My mind flashed back to a moment in the early 1990’s. I was sitting in a pew on a Sunday night with my parents in a church building singing along with a man and his guitar who was leading us in a praise song, “Create in me a clean heart, Oh God, and renew a right spirit within me…” My heart has always resonated with that song, and I have always heard the words of it through that man’s baritone voice. Rick Zehr was the man who led worship that night for a tiny group of believers who were ready to start a new church.
Fast forward to the end of 2016, over 25 years later. Pastor Rick (as we all call him), is now on staff at the church and school I lead. He has been a part of our church for many years now and he is one of those men I lean on for advice and support when faced with major decisions. On this uneventful day at the end of 2016, he stood at the door of my office and wanted to share something with me.
He shared with me that there was a church in the community which might be open to the idea of partnering with us. My ears perked up and he had my full attention because our leadership had been praying about going multisite for over a year now. The name of the church was Church of the Good Shepherd, which was located right across from Leo High School. In that moment, my mind flashed back to the night I sat in the pew as a junior higher trying to worship God. I did not know that I would someday be a pastor. I was in junior high. I loved sports and was starting the awkward stage of being interested in girls. Being a pastor wasn’t on my list of future career opportunities. But God, who knows the future, could see what was going to happen 25 years later.
What happened to me toward the end of 2016 would be called by many an epiphany. The past connection myself and many others at Central Ministries had with the Church of the Good Shepherd was uncanny. Our theology lined up well. Our philosophies were similar. We were both nondenominational churches. It all sounded too good to be true.
I thanked Rick for the information and told him that I would definitely pray about it and he walked away. Immediately, I felt a stir in my heart that this was from God. So, I got up from my desk and walked across the hallway into Pastor Don’s office (Don is still on staff at Central Ministries as our small groups pastor and was the former lead pastor for over 25 years; and he has been the overseer at Church of the Good Shepherd for years). I told Pastor Don about the possibility of our church partnering with their church and he also felt a stir in his heart that this was of God. We decided that he (Don) should contact Pastor Brad (lead pastor at Good Shepherd) and invite him out for coffee at the Perk (Central’s coffee shop). As Pastor Brad and Don met, they both sensed that God might be up to something.
Pastor Don called me (I was in my office studying) and asked if I was available to meet with the two of them. I walked into the Perk and the three of us continued the conversation. As the three of us met, we all sensed that God might be bringing us together, but we wanted to take this slow, as we knew that this type of move would require a great deal of humility on both sides. We parted ways that morning and decided that we would pray about it for several days and if we still felt like God was stirring our hearts, then we would present it to our elders.
Over the next several weeks, we met with elders, staff, financial teams and other key leaders to see what their response would be in regard to the idea of partnering together. The response was overwhelmingly positive filled with excitement.
In January, we asked both congregations to start praying. We didn’t tell them what the big announcement would be, but we simply asked them to pray for 30 days leading up to the announcement so that we could all feel the unity of the Spirit.
This last weekend (Feb 3-5), we both shared with our congregations the idea of partnering together and becoming ONE CHURCH at TWO LOCATIONS. The enthusiastic response from both congregations has been incredible.
Practically speaking, what does it mean that we will be partnering together? Here are a few of the details of how this will look if this is affirmed by both congregations in March:
Church of the Good Shepherd will become Central Ministries. Central Ministries would then have two campuses.
The vision and values of both campuses will be the same.
Pastor Jeremy will become the Lead Pastor of both campuses and would therefore preach at both campuses.
Pastor Brad will become the Campus Pastor of the “Leo Campus” and will focus on shepherding, administration and leader multiplication.
The “Leo Campus” will be resourced in many ways so that both campuses will exhibit the same style and passion in worship, youth and children’s ministries.
I believe this is the future of the Church. Not just for Central Ministries, but for the global church. Denominations will continue to crumble. Isolated churches will continue to be frustrated that their reach is never enough. But what if like-minded churches would decide to pull together in unity for the sake of the central message of the cross? I often sense in my heart that our city doesn’t necessarily need another church to be planted right next to an existing church. We are often referred to as the city of churches with over 300 local churches. What would happen if churches of all sizes decided to work together in unity? What would happen if churches would share their talents and their resources with each other? Then each of those churches within that network of campuses would become thriving places where people who are searching for answers will be presented with the good news of Jesus Christ. Just think about the power in those statements.
This last weekend, I presented this vision to our Friday night service. I stood up on stage at the 8:00 a.m. service on Sunday and presented the same vision. At 9:30 a.m. I spoke to a gym full of people while many watched in the chapel at our video venue service. And finally, at 11:00 a.m., I cast the vision for a 5th time in the same crowded gym. From a practical standpoint, we have to expand to another location. But that is not the thought I want to leave with you.
At the end of the 5th and final service, there was a line of people who wanted to talk with me. I enjoy talking with people and listening to them and trying to answer any questions they might have in regard to the sermon or to our church. At the end of the line, there was a young lady in her early twenties who wanted to share something that happened to her that morning. She was the final person I talked with at the church that day and looking back I know that this was God telling me that what He is doing is something bigger than any one of us.
She had not been to church for about 1.5 years. She dropped out of church for various reasons and in many ways had drifted away from God. Over the last few months, her friends had invited her to Central Ministries, but for whatever reason, she just wasn’t able to come. Until today. February 5. On the way to church that morning, she felt like God was whispering to her that He was going to blow her mind. She wasn’t sure what exactly that meant, but she was anticipating learning something inspiring. When I stood up on the stage and started talking about the possibility of Central Ministries partnering with Church of the Good Shepherd, she couldn’t believe it at first. She had been away from church for 1.5 years. That church she had left was Church of the Good Shepherd. She had not been to any other church during that time. And I was talking about the very same church on the very same day that she had decided to give church a try again. What are the odds!!! Was this a coincidence? I highly doubt it! She could feel in her heart that God was speaking directly to her. For her, God was confirming that He was looking after her and was keeping her safe no matter where she had gone. To me, this was an amazing story showing how God is divinely working in everyone’s life to fulfill His ultimate purpose in and through them.
Whether you are a junior higher sitting with your parents in a church on a Sunday night, or you are a twenty-something who has given up on church, never underestimate the supernatural power of the God who watches over you. You are never alone. You are never overlooked. You are specifically loved by the One who controls the Universe.