Leading a religious congregation in modern America is more than just reading from scripture. South Kingstown native Stephen Mook, pastor of the Generation Church in Narragansett, knows this all too well. Having a connection with God, as well as Twitter and Instagram accounts, helps this young leader gain street cred with his parishioners. Mook, his wife, Lindsay, and their two children, 3-year-old Jacob Lyle and 7-month-old Finley Rose, live in Wakefield now, and are spreading the good news of Jesus.
When did the church begin, and what denomination is it?
The church was launched two years ago. I was serving in Providence in a non-denominational church at the time. Some years ago I had a vision to start Generation Church. It’s a Jesus church. We’re connected with the North American Mission Board, and the church leans Baptist. We’re independent, and don’t have a policy with committees over us, but we do have support. We’re about the good news of Jesus.
The church really began in our living room on Monday nights. We like to say, “Tables are better than rows,” meaning it’s better to meet around the table (with food) than in rows on Sunday. We met at The Contemporary Theater Company in Wakefield for the first six months and The Narragansett Theater in the Pier after that. Now we need a bigger space and more classrooms for our Generation Kids, so starting on March 19, we will meet at the Narragansett High School auditorium on Sundays at 10 a.m.
How did the name of the church come about?
The Generation Church came from a prayer in scripture, Psalm 100, Verse 5: “The Lord is good, He’s unfailing in his love, and His faithfulness continues to each generation.” One of the things I love about where we are in South County is that we have a mix of the elderly and young families, that we have the University of Rhode Island in the heart of South County and good high schools, so we want to be a church that represents all generations.
When I was in Providence, I would come back to East Matunuck and my heart was being stirred for how much I loved South County. And, with my father being a pastor and coming from a generation of people who loved Jesus, it (the name) was just a reminder that God is faithful and doesn’t give up.
What is the mission of your church?
People revived by the good news of Jesus are our mission. We often tell people as we go about being a church we’re seeking to live this out and we believe in the Holy Spirit. For us, we believe strongly in the common good. We want to see the common good advance, to live this out; the church was to be a blessing to our neighbors and our people around us. People see us as a church about the good news of Jesus. It’s a Jesus church. It’s really about a journey of connecting with people and listening to people and it’s one of the most attractive things about our church.
How would people relate to your church relative to other mainstream churches?
We have a band, we preach, and take communion – traditional things. It’s not about religion. We’re part of the Baptist convention, but we really make it about Jesus. There are a lot of stereotypes and the media often uses this. The reality is that we wanted to reach people who were not being reached by the “church.” People have so many experiences in various churches; I would say we’re about coming home and having a feeling of the good news of Jesus.
How does your family incorporate the principles of your church into its daily life?
It’s relevant because we now have two kids, and we’re beginning new traditions. I learned from my dad and mom – which was so significant and which was passed on – that God was good, and Jesus came so that we had a relationship with God. It was real, not a duty, and it affected every part of our lives. I was a troubled teen and through that, God was good and had a relationship with me.
We do simple things. With my son, for example, we pray when we eat, or throughout the day. We’re teaching him prayer is a conversation with God, and you give thanks for the meal. When you pray throughout the day that faith is a way of life. As Saint Paul said, you guys are a living epistle.
What is your church’s concept of God?
We would find ourselves in orthodox Christianity – the core doctrines, the creed. The biggest focus for us is the good news of Jesus that God came to be with us as we see in Christmas, for example; not distant and not far away. God wants a relationship with us in the work of Jesus, and through the Holy Spirit – alive, not dormant, not far away – and that God has showed himself in Jesus. There’s no changing of the concept of God, part of the larger orthodox Christianity. We want it to be more about reality and relationship than religion.
What are some of the core concepts of Generation Church?
Our rule is to not assume everyone is at the same place, and to deal with the reality that people hold convictions. Conviction isn’t the problem; it’s how we communicate. We’re meeting together to advance the common good. It’s OK to have core convictions; it’s harder when people don’t have convictions. We can listen to one another and have conversations. We have to not be scared of the tension that might be [created] with sharing. We need to have conversations with one another, and listen to one another.
For some people in South County, they come to me because I’m a safe place where they can have questions. It’s all around an environment of conversation and eating together. We often lead in with, “Tell me what you believe in.” I’m very passionate about dialogue. I always like to ask questions and have a lot of conversation to know where people are. Everyone is made in the image of God, and needs respect.
I’m passionate about the good news of Jesus. If this wasn’t real for me and real to us, I wouldn’t show up. We show up to remember that the best days are still ahead in Jesus’ name. We’re not here to go through the motions. Truth and love; you’ve got to have both.
What is important to you regarding the church?
Authenticity. At the end of the day, when you are passionate about something, people can see that. I never get offended when people don’t believe what we stand for as long as they can see that we’re authentic. I can’t determine how they respond, but I can see that I’m authentic regardless of how people respond.
What is important for people to know about your church?
We don’t check people. We allow all people to our Sunday space. All are welcome. When it comes to being “partners” with the church, that is a process where people get to hear more about our core convictions. Why we do that is because over time, there might be core convictions that, even as we seek to love one another, we might find we have different core convictions, and that’s a process. We use the language of partnership and team, and when it comes to that, there’s accountability to see if people want to become part of the church. We don’t say “membership” or “members”; we say “family” and “friends.”
There are people who feel ostracized because we (the country) have a “Show the best, hide the rest” culture. There can be pain with a different lifestyle – whatever it is that can keep people from being part of our community – so we should be the first community to welcome. When it comes to who we are, there are people across the spectrum coming on Sunday and carrying all kinds of things, and they should know that there’s a seat for them.
What is your hope for Generation Church?
Our hope is to plant Generation Churches all over South County. We’re not limited to South County; we have people from all over Rhode Island and Connecticut. South County is a unique culture with a unique identity, and we want to see it flourish. We’re part of the fabric of South County – moms, dads business owners – people who make up South County. We’re not about a building. We all go to the same shops, gyms and hospitals. We want to be the church that people see is authentic and genuine and followers of the good news of Jesus. We want to add value to South County.