Rockhill and Ridgeline: Why Are We Worshipping Together?
You don't often hear about two churches gathering together for a combined worship service for a month. It's rare for churches to come together for one combined Sunday morning worship service.
There are great reasons why churches don't gather together for weekly worship services.
First, when New Testament authors talk about the church, what they often refer to was specifically local, not just universal. For example, Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica, Ephesus, Galatia, Colossae, Philippi, and others. In each of these letters (called "epistles") he addressed a specific and local group of people.
Second, pastors shepherd and lead those specific local people. Those local people are called together for a purpose and often need specific teaching, instruction, direction, and shepherding to accomplish a common goal. To add another local church assumes overlap in leadership and vision and purpose.
Keeping those two reasons for separate local churches in mind, there are also great reasons for churches to gather together as one united church of a region.
You often see this during times of revival, regional outreaches, prayer services, or in times of tragedy. I think it's really healthy for churches to come together and celebrate our common salvation in Jesus Christ! I wish we did it more often. I also appreciate it when churches that have a dominant racial or ethnic group gather with other churches to encourage oneness amidst diversity. I have benefitted from worshipping with Christians of many racial backgrounds on five continents.
Ridgeline will be gathering together with Rockhill Mennonite for the month of November 2017. And despite all of the reasons listed above, none of them explain why we are gathering together!
In May of 2017 I was approached by one of the lay leaders at Rockhill to have a conversation about our respective churches combining in some form. To be honest, while I really liked to dream about the possibilities of multiple churches coming together to form regional and intentional and more regular gospel partnerships, I did not have much hope that this idea would become a reality.
Why didn't I think it would work out?
Well, Rockhill is a 275ish year old Mennonite church and we are a 4.5 year old Southern Baptist church plant! That's a lot of difference to overcome!
Each church has its own unique set of challenges and difficulties due to our respective ages and stages. The natural lifecycle of an organization or church mirrors to some degree the lifecycle of a person. A person and a local church has a beginning - a birth. Both have awkward immature stages (that's where Ridgeline is). Both have a period leading up to maturity, attaining maturity, years of productivity, reproduction, approaches twilight, retirement (a stage that often speaks more of memories and traditions of the past rather than a compelling vision for the future), and then ultimately death. Unbeknownst to many people, churches are "born" (or planted) every day and churches "die" (or close) every day.
Unlike humans though, churches have a unique ability through either good leadership or generational baton passing to go backward to the beginning parts of the lifecycle and start over to some degree. But like a great t-shirt that loses its form after too many wash cycles, churches and organizations can only cycle back through so many times before they die a slow and unceremonious death.
Still awake? Still reading?
Okay, well what does that have to do with Ridgeline and Rockhill meeting for a month?
Well, the conversation that began in May with a couple of guys dreaming has gone through six more months of conversations and meetings. I'll be honest, I'm a bit surprised we're still talking! Ridgeline is a bit messy, like a toddler church. We have 50 kids under age 16 in our church of almost 100 people. We meet in a gym at the boys and girls club. We meet in homes during the week. We have met in 9 different locations and have had 5 different offices! We use a P.O. Box because we are a bit transient. We're just unsettled until we, you know, get settled and grow up a little!
So a few of the Rockhill leaders thought that we could be a perfect fit for one another (and I happen to cautiously agree). Their strengths are some of our weaknesses and vice versa.
So we decided to meet together for a month to see if there is compatibility for a long term partnership. We don't know what that partnership will look like right now. Maybe some form of short or long term partnership, maybe just this month of worship services, maybe some form of a merge, or maybe just occasional support - all of it is undefined and loose at this point. I would never ever ever encourage a young couple considering marriage to do what we're doing haha! That is, to move in together for a short time to see if we're compatible. But for two churches that are prayerfully exploring what it might look like to have some form of partnership (or not), this step makes sense to us all. We may hate each other in a month haha, or we may see no room for partnership, or we may love it and continue to take the next step!
We all agree on this point: Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church universal, and local. Which means that just because He (Jesus) called me to plant Ridgeline it's not "my" church - it's His church! And just because Rockhill has seen twenty or more pastors and hundreds of members in her 275 year history, Rockhill isn't "their" church - it's His church! And because we both agree on that we are each willing to continue the conversation until doors close or until we have clarity or until we continue in some form of partnership.
Thanks for reading and would you pray for us during this process? Also consider visiting during the month of November!
God bless - Gibson