It’s a typical October in Portland, Oregon. The air is crisp like the burnt orange and red leaves that lie scattered across the sidewalks. As I recently walked the streets of northeast and southeast Portland during Southeastern’s fall break mission trip, I quickly understood why people like it there. The city has coffee shops on practically every corner and an abundance of food carts that serve up flavorful combinations such as sushi roll burritos (yes, you read that right). This place is filled with artistic design—colorful murals speak to the city’s values of independence of choice and the building up a holistic community. These values seem to be intricately woven into the fabric of society—like the way houses have their own unique flair, big businesses are practically non-existent, and composting is picked up twice as much as trash.
Portland draws people in from all over the country with its hipster, locally sourced, independent, authentic vibe. People here crave a countercultural way of doing life. People here crave authenticity. It’s here that the church seems most fitting, right? In many ways, we thrive off of the countercultural reality of the gospel. But as I walked with church planters Matt Boyd of Sojourn Church and Kevin Lott of East Bridge Church, I learned just how significant the challenges are in the Pacific Northwest.
Why did I go to Portland in the first place?
I didn’t just go for the coffee, I promise. Or the class credit, although that was a nice bonus. In recent years, the Lord has placed a burden in my heart for areas of my continent with very little knowledge of the gospel. So, learning that the Center for Great Commission Studies was going to spend a week in an area of the country I already had been wanting to learn about? Count me in!
You could say this mission trip was a vision trip of sorts—not just for me, but for all of us in one way or another. A mission trip in Portland wasn’t going to consist of going door-to-door inviting people to church or putting on a VBS in the park. What we were able to do, in my estimation, was much more realistic to what ministry looks like in this part of the country—steady over the long haul and a support to those doing long-term ministry there. We walked no less than 20 miles across the city and drove plenty of miles simply observing the area and listening to the church planters describe their areas of the city. As we walked, observed and talked with these planters over many meals and cups of coffee, I came away with two primary lessons from this trip.
Faithfulness over the long-haul
What does it mean to plant a church in a place like Portland? It means investing in individuals and the community. For Matt and Kevin, this means they spend a lot of time forming partnerships to serve the community well and establish favor with the people in the city. They’ve made significant inroads through simply caring for the people well. They are being the hands and feet of Jesus with the hope that in the future these community friends might become part of their faith family.
Sojourn Church members are active in volunteering their time with an organization called Embrace, which partners with the Department of Human Services to aid over 400 children and their families as they enter into the foster care system. Likewise, East Bridge Church is active in their community through their partnership with the Moreland Farmers Market. If you walk by SE 14th and Bybee on a Wednesday afternoon, you’ll find the Moreland Farmers Market bustling with customers. You’ll also find East Bridge Church members actively engaging the families that come through. This is something we were able to participate in the week of our trip. East Bridge hosts a “Power of Produce” tent each week and once a month, they host a larger event for kids behind the farmers market. The theme this month was Fall Fun, where kids could get their faces painted, play pumpkin tic-tac-toe, soccer and much more. It’s through avenues such as these that Sojourn and East Bridge are building bridges to engage and participate in their own respective communities.
Church planting moved from theory to reality for me during my short time in Portland. We walked with these church planters through their neighborhoods. We shared meals with them and their families. We spent time in their homes. We played with their kids. We prayed over them. We learned about the amazing work they’re doing in their city.
If there’s anything I learned from going to Portland for a week, it’s that the Great Commission can’t happen overnight. It’s a command that requires faithful pursuit of Christ and his kingdom over the long haul. In so doing, we can establish a rapport and earn a place to speak the truth of the gospel.
holding the rope
What I saw in Portland wasn’t just the reality of church planting in a challenging city; it was also the reality that those of us who go back home ought to be holding the rope for our brothers and sisters who are laboring to make the gospel known in difficult areas in our own country and around the world.
Being on the ground in Portland did not give me eyes to see the reality of church planting in this city for my sake alone. Going to Portland gave me specific ways to pray through observing and listening. Spiritually, the city is a mixed bag of those who identify as atheist or a form of American Buddhism. It’s a culture where it’s alright to believe what you believe as long as it doesn’t encroach on anyone else. As one planter put it, people are willing to go a mile wide and an inch deep in conversations.
The city itself has over two million people. Of that number, there is only one SBC church for every 27,582 people. There is only one evangelical church per 12,000 people in Portland. Indeed, Portland is a beautiful and intriguing city. It’s filled with fascinating places and people—people for whom Jesus died and people who, apart from Christ, are blindly walking through life as if this is the only one that exists.
With a need so great, it begs us to ask the question: Is there a compelling reason that we are staying where we are? Consider ways you might spend your life poured out for the gospel. Maybe it starts with a short-term trip with the CGCS. Or maybe it means considering more long-term options such as domestic or international church planting. Don’t sideline yourself during seminary. Get in the game and go to the lost. Our God commands us, and our gospel compels us.
To view other short-term trips being offered through the CGCS, click here.
You can view photos from the Portland mission trip here.