Brothers and Sisters,
God’s plan has always been to redeem a people from every tribe, tongue, and nation who would enjoy him and display his glory forever (Revelation 7:9-10). These people are his Church, embodied in local churches. And Jesus promised to build the church (Matthew 16:18). It is such a joy and privilege to be part of God’s people with you! By God’s providence we are caught up – together – in something much bigger than we often imagine. Because it is built by and on Jesus Christ, the church is an unstoppable force for good.
There are times in the life of a church when it is difficult to see as present reality that Jesus is building his church. Sometimes the voices of people seem louder than God’s unchanging Word. Sometimes sin and dissension seem more powerful than truth and love. Sometimes faithfulness to the gospel does not seem to yield fruitfulness in disciple making. But at other times we cannot help but take notice of prominent ways Jesus is clearly building his church.
By God’s grace Church on Mill is experiencing a remarkable season of ministry in which evidences of God’s kindness are on display at every turn. On behalf of the Transition Team and Staff I am writing to tell you about two examples of Jesus building his church.
Merger – For over three decades Church on Mill has faithfully built friendships and shared the gospel with international students and scholars through a ministry called iCOM. Additionally, for the last 12 years a para-church ministry led by a church member, has harnessed the collaborative resources of a dozen churches to support internationals relationally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Praise God for these ministries! I am excited to announce that as of June 1, 2016, iCOM and LATN (Life Among the Nations) have joined forces under the leadership of Church on Mill to accomplish even more together.
Arizona State University’s Tempe campus opened its doors to 12,000 international students and scholars last semester. That number is expected to reach 20,000 within four years. A majority of these students’s home countries are hostile to Jesus’s church. Many are from countries that actively expel missionaries. In God’s kindness, these students study and live within walking distance of Church on Mill. With a combined ministry and the support of sister churches and friends, under the name Life Among the Nations, we are honored to share the gospel and our lives. Erik Naylor [com-erik], Director of College Ministries, is now also the acting director of Life Among the Nations as we search for a permanent director and seek to build a strong staff of missionaries and residents to make disciples of internationals. Please pray for him and Jan Clay, Director Emeritus, as they prepare staff, volunteers, and students for the fall semester. There are ample additional opportunities to get involved, so see Erik if you would like to directly be part of what Jesus is doing through his church
Move – With a student body of 60,000+, diversity rivaling many major US cities, and more renter-occupied properties than owner-occupied, downtown Tempe is a hub of transient activity for the entire Valley. Through the sacrifice of church members who have gone before us, the Lord sovereignly positioned Church on Mill’s facilities in the center of such a strategic location. The world comes to us and we are attempting to faithfully cross the street to them. Thank you for being a welcoming, mission-minded church. As our church family has expanded disciple-making efforts, it has become increasingly clear we should leverage our church property’s location by not only worshipping here, but also by asking staff to considering taking up residence in downtown Tempe. Several years ago, the church began a residency program to train future pastors, missionaries, and leaders for faithful ministry in other places. In exchange for part-time work, residents are given free on-campus room and board, and a healthy church to join and learn from. One house quickly filled and now we have two homes continuously occupied by residents. You have embraced this initiative so well. Praise God for the leaders who have been and are being equipped among us.
For some time, the (then) Leadership Team and now Personnel and Transition Teams have explored strategies for helping our long-term staff move into the immediate area. Disciple-making is life-on-life ministry, perhaps best accomplished with proximity in our urban context. The difficulty has not been the leaders’s desires, but the high cost of residencies near Arizona State University. However, something quite unexpected just occurred. A gracious family in the church came to the Transition Team offering to purchase a home in the neighborhood, retain ownership so they incur on-going costs, but allow permanent staff to use the property as ‘home-base’ for raising a family and leading a ministry. Erik Naylor and family will move into this property on Maple Avenue later this month. This will provide the Naylor family proximity to both Church on Mill’s property and ASU, as well as additional space to host student leader meetings, LATN, and other collegiate events, all while putting the gospel on display through familial interactions.
While unusual in scope, this family’s act of stewardship is not uncommon among Church on Mill members. By God’s grace we are becoming a joyfully generous church. Often I hear of members welcoming people not just for dinner but for a place to live. This hospitality stretches not just to members but to unbelievers. What a beautiful way to show how God welcomes us into his family through the sacrifice of Christ! May we excel still more. Whether buying a guest lunch after a worship gathering, increasing your giving to the church budget, sharing a possession with someone in need, or even blessing the church with the joy of making more housing available for leaders, may we embrace the wide door for effective work God has opened to us (see 1 Corinthians 16:9) through radical generosity. May we give joyfully as Christ has given to us.
Thanks for reading this long post (more information is available online: June 5, 2016 presentation, LATN Vision Statement, Director of LATN Job Description, and Director Emeritus for LATN job description). I trust you are encouraged and ready to press forward in the strength God supplies. Jesus is building his church!
OBO, Church on Mill Transition Team