+APP part of her new reality.

Then there’s Adam’s story. He and his partner have experienced unconditional love and acceptance from the Penner family but wanted nothing to do with “church”. After experiencing their first Soul event, Adam’s response was, “I loved the ambience, the food, and the music. I even enjoyed the speaker until he started quoting scripture.” His partner’s response: “We actually learned some really helpful stuff and were talking about it all week long.”

HOW DO THEY DO IT?

It all begins with relationships. Jonathan and Teresa deliberately build relationships with those who’ve been turned off by church and religion as well as with those who are authentic Christ followers.

“As a family, we’ve always been intentional about building relationships with the people in our community — whether it’s the local coffee barista, the girl at the checkout counter, or someone we met at a local community gathering,” says Jonathan. “But you’ve got to keep it real, go deep, and lead the relationship to a place where you genuinely share life.”

Next, they create environments where anyone, regardless of their spiritual belief, cultural background, or sexual orientation can taste and see God’s goodness. In no way does that mean that LIFE+APP is shallow or watered down. Instead, they’ve simply figured out how to reveal God’s universal relevance and appeal. They know how to unleash the spiritual that lies within the culture around them, drawing people toward Jesus in surprising ways.

They do everything with excellence. The physical environment is attractive, creative, warm, and inviting. The music is well-rehearsed, performed by gifted musicians, and centered around revealing God. They take “mainstream” songs and re-purpose them, revealing deeper meanings and helping people far from God get a glimpse of Him through something they find familiar.

The Bible teaching is well-presented, thought-provoking, and provides real value to both skeptics and Jesus followers alike. The leaders are authentic, accepting, and committed to God, His ways, and His priorities. The teams are stacked with gifted, like-minded, servant-hearted people, serving in their sweet spot.

“We could never do what we’ve done without our team,” says Teresa. “We’ve got skeptics serving alongside seekers — atheists joining together with Jesus followers — to create transformational learning environments. We are truly becoming an inclusive community of people rallied around a common cause: restoring our relationships with ourselves, others, and God.”

It’s no wonder that LIFE+APP is reaching their primary target of disenfranchised spiritual skeptics and seekers, including Sara, Jennifer, and Adam. They also are connecting with people like Doug (who’s Catholic but doesn’t attend church), Jason (who has been running from church for 20 years), and Bob. Bob is employed by the Adventist denomination, but he and his family love LIFE+APP and want to help because they see God at work.

Jonathan and Teresa come from a denominational background, but they affiliated with Mission Catalyst because they see the benefit of partnering with a network that has a single-mission focus and provides the freedom to leverage resources for that mission.

But even greater than the self-determining freedom of being an independent, non-denominational faith community is the barrier that is removed toward those who are not yet followers of Jesus. From the start, the Penners have had many ask, “Is LIFE+APP part of a denomination? Because, if it is, you can count me out!” Jonathan’s analysis: “Why would we ever consider hanging on to such a non-essential barrier if, in our unwillingness to remove it, we keep many from coming to Christ?”

*WHAT DOES IT ALL ADD UP TO?

S + R – UB = TL Wisely combine spiritual and relational components, remove the unnecessary barriers, and the result is transformed lives. That’s the formula LIFE+APP has applied, and it’s working. They’re just getting started, and your prayers and financial support pour fuel on their fire. Each time God’s people join forces, the evil one is dealt a blow and we move a step closer to the return of Jesus.

There is more urgency to what we do than ever before, and we thank you for whatever gift you can make today to support church leaders like Jonathan and Teresa who have committed their lives to reach their city for God.


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