It’s absolutely amazing! You can go to any large metropolitan city in North America, and typically, you will find multiple Seventh-day Adventist churches in the vicinity. But one of the striking realities is this—they don’t know each other. They may have existed in the same city for years, even decades, situated only a few miles apart, but they don’t fellowship together. They don’t worship together. They don’t minister to the city together. They don’t do anything together. Hundreds of Seventh-day Adventists living in the same city and we don’t even know each other’s names! How can we reach the cities for Christ in this kind of a scenario? We must learn to work together, across ethnic lines, across geographic lines, across conference lines.
I believe St. Louis is learning to do just that. I remember when I first moved to St. Louis as the resident evangelist and started visiting the various churches and getting to know the people. The pastors and I, from the Iowa Missouri Conference, began meeting together regularly to make plans for evangelizing the city. Part of those plans involved Equipping University. Equipping University is a personal evangelism lay training program conducted by the North American Division Evangelism Institute. It was the pastor’s intention to bring the churches of Iowa Missouri together twice a year for this special training and joint fellowship.
The first weekend session went very well. It was held at the Mid Rivers church in St. Peters and there was a full house.
But then something unexpected happened, something we would call a God-thing. Two conferences began working together.
Here’s how it started. On a Sabbath when I wasn’t scheduled to preach anywhere my family and I decided to visit the Berean Church in St. Louis, which is part of the Central States Conference. We were warmly welcomed and afterward invited to dine at someone’s house where we met the pastor and some delightful members of his church. It was a great experience.
When I shared my experience with the St. Louis pastors of the Iowa Missouri Conference, they decided to invite the St. Louis pastors of the Central States Conference churches to join in the Equipping University initiative. We all live in the same city. We belong to the same church. We believe the same message. Why shouldn’t we do this together?
The ripple effect
As word about this joint initiative spread, the pastor from the New Jerusalem church in East St. Louis (from the Lake Region conference) joined the group, and the pastor of the Oakhill and Alton churches in the Illinois Conference (a suburb of St. Louis) joined as well. So these pastors from nearly 15 congregations started meeting together on a regular basis. This has birthed a vision inside us to break down the barriers and start working together to reach St. Louis for Christ. We might have different colors of skin, different language groups, even different worship styles, but we are still one church.
Wasn’t this the prayer of Jesus? “…that they may be one, as You, Father are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that you sent me” (John 17:21, NKJV). In plain language it is saying that if we are not one, if we are not united, the world will not believe our message. If we try to reach the cities with every man (or church) doing what is right in their own eyes, we will not be effective. Israel had this same problem in the book of Judges. The 12 tribes were not united, there was no communication, each tribe just did what they wanted irrespective of the others. And as a result, they lost their ability to witness to the pagan nations around them. Is there a lesson in that for us?
The next Equipping University was a true coming together of the body of Christ—members from 20 different churches representing four conferences. (There are four conferences that intersect the St. Louis metropolitan area). The energy in that meeting was contagious. The leaders of the Northside church met the Southside leaders for the first time. The contemporary church mingled with the traditional church. The church in the suburbs prayed with the church in the city. Barriers were broken down and the church of St. Louis became one. All agreed we must come together like this more often. It was a defining moment for the St. Louis church.
More than just meetings
As the pastors began having monthly meetings, the consensus was that we wanted to do more than just meet together. We wanted to do more than just hold events together. We needed to minister together. We want to bring our members together to evangelize St. Louis. No one church is going to reach the 2.8 million people who live in this city. We must have a united front. And while each church will have its own local mission field, we can still collaborate together to reach the larger metro area.
The pastors then decided to hold a quarterly city-wide prayer service where all churches are invited to come together to pray. The pastors further decided to have pulpit swapping Sabbaths where each pastor would preach in a church from a different conference. They also decided to form a Lay Mission Committee comprised of one or two members from each church who will develop local mission projects in St. Louis that all the churches can work on together.
Then the Lord opened the door for another wonderful opportunity. Ted Wilson, General Conference president, agreed to come as a keynote speaker for the St. Louis Mission Rally on February 22-23. Dr. Wilson will be speaking on the topics of large city evangelism and the need for churches to work collaboratively in evangelizing metropolitan areas. He will remind us of the counsel given so long ago of the importance of working in the large population centers of the world.
“Behold the cities, and their need of the gospel! The need of earnest laborers among the multitudes of the cities has been kept before me for more than 20 years. Who are carrying a burden for the large cities? A few have felt the burden, but in comparison with the great need and the many opportunities but little attention has been given to this work” (Testimonies, volume 9, p. 97-98 ).
The pastors and elders of St. Louis are meeting and praying together to make this event a catalyst to birth a larger vision in the hearts and minds of the St. Louis church members.
We have a mission, and that mission is not optional. We are called to unite together, from all churches, from all conferences, to minister to St. Louis in the name of Christ. And like the disciples of old, we must do it together.
Jesus Himself designed for us to work collaboratively: “After these things the Lord appointed seventy others also, and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go” (Luke 10:1, NKJV).
I thank God for the visionary pastors and mission-minded members of St. Louis who have been working to cast this vision. This is not a work that can be done by one person. It is the work of God. It must be done together.
It is our humble prayer that this kind of collaboration can begin to take place in cities all throughout the Mid America Union, throughout North America, even throughout the world.
If you live in a large city and this story has struck a chord in your heart, perhaps God is calling you to be a catalyst, to cast a vision, to be bringing the churches of your city together. Will you answer God’s call? I guarantee there are others in your city who feel the same.
Following are the names/locations of pastors and elders involved in this initiative:
Pastor Bryan Mann, Northside church
Pastor Joseph Ikner, Berean church
Pastor Claval Hunter, Lighthouse church
Pastor Donald Rolle, Tabernacle of Praise
Pastor Fred Montgomery, Agape church
Pastor Wayne Hosten, New Jerusalem church
Pastor Vic Van Shaik, St. Louis Central church
Pastor Jae Wook Lee, Korean church
Pastor Rob Lechner, West County and Southside churches
Pastor Tony LaPorte, Mid Rivers English and Spanish churches
Pastor Dale Barnhurst, Alton, Oakhill, Fairmont churches
Pastor Roy Weeden, Sullivan church
Pastor David Klinedinst, St. Louis evangelist
Brian Clark, head elder, West County church
Bart Humphries, elder, Mid Rivers church
Gwen Prince, head elder Mid Rivers church
Michael Kelsey, head elder, St. Louis Central church
Fred Nyanzi, head elder, Southside church
Joshua Plohocky, Bible work, West County church
A mighty movement
“The Lord has shown me that there is a work to be done in the cities that is scarcely entered upon. This question of the work in the cities is to become a living question with us. We must not now lay plans for a long, extended work. The message is to be carried quickly. The long delay in carrying out the instruction of the Lord regarding work in the cities has made the work of reaching all classes more difficult. The work must be undertaken at once, and the Lord calls for consecrated laborers who will engage in earnest efforts according to the light He has given” Letter 42, 1909 (Manuscript Releases, Vol. 17, p. 37).
“There is no change in the messages that God has sent in the past. The work in the cities is the essential work for this time. When the cities are worked as God would have them, the result will be the setting in operation of a mighty movement such as we have not yet witnessed” Letter 46, 1910 (Medical Ministry p. 304).
Author David Klinedinst is the resident evangelist for the St. Louis area.