In San Antonio As In Heaven

Five leaders from The Park Community Church gather for a Northern Seminary class on a Monday evening in San Antonio, Texas. Appropriately, they meet in a building fashioned as a lighthouse. Surprisingly, it houses a co-working space owned by the church but open to the surrounding community. This workshare environment, The Impact Guild, reflects Park’s desire to be fully present in that neighborhood. “In San Antonio as In Heaven” is more than a motto on the church’s website, it is a model of living, working, serving and responding to the needs of their neighbors.

“Our experience at Northern Seminary has reinforced a deep conviction that the Church is supposed to be local, highly relational and movemental,” explains Scott Austin, Lead Pastor of The Park Community Church Network and a Northern Seminary Master of Arts in Theology and Mission (MATM) student. In addition to Scott, The Park team members enrolled in the MATM program include Parish Pastor Mike DeFrees, Worship and Arts Pastor Kyle Isenhower, Executive Pastor Chris Nikkel and Pastoral Resident Aaron Villarreal.

Every week, these five seminarians participate in live-stream classes (Northern Live) and participate in selected on-campus intensives taught by Northern’s premier faculty and populated by students on the front lines of ministry. In the MATM program, they learn, discuss and apply theology in their context to reach and unify the people of San Antonio through the Gospel message. No easy task. Like other urban areas, San Antonio’s communities can be assigned the same zip code but still live worlds apart. In fact, recent nationwide studies identified San Antonio as America’s most income segregated metro area. This is The Park’s real-world context where they seek to build a community of peace and goodwill.

Following the Parish Network model, The Park Community Church ministers through one urban church community consisting of neighborhood churches (parishes) that network together. Within those parishes are leaders who are immersed in each of the neighborhoods but collaborate as one team.

The Park launched two new parishes on August 4, 2019. Their congregations now meet at MacArthur Parish, Midtown Parish and Oak Meadow Parish. As they begin to realize the Parish model through church planting, the MATM program offers the seminarians the opportunity to continue developing their theological, missiological and leadership skills while ministering in distinct communities yet collaborating with each other.

While attending a recent on-campus intensive at Northern Seminary in Lisle, Illinois “the rubber hit the road,” as Aaron Villarrealsays: “This summer we attended a class at Northern called ‘Race, Ethics and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’ taught by Dr. Reggie Williams. We studied the works of Bonhoeffer surrounding race, which has been an issue in San Antonio. Our church has been trying to engage in that conversation. San Antonio has the wealthiest communities right next to the poorest and it is vastly based on race.”

Upon return from that intensive, The Park leadership team conducted a roundtable
discussion about race. “We would not have been able to have that discussion had we not had that class” Aaron explains. The concept of Bonhoeffer, that Christians cannot be in conflict with each other if God is in between, better positioned and informed the conversation of a complex, personal and often highly charged topic.

Mike DeFrees, Lead Pastor of the Midtown Parish, expands on the impact of a seminary education for their team. “What drew us to Northern Seminary’s MATM program was that we would be getting theological knowledge and then practically applying. It’s been invaluable.” Mike, and the others, appreciate the variety of perspectives within Northern. “They present different views and don’t hold shame of those who see differently. We [at Park] hold the tension and found that at Northern as well … Northern has really encouraged us. It’s infiltrated every area of our church and impacted how we do outreach.”

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