Church on the Front Lines

Helping people in need is a passion for Greg McMullen and The Well Church, which he pastors in Lake Stevens, Washington. When he and his wife, Amy, began their ministry, they put a blessing box in front of their house. Each day they would put over $200 worth of canned food in it, as well as food donations from others.

McMullen and his church began to provide food three times a week for any who came. They also made 200 to 300 sandwiches to distribute to the area’s homeless. They ran into a few logistical and bureaucratic snags, however.

“We had a bumpy start,” says McMullen, referring to some early opposition that sidelined a few of their efforts. They were even questioned about delivering groceries to the elderly and others in need.

Then, over a year ago, the blessing box was destroyed when it was hit by a car. McMullen felt that they should wait for the right time to rebuild it.

He could not then have imagined what would happen, because all of that was before COVID-19 came along. A few weeks ago an area gleaning (or benevolence) ministry asked for some assistance, and the McMullens started bringing in food to help during the quarantine.

Food ministry to many in and around Lake Stevens, Washington, who have lost their income during the COVID-19 crisis.

“Some friends of ours heard about our earlier problems,” says McMullen. They informed a large food bank, which responded by dropping off two big truck loads providing food for more than 1,000.

A number of people lobbied for the food ministry of The Well Church—including the county representative, himself a former pastor, mayors from two neighboring cities, and the county Sheriff’s department.

Recently a mother came to get food for her family, asking how much she could take. “Take what you need,” McMullen told her. She fell on her knees, crying and thanking God.

“The Lord broke my heart with his mercy,” says McMullen.  The family with four children had been eating only what the school gave for the kids’ lunches. “I began to weep as I felt the Father’s heart for his people,” he says.

Now the county helps with traffic, staging vehicles for parking, a critical issue for a small church with limited space. “Now we see people coming from 30 or 40 miles to fill up two shopping carts of food,” says McMullen. “It is truly amazing to see.”

Over 2,500 people have been coming to the church each week for food. McMullen drives a rental truck 120 miles round trip, aiming for three trips each day they distribute food. Over 350,000 pounds of food were delivered last week.

Why rent a truck at nearly $1,000 a week? “Unfortunately,” McMullen explains, “I destroyed the engine in my pick-up in the process of pulling a trailer with food.” Although a local dealer provided them with an excellent deal on a new pick-up, they are trusting God for a larger box truck to haul the amount of food needed for the ministry.

Officials estimate 18 months are needed for area families to recovery from quarantine restrictions, so McMullen has made a two-year commitment to bring food, which is shared with two other churches and three gleaning ministries.

“Many people have come to Christ,” says McMullen about the spiritual impact of their work. “We have been baptizing people during this time.” It’s typical to see them praying for people in the parking lots. They have given away over 1,000 Gideon Bibles—their entire inventory.

McMullen says, “It is almost like the book of Acts. God has really moved here.”

He still thinks of the desperate mother, thanking God for his blessings. “I have not been able to stop crying,” he says. “All I think about is how we can bring more food in to help the people.”

Amy and Greg McMullen.

As their ministry has grown and McMullen’s “tent-making” role as a contractor has been put on the back burner, he is praying for financial partners to help purchase a used box truck for $34,000 or to provide ministry support for the next 18 months.

More information about the ministry can be found at the church’s website, Facebook page, or their GoFundMe page.

I Thought It’d Be Persecution!

By John Sprecher (March 23, 2020)

Who could have imagined as we entered a new decade that by March nearly every church in America and in many parts of the world would be forced to close, left to try to figure out a way to function without having normal public meetings? 

During the past six weeks I have been privileged to preach in Liberia and three U.S. states, never imagining that when I returned home I wouldn’t be able to attend my home church. Instead I’m on a “shelter-in-place” order.

When I was in Bible School some 50 years ago during the turbulent days of Vietnam protests, the Jesus People Movement, and the Charismatic Renewal, I had a sense that the church needed to be prepared for a day when public meetings would not be allowed. I anticipated something like the underground church in China and other places that were (and are) facing persecution, forced to meet in secret. 

While the current pandemic has not been specifically aimed at the church, the effect has been a forced shift in how we do ministry. So we’ve had to adapt in whatever way we can, and most have been using the Internet. 

Technology is the good — and the bad news — of the day. We can LiveStream, hold virtual meetings, connect on Social Media or by other electronic means. In the short term, this is a wonderful blessing for these times. The challenge is that everything being transmitted is recorded on some digital file somewhere, and, as we have seen in many countries, the connections we enjoy can be removed quickly should someone in power decree it to be done.

I really liked what Pastor Danny Dodge from Solutions Church wrote in his announcement to his congregation:

“Notice that we didn’t say we are ‘canceling church’ or ‘canceling services.’ That may seem subtle, but we believe this is very important. The only way to ‘cancel’ the church would be for us all to renounce Christ and stop following Him, because the church is not a place or a service. The church is people who believe in Jesus and live and love like He does. And right now, our world needs what Jesus brings more than ever.

So let’s all gather online this weekend for services — we’ll see you there!”

So what are we to do? First and foremost, as pastors we need to help our congregants be “Jesus dependent” and not “crowd dependent.” Our churches, in reality, are only as strong as the individuals in it and are not dependent on the size of the crowd. 

David, in the Old Testament, learned there were times when every support system could fail and all that was left was his ability “to encourage himself in the Lord’’ (1 Samuel 30:6). Let’s help our people learn to stand strong like David, Daniel, and so many others. We can continue to cherish the God-enabled synergy developed when two or three are gathered in the name of Jesus and are strengthened by the fellowship that results. And when circumstances prevent us from being together physically, we can always count on God being with us.

There are other things we can do, as well. At the very least, we can use these strange times and uncertain days to ensure that our communications systems are in place. We need in place a way to assure the physical and spiritual health and safety of everyone who is part of our flock. These may be challenging times, but challenging times have always led to seasons of growth and creativity for those who, having learned new dependence and wisdom from the Lord, embrace  the future with hope and confidence.

 John D. Sprecher is Lead Elder for the U.S. FCA and has previously pastor churches for 45 years, most of them at Rock Church in Rockford, Illinois.

Convention Planners Make Tough Decision

Nothing quite like this has been seen before — at least not in recent memory.

Wars and plagues have throughout history altered the lives of whole populations. But when public health officials asked the country to join together and take practical steps in slowing the spread of COVID-19, churches, schools, businesses, and others had to change their plans — as did the Fellowship of Christian Assemblies.

Pastor Dave Carlson, convention host and planning committee chair, was obviously disappointed when it became apparent that this year’s convention slated for late April in San Diego, California, would have to be rescheduled.

“We had high expectations and tremendous early response from ministers, both from the U.S. and Canada,” he said. “We told the hotel there would be at least 420 nights reserved, but we had almost reached 1,000 when we had to cancel.”

The enthusiastic response was just one factor that made the decision so difficult. It was also hard to imagine losing the chance to hear the dynamic speakers or miss the opportunities for mingling and connecting. There were also activities for kids and youth that had to be set aside. “We had around 85 children already signed up for their own events,” said Carlson.

So this year will go down in the history of the FCA as the year the convention was cancelled. Planners are working with the US national board to determine how best to reschedule the California event. When new information becomes available, notice will be distributed to the membership.

Meanwhile, those who have already registered for the convention will want to check out these further details:

  • Your personal hotel reservation at the Bahia Resort Hotel has already been cancelled. There is no need for you to call the hotel.
  • You may, however, reinstate your hotel reservation at the convention rate for personal travel if you wish by calling Bahia Resort Hotel (858-488-0551). Remind them that you were previously reserved to attend the FCA convention so you can receive the convention rate.
  • Meanwhile, your FULL convention registration cost will be refunded automatically. Funds will be credited (within four weeks) to the account you used to charge the costs.
  • You should, however, remember to cancel your own airline reservations. Airlines have taken a tremendous hit during this recession (as have many businesses), but they are working as best they can to accommodate their passengers.

One thing God’s people are certain of is that there is no problem or disappointment that can defeat God’s purposes. They know that the Lord will see them through any crisis.

Just as he’s done for his people through wars, disease, and pestilence all through the ages.

He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday
.
—Psalm 91:4-6

NW FCA — and Coronavirus

by Dan Eide

The coronavirus pandemic has very much affected the Northwest part of the U.S. as well as the FCA churches there. At this point in time:

  • Per the governor of Washington State, all churches with 250 and greater must suspend services, or ensure no greater than 250 gather at any one time.
  • Many churches, including less than 250 people are suspending services and live streaming their services.
  • Microsoft, Boeing and Amazon have had their employees telecommute as much as they are able. Businesses, especially Chinese-owned businesses, are being financially impacted due to fear of the virus.
  • Washington State announced on March 12  that all public and private schools in three counties (King — including Seattle, Snohomish, and Pierce) must suspend classes until April 27th. (Most of the FCA churches in the Northwest are within these 3 counties.) With the closing of public and private schools, it is unclear how this will impact youth and children programs in churches. It appears, however, this will have severe impact on education process for students, especially for families with special-needs children who typically would be in school will now have to figure out how their family life will need to adjust.
  • The I-5 freeway corridor running through King, Snohomish, and Pierce County — usually some of the busiest in the nation — is strangely no longer congested.
  • Hospitals have tents set up outside entrances to exam people before being cleared to enter buildings — or turned away.
  • All venues for large groups, such as sporting and entertainment events, have been told to cancel.
  • So far 31 people have died in Washington State because of COVID-19.

Our churches in this 3-county region will be impacted in numerous ways, including how they receive regular tithes and offerings. Many congregations already have systems for online giving in place. Those who do not yet have online giving as an option will face real challenges, especially considering the fact that ministry and missions work are not suspended during this time. Other normal church expenses, such as rent, mortgage, and utilities also remain in place.

Many churches are responding with more strategic communiques to their people during this time. Emailing members about church news, events, and ways to donate are helping during this unusual time.

This pandemic is especially beginning to take a toll on those with preexisting mental health issues. Many find the meeting place of church to be a place of great comfort to be loved on by the Body of Christ. Ministry to them will continue, but things will be different, and the coming weeks will reveal increased stress on everyone in our region.

In light of all that is happening around our state and nation, the believers here in Washington seem strong. However, churches that were previously under stress are especially vulnerable during this uncertain time. The Church in Washington State, along with their Shepherds and the individual members, all covet the prayers of saints around the nation.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind,
be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people
(Eph. 6:18).

Dan Eide is pastor of Sisco Heights Community Church in Arlington, Washington.

Other resources:
Dealing with a Virus by John Sprecher, US FCA Lead Elder. Click HERE.
Why Watching TV News Is Bad for Your Health by Richard Doebler, FCA Media Editor. Click HERE.

Dealing with a Virus

by John Sprecher

Every day seems to bring new developments and revelations about the advancing Coronavirus (COVID-19.) At first it seemed far away in China, but now that it has come to most of our states and localities, we are faced with the prospects of dealing with a pandemic.  Schools and businesses are closing and there is the possibility that public meetings, including churches, could be forced to close.

Are you and your congregation prepared for the possibility of not being able to meet publicly for a season? If we are honest, our thoughts go to offerings, budgets, logistics, and a myriad of other practical concerns that come with a disruption of the normal congregational schedule. There are resources that can help with some of those concerns, and if you are already doing online giving, that may be less of a concern — unless we end up with widespread unemployment.

The greater issue we need to address is how do we, as the people of God, respond to the very real needs that are and could be manifesting themselves, such as panic, shortages of food and water, living under quarantine — the list goes on. In times of great need, the opportunity to love our neighbor and care for the sick and needy becomes an opportunity to share the love of Christ, bringing hope and comfort to our community.

Plan for the disruptions in your normal schedules. But more importantly, create a care plan for the members of your congregation and mobilize your people to bless and care for your community.

John Sprecher is the U.S. Lead Elder of the FCA

Download the free resource guide from Christianity Today for churches on the Coronavirus. Click HERE.

Other resources:
NW FCA — and Coronavirus by Dan Eide, pastor of Sisco Heights Community Church in Washington. Click HERE.
From Rich Doebler, FCA Media editor: Why Watching TV News Is Bad for Your Health. Click HERE.