Waypoint Community Church is a dynamic body of believers of about 400 people who worship and serve the Thurston area of Springfield, Oregon, since it was planted in 2010. One of the major ministries of Waypoint is small groups, called Point Groups, which run three times a year, and range from Bible studies to virtually any activity that a group within the church or community desires to do together. I am the Point Group Pastor and have been in that role since 2011 because of my vocational credo: “I was put on earth to create connected communities of faith where people can learn the unconditional love of God which releases them to serve and change the world.”
One of the passions in my life that directly relates to teaching people the unconditional love of God is the dog-human relationship, in which dogs seem best-suited by our Creator to show human beings that they are worthy of unconditional faithfulness and affection. Because of this passion, over the past three years I’ve attempted to conduct dog-related classes that encourage socialization and bonding between owner and dog. This past Spring, however, I decided to try something new with my small group, gathering families together to serve our community’s needs in the way of encouraging and supporting animal shelters in Eugene which are the lifeline for dogs needing new homes.
First, it was exciting to invite entire families into the small group, rather than only the adults, because children have a phenomenal capacity and desire to serve others, gifts often neglected by the adult groups around them. Three families partnered with my own family in this dog lovers ministry group, agreeing together to form relationships with the volunteers and staff of our two local animal shelters, and with the simple goal of showing appreciation for their service to our community and its animals. We also wanted to plan a fund raising event that would bring in money needed by the shelters to carry out their mission.
We started by visiting the two shelters with baked goodies and a thank you card signed by all of us, and leaving these offerings in their break room. We also arranged for a tour of each facility with the volunteer coordinators, and learned from these experts what each shelter was attempting to do in the community and what was most urgently needed. After the tours, we met as a group and decided to have a bake sale and photography session to raise funds for some desperately needed leashes and harnesses so dogs at the shelter could be walked regularly. During these visits, we had no other goal than to show appreciation and learn, and in so doing, we ended up winning over the volunteers’ affection. They were expecting us to attempt converting them or inviting them to church! When we didn’t, their curiosity was piqued and they began to think in a different way toward this church group that had no ulterior motive in serving them.
We arranged a Spring Fling fundraiser, which was aided by the shelter’s fundraising coordinator, Glenda Longstron, and carried out in the local PetSmart in Eugene. The manager of PetSmart was completely gracious and helpful in setting us up at the front of the store and letting us use any items she had available for the event. We, in turn, were completely polite and considerate, and were amazed at the store’s hospitality. Our three families couldn’t supply enough baked goods to sell for a three hour event, so Glenda had asked volunteers at the shelters to help supply goodies as well. Incredibly, the volunteers answered by bringing tables full of items, and even staying for the event to help with selling. I was enormously proud of our kids and adults alike in the group who worked side by side with these members of the community without any reservation, and with the common goal of serving the animals of the shelters. Again, the volunteers were expecting us to hand out tracts or promote our church, but without even an agreement beforehand not to do such things, the group members just operated from a motive of serving others. My son, almost fourteen, and with the lifelong disability of autism, even popped twenty bags of popcorn and was thrilled when he sold all of them to help the shelters.
The event brought in $350.00, not only from the bake sale, but also from our partnership with a professional photographer, Mike Nordtvedt of LifeSlice Photography, who took photos of dogs and their owners. Afterwards, the shelter posted pictures of our event on their website, and I was told later by Glenda that this was something the shelters had never been willing to do. Waypoint began having a good reputation among the dog loving community, and collaborating with the shelters and Petsmart seemed to be the key to nurturing intentional relationships between our faith community and the greater community of Springfield and Eugene.
UNLEASHED, which is the future name of the dog lovers church that will begin next summer, will be based on the principles that unconsciously came to the surface in our ministry to the shelters. UNLEASHED will be an intentionally missional group which exists to serve each other and the community through their relationships with dogs–their own, and the homeless pets of Lane County. We will partner with others in the community, seeking to serve them and their goals rather than asking them to serve us. We will collaborate with like-minded members of the community around us, rather than collaborating only with each other. We will love the community and its pets with the unconditional love of God, which does not obligate, does not judge, and does not condemn, but simply searches for hearts adrift in this performance oriented world, and says, “I will never leave you, nor forsake you.”