While in Lisbon, Portugal, for the City to City Conference I had an opportunity to catch up with a good friend of mine, Troy Pitney. Troy is a church planter from Portland, Oregon, who is planting a church in Porto, a city in the north of Portugal. Over the years, Troy and I have worked together on a project that Operation Mobilization, the mission agency we both serve with, calls Transform. Before heading out to Porto, Troy and his family also came to Finland where I did some training with them, which is why I was delighted to meet Troy in his new home and ask him some questions about church planting.
Troy, tell us about your family:
My wife Michelle and I have been married for 13 years; together we have four children between seven and two, and the oldest two have started school in the Portuguese school system.
Prior to moving to Portugal, where we have lived for two years, we lived for three years in Germany where we were serving on an OM project called Transform, which seeks to reach out to the Mediterranean nations by raising up long-term missionaries for them.
How did you become a Church Planter?
Some years ago I felt the freedom to do the things I do for the one I love. Psalm 37:4, ‘Delight yourselves….’ became a very important verse for me. As I meditated on it, a call to delight in the Lord, it brought me freedom but also seemed to be a missionary strategy. During this time, having grown up skateboarding, surfing came into my heart. I thought: I love to do this, other people love to do it also, which will be a great foundation for friendship and sharing the Good News about Jesus and the establishing of a new church.
“do the things I love for the One I love…”
As I mentioned, with the Transform project we were focusing on the Mediterranean nations with the desire to see long-term workers in these nations raised up. I became one. As I looked at the ‘Med’ nations with the desire to surf, France, Portugal, and Morocco were the likely candidates and from there we decided to come to Portugal.
Why Portugal and why Porto?
Portugal is a Roman Catholic Country where religion is becoming less and less relevant, even Catholic churches are closing as more and more Portuguese people declare themselves atheists and religion is relegated to the superstitious. There is an evangelical church in Portugal, but it is very small at about .03 percent of the population. Further, most of these evangelical churchgoers, being older, have not adapted well to reaching young people and students and so are perceived by them as irrelevant.
In the North of Portugal where we live, this is all the more true. The northern population is almost lacking completely in Gospel witness and so in this sense it is unreached. Portugal’s university is in Porto, so the majority of those seeking education filter to the North, which makes this a strategic place to be… Of course it is also one of the great surfing cities of Portugal and the world.
Tell us about your church?
It’s called Surf Church, which is meant not be provocative,but it is proving to provoke a lot of thought in our evangelism. Imagine the conversations I have: “Hi, I’m Troy, nice to meet you.” “What are you doing in Portugal Troy”? “I’m leading Surf Church…” At this point, people in a quasi-religious culture are provoked to ask more.
At Surf Church our outreach is focused toward students, surfers, and skaters in the Porto community. One member of my team is studying at the university as a missional strategy in order to meet Portuguese students!
We have grown from six on our team about 10 months ago when we started to a core group of 25-30, and sometimes up to 50 attending on a Sunday… The thing that I am most thankful for what God is doing, is that with one or two exceptions they are all Portuguese and mostly young adults….
So we begin our church on Sundays at 3pm with an outreach on the beach, offering repairs and supplies to surfers, and lessons to those who would like to learn. Later we go back to our home for dinner, and after the meal we begin a more formal time of singing four or five songs, and then on to Bible study, where we work consecutively through a book of the Bible about a half chapter at a time – we are about to finish the book of Matthew, our first book. At this point everything is translated, into Portuguese and we sing both Portuguese and English songs.
Tell me more about the Bible teaching?
Here, people’s conception of who Jesus is so marred by tradition, culture, man-made teachings, that when they hear from the Scriptures who Jesus is they are absolutely amazed, liberated, and attracted to Him.
I would say the Scriptures have been seriously neglected, abused and overlooked in Portugal for a long time, which in some ways makes my job very easy. I simply open the Bible and teach people what it says. At Surf Church, the primary thing we are trying to do is to make disciples of Christ, who will make disciples and so on. The Scriptures are central to that strategy.
Can you share some lessons learned in your first year of planting?
- It takes a long time to adapt to a culture.
- The greatest surprise for us is not to be discouraged by the people who have gone before you who said church planting in Portugal is not going to work. I am learning to enjoy the expectation that people will come to Christ in the first year of church planting.
- It is said that church planting is lonely… but we are learning it does not have to be. You can create a team family culture to derive strength and encouragement from. Plant with a team!
- Having fruit from ministry is not the indicator that you are following Jesus, don’t mistake a growing church for a vibrant spiritual life with the Lord.
So, the challenge for us, as we see fruit, and other churches and organisations are surprised and encouraging us, is to remain personally rooted in Christ and dependent upon him.