Tomorrow Belinda and I are going to a Citywide Prayer event to discuss and pray about how to more effectively reach our city, Kansas City, for Christ. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about that and the journey we’ve been on and I want to capture some of it before we go.
To give you a perspective on what we’ve experienced allow me to tell you about the journey I’ve participated in to get to what I believe today. I have the privilege of being a part of this city for 33 years now. I first came to KCK in 1978 as a summer youth intern serving the First Church of God on Shawnee Drive. I’ve lived in Turner and in Olathe in addition to KCK so I have the benefit of knowing the churches and the landscape of our city well although admittedly I’ve lived only on the Kansas side. I’ve been in Olathe at Indian Creek Community Church, a church my wife and I founded with a small group, since 1985. This duration of time allowed me to get to know pastors and churches from all parts of the city.
When I first arrived in Olathe to plant I was surprised at the resistance to our presence. That year the Olathe Daily News ran an article about Olathe being at the top of a national list when it came to the number of churches per capita. I was asked multiple times by other pastors if I had seen the article. I had. I also knew that we did an informal survey by calling every church in town and asking them what their meeting place could hold. We learned that if everyone decided to go to church on a given Sunday the present number of churches could only serve about 25% of the people. Even if they all had two services half the people couldn’t attend if they wanted to all go on a given Sunday. I knew that was unlikely but what it told me was that there were plenty of unchurched persons that needed to be reached.
I expected a bit of competition in the hearts of the pastors, which is unfortunate and maybe my problem to deal with, but what I didn’t expect was the reluctance of the pastors to allow us to use their facilities. As a brand new church we often needed a classroom, a baptismal, a gym, etc to develop a holistic program and some of the answers to my inquiries bordered on hostility. I take responsibility for interpreting things the way I did and I admit this is subjective. I can definitely say it wasn’t encouraging. There were a few who stepped out to help us; Olathe Christian and Fellowship Baptist were great exceptions.
The first ministerial meeting I attended in Olathe that first year was also the last. At the meeting the leader said that the interest had dwindled and it seemed the agenda was more political or social than anything else and they had decided to close down the meetings. I’m sharing this to give you a baseline for what was happening in those days for comparison purposes to what God is doing today.
A few years went by and nothing was happening in Olathe to draw pastors together when God put it on my heart to write every pastor in Olathe and invite them to begin praying together. I didn’t want to do it because I was one of the youngest and I had no facility (we were renting a school on Sundays) or positional authority but I did it out of obedience. I figured we might not agree on doctrine, practice or politics but surely we could gather to pray. And by God’s grace some pastors responded. We didn’t have large numbers put there were a faithful few. We met early in the morning, had a continental breakfast, prayed and went to work. It was a breath of fresh air. Even pastors that didn’t attend commented favorably. It felt like a new wind of the Spirit was blowing.
We continued the pattern for about five years and when we built our first facility at Indian Creek we expanded to a lunch format. Nancy Mitchell, who was my Assistant at the time, caught a huge burden for bringing churches, pastors and praying teams of intercessors together. Things started to move forward more rapidly. There was a greater sense of unity and we had each other’s backs in ministry. We started to share resources and at times program with each other. No one person wanted credit or took credit now it was a joint cause.
Rod Jantzen from Olathe Bible stepped up and took the Olathe Pastors to a whole new level when he began to organize us around mission. Prayer was still a priority but now we began to join hands around missional projects like Olathe Serve Day. During this same time Citywide Prayer began encouraging churches to participate in Concerts of Prayer and the Global Day of Prayer. Annually we would gather churches together at the National Day of Prayer at the Courthouse in Olathe. It felt like we were beginning to work together as the body of Christ. For the first time in my tenure the Church in Olathe was beginning to realize we are One and act like it.
The more I participated in Citywide Prayer events the more I realized that the body of Christ was coming together in other parts of the city like Independence, MO for example. Similar things were happening there. Under the leadership of Gary Schmidt, who continually cast a vision for creating a caring community of friends who would shepherd the city together, churches began to catch a vision of a whole city working in a coordinated manner. Not-for-Profits like Integrity Resources led by Rick Boxx, Significant Matters led by Tom Bassford joined hands with para-church organizations like The Sending Project led by Eric Rochester, What if the Church? led by Dan Deeble, Vision 360 Church Planting led by Justin Moxley and PastorServe led by Jimmy Dodd and suddenly the body started to look mature. When I would talk to different persons in various groups I heard a common question, what would it look like for the Church of Jesus in Kansas City to work together.
Our journey has gone from competition, to praying together, to living in unity, to serving together, to now where we are beginning to strategize together to reach our city for Christ. Initiatives like I am Second and Rock the River have great evangelistic potential if we keep moving forward. And while there will always be a place for serving projects with a missional mindset it is also important that we also give the invitation to receive Christ. So what’s next?
I don’t have the gift of a prophet but there are a couple of convictions I have about what will position us to discern the next steps together. We will need to continue to speak well of each other, pray together and have each other’s backs to prevent the enemy from dividing us. We will need to think as much about the big “C” church as we do our own congregation. This kind of progress deserves our best thinking and sacrificial service. Certainly we should value our local congregations but we need to prioritize time to work with others if we are going to reach our city. I think it will take a tithe of my time at a minimum weekly spent in working with other city leaders to discern how this Body can work together. What if every Christian leader offered a tithe of their time?
Could we create an asset map for our city so we don’t continue to duplicate resources and efforts? Could we learn where we have gaps and work together to close them? Could we create a database that has Web access? Can we learn from others so we don’t all have to pay the same “dumb tax”? Could we plant more churches if we shared the resource challenge? If someone is training in one particular ministry area could we partner together so that everyone benefits and we share the cost? Could we mobilize businesses, churches, not-for-profits and missional communities to work together to address some of the systemic issues in our city? Of course this means we must share the benefits, costs, liabilities and spotlight but how else can this happen?
We must be kingdom minded and not territorial. We can’t care who gets the credit. We must be more concerned about the whole than simply about our own congregation. We need to lead with love and trust that we won’t let doctrine or differences in practice derail our unity and effective service in Jesus.
Can we dare to imagine a day where we could even trust a leadership team of a few to guide this process? That would be a huge next step but I think we eventually need to go there if we want our city to work like a Body that is mature, coordinated and effective. For as thankful as I am for where we’ve come from I’m concerned that if we stop short of empowering leaders to lead we will defuse our efforts.
I don’t know that I’ve ever even heard of an American model for this but the gains would be exponential if we allowed leaders who are gifted as apostles to lead and the rest of the Body each served in their own areas of gifting in cooperation. We might take some uncoordinated steps to get there. But if we did we would preserve all that we’ve gained; and just maybe we could see what it takes to fulfill the prayer of Jesus, Your kingdom come, Your will be done in Kansas City as it is in heaven.