Is the church the building or those who are meeting inside of it?
Regina is back to share her story of wrestling with antiquated ministry models that are limited to what can be done inside of a building. Brian and Ryan respond to her story and share little tidbits of what they think it takes to shift to a Guerrilla Ministry model founded on subversive presence.
 Just a Building – Guerrilla Pastors
Josiah (Narration): Welcome to the Gorilla Pastors Podcast. I’m your host, Josiah. On today’s episode, we’re going to see an example of what Guerrilla Ministry looks like from a fellow Guerrilla Pastor you’ve heard from before, named Regina. Before we hear from her, I would like to make mention that today’s episode’s going to be a little bit different and you’ll see why in a moment.
Instead of spending significant time in round table discussions, we are going to focus on her story. When asked if she felt she herself was a Guerrilla Pastor, this is what she said:
Regina: Guerrilla pastor, I think is intriguing. Would I, I mean, I’m not gonna full on embrace it. Because that just is, it’s not my style.
Um, and that’s okay. I’m just trying to be authentic to me. Um, but I, I’m intrigued by it. I love the conversation around what it means to be, um, a subversive presence. Right? And, and subversive is such an interesting thing, um, which I think is the guerrilla aspect of it, right? Guerrilla pastor. I think it’s cool and I feel like language, this is the fun thing about language, is it’s if you are willing and brave, it’s provocative.
It makes you stop. It makes you think like, Yeah, what are we doing? And like, how do we, I’m for it. I’m for like, engaging things that are different and like if, if language is helpful for like, slapping you in the face and or like gives you, gives you confidence and moxie to like lean into like, do it.
Josiah (Narration): Which is exactly what we’re doing.
Join us as we hear Regina’s story, a story about subversive presence and a story we’re gonna call just a building. Stay tuned to find out why.
What I noticed was christians could not have conversation with each other if they disagreed with one another.
It’s all about entering into the textured presence of lived lives, and so, The, the sanitation of it just broke for me. Like, church can’t be sanitized.
I always feel like I’m not what people think of when they think of a pastor.
I went to school for youth ministry and have now figured out how to do like construction work. It’s good. Good stuff.
The church is struggling and declining in ways that we’ve never experienced in the United States and Canada right now.
We have to like allow ourselves to embrace new ways of being in a place.
Insurgent revolutions, i e guerrilla warfare is 20% bullets and 80% blessing the people.
How do we be eternally faithful? Like literally, like how do we be faithful in a way today that in 20 years people aren’t going … He was evil.
Why are we still afraid? We believe that God is at work in all places and all people at all times. That is amazing, and that should give us hope.
We are the Guerrilla Pastors. Join us as we explore a world of ministry founded on subversive presence.
Josiah (Narration): On our recent episode on vocation, Regina said this:
Regina: Often I’m like, oh, well it’s just a building and it is just a building. But space matters.
Josiah (Narration): Regina was referring to the church she currently pastors on Beacon Hill. It’s the church she grew up in. The church she found faith in and the building that she has many fond memories of spending time with family and friends, worshiping her creator within.
So for Regina space absolutely matters. Despite this, sometimes we struggle with imagining a church being anything more than a building. More often than not, pastors like Regina find it hard to validate their own pastoral ministry because they have buildings that are seemingly empty to those used to traditional Sunday morning worship.
This is why Regina’s story is so significant and why for us, it perfectly encapsulates what Guerrilla Ministry founded on subversive presence is all about. A quick production note, you will be hearing a largely unedited conversation I had with Regina as I interviewed her about what she did in the neighborhood church she grew up in.
Regina: So, um, this is, what do I do at Beacon Hill? So I wanna say I started in mid 2019 and so, uh, 2021. 20 21, 2 and a half years. Right? It’s shifted in my time there, um, which I’m, I’m glad you know, part of it then means that I have to always be ready to pivot in a lot of ways. Um, so I didn’t bring a pre formatted thing.
I wasn’t like, oh, this is what some people advised me, other pastors I was connected to who heard that I was coming back into Beacon Hill, or on this assignment. They didn’t really know Beacon Hill. But you know, I got advice, which I think might be solid advice that I didn’t take. They were like, you should just start a bible study. You know, you have connections in the neighborhood if you just gather them and then you can from there, get a core group of people and then, you know, you can maybe like on a Sunday morning, pull out your guitar, do a couple songs, and then, which, you know, I’ve been part of a small church my whole life, so that’s not uncommon. It, you do whatever needs to get done and so all doable, right?
I didn’t want to do that and I didn’t want to do that, not because I think that that form was, um, not good or wouldn’t be effective, but I just didn’t feel like that’s what God… I just didn’t feel like the spirit was leading me to do that. Was I wrong? I mean, I think there’s discernment that has to happen, but um, . Yeah, I, I, I didn’t do that. So what I did instead is I came in and, uh, before the pandemic happened, the Beacon Hills, the community at Beacon Hill had a festival. They have a festival every summer except for when there’s pandemic.
Which has been two summers in a row now. Um, and basically I set up a tent and I said, listen, I am the leader at this church that really doesn’t have a body. There’s no like, look, people who gather here, but I have a building and if we could offer space to this community, what would community members want for their community?
What do people need? And I got a whole list. I’m like, I had a survey and I was like, oh, if you have different ideas, you could do this. And I still have this survey, you know, I served people tea and coffee back when we could do that safely. And uh, people knew where the building was, you know, they were like, oh, I didn’t know that building was a church.
Well, there’s a giant cross in the front, but you can like walk by it and never know. And I’ve had people over the years come into the building and be like, I never knew this was here, which is kind of fun. But I surveyed people and you know the church is right next to a middle school, Asa Mercer International Middle School, and kids walk in front of our building to cross this really busy street all the time.
And so I had a lot of people say, oh, you know, we should have like an arts program for kids. I had a lot, you know, there was, when you look at the things that people said, like pre pandemic, people would’ve said, and maybe we’re coming back into that, that space in the city is like premium, you know, like is necessary.
It’s valuable. Um, and especially for some of the grassroots organizations that I had like partnered with early on, like who can’t afford to like, rent space. Like what was it like to be a place where we can gift space to people for them to do organizing work that was gonna serve the community. So I did that survey.
Um, my, my husband and I, we own a tea Company, and so this was a place where we could open up a third space. Um, very different than like a church’s coffee shop. Nothing wrong with that, but, um, I wanted the community members to be able to come in throughout the week, not just Sunday morning, not just Wednesday evening, but to find like, oh, here’s this place in our community that is open to us. And we, there was hospitality.
So then, you know, I just, I ended up copying what my friends were doing at, um, Seattle first at the Mosaic Coffee House and at West Seattle. They were holding play spaces, which worked really well with my lifestyle because I had a three month old and a two year old. You know, like the bandwidth for doing ministry alongside of being a parent at this stage of life, it’s like I’m still called, I’m still called to, to connect with people in my community and to be the person of God in this place, but I also have young children and they get to be a part of ministry with me.
So, we opened up the space and we had let people come in, uh, in the cold winter to play. And it was so cool because, you know, I thought I’d connect with more parents, but actually I connected with a lot of nannies, a lot of nannies who, uh Au pairs who, um, English was their second or third language who wanted a place to bring the kids that was safe and then like connect with their other friends who were from, that spoke the language, their native language.
So that was really fun. Um, but then the pandemic happened and that changed everything. So I, opening up space for the building really wasn’t like the thing to do , it was it. People told me that was not the safe thing to do. So I said, let’s try and be safe, let’s cooperate with local government and let’s care for the people around us. And so, um, I had to figure out, how to be in the community with people. Um, and there’s a whole bunch of other things you that, in terms of like opening up the building, which we have, it’s a resource, it’s an asset. And I’m at a place right now where I’m trying to reimagine if we’re gonna be coming out, you know, easing into a place where we can begin to connect again.
Um, I wanna leverage the spaces and the resources we have, but during the time that we’ve like had to deal with Coronavirus and, you know, trying to find ways to safely gather or connect. Um, where we are, where the church is, is like literally a half a block from a Giants a, a park that’s called Jefferson Park and it has a community center and um, and part of the part of that park, uh, the city, I don’t wanna say gifted, but gave to an organization called the Beacon Food Forest and the Beacon Food Forest is a place where the, you know, I, I’m not really the best gardener or whatever. Um, I, I like to garden, but I’m not, like, I’m not smart in it. So like it’s a good place to learn. It’s a learning community, which I really appreciate.
They, they have a, they have structured themselves. It’s a grassroots organization that pulls in volunteers from all over the city. Certainly local people. But I’ve met people who come from like other parts of Seattle and or even outside of Seattle because what’s ha what they’re doing at the food forest is really unique um, in terms of community gardens.
And so, um, I started spending time there. I started volunteering there because we were outdoors, we were masks, people were very diligent. Um, and then I got to like, grow things with people in my community and then see how the ecosystem of that community of this organization in within Beacon Hill community was beginning to like connect to other places of need.
Um, so I started gardening with people and in a food forest you can freely forage. So like if you wanna go, whatever’s grown there, it’s like you can come in and just gather when it’s, um, if you know what you’re doing right? Like there, and so like some of the fun things the kids and I have done over the summer is like, we go and we go berry picking and we just like, there’s a bunch of raspberries and blackberries and blueberries and then…
Yeah. In the midst of it, I’m connecting with people in the community and they’re beginning to, you know, explain to me, um, you know, things that they care about, like health equity. I, I don’t, the only way I thought about health equity in the past was like access to like healthcare or access to, um, you know, medical insurance and that right…
…but then people started talking about like, you know, food justice and like here we have people who are growing food, but like the people who are growing food or people who are receiving the food are not necessarily the people who are planning for the food. So like, how do we have culture of the appropriate food when we live in a community where, um, 61% of the community, the people who live on Beacon Hill speak a language other than English in their home and 71% are black indigenous people of color. Like how can we be like thoughtful about the people who are living here and then accessing these resources?
And then so people are growing this food, people can forage. And then there’s like people who have certain plots that are bringing down to the Rainier Food Bank. Uh, and these are just community members who are giving their time. They’re not connected to any giant organization. And then how does that connect to the community fridges that are out there? People are just putting out fridges on their yards and saying, Hey, come and access food in the same way that we have little libraries and stuff like that.
Um, you begin to see how people are starting to care for each other. And then as I was walking from the church building to the food forest and I see my neighbors who are living in RVs and you know, I begin to connect with them, see what their needs are. And so for me it was, this is what I do is like I’m trying to, I’m trying to listen, I’m trying to learn.
How do I learn, how do I bring in other people to, cuz I have connections in that community. People who wanna participate but they don’t know how. Like they’re, the problems in our city are giant… right…. and um,
Josiah: …and they’re not necessarily fixed by a Sunday morning worship gathering?
Regina: They’re not right and for people of faith, like how do we connect the spiritual formation that happens, uh, on a Sunday morning to every other aspect of their life?
For me, like when I’m impatient with my kids, I’m like, oh, that’s convicting… for me… Um,
Regina: …but also using my kids, I want them to see that as a pastor, as a mother, as a, as a person, I’m engaged with the people around me, regardless of the different barriers that our world wants to like put in between us.
You know, like whether that’s like economic or ability or skin color or sexual orientation, or you know, what is it like, oh, this is a human being and I wanna be attentive and present to the person that God has put right in front of me. That’s that’s primary and it’s not divorced from my worship, the songs that I sing on a Sunday morning, if I’m gonna sing about a God of love and mercy and grace and justice, like that’s true for me.
And it has to be true for my neighbor who, whether they think there is a God or not, and however they live their lives, right? I don’t know. I, they had, that’s where, uh, those, I wanna bridge those disconnects. I don’t know if I can like, but I’m not, I’m not sure. But I, what I want to do is be somebody who I don’t know is a friend.
Yeah. Loves the person. You know, I don’t, and I think love is like one of those weird words we use where like, but I, but I do really mean, like, what does it mean that the love of Christ would come into our relationship so that I can dignify, um, the, your humanity. Walk with through, through the struggles that you actually are facing in this world.
And if I am the person who becomes I, or the institution that I represent is the barrier and or thing, how do I, how do I remove that? How do I begin to, um, change the story, the narrative that we have on both sides? Um, because we, yeah, I don’t know. The church might be skeptical of people like, yeah. Church is like really afraid of people.
Right. I, my experience has been the people in the church are afraid of people, but,
Josiah: Well, there’s two things that, that they’re afraid of people different from them.
Regina: That’s right.
Josiah: But then there’s also this institutionalized emphasis on immediate results, which doesn’t allow for a lot of space for real relational neighborhood presence.
Regina: Yeah. Yeah. No, so you’re, that’s so true. Its like, um, we want things to be, um, fast, and it just doesn’t work that way. So you have to like, I get it. It’s hard to, like, it’s hard to sustain a ministry financially. I get it. But also like, if you have people who are saying, I’m, I’m here for the long haul, regardless back those people up, you know? Endorse that, get behind it because you can’t. Yeah. I don’t know…
Josiah: Let, let me ask like a closing question for this section then for you. This will help, this will help me. Mm-hmm. frame some of this, and it might help give like a, sort of like a summary. Let’s just say you had the pressure, um, and, and maybe you gave into it to do like a one size fits all Sunday morning.
Do you think anyone would’ve ever showed up?
Regina: Yeah, I think there might. I mean, people that I’m connected to might have shown up for the first or second Sunday. Yeah, no, I do think that, um, the people that I were connected to who, um, were part of the church when I was a youth young adult. For the most part, they were already connected to another church in the neighborhood because when things closed and /or leadership transition happened, um, those who were gonna go and needed like a Sunday morning thing, um, they found it.
I, I’m not interested in like being like, “Hey, can I pull you from this church into mine because I want you to boost what I’m doing.” Like that didn’t feel like a faithful thing to do, um, that didn’t feel like the right thing to do, especially if that family was thriving.
I mean, part of listening is like if there were people who were like, oh, you’re coming back into Beacon Hill. How do we support you? I mean, I would’ve taken that hands down. I would’ve taken that and I would’ve run with it, but nobody did that. You know, like,
Josiah: Well, conversely, the people that you have met and have been able to live life with and listen to, would they have ever shown up on a Sunday?
Regina: No, I don’t think so. I, and you know,
I mean, I think out of curiosity and, um, just, you know, you wanna support your friends, like those two things. Yeah. They might’ve shown up, but like that’s… So we get, so I’m still working through this in my own head. Okay. Because for me, church growing up was formative. It was helpful. It still is. I’m still in a rhythm even though I don’t lead a local congregation at Beacon Hill. I still connect myself in worship on Sunday morning to our gathering at North Seattle. Or on occasion I go down to West Seattle. And a part of it, like it’s important for me to bring my kids somewhere where they’re going to have like a foundation, right? Um, but also I think ha uh, uh, you know, I’m gonna bring the D word, , discipleship….
I mean, but… why is.. We have a lack of imagination if discipleship and or spiritual formation is only connected to a Sunday morning or a Wednesday night
Josiah (Narration): After I interrupted Regina by yelling Amen a couple times we got back on track and wrapped up this part of the conversation. With some meaningful insights from Regina about the state of the church.
Regina: I, I have a deep care for the generation that like, let me go back to my Aunts really quick. Um, my aunts who brought me to church, who loved me, they wanted me to behave. All those things, which I can say and have like, you know, we have that kind of relationship as I’ve grown and become an adult and as they were a part of my church at Living Hope, like when I was pastor there, they were like, oh, we’ll just go to church there.
They would, they have come to, if I was like, I’m just gonna have to, they still ask me, when are you gonna start church at Beacon Hill? You know, like they’re old Filipino women, so they’re, it takes, it’s a little bit of translation, um…
So, you know, they would, they would come and support and they’d put, they’d put money behind that. But it’s not sustainable, like, I wanna say, like, as much as I love them and I want them to find a place of worship where the, the faith that they inherited and has nurtured them through lots of life change as they moved from the Philippines, came here, started businesses, raised kids, all that stuff, right?
Like the God of their imagination is still real. I care about that. I want them to have a place where they can sing the songs that are meaningful to them so that when they’re like at their deathbed, they can do how, how great that art and it like touches a, a note in their heart and their soul. That’s important.
Um, But also the Church of the future is not for them. It’s not. And when I think about their kids, my cousins who are not connected to a church, who have a really big imagination of God, but are not connected to a body, and then I think about their kids. Here’s where the rub is. That’s who you know, they’re now, they’re like several generations away from what we’ve been doing on a Sunday morning because people don’t want to expand their vision and imagination of what it means to be the people of God and to, yeah, to allow the, to let, allow other things to shape the way we live in this world. I don’t, yeah, so I’m, I’m not… I think maybe there would’ve been people who came on a Sunday morning, but I promise you if I had spent most of my energy doing that, if I spent most of my energy doing that, I would’ve been burnt out.
I would’ve been done much sooner than I am now. And like, honestly, like sometimes I wonder, how much longer I’ve got going on here, it’s like how much longer any of this is sustainable? But what really sustains it is something deeper than like having young kids and doing ministry out of the box and all this stuff.
Um, the, the thing that sustains me is the joy and the excitement that God is at work and I get to lean into that. Right? He’s at work. And I can see it, like I, I wanna see it more clearly and I wanna invite other people to be able to see that clearly too, both within the church and outside of it. Um, and that just takes time.
So I don’t know, um, you know, if the resources that allow me to be where I’m at are going to be depleted before I see something, some fruit like. I see fruit. I, I take that back, but I, maybe it’s not the kind of fruit that people like, there’s all sorts of kinds of fruit in this world, you know?
Josiah: Not everyone’s an apple.
Regina: Not everyone’s an apple . That’s so good. . Yeah. Not everyone’s an apple. Some people like jackfruit. Have you ever had jackfruit?
Josiah: I have had Jack. Yeah. My favorite fruit is a Kumquat. Most people dunno what that is.
Josiah (Narration): I hope you heard it. In her retelling of her own journey, discerning what sort of ministry would take place in Beacon Hill regina constantly struggled with what to do with the building, but fortunately for her she had a broad kingdom imagination, which afforded her the opportunity to adapt as a result of extenuating circumstances outside of her control.
But Regina’s story hearkens to a situation that many pastors face on a weekly basis. What do they do with the buildings that they are charged with the care of? What happens when pandemics occur and they cannot be used like they once were, or better yet, are these buildings assets or liabilities when it comes to doing the ministry of the good work of the gospel of Jesus Christ?
Within Regina’s story, we feel the tension of overt ministry presence based on buildings and location balanced with Regina’s decision to immerse herself within her neighborhood to do a ministry that was founded on subversive presence. While we don’t pretend to have all the answers, I thought it appropriate to ask my co-conspirators what they thought of Regina’s story.
I specifically wanted to know if they could name what it was that first drew them to this Guerrilla Pastoral ministry approach. Basically, I just wanted them to tell me how I could be more like Regina. Drawing inspiration from the book, canoeing the Mountains, which uses the Lewis and Clark expedition as a metaphor for modern day ministry.
I ask them when they chose to burn canoes, much like Lewis and Clark did. These river guides who set out two canoe away to the Northwest passage, but met the Rocky Mountains and at some point had to make the decision to abandon what they knew for the sake of continuing the expedition.
Like great spiritual leaders they first answered in the inward work needing to be done to prepare for what God may have you do. But eventually in our conversation, as I try to tease out morsels of wisdom from their experience as veteran Gorilla Pastors, here’s what they had to say about their own context and the discernment process that brought them to where they are today.
Wardlaw starts us off with all that has gone into considering even having interns at his ministry in the heart of Seattle.
Brian: Yeah, I, so let me, let me say this too, but in, in the midst of that, and it, I use the example of people moving to the city and, and, uh, but I think it can be either way. I would say this is Regina and I have even talked about this.
She grew up in different parts of Sea, Seattle and, and part of her life, beacon Hill went to church there as well. There is still, even when you have that in her story, or even when I was trying to, we were even talking about doing this in Olathe, Kansas, where we were actually living. There was gonna be a new way of living there, of being present.
Like when I was working in Olathe, Kansas and working at an institution I was focused on, on upholding, you know, the programs and growing in, whatever that institution. As my heart started to break for everything going on outside it, it was gonna take me to step out of that institution and live in Olathe in a new way, and listen in a new way and hear and have better ears and those kind of things.
So I do think that, yeah, I, I do, I don’t think, I don’t think it, it matters whether you stay or whether you move. Either way it’s going to, it’s gonna take new, new ears and new eyes. I do think that’s, well, I mean, again, if you’re working out of institutional, I have to say, uh, I think either, I think if you move to Seattle and you, you come into the city and you’re working for Amazon, And you spend 10 years here working for Amazon, and that is most of your life cuz they demand that.
And then all of a sudden you decide, I’m gonna stop working at Amazon and I’m gonna become a community developer. Well, you’re gonna have to listen to the, your neighborhood and it’s gonna be a whole, you’re gonna, you’re gonna discover Seattle in a whole new way. Um, because you’re gonna start looking at things differently.
Uh, my opinion.
Ryan: That’s good. That’s really good. I, I, I like that Amazon, um, analogy because that’s, that’s as dramatic a shift as we’re talking about, right? Moving, changing careers. I mean, that’s, no, no, no bigger than what we’re talking about in terms of changing Paradigm Ministries. Um, you know, I got something as I’m chewing on, you know, prac actual steps.
Um, I’m gonna kind of cherry picked this one from a, a different field, um, that I work in. But I think it applies here and it goes something like this, right? Like at some point you have an internal stirring a, a dissatisfaction, um, with a current model, a current way of practicing, you know, a position, um, a current meta a narrative about your vocation. And there’s a, there’s a stirring, right?
There’s a disettlement within, um, that practice. The first thing we must do is not start listening to every, you know, Guerrilla Pastor podcast three times and dream about the urban epicenters of the world that we’re going to move and become a full-time community organizer and slash missionary pastor.
No, no, no. The first step is to give airtime to that disettlement, right? Is, is to hold that disettlement is to, is to give space for that to mature right before any measurable activity. Um, there has to be reflectivity, right? Like reflecting on what it is that is so disettling about this, and that’s a step that so many people miss, right? Which is why you can go from learning your freshman year of college, that the way your parents church does church maybe isn’t effective anymore.
And before your, your art in, in the summer, before your sophomore year, you’re calling Brian and Ballard and wanting to do an internship, right? Because it’s like as soon as the thing cracks, like you want to dispose of it and move on. Oh, there’s, but there’s, there’s like a whole long journey of, you know, holding, holding that, you know, crack and examining it as part of the discernment process.
Brian: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s, yeah. And I would want, you know, when that, when you get that call, you almost wanna say, oh, so if, if I say, don’t move here with me, what would you do? And unless they’re ready to walk away, no matter what I say, um, it’s not time yet, right? Mm-hmm. , I mean, uh, . Yeah. I, I want to give an example, but if they listen, it’s not a, it’s not a good, but I, it is true.
I mean, like, some people are like, um, I remember people warning me off like, it’s not romantic. You know what I mean? Yeah. And I talked to several people in, in, uh, Catholic worker houses and stuff like that, and they were like, whatever you do, don’t move because it’s not romantic.
Josiah (Narration): As we reflect on Regina’s story, we are brought back to the issue of the building. While this episode is a focus on the examples of subversive ministry lived out, we can’t divorce this from the issue at hand. It takes no time at all to find that numerous reporting outlets have found that the church in America has steeply declined as a result of the covid pandemic.
Attendance has been cut in half, and funding is drying up to maintain these buildings and the ministry practices that have been held within them for decades. So it seems obvious for us that there are others out there flirting with the idea of becoming Guerrilla Pastors. Because of this, we feel compelled to share our own experiences as well as stories of others who have walked this path.
And as we end this episode, I leave you. If like Regina, you can tell the spirit is not in it, then don’t do it. If this unsettledness within your soul causes you to question the way things have always been done and spurs you to do something slightly outside the box. And if despite numerous questions and opposition you feel compelled to continue doing that ministry no matter what.
The Church of tomorrow needs you, and God is using you to prepare the church of today for what is to come. But this doesn’t mean we also don’t need those who are faithfully serving and are fulfilled in their roles maintaining the Sunday morning worship gathering. We are in this together.
Join us on our next episode as we hear another story of a pastor who is holding that tension of faithfully serving what once was in this Sunday morning worship gathering, while also maintaining a subversive presence within the neighborhoods they live and serve. Thank you so much for listening to today’s episode. I have been your host, Josiah, and this has been the Guerrilla Pastors Podcast.