I know what Summit Director Brady Brice means now when he says, “Wow… we’ve reached the peak. And the view from up here is spectacular.” It’s been a great past 24-hours. Kevin Schaffer and several members of our Central praise team led our time of worship last night in Moody Coliseum leading up to the evening’s keynote. What a great job they did. And I found myself increasing in gratitude to God that I am blessed by their gifts every week in our church assemblies. I spent a wonderful six or seven minutes today talking with one of my theological heroes, Stanley Hauerwas, about our common upbringing in the Grove. (When I introduced myself and told him I was a fellow Grove-Rat, he looked me over and said, “You’re kidding!”) We talked about Conner Drive and Wyatt’s Cafeteria and the old Pleasant Grove Shopping Center on Buckner Boulevard and Big Town Mall and Samuel High School and how all the houses in the Grove now have little rod iron fences around them. What a thrill!
But today’s panel discussion with the lead ministers from the 4 Amarillo churches in Hart Auditorium was by far the highlight of the week for me. It was so much fun. It was so encouraging. So well received by all in attendance. And so significant.
A jet-lagged Burt, who interprets “business casual” as a suit and tie, made it in to Abilene late last night to join Howie, who’s getting ready for First Baptist’s 125th anniversary this Sunday, Howard, and me for day two of the “That the World May Believe” classes I’m presenting on our 4 Amarillo project. We began by recounting how our partnership began with Howie taking Howard to lunch to welcome him to town as a new pastor back in the fall of 2010. Howard forwarded the favor to Burt and then to me when we arrived at our respective churches in Amarillo just a couple of months apart in the summer of 2011. And through those lunches, which quickly became a monthly ritual at the Burger Bar on Polk Street, grew a deep friendship and mutual respect for one another, supported by our common faith in Christ Jesus.
We talked today about the perfect storm of conditions and timing, dropped in our laps by our God, that made 4 Amarillo possible. We talked about our individual churches, about the response from the community, about the transformation occurring among our own members, and even gave a couple of suggestions for those who might consider some first baby-steps engagement with the church down the street from their own congregations. We poked fun at our own traditions and at each other. We laughed together and we challenged our audience; we acknowledged the hurdles and we pointed to our Lord. We spent the last 15-minutes fielding questions from the crowd and pausing several times for the enthusiastic clapping and “amens” to our responses.
It was received so well.
I believe there are many reasons our people are so receptive to this kind of thing. The spiritual maturity of our 220-year-old movement coupled with a better understanding of the grace of God in the middle of the prevailing post-denominational culture means we’re thinking more in Kingdom terms than “Church of Christ” terms. So many of our children and grandchildren have left the CofCs to join other denominations. We all have friends — godly friends, Christian people, sincere disciples of our Lord — in other denominations. And we’ve all needed some way to articulate with our words what we feel in our hearts about them. And about their own relationships with God. We’ve also needed some officially church-sanctioned way of expressing it; a practical, tangible method of experiencing what we read in the Scriptures but what runs counter to what most of us have been taught for most of our lives.
I’m forever indebted to my good friends who took a day-and-a-half out of their busy ministry weeks to drive five hours twice to talk to the people in our tribe about our partnership. They honored me today with their valuable time. They honored us CofCers with their grace. And they honored a true commitment to our great desires to serve the city of Amarillo together with the love, peace, and joy of Christ Jesus. I’m so glad we did this together today. I’m so grateful to God for the opportunity. And I’m so encouraged by the positive response that has followed me around campus all afternoon.
I finish the class tomorrow morning with a look at how this Kingdom way of looking at and behaving with one another in our different faith traditions shapes us more into the image of Christ, how it gives us a much better understanding of God’s grace, and how it probably fits with a whole lot of things our churches are already doing.
Father, may we be one. May we all — all of your Son’s followers, all the disciples in every Christian church all over the world — until that day when you send Jesus back to bring us home, be brought to complete unity so the world will sit up and take notice. So the world will say “Oh. My. Word. He really is the Holy Son of God! He really is the Prince of Peace! He really does transcend all of our differences!” And then the whole world will give you, Father, all the glory and all the praise for ever and ever. Amen.