Our Story (so far – March 2019 version)
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: we still valued our connections to traditional local churches, but we could not return to church as usual. 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.
During this time, we began developing rhythms of doing life together around fellowship, worship, discipleship and mission. Sundays, many of us engaged in local congregations, intent on being a blessing. During the week, we served. Some of us served together. We gathered weekly in “huddles” to learn tools and skills for discipleship, to encourage one another, to pray, and to “spur one another on to love and good deeds.” (Heb 10:25). Once a month, we gathered for worship.
Our huddles became incubators for mission. As a group and as individuals, we are seeing ourselves as sent. This has led to missional engagement across our city, in our workplaces, and even around the world. At one point, we have ministries in several neighborhoods, two hospitals, on a college campus, in two elementary schools, in two construction firms, with Young Life and Young Lives, in several churches, with refugees, and often just “wherever we found ourselves.” This led to a shift in our worship gatherings in 2018 toward providing teaching and prayer aimed at encouraging and equipping people for life on mission while continuing to celebrate what God is doing on the First Coast.
Along the way, we have developed some traditions: retreats, prayer services, home gatherings, and a Good Friday sunrise worship gathering. And there are the “organic activities”: neighborhood parties, game nights, prayer walks, going to events together, and just getting together. At most gatherings, there is good food, good coffee, and celebration of being together. Additionally, we consider it a tremendous privilege to support and encourage others we meet who are trying to answer God’s call, living life on mission. The Lord has opened up relationships and partnerships with a number of individuals, ministries, and churches. God is at work all around us!
Before Covid hit, Sara Taber began working among us as a pastor bringing energy, creativity, and encouragement to try new things! This proved timely. After Covid hit, we felt it best to scale back our in-person gatherings. Out of necessity, we began experimenting with doing things on-line. One of our first efforts was to offer a worship gathering on Facebook Live. That didn’t work all that well, but gave us confidence to try new things. Zoom Bible Studies, Zoom meetings, and Alpha On-Line broadened our reach. Fun fact: at one point, our children’s ministry was international!
We are small group, but we are seeing missional community and life on mission being fostered around us through the work we’ve been given. We are keenly aware of being redeemed, forgiven, blessed, and healed through the love, grace and mercy of God! And with joy we can continue to report that what God has been doing for us we are seeing God do through us. We exist to love the people and place of the First Coast of Florida. We do so by imitating Jesus Christ, Up, In, and Out, and encouraging others to do the same. We’ll keep at it as long as the Lord allows or until God’s Kingdom is revealed in every square inch of our city.