How It All Went Down…
The Story of "What If The Church?"
by Dan Deeble, Pastor - Heartland Community Church
Back in 2008, these strange guys showed up at our church unannounced, asking to do strange things. They were leaders from another church and they wanted to pray – get this! – for us.
Now, let’s be honest. If that were to happen to you, would not a few thoughts run through your head?
•Are their prayers on picket signs?
•Are they here to steal trade secrets?
•Are they dressed like John the Baptist?
I hate to sound so territorial and paranoid; but then again I hate being so territorial and paranoid. I came out of my office and whispered to my assistant, “What are they really doing here?” She whispered back, “I think they’re actually praying.”
Where are the church surveillance cameras when you need them?
I started to roam the halls with the hopes of bumping into one of these cats. Then I met one - Brian, the lead pastor of Cedar Ridge Christian Church. He was not what I was expecting – as in, he was normal. Like me, normal – if you will. I remember he wore a ratty t-shirt, jeans, & what looked like bowling shoes before bowling shoes were cool.
I said, "So you’re here to pray?" He said, "Yep." Turns out, his whole leadership team goes to a different church every month to pray and to steal trade secrets (I knew it!). I said, "How do you get anything done?" He said, "Like what?" I said, "You know –ministreeeee..." He smiled in reply, said nothing, and I finally began to hear myself talk.
At once, I was both convicted and embarrassed. I was convicted because here was a leader that was actually living out my ecclesiology (one Church, many local expressions). I was embarrassed because I had been - in reality - living out the world’s ideology (i.e. survival of the fittest, dog eat dog, just because you have family doesn’t mean you have to like them). It wasn’t that I was an isolationist per se, nor that I didn’t believe Jesus when He prayed about unity in John 17 (“May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know'). It’s just that I didn’t think I had the time to actually do it.
In fact, I had been a lead pastor for 2+ years and really had no true relationship with another pastor in town (outside our ‘network’ of church plants). As a result, I was unconnected, not privy to the wisdom and resources in our city, and - at least on that level - I was alone. I can see now that I, and our church, suffered as a result.
Before taking off, Brian and his gang left the most beautiful notes of encouragement for each of our key leaders. The worship guy wrote one to our worship guy. The operations guy to our dude. Brian wrote one to me that absolutely filled me with vision, hope, and challenge. It was something only a lead pastor could write to another. If I were the framing type, it would hang on my wall.
A month later, he invited me to lunch. I eagerly agreed. Why? Because when someone is willing to love you like that, come into your world, pray for you, and make you the center of their affection - well, you’ll do just about anything. In fact, I now tithe to his church (just kidding).
Over big slices of pizza, Brian asked this question: “What if our churches served together in our urban core?” Loving the idea, we kicked it around and, in so doing, stumbled into one of the most powerful questions on the planet: "What if?"
•What if the church believed together?
•What if the church prayed and worshipped together?
•What if the church served together?
In short - as one woman replied in hearing the concept - “You mean, what if the Church actually did what Jesus said?”
We called Westside Family Church, one of the biggest churches in town, to see if they wanted to join us. They were in a messy transition and I doubted whether they could. But they were quick to say yes. Know why? Because Cedar Ridge had prayed for them too.
In our first year, during one month, we preached one another’s sermons, pulpit swapped, used the same graphics/creative items, and sang the same worship songs. It was powerful to know that thousands of us across the city were all believing together. Then, we rented out a local outdoor amphitheatre and packed the place – combining our 3 worship bands, taking communion, & reciting the Lord’s Prayer together. To wrap it up, the following Saturday we blitzed our city with love with by sending over 1,000 volunteers to serve at many of our different mission partners throughout the city.
The next year, we grew to twelve churches, then to thirty - every church giving up 4 weeks of their calendar to say “ not my kingdom, but His!” BUT!... the other 48 weeks of the year have born the most organic and natural fruit that would have never happened otherwise – churches planting churches together, ministry partners baptizing together, pastors and leaders crossing racial lines, pastors going as a convoy together to care for the pastors of other cities, international efforts, cross-training our staffs, and –well, hanging out. Which generally means coffee - lots of coffee.
For full disclosure, this has not been easy. In fact, it’s messy & every year we have to ask the hard question “ Is it worth it?” Think how difficult it is to get the ministries within your own church to coordinate. Now imagine aligning 30+ churches varying in size, culture, model, style, rhythm, calendar, preference, and opinion. But every year, the Lord still seems behind it and so we find ourselves just trying to follow His movement in it.
We see it as our own Psalm of Ascent - where the twelve tribes of Israel would come together on the roads that ascended to Jerusalem for one big festival. We come from our own territories, with our own quirks and we lay down our own tribal priorities because we’re learning that our church is only as good as His Kingdom is united. And we do it because it’s fun - what David called “good and pleasant” (Psalm 133).
So that’s how it all went down - one guy prays, another guy feels loved.
Two dudes become friends and then do what friends do: eat pizza.
Then they ask, “ What if became what is?”