When I was asked to write this column, I was pastor of Blessed Hope Church in Howard Lake. As of Easter Sunday, I am no longer pastor of Blessed Hope.
No, I didn’t quit. And I wasn’t fired, either.
Easter Sunday was an historic day for our church. We held our first service as a new church a merger with Open Arms Community Church, also of Howard Lake, pastored by Steve Basney. Except, we aren’t using the word “merger.” A merger sounds more like a business transaction, but the connection between these two churches is much more than a legal or business deal.
Rather than merging, our two churches have formed a partnership a marriage, if you will. The details have not been worked out yet, but like any marriage, a commitment is made and then the details are worked out as you go.
During a time when churches are splitting and disagreeing about so many things, we believe it’s not only good for Christianity, it’s also good for the community when two churches can lay aside preferences and choose to serve one another. It goes against the unfortunate “normal” we have become used to.
Jesus had a different idea about normal Christianity. He told His disciples they would be recognized because of their love for each other (John 13:35). He didn’t say they would be recognized by their correct doctrine, or their charismatic personalities, or their amazing talent, or their elaborate church buildings.
Please don’t misunderstand me. Correct doctrine is essential. Talent is good. A church building, though not really a Biblical idea, can be quite helpful. But Jesus’ point is that all these things, as good and helpful as they may be, are not what identify a Christian. A true follower of God is identified by love.
This is not some sissy, candy-coated tolerance that folds, rather than face the truth. It is a daring, risky commitment toward others that is willing to stand for truth, speak out for what’s right, and die for one another, if necessary, in order to fulfill God’s mission in the world.
In a sense, both of our churches are in the process of doing this. We have “died” to our own personal dreams, identity, and purpose in order to share visions with another congregation. We believe that our new church can do more together than we could have alone.
The Bible describes it this way: “Five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand” (Leviticus 26:8). The multiplied strength of partnership is not just additional, but exponential.
There’s really nothing in life that works well when people are completely independent. The only thing “not good” about creation was Adam being alone.
God intended for us to be in relationship with each other. That’s what church is all about. Sure, you can have faith and not go to church. You can be sincere, read the Bible, and pray. But the only definition the Bible provides for a person of faith is one who is in relationship with both God and with a body of believers. God intended it to be that way.
The church of Jesus Christ is a group of people that set aside differences and love one another based on a commitment, not personal preference. That’s what brought our two churches together.
If you are feeling isolated, alone, or disconnected from the people in your sphere, I encourage you to return to the One who invented relationships, and to give a fresh try at committing to a local church.