What is our focus?
We catch up with the rest of Shawn Mattson’s story in this episode. From growing up in a church to pastoring it through all kids of cultural changes, we hear his heart as his priorities shifts from building the next megachurch to something a little more subversive.
 Paying Attention – Guerrilla Pastors
Josiah (Narration): Welcome to the Gorilla Pastors Podcast. I’m your host, Josiah. On today’s episode, we pick up where we left off last week, hearing stories of pastors doing subversive ministry. On our last episode, we heard from Regina who embodies our tenant of having a broad kingdom imagination.
If you haven’t heard her episode, please go and give it a listen. Her ability to adapt, sidestep a pandemic to continue to do ministry in her neighborhood is worth a listen. On today’s episode, we continue yet another story we introduced a few episodes previously, the story of Sean Matson. This young man who grew up in West Seattle and now finds himself pastoring a somewhat traditional church that he actually grew up in.
Well, traditional in the sense that it regularly has a worship gathering on a Sunday. And we can’t wait to share the rest of his story because today’s episode is all about this benevolent orthodoxy, which asks us the church, what it is that we want to be known by. So won’t you join us on today’s episode of the Guerrilla Pastors Podcast, where we hear about how Shaun Mattson is doing subversive ministry in West Seattle.
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): In a previous episode, Shaun shared that he had some issues with his father’s approach and philosophy to ministry. As a future pastor, he confessed his temptation to follow the attraction and church growth model, which sought to create mini megachurches with sanctuaries absolutely full to the brim. His ministry journey took him to a different place , And before long he found himself at a crossroads.
On one hand, he could continue down the path trying to create the next Mars Hill in Seattle, but on the other hand was something a little closer to guerrilla ministry founded on subversive presence. He also realized that maybe his dad was onto something. For those of you who didn’t catch part one of Shaun’s story, we are chronologically picking up right before he came back to Seattle, after going to at Northwest Nazarene University, once again, here is Shawn’s story.
Shaun: So I’d be, I, I’d be lying, uh, if I didn’t say part of me when I said yes to coming back to Seattle… I mean, there was a part of me that just thought, okay… I’ve been dating my girlfriend for seven years… long distance. I just gotta get back in the same city so we can see, uh, , we can see if this thing’s gonna work.
And, and here, this is great… my, the church I grew up in is, you know, they’re inviting me to come pastor. I mean, that’s clearly the Holy Spirit, right? Uh, so let’s go. And I moved back and, and so this is the thing, as, as N NU had begun to kind of center me and help me to ask some of those question… uh, once I said yes, one of the first phone calls I made was to an old buddy who plays guitar, and I’m like, “Hey, do you wanna come be the worship pastor?”
And you could, you could do that. And we could start sermon series and maybe we’ll put some lights or some pallets in the back of the, the sanctuary . And I, like, I almost regressed for a couple years as I was like, okay, let’s, let’s gimmick this puppy up and… we’ll take this nice small church of 30 or 40 and oh, it’s gonna be 70 before no time, and then I can’t wait for district assemblies to come along.
Um, and those first couple years was just like, what the heck am I doing? I, I was, I was, I was, I was having conversations with people who were facing maybe death or death of somebody in a family. Uh, I was talking with folks about marriage. I, I mean, I was getting ready to preach a sermon every week, and, and it began… I know we talk, we, we, uh, we young people sometimes joke about deconstruction and reconstruction and I… it just began all those questions, uh, and, and every week asking myself the question of, of, okay, do I believe what I’m saying is? Is this good news?
Is it asking questions of my own skillsets and identity formation all over again? And, and is this really the path I was supposed to take? Or did I really get tired of long distance. Um, and, and here’s maybe the best gift my dad gave cuz he had, he had been, he had been at that church since ’94… and, and, and there were a couple seasons where I think he wanted to walk away but never got the release.
Uh, he would just constantly counsel me to, to be myself, show up, do the best, and just remain faithful and stay unless I had the out… and the graciousness of my little faith community was the most of them at least… um, stayed with me and gave me. They gave me the gift of growing up. Uh, they’d done that once from middle school to young adult, but now from young adult to, to a pastor, to to a married man, to someone who had kids.
And, and so those early years, I mean, as I asked the question, I just dove into everything I knew from friends and colleagues who I knew had gone through it, to books, to podcasts, to, I mean, you name it. I sought out any source I could that would help me, help me enter in and keep going down the path.
Because for me, I knew one thing, I knew my two marketable skills as much as I thought was I could stay in the church world or I could go back and I could stock gallons of milk and yoplait play yogurt a t Safeway, and that… I, I’d already gotten a wife from there. I did not want to go back to that world and so, I think that was the benefit of that time of my life is I really didn’t feel like I had an alternative.
I had to stay, I had to stay in the work. Um, and so in staying and in asking the questions, uh, and in marinating in the thickness of all of that, the, the hope, the, the grief, the, the dreams that didn’t come to fruition, the the baby megachurch that never happened.
I think my eyes were finally opened and so it’s not so much that like my church changed or how I, I did ministry changed. Um, I think I finally had eyes big enough to see that the culture had changed long ago. We just needed to pay attention to it… And as I did that, and as I began to get to know my neighbors and, my wife’s a bit of an extrovert, so she began to force some of that.
And as you begin to have kids and those kids play, and as I began to connect with, with those around me, I just realized there’s a bigger world. And some of my neighbors who were atheists or agnostic or maybe didn’t know what they were, but, but didn’t, didn’t outright think I was the terrible person cause I was connected to the church. Um, man, their worldviews seem more Christian and, and I don’t even mean that as an insult to the church. Like I deeply love the church and there’s some beautiful people in the church, but like my buddy Sam, who I met was an atheist and I’m like, Sam, you are the most Christian person I know.
Um, because… they were loving and they were generous and they were willing to help their neighbor at, at the drop of a hat. And so, I mean, just, just that began to, to shape in me, um, of worldview that was more hospitable and more open and more generous and more loving. At the same time, I was digging in and answering all those questions.
And so as, so, so what’s changed maybe for me, in part, it’s just I’ve changed and, and I’ve, I’ve come to this place of realiz ing that the story we’re in is a deeply loving and generous story. And at the heart of the Divine, at the heart of God is this is deeply open, uh, loving relational goodness. And I, I think my eyes in that as I walk the journey, my eyes become open.
That it’s not just about growing some institution that gives me the street cred a couple times a year when I go to denominational things as much as I love my denomination. Um, but that it’s about living in this community, in this neighborhood, participating in the life of people who are connected to my faith community and people who, who aren’t, I get to participate in that and, and as I do, seeing the whole thing as holy, like the whole thing is good and it’s good news and that was the change that that happened in me. But, and, and, and I’ll stop after this, but I think as that change happened in me, then I had to realize, okay, how do I now walk that journey with the people that hired me to come pastor them?
And that journey took a whole nother, what, three, four or five years, and probably is still happening today.
Josiah (Narration): The tension that Shaun feels is something that I can sympathize with. As a first time lead pastor, I often felt like there were those that were in the four walls of the sanctuary who I was responsible for the spiritual leadership of.
But then there were those who were outside, the others. Those that I had to justify spending time with. And this tension is part of why I am not a lead pastor anymore. But this is Shaun’s story. As his desire to participate with neighbors lives grew, Shaun’s awareness of what they thought of the church was informed by those he spent time with .
Here are some of their thoughts on the church.
Shaun: I mean, let’s be honest, my neighbor could have cared less in 1994. They, they would’ve, they wouldn’t, we were irrelevant. Uh, we were the ugly building at the end of the block. Uh, and they would’ve had no concept of what we were doing because at that point, in 1994, and I mean, In, in, yeah… at that point, we’re planning a service and everything revolved around the service on a Sunday morning and getting people there and our cool pews and, and all that good stuff.
And if it didn’t revolve around the Sunday morning, then it certainly revolved around the social, you know, encounters we could create midweek or at the high points of the year where we could gather people together, or the work days or the, I mean, just fill in the blank. The reality is in ’94… uh, we didn’t know our neighbors.
We were too busy doing the church work to know our neighbors. And I think, and I think that’s the beauty of now, and we’ve still got, we’ve got a ton of ways to go. But we’ve tried to slow down our schedule to create space where we can actually participate in neighborhood settings. In part, we did a development that forced that because we, we did have the ugliest building in the block.
And, and in order to do the development, we had our neighbors had to approve it. So we, we had to take four years and just walk that process, which forced us to get to know them. And in the process we slowed our schedule. We opened our building up to be a gift to the community, even in its ugly state. Um, and so we’ve had art shows there, we’ve done movies in the park.
We’ve done play space twice a week where, where mom’s, dads, grandparents, caregivers come and bring kids in just to tear up the carpet and play with our toys. Um, I mean, I mean, you name it. So, so now our neighbors, I think would actually. That’s, that’s our community church. We don’t ever go to a service there, which is, that’s great because now we’re neighbors and now we get to know each other and, and when life comes calling, um, I might go to their door or they might come to mind because we actually know each other.
That shift from being this insular, inward focused community, to being a part of a neighborhood is one that’s not easy for rooted traditional churches to make.
Josiah (Narration): And if you missed it, Shaun even allowed his neighborhood to participate in having a say in what his building looked like. Half the time we fight over who is on the committee to pick the color in the church, much less lets someone who doesn’t attend have any sort of control over what our building will look.
In my mind, Shaun was the consummate Guerrilla Pastor. I always wanted to join this group. He was already doing guerrilla ministry, founded on subversive presence, and this benevolent orthodoxy he was embodying was changing how he did church, forsaking the numbers in the mini megachurch. Shaun simply chose to be a good neighbor, one that was loving and caring of those who lived around him.
I shared my thoughts with Shaun telling him that I thought he basically was a Guerrilla Pastor doing subversive ministry. His response made me laugh.
Shaun: This is good. This is like, I feel I, I’ve always wanted to feel, wanted in the church world, do we even count ourselves in the church world? I, that’s
Josiah: absolutely we do.
Shaun: Never yourself. Yeah, no. I think about the guerrilla, you’ve been saying the name and so I can’t help but think about the, the little gorilla, uh, that they sell Home Depot to do all our construction projects, which I know way more about now. Uh, after our development, I went to school for youth ministry and have now figured out how to do like construction work.
It’s good stuff. Um, yeah, girl glue, it’s sticky. So we’d be sticky Pastors. We, we actually, here’s the thing. I’m… and it’s the beauty of my dad. It’s the beauty of being called back, or at least dating long distance and feeling like it might be the call. I’ve now been in a neighborhood since ’94 and, and that is sticky.
And, and so it’s place and, and it’s, it’s a part of who I am. And, and if I ever left, uh, it’s, that’s my family. Those are my people that’s leaving the best man of my wedding. It’s leaving my wife’s best friend. It’s, it’s, it’s leaving people that raised me. Um, and so it’s, I. Yeah, I’ll be, I’ll be a sticky pastor with y’all.
This is great.
Josiah (Narration): With all jokes aside, Shaun ends our interview with something very important for us to discuss. This idea of place that there is something absolutely sticky about the relationships he has with the people he has lived next to for decades, and no amount of programatized ministry will replace the significance of those relationships that he has.
Even the best smoke machines with amazing lights and a wonderfully modern stage with the best worship band ever, could not touch the meaningful impact Shaun has on the lives of those around him, and vice versa, that these people speak into each other’s lives simultaneously. That it goes both ways, and that’s what’s so beautiful about the subversive ministry that Shaun is doing in West Seattle.
Despite this, Shaun still has those responsibilities, those weekly rhythms, those things that we have a tendency to call one size fits all job responsibilities of preaching week in and out. Since my co-host Brian Wardlaw is the one who introduced me to him in the first place, I asked him if he could unpack for us the distinctions in Shaun’s ministry that allow him to maintain this traditional Sunday morning ministry while still being a Guerrilla Pastor.
Brian: Yeah, I think in Shaun’s story, the, the beauty of what they do is, and I’ve seen Shawn kind of emerge in this way as a pastor, but he’s gone from embracing or naming his congregation’s quirkiness as his own. So it’s kind of naming his own quirkiness, naming his congregation’s quirkiness to naming his congregation’s quirkiness within his neighborhood.
Uh, and, and therefore saying it rep, it reflects my neighborhood. Um, and so all of a sudden, it’s not a distinction of his congregation, but it’s really a distinction of his congregation within a quirky neighborhood. Um, and… so I think the farther out you, you focus and the more you identify not only just you, just your congregation, but then your congregation in the context of a neighborhood, then that allows, then the identity of that congregation becomes a more neighborhood based than it is just building based or Sunday morning based because, or church activity based. Because I think when you have your identity focused on just your congregation, then really it’s played out only when you’re together. Um, which is usually in church activities. So, uh, yeah, I think that’s one of the main ways, uh, And it, it can sound very simplistic.
Um, and I suppose you have to start naming it before it really becomes real. But I think the more you name it and the more real it becomes, then the more you think. What does my neighborhood think or what does my neighborhood need? Um, that or where are my people already participating in ministry within the neighborhood?
Um, because you’re not identifying, your identity is no longer based on a congregation within church activities, but, uh, is actually within a congregation in a neighborhood. So, . Yeah. So I, I I think that’s just kind of, it’s a, and it’s a slow play. I mean, I’ve seen it ha, I’ve, I’ve seen Sean even his own, and he, he says this in the podcast, um, but I’ve seen Sean even in his own life, go from truly just pastoring a congregation to starting to pastor a neighborhood, um, and being open.
It’s a conversation. He’ll say it, he’s an introvert. Um, but all of a sudden he’s getting life when he’s having, being invited to birthday parties in the neighborhood or, uh, or he’s being invited to a neighbor’s house for dinner or he’s ha he’s having a neighbor or a neighbors stop and talk because, um, You know, the kids are playing outside and he’s mowing the lawn and they have a long conversation.
Um, so yeah, all those things have started to change where even as an introvert, he’s getting life, um, from pastoring neighborhood.
Josiah: So calling back to Regina’s story, it’s similar to your story. I, I think, uh, both of you kind of stepped into a ministry role where there was a building but not an established congregation.
Is that fair, accurate to say?
Josiah: Shawn’s is different in that he, I think he said he inherited or, uh, what’s that? There’s that show he joked about how Nazarene pastors shouldn’t watch HBO or weren’t supposed to watch HBO’s succession. There’s a succession. He inherited his father’s church, I suppose you could say.
Um, but what do you think differentiates the subversive presence, subversive ministry approach? Regina or a, you know, a Brian Wardlaw ministry approach where you have a building but no congregation as opposed to what Shaun is doing. I mean, I, there, those are two different worlds, but it seems like there’s, there’s that traditional Sunday morning based church pastor that Shaun sort of is still, but he is able to have a subversive bent .
So what do you think the, the, the big differences are gonna be between those two ministries? Um, it, it’s, I, I guess I would, I’ll give my, my thoughts on it being a formerly lead traditional pastor. Um, but I guess what I’m getting to the heart of is, it sounds like both contexts can be subversive, but like on a day-to-day basis, Shaun is still beholden to some degree, to the denominational emphasis of what should be happening with a semi traditional congregation. Right. I mean, it it, is that true to some degree?
Yeah. Yeah. And I think it plays, it’s, it’s bigger. It’s, and it, it plays into, I mean, Shaun’s part of our team of Five City church pastors, um, and… and it somewhat plays into his gifting. Um, and so he is, uh, if you do the aest stuff, uh, the, just to give a recap, which is, uh, apostle, prophet Shepherd, evangelist and teacher, um, uh, He’s, he’s a, a shepherd, um, teacher and so, which is the two that the traditional church in America has relied on, but that’s where his giftings are.
He cares for his people Well, um, Yeah. If I, if I was to go back, I would also say the progression for Sean from Cor, his own quirky identity to his congregations quirky identity, to his neighborhood’s quirky identity is then, um, to then living that out, uh, within, within his own ministry. Life is also starting more and more.
To name the ministry that his people are doing in the ministry, in the neighborhood. Uh, and that has become very important, um, because the more people that are doing that and the more stories we’re telling it and the ability for the leader to name those and tell those stories, um, Further pushes out the stories from just the identity of the congregation within church activities.
Um, so, uh, yeah, and so that’s, uh, so within our team and the different roles of a pastor Regina leading a, a new work in an a neighborhood with a building, but no congregation, um, As well as myself, um, to a Pastor Shawn, who is leading a congregation and leading w weekly worship and Wednesday night activities and board meetings and caring for, you know, generations of families that have been a part of that church, meaning funerals, hospital visits, all that kind of stuff.
Um, his, his role is different. Um, uh, And yet, I would say at the foundationally it’s not, um, we’re all on the same page. Um, and we, we honor each other’s gifts and different ministry roles. So I think a lot of times in teams we, it’s easy to start going well. Is Brian spending as much time as I am cuz he doesn’t have to do Sunday mornings and board meetings and stuff like that.
Um, and so we’ve, we’ve started to name that the, the new work road. Uh, sometimes the sometimes. The things we do or the hours spent are not as tangible. Um, and they’re not as, as clearly. And so we’re trying to give room to those that are walking a lonely trail.
Josiah: Like you and Regina, you mean specifically like
Brian: Yes. Yes. Like Regina and I, um, and, uh, And Ryan Foster, um, I don’t think we’ve mentioned on this podcast, but another part of the team. Um, whereas Shawn and Pastor Mark, who I don’t know, we’ve mentioned on this as well, um, who’s leading in the North congregation, uh, they are, their roles, gifts, everything are within shepherding.
Josiah: So at the end of the day, there might be a similar goal of, you know, I guess like we could quote our own denominational mission statement of making Christ-like disciples, but the methodology… I would say as an outside observer, objective observer, y’all have somewhat of a more subversive approach than the typical, uh, Sunday morning church across the country.
Especially like if you compared any of the churches that have congregations in Seattle to like a Bible belt church, it’s gonna, there’s gonna be lots of differences. There’s gonna be, you know, just things that happen, how, how things are said or done. Not theological, you know, what we believe differences. Just some praxis, some practical differences in, in how things are, are gone about.
But my question then is we might have some folks that are listening and trying to, maybe they feel that that pull towards being a little more subversive and it’s possibly because they, they struggle with all the institutional norms or the things we have to do that they don’t get or et cetera, et cetera.
You and Regina kind of as a default, just get to be subversive. From, from day one, potentially if you want, or you don’t have to be, I guess like you, you both maybe had pressure put on you to have the traditional Sunday morning, which would’ve put you much more in line with an institutional norm, um, or put you in line with the denomination, like approval of like, yeah, this is what church is.
But, uh, the, the different hurdles are obstacles between like a Shawn or Regina, um, it sound like you were saying, so clarify this for me, sound like you’re saying what Shawn had to do was name what his people were already doing. That was ministerial name, what was already happening in the neighborhood and, and value it.
Brian: Um, just as much as the Sunday morning gathering. And that would be the work of like a traditional pastor is like, there’s probably already something subversive taking place maybe in your neighborhood or in the neighborhood. The people’s, the people live in. You and Regina do instead is trying to find what’s going on.
Find the heartbeat of your neighborhood because you’re, you’re doing real world exegesis of the community you live in. What Shawn is doing is trying to name the congregation members in his churches subversive ministry and value it. Is that the difference that I’m hearing you talk about?
Yeah, I think that’s, I think that’s a named difference.
Um, maybe as, as a pastor of a congregation, you’re leading leaders, um, and you’re in some ways you’re releasing the priesthood of all believers, um, into the neighborhood. Um, but w. Uh, but we, and I think we help them come out um, as ministers, all believers come out as ministers. Um, by telling stories that value the day-to-day things.
Uh, and I think that’s one of the roles of Regina. It’s a little bit of what we’re doing on this podcast, but also what the Seattle City Church is trying to do within a denomination in the district is tell stories of neighborhoods of ministry in neighborhoods, um, of where, uh, the kingdom is, um, is being reveal.
um, uh, and where there, where we see heaven on earth, um, and even if we’re not necessarily participating it, we, we see it, we see it and we value it. And I think the more we tell those stories, then parishioners start to see, I, our, our hope is that they start to see, um, The pieces of heaven on Earth in their day-to-day lives and then want to participate.
They’re drawn to them. They … we should be. I mean, if, if we’re Christians, we should be drawn to the things of the kingdom of heaven. And so when we start to see those, because they’re being named from the pulpit, um, Weekend, week out, and, and then we want to participate in ’em. Uh, that, I think that’s the natural progression.
Uh, but from the pulpit, if all we’re doing is naming and patting ourselves in the back, um, or encouraging more of con Sunday morning attendance, um, even though that’s, it’s not an either or, but, um, but, and, but all they hear is, uh, they. , the attendance of Sunday morning are Sunday school or budgets of the local church, um, or, uh, even the public displays of faith around baptism, sacraments, um, you know, Eucharist, things like that.
Um, then that is what we’re drawn to because those are being held up in front of the congregation. Um, so let’s. Um, holding up the stories of kingdom here on earth Heaven here on Earth.
Josiah (Narration): So what are we holding up church or to harken to this episode’s name? What is it that we’re paying attention to? As Shawn confessed the temptation can be that of a bigger church with more people and money with the best programs in the fanciest worship setups, and on and on and on it goes. The alternative, the subversive ministerial approach looks a little bit different.
It tends to forsake all of those institutional accolades and focuses primarily on relationship. And place. And while Shawn’s ministry doesn’t look like Regina’s did last week, both are an embodiment of this gospel. Good news, pastoring in a way that makes sense in the neighborhoods they live in, but they are not alone in the work that they do.
This Guerrllia ministry founded on subversive presence. Pastor Regina is not the only pastor we know that has this broad kingdom Imagin. And Pastor Shaun is not the only pastor we know that is known for this benevolent orthodoxy. In our next episode, we’re going to introduce you to yet another pastor who lives here in the Pacific Northwest doing subversive ministry for us.
Their story is the perfect embodiment of our third tenant celebrating a diverse praxis, realizing that not all pastors can pastor the exact same. From city to city, state to state, coast to coast, that context matters, that spiritual gifting matters and that we’re better together despite our diversity.
But if we try to homogenize our ministerial approach to make all pastors exactly alike, then we are failing the Church of tomorrow right now. So stay tuned for that. And thank you so much for listening and taking the time to engage with us as we do our best to share real life examples of what this Subversive Presence Ministry is all about.
I’m your host, Josiah. And thank you so much for listening to the Guerrilla Pastors Podcast.