Searching teens find spiritual depth
YAMHILL, Ore. — I should know the way by now.…
TIGARD, Ore. — As the Southwest Church of Christ prepared for its upcoming 50th anniversary, the eldership developed goals to accomplish by that milestone in 2023.
One of the key elements of the Portland-area church’s vision: establishing a school of discipleship.
Church leaders prayed and dreamed about the possibility, but when the time came to make a decision, the COVID-19 pandemic stalled plans.
“We actually hit the pause button for three or four months,” elder Paul Hinds said.
But after more prayer, the congregation decided to step out in faith and commit, Hinds said. The school’s launch was announced late last summer.
The elders hired Darren Williamson, a history professor and preacher who most recently served the Keizer Church of Christ in Oregon for 11 years, as the Northwest School of Discipleship’s founding director.
According to Williamson, the school is “a church-based educational initiative that is focused on equipping disciples to be better followers of Jesus Christ, equipped in the Word of God and in the Christian worldview, and ready for service in the church.” It has three main components: a transformative teaching program, a preaching ministry internship and a gap year program.
The transformative teaching program is a resource for churches around the Northwest, offering a variety of classes to help Christians grow as disciples. One of the base courses is a six-week introductory class about the fundamentals of Christian discipleship.
“We call it ‘Come Follow Me,’” Williamson said. “We learn how to follow Jesus. We learn how to be changed by Jesus and also be committed to the mission of Jesus.”
More than 30 students from four area congregations participated in the first “Come Follow Me” class. Rachel Hanson, a member of the Scappoose Church of Christ in Oregon, attended the class along with her husband, Wes Hanson, and two of their children. Wes is the minister for the Scappoose church.
“It felt like coming home, revisiting all these things that are so important and foundational to our faith,” Rachel said. “We intend to go to as many of these classes as we can.”
While most courses are taught in a classroom, the upcoming “Journey of Manhood” instruction will take place during a five-day backpacking trip in the Cascade Mountains.
“This particular course is focused on young men and helping them be godly and develop themselves in Christian character,” Williamson said. Designed for men ages 18 to 25, it will center around a discussion of the book “Disciplines of a Godly Young Man” and be led by men from three congregations.
“This program is designed to come alongside some of our Christian colleges and Bible institutes that are training preachers.”
Another component of the Northwest School of Discipleship is a preaching ministry internship.
“In the Northwest, it’s often difficult to get good preachers,” Williamson said. “This program is designed to come alongside some of our Christian colleges and Bible institutes that are training preachers.”
The inaugural preaching ministry intern is Thomas Yukich, a student at Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tenn. During the summer, he is preaching at five Churches of Christ in the Northwest.
“He’s been a great blessing not only to Southwest but also to an increasing number of congregations in the area,” Hinds said.
The third component of the Northwest School of Discipleship is a gap year initiative.
Project Antioch is designed to equip young people for the next season of life by helping them grow in their faith.
“Whatever they’re doing next, this is a time for them to pause, study, grow, get mentoring, go on a mission trip to Ecuador and have an opportunity to firmly establish their faith,” Williamson said.
While students are ages 18 to 22, Project Antioch is an intergenerational experience. Students will take classes alongside other disciples, learning from the wisdom of older Christians. Each student will have a mentor for the program’s duration and live with a host family.
The nine-month program will kick off in September with a five-day trek in the Cascade Mountains. The rest of the year, students will take a full load of classes, meet weekly with mentors, participate in Service Fridays and go on several excursions around the Northwest. The year will conclude with a three-week mission trip to Ecuador.
George House, a graduating high school senior and member of the Circle Church of Christ in Corvallis, Ore., was the first student to sign up for Project Antioch. House enrolled in Project Antioch because he wants to stand strong in his faith.
“I saw an opportunity to grow in my faith and an opportunity to talk to people about facing the trials of the world and how I can improve myself and prepare myself,” he said.
Mitchell Rohrback, who attends the Southwest church, is another incoming student.
“I just felt called to do it,” he said, “and I also felt that it’s an opportunity that I don’t really want to miss out on.”
The congregation at Southwest is excited about the program, and people are eager to get involved. Elder Hinds said that families are especially interested in hosting students, whether it’s for the internship program or Project Antioch.
“There’s definitely an upbeat dynamic,” he said, “and we are looking forward to what the Lord is going to do with this. We’re thankful for how the school seems to be impacting the congregation at Southwest but also others in the area.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Christian Chronicle intern Makyra Williamson is the daughter of Darren Williamson.
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