What if 1 in 5 people in your community attended your church on a regular basis? Here’s some advice from a pastor that leads just such a church.
David Peterson is the lead pastor of Mountainside Bible Chapel in Schroon Lake, New York, a town of about 1500 in upstate New York. Word of Life Camps are also located in Schroon Lake, and many of the people employed by Word of Life attend Mountainside. All of this makes Schroon Lake the far northern outpost of the Bible belt and makes Mountainside a unique church to study. I (Josh) recently interviewed David about the three main topics we cover on the podcast (legal information, practical apologetics and community involvement) and asked him how he leads Mountainside in these areas.
#1 Legal Information
David has a unique perspective, especially since he is in a state (New York) that is not always friendly to believers (New York City banned churches in public schools, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case). He states that he has been in ministry for 26 years and a Christian for much longer than that. He observes that “the government has been coming” his entire ministry. He has observed ministries make poor decisions based on a fear of what the government might do next. He notes that we should be wise and prudent but states that we need to stop limiting our vision or curtailing our efforts out of fear. He notes that we are quite comfortable and safe compared to our brothers and sisters around the world. He concludes that “nothing the government can do will hold back the Gospel.” Amen.
#2 Practical Apologetics
I (Josh) was especially intrigued by David’s ability to reach people with an intellectual/academic bent. David was (and is) an avid fan of Francis Schaeffer’s work, and even attended a “How Shall We Then Live” conference while in college.
David recounts the story of recently leading a particular student to Christ. This student introduced himself as a “Disciple of Kierkegaard” (if you are not familiar, Kierkegaard was a Danish philosopher and is widely considered the first existentialist philosopher). David notes that God had been preparing him for a lifetime and even recently (David had just refreshed his knowledge of philosophy and worldviews in a doctoral program) to speak this student’s spiritual language. He was able to lead this student to Christ after several months of conversation. This student is now a key member of the church and is assisting David in starting a new Bible study for others like him.
Practical Apologetics is not so much a set of facts to learn as it is a skill to develop. Sometimes, we receive the objection that apologetics is an attempt to replace the Holy Spirit. David notes that he believes it was the Holy Spirit that prepared him in his doctoral program to have just the answers for this student.
David states that Christians should “end every conversation with a comma.” He states that we should not try to quickly end conversations but rather engage with people’s questions, doubts, spiritual longings and experiences. This has been his formula for successfully leading so many to Christ in a small town in the Northeast.
#3 Community Involvement
Mountainside is an incredible example of a community-minded church. If Mountainside disappeared tomorrow, firemen, little league coaches, chamber of commerce members, business leaders, community leaders and even the town’s Facebook page manager would disappear with it.
Mountainside has an enormously successful “Sportsmens” Dinner at their school facility, and several hundred hunters/fishermen show up for sessions put on by government officials and professional sportsmen. Mountainside also hosts candidate forums. Mountainside has a share shop that has distributed at least 2 million articles of clothing (the county where Mountainside is located is the poorest county in New York), and Mountainside regularly tries to bless the community with gifts or acts of service. David even started the Facebook fan page for the town, and the page now has over 4100 members (not bad for a town of 1500).
David tells a story about teens from the church raking leaves out of the yard of a young couple that had recently moved to the area. This couple (formerly unchurched) is now part of the Mountainside family.
David notes that the key to community involvement is giving people opportunity. Most Christians have the desire to be involved but just don’t know where to start. He also notes that churches should understand the gifting of the people in the church and start there. In the future, Mountainside is considering a counseling center, adult education (such as parenting classes) and an emphasis on foster care/adoption.