Spotlight Interview: Jonah Easley

By Prestonwood Network Staff

Prestonwood Network: Can you share with us how God called you and your family to plant and pastor in the Seattle area?

Jonah Easley: After living in the Pacific Northwest for two and half years, we still wake up sometimes and wonder how in the world we got here. My wife, Kathy, and I grew up far from here, both geographically and culturally. But, in the fullness of time, God made it crystal clear that our next season of ministry would be based in Bellevue, Washington.

After serving in student ministry for several years, God clarified His specific will by giving us a passion for reaching the nations with the Gospel and an open door of opportunity. In January 2009, Kathy and I, with one-way tickets in hand, boarded an airplane to China. Through our challenging years on the mission field, God taught us how to fully depend on Him and love people in ways previously unknown to us. Our hearts were being transformed, but the transformation didn’t stop there. He began to give us His eyes, ears and feet! We began our ministry in China by engaging the city through operating a local coffee shop and making disciples. Through those relationships, we formed a community of loyalty and trust that opened the door for receptive Gospel conversations. As a result, churches were planted.

By 2012, our years of infertility had come to an abrupt end. Our family had expanded with the addition of a son and a daughter within 15 months of each other. Through unforeseen health concerns, we sensed God bringing that season to a close and we returned from the foreign mission field.

Our experience in China changed much about who we are, how we see the world, and often the way we see and minister to others. Trying to “pick up where we left off” when returning to America was impossible, but we knew God wasn’t done with us. It took a few years for God to open our eyes to the spiritual condition of the Western United States. When He did, we were unable to look away.

Over the last few years, the Seattle area has grown drastically as the technology industry brings people from all over the world. In our neighborhoods are over 100 major languages, cultures, religious affiliations and ethnicities. This gives us an amazing opportunity as a local church to be an expression of the diversity of the global Church.

God is already moving in the city of Seattle. Since 2000, the number of Seattle churches has more than doubled. About half of the churches are second-generation ethnic churches, or churches that worship in languages other than English. God is already at work, and He cares about the people of Seattle more than we do. To borrow from Henry Blackaby, We simply want to “recognize what He’s doing and join Him in His work.” It’s for this reason that Awakening Church is a church in the city, for the city – depending on Jesus, displaying His love, declaring the Gospel, and deploying for His glory.

Prestonwood Network: What have been a few victories that you all have celebrated during the early stages of planting Awakening Church?

Jonah Easley: Engaging the city through local relationships – Our church-planting strategy didn’t begin with sticking a flag in the ground and starting a Sunday service. But so often that’s the approach that is taken in church planting. We began, instead, by building relationships in the community through existing organizations that were doing great things for God. After all, we were new in town, and foreigners at that – what did we know? However, intentionally building relationships in the city has given us great favor and opportunity. This strategic focus is not something we plan to graduate from. Instead, this is something that keeps our focus outward, which can go against our nature. Click here to learn more about our local, national, and international partners.

Mission going – The Great Commission and our passion for the nations is prioritized by local engagement and global going! Vance Pitman says, “God’s activity in my life locally is always connected to his activity globally.” And as I read through the pages of Scripture and better understand what it means to follow Jesus, I fully believe that if we aren’t doing everything we can to make and multiply disciples of Jesus, we haven’t really believed or understood the Gospel. Because of that, we prioritize going to the nations as well as our neighborhoods. God has opened great doors for us in South Asia and Southeast Asia. Since September 2018, we have taken four international teams (27 people) to these places where we partner with local pastors and foreign missionaries who desperately need equipping and encouragement. Having served on a foreign mission field has given me a useful perspective on what is helpful and what is not. Click here to learn more about our local, national, and international partners.

Mission giving – Three months after we planted Awakening Church, we had our first world mission offering. From day one, our passion for the unreached people groups around the world has been on our heart. An expression of that passion is found in our financial generosity. The first offering totaled just over $4,000. We were excited about this offering and joining other SBC churches in the Lottie Moon Christmas offering. Fast forward one year to our 2019 world mission offering. It was an emotional moment when I opened the envelope with our total of $14,428! As the pastor/church planter, I don’t always see the immediate results of what God is doing in the hearts of His people. But in that moment, I caught a glimpse.

Multiplying City Groups – Our City Group ministry serves as the growth point of Awakening Church. These groups are a safe place where people can encounter God, and find the resources and relationships to nurture their spiritual growth. We have had several groups functioning in a healthy way. But this year we have launched four additional groups, doubling our number of groups! City Groups aren’t always easy, but the benefits are worth the effort. Participants build deeper relationships that would never be possible on Sundays alone. People stay connected to the church, even when they can’t always attend church.” City Groups let the church grow bigger, smaller and deeper, all at the same time. Lives are changed, so that those people go out and change the Seattle area, one relationship at a time.

Prestonwood Network: You have ministered in many different cultures, cities, and even countries. How has Seattle been a similar and yet also a unique area for ministry?

Jonah Easley: The multiple cultures in the Seattle area certainly make a unique ministry setting. We have had a focus of being a multi-ethnic body since day one. We live in the first minority-majority city in Washington – Bellevue. Over half of our population was born outside of the United States, and we have more than 100 major languages spoken in our neighborhoods. We want to be intentional about building bridges to reach the various cultures in our city. But that is a lot of bridges! My wife, Kathy, runs an ESL program through one of our local partnerships called Jubilee REACH. Through these ESL classes, we prioritize building relationships with over 23 different nationalities and around 400 people/families. As these relationships have grown, we’ve added additional ESL Bible studies where we simply teach through the Bible and clearly point people to Jesus every week.

Spiritually, the greater Seattle area is one of incredible opportunity. While over 80 percent of people believe in something beyond the physical realm, only about a third are part of any organized religion. It is a pre-Christian society that is seeing encouraging growth in the number of new disciples, churches and networks. On any given Sunday, only four percent of the population attends an evangelical church of any kind. Less than one percent attends a Southern Baptist church. We are planting the Gospel” to see God’s kingdom expand through the making of new disciples. The people of Seattle need to hear the Gospel, and we are convinced that God’s method of seeing a city transformed is by planting the right kinds of churches in their midst. Thus, we feel it is our joy-filled duty to plant a Gospel-centered church in Bellevue.

Prestonwood Network: What advice do you have for a young church leader just getting started in ministry?

Jonah Easley: In many ways, I still feel like I am just getting started in ministry myself. I am constantly learning and growing in my walk with God and leadership over a flock. There are some assumptions that are “built-in” with anyone aspiring to achieve something. There is a great myth that bigger is better. Based on Scripture, I don’t believe any church should be measured by its attendance. On the other hand, Acts 4:29 shows us that the disciples desired something besides numbers – they desired boldness. They quickly learned from Jesus that without boldness in declaring the Gospel, they wouldn’t be the church that God intended. Fads seem to pop up weekly. There always seems to be a shortcut as well as the “newest” and “coolest” way of reaching people.

I believe that having biblical-success metrics translates into faithfulness, longevity and greater dependence on God. I believe it is very difficult to measure the things that really matter. Not that we can’t observe transformation of the heart, but traditional metrics in the church can lead to wrong behavior, such as being church-absorbed or brand-builders. Reggie McNeal of Leadership Network states, “As long as we use [traditional metrics], we will continue to be inward-focused, program-driven and church-based in our thinking.” Metrics matter, but numbers just aren’t enough. Even with well-designed metrics, the data will not tell the full story.

Prestonwood Network: How do you prioritize rest and taking time to be with your family?

Jonah Easley: We all have limits. The question is not “What needs to be done?” The question is “What does God want me to do?” I once heard a pastor say, “There are few things as damaging, and potentially soul-destroying, as busyness.” We live in a world of seemingly infinite need. There’s always one more emergency to plan for; one more “thing” to obtain; one more need to meet. Several years ago, I was challenged to write out my priorities and roles that God had given me and filter my calendar through that list.

Our unique family circumstances require intentionality and flexibility. I work hard to date my wife weekly and create margin for us to do things together as a family. The Sabbath can be difficult to prioritize in the world of church planting. God commanded Israel to take a Sabbath, one day off to cease from labor. That made no sense, especially back then … and it doesn’t make much more sense today. Cutting productivity by one-seventh didn’t seem wise. But God commands us to do it because He wants us to leave space for Him to provide. He promises that if we work six days and take off the seventh, He will multiply our effectiveness.

Prestonwood Network: What have been some obstacles and challenges to ministering and serving in Seattle?

Jonah Easley: Affluence and apathy. The apathy-affluence connection is very real. We live in one of the most expensive cities in America. In our area, people seemingly lack nothing. In addition, it’s possible that apathy may be one of the most dangerous spiritual conditions out there. The letter to Laodiceans seems to suggest that we ought to take this seriously. There is a great gap that exists between the glory of Christ and the lukewarm responses from people. And certainly, our self-sufficient lives contribute to that gap.

Another challenge is the cultural diversity. We celebrate the diversity of our city and desire to build cultural bridges. But that’s easier said than done. We look at the culturally diverse early church and see a tremendous expression of unity. The question isn’t “Should we be multicultural”; the question is “How can we be more multicultural?” The key to building unity around the Gospel begins with building strong relationships with the various cultures in our city.

Prestonwood Network: Church planting is hard, and it can also be incredibly lonely. What are the best ways for believers to encourage church planters such as yourself?

Jonah Easley: Church planting is hard and can be lonely. Being far from biological family and the struggle for pastors to connect closely with others contribute to the difficulty. Praying for our encouragement is important … and so is being the encourager. I’ve been lifted up many times by a quick text or phone call from a caring prayer partner. I recently had an encourager fly to Seattle to spend a day with me. He had no agenda other than encouragement and support. The North American Mission Board (NAMB) will often send encouraging postcards and occasionally a gift card for a date night. Small things like that go a long way.

Prestonwood Network: What has you fired up about the future of Awakening Church?

Jonah Easley: It’s been an exciting first year as a church. We rejoice at what God has done already and look forward to what He will do in and through us in the future. Throughout the Old Testament, God consistently told His children to stop and reflect on what He had done for them. We want to do just that, not so that we can pat ourselves on the back, but to remind ourselves that God isn’t done working in Bellevue, Wash., or around the world. Even though there are so many reasons for us to celebrate the past year, I never want us to stop dreaming big for what He wants for our future. I’m fired up to be a part of the kingdom of God coming in and through Seattle, Wash.  Every month we are seeing lives changed. And as a response to the Gospel, we want to make a big deal about Jesus with all of our lives. Whether we see the fruit or not, we will be faithful in being bold with the Gospel.

Prestonwood Network: How can we pray for you, your family, and your church?

Jonah Easley: Pray for our walk with Jesus. Pray that God would walk powerfully and intimately with us, so we are able to minister out of the overflow of our personal intimacy with Jesus.

Pray for our family. Our challenges, although unknown to many, require us to carry a burden much too heavy for us. We need the prayers of God’s people.

Pray for wisdom. We need great wisdom as we make decisions weekly that affect the health of our church — and the extension of God’s kingdom in our community – for years to come.

Pray for favor in our community. As we engage our city, pray that God would continue to open doors and introduce strategic relationships.

Pray for faithfulness. Pray that we stay focused and faithful to the call God has placed on our lives, even in the midst of the ups and downs of difficult ministry.

Prestonwood Network: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Jonah Easley: Thank you, Prestonwood Network. We love you guys and are so thankful for your investment in us.

Prestonwood Network: Thank you, Jonah. We love you, and we are grateful for your partnership in spreading the Gospel to Seattle and beyond.

Jonah Easley is Lead Pastor of Awakening Church in Bellevue, Wash. Connect with Jonah on Twitter: @jonaheasley.

More information on Awakening Church can be found at www.awakeningseattle.com. Please share a word of encouragement or prayer with Pastor Jonah at pastor@awakeningseattle.com.

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