News

Dear First Pres,

   One of the most important things that our church Session (our leadership board) did this Spring and Summer was to establish some relative priorities for the coming year to help us move more and more to becoming a church that is engaging together in Christ's work of making disciples.
 
   Our process was a bit different than previous years. Instead of focusing our attention on our various ministries and thinking about what needed attention, we focused on the disciplines and priorities of a Great Commission Church as presented to us by Rev. Dr. Priddy last year. As our Session spent time prayerfully considering these disciplines and priorities, we discerned three areas of relative priority for the coming year: preemptive prayer, testimony, and disciple making.
 
   Preemptive prayer is identified as one of the core disciplines of a Great Commission (GC) church. It means that GC churches spend time praying kingdom-focused, mission-focused prayers. They pray for mission effectiveness before all church activities. GC churches love to pray for God's Kingdom to come and His will to be done through the congregation.
 
   Testimony wasn't on Dr. Priddy's list of disciplines and priorities, but we believe it is one of the best ways for people to catch a vision of what God is doing and be inspired to join Him in His mission. Testimony isn't only the story of how we became followers of Jesus, it also is the story of what God is doing in and through us today. Many of you had the privilege of hearing testimonies from Dianne, Arida, Zach, Emily, Kelsey, Devon, Geraud, Paul and Charlene during our Education Hour over the last several weeks. These are stories of God's redeeming transformation in action among us.
 
   Finally, disciple making is what the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) is all about. Every disciple is called to grow into a disciple maker. That means submitting our own lives to Christ while intentionally building relationship with nonbelievers, following the Spirit's lead for the opportunity to share the Good News of Jesus with an opportunity for response, and helping other believers increasingly submit all of life to the empowering presence and Lordship of Jesus.
 
   Here's the deal, the Session feels like these three areas need some strong attention in our congregation, and that's what we're working toward in this coming ministry year. You can expect more testimonies. You can expect more encouragement to join a prayer gathering. And you can expect some new efforts to engage our congregation in disciple making. Finally, you can expect some preaching that specifically addresses these themes over the next several weeks.
 
   Of course, we'll only grow in these areas as a congregation if you, the congregation, find some way to share in these areas. What will your part be as we engage together in Christ's work in these ways? Now's a great time to start, right?
 
   One way to start is with prayer. Will you join me in praying for our church - that God's Kingdom will come and His will be done through us? Will you pray that for your own life? Will you join me in praying that God uses us to make disciples who then make disciples? Will you join me in praying that God uses us to multiply His Church? That's what we'll be praying for this Friday morning (and every Friday morning) from 06:30 - 07:15 in The Commons. And when we pray for these things, we should expect that God will be arranging opportunities for us to share His love and the Good News of His redeeming transformation. He is listening! Praise God!

Blessings,
Jeremy

Jeremy Vaccaro
Senior Pastor

FPC has a tradition of bringing on special staff to the Christian Education Department during the summer months to develop emerging ministry leaders and make a deep, relational investment in our children and youth. The following is a summary about the impact of their summer staff experience!

Beth Paz

Jesse Micu

This summer, I experienced God through the leadership of the Student Ministry staff. Coming to FPC from a previous church experience that was painful, I couldn't help feeling wary of having a similar experience here. By summer’s end, the thoughtfulness and wisdom of the staff undid some of the bitterness that had started in my heart. I am grateful for and in awe of the way God's care has overflowed through the staff to me.

I realized in many ways throughout the summer that I was put in a position that required me to trust and obey the Lord. I felt unsure, yet I had a familiar sense that the Lord was guiding me through this specific step in my life. My previous ministry experience had been with older groups, so I was uncertain about my effectiveness in ministry with elementary-age students and all the various new experiences that my circumstances brought, but the Lord was faithful through all of it. I feel that I have grown in trust, knowing that the Lord is doing the good work, and I'm along for the ride.

A major highlight was a conversation I had with Margie, who from the start felt more like my friend than a boss. There was a morning that I came in for my weekly meeting, and, instead of running through details of ministry programming, she asked me how I was doing. The conversation that followed was a very satisfying answer to a very difficult question that I have been wrestling with concerning the institutional church. I found myself close to tears, thankful to God for such a thoughtful answer to a prayer in my heart that had never been spoken.

The greatest thing I have gained from this experience is a greater trust in the Lord. As I move toward a totally new chapter of life involving marriage and, hopefully, employment, I will remember this past summer as proof that the Lord is faithful in a predictably unforeseeable and perfect way. I ask you to pray with me for employment, and life with my bride, Sarah Cuevas. A sincere 'Thank you' to staff and members and new friends for the warm welcome during my short time at FPC!

Kaylene Norvell

My summer working with high school was a beautiful, fun, wild and wonderful learning experience. While I was an intern in Dominican Republic last summer, the other interns seemed to understand what God had planned for them, which mostly involved overseas missions. I was the only one who didn’t quite understand what God had planned for me, but I knew I was missing home. I realized that God was calling for me was to stay and volunteer my time with the High School Youth Group back in Fresno through my homesickness. That following school year I continued faithfully to attend high school events, following my love for the students and God’s calling.

My partner in High School, Zach Oaks, is an incredible person to work with! Together, Zach and I encouraged the students to find and place their identity in Christ, instead of in worldly things. Through our teaching, several students shared joys, sorrows, struggles, and other ways they saw God working in their lives. It was very encouraging and moving for them to recognize God’s work in their wonderful lives.  As a leadership team, we met once a week and discussed ways to improve our performance. We heard from others on ways they thought we needed improvement; I recognized that I needed help at first, but the farther into summer we got, the more I thought I didn’t need any more advice. However, God knew the areas I needed growth in, and the leadership team guided me in love and grace. Overall, this summer was encouraging, full of learning, fun, and an eye-opening experience to the business side of ministry.

Heidi Buller

I experienced God through the children when their eyes lit up as I taught, I saw Jesus in them because they truly understood my message.  I used to think I wasn't a good teacher and couldn't teach above preschool, but the Lord showed me that I really can teach. My favorite memory is from the very first night seeing the kids get beyond excited when they found out I was going to swim in the pool with them!  

My takeaway from this amazing summer is that God can use any situation and turn it around. Knowing that I am physically and emotionally able to teach above preschool makes me super excited about what the Lord may do in my life! Please pray that I continue to trust in Him, as he is faithful and completely trustworthy, and that I discover my next steps!

Zack Oaks

Firstly, I would like to thank the staff, congregation, and youth of First Pres and God, our Father, for giving me to opportunity to be a part of the Summer Staff. I have experienced God’s love and provision so much this summer, it feels unreal. Watching each student interact, grow spiritually, and show so much love and grace to me is a reminder of the wonderful God we serve. This experience as part of the Youth program has seen growth in me that couldn’t have been anything but of God. He has helped me to recognize my strengths and shortcomings in leadership and has shown me the importance of communication and working with others for His kingdom. These things have helped me to grow and prepare for other work that God will have me do in my life.

A big takeaway for me is just realizing how important, impactful, and precious our youth really are. This is an important part of their walk with Christ as they navigate these new life experiences and my hope this summer was to help them grow spiritually, which we did see the fruit of, but I never imagined the ways they would speak into my own life with such love and wisdom. Additionally, I did not anticipate how deep the relationships that were formed would be, and I know these will last a lifetime. This has taught me to experience everything, whether I am serving, being served, or just observing, through God’s lenses versus my own. God takes our experiences and uses them to show us His glory and to grow us as sons and daughters. As I move forward into the next season of my life, my prayer request are for my mother’s health, my family to be unified under Christ, and for Him to continue to show me the part I have to play in His plan on this Earth.

“Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21

 
 
Anonymous

Dear First Pres,

   This coming Wednesday, September 13 we're launching our fall series of Wednesday Nights @FPC. There will be ministries for every group - our youngest to our most mature. The men will be engaging in an inductive Bible study. The women will be doing a study by Jen Pollock Michel based on her 2015 Christianity Today Book of the Year, Teach us to Want. The kid's programs are all planned. The only question is this: will you be here?
 
   Before you answer, let me answer another important question: Why Wednesday Nights @FPC?

  • It moves our church beyond Sunday morning. While worship attendance is extremely important, it can't accomplish all we're called to do. Wednesday Nights @FPC gives us another touchpoint during the week to encourage one another.
  • It grows our relational health deep and wide. Wednesday Nights @FPC help us to connect more deeply with people we already know in the congregation while also introducing us to people we haven't met.
  • It engages us in our Christ-centered purpose. Our purpose is to engage together in Christ's work of making disciples for the redeeming transformation of our city and world. WednesdayNights @FPC is one of our primary strategies for living into that purpose. Some of you may not feel like you need a Bible study. That's okay, but your engagement might be for someone else's benefit. Please consider coming not for what you receive, but for what and to whom you might give. 
  • It's an opportunity to serve kids. We still need some folks to serve our preschool and elementary kids. If there was ever a time to rally around the kids of our church and community, it is now. They need to know afresh that they are deeply loved by the Lord and His Church (us). 

   And, finally, this:

  • It's another way for us to "lean in full of grace and truth."  Right now, I believe God is calling us to a particular season of community building. We need to support and encourage one another as God strengthens us for His mission in our city and world. Since we're not gathering as Community Groups this fall, it puts even more emphasis on Wednesday Nights @FPC. If your default has been to skip out on the Wednesday night stuff, I encourage you to reconsider. Especially in this season, use it as a way to lean in.

   Yes, I know that there are some of you who simply cannot come. This letter is not meant to make you feel guilty. But I do hope it helps you understand the reasons behind our efforts.
 
   We start next week, Wednesday, September 13 at 6:30pm. We're ending at 8:00 pm. We will NOT be serving dinner, but we do hope that you come a bit early so that you can get signed in and connected before we start. We'll run for 10 straight weeks: September 13 - November 15. May the Lord use it to advance His Kingdom in us.

Blessings,
Jeremy

P.S. We'll also be launching Stephen Minister training on Wednesdays. Stephen Ministers do the invaluable work of providing one-to-one care for people experiencing a difficult time in life. Some of you have been thinking about stepping out in this way. Do it! The training material is excellent, and the ministry is incredibly important. Contact Pastor Lana Roberts for more information.

Jeremy Vaccaro
Senior Pastor

Dear First Pres,

   We have some important news to share. As of this fall, we are ceasing to gather as Community Groups.
   When we launched Community Groups in the summer of 2014, in conjunction with our church's new purpose statement, we stated three driving goals: to build Christian community, make disciples, and live out the Gospel in our neighborhoods. Through God's grace and the good work of our Community Group leaders, they have been successful in many ways.
   We've increased community and connection. There were many new friendships and connections built across generations and existing friend groups within the church. Plus, Community Groups quickly became a very effective way of connecting new people in our community.
   We've increased our reach into our neighborhoods. Every Community Group worked in some way to connect with their city. Through prayer walks, baking of cookies, service projects, neighborhood parties, Christmas caroling, teacher appreciation, etc  ... together as a body, FPC loved our neighbors in ways we have not done corporately before.
   We've developed a new onramp for congregational care. Community Groups quickly became a mechanism to engage together in caring for those in need in our body. Led by our Deacons, Community Groups stepped up to provide meals for many families in need. And, those unable to attend to their yards or house projects were often supported by their Community Group neighbors.
   We've grown in praying outwardly for our city, neighbors, and friends. Community Groups engaged in prayer together for those outside the congregation and supported one another in prayer as well. Out of those prayers, groups saw and heard of God's work in their lives and the lives of those around them.
   We celebrate these great things that God has done among us in our Community Groups. However, we desire to go further and deeper as we live out our purpose as a church. So, in conversation with Community Growth elders and Community Group leaders, we have discerned that it's time for a new strategy to take us to the next level of engaging together in Christ's work of making disciples for the redeeming transformation of our city and world.
   The Community Growth Committee is working hard with several leaders in our congregation to pilot a new initiative that centers groups around specific needs in our community. Our hope is that we can launch those groups more publically in the spring of 2018 with the incredible benefit of the lessons learned from Community Groups.
   Community Groups are not completely gone, though. Because of the great success of the congregational care that happened out of Community Groups, we will maintain the groups on our database.
   The pastors, Session, and the Community Growth Committee is thankful for the effort that was made in the past three school years around Community Groups. And special, special thanks to the leaders who gave much time, effort and energy towards making the meals and meetings happen.
   In the meantime, we encourage everyone to attend WednesdayNights @ FPC beginning September 13.  

Men, there has been a longing from many of you for an indepth study of God's word and prayer with other men. That is exactly what we are doing as we will study in small groups the Book of Mark.

Women are again going to meet together to discuss the godly wants and desires that are good and pleasing to God in a series called "Teach Us to Want" by Jen Pollock Michel.
Youth and Children ministries will be kicking off as well with much excitement this fall.

   Again we encourage all of those who consider FPC their church home to make every effort to be at the church on Wednesday Nights at 6:30pm as we continue in growing as disciples of Christ together.

With much love, joy and hope of what is to come,

Pastor Jeremy & Pastor Chris

Jeremy Vaccaro
Senior Pastor

Dear First Pres,
   I think this past Sunday was one of the most important Sundays of my nearly five years as your senior pastor. It was paramount to name some of the evil we've experienced in our world and in our church. It was paramount to remember that Jesus weeps with us in those things; His weeping comforts us, leads us, and shapes us. It was paramount to hold the First Pres Forum so that we could talk about walking through difficult times together by leaning in full of grace and truth (see John 1:14). And, it was paramount for us to pray together in the Forum for God's glory to be made known. Finally, for any of that to be effective in helping us be healthy together, it was paramount for the Holy Spirit to show up and lead us. I praise God in saying that I sensed His presence all over our gatherings. Did you? I believe, with God's help, we have started well this long path to wholeness.
 
   One of the most difficult parts of walking through this season together, I think, is protecting the anonymity of those in our midst who have been hurt. Unless we are one of those families most impacted, it is not our story to tell. Yet, our desire is for them to know our care and support and love. So, how do we minister to someone who is anonymous in our congregation? We lean in full of grace and truth without preference. In other words, not every family is hurting in the same way or at the same level, but you can bet every family is hurting in some way at some level. Every family could use someone who is praying for them; every family could use someone who brings an encouraging word; every family could use some ministry directed in their way. But we need to do so with wisdom.
 
   In a conversation with one of our members this week I learned that three different folks asked this member directly on Sunday, "Do you know who the victims are?"  Now, if you asked that question to someone on Sunday, please don't take offense. It's a natural question. But I believe it is a question we need to release from our hearts. We need to let it go. We need to ask the Lord to help us release that curiosity, which I know can be fierce. Asking that question, I believe, is more likely to divide us than unite us. We need to replace that question with "How are you?" Or, "Is there anything I can do to help?" Or, "How can I be praying for you this week?" These are the types of questions that will help us lean in full of grace and truth.
 
   Beloved, the road of healing together is not an easy one, but it is a blessed one. It will require all of us to surrender our own attitudes, thoughts, desires, and issues to the Lord. It will require us to move toward the problem rather than try to forget about it. It will require us to remember that it is by grace we have been saved ... not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9); none of us are going to walk this road perfectly. It will require us to pursue truth, even if the truth is hard, because it is the truth that sets us free (John 8:32). It will require us all, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to lean in full of grace and truth. When that happens among us, surely, God will be glorified and we will walk in His healing together.

Blessings, 
Jeremy

Jeremy Vaccaro
Senior Pastor

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