BIO: Jon Wiest serves as the Lead Pastor of Radiant Church, which he planted less than two years ago. The church is located on the eastern side of Des Moines on the dividing line between the city and the suburbs. The church is filled with all sorts of people; old ladies, drug addicts, families, single moms, young professionals, seekers, blue collar workers and empty nesters. The church consists of more than 200 believers who gather together to worship and serve Christ. John says, “The best sermons I’ve ever preached or heard all have one thing in common… they are filled with passion and conviction!”
Lenny: Describe the demographics of your newly birthed church and community.
Jon: We primarily reach people from East Des Moines and the suburb of Pleasant Hill. East Des Moines is a blue collar, “forgotten” section of Des Moines with a high rate of drug and alcohol abuse, single parent households and low income families. Pleasant Hill is a first ring suburb filled with former “East Siders.” We outgrew our East 26th St. campus and now meet on Sunday mornings at an athletic club that sits on the dividing line between the city and suburbs. Everything else takes place at our other location. Our plan is to launch a Saturday night service back at our East 26th St. campus in the Fall of 2012.
Our church is filled with blue collar workers, white collar professionals, drug addicts, old ladies, empty nesters, seekers and single moms. We represent the diversity of the two communities of East Des Moines and Pleasant Hill and have always sought to focus more on our “parish” and a bit less on a specific target group.
Lenny: How do you think preaching in a church plant is different than preaching in an established church?
Jon: There are definitely differences. In a church plant, a large majority of the congregation is normally either new to the faith, unchurched or dechurched so there needs to be a clear presentation of the Gospel each week, a slightly heavier focus on evangelism and I find that I spend more time preaching through the Gospels. I also think that there is more pressure in a new church to consistently deliver strong sermons. You can get away with a few weak sermons in an established church and people will remain loyal. After all, they are established in the church for a reason. However, in a new church plant, I might only get one shot to make an impression on a new family. I think that adds to the pressure of being consistent each week in preparing and delivering solid sermons. Finally, our church plant meets each Sunday in a gymnasium with folding chairs, fluorescent lighting and a pretty basic portable stage/sound system. Without the luxury of a permanent facility, great lighting, comfortable chairs, cool video systems and pyrotechnics (joking), you have fewer crutches to lean on if the sermon is weak.
Lenny: One of the most effective sermonic devices, especially in narrative sermons, is the comparing and contrasting of two characters in a biblical passage. You did this with Peter and Jesus, causing us to wrestle with whether we look more like Peter than Jesus in our response to conflict. Where do you see Christians imitating Peter, who picked up the sword, more than we tend to obey Jesus, who said “put away you sword”?
Jon: My highest strength on the Strength Finder 2.0 was in the area of Competition so I guess I’m a fighter by nature! I think in many ways I was preaching to myself because passages like this one cause me to wrestle with my natural impulses. The way of Christ was never to dominate people through grasping at worldly power or violence. Instead we actually find Christianity thriving under persecution. Most Christians run into trouble when they begin to trust only in themselves and their own methods of fighting back and forget that prayer and faith in Christ are the most important. Also, we have bought into the lie that suffering is ALWAYS to be avoided and I find that there are times when enduring suffering and persecution actually strengthens the gospel message. Peter was trusting in his natural instincts when he started swinging his sword. We learn in hindsight that if Peter had his way, Jesus would have never gone to the cross and that would have been tragic.
Lenny: I realize that the point of your message was not to wield the sword of power as the world wields it. But I don’t think you were saying that the Church should passively stand by and watch oppression, tyranny, and injustice. At least, I hope you weren’t suggesting that. How, then, can and should Christians fight injustice Jesus-style instead of Peter-style? In other words, how can we avoid the extremes of passivity toward injustice and violent aggression toward evildoers?
Jon: There is obviously a lot of debate on the topic of how the Church should interact with the State and I absolutely agree that we must not simply stand by and watch oppression, tyranny and injustice. However, I think the Church needs to wrestle a bit more with HOW we defeat oppression, tyranny and injustice. There are times that I see injustice and want to take out my sword and start hacking away, but that might simply prolong and even enhance the problem. I would do better to pause and listen to the voice of Christ and his direction.
Lenny: I love the way you mix contemporary imagistic language with the realities of the first century Palestinian context in which the New Testament is written. Is this something you do intentionally or naturally? And, why do you think it’s important to use contemporary language while faithfully representing the historical context of the passage?
Jon: I was in a Bible study the other day and had a new believer read a passage of Scripture out of the NASB. They were obviously confused so I had them read the same passage in an easier translation to understand. My friend exclaimed, “that makes complete sense now!” I love presenting these ancient stories in a format that people can easily relate to and understand. I don’t know too many people that have found themselves up all night in an olive garden with Roman soldiers approaching. But most of us understand the feeling that comes with watching a bully mess with your friend. Contemporary language connects people to the story and it’s something I think needs to be more intentionally considered.