Just outside Washington, D.C., the center of politics, power and prestige—or, as Foursquare Pastor Niki Tshibaka calls it, “the schmoozing capital of the world”—Mount Vernon Foursquare Fellowship (MVFF) nestles in the picturesque city of Alexandria, Va. The 33-year-old senior pastor and his wife, Kelly, who co-pastors the church, launched MVFF in 2006 partly to reach the area’s unique population of attorneys, military personnel, federal government employees and others who moved to the nation’s capital with the goal of climbing up the country’s ladder and becoming powerbrokers in the world’s greatest democracy.
Why would a young couple, the parents of three small children, seek out D.C. as their place of outreach? After all, as some might assume, it seems an unlikely mission field, brimming with rich and powerful overachievers who aren’t exactly needy. But that assumption would be wrong, based simply on appearances that can be very deceiving.
“It’s often easy to confuse power with wholeness, worldly success with fulfillment, wealth with health and happiness, and notoriety with community,” says Niki, a graduate of Harvard Law School and former senior trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice. Kelly is also a Harvard Law graduate. “I wish people knew that even though the D.C. metropolitan area is home to some of the most powerful, well-connected, talented and wealthy people in the country, it also is home to some of the loneliest, disillusioned, hurting and broken people you’ll ever meet.”
Reaching the City
The nature of politics, business and life in the D.C. area can create very unhealthy personal dynamics. Sure, people are constantly making connections with others. But, Niki notes, those so-called relationships are often superficial and based on self-serving motives, or temporary due to the city’s transiency. Yes, people are talented and ambitious, projecting an unflinching confidence. But their masks, Niki asserts, also conceal their weaknesses, fears and brokenness.
The end result? A city full of people who are not as happy as they may appear. People who may have power but don’t have peace. Even Christians here have to be on guard. There is a constant tension, says Niki, between the demands of one’s career and that person’s desire to seek first the kingdom of God.
“In short,” Niki explains, “Kelly and I planted MVFF to be a family for the lonely, a hospital for the spiritually wounded and captive, and a spiritual boot camp that develops and launches courageous, passionate, and well-trained servant-leaders. Hence our slogan: Love. Liberate. Lead. Launch.”
The church’s outreach philosophy goes way beyond the reaches of D.C. Using Acts 1:8 as a foundation—where Jesus said His disciples would be His witnesses in Jerusalem (locally), in Judea and Samaria (nationally) and to the ends of the earth (globally)—MVFF strives to minister to needs within the D.C. metropolitan area as well as across the nation and around the globe.
In addition to daily ministry activities locally, they partner with area churches to minister to the homeless in an annual outreach called Night of Hope. The event not only includes worship, fellowship and teaching, but also provides showers, clothing, pedicures and manicures, haircuts, first aid and meals.
Nationally, the congregation hosts conferences for emerging leaders in their 20s and 30s, with the goal of mobilizing and inspiring young leaders and providing leadership training. People have left mainstream careers to enter full-time ministry either as a result of these events or the leadership development within MVFF.
Globally, the congregation has started reaching outside the U.S. to Ethiopia, particularly through adoption. It’s something Niki takes very seriously—and personally.
“The Bible says that true religion involves caring for the poor and the orphaned,” Niki affirms. “We are pursuing that call as a church by caring for impoverished orphans in Ethiopia. To that end, my wife and I adopted a child from Ethiopia, as did another family in our church. This mustard seed-size outreach is the beginning of a larger harvest that we prayerfully believe we will reap for the Lord in Ethiopia.”
During the holidays, the congregation provides gifts to local homeless families, as well as to orphans, both locally and overseas. They also serve a hot dinner to homeless citizens in D.C. Additionally, the children of MVFF sponsor orphans in other nations.
From Courtroom to Pulpit
Niki knew from a young age that the call on his life was ministry related. As a young man, he assumed this meant he would integrate a mainstream career with his faith. Indeed, as a lawyer with the Justice Department, he prosecuted state and local government agencies for discriminating against their employees on the basis of race, religion, gender or national origin. His biggest case was a class action lawsuit against the state of Ohio and its largest union for engaging in religious discrimination. Pastoring wasn’t on the radar.
“I didn’t go to law school with the intention of becoming a pastor, much less a church-planting pastor,” Niki recalls. “In fact, that was the furthest thing from my mind!”
But God knew exactly what He was doing, Niki contends. He says his legal background has positively impacted and enhanced his ministry in many ways. Besides providing him with academic and professional credentials that give him inroads into people’s lives he otherwise might not be able to reach, the analytical and leadership skills acquired in his legal training have also proved helpful in pastoring a church.
The minister believes the role of a pastor, generally speaking, is very similar to that of an attorney. Pastors and attorneys are both counselors. Just as attorneys guide their clients through tough circumstances, so do pastors, shepherding their flocks through adverse situations.
And just as attorneys are supposed to be zealous advocates for their clients, he notes, so are pastors, who are called to zealously care for, protect and pursue the best interests of their flocks.
“Pastors are, essentially, lawyers,” states Niki, “except that the Bible is our Constitution, our adversary is the enemy, our judge is the Lord, and our clients are the sheep God has placed under our care.”
Kelly Tshibaka will be speaking at Connection 2011, which will be held in Columbus, Ohio, May 30-June 2. To find out more, or to register for convention, click here.
By: Bill Shepson, a Foursquare credentialed minister and freelance writer in Los Angeles