One part of my ministry is the privilege of meeting with pastors, both one-on-one, and in small groups. On Thursday, March 19, I had a lovely luncheon with six pastors in Rockford, Illinois. Rockford is a city of 150,000 people located about 75 miles northwest of my home. I was the invited guest of co-pastors Bill Ward (photo at left) and David Smazik (photo at right) at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Rockford. David and Bill have been friends for several years and Westminster is a congregation that supports ACT 3 in its budget. Over the past few years David, Bill and I have talked about gathering a small group of mainline Protestant ministers who share the same kingdom values, doctrinal orthodoxy and vision for the church. Finally, last week, the meeting happened.
The pastors who joined us included another pastor from Westminster, Brad Rogers, plus three senior pastors from growing and vibrant churches in the city of Rockford. These included a United Methodist Church pastor, an Evangelical Lutheran (ELCA) pastor and an African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) pastor. The seven of us spent time sharing, listening and discussing the state of the church. We talked about what our responsibility is as leaders in the present moment in which we live and lead the church.
For those who still think nothing good ever comes from mainline Protestant churches I wish you could have heard what these pastors shared with one another and seen the mutual love they had for one another and the kingdom of God in Rockford. Their churches are alive and well! Their vision is solid and their churches are profoundly faithful to the gospel of the kingdom in a balanced way. Each pastor has a keen missional vision joined with an ecumenical spirit. They all embrace "mere Christianity" and each openly wants to help people love Jesus more deeply.
Another blessing I enjoyed was seeing how this concept of co-pastors (both Bill and David share the so-called senior pastor role equally) not only can work but it can work very well. I have always wondered why so few pastors are willing to try this approach and when they do so few seem to actually pull it off. I think the primary reason is not that the church itself will not accept this model but that so few pastors can work together in humility in this way. If I am right about this it is a pretty sad commentary on the state of pastoral humility in our time. Bill Ward and Dave Smazik have both shown me time and time again how two talented and God-called men can work together in a way that shows honor and love for each other and serves the greater good of a growing and effective congregation.
One deep impression that I formed in meeting with these six pastors was that there is much more in common when ministers like this share a kingdom perspective and vision than when ministers are simply bound by denominational connections. Each of these pastors probably found more in common with each other in the room we were gathered in last week than they often do in their own denominational settings. This underscores my vision of missional-ecumenism. It is not an ecumenism of ideas so much as one of a shared vision of the kingdom and the gospel of Christ. I look forward to meeting with these pastors again in June.
If you live in the Rockford area ACT 3 will do one of our Saturday Breakfast meetings at Westminster Presbyterian on May 16 at 8:30 a.m. I hope some of you will come. Check our Web site for information.