We believe Jesus Christ must be at the center of our lives
and making disciples of Jesus at the core of our ministry.
…yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. (1 Corinthians 8:6)
By Brenda Norton -
When I was 8 years old my parents sat my sister, my brother and I down on the couch and presented to us a kid-friendly tract of the gospel (yes, it was the early 70s). It made sense to me, so from that day forward I identified myself as a Christian. Even at 8 years old something at the core of who I was knew that my true identity was in Jesus … a child of God by design. My parents made a decision to become Christians at that same time, and our family began faithfully attending the Presbyterian Church in Centralia, WA where we lived. I appreciate the biblically sound teaching and the corporate understanding of Christianity I received being a part of this church until I went away to college at Whitworth.
As a preteen I remember sitting on the school bus with a sense of Jesus’ presence with me. I am an introvert and appreciated him as a faithful friend. But I also had a sense of him in my life as something like a movie director. It was as if I had a film crew following me around each day directing and recording my life; my everyday ordinary thoughts and actions. Through this unusual method, which I consider a gift from God, I learned to have conversation with Jesus in a way that I would now say enabled my spiritual formation and shaped my identity in Christ.
As I grew in years and matured in my faith I came to know Jesus as so much more than a friend and director who followed along with me each day. I came to know a life of abiding in Christ. The image rich language that Jesus uses in John 14 & 15 is especially meaningful in my understanding of who I am.
Jesus modeled an identity that has oneness with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; a oneness of intimacy and purpose. A beautiful unity that we are invited to be a part of…
Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. (John 14:10-11a)
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. (John 14:15-17)
Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5)
One day as an adult, looking in the mirror as I brushed my teeth, it hit me: Jesus is alive … Jesus is alive in me. The connection with Jesus for the purpose of bearing fruit began to blossom in new ways. My identity “in Christ” is synonymous with Jesus at the center of all aspects of my life. I cannot separate my identity – who I am – from what I do. Being in Christ and doing the Father’s work go together. This is a life-giving existence and so I want to encourage others to experience themselves as they were created to be … in an intimate relationship with our Creator, made possible by the redeeming love of Jesus Christ. When you know this, when you really know it, you can’t help but want to nurture it in others.
I am currently a member of First Presbyterian Church in Spokane and on staff as the Director of Community Life. We have been in a season of conversations about our response to denominational changes as many congregations have been. We are choosing to stay PCUSA and have joined The Fellowship.
The complexities and tensions of these labels on our corporate identity will remain unresolved but we are transitioning toward more intentional conversation about our identity as a local community of followers of Christ.
The vision and mission statements we adopted a few years ago still ring true…
Vision: “Internally Strong Externally Focused.”
Mission: “We are a community of followers of Christ called by God and gifted by the Holy Spirit to lives of authentic worship, expressed through fellowship, discipleship and apostleship.”
We will soon begin writing a set of values and will likely take a close look at the values we identify with as a member of The Fellowship. We are also intentionally looking at the role of elders following our participation in Elder Leadership Institute last summer. We recognize that the key ingredients of worship, fellowship, discipleship and apostleship in our mission statement won’t be central to our identity if they are not central in the lives of our leadership, both in who they are and what they do individually and as a session.
Because of my role on staff and what I believe is our one of our growing edges in this process of transformation, I am particularly invested in the discipleship aspect of this conversation. Some days I get overwhelmed by the weight of what it means to help oversee the discipleship of a large congregation. In many ways we are doing this well but I’m also aware of the invitation by God to do it more intentionally. Other days I remember that this isn’t a program so much as it is the one-on-one relationships and then I struggle to keep balance as the “ones” turn into many. Thankfully, Jesus always pulls me back to my central identity “in him.” When I abide there, knowing it is for the sake of bearing fruit, then who I am and what I do can all be Jesus-shaped.
…and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
Brenda Norton is the Director of Community Life at First Presbyterian Church in Spokane, WA where she lives with her husband Burke. They are blessed by 2 wonderful adult daughters. In her role at FPC she most enjoys creating space for people to connect with God individually in meaningful and creative ways and communally in ways that broaden our understanding and appreciation of him. Brenda also values interaction with leaders of smaller churches as she has served on the planning team for the Pacific NW Small Church Conference for more than 4 years.