Category: 4 Midland

Striving to Obtain It

“What? Shall we pray for a thing and not strive to obtain it?”
~ from Thomas Campbell’s Declaration and Address, September 1809

Nearly 60 of us ministers and elders from First Baptist, First Methodist, First Presbyterian, and our GCR Church of Christ gathered at First Presbyterian last night for a dinner and prayer meeting to formally enter a unity alliance. It’s a partnership we’re calling “4 Midland,” a commitment to worship and serve together as the collective Body of Christ in our city.

And it was a joy. It was a delight. It was a deep and rich grace from God to be together in that setting and for that purpose.

There were seven tables in that room last night with eight ministers and elders from the four churches at each one. I sat at a table with Carolyn, an elder at First Pres; with Dillon, a First Pres minister; with Valerie, from First Methodist; with Travis, one of my shepherds at GCR; and with Steve Brooks and Darin Wood, the pastors at First Methodist and First Baptist. We read Scripture together and we prayed. We discussed together what the Lord is already doing in our churches (a ton, as it turns out; praise God!), and dreamed out loud about what God might do through us in the future. As we prayed around our table, I couldn’t help but hear Clay praying for unity from the table next to us. I heard Jadyn praying for God’s grace and presence from a table at the front of the room. During our discussions, I could hear Eric laughing from a couple of tables to my right. I watched as Byron and Brandon made the rounds, introducing themselves to about thirty different people. I watched Kristin pray with the church leaders at her table. I was so proud of our people last night, so proud of their eager participation and leadership in this great cause.

Steve Brooks opened things up by telling the story of how he and I first met a couple of years ago. The confession. The apology. The Spirit-led exchange of mutual appreciation and love between us. He led us in a time of meditation and prayer from Ephesians 4, reminding us that there  is just one Body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, and, while we use different amounts of water, just one baptism. We recognized together in prayer that we are called to be a unified people of God. We acknowledged that God is the Father of us all. And we pledged to commit to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.

After those inspiring prayers, it was time for me to outline for the assembled group our plans for worship and service together over the next couple of years. I began by giving everyone a brief primer on the origins of the American Restoration Movement and the Churches of Christ. I talked about Thomas Campbell and Barton Stone, two Presbyterian preachers who got in trouble with their churches and their districts for preaching and practicing a radical Christian unity. I read “Proposition 9” from Campbell’s Declaration and Address, the founding document of the Stone-Campbell Movement, the charter for what came to be known as Churches of Christ:

“That all that are enabled, through grace, to make the Christian confession and to manifest the reality of it in their tempers and conduct, should consider each other as the precious saints of God, should love each other as brethren, children of the same family and Father, temples of the same Spirit, members of the same Body, subjects of the same grace, objects of the same divine love, bought with the same price, and joint heirs of the same inheritance. Whom God hath thus joined together, no one should dare to put asunder!”

Towards the end of the great document, Campbell issues the call, “What? Shall we pray for a thing and not strive to obtain it?”

The Churches of Christ are a Christian unity movement started by a couple of Presbyterian preachers. As a group, I confess, we have strayed far from our roots. It is so beautiful — poetic, even — that we were together last night in a Presbyterian church building. It was meaningful for me and for us from GCR. It was symbolic to embrace our roots in that significant way. We’re hugging Presbyterians!

“What?¬† Shall we pray for a thing and not strive to obtain it?”

I outlined our plans together. We’re going to worship together in combined settings with all four of our churches at least three times per year: Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday/Good Friday, and the Sunday night before Thanksgiving. We’re going to rotate hosts churches, combine our worship teams and choirs, and praise our God as one Body of Christ. We’re going to bring the very best of what our four churches and our four faith traditions have to offer together to bless all of us and to honor our Lord Jesus. And all four of us preachers are going to swap pulpits once a year, beginning on that Sunday morning before Thanksgiving, November 24, 2024.

I then led us through a time of brainstorming together at each of our tables for a combined service project we can do late Spring or early Summer to work side-by-side to bless the city of Midland. We received a couple of dozen excellent suggestions that we’ll be discussing together in the coming weeks.

After that, Steve Schorr reminded us of Psalm 105:4, “Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.” He recalled a few past ecumenical efforts in Midland that started strong, but lost their focus. These unity initiatives began to emphasize big names and big crowds and large platforms and lost their sense of the presence of God and his leadership of his people. Steve encouraged us to move forward together, seeking only the face of our God and his leading. It was heart-felt and honest. Moving. Inspiring.

After one more time of prayer around our tables, pledging to give our unity and our efforts to God for his purposes, Darin brought it home with an encouraging charge and benediction. He thanked everyone for our willingness, our eagerness, to put aside our differences, to tear down our walls, to come together in Christ for the sake of our city.

“What? Shall we pray for a thing and not strive to obtain it?”

I am so thankful to for the growing friendships I’m blessed by God to share with Darin, Steve, and Steve. I am so grateful for the ecumenical spirit of our four churches and the commitment we share to worship and serve together in the name and manner of our Lord Jesus. This partnership will shape us and make us more like Christ. All of us. Everybody in our churches. And it will proclaim in undeniable ways the love and grace of God, his healing and his joy, to a divided world that needs to see and experience what being one together in Christ looks like.

Peace,

Allan

4 Midland

Four guys walk into a bar: a Baptist, a Methodist, a Church of Christ, and a Presbyterian… that’s a joke.

Four sets of ministers and elders walk into a church building to pray: Baptist, Methodist, Church of Christ, and Presbyterian… that’s not a joke. It’s the holy will of our God and a magnificent witness to our city of the power of Jesus! And it’s happening this evening!

“I pray also for those who will believe in me through [the apostles’] message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one. I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” ~John 17:20-23

We believe it is God’s will that all his children, all disciples of his Son, be reconciled. We think God’s great desire is for all Christians to be brought together as a powerful witness to the world of his love and peace. You know, this is in our Church of Christ DNA. It was established in the opening lines of Thomas Campbell’s Declaration and Address, the charter document for our Restoration Movement, written in August 1809:

“That it is the grand design and native tendency of our holy religion to reconcile and unite men to God and to each other in truth and love to the glory of God; and their own present and eternal good will will not, we presume, be denied by any of the genuine subjects of Christianity.”

The whole document is about reconciliation, the kind of reconciliation that drives God’s eternal plans. The very ministry of reconciliation he’s given those of us who profess our faith in him. The words in this document are bold and aggressive and they ring with undeniable beauty and truth. They call for a swift end to all divisions among those who follow Jesus:

“Has the Captain of Salvation sounded a desist from pursuing this deadly enemy that is sheathing its sword in the very bowels of Christ’s Church, rending and mangling his mystical Body to pieces? Has he said to his servants, ‘Let it alone?’ If not, where is the warrant for a cessation of endeavors to have it removed?”

Campbell claims that tearing down the walls and uniting with all our brothers and sisters in Christ is a matter of universal right, a duty belonging to every citizen of the Kingdom of God. And while the work will be difficult and the opposition will come mainly from within the church establishment, Campbell says it is God’s will. It is the Church’s will. It is the will of those who’ve gone before us:

“Both the mighty and the many are with us. The Lord himself, and all that are truly his people, are declaredly on our side. The prayers of all the churches, nay, the prayers of Christ himself, and of all that have ascended to his heavenly Kingdom, are with us.”

I thank God for the Campbells and the Stones and the other giants of the faith who latched on to God’s holy will as revealed to us in Scripture and would not let go. I thank God for the ecumenical spirit of the GCR Church toward our brothers and sisters in other Christian churches in our city. I’m grateful for the willingness here — the eagerness! — to unite with other Christ-followers.

This evening, the GCR elders and ministers are meeting at First Presbyterian Church with their elders and ministers and the elders and ministers from First Baptist and First Methodist to spend two hours together in dinner and prayer. We are forming an alliance, a partnership. We’re calling it “4 Midland.” It’s a hopefully obvious play on words. Four churches breaking down our walls, putting aside our differences, to unite together for the sake of our city.

We’re not 100% sure what this looks like yet. We know it’s going to be a worship and service partnership that brings our people together side-by-side in order to bless Midland. We want to worship together at least three times a year, beginning this next Spring: Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday/Good Friday, and the Sunday evening before Thanksgiving. We’re still figuring out which churches are going to host each worship service. We also want our four preachers swapping pulpits with each other once a year, probably on that Sunday morning before Thanksgiving, November 24, 2024. As for an annual service project in our city, we’re still taking suggestions. That’s one of the things we’re going to pray about together tonight.

We do believe this partnership between denominations will be a powerful witness to our city that Jesus really is the Prince of Peace, that he really does possess the power to reconcile and unite. Jesus says in the middle of Matthew 18 that if two or three of his people will come together and agree on anything, he’ll show up just to see it! And we believe he will.

Whatever good comes from this alliance, we know it must begin in prayer. So that’s what we’re doing tonight at First Presbyterian. We’re going to pray. We’re going to commit to one another — all four churches — as brothers and sisters in Christ. We’re going to pledge in prayer that we will not be competitive, that we will not be territorial, that we will see our area of Midland as the part of the Kingdom of God we’ve been given to serve together. And we’re going to submit the whole thing to him. In prayer, we’re going to give our partnership, our efforts, our projects, all of it to our merciful Father for his purposes and to his eternal glory and praise.

It starts tonight. I have only hopes and dreams for where it might be going. But it starts tonight.

Peace,

Allan