During the recent round table discussion on the future of Protestantism, Peter Leithart advocated a much greater degree of unity in the Church than we presently enjoy. Another participant in the discussion wondered aloud how Leithart’s vision would be different from the ministerial associations that presently exist in many cities and counties all across the country. Leithart replied that it would depend on the strength and personality of the particular association. For Carl Trueman, it seemed that going further must require confessional and institutional unity – a herculean task that we’re clearly not ready for. As I listened to these guys talk, I found myself repeatedly saying, “They don’t understand! They don’t know what it’s actually like.”
I grew up a pastor’s kid, I’ve been to seminary, and I had the privilege of interning at a great church with a great pastor. I have seen and heard about a number of the associations that Trueman and Leithart are talking about. When I moved here to Englewood, Colorado, I experienced something very different.
The Englewood Movement started with a few pastors who were interested in a greater degree of local unity without losing the gospel in a featureless ecumenism. They adopted the NAE statement of faith as a doctrinal basis, and invited any of the pastors in town to join up. Of course, taking the NAE statement of faith did limit how many would participate, and I understand that at least one local pastor was pretty steamed that they didn’t do something more generic. But this was what they felt called to do, so they stuck to their guns.
The beating heart of the Englewood Movement is the monthly Pastors’ Prayer Meeting. I can’t tell you how immensely privileged I feel to be with these guys (when I can go – many months I’m out living the bivocational dream on my school bus). The pastors gather to share what’s going on personally and in ministry. Their willingness to support one another over the years has generated a lot of trust, and they share accordingly – deep personal and ministry struggles, not just surface matters or thinly disguised bragging about how great everything is going. There’s an unwritten but very real no-BS rule.
The pastors are human beings who struggle with the same sorts of things that you do – marital, familial, relational, financial, emotional and spiritual struggles, as well as the inevitable physical frailties. In addition, there are difficulties unique to the task of leading a church. But unlike pastors in a lot of places, pastors in Englewood don’t struggle alone. Once the prayer requests are shared, we pray. And you ought to hear it! It’s no joke. These guys roll up their sleeves and go to war in the heavenly places on each other’s behalf. Occasionally, one pastor has a particularly urgent need, and everyone will set their own problems aside and devote the entire prayer time to laying hands on their needy brother and praying deeply for him. The prayer time often prompts private conversations after the meeting, and I’ve had the privilege of both giving and receiving a word of encouragement or counsel in such conversations.
For half an hour after the prayer meeting, the pastors address any business they have together. This half-hour meeting when we are already together has been a genius logistical move, removing the necessity for several longer meetings through the year. The principal item of business this time of year is the UNITEnglewood service.
One Sunday a year, participating churches cancel their Sunday morning service and meet together on the local high school baseball field. (We have no indoor space in town big enough to accommodate us all.) We pray, sing and celebrate the unity that God has given us together. Of course, accommodating our different theologies takes some work, even within the broadly evangelical boundaries set by the NAE statement. For example, we once had a pastor articulate a specifically Zwinglian view in his Eucharistic dedicatory prayer, and that caused a bit of tension with the Anglicans in attendance. But we work on it. The command was “Take and eat,” not “Take and explain,” so there is a way to do it that works for everyone – simply stick to what the Bible actually says. “Jesus said, ‘This is My body, broken for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.'” After the service, we’ll grill burgers and hot dogs, set up a bouncy castle or two for the kids, play volleyball, and generally party for a few hours. Anyone is welcome to come, and many do.
HOPE is supported by Englewood churches and private supporters. When I first came to Englewood, HOPE had an office that was open nearly all the time for people to come and pray in one of their several prayer rooms. They also had a bigger room where they would host regular prayer and worship services. People from many different churches would go there to pray, individually and together. Many of my relationships with other Christians in Englewood started at HOPE. HOPE also hosted the pastors’ prayer meetings, and in the run up to our first UNITEnglewood service, hosted round-the-clock prayer for the city. A couple years ago, we ran short of money and weren’t able to keep the office open. (As one of the staff described the situation to me, “Everyone in town was glad to have us, but not quite glad enough to pay the rent.”) In the meantime, a privately held community center near the light rail station hosts a prayer room and the pastors’ prayer meetings. We hope to open HOPE again as a year-round expression of the unity that we celebrate once a year at the UNITEnglewood service.
I’m not even sure what this effort is actually called (if it’s got an official name yet). We have several groups among the churches that have been helping the homeless in Englewood for years, but recently there’s been a concerted effort to join forces in order to provide a comprehensive package of services for physical survival, spiritual growth and formation, and for those who are willing, getting off the street and becoming productive enough to be able to give help to others, rather than just taking. Last I heard, there have been 19 baptisms in the last year, and hundreds of hours of discipleship and leadership development poured into our homeless population, along with physical resources and emergency shelter.
There is One Church in Englewood. Last I counted, it meets in 24 different locations, guided by a kaleidoscopic range of theologies and liturgical practices. We would like to see all these groups drawn together in Christ-centered unity, and we’re not there yet. In some cases, we don’t even know how it might be possible to bridge the gaps between us. As I said in an article on practical unity, all this does not yet add up to “every tribe, tongue and nation”- not by a long shot. But it’s certainly an honest start.
Tim Nichols seeks to further the kingdom by serving the united Church in Englewood Colorado. With Joe Anderson, he writes and publishes Bible curriculum and other tools for Christian education at Headwaters Christian Resources.
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