LoveFirst Coast Story

lfc meets hereOur Story (so far)

In the Spring of 2013, God pulled together about twenty people from five different churches.  We had several things in common.  Many of us had been inspired by followers of Jesus we’d met on mission trips.  We earnestly desired to see Christ change lives and renew our city.  We had heard that God was doing that in other places through groups called missional communities.  We were willing to try so we met for a season and organized our life together around worship, prayer, fellowship, and mission. In our “trial missional community” we learned a lot about ourselves, our neighbors, and how to (and how not to) to do life on mission together.  We discovered strength in community, how to be more natural and public with our faith, more courageous in prayer, more adventurous in service, and how good God is.

After about six months together, about half who’d been with us returned to regular engagement in their home churches.  But the experience had a deep impact.  Several of us committed to journeying together and formed First Coast Missional Communities  – now called LoveFirst Coast.  We gathered for prayer and discipleship, invested in each other, and looked for opportunities to bless our neighbors and serve in our city.  Over time, the administrative load became lighter as others stepped into leadership.  This enabled our first pastor to be “co-vocational”, working a full-time day job and extending God’s grace there while helping to lead the church on nights and weekends.  As a bi-product, this created additional margin for generosity.

That was the pattern we followed until the pandemic.  But now, we’re going through a reboot.

Love First Coast Update for 2023!          

After nine years, LoveFirst Coast is at a point of transition, but first a few words to celebrate what God’s done.  God worked through a number of people who have generously given of their time, finances, talent, and dedicated much love and support to the work of LoveFirst Coast.  God has led us through a number of adventures.  Many of us know we will never be the same.

We started in 2013 with a shared prayer for a movement of mission and discipleship, for deeply surrendered disciples, and for a church made up of numerous missional communities spread across town.  How hard could it be, right?  Well, in year one, we started two missional communities which quickly grew to be… one missional community.  But humbly, we had to a lot to learn, and quite a bit to unlearn.  Over the next few years, we learned a lot about prayer and organizing light-weight, low maintenance worship services (Up),  We grew to appreciate coming together to encourage and equip one another to imitate Jesus (In).  And we served – sometimes together, sometimes apart – with Young Lives, with refuges, at an apartment complex, in our neighborhoods, and most commonly in our various places of work. We learned to listen, love, and pray.  And God opened the door for some of us to form groups wherever we went – what some thinkers now call “micro expressions of the church.”  We experienced the good news of Jesus slowly changing us!

Recently, a couple of us compiled a list from memory of the all the groups that we helped start.  (At least the ones we knew of).  It wasn’t a formal study, just an effort to recall from memory the groups that had emerged from LoveFirst Coast that were doing some degree of Up, In, and Out.  This would include prayer groups, workplace Bible studies, discipleship meetings, groups gathered for a specific mission, or those beautiful missional incubators where people were encouraged and prayed for as they stepped into mission personally.  The list grew to twenty-one.  I didn’t count the personal missions or ministries we jumped in to support.  These were groups we initiated.  Twenty.  Six are currently on-going.

It might sound disappointing to put it that way.  Some didn’t last.  Don’t be disappointed.  The Kingdom of Heaven is eternal – human endeavors have a life-cycle.  Recently, Tampa Underground shared a study a study that revealed that their micro-churches typically last three years – and that was encouraging.  Some of our micro expressions were intentionally short-lived – such as the group that went to Nicaragua and the group that offered an on-line Alpha course.  Others came to an end as people’s life situation changed.  I recall three that lasted a few weeks but never gelled.  (We can celebrate that, too.  Per Luke 10, if we follow Jesus we should expect setbacks on mission.)  Of the six on-going groups, three have been going on for more than six years!

From memory, I could identify about 90 different people who were involved in mission and discipleship.  (Again, not a formal record. We didn’t keep those kinds of records).  But here’s something that can’t be measured: we do not know how many people God touched through us! People were listened to with love and prayed over.  People were encouraged or equipped to follow Jesus.  People were discipled, served, counseled, befriended, taught, helped, fed, and blessed.  There is much to celebrate.

What about The Future?

LoveFirst Coast is at a point of transition.  Our original core group is not really together anymore.  There’s been quite a bit of life change: moving, retiring, taking care of family members, or following the Lord to serve in other ways.  So how are we moving on from here?  Our mission has been to encourage and equip people to live life on mission.  We’ll do this in two ways.

First, we will continue to encourage people to engage in mission by following a simple strategy: Prayer, Teams, Groups, Gatherings.  We will coach people to pray for those to whom God is sending them, find a teammate who’ll help, pull together a group for discipleship offering tools like Discovery Bible Study, and host periodic gatherings for worship and encouragement.  This is already happening!

Second, we want to support people who are engaged in mission on the First Coast, especially the full time missionaries, with prayer and finances.  At this point, we have minimal internal expenses. We are currently able to give nearly everything we receive away. At this time, we are supporting Rose Shabaya at Go To Nations, Jordan Whitmarsh with Young Lives, and Dan Dodge with EPIC college ministry.  We’d like to see that list and our support for missionaries grow.

How Can You Help?

First, pray that God will lead us to partners in mission.  Our fellowship has always been made up of partners who were engaged and others who were supportive.   Specifically, pray that God would lead us to a treasurer.

Second, pray that God will lead us to missionaries we can support – both the volunteer variety and the full-time missionaries.  And to the people he is calling to support them.

Third, pray for God to deepen our love for the neighborhoods and networks we are a part of.

Finally, pray that God’s kingdom would come and his will would be done here on the First Coast.  To quote the theologian Abraham Kuyper, there is not a square inch of the entire creation about which Jesus does not cry out, “This is mine!”  That is certainly true of this region of Florida we call home. We have work to do.

A few photos from our first nine years!

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