I am thankful to introduce Ventura Reformed to readers of the Heidelblog! In April, Pasadena URC called and sent me to three households in the city of Ventura to lead them in a grassroots church-planting project. We are asking the Lord to establish a URCNA congregation on the Oxnard Plain (population ~ 400,000) not only with Reformed-and-relocating people, and with Christians-becoming-Reformed people, but especially—especially!—with people who do not attend any church. Fellow Heidleblog readers, are we not great at living among and talking to and advertising to the first two groups but what about this third group? You know, the majority of our neighbors now, unchurched, anti-church. Inspired by long-time and newer URCNA and NAPARC church planters and colleagues, I have been reading some more “missional” stuff the past few years. 25% is not very edifying but 75% of it has really challenged and stretched me. It has given me some new perspectives. Can I have a small part in the Lord bringing our confessional, uncompromising ‘brand’ of Reformed faith and practice to the totally uninitiated?
There are two keys to our primary outreach and growth strategy. One is, as the core group, we cultivate our identity as lower-case ‘m’ missionaries, doing common life activities together and then deliberately incorporating unchurched people into those activities. Over time, relationships grow, and trust is built such that more influential spiritual conversations ensue. As Reformed people it’s probably easier rather to fully Christianize our calendars, or maybe to advertise to, or talk to, mere strangers. Or it’s easier to live meaningfully among unbelievers, sure, but not pray for them faithfully, and never talk to them about Jesus. Our little core group has been great, both in our initial Sunday gatherings, and also as we spend time together socializing and trying to shape and meld as a project team. Also I’m wading out into new waters for me of disciplined community networking. Key two is, we have the specific goal to funnel everyone with whom we can gain a good hearing into occasional, then regular personal or small group spiritual conversation and catechism with me. This is the private means of grace by the pastor-evangelist, the upper-case ‘M’ Missionary, taking the customized preaching to the people.
It’s been a whirlwind. First we said farewell to our beloved congregation of 20 years, Ontario URC. My wife Lena, 6th grader son John and I had to get to Ventura and get somewhat settled. Before we moved I started driving John out here for Little League so we could start meeting some people and ease his transition. We stayed with Lena’s parents for the first three months and are in a rental now. We are renovating a house on the more inland, east side of town, trying to create (adapting a phrase used by URCNA Missions Coordinator Rich Bout to describe his home when he was church-planting in Mexico) “Grand Central Station Ventura East”—lots of foot traffic. A place where Lena creates the atmosphere and I serve and challenge people with the Scriptures, wherever they are with God.
We have “put our basic face on.” Decided a name, designed the logo, got some things printed. I envisioned a certain kind of website, and the volunteer designer from Grace URC Torrance somehow figured out what was in my heart and got it on the web: www.venturareformed.org. Thanks Ray! The social media is “up,” but–the job before us it to start actually using it and using it efficiently, to widen our local net. The Lord opened a great relationship with a small, historic Lutheran church in town—we worship there for now and they also have leased us their facility for our first public meetings, “Introducing Ventura Reformed,” starting September 19th. We nailed down the accompanists and w are ordering the lawn signs, etc.
Any good thing here can only come from the Lord answering the prayers of his people for this project. We know God does not promise us anything other than what is best for us and for his people, and what is most glorifying to him. We have modest goals but we pray for his glory in his rescue of many who need him!
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