Living on mission means following God’s prompting every step of the way.
Like churches across America, Chicago First Church of the Nazarene (C1) is adjusting to new days and new ways of reaching people. We have been challenged to rethink evangelism by activating ministry outside the church walls while also rethinking what happens inside the church walls. We must live “on mission.”
Cathy Powell is a retired school administrator called to plant a Celebrate Recovery program inside a secular treatment center. She knew the possibility of being able to accomplish this in a secular environment was unlikely, but God opened doors. In the previous year, Cathy and her team led 162 women to Christ. Cathy and her team are living “on mission.”
Roger Aurelio is a business owner who, nearly thirty years ago, began to feed needy people on the north and south sides of Chicago. Recently, leadership at C1 became aware of his endeavors and partnered with him to plant Parent Affiliated Congregations in two Chicago neighborhoods: Uptown and Englewood.
Rev. Howard Millhuff delivers a Bible study weekly at C1 Uptown, and newly local-licensed minister Ivan Lopez teaches at C1 Englewood. Our goal is to build out these locations by building them up from within. We believe the future pastors and leaders in these locations will be raised up as men and women who accept Christ and answer His calling. These two satellite locations ministry to around 500 each week. Both crews are living on mission!
Often, the goal of someone who grows up in inner city Chicago is to escape it. Life can be difficult in under-resourced neighborhoods in ways most of us have never experienced. Rob Evans and his wife Cassie could have done that. Raised in a tough neighborhood on the south side, Rob secured a bachelor’s of communication degree from Northern Illinois University, and Cassie earned a degree in engineering from the University of Illinois.
God called them to invest their lives in seeing people redeemed. Rob furthered his ministry education and in 2016, became pastor at Church on the Block (a campus of C1), in the Austin neighborhood. He now lives where he grew up, teaches eighth grade math at a local school, and is leading a team of committed followers of Jesus.
Rob and other leadership at C1 have developed a partnership with “By the Hand Club,” an after school program where more than 80 C1 volunteers from Lemont have enjoyed serving during the last four years. In addition, Rob preaches regularly at “The Bridge,” a ministry designed to help people coming out of prison to find jobs, housing, and a church home. Rob, Cassie, and their three children are living on mission.
In 2017, the congregation of C1 Lemont accepted a challenge to elevate our city and suburbs. Part of the calling was to plant a church in the suburbs within a twenty-four month period. When a local church plant did not develop as anticipated, C1 was left with a decision.
God, through the faithfulness of His people, had provided resources. When leadership became aware of another church plant initiative in a nearby town, the answer became clear. C1 chose to make a significant financial investment in the work of this church plant, which launched in September of 2018. In addition, a C1 board member became a launch team member.
C1 is reaching Nazarene Recreation and Nazarene Preschool families in new ways as well. With record numbers of participants, C1 is experimenting with delivering ministries we normally would provide on Sunday to families on Friday nights. “Family Night Live” is just one example of how our ministers of recreation (Kyan Glenn), children and families (Evan Offutt), and student ministries ( Matthew Spear) are seeking to be intentional in their ministries.
In Lemont, we decided to focus on reaching out to 49,392 “nones” living within six miles of our building. “Nones” are people who, during the last census, self-identified as having no faith affiliation whatsoever. Reaching them is not easy, because there are a variety of reasons for each person’s lack of affiliation. Changes in our approach to everything would be required, but it has proven to be worth it as we have seen the number of decisions for Christ double annually over the previous six years. Behind every number is a story.
It was at the end of one of our Saturday night services when I met Rick and Shelly.* After a moment of awkward silence, Shelly spoke first, “My husband has a story to tell you.” I could see the tears in Rick’s eyes as he said, “I want to thank you.”
With that, Rick walked me up the aisle to a row of seats one third of the way back and pointed to one. “That’s where he sat,” he said. He told me how he and Shelly had drifted from attending church for a while, but when his college-aged son Danny* came to visit, he wanted to take him to church. So, they attended C1 a couple of times in anticipation of Danny’s arrival and fell in love with what he called “a very different church environment.”
“We loved the people. We loved the music. We loved everything, and we suspected Danny would like it too,” Rick said. Danny did, and when the speaker challenged people to make a decision, Danny took the Connect Card and marked the box beside the phrase, “Committing my life to Christ.”
Following the service, Danny handed the card to a C1 pastor as an acknowledgment of his commitment. Rick was amazed, and Danny smiled. Prayers and discussions followed.
Just a few months later, Danny was tragically killed in an accident while visiting friends. The loss was monumental. As Rick talked about his son’s amazing life, his voice began to tremble, and his eyes focused on the seat he stood beside. He then explained how what happened in this seat became a moment of eternal clarity. When darkness came, this moment became a foundation of hope Rick would cling to and build the future on. Rick and Shelly are now part of the C1 family and are giving and serving to make someone else’s life change as a result of a church living on mission.
At C1, we do not have the future figured out. We make mistakes, but we are committed to following the leadership of the Holy Spirit in order to reach people. We can only do that as the Spirit leads and we follow. We have monthly “Evenings of Intercessory Prayer” events and weekly prayer time with the pastor in an endeavor to see our neighbors, family, and friends experience the love of Jesus. We are seeing lives transformed as we follow the Spirit and seeking to live on mission.
Brian Wangler is least pastor of Chicago First Church of the Nazarene.
*Names have been changed for reasons of confidentiality.