Posted by: Ed | June 15, 2011


Here’s something you have to hear about. Sam Saavedra, one of the college students in New Format (our College Aged community) is guest writing this for me. I love what God is doing!

As the first Sunday in June came to a head, despite our intentionally unorganized plans, the members of New Format scrambled to pray, clean the park, set up the snack bar, prepare the projector, organize parking and greet those who would be arriving. While we had no clue what the turnout would be, or how smoothly the night would go, it was clear that the possibility of God doing something unique filled the very area we stood in. We had no idea that showing up to a park to watch a movie would be an avenue for God to teach us. However, despite our nerves and doubt, He gave us an opportunity to stumble into one of Jesus’ most highlighted commandments: Love Your Neighbor.
Within the past year, it appears as though the desire to live out this commandment has caused a growing mindset to be cultivated amongst the members of Journey Community Church. It is a mindset of faith and risk. It is a mindset that is dissatisfied with simply sitting in our chairs week after week. It is a mindset cognizant of the truth that in order for us to authentically love, we must constantly walk into the areas God calls us to, even if the outcome is unknown. Whether we are joining our lives with churches across the globe, daring to start food banks and thrift stores or hiring executive pastors, we have undoubtedly seen God. He has led us into countless opportunities to exercise love and compassion to those who desperately need it, all the while transforming and unifying our church in the process.
This mindset has in some sense become viral, not just within our main services but amongst a number of ministries on our campus as well, including the various student ministries. Our 3rd-5th graders in G-Force raised over a $1,000 dollars for Haitian sister church. Encounter, Journey’s High School ministry has a full team of students going to Haiti this summer and the Middle School and College-Aged Ministries, Riptide and New Format have adopted Collier Park and regularly hold clean-up days in an attempt to be an active presence within the community of La Mesa.
As a member of New Format, I have seen an upsurge for social justice begin to quite literally rearrange our entire ministry. The desire to be “the hands and feet of God” so to speak has been birthed in a number of our attendants from every walk of life: old and new, believer and nonbeliever. As our core leadership team, alongside our pastor Sarah Merk-Benitez, wrestled with how God would have us move, it became clear that He was going to make some changes. In keeping with our namesake, God was calling us into a new format of ministry.
Having spent the last few years building a strong sense of community in which individuals could meet God and one another, it became clear that we had reached a point where we could no longer extend love simply to ourselves. If we were going to continue to grow as a ministry and more importantly as followers of Christ, then we would have to grow outside of our building and into our community. We would have to learn to allow God to shape us into a ministry that exists not for itself, but for those around it. However, we had no clue what this would look like or how to begin creating it. We simply knew that instead of sitting inside our church inviting people in, we would have to take church outside to those who couldn’t or wouldn’t come. We would have to risk.
While we attempted to wrap our heads around these concepts, God had already begun to work out the details. Upon hearing of New Format’s involvement with Collier Park, the Mayor of La Mesa, Art Madrid asked the college-aged group if we would be willing to hold events at the park in order to decrease its illegitimate use for drugs and alcohol amongst other things. Eager to assist and love our community, we began planning in light of Journey’s series, God At The Movies and soon after New Format’s Movies at the Park had been created. For the entire month of June, every Sunday, New Format would meet at Collier Park, set up a projector and speakers and watch the movies chosen for the series in an attempt to invite people into our community while driving out illegitimate users.

On the opening night of Movies At The Park, carloads of students showed up at the park and immediately began to make use of its space. The common residents of the park watched with bemusement as numbers of young adults set up chairs and blankets, smiling and laughing. After his arrival, the Mayor immediately began to mingle with college students and park dwellers alike stating, “There’s probably about 120 people here, but with energy of your people, it feels like 300!”
Overall, the first movie night of the month progressed better than we could have expected. Groups of people showed up, watched The Social Network and left entertained. However, what made the night memorable wasn’t the movie, the seamlessness of the event, or even the presence of the Mayor. What made the night memorable was how God wanted to reveal His heart to our ministry. Originally, we intended to host events at the park in order to get rid of the drug users, alcoholics, and possible prostitution. However, as we began to inhabit the park, it became very clear that God didn’t want us to get rid of them. He wanted us to BE with them.
As homeless people and addicts joined in with our group to simply watch a movie, I looked around the park to see members of my community acting as Jesus to people who are taken for granted every day. I saw people skipping prayer meetings in favor of ministering to and welcoming those who would normally be getting high in the bushes. While passing by the snack bar, I heard our café team in deep conversation with a young man who shared, “I came here tonight to get wasted. I’m so glad I didn’t.” During the progression of the movie, I saw a member of New Format spend the entire night comforting an individual who was reduced to tears after sharing about his addictions. After the movie ended, while people were packing up, a guy told our college pastor, “I haven’t been to church in years. I had no idea I needed this so badly.”
After seeing hugs and handshakes being exchanged between the homeless residents, the teens and young adults who visit the park for drug and alcohol use and the members of our church, we were both excited and heartbroken to find ourselves in the midst of God’s plan to offer care and compassion. What began as an attempt to fight the injustice occurring within Collier Park became God’s way of fighting the injustice ensnaring the hearts of individuals broken and defeated from disappointment and hopelessness. Through the simple act of prompting us to step outside our building and into our community, God revealed His desire for us to bring acceptance, validation, redemption, and love to those who feel they will never get it.
Once a week for one month may not be much. We may not have completely rid our community of evil, or solved the problem of the park’s illegitimate use, but after spending one night with these individuals, our community is eager to dive into the risk God is calling us into. We are excited to watch more movies. We are excited to leave our building. We are excited to have no clue as to where we will end up. New Format is excited because God has given us the opportunity to create bonds with people we never could have imagined and in the process find that how we love is infinitely more important than what we simply do. We can no longer love within the confines of our building because we have seen that there are people outside our building who are just as valuable and need it far more immediately than we do. We are excited because we find that as we attempt, fail and risk alongside our community, we learn what it means to truly love our neighbor.



  1. what a gorgeous story. and what an amazing writer sam is.

  2. The creative power of overturning the darkness to bring in the light.

  3. And let the beauty of the Lord our God be opon us , And establish the work of our hands for us; Yes, establish the work of our hands. Ps.90:17

  4. I’m reduced to tears…… SO GLAD to be a part of this church!

  5. Very well written and Praise be to God for His marvelous love and grace demonstrated through you all on your movie night!

    Be encouraged to keep up your good works, God will continue to use you to reach those lost sheep whom God is calling.

    Be very cautious, however, to not inacurately merge and/or blur God’s commands and promises, indicatives and imperatives; which unfortunately many among the Emergent Church Movement do, to the chagrin of historical christian orthodoxy. There is an unfortunate tendency to identify the gospel with what we do rather than with what God has done for us through Jesus Christ.

    As christians, we are his witnesses to testify of his reconciling work through preaching and teaching the Gospel. Too many, I’m afraid, confuse the Great Commission for the Great Commandment. Both are important, but to confuse and/or merge them is an categorical error. We must be cautious to not over-contextualize the gospel to the point where it has no impact (i.e. watered down gospel and just works). Truly, the Holy Spirit will do His work, but we must be obedient to the Great Commision as Jesus taught it and according to how the Apostles preached it in the Book of Acts. Ecclesiology is not something that needs to be fixed or tinkered with; we have great examples in the New Testament and from the early church history documents that clearly teach us how to do the Great Commission.

    Please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. I am certainly pro-works. God be praised. Further, I am all for reaching out to those outside of our community to share the love of Christ through our good works in accordance with the Great Commandment. May God get all the glory! My point is simply that we do not miss the point of what the gospel is within the context of the Great Commission. It is both “Creeds and Deeds”, not just “Deeds without Creeds”! We need both! God has already done the work of redemption for us! God does not need us to partner with him to bring about social transformation in order to reconcile sinners. We simply need to proclaim Christ’s finished work to those who are lost. This is what the Good News is all about! Gospel/-God-spell/ Good News!!!

    So, please be encouraged, again, to continue your good works to the glory of God. Continue to be faithful to “the Great Commandment”. But, do not forget to also be faithful to the “Great Commission” by not just living the gospel, because we cannot live the gospel anyways. But, we must proclaim the gospel. We don’t “do” good news; we “share/teach/proclaim” good news. That good news is the forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus’ saving life, burial and resurrection. We benefit from this, we are not participants, praise be to God! This is the greatest news in the whole wide world, why would one not want to share it?

    en Kristos


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