She was as comfortable sharing the message of Christ’s love on a street as in a sanctuary. She would as soon don a costume as a clergy robe, if starring in one of her famous “illustrated sermons”—rivaling any Hollywood production of the day—meant communicating the gospel in a creative way to someone who would otherwise not hear. And she was as willing to venture overseas as pray for a neighbor close by.
These are just a few of the attributes that created opportunities for Foursquare’s founder, Aimee Semple McPherson, to touch the lives of hundreds of thousands in her lifetime alone. And that was just the beginning. The movement she started now has more than 8 million members and adherents worldwide. Because she was willing to go anywhere and do anything to reach people with her message of hope and healing, countless lives were forever changed.
That same adventuresome spirit characterizes leaders of Foursquare churches across the U.S. today. One of the strengths of the movement has always been that ministry is not a “one size fits all” approach. A Foursquare congregation will look different in Southern California than in the Pacific Northwest, and vary in style and approach from the Southeast to the Midwest—because effective ministry is about reaching people wherever they are. And sometimes that means doing something a little bit different. Just like Sister Aimee did.
Serena Wastman—senior pastor of Journey of Faith (Seattle West Alki Foursquare Church) and its accompanying Skate Church youth ministry nestled in the heart of West Seattle’s retail district—is a prime example of a Foursquare leader willing to do whatever it takes to reach the lost. The community of Christ-followers she oversees with her husband, Robbie, probably isn’t like your church. And that’s exactly the point.
The ministry started as an outreach to skaters some eight years back, when Serena was a youth pastor at a non-Foursquare church. The group of young people grew so large, they wanted to plant their own church. That denomination, however, was not supportive of such “out of the box” thinking.
Serena, who had a background in Foursquare, started looking for a Foursquare church that could host the group temporarily. They ended up moving Skate Church to Pastor Daniel Johnson’s Westside Foursquare Church in Seattle. This congregation became the “mother church” that facilitated the birth of Skate Church’s current ministry in West Seattle.
The profound success of Skate Church led to the formation of Journey of Faith, which meets every Sunday night at TORN, a skate shop the church founded. The ministry is overseen, Serena says, by NextGen leaders who are reaching out to disenfranchised young people burned out on church and religion.
“We are not just a ministry to skaters,” Serena told Foursquare.org in an exclusive interview. “We did start out that way. The group of NextGen leaders who lead this church were all skaters. However, as the church developed, we broadened; [we] reach out to all lost, broken people.”
To best reach people, the ministry is not structured in a traditional fashion. Rows of pews? No way—it makes more sense for gatherings to take place at TORN, the skate shop that was set up particularly as an avenue to reach out to local youth. After-school lunch programs are also held there, as well as weekly Bible studies for delinquent youth in partnership with the King County Juvenile Detention Center.
Mentoring and counseling for youth and adults in crisis are also available, provided by the NextGen leaders who work at TORN. The church also offers community service opportunities at TORN for non-Christian high school students who must meet a community service requirement to graduate.
Ministry is a lifestyle at Journey of Faith, not a Sunday morning activity.
“To us,” Serena asserts, “church is a community of believers who are dwelling together to follow Christ and are actively placed within our community of West Seattle to greatly influence and bring them to Jesus. We do not emphasize a pastor, a place or an event. Instead, we lift up Jesus.”
Living in community is something the Wastmans take seriously. Part of the ministry includes three homes where Serena and Robbie live with and mentor young adults whom they have “adopted” from their church—NextGen leaders they are training to pastor church plants in the surrounding area. They have also hosted more than 400 international students in their years of ministry as an additional outreach that includes “changing the world for Jesus.”
What else does this community of Christ-followers do to reach out? The list is extensive, and includes counseling incarcerated youth, conducting weekly outreaches to feed the poor, and hosting two weekly food banks, one for seniors, the other for youth and families. Skate Church also plans to open a youth runaway shelter in West Seattle this year.
And in the skate store, TORN, it is a regular occurrence for non-Christian parents to walk into the establishment, desperately seeking help for their teenage children. They know the reputation of TORN and those who work there; it’s the “go to” place for helping teens in crisis, operated by people who will drop everything to lend a helping hand.
“Both my husband and I come from ‘the wrong side of the tracks,’ ” shares Serena. “Both of our families are totally dysfunctional, without hope, yet both of us came to Christ supernaturally, and it changed our lives. Now, we are ministering in the same broken neighborhood that we came from—bringing lost people to the saving power of Jesus Christ.”
This is Part 1 of a 4-part feature:
- “Whatever It Takes” Part 2: God at the Truck Stop
- “Whatever It Takes” Part 3: Caring for Native Americans and Mormons
- “Whatever It Takes” Part 4: Hip-Hop and Biker Cultures
By: Bill Shepson, a Foursquare credentialed minister and freelance writer in Los Angeles