These days it seems as if churches are known more about what they are against, rather than what they are for. However, God seems to be up to something in our tri-county area. There is a movement called ChurchUnited afoot here in South Florida — a movement of churches coming together to live out Jeremiah 29:7, to seek the peace and prosperity of our region. Looking back over the last twelve months we can find tangible examples of unity, renewal, and partnership towards a common vision of seeing God’s Kingdom expanded.
For example, in a recent ChurchUnited gathering, Bob Barnes, interim lead pastor of First Baptist Fort Lauderdale, learned that CityChurch Fort Lauderdale was going to be losing the space they had been renting for the last seven years. After hearing CityChurch’s desire to remain downtown and in the Flagler Village neighborhood, he offered to help and an uncommon partnership between a Baptist and Presbyterian Church was born.
“It came about very organically” said John Jones, executive pastor of First Baptist. “While we were in a ChurchUnited east side leadership meeting, CityChurch’s need for space arose, and the offer was made to utilize First Baptist’s facilities as desired. After working through logistical details with both church teams, it’s been pretty simple and straightforward.”
Reaping the benefits
Now two months into their new partnership, the leadership teams of both churches are praising God for this newfound expression of unity.
“This partnership has been great! It’s easy to get stuck in your own denominational rut and miss the powerful opportunity to serve alongside other believers in your own backyard. Having CityChurch on our campus is allowing us to see the larger work of the Holy Spirit by simply being in close proximity to one another.”
Brad Schmidt, lead pastor of CityChurch, has been deeply moved by the generosity of God and that of First Baptist Church.
“When I announced the gifting of First Baptist’s space to our church, I had never seen them so enthusiastic. They cheered and clapped. And we’re Presbyterians and we don’t really do that kind of thing. The reality is we’ve been genuinely touched by their uncommon generosity. First Baptist had to adjust ministry programs, flex meeting times, and offered their own resources to help us feel at home. For our church, it’s changed us because it’s been a tangible expression of what it feels like to be loved by God — we didn’t earn it and we certainly didn’t deserve it. It’s all been grace.”
From John Jones and First Baptist’s perspective, “anytime Baptists and Presbyterians can work together there’s something special going on! Seriously, for the community to see CityChurch’s signs on First Baptist’s property, it’s impossible to miss the unity taking place. We’re grateful for all that God is doing downtown, and we’re looking forward to all that’s ahead.”
The story of CityChurch and First Baptist coming together is a testament to God building his Kingdom through the vision of ChurchUnited. In Schmidt’s words, “churches can either talk about what makes them different than other churches, or they can talk about what makes them similar to other churches. ChurchUnited happens when the latter takes place, and when it does is a real special thing. I think that’s what happened here. Both churches worship the same Christ, can affirm the same Apostles’ Creed and can agree on the same mission of working towards the flourishing of our city.”
That’s what it’s all about. ChurchUnited was formed by the simple guiding principle that no one single denomination or key leader is going to bring spiritual, cultural and social renewal to our region. We must find commonality in order for us to own the pain, the lostness and the brokenness of our region. The vision of a transformed South Florida will never be realized unless the churches of our region continue to connect, collaborate and celebrate with one another. First Baptist’s generosity towards CityChurch is one of many examples of unity and “togetherness” among God’s people in our community.
To learn more or to get your church involved with ChurchUnited, check out the website at ChurchUnited.City or call 754-444-8622.
Edwin Copeland helps lead RENEW South Florida, a church planting and leadership development organization committed to seeing a gospel moment take root in our tri-county area. He can be reached at [email protected]