APRIL 2014 NEWS
I’m writing from a secret bunker underneath a few tons of sand and steel because my wife and I are not quite ready to reveal who we are. I am sure you understand. But please hear me out.
If you’re in ministry like I am, I hope you are because you love God and you love people.
That’s really what I love most about ministry. It’s a joy to see someone have a “Jesus experience” or, through reading the Scriptures, come to realize his or her need of a Savior. As a Seventh-day Adventist pastor, this is my purpose, but one I find constantly at odds with Seventh-day Adventist policy. Yes, I said it. I’m touching the sacred cow.
Among other things, I believe the denomination’s top-heavy hierarchical system is the greatest hindrance to spreading the gospel of Jesus. I’ve grown tired of my local church being drained of its resources for the purpose of “missions” when North America is the new mission field. Worst of all, the heavy focus on supporting the organization creates an unhealthy co-dependency resulting in replacing faith with security. Sometimes I feel discouraged — if I think about it too long — because the system is not going to change itself.
Then a few years ago I heard about Mission Catalyst. I thought, Can this be true? Might there be a way to share the gospel truths with lost people without the unnecessary barriers of an outdated system? I started watching it from afar. I visited the network webpages, reviewed information about their various church plants, and watched their video testimonials. I was not only really impressed, but I was inspired. So much so that I decided that it was time to stop looking at webpages and start meeting the people on the ground. So I booked a flight to Vancouver, Washington, and went to worship at Epikos.Upon arriving at the church, I did not know what to expect. Sure, I expected to find a lively church with great music, solid teaching, and a fun kids ministry. What I found, however, was a community of Christ followers. People who are dedicated to spreading the gospel, not only with words, but through their actions both locally and around the world.
On a local level, I was amazed at their impact for Christ both within the church and outside of it. Within the church they don’t talk about evangelism; they live it. Out of those in attendance that day, 85% had no Adventist background.
In the five years of Epikos existence, they’ve baptized 72 people. And guess what? Almost all of them are still there! I was also very happy to see the congregation involved in local mission. On the weekend that I was present, they were gearing up to take a team to Seattle for a local mission trip. The congregation repeatedly assists families in need, journeys with individuals through pain, and provides various ways for members to authentically engage in community.
On a global level, Epikos rivals what I’ve seen some mega churches do. During the service, there was a mission spotlight that highlighted one team’s recent visit to Uganda. I was amazed to learn that Epikos had adopted a village. The church has built an orphanage, supports a school, provides meals to 300 children every day, and paid for a protective fence around the campus.
This is not just a one year project, but an ongoing ministry that they provide to that village. It was a joy to see the smiles on those Ugandan faces as they receive education, meals, and protection, all of which is provided from Epikos Church in Vancouver, Washington, several thousand miles away.
Sure, someone could argue that a local Adventist congregation supports missions around the world through their wallets. But Epikos supports missions not just with cash but with their hands and feet. The difference is life giving for the congregation, and it shows. It is not an overstatement to say that, above all of the things I witnessed, this by far best defines Epikos and Mission Catalyst.
My wife and I will be having some serious conversations in the coming days and weeks. Will we continue to stay within the safety net provided us by the system, or will we take a leap in faith? The jury is still out. Until then I’ve promised myself one thing: If anyone ever criticizes Mission Catalyst or Epikos Church, I will tell them that they have no right to talk until they’ve hopped on a plane and experienced it for themselves.
I strongly encourage you to have a mind for yourself. Just because something is not part of the system does not mean that it’s not from God. Remember: God, not our institutions and systems, is the one to be worshipped. In fact, how about if you join me in praying for Mission Catalyst and all of their churches? And if you are able to help them financially, I hope you will do so liberally so that what I experienced in Vancouver can spread everywhere.
Your brother in Christ,