Interview with Wes Furlong, Senior Pastor of Cape Christian Church Treveccan: How has your involvement with the outreach programs at Cape Christian changed you? Wes: It’s made me more patient and hopeful in the face of adversity. We tend to overestimate what can be accomplished in the short-term but underestimate what can be accomplished in the long-term. We’ve had a lot of setbacks, but God has provided everything we’ve needed at the right time, and the little victories strengthened our faith. It’s encouraged me to see so many churches willing to partner with us. You hear about so much division in and between churches, but I’ve met with many pastors who are willing to look beyond their walls and work together to change the city. It’s reinforced the importance of a pastor’s role in a city. When I first started, I saw the pastor’s job divided into several areas of specialty (preaching/teaching, leading, counseling), but I’ve come to see the role as more than the sum total of different responsibilities and competencies. Over time, a pastor can develop a unique ability to speak prophetically in a community. It’s strengthened my passion for the local church. A generation ago, para-church organizations became extremely popular. But it’s the local church that changes cities. And it’s been great to see so many talented, young church planters who recognize the importance of the local church. It’s awakened me to the importance of personal evangelism. I debated an atheist recently at our local state college on the topic “Religion, Science, and Mortality.” It was an “away game” for sure. The room was packed with atheists and agnostics. The moderator concluded the debate by allowing the audience to ask questions. I was blitzed with questions from unbelievers about the church’s hypocrisy on various issues. After it was over, a line of people remained to ask questions and share personal stories. The emotion people expressed in their hatred of the Christian church surprised me. They would describe a rational objection to the Christian faith, but it was almost always followed with a personal story. But most expressed gratitude for my presenting the Christian faith in a way far different than their caricatures of it and a desire to hear more. Further debates were scheduled, many have followed up with further questions, a couple came to our church and were eventually baptized, and I’ve been meeting regularly with the atheist I debated. The more involved I become in our community, the greater urgency I feel for personal evangelism.
Treveccan: How have Cape Christian’s community efforts changed the way you think about ____?
Interview with Wes Furlong, Senior Pastor of Cape Christian Church Wes: It’s changed the way I think about the church’s potential for ministry in the public square. For one, community leaders are much more receptive to pastoral leadership when they see a pastor meeting pressing needs in the city. Churches can make themselves truly indispensible in their cities. Second, gospel-presence ministries open the door for gospel proclamation opportunities. But it can’t just be a quick “bait and switch” dynamic. People are sensitive to situations in which a Christian says, “I’ll trade you a turkey at Thanksgiving if you’ll let me preach at you for 30 minutes.” When you see the long-view, meet needs without reciprocation, remain open to evangelistic opportunities but not forceful, it eventually becomes a compelling and curious phenomenon. When people hit a crisis or life transition and are looking for help, I want them to think immediately “what about that church that does so much in our community?” The Johnson Amendment in 1954 led many churches to assume their work must remain within their four walls. But we’ve found that public schools, hospitals, and area businesses are more than receptive to our influence. It takes time to build trust. But once a person has it, he or she can accomplish a great deal. Pluralism in the U.S. should look much different than pluralism in Europe. We don’t need to wash off our faith before we enter the public square. We simply need to acknowledge and respect the neutrality of a pluralistic environment. Pluralism should never be an excuse for churches to stay away from the public square. Cities need a clear and careful articulation and embodiment of God’s kingdom.
Treveccan: How have those efforts changed your congregation? Wes: It started with prayer. We began to collectively pray, “God, renew the healing ministry of Jesus in your church. Give us your heart for people and help us see what you see.” A renewed emphasis on personal evangelism coincided with this movement of prayer. We share video testimonies each week where people describe how God has changed their lives and it’s simply become infectious. People who’ve attended church for a long time but never shared their faith with others or served in any compassionate ministry are beginning to step forward and get involved. We now celebrate a lot of life change on weekends. We preach it, tell great personal stories of it, pray for it, work for it in the different city ministries, and celebrate the successes. People now come to weekend services with a sense of expectancy. Now, we’re seeing more people surrender their lives to Jesus Mon.-Fri. through city ministries than we do in weekend services. Seeing 500 new believers get baptized and then hearing their stories each weekend becomes pretty compelling.
Interview with Wes Furlong, Senior Pastor of Cape Christian Church Treveccan: How is the city of Cape Coral changing because of these efforts to meet the real needs of people? Wes: First, other churches are becoming more externally focused. We now have over 35 church partnering with is through the Not In My City campaign, which is already making a great impact on the city. We conducted a lengthy needs and resource assessment to figure out what the real needs were and what resources were available. Once we had the data, we set out to communicate both. We discovered some great resources that people simply didn’t know about. So we partnered with Cape Coal Community Foundation to print small resource guides that are distributed throughout the city (area businesses, law and code enforcement, city gov’t, schools, doctors’ offices, restaurants, and gas stations, etc.) The information is also available online at (www.notinmycity.org). We also launched a care line that connects people to national hotlines and local resources. Where there were holes or deficiencies, we went to these partner churches to determine who could meet the various needs. For example, we decided to start a medical clinic for the working poor. Another church decided to ramp-up its addiction-recovery ministry. One of our goals this year is to recruit one million volunteer hours for mentoring fatherless children in our public schools and ensure that every fatherless child in our city has access to a mentor. The school sponsorship program has made a huge difference in our city. We do large character-based school assemblies which coincide with the curriculum teachers use for character education. For each school, we sit down with administrators and conduct a needs assessment. Usually what is needed is help with food programs, school supplies, mentoring, and the character program. We want people to know where to turn or help when a crisis hits. And with the help of local media, we should be pretty close to the place where everyone knows about the campaign by the end of the year.
Treveccan: What advice can you offer to other churches? Wes: I hesitate to offer advice without personal conversation about the unique identity of the church and community setting. Many factors determine where and how a church should initiate a more deliberate engagement with its city. But here are a few things we’ve found that are essential:
• Prayer, fasting and renewal • Establish compelling vision (based on the previous two) • Celebrate victories often
• City-wide needs/resource assessment • Launch strongly. • Track progress.
Interview with Wes Furlong, Senior Pastor of Cape Christian Church Treveccan: What encouragement can you offer pastors? Wes: During my first internship at Trevecca (Whispering Hills Church of the Nazarene), I was given a great piece of advice: “No matter what happens, always love your people.” It didn’t sound particularly earth-shattering at the time, but it’s made a huge difference in my life. Our church has had quite a few major setbacks. During the housing crises, our income plunged over 90k in one quarter. We then had a staff member and two board members decide the church wasn’t handling things well, so they started another church. Shortly thereafter, another pastor had a major moral failure. There were times I wondered if the church would even survive. I fought serious despair and occasionally contemplated leaving the church. But God was faithful and strengthened my character during that time. His love is stronger than despair, covers sins, and drives out fear. That single piece of advice has helped me quite a bit during difficult times.
For more information, visit these sites or contact this person: Notinmycity.org Capechristian.com firstname.lastname@example.org Chad Woolf, Director of Not in My City Campaign Email email@example.com Cape Christian Church offers three kinds of resources and support to churches (at no cost): • A complete “Not In My City” manual • Needs/Resource Assessment assistance • Phone consultation