Partners in the Work of the Gospel
Anyone who has been involved with church ministry knows that ecumenical efforts are difficult to pull off. While local churches in smaller communities like to talk about mutual respect for and general partnership with neighboring churches in serving the community, rarely do you see them coming together for real concerted ministry efforts. Some churches don’t join hands with others because of theological differences. But most don’t simply because they are too busy and wrapped up in their own church’s affairs.
Mound is no different. The community is rather small geographically, and therefore feels much like a smaller town; though it has a population hovering around 9,500 people. The downtown area had essentially three decent sized Lutheran churches, two small Evangelical churches, a large Roman Catholic parish, a very fragile Assembly of God church, and, of course, the sleepy little Methodist church on the corner.
As is typical, each church largely did it’s own thing, and joined together only twice each year for the community wide Thanksgiving Eve service and Baccalaureate service at graduation time. There was a nice, cordial monthly Ministerial Association luncheon open to all local area pastors. Everyone was friendly, but otherwise kept to themselves busy serving their own church’s needs and mission.
Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the easily missed Evangelical Covenant church hid up in the woods outside of town a ways. I had largely overlooked it my entire life growing up in Mound. But this would be the place where I would find my first partner in the Revolution-to-be. I was driving aimlessly around on a Saturday afternoon in the early fall of 2006. (I did quite a bit of garage sale hopping during my Driver’s Ed days; yes, I made my students take me from sale to sale to give them ample parking practice and allow me to stretch my legs.) I saw a small outdoor concert in the park across from the Covenant church, and for some strange reason I decided to stop and check it out. I wasn’t interested in the music. But I was surprised to see this outdoor Christian concert taking place in Mound. This was quite unusual for Mound. I was intrigued.
I have not yet mentioned a recurring vision I kept having pop into my head. No, not a supernatural, mystical, ecstatic vision like Paul was know to have. This was just a picture I’d get of a mob of teens crowding around an outdoor stage in the center of town worshiping and praising God, and of a David Brown-like rally call to join the Revolution and shake this town! You have to see the beautiful property of Bethel Methodist set square in the heart of downtown to get the picture. This was a dream or goal I often longed to see come true.
I think this was the main reason I pulled my car over and meandered toward the stage. I asked who was running this concert, and the gal told me to talk to Bryan Royle. I thought to myself: Bryan Royle? That name sounded familiar. That’s right! He graduated two years after me with my sister’s class. She said he was a young musician and volunteering at the church to lead their youth group. She pointed him out and I went over to meet him.
Our conversation lifted my heart to new heights. I told him about my involvement working in the schools and connections with the youth through coaching and Driver’s Ed. I told him about my great burden for the youth of my hometown who needed to know Christ, and my sense that the churches did not know how to reach them.
Bryan had the very same burden for his hometown. He had recently left the church of his upbringing in Mound because he was frustrated with it’s lack of vision for outreach, among other things. Now he was volunteering his Wednesday nights to lead a little group of students at the Covenant church. There was an immediate unity between us. We both felt it warming our hearts.
For the next ten minutes we dreamed a bit together, throwing around ideas for how we might make inroads together into our old school. As the loud band played in the background, and my recurring vision once again flashed through my mind, I suddenly had an idea. We’ll use music to draw the students. We’ll host a concert that will capture their attention. Even better, we’ll host a Battle of the Bands and invite every teenager with an iota of musical talent to bring their band and enroll in the night’s lineup. Now this was a revolutionary idea that might spark a revolutionary movement!
Bryan and I exchanged phone numbers, and then he gave me a big bear hug and asked if we could pray together. So, on a bright sunny Saturday afternoon in a little park on the hill, two Mound graduates sharing a common burden for their old stomping grounds bowed their heads with their hands on each other’s shoulders, and prayed:
“Heavenly Father, we lift up the youth of Mound to you. Our hearts are heavy for those who do not yet know you. Lord, we pray for revival to sweep through this town and ignite a fresh fire in the churches of Mound. Lord, open up new doors of opportunity to reach into the hallways of our schools with the gospel. Lord, we pray for the Christian youth who walk those halls everyday. We pray that you’ll raise up bold Christian leaders among the youth of Mound who will not be ashamed of the gospel. We pray that you’ll use both of us mightily for the advancement of your Kingdom in Mound. Thank you for bringing us together today in this park. Thank you for our common bond and brotherhood we share in your Son Jesus Christ. Amen.”
I walked back to my car overjoyed and grateful that God led me to this out of the way park on the hill today. As I buckled my seatbelt and drove away, I heard God’s words to Paul echoing through my mind again, this time louder than before: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” It was true. I had just met one of them.
God would bring many more people like Bryan into my life over the next few months. Each one of them was a gift from God. Most of them came all at once, on a cold November night that set a new fire ablaze in the center of town.