Three years ago our family and a few others embarked on a journey of planting a church. Our hearts’ desire was to cultivate “kingdom beachheads” all over our city, attempting to put discipleship and mission at the center of what we were doing. Like many, we found out that it was more difficult and humbling than we imagined, but God has been faithfully leading us into fruitfulness as we follow the promptings of his Spirit.
Some interesting recent Spirit-promptings have led us in a direction that was initially surprising to us, but in the end felt natural and right. As so often happens when the Holy Spirit is involved, no one could have guessed it from the beginning, but in the end we laugh about how God is accomplishing his will through it all: we are in the process of grafting our church together with another to form one network of Missional Communities in Fort Wayne.
Since this blog is dedicated to sharing what we are learning in church-planting and disciple-making, I wanted to take a few posts and outline what has been happening and how we came to this decision.
From the beginning, our vision has always been “kingdom-sized” rather than “church-sized.” Our tagline (that we stole from Trinity Grace Church in NYC) is “joining God in the renewal of all things.” We have never been interested in simply carving out our own little self-sustaining religious space, but have always been seeking to catalyze a movement of God’s kingdom, multiplying communities of discipleship and mission in all the cultural nooks and crannies of Fort Wayne and beyond, instigating and participating in a city-wide, kingdom-sized, missional movement.
This is why I was always hesitant to go the “normal route” with our church plant (get a worship service going with great preaching, great music, and a great kids ministry). I’ve always had a strong vision for churches in cities to recognize and express their unity as the body of Christ. I believe that the disunity of churches is the biggest reason we don’t see more of God’s kingdom breaking into our cities. But what has been frustrating to me is that this unity can’t simply be engineered. I resonated deeply with these words on unity from Gordon Fee (from his commentary on 1 Corinthians):
“[Christian] unity is the result of our common life in the Spirit, not of our human machinations. Is it our lack of the Spirit that has forced us to attempt unity on other grounds? … Our desperate need is for a sovereign work of the Spirit to do among us what all our ‘programmed unity’ cannot.”
This kind of unity has been our prayer for years. We even wrote this into our original church planting vision document three years ago, under a section titled KINGDOM-MINDED and CITY-FOCUSED:
We will strive to cultivate partnerships with other churches across Fort Wayne, working together to see Fort Wayne renewed by the grace and love of God.
More than simply looking for “our tribe” to increase, we will be actively seeking the renewal of the city through partnering with other like-minded churches and agencies in the city in official and un-official ways… We want to dream dreams as big as God’s and join him in the renewal of all things.
Interestingly, God seems to have given us an opportunity to act on those words.
A church in Fort Wayne called Grace Gathering has been implementing much of the same DNA that we are, using Huddles for leadership development and discipleship, and mid-sized Missional Communities as the basic “family units” of the church. Our churches were both part of the same Learning Community with 3DM, and because of this connection we began exploring the possibility of increased partnership together. Maybe God is up to something, we wondered.
Over the past year or so we’ve been taking some experimental action on this by partnering together in a handful of things: worship services, leadership training, prayer events, and mission activities.
As we have engaged in this process, we’ve sensed an invitation (perhaps even a dare?) from God to explore what further integration could look like for the sake of kingdom movement in our city. We eventually began to ask questions like, “Are there good reasons for us to remain separate?” and “Could we bear more kingdom fruit by integrating/grafting or by remaining separate?”
As we have discussed and prayed over these things, we have sensed God leading us to toward fully integrating with Grace Gathering, grafting our churches together as one network of Missional Communities in the Fort Wayne area.
Honestly, this thought initially surprised us, but we are hopeful that what we are responding to is the kind of “sovereign work of the Spirit” that Fee wrote about, a work that we are praying brings a greater expression of unity among churches in our city, and thus more of the kingdom breakthrough we long and pray for. Come, Lord Jesus!
Part Two >> Strategy, Synergy, and the Spirit
Part Three >> What Does Grafting Look Like?
Craig Gaudion says
Thanks for this Ben. I think this is the final nudge from God that I needed to start exploring whether our church could link with others in our area. This has been mulling around for a while now, but your experiences have pushed me over the fence!
By the way, I came to your blog by 'accident' a few months ago, and from it I discovered 3dm and actually attended one of their missional community workshops in Sheffield UK the other week. Both the content from their 3DM and indeed your own blog has literally been a Godsend to me. As a relatively new church pastor, sent to a dying congregation of around 15, I've been wanting to look at the discipleship for a while now. Its so freeing to know that this stuff actually happens!
I will let you know how we get on.
Ben Sternke says
Thanks Craig – would love to hear how it all goes!