COVID-19 — Taking Your Church Online — Best Practices From The Church In Shanghai — John Willison
DO NOT MISS THIS EPISODE!!
This week’s guest is John Willison. John is the senior pastor of Abundant Grace International Fellowship in Shanghai, China. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, Abundant Grace International Fellowship has been innovating out of necessity taking their entire church life online from Sunday worship experience to small groups to daily devotionals to kids’ ministry. There is so much practical wisdom from their experience over the past nine weeks.
Born into a family of devoted church-goers, I’ve been active in Christ’s church all my life. I’ve spent years in Methodist, Lutheran, Baptist, Presbyterian, and Anglican churches.
Carol and I met at Northwestern University where I graduated in engineering. Yet, during this time, I learned my real passion is helping people follow Jesus. Mentored by a local pastor, I learned “normal” Christianity includes both orthodox theology and genuine spiritual experience. Carol & I graduated and married.
We both attended Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where I received Master of Divinity in 1988. A year later I was asked onto pastoral staff at our church in Evanston, Illinois. Our family grew to 5 children. Carol and I assumed our pattern of she being a schoolteacher and I a pastor.
As our children were approaching high school age Carol and I moved our family to Kenya. Why? We wanted our children to experience the world and Kingdom of God outside of the United States. This shift opened my heart to larger picture of what God is doing in the world. Over the years I had, for better and for worse, become focused on our particular denomination. Our first year in Africa restored my focus to the Kingdom of God as a whole.
While in Kenya we connected with a group of families in Uganda who were forming Kampala International Church. Our values were aligned, and I accepted the call to be the team leader for the fledgling Kampala church.
I was the first staff leader for this group. Together we articulated our vision and was able to focus what was a bit chaotic. Over the next 11 years we grew from a “one-projector” church of 70 people to a group of 700 spread across 3 congregations.
I enjoy building environments for people to flourish. I value scriptural theology and authentic spirituality. I am happiest when focusing on spiritual leadership, building healthy disciples and a healthy church culture.
My wife and I have also grown immensely in appreciating the multiple cultures of this world. I have learned to enjoy the varying ways of communication – what people say, how they say it, what they don’t say; family dynamics; ways of resolving conflict, and the myriad other ways people build culture. Much of it is very beautiful, most of it makes sense in context, and all of it must be brought into the Kingdom for our Father to sift, prune, redeem and bless.
After 12 years in East Africa, our children grown, it was time to leave. As we prefer the international culture we did not return to USA. Carol accepted a post as a teacher at Concordia International School Shanghai. Currently I assist within the international congregations but hope to return soon to full-time work building the church.
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