Renewal…Three Years In!

Written by Peter Armstrong
January 20, 2021

"I wanted to share some of our learnings, our stumbles and the fruit the Holy Spirit has brought". Pete Armstrong, Renewal Lab participant.

In my first post for this newsletter, I wanted to share some of my own renewal journey. In October of 2017, my church – Parklane CRC in Portland, Oregon – joined the Renewal Lab. We finished the official process in May 2019. But that doesn’t mean God’s renewing work in our church stopped! I love the idea of continual gospel renewal. Pastor Tim Keller writes, “The key to continual spiritual renewal is the continual rediscovery of the gospel.” The idea that season after season, God is faithful to help us rediscover and go deeper with the good news of Jesus Christ. As I look back on the 3+ year journey of church renewal that we’ve been on, I wanted to share some of our learnings, our stumbles and the fruit the Holy Spirit has brought.

Here are 5 signs of renewal in our context:

Sign 1: Formation of a Preschool

The Renewal Lab challenges you to do four-directional listening. Through that process, we discerned that God was calling us to re-start a preschool that we had disbanded in the early 1970s. In our third year of existence, right in the midst of COVID, our enrollment is higher than ever and our teachers and students are thriving. We had hoped that many of these families would join our church. One did for about a year, but then moved on. But that is okay! We were disappointed but we continue to plant seeds of gospel renewal and trust God for the fruit, in His time.

Sign 2: Updating and Rethinking Our Building

Sixteen years ago, while preparing to plant a church, I’m embarrassed to admit that I used the line from Field of Dreams: ‘If you build it, they will come.’ We don’t live in that era of ‘the best-looking church wins,’ any longer. But it is still important to have our places reflect who we are showing Christian hospitality to. Sometimes the external renewal of a sanctuary, fellowship hall or narthex can reflect the internal renovation of the heart. In the past year, our young adults (my artist wife helped a little!) painted a beautiful mural in our main entry. We also built a firepit in the backyard of the church as a community gathering space. Last, we replaced our old, beat-up carpet in our narthex with beautiful hardwood floors. Spilled coffee is no longer fretted over! And we’re able to ask deeper, renewal questions about Who this building and property belongs to.

Sign 3: ‘Going with the Flow’ of Ministry in a Pandemic

No one could have anticipated the tremendous ministry challenges of 2020. But going through the Renewal Lab two years prior helped us make slow and steady changes that set us up well to pivot when the pandemic struck. Renewing and refreshing our liturgy made installing cameras and live streaming worship services not that big of a deal. One of the exercises we do in the Renewal Lab is to write a story from the future. As I dreamt about what God had in store for our church in 2026, I dreamt of two morning worship services with a distinct feel. Because of COVID crowd restrictions, we are five years ahead of schedule on that one!

Sign 4: Intentional Discipleship

In the past, many people joined our church having already been on a discipleship journey with Jesus. Perhaps they had studied the Heidelberg Catechism in their CRC youth, or been mentored by their Young Life leader before moving to Portland. Now, it seems like the only things they’ve been discipled by are the values of the Pacific Northwest: tolerance, ambiguity and nature-worship. We have had to be much more intentional about discipling people in the way of Jesus. The Renewal Lab inspired us to pursue Discipleship Huddles (see Mike Breen: Building a Discipling Culture) and 222 Discipleship. This has born a lot of fruit, as we see new and renewing followers of Jesus being formed, then commissioned to make new disciples.

Sign 5: Empowering Young Adults

Through the Renewal Lab process, we discovered that we would have to do a lot more empowering of young leaders. Like a lot of churches, volunteers at Parklane often led the same ministry for decades. Many times, people were serving in a ministry on the day the Lord called them home. We discerned that this would have to change if we were to thrive well into the future. We started to take seriously the four-step “square” method that Mike Breen teaches in ‘Building a Discipling Culture: “I do, you watch; I do, you help; You do, I help; You do, I watch.” This has allowed us to train young adults for ministry, whether it’s in the nursery, on prayer teams or leading worship. We also saw God open another door through an organization called Pivot NW. Pivot NW guides churches in the Pacific NW to build empowered young adult teams. Their research is specific to this area of the US, but similar initiatives take place at other colleges and non-profits throughout North America.

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