How many are we?
How many churches are there that are preaching a Biblically faithful gospel in Rhode Island and the bordering cities of Bristol County? Two hundred? Four hundred? The number is elusive for several reasons.
First, there is the problem of definition. Are all historically Christian churches “preaching a Biblically faithful gospel.” Many of them have openly rejected important core teachings of the Christian faith and are obviously not doing so. But identifying those that are is not an exact science. Who is to say? And what measure will they use?
Second, there is the problem of documentation. Many congregations are small “storefront” or house gatherings with either a minimal corporate existence or the lack of any easily located legal or on-line presence. Tracking them all down is no small feat.
And finally, there is the problem of language and ethnicity. Many foreign or minority language churches are “off the grid” as far as the English speaking churches are concerned.
But establishing this number is, at the most basic level, irrelevant, because from a heavenly vantage point, there is really only one correct answer. How many churches are there in our region? One. Just one. This is the right answer, whether we are looking at gatherings of Christ followers in a county, a city, a state, a nation, or even globally.
Jesus said, “I will build my church.” He didn’t say He would build his churches. Though we meet in a host of local gatherings of numerous and differing sizes, traditions, practices, ethnicities, and languages, we are all part of a single corporate body sharing the same faith in Jesus Christ and transforming gospel. This was patently true of the early church, and it remains true throughout the world wherever followers of Jesus may be found.
So what does this mean? The simple reality of the unity of the church of Jesus Christ has several profound implications. Most fundamentally, it means that the shepherding leaders (pastors) of local assemblies are, in reality, partners together in the oversight of a single church. They are all answerable to our “chief shepherd” Jesus, but they are also accountable for and mutually supportive of each other. They are, in the most basic sense, a “band of brothers” who are on the same team and who ought to uphold one another and labor in a way that reflects the unity which they actually enjoy.
The best place to start practicing this is to pray together. Though they may never get
to know everyone involved in their common shepherding enterprise, the prayer ministry to which they are called should include time spent before God with other leaders of the widest, most diverse expression of Christ’s actual church.
This is why TOGETHER puts such a high emphasis on the gathering of pastors to pray. It could be a region-wide annual multi-day prayer summit for pastors, a similar periodic morning prayer breakfast, or an even more localized pray fellowship of community pastors. In some way or other, pastors need to be together in the presence of God.
We have along way to go, but we can rejoice that the Holy Spirit is helping us get this right in the Rhode Island area. Over seventy pastors have participated in at least one annual prayer summit. Dozens make it a practice to meet regularly at our quarterly pastors’ prayer breakfasts, and more and more small groups of praying pastors in individual cities and towns continue to pop up.
Our next big challenge is to cross the ethnic, racial, and language barriers that continue to divide both pastors, and the local assemblies that they shepherd. We desire nothing less than a regular coming together of God’s shepherds that looks like the beautifully diverse family of God that Jesus has built here in southeastern New England.