Editor’s note: During the course of the CP Conference 2016, we had the opportunity to interview a variety of attendees and hear from their experiences. The following interview is with Jeanette Thomas, Pastor of Extension Ministries at Christ Community Church in Kansas City. Christ Community has been a substantial partner of CP, and Jeanette’s thoughts on the church’s ministry vision and values are both a challenging and encouraging example of what CP hopes to see among American churches desiring to impact China. Check back on Thursday for the second part of this interview.
How did you learn about CP?
I’m so embarrassed that I’m not entirely sure. It kind of drives me crazy. I think there was a member of our congregation who introduced us. I think that was the first thing. So we met and we started learning about it and I do remember thinking it was impressive – the China-side and US-side networks were being brought together.
It was not long after, maybe just a couple years later, that we hosted a CP meeting in Kansas City at our church. Which is hilarious because it was horrible weather, like ice storming, and no one could make people’s flights and it was a disaster. Just a note to future self – you should never host a winter meeting in the Midwest. Especially since Kansas City is right on this ice line. So anyway, sure enough everybody put up with us. But because we hosted, we got to watch some of the trainings happening.
And those were our introductions to CP.
Was that a while ago? How long have you been involved?
I’m going to guess it was around 2009. Maybe seven years ago. But I think China Partnership has been an organization in motion and finding its own identity, and so we’ve been finding our way inside of that for a while, too.
What is your church like?
We’re a multisite church with five different congregations. We started as a suburban congregation and each campus has moved a little closer into the city, or rather, each campus has moved a little closer to a diverse demography. Another thing that’s distinct about our multisite approach is that each campus really is its own contextualized congregation. I mean we’re always working on trying to live into that even more fully as we’ve been planting among more diverse demographics, but there is definitely structurally the freedom for each campus to have it its own expression because we do live preaching and teaching, and there’s a campus staff team and a congregant leadership team built at each congregation.
And then we have five values that are near and dear to our heart. First, the cross and the work of Christ, and this whole idea of really gospel-centered ministry. Second, the yoke. For us that is really a metaphor that embodies the idea of walking alongside of Jesus and his yoke, and embracing the disciplines. It is the idea that without the great invitation, the great commandment and the great commission are kind of the great setup. The third value is the scriptures and believing that the word of God reveals God’s design for all of life. And then the next value is the church and the idea that the church is God’s plan A for mission in the world. And that is the primary context in which we experience the life God designed for us and the way in which we live out his mission. And then the final value is the city. For that it’s not just our city, but the idea that we were designed to give ourselves away in our neighborhoods, our city, and our world. The city kind of captures this idea of the common good and a church that is catalytic in a space.
We think about the mission of God as a work that from the earliest days had all the peoples of the world in view. As God continued to reveal his plans and continued to lead forward with his vision, we see that more and more. As a church, I think we want to be a people on mission. So when it comes to organizing ourselves for that, we do have some different ministry programs that place the focus on different goals that we’re setting or strategies. But at the end of the day, we really want every part of our church to be missionally engaged.
Each of our congregations is uniquely gifted and positioned and in a certain context; but, we always feel like God calls us beyond that one context. Yes, we want to be missional in that one context, but we also want to be missional across other lines of race, of socio-economics, etc. And so partnership has been a primary paradigm for us in our strategy to be fully missional. To the extent that we are are reaching beyond our own context doing cross-cultural missions in other pockets of the world or amidst different demographics, we have wanted to do that work in collaboration with the church and folks who are uniquely gifted and positioned within that context. So that has probably been the primary paradigm for us in our missions strategy. And that is true locally and globally.
Of course, now that we’ve been planting churches and having new campuses, our identity is shifting and the composition of our congregation is different. Now what used to make sense for a certain partnership with one congregation is different now. I’m saying this as a major growth point, not a strength for us – but how we can be a church that welcomes people who are different from us so that we can constantly be a different place and relate with others differently is something we really are trying to figure out.
And you know, across the board a constant refrain we hear from our partners is that the extent to which we’re welcoming the other into our family, that correlates with the efficacy of our mission. Because you’re just more effective when you’re doing that well. I think it’s definitely something we’re really wrestling with how to do that right now and wanting to be more intentional with that. I guess in a way it’s kind of paradoxical. How do we focus on becoming all that God has made us to be so that we can actually be more strategic in other places?
In global outreach, our goal is to build relationships and share resources with organizations that are working to see the church flourish in their contexts. Baked into that mission statement is a commitment to having mutuality, so there is a relational component. We want to build relationships where each of us are benefitting and we’re loving each other well. And sharing resources. For sure that can involve material exchange and some financial giving, but really we want it to involve more than that, too. We think of the threefold nature of partnership. It must have a relational dimension, and an educational piece or learning of one another. So for example, learning each other’s contexts and cultures, and sometimes even if you’re working with someone who has really similar demographics, the church culture is really different. The last one is the collaborative piece - asking what are some things we think we would be better doing together? We like to think about this in both our contexts. How do we both team? What are some of the unique ways you challenge us and we challenge you? And how does this really bring God glory as we team together?
Really we believe that the goal of all this stuff is working toward a final end where in both contexts, because we’re partnering together, we have a list of outcomes that are happening. So churches are multiplying, leaders are developing, disciples are growing, communities are flourishing, and the vulnerable are thriving. So those are kind of the ends to which we’re doing all of this. We want churches to be growing and eventually multiplying, we want discipleship to be happening effectively, and out of that comes leaders. We want a church to be missed if it is gone from the neighborhood. We want them to be involved with communities that are flourishing and what good is that if the most vulnerable are not also reaping the benefits. So that is kind of more what we’re working toward in global mission.