INTERVIEW WITH JOHNNY DODSWORTH PASTOR AT EASTVIEW COMMUNITY CHURCH
MBCM: Hi Johnny, thanks for being willing to meet with us and share a bit about what’s been going on in Eastview over the last 2 years or so. How about we start with a little Eastview history.
Johnny: Yah, sure. Around 15 years ago Eastview was a thriving church with strong engagement in different programs. There were midweek community classes that would gather to learn as well as a vibrant care group ministry, with people gathering together regularly to study the word, to pray and to grow in their walk with Jesus. And at some point, probably around 10 years ago, that began to fade. There were some circumstances that happened in our church that caused people to leave and look elsewhere. Leadership changed and some of the things that were our strengths started fading as well. This was happening to the point where our life groups, called care groups at the time, kind of became this place where it’s like, we got together with other people who we knew were Christians, but not with any real intentionality. It would be more like a wine group or a dinner group or getting together to play volleyball and sort of more and more of these affinity groups. And this is what was happening when I stepped into the role as the discipleship and life groups pastor (Johnny was hired for this role in 2016).
And they really cared for one another. It was fantastic. When stuff would go on in their lives, like a crisis or tragedy, these groups would be there to walk with one another.
Though, some things were missing, like a focus of intentional Bible study and a focus on prayer. And so, in those beginning days, I would ask “OK, how is prayer in your life group?” And they’d say, “Oh man, like, no, we don’t. It’s way too awkward. We don’t pray.”
So for the last number of years, our focus with our care groups have begun with a name change from care groups to life groups. They are still care groups! There’s no doubt that that’s what they are, but we hope for more. So changing to life groups signified a hope to build on that care, and that shared life together, and by adding an emphasis on doing life as disciples of Jesus together with a greater focus on discipleship through prayer and studying the word. Things like that.
What we’ve seen since is an increase in the ability to pray and the comfortability with prayer. We’ve seen people grow in their knowledge and their engagement of scripture and the story of Jesus and how they fit into it. It’s been fantastic to witness.
COVID & THE HOLY SPIRIT
MBCM: Taking a phrase from earlier, can you tell us more about what it has looked like for leaders to say yes to the Holy Spirit prompting?
Johnny: Yeah, awesome. This is the piece where, when I ask myself the question “how have we continued to maintain this kind of engagement in our groups during a global pandemic” I just can’t think of anything we have done, anything as a leadership, to make this happen. But I think what we’ve seen through the last 20 months or so is the call that God has placed on each of our life group leaders in this community, and it’s been pretty clear for each of them. And so when it comes to things like new restrictions, for example, now they can’t meet in person, instead of being like, “man, this is just too hard to lead a life group in this time,” they have had an imagination that stretches beyond their bounds. And I believe that’s fully Holy Spirit inspired.
The boundaries that we’re facing aren’t limiting what the Holy Spirit can do! I’m just here as an encourager, but they are actually the ones facing the challenge head on and saying yes to the spirits’ continued call on their life, leading a group and then finding ways through it that allow their group to continue meeting, to continue praying together, to continue studying the word.
I’ve had a number of people in different spheres of my life asking, “How do we come together as human beings to find unity in a time that’s so divisive? And, for me, it’s been a unique opportunity to share the gospel because the evidence of where I’ve seen people come together in unity, specifically with COVID, has been in the church and in our life groups. So for instance, in this last round of restrictions that the government of Manitoba laid out for us there is a clear line drawn in the sand between those who are vaccinated and those who are unvaccinated. And as soon as that came out, I was like, “Oh boy,” because we’ve been able to hold this conversation off in our life groups so far, but now, here we are. There’s no getting around this.
So what do you do?
What we’ve talked about together as life group leaders as a way forward is that we want to consistently point the attention back to the truth that Jesus is Lord, and that if all of us here gathered in a life group are aiming to follow Jesus and that is our purpose for coming together then we have a point of agreement at the highest level. So before we get to any other conversation or any other conviction we have, we can actually come together in agreement of the truth that Jesus is Lord and be unified there, even when we hold other opposing views. (And opposing views are a reality in our groups.) Yet, we’re able to meet together and understand that we have very different convictions on that level, which for many people, is a pretty high level of importance in their lives.
But there’s a level higher, which is allegiance to Jesus and the truth that we actually submit to him as Lord and on that, we can agree. We’ve actually been able to navigate some of these challenging conversations and challenging restrictions and extend generosity to one another and extend the benefit of the doubt and sort of put aside some of our wants and desires and uncomfortable realities on both sides in order to find ways to meet together.
That’s been my encouragement to all Christ followers through this pandemic – John 17 “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
This sense of our unity is meant to be the thing that causes an unbelieving world to know Jesus.
And we can get that right! Like, we can actually get that right, and I’m seeing evidence of us getting it right. We may be getting a whole lot else wrong, but if we can get unity right, that’s the most important thing. And even if it means we remind people that Christ is Lord every time we gather, and that this is where we agree. And we just keep reminding each other, even if it’s so ridiculous, the amount of times we have to remind each other, we’re going to do it because it’s actually the most important thing and it’s the most important thing for our evangelism and our witness in our outreach.
I just keep pointing back to our life group leaders and the moments where, saying no to being a life group leader and throwing in the towel would have been so easy and so understandable. And every single one, every. single. one has said yes. And that’s just been blowing me away. That is the Holy Spirit working in their lives, wanting to be obedient and just continuing to say yes.
HOW CAN WE PRAY FOR EASTVIEW?
Pray for us as we find our way as a church after a rough couple of years, not just with Covid, but with losing our lead pastor and hiring a new one. We see the Spirit at work among us, and we have hope for a good future ahead. We are also praying for you. As we gather together each Sunday morning before we head into worship, we pray as a team for a church in our conference that God would be working and moving in powerful ways in your congregation and ours. If you have prayer requests, please send them our way as well. We’re in this together.