Joining God at work

What discipleship means for one church plant

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Church planters Michele and Jon Fiester lead Renewal MB Church, located in Rapid City, South Dakota.

On one side of Renewal MB Church, a four-year-old church plant in north Rapid City, S.D., is I-90, an interstate that can take you anywhere you want to go. On the other side are three multiunit low income housing complexes. These apartments are filled with hundreds of people who are trapped, battling a spiritual darkness unlike anywhere else in Rapid City.

When we relocated our church plant to this former Chuck E. Cheese restaurant in 2021, we didn’t fully understand how many lives this specific location would lead us to impact. This neighborhood is often in the news and not for the right reasons. But it wasn’t until we moved in that we realized the extent of the brokenness and need for the gospel.

While many great families live here, there are others tied to gangs and drug trafficking. This holds people hostage in their own homes and often manifests in hopelessness and violence. Every week we hear of another soul lost to violence, suicide or overdose. Only Jesus can provide true healing, so we pray for God to open doors and create relationships in these housing units, and he certainly is!

God opening doors

From property managers and neighbors to city and community leaders, people interact with us in many ways inside and outside of our church building. Because of trauma and outsiders coming in to “fix” them, our neighbors are naturally skeptical. To build relationships, we hold events like family movie nights, block parties, vacation Bible school, Trunk or Treat, back to school supply drives, community service projects and neighborhood holiday meals.

These events allow parents to begin trusting us enough to let their kids come to our weekly gatherings. The kids often come alone for several months. Over time, the parents make their way across the street and begin conversations with us. This evolves into their coming to hear about Jesus and the power he has to bring healing and freedom to live in a new way. It has taken nearly two years for this to begin to happen, but we are seeing it, and it is exciting.

We have many neighbors with strong spiritual beliefs tied to their cultural background. They don’t have much interest in Jesus. With all the brokenness related to addiction and gang violence, people recognize something drastically needs to change. They try everything: social reform, increased police presence, spiritual rituals, working harder and neighborhood parties to increase community relationships. Almost everything except Jesus. This is where Renewal steps in.

God is already at work

We have spent a great deal of time asking God to reveal to us where he is at work. James 1:5-6 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.”

Too many times we go into ministry with our own wisdom for how to “fix” people. The results are best described as “blown and tossed by the wind,” completely ineffective. I have learned it is more effective to ask God where he is working and to reveal to me how I can join him there. That is what we do at Renewal.

As we come alongside where God reveals himself to be at work, we offer support and encouragement. We begin conversations about a lasting change that can come through the incredible power of the gospel of Jesus that restores us to a right relationship with our Creator. A right relationship enables redemption, freedom and healing from the spiritual darkness holding them in captivity. Once these conversations begin, we can walk with them in discipleship.

Discipleship takes effort

As we go through life with those in relationship with Jesus, we help direct and equip them to love what Jesus loves. Discipleship focuses on spiritual growth and looking for fruit in one another’s lives. The goal is to make disciples who make disciples themselves.

When people say to me, “I want to know what you know,” I say it takes spending time with God, reading his Word, reflecting and recording what you read and how God tells you to apply that to your life. Often they respond, “Can’t you just tell me? I don’t have time for all of that.” They often seem frustrated that learning about Jesus and having a life full of his goodness takes time, energy and commitment. Jesus makes it clear that there are no shortcuts when he instructs us to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily and follow him (Luke 9:23).

When people come to me with problems, I say, “Let’s pray and I will lead you in asking Jesus about what he wants you to know.” It surprises me how many people don’t have this desire. They want another person to just give them the answer, often one they already think they know. But this shortcut is not being a disciple of Jesus as it encourages looking for answers apart from God.

Jesus models seeking answers from Father God. Luke 5:16 says, “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Jesus knows the Scriptures and spends time reading, praying and listening. In Luke 4:1-13, every temptation the devil brings before Jesus, he answers with Scripture. Developing this habit is the foundation of discipleship.

Being part of a church plant doesn’t change these principles. It does mean we are extra cautious of past wounds, being full of grace and contextualizing the language we use. We must be aware that we may trigger memories of previous trauma and erect unnecessary walls. So, we start with how we live outside the church building. We ask God if our behaviors are consistent, both within the church walls and outside of them. Then we strive to listen for and respond to his response.

Modeling to equipping

We have to publicly model these spiritual disciplines before people are interested in talking about them. As people see we are grounded in the foundation of Jesus and not swayed by emotions, situations or struggles, they begin to wonder what is different. They desire change and they want help but have to overcome fear and pain to get there. It is with the grace and love of Jesus that we can come alongside them and help them seek more of him through reading the Bible and praying.

Once they see Jesus’ presence and begin their relationship with him, we encourage them to ask God where he is at work and what he needs to change within them to help them grow closer to him through the power of the Holy Spirit, and follow his lead.

It usually isn’t where we would expect God to start working within them. But he is God, and we are not. So, we join them in whatever area of work the Holy Spirit reveals, equipping them with Scripture reading plans and resources helpful for them to practically take the next step in their journey with Jesus. We meet individually or in small groups and discuss what we each are learning in Scripture. God is so faithful, and he does the work leading us through repentance, humility and faithfulness. As individuals begin to change, communities begin to change, and the outside world takes notice.

“How are we making an impact?” “How are we as a church able to integrate multiple ethnicities and cultures while maintaining unity in our work?” The watching world asks these questions, hoping to model and duplicate in their own secular organizations whatever we identify as our “secret sauce.” We tell them the answer is the gospel of Jesus, and it isn’t possible for healing, transformation and unity outside of our relationship with him. But through Jesus, everyone is important and miraculous transformation is possible.

As people have come through the doors of Renewal and are challenged to start this journey, we have seen them move from skeptical of anything about Jesus, to curious about what he is doing and then finally deciding Jesus is their only hope for redemption and the life they want to live. They can do more than just survive life; they can have life abundantly. While the process never flows smoothly without setbacks, God faithfully continues calling people to himself

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