In Phoenix as it is in heaven: How one local church is living coram Deo

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Famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright is known for using local materials to build his creations and for designing spaces that intentionally integrate the inside and outside environments.

FCC landscape
First Christian Church has been a landmark in Central Phoenix since 1973.

It is fitting, then, that the segment of the Body of Christ that gathers in a building designed by Wright would follow the same path: using local resources to create beautiful kingdom culture and intentionally pushing its members out into the world to do the work God has given them to do.

“The problem isn’t out there,” says First Christian Church (FCC) Lead Pastor Jon Taylor, “the problem is with us living this out every day. When the world says you guys are hypocrites, they’ve got a valid argument. Because the church hasn’t discipled the nation; the nation has discipled the church.

Jon Taylor is one of the many FCC leaders guiding the church toward a truer, more wholistic expression of the gospel in the city.

“Let’s focus on what we are doing or are not doing. What it comes down to is reflecting the love of Christ. How are we obeying his commands? How are we making disciples? Our response should be: My heart has to change first, then my family, then the community.”

FCC is a partner church of the DNA in Phoenix, Arizona. Years ago, God already had been moving in the hearts of the church leadership–to reset the church’s focus on the Great Commission and the Great Commandment–when Pastor Jon Taylor learned about DNA materials on biblical worldview and wholistic, local-church-led ministry.

“That’s the journey FCC has been on for several years,” he says, “stripping programs away, stripping the typical church stuff away. What really is the call on us? It is making disciples.”

The transition hasn’t been easy, Jon says: “We’ve lost some people. We’ve been undergoing some pretty major cultural changes, I’d say. We’ve decided to let go of the worry about numbers and just trust that if we’re faithful in doing what we’re supposed to do, then God would take care of the rest. And God did say somewhere that He would build His church.”

  
Shifting paradigms

Since learning about the DNA in 2009, Jon has used LifeWork, Servanthood, If Jesus Were Mayor and, most recently, Coram Deo in his discipleship groups. He says most group members hadn’t given much thought to worldview or the lies that exist in their own culture, but before long they started to see how these factors shape their society.

Since the Coram Deo online discipleship program launched last year, Jon has personally led two different study groups through the 12-week course. These are a few of the lies the participants identified–lies that indicate how the nation has discipled the Church:

  • The Word of God is not our final authority; it does not give us absolute truth.
  • To be a loving Christian means to ‘live and let live,’ so Christians should make every effort not to offend others by calling out their sin.
  • There is no real hell because God is a God of grace alone.

Coram Deo helps Christians identify the lies around them and replace them with God’s truth.

“It made a profound difference in the way I think,” said one FCC member who took the Coram Deo course under Jon’s leadership. “My whole viewpoint is different now. It taught me how to bring the Kingdom of God into my life and then to live it out.”

“The class really opened my eyes as to how we’ve misinterpreted the command of Jesus to make disciples. I’m now responding to what God has for me because I’m living before the face of God,” another participant said.

At the DNA, we always hope to see tangible expressions of people’s changed mindsets. A true paradigm shift and “renewing of the mind” must result in changed behavior, and FCC exemplifies the kind of kingdom-building behavior we long to see in local churches across the globe. We praise God for how he continues to shape the minds and hearts of his people for his glory!

“…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matt. 5:16 (NIV)

   
Using their own resources to bring God’s love to their neighbors

At the end of the Coram Deo program, participants are tasked with conceptualizing and carrying out a Seed Project: a small, short-term demonstration of God’s love to those outside the church, using only local resources. Reflecting the physical structure of their church building, these brothers and sisters at FCC used their own creativity and resources to make something beautiful, good and true for their neighbors.   

Desert View is a Title 1 school, meaning it receives extra funding from the US federal government because it has a large concentration of students from low-income families. Here, one class is celebrating school-spirit day by dressing like the mascot: Norsemen.
Desert View is a Title 1 school, meaning it receives extra funding from the US federal government because it has a large concentration of students from low-income families. Here, one class is celebrating school-spirit day by dressing like the mascot: Norsemen. (Photo courtesy of Desert View Elementary.)

     
For at least five years, FCC has partnered with Desert View Elementary School just three miles from the church building.

FCC boxes
In past years, the church has done various service projects at the school including distributing food boxes to help families have enough to eat during school breaks.
Principal Maria Farmer has been a key partner for the church in the community.
Principal Maria Farmer has been a key partner for the church in the community. (Photo courtesy of Desert View Elementary.)

   
Praying and sensing a need to support the school faculty, the Coram Deo group at FCC asked the Desert View principal what they could do to thank the teachers for their service. The principal suggested planning an event to appreciate all of the school staff–not just the teachers–totaling 80 people!

God provided.

As the FCC group responded in obedience to God, He gave them everything they would need to put on a special breakfast to shower the Desert View faculty and staff with thanks and support. No money was drawn from the church budget; instead, the group members asked for cash donations from their Bible-study groups and other personal networks to buy food for the breakfast, classroom supplies and library books. The teamed up with many of the students’ parents to decorate the room for the event, and they hand-wrote thank-you cards for each of the 80 celebrants, often promising to pray for them throughout the year.

One member at FCC, though not a participant in Coram Deo, learned about this Seed Project. She works at a social-service organization that had received dozens of $100 gift cards for spa services (massages, manicures, pedicures)–commodities her organization cannot use. She was able to re-gift these to the school, blessing all 80 faculty and staff members with an extravagant experience they likely wouldn’t buy for themselves.

Desert View Elem School
As the hard-working Desert View employees filed in for breakfast that morning, the FCC group greeted them warmly and simply gave them space to relax and be fed. A thank-you card and gift card were placed in each employee’s mailbox for him/her to discover later that day.

      
The response from the school was all positive (paraphrased here):

I was screaming so much in my office when I opened the card and saw my gift that another teacher giving a test next door had to come tell me to be quiet.

I was so surprised and thrilled at the gift and the wonderful note that I felt like I was on the Oprah show where she says you get a car!

It’s amazing to know that somebody will be praying for me this next year.

   
Ongoing partnerships, renewed minds and kingdom culture

The church and school continue to discuss future collaboration for the benefit of their shared community, and the FCC congregation as a whole has been encouraged to participate. Three FCC attendees have signed up to mentor children from Desert View, and the church plans to help with neighborhood clean-up events, budgeting classes for parents and, hopefully, after-school soccer and English as a Second Language classes.

The second Coram Deo group Jon led at FCC is in the planning stages of its Seed Project now, borrowing an idea from Kampala Pentecostal Church in Uganda. Recognizing low morale and high rates of suicide and family breakdown among law enforcement, the seven-member group is considering doing an appreciation event at a local police substation. They also are discussing how to make their church building a haven for officers on duty who need a quiet place to write up reports, get a free snack or just rest.

The culture at FCC is changing because the Holy Spirit is working in the hearts and minds of the church’s leaders and congregation, and they’re responding with obedience. This change will impact not only those individuals but also their families, neighborhoods and, potentially, their entire society and nation. This is what we at the DNA call the inside-out process of transformation.

“Ever since Coram Deo, I see things differently, and I know that I need to live differently,” says Diana at FCC. “For me, the real impact came in opportunities to cause a change, and that it needs to start with me.” Diana says the Discipline of Love teaching has really impacted her. “It’s about how I am treating my coworkers on a day-to-day basis.”

5 Responses

  1. atraves de la lectura del libro vida trabajo y vocacion sde darrow l.miller y de la informacion sobre a d n y coram deo he sentido un fuerte llamado a trabajar por el desarrollo de la comunidad donde Dios me tiene trabajando y quiciera mas informacion al respecto

  2. Thank you, FCC, for getting Pastor Misael, Yola, Hugo, Mariana & I connected to DNA. DNA in combination with CHE is helping pastor Misael and his team begin to transform individual lives and families in a their part of Iztapalapa (Mexico City). It is beautiful to see the change as Christians are empowered to serve and those in the community experience God’s love. We look forward to seeing how God will transform their part of the city.

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