“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