Making Waves in Oroville

Oroville Pastors Awakened to God’s Call

When God called Scott Thomson to lead a church in Oroville, California, he knew it was a long shot. He lived in the Bay Area and had never even heard of the community nestled in the Sierra foothills. Though Thompson was a former missionary and assistant pastor, he’d never led a congregation. Most of his experience and skills derived from his custom cabinet business. He didn’t even hold a license in the denomination. Yet the call, Thomson said, was unmistakable — and it was bigger than he could’ve imagined.

“Before I came here, God very clearly spoke to me that He wasn’t sending me here just to stand behind the pulpit and pastor the church, but He was going to give me the city to pastor,” he said. “I didn’t know what that meant.”

Within 18 months of arriving in Oroville, Thomson was leading his congregation while also being elected to the City Council, largely in part to a strong pastors’ network. 

“There’s been a lot of spiritual prayer that has been sowed into the city for a long time; and cooperation and love and honor and respect,” Thomson said of his colleagues.

That commitment and cooperation coalesced into something even greater when Thomson and half a dozen other pastors attended a May 2017 Washington D.C. Awakening Tour sponsored by Church United and its founder, Jim Domen. The trip was an answer to prayer for Thomson, who said he was led to visit the nation’s capitol shortly after his election to the council.

“I felt a strong impression to go there to pray over our nation, pray over what’s going on in our country,” the pastor of River of Life Church said. “I had concern for the direction of the United States.”

With an older congregation in transition, Thomson had no idea how a D.C. trip would materialize, though he was willing to sleep on the floor. He turned the matter over to his prayer team — and soon an invite, complete with full accommodations, was extended from Church United. What Thomson and the others learned in Washington D.C. transformed Oroville. The pastors returned home with a new appreciation for their religious freedoms and a foundational understanding of America’s historical heritage.  

“It brings this seed in your heart that I am part of the legacy that stems way back,” said Thomson. “We had a sense of unity here in Oroville, but with going to D.C. we had the WHY given to us. There’s a reason why we meet together. It isn’t just to pray for each other and to pray for our town.” 

Thomson added that the pastors came away with a renewed understanding of their responsibility to be culture-shapers by standing firm on biblical principles and being a voice.

“Before D.C., possibly one pastor would attend council meetings,” Thomson said. “Now, pastors routinely participate in the process through prayer, speaking and advocating. The passion that was received from Church United spread out to the other pastors who didn’t even go.”

The timing of the Awakening Tour was impeccable, as a majority of Oroville council members were gearing up to foist an ambitious seed-to-sale marijuana ordinance upon the city. Concerned about the aggressive push by the marijuana lobby, Chuck Reynolds, an Oroville Bible study leader, decided to run for mayor, joining Thomson on the council. Reynolds was elected in November with nearly 66 percent of the vote. Eric Smith, a former pastor who serves as Oroville’s Chamber of Commerce CEO, also successfully ran for council, unseating an incumbent.

Undeterred by the defeat at the ballot box, the liberal majority tried to push the ordinance through before the newer, conservative members were sworn in on Jan. 2. But thanks to divine intervention, the vote — originally scheduled for Nov. 20 — was postponed because too many residents showed up to speak out against the ordinance. Since seating capacity for the room exceeded fire safety standards, the mayor adjourned the meeting to Dec. 4 so it could be hosted in a larger space. 

Although the ordinance ultimately passed, the law required a 30-day waiting period before it became law. One of the first orders of business after the new council was sworn in on Jan. 2 was to repeal the ordinance, just days before it was to have taken effect.

“We were on the brink of becoming the marijuana mecca or the Napa County of marijuana for California,” Thomson said. “The educational process provided through Church United has proven invaluable for the pastors, especially in light of persistent choruses that Christianity should be confined within the walls of the church.”

Thomson added, “There is a lot of fear for pastors to hear that so often — not only outside the church, but in the church.” He expressed that community involvement should become an essential part of church programming, much like feeding the poor, family ministries and missions outreach.

Thomson said the influence of Church United has become a confidence catalyst for the network of about two-dozen pastors and other conservative business leaders by providing support and resources. 

“There is such unity and love among the pastors, and with that God commands a blessing where, as pastors, we stop focusing within the four walls of our church … and have a community-wide burden,” Thomson said. “We forget agenda. Let’s just care about the community and whatever needs done, let’s work together to get it done.” 

In addition to standing up for biblical values, the pastors’ network is offering leadership beyond the political arena, addressing broader community concerns such as public safety, fiscal responsibility and rebuilding efforts in wake of the nearby devastation from the Camp Fire in Paradise. “It has put such a passion in the pastors’ hearts to be involved with the community on that level,” said Thomson. “It would not have happened, especially to the degree that it has, without Church United.”