Burt Palmer, the “Sheep Dog,” the warm, funny, out-going, self-deprecating senior pastor at Polk Street Methodist Church has said it a few times recently and repeated it again in front of sixty-five other elders and ministers at last night’s 4 Amarillo prayer meeting: “I can’t believe it’s the Church of Christ guy who’s pushing this ecumenical partnership.” Howard Griffin, the straight-laced, forward-thinking, super-organized, community-minded senior pastor at First Presbyterian Church has told me that when he tells his people about our 4 Amarillo plans, their reaction is something along the lines of, “Are you sure the Church of Christ wants to be involved in this?” Howie Batson, the most senior of all us senior pastors downtown, the long-time and much-loved, brilliant and soft-spoken, pastoral-face-of-the-city senior pastor at First Baptist Church whispered to me at breakfast yesterday and again after last night’s meeting, “You know, you’re going to get some push back from the other Churches of Christ in town.”
Yeah, some of it’s funny. Some of it’s sad. None of it surprises me. But, this is just the right thing to do. It’s right and it’s good; it’s very good. Because we know for a fact that the unity of all God’s children as a testimony to his power is the will of our Lord Jesus. Good gravy, it’s the last thing he prayed for on his way to the cross.
“…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… May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me.” ~John 17:20-23
We know that last night’s prayer meeting and our long-term plans to join forces in worship and service for the sake of our city is pleasing to our Father. We can be certain of that. How many biblical passages about the Body of Christ, how many Scriptures about Christian unity, how many references to fellowship and brotherly love do you want me to cite?
There were twelve tables in that room last night with six to eight ministers and elders from the four churches at each one. Well, that’s not entirely true. The table that was positioned at the very front center of the room was empty, drawing attention to yet another thing we all have in common: nobody sits down front. I sat at a table with Jim and Mickye from First Baptist, Callie and Kim from Polk Street, and our own Matthew Blake. We read Scripture together and we prayed. We discussed together what each of our churches are already doing in Amarillo (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 Leon praying for unity two tables over. I heard Steve Rogers behind me at his table, talking to God about his Holy Spirit. During our discussions I could hear Greg laughing a couple of tables to my right. I watched Steve and Larry introduce themselves to about forty different people. I was so proud of our guys last night, so proud of their eager participation and leadership in this great cause.
Burt led us in a time of meditation and prayer from Ephesians 4:3-6, 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.
Howard led us in a time of brain-storming together about ways we could partner with one another for the benefit of others. If somebody comes to Polk Street looking for food, Polk Street’s not going to start a big food pantry, they’re going to send them to Central. If somebody comes to Central looking for an ESL class, we’re not going to start one, we’re going to send them to First Baptist. If First Baptist needs two more guys to accompany their trailer of supplies to tornado victims in Moore, they’ll call us or First Presbyterian to see if anybody wants to go. People at First Baptist who want to do prison ministry should partner with the programs already in place at Polk Street. People at Polk Street who want to work at Martha’s Home should partner with what Central is already doing instead of trying to reinvent another program. Why not?
I outlined our plans for the next twelve months to serve our city together in the name of Jesus: serving our downtown-area elementary schools, serving and worshiping together during Thanksgiving and Easter, building the Habitat for Humanity houses next summer. In the context of Ephesians 4:11-13, we thanked our God for the works he’s about to put in front of us. We recognized that, according to Scripture, these works of service lead to unity and to increased Christ-likeness. And we begged God to give us those works, to raise up the leaders within our four churches, and to prepare our city to be turned upside down for our risen Savior.
Howie brought it home with an inspiring story about a young girl he presented a Bible to more than a decade ago at one of their summer Bible schools. This young child, who was being starved and abused in her home at the time, has grown into a wonderful Christian young lady who’s written and published a book about her experiences. Howie reminded us that you never know at the time how our God is using our efforts to serve others. And he encouraged us to embrace these new efforts in our downtown neighborhoods with trust that our Father is going to blow us away with his grace and power. We read from Jesus’ prayer for Christian unity for the sake of the world in John 17, and then pledged to God to follow his lead. We asked God to take us to places we’ve never been before in sacrifice and service for others. And we gave our partnership and our plans, our projects and programs, to him in prayer.
I believe that Satan, the Accuser, has already noticed. I believe that when Burt stood up last night to kick off our meeting, Satan also stood up at the same time and said, “They’re doing what?!?” I believe that, after last night, hell is trembling. And I believe heaven is rejoicing. I believe that last night our Father said, “Finally!” And then he elbowed a couple of his angels and said, “Now, watch this!”
We are acknowledging that Jesus has the power to change everything, to fix everything, to make everything right. And we’re showing Amarillo what it looks like by our sacrifice and service, by our re-organized priorities, by our Christian unity, and by our lives.