A few years ago my wife and I spent a week at Soma Church in Tacoma, Washington. We went out there to be a part of what they call “Soma School.” Soma School is an opportunity to learn about what it means to be immersed in both the gospel and community while on mission to the city of Tacoma. The week that we were out there had a profound impact on me and my view of ministry.
Jayne Vanderstelt is married to Jeff (Elder and Missional Community Leader at Soma). Jayne was kind enough to answer some of my questions so that I could learn from her and in turn share her responses with you. She has some incredibly insightful things to say in regards to life in a Missional Community, making disciples, and the importance of loving where we live.
Tell us a little about yourself. I was born and raised in the Northwest, Seattle, and met Jeff when I was 19. He was working as a youth pastor, fresh out of college, a transplant from Michigan. We’ve been married for almost 20 years (March 13) and have 3 kids…Haylee (10), Caleb (8) and Maggie (6). I have a graphic design degree and worked a bit in that before having Haylee when I was 30. I have always loved art and am a visual artist on the side. Most of the work I do is for my kids’ school auction or projects for friends. I took a classical drawing class that I really loved, but mostly do art as a hobby. I haven’t worked outside our home since my oldest daughter was born. I currently volunteer at my kids’ school (mostly on the auction committee and in the classroom), I am a hospice volunteer, have played a very active role in our Soma Kids Ministry, and finally I am meeting with various women in our body in a mentorship role. We host MC at our place and I do DNA with 2 ladies. Our kids are in soccer and Swim team, so those things keep us busy as well. I also like to read, watch movies with Jeff, listen to music and eat and drink yummy food! Haha…oh and now that I am 40, I am learning to like exercise.
There are many people who do not feel deeply connected to the city, suburb, in which they live. Why is our attitude towards the place in which we live so important? Being connected in a community is a very intentional act. It means I am meeting people and engaging in events that are happening in my city. I am going to the grocery stores and coffee shops, learning people’s names and trying to frequent places that will communicate that I am a faithful and consistent customer (you can easily do this in the city or a suburb). I strongly believe that you need to be loving the people you are living with…and if you struggle with this, to ask God to give you a heart for them. It’s very true that you can either love or despise a people group/culture quite easily. Growing up in Seattle, I was afraid of and even looked down on Tacoma. In fact, had you asked me in my 20’s to move here it would have been a straight up “NO WAY!” But as God called us here and I started to engage with the people, I realized what an amazing place this was. We had lived in Chicago for 6 years prior to moving to Tacoma and a close friend that I had developed there told me once that I was always comparing Seattle to Chicago and she was starting to take it personally. I didn’t realize that my homesickness for the Northwest was starting to affect my ability to really enjoy and engage in the people I was ministering to so I’m sure I was portraying a bit of an arrogant posture, not trying to, but communicating to them that what I was experiencing there wasn’t quite as good as what I had “back home.” How offensive is that??? Well, once I realized this, I started to become very careful with my comments and started focusing on the positives of my new home. I realized that I was encouraging the natives and ministering to them in a way they felt built up and loved. This in turn helped me to get my focus off myself and my selfish desires and put it on others. I then started to really love the people and the culture. This lesson has served me well in every subsequent experience of new surroundings. Bottom line…If God calls you somewhere, HE alone will put a love in your heart for the people.
Many Small Groups have primarily been focused on caring for one another, Bible study and prayer. All great things! Why is being on mission to your city so critical for Missional Community life? Any time we completely focus on ourselves we miss so much of what God has to do in us and through us while we are living on this earth. God intended for us to not only receive grace, but to give it away. I have so enjoyed being part of other people’s lives in a way that leads me to pray for them and the people they are reaching. Being involved in mission in the city fuel’s our time together at the MC meeting. We all come together and are able to build each other up, bring the Gospel to each other’s situations and relationships, pray for each other and experience joy together when someone has a victory. I think it’s hard for people to understand that caring for each other within the body is only fully realized when it involves caring for people outside the body.
What are a couple things that you love most when it comes to being a part of a MC? I love seeing people experience family in a new way. I love seeing needs being taken care of. I love it that I have a group of people who are checking in on me when Jeff is away. I love the spiritual dialogue and growth that happens in our lives. Just last week, Jeff was gone and I hosted our MC. I looked around the room and realized that most of the people we were on mission with have come to faith in our community…or are “coming” to faith presently. People’s lives are very precious and the journey God has us all on is very unique to each one of us. This is the beauty of an MC. We are all at different places, but God is at the center of it, uniting us all. Our MC is a community where we are all personally growing and being stretched as well as constantly talking about the people God has put in our lives and how we can pray, watch and join the Lord’s work in their lives.
What are some of the struggles, challenges you have when it comes to sharing life in a MC? We have been a part of many MC’s over the years and I am learning to recognize a cycle that we go through. We start with a smaller group, learn to trust each other, get to know personalities, work through conflict, find sometimes that we are socially drawn to some more than others, and learn to love and grow…as a family…all the while some leave, new ones join, and others remain “consistently” “inconsistent.” (for lack of a better description:). I can recall one group in particular that I really struggled with at first and I remember praying and asking the LORD why He would put us with these people, I thought there might have been some mistake and entertained the thought that maybe we needed to reaccess this group and assign ourselves people we had better chemistry with. I knew this was wrong and that God had a purpose in choosing us to be together so I devoted myself to praying that God would give me a new heart for these people. Long story short…as I prayed and applied my heart to loving them, God gave me a deep love and understanding into their lives and the very different perspective they were coming from. My love muscle was exercised and grew during that time. I constantly look back on that experience and thank God for it because it taught me the power of God in my life…to change my heart towards another person. Functioning and “surviving” in the MC God has chosen for us will help us learn the discipline of applying ourselves to love…which will in turn, help us in the”real world” be the kind of selfless people that those in the world need to be in a relationship with. To learn how to interact with people in which we don’t see eye to eye on everything is of great value and a vital practice if you are going to reach the world for Jesus…and shouldn’t that start in our MC family!
How do you personally disciple ladies in your MC/church? In a nutshell…it’s not in meetings. I am devoted to prayer, reading God’s Word (where I am learning a ton on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus), living it out, and I am sharing it with the people in my community. I have found that my life experiences are way more impactful than what I believe and teach. I am in a DNA that meets on Monday nights and I am starting two separate Mentorship groups of women who have contacted me to ask if I would meet with them. I am convinced that one on one mentorship is not nearly as effective as a group situation. But mainly, I am interacting with the ladies by asking them what they are learning and how are they working it out…and sharing with them what God is teaching me and how I’m working it out. If you want a practical example, here is a recent situation…I was helping at a function at my kids’ school and needed some extra hands so the first people I contacted to help, were a handful of the ladies I am mentoring. They were eager to help and it was an amazing testimony to the school who thanked me for providing my own helpers and were encouraged by people outside the school who are willing to give up a Friday night to serve them.
Lastly, I just want to add that prayer is a vital part of all of the above. I encourage intimacy with Jesus and a devotion to learning to listen to the Spirit in everything. Honesty with Jesus and those around you and a humble submission to His will, will open the door of clarity in the area of truly being missional in a way that pleases God. Life on mission is messy, changes frequently, unpredictable, etc… If you are not truly connected to Jesus through it all you will rapidly crash and burn because of your weak choice to burden yourself with a life that is not empowered by the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ. As a beloved daughter of God I have functioned in both arenas and will say with great conviction and authority that the Spirit of God is mysterious and unpredictable but simultaneously grounding, comforting and clearly the only one who will leave you with the profoundly supernatural experience of peace, joy, and the undeserved fruit of your labor.