The Alton Mission exists because of what God is doing in the world he loves so much. That’s the big story we fit into, which gives who we are meaning and coherence. It’s the story of the gospel. About our inability to find our way back to God and about God’s plan from the beginning of time to come and save us. About how God brought us back to himself and about how he brought us back to ourselves. About how God came to live among us as Jesus Christ and now lives within us as the Holy Spirit. And about how God is at work writing all creation into that story.
If this story isn’t true, we don’t make sense as a community. We’ve staked everything about who we are on this story.
Our little role in that story goes something like this: Our community was called into God’s work to restore Alton and bring peace to our neighbors in October 2010. The leaders of Emmanuel Free Methodist Church, a congregation that had served the gospel in Alton for over 100 years, discerned a call to shine light into dark places. Everything since then has been our best attempt to faithfully respond to God’s invitation.
We decided to plant a church in the heart of Alton. As we became reacquainted with our city, we felt drawn to those people most church plants don’t target: the poor and those who would never respond to an invitation to “come to church” on Sunday morning no matter how cool the program was. So we adopted a missional community / house church structure to help us be the church among our neighbors. We launched our first Restore Community in September 2011. By September 2012 we had three Restore Communities and started a Sunday morning worship gathering to keep our communities connected to one another.
Our calling is not to certain tasks, activities, or programs. Our calling isn’t primarily about a particular way of being the church (some kind of “model”). Our calling is to an identity. We are children of God. As our identity is restored in the image of God, we gain greater and greater freedom to do what we are. Our being determines our doing. Or as Jesus said, “First clean the inside of the cup, then the outside will be clean as well.”
Central to our understanding of God is St. John’s statement, “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” In perfect freedom, God does exactly what he is. God does not love because it’s the right thing to do or because it is most effective at getting what he wants. God loves because God is love. What God does flows from who God is.
So our aim and our story is to be restored in the image of God, to have love be the core of who we are and drive all that we do. We love because God first loved us, which quite naturally means we seek to love in the way we have been loved. When we love our city like that, we believe God dwells in that love and writes the story of the gospel here and now.