Masks @ Church

This coming Sunday, August 29th, Restoration City Church will return to Gunston Middle School for the first time in a year and half. I honestly can’t wait to be back for our Sunday morning gathering – it’s a beautiful theater with easy parking and all the room we need to offer a proper kids ministry. In a lot of ways, it’s going to feel like one significant part of life is getting back to normal. Except for the fact that we will all be wearing masks.

Now, in case you haven’t noticed, masks have become a little bit of a cultural lightening rod, to say the least. Add church into the mix and you have everything you need for your very own online controversy. So I thought it would be helpful to offer two quick observations as we all grab our masks and head to Gunston on Sunday.

Keep Masks In The Proper Perspective

For us, the decision to wear masks is far more pragmatic than it is theological or philosophical. Yes, we want to be guided by the Spirit, the Word, and the gospel in all things. But that doesn’t mean we turn a blind eye to practical considerations. For example, Gunston is not only our best option for a Sunday morning gathering but it is also an Arlington County Public School and they require us to wear masks if we want to use the space. So, guess what, we wear masks!

That may seem like an obvious point but it’s important because it should defuse a lot of the tension around this issue. It also enables us to be generous in our interactions with other churches that handle the mask question differently. No church has it easy right now and we’re all doing our best in light of the unique constraints and opportunities in front of each one of us. So, let’s not make a big deal out of something that really isn’t. That kind of foolishness plays great on social media but it’s toxic within the body of Christ.

I’m Glad We’re Wearing Masks

Having said all of that, I am glad that we’re wearing masks. Think about Paul’s words to the Corinthians.

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 

1 Corinthians 9:19-20 (ESV)

I totally get it – Paul isn’t talking about masks. But he is talking about a willingness to meet people where they are and do whatever he can to remove barriers that would prevent people from hearing the gospel. Paul was willing to sacrifice his preferences and comfort in pursuit of a larger and more significant goal. Let’s just be real – there are a lot of people in our city who are appropriately cautious about indoor gatherings due to the delta variant. That’s the cultural landscape of the city God has called us to love and serve. For me, that makes wearing a mask an easy call. If my mask makes it more comfortable for someone to join us, then I’m all for it! It’s a small price to pay for seeing my church family and seeing someone discover the beauty of the gospel.

I hope that we masks not only in terms of our own health but also in terms of aligning with the missional heart of God. That’s what the church and church planting are all about – seeing people come to faith in Jesus. Don’t just bring a mask on Sunday, bring a friend! It’s what we’re here to do. Let’s embrace the mission God has given us.

So, RCC, we’re not totally back to normal yet. But we’ve come a long way and I can’t wait to see you on Sunday!

A New Season For Restoration City, Part 2

The closer we get to August 29th, the more excited I am about the new season we are stepping into as a church. Last week, I wrote about what isn’t changing in the new season and why this such a pivotal time for us as a community. If you didn’t catch that post, please check it out so you will have some context for what I want to share today as I describe some of the other changes we envision for the new season.

Empower Lay Leadership

In order for the church to function the way God intended, we need to lean into two foundational texts from the New Testament. Ephesians 2:10 tells us that we are all created by God and that every Christ follower has been given specific work to do to contribute to the advance of the gospel. Moreover, 1 Corinthians 12:7 tells us that every Christ follower has been given a specific gift to be used for “the common good.” That means you are empowered by God to do something in this city and in this church that no one else can do as well as you. And we need you to step into whatever role God is asking you to play in this season.

I find that vision utterly thrilling and deeply challenging because it means the staff has to relinquish control. Nothing will kill God’s vision for His church quite like a staff team that needs to make every decision and micro-manage every detail. So many of you are wired to do so much more than run a play designed by someone else. You have vision, knowledge, ability and gifting. More than anything, I want to release you and empower you to run after the dream God has placed in your heart as we pursue our shared calling as a church.

Allow Pastors to Pastor

In order for this redistribution of leadership to go well, three things need to happen. The fist is very practical: the staff and elders need to ensure that everything we’re doing as a church is aligned with our calling, our strategic distinctives, and our culture. The church can’t become a big ball of tape rolling around and picking up every good idea it bumps into – that’s a recipe for chaos. So, our staff and elders need to reprioritize this aligning work. The next two come straight from the New Testament. So much of a pastor’s job description is contained in Ephesians 4:12 – “equip the saints for the work of ministry.” That means a renewed focus on leadership development, training, and coaching. In other words, pastors and elders are called to help you live out Ephesians 2:10. They are also called to “present everyone mature in Christ.” (Colossians 1:28) Spiritual formation is the foundation of leadership development and the primary calling of every pastor. In other words, would you allow us the privilege of caring for your soul as you pursue the life God has called you to?

Emphasize Formation & Mission

We did not plant Restoration City Church because we thought the Christians of DC needed another option on the Sunday morning worship buffet. We planted Restoration City because the non-Christians of DC need more Christ followers committed to living on mission. Jesus’ plan for the church is clear – make disciples of all nations. (Mt. 28:19) That’s why we exist; to see people cross from death to life.

At the same time, the gospel calls us to so much more than simply receiving forgiveness for our sins. 2 Corinthians 3:18 reminds us that we are being increasingly transformed into the image and likeness of Jesus. That’s the work of spiritual formation and it is essential to our lives as Christ followers.

Formation without mission turns the church into a support group. Mission without formation offers a hallow vision for life. But when mission and formation collide, we feel the full power of the gospel.

Make Space For Relationships

Church isn’t an event you attend, it’s a community you join. We say that all the time at Restoration City. Yet, the pandemic revealed how fragile some of our relationships really were. We were in the same places at the same times but we weren’t really in each other’s lives.

Spiritual formation happens in the context of relationships. That’s why small groups are so important to us. Not because you need something else on your calendar and not to check the “weekly Bible study” box but to create a space that allows for real, deep, authentic relationships. Yes, our groups engage with God’s Word and, yes, they pray. But they are also a place to be known, to be heard, to be loved, to grow with others, to share your story, and to be real.

I truly love where we’re going as a church in this next season and I really want you to be a part of it. I would also love to have you inviting others to be a part of this new season with us. Who could you invite to come with you to RCC this weekend? Who do you know who would love to be a part of a church that’s moving in this direction? Reach out to them, tell them you would like to take this journey with them and then dive in!

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

A New Season for Restoration City, Part 1

Starting on Sunday, August 29th, Restoration City Church will once again meet in Gunston Middle School for our Sunday gatherings. By the time we go back to Gunston, it will have been over 17 months since we were last there on a Sunday morning. Not only is that a stunning amount of time but it is also stunning to think about just how much has changed for all of us since March of 2020. That’s true for me personally and it is certainly true for us as a church – so many have moved out of the DC area, so many have gotten connected to RCC online, we’ve mourned the loss of family members, and we’ve welcomed many babies. So much life has happened.

To capture the significance of this moment, I’m thinking about August 29th as a whole new season for us as a church. We’re asking God for so much more than a return to a familiar venue at the end of the summer. We’re asking Him for a fresh start and a new beginning. Less a resumption and more a relaunch.

As we start to think about a new season as a church, I want to be clear about what is changing and what isn’t changing for us as a church.

What Stays The Same

  • Our theology and doctrine. I hope we are continually growing in our understanding of the gospel and its implications for every area of life but we haven’t changed our basic theology one bit.
  • Our mission. Restoration City Church exists to glorify God by making disciples. That’s the mission Jesus gave His church and I don’t see any reason to rethink that one.
  • Our calling as a church. Restoration City Church exists to glorify God by making disciples who are being restored by Jesus, in community, and for mission. This is where we get a little more specific about why our church exists – a community where people experience not only the redeeming love of God but also the restoring love of God. The God who forgives also makes whole.
  • Our strategic distinctives. We’re still radically focused on spiritual formation, neighborhood transformation, and developing the next generation.
  • Our connection with the Summit Collaborative. This is the family of churches we most naturally connect with and our most immediate partner in planting new churches.
  • Our affiliation and partnership with the SEND Network and SBC.

So, why call this a new season?

Great question. I promise it’s not just a PR stunt to get people to come back to church in person! We’re using this language because it accurately reflects where we are as a church in a number of ways:

  • Transition. A new season accurately reflects the amount of transition we’ve seen since the start of the pandemic. To be blunt: we’ve lost a lot of people since March of 2020. Most of them have moved out of the area and some have found other churches here in DC but we have said goodbye to a lot of folks. At the same time, God has brought a healthy number of new people to RCC over the course of the pandemic. In order to avoid any sense that there’s an old guard and a new crew, we’re going to create a “we’re all new here” culture over the summer and into the fall.
  • Leadership. A new season accurately reflects the amount of transition we’ve seen in our elders, staff, small group leaders, and ministry team leaders. Three of our five elders have started serving in this capacity during the pandemic. Other than me, we have a totally different staff team in 2021 than we did in 2020. Our production, kids, and outreach ministries will all have different leaders when we step into this new season. As you can imagine, we’re essentially rebuilding all of our teams right now.

But we also see this as a fantastic moment to clarify and reinvigorate certain aspects of our calling and culture as a church. There’s a lot to say about that so I’m going to devote next week’s blog to those shifts. But, for now, circle August 29th on your calendar. It’s about more than a new location, it’s about a whole new season!

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

One Year Ago

IMG_0877Exactly one year ago today, a group of people got together at Summit’s Chapel Hill Campus to talk about planting a church in DC.  It was the first public step we took on the road to planting Restoration City Church.

I remember walking into that day with absolutely no clue what was going to happen.  I wasn’t a 100% sure anyone was actually going to show up.  And I really wasn’t sure how many would be interested by the time we were done!

One year later, I love scanning this photo and seeing how God has knit people who were total strangers a year ago into a church meeting weekly in DC.  It’s been an amazing ride that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.  But if I could go back in time and talk to myself a year ago, I know what I would say:

  • Get Over Yourself.  Jesus is the One who builds His church (Mt. 16:18).  Sure, vision, strategy and leadership matter but the success of Restoration City Church has little to do with me and everything to do with Jesus.  A year ago, I was worried about being impressive.  Today I would much rather have people impressed with Jesus.
  • Stop Worrying.  One, it doesn’t accomplish anything (Mt. 6:25-34).  Two, Jesus is faithful. (Deut. 7:9)  It’s so strange that we all think the God who has never once dropped the ball might just start with us.  If God calls you to do something, He’ll get you where you need to go.  A year ago I didn’t know what the road ahead looked like and it freaked me out.  Today, I have no more clarity about the road, just more confidence in the One who leads us.
  • Have Fun.  Don’t get me wrong – this last year was great!  Laura and I have so many good memories of our time at Summit and in NC.  But sometimes I don’t fully enjoy this moment because I’m so focused on the next.  I keep thinking about tomorrow and missing out on today.  Honestly, I don’t know that I’ve made much progress on this one!  But I know the ability to slow down and present is a really big deal.

If God is leading you into a new season, take a deep breath, relax, trust Him and enjoy the ride.  It really is an amazing thing to walk through life with the Living God.  RCC is one small example of His power, His faithfulness and His mercy.

Water skiing & Church Planting

As we get ready to launch Restoration City this Sunday, I keep thinking back to a conversation I had with a friend.  We were having lunch one day and he was telling me about the ministry he was helping lead.  As we were talking, he asked me if I had ever seen the chewing gum commercial with a guy barefoot water skiing behind a boat.

I vaguely remembered it but he had to fill me in on the details.  Basically, the commercial starts with a guy (by the way, it might have been twins…we never could agree on that!) standing on a dock in water skis.  The idea was the boat would gently pull him into the water for a quiet ride around the lake.  Instead, the captain hit the throttle a little hard, ripped the guy out of his skis and took him on a wild, barefoot ride around the lake.

That’s how my friend described his ministry – a wild, barefoot ride powered by the Holy Spirit.

He felt like God was dragging them on an amazing adventure, they could barely hold on but they were in love with all He was doing.  I wanted that so badly in my life.  I was tired of feeling like I was trying to water ski behind a rowboat that I was also responsible for rowing.  I knew my friend was on to something and I wanted the same in my life.

That was one of many conversations God used to encourage me down the road of church planting.  Years later, we’re standing on the dock ready to see where God is going to take us.

I don’t know what our ride will look like.  But I do know our hope in planting this church isn’t in our logo, our strategy, our team, our resources, our website, our location, our merit, our talent or anything else.  Our hope is in the power of God, the promises of God and the faithfulness of God.

If He doesn’t do the work, we’re in trouble.  We can’t power the boat.  We don’t even know which direction to steer it half the time.  But we can hold on, trust Him and go where He tells us to go and do it in the power He provides.

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.”(Ps. 127:1)  

Father, build your house.  Advance the gospel.  Bear fruit.  Transform lives.  Use us for the glory of Christ and the good of our city.

Restoration City September Update

We’re only 40 days away from the public launch of Restoration City Church.

On Sunday, October 12th,  we will be celebrating all Jesus has done on the improbable journey of bringing this church to life.  One year ago, Laura and I had just started a church planting residency with The Summit in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina.  We knew God was calling us to plant a new church in DC and we knew He would be faithful to all of His promises.  Other than that, it was a pretty blank slate.

What God has written on that slate has been stunning.  He’s raised up a launch team that now exceeds 60 people.  Our four Community Groups are approaching capacity and we’re making plans to launch more this fall.  Ministry teams are coming to life, people are being reached in our community and we’re looking forward to celebrating our first baptisms as a church on September 14th, four weeks before our launch!

For all of that, I truly believe the best is yet to come.

Sunday, October 12th is going to be a huge celebration of God’s faithfulness in bringing this church to life.  We will be meeting at 10a.m. in The Synetic Theater, located in the Crystal City area of Arlington, Va.  The theater, which will be home for Restoration City’s weekly gatherings, is in an incredibly strategic location less than a block from the Crystal City Metro.

These next 40 days are a time of preparation and anticipation for our team as we prepare for our public launch.  If you would like to join us in that, we would love your support.  The single most important thing you could do is pray that RCC will make much of Jesus in our city.  You might also want to make plans to join us on October 12th.  Finally, we would be grateful if God leads you to support Restoration City financially.  We’re trusting God to provide the nearly $30,000 in start-up costs we’re anticipating in the next two months and would love your help in meeting that goal.  If you would like to contribute, you can do so online.

As our launch draws near, we’re mindful that October 12th isn’t the completion of everything God is going to write on the slate of RCC.  Quite the opposite – it’s the beginning of Him writing the story of what He will accomplish though this church in our nation’s capital.

For regular updates up to and through the launch, make sure you visit www.restorationcitydc.com.

For Restoration In DC,

John McGowan

Big Step Forward

First Weekly Gathering Of RCC Launch Team

This past Sunday, our journey to plant Restoration City Church entered a new chapter as our Launch Team started to gather weekly as a church.  It was an amazing day and so encouraging to see God bringing this vision to life.

God’s grace was evident in so many ways.  I loved seeing our team open up and welcome a few newer faces into our community.  The way Ben Mann and his production team transformed our meeting space was amazing.  And I had a great time at lunch afterwards!

Over the summer, we are going to stay in a pre-launch mode in preparation for opening our doors this fall.  But if you’re interested in serving with us and bringing this church to life, we would love to connect with you.  Just shoot us an email at info@restorationcitydc.com.

The best part about last Sunday is that we get to do it again this Sunday!

Restoration City, We’ve Been Sent

Nine months ago, Laura and I stood on a stage with Pastor J.D. and three other families in front of The Summit Church.  For me, that was the first time I had ever worshipped with this church.  We were brand new, a little nervous but trusting that God had us here for a reason.  I remember standing on that stage with J.D. and wondering how The Summit Church would respond to this idea of raising up four teams of people at the same time to go plant new churches.  We were asking people to leave an amazingly healthy church and move their lives to D.C., to Wilmington or two other plants right here in Durham.  Honestly, I remember driving home from that weekend and thinking, “If this was my church, I don’t think I would be going anywhere.”

Well, two things happened in these nine months.

One, Summit became my church.  I didn’t expect that one – we moved here to raise up a team, develop a plan and head back home to D.C.  From day one, there was an expiration date on us.  We knew we were blessed to be at Summit but we didn’t know how much we would come to see this place as our church home.  These last nine months have had a huge impact on me, my family and the church we’ll lead.  I’ve seen a grace filled culture.  I’ve seen people love one another well and sacrifice deeply to participate in God’s mission.  I’ve seen the power of the gospel to save and to send.

Speaking of sending, that also happened these past nine months.  This past weekend, we were back on that same stage with J.D. but there weren’t just four families.  There were 120 other people.  Jesus has been faithful to His promise to build the church.  He’s raised up teams of leaders who will carry the vision with us.  He’s sent out missionaries to Durham, to Wilmington and to D.C.  The gospel continues to transform lives.

Thank you, Summit, for an incredible nine months.

As I sit here this morning, I have to believe the best is yet to come.  Restoration City, we’ve been sent!  Now it’s time to see how God is going to use all of this for His glory.

RCC Launch Team Meeting Tomorrow

With each passing week, I get more and more excited for our RCC Launch Team Meetings.  A group of individuals is fast becoming a team and we’re all developing a sense that God is doing something unique through our little, embryonic church.  So, I’m filled with expectation for tomorrow’s meeting!  And I love that there are now 3 ways for you to connect with a Launch Team Meeting.

1.  In Raleigh-Durham.  Tomorrow we’re going to be meeting at The Summit’s Brier Creek Campus in the Volunteer Headquarters Room (which is Suite 111 in BC North).  There’s still time to join us – you don’t need to RSVP.  Just show up at 1PM.

2.  In Washington, DC.  I can’t tell you how much I love the thought of our team already having a presence in DC!  Our DC meeting is at the exact same time (1PM) and you can get all of the details and RSVP here.

3.  You can also watch a good portion of the meeting online via Livestream.  We do this for three reasons.  One, it’s the service we use to link our RDU and DC meetings together.  Two, we know some of our launch team is traveling on any given weekend and this provides a way to stay in sync with the team.  Three, we have a few people living in other parts of the country and other parts of the world who are going to be joining us in DC this summer.  Yes, that’s right…our launch team is international at this point!  So if you can’t make one of the meetings in DC or RDU, feel free to join us online at 1PM EST tomorrow.  You just have to follow my Livestream account here.

All of our meetings start at 1PM tomorrow and all are open to anyone interested in learning more about RCC.  So, feel free to join us if you’re interested in learning more.

See you tomorrow,

John