“You don’t have to leave the movement to lead beyond it.”
Six perspectives on a provocative statement
By Jennifer Johnson
These leaders love the Restoration Movement and its principles, but they also work and minister “outside” of it with the churches they serve, the partnerships they pursue, and the parachurch ministries they lead.
Here are their thoughts on what it means to go beyond the movement, why it matters, and how it can honor God.
The biggest question for me is how does one “get in” and “get out” of our movement? We’re coming across planters and church partners who share the values of the Restoration Movement and practice baptism by immersion and weekly Communion. But many of these people have come to these values without any connection to our movement.
When I find a planter who is aligned with us and the churches we represent, but who doesn’t have the “credentialing” of one of our schools or churches, I have to ask whether I’ll be able to find partner churches to support him.
For example, we will be planting a church in Cape Town with a couple from South Africa. Louis, the planter, grew up in the Dutch Reformed Church, but in seminary he studied baptism and ultimately rejected the idea of infant baptism. This put him at odds with that Reformed tradition, which also stopped requiring that pastors affirm the bodily resurrection of Jesus. So before we met Louis, he had decided to plant an independent church. But not only does he not come from our tradition, just the very name of the denomination he does come from could be threatening to potential donors. So I always have to ask those questions.
We have a relationship with Redeemer Presbyterian’s church planting ministry called City to City. We have church planters who have benefited from the fantastic training they do; they’re not trying to turn our planters into Presbyterians, they’re trying to train gifted planters who are going to plant effective churches. And when they get potential planters who don’t fit their tradition, they will point them to us. We benefit from the training, and I think they benefit from the relationship.
So I don’t have an agenda on this. People ask if Orchard Group is trying to broaden our network to work with other groups, but I don’t see it as a strategy as much as a way to participate in an organic movement of God.
Brent Storms is president and CEO at Orchard Group Church Planting in New York City.
Everybody has a tribe, and our tribe’s a good one. Our ideals resonate with just about everybody. Our problems come when we don’t uphold them. We mix essentials and nonessentials.
In cross-cultural work, you realize so many of the things you think are “essentials” are really just part of American culture. And you learn you don’t have to compromise what you believe to make a friend. You do have to respect other people, but respect doesn’t mean agreeing with everything.
What is the Restoration Movement called to restore? I believe we’re called to restore all creation to God the Father through Jesus Christ, his Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit. If we can find unity on that metanarrative, then we can discuss all kinds of other things. I think it was Reinhold Niebuhr who said, the great source of evil in life is the absolutizing of the relative. If we can agree on the big picture of restoring people to God, it makes all the difference in how we talk about other issues.
That’s not saying anything goes. Far from it. But I’m willing to talk to anyone and listen with respect to why their tribe is as precious to them as mine is to me.
In Europe we’re seeing a lot of refugees coming to the Lord. We have 130 students from Muslim countries, and when I ask what motivated them to lose their job and their family for their faith, the answer is simple: they now know they have a Father who loves them, not one who asks them to die in jihad, but who actually sent his Son Jesus to die to bring them into his family
That love, that mission, is so powerful that people around the world are willing to give their lives for it. We have to quit playing games. We don’t have time. That simple message is everything to many people around the world, and it should be to us.
Tony Twist is president of TCM International Institute, Indianapolis, Indiana.
When we moved to Chicago, I was nine hours from Ozark, five hours from Cincinnati, three hours from Lincoln, and I needed a tribe. I had to become ecumenical.
My schooling at Wayland Baptist University also affected me. I got to know people outside our movement. At the same time, I studied our history, how Thomas Campbell looked at the Old-Light Anti-Burgher Seceder Presbyterians, and thought, Let’s just preach the Bible and see what happens.
I also realized I had some deeply held theological positions that might not have been as scriptural as I thought. Each of us is wrong about something theologically. I guarantee, when I get to Heaven God is going to say, “Tim, I love you, but you were wrong about this. Just wanted you to know.” So the question is, how do we link arms with others to advance the gospel?
My dad was in ministry during the Billy Graham crusades, and I heard conversations about whether we should get involved because they didn’t offer baptism right then and there. Now, Rick Warren is the guy. When I received an invitation to visit Rwanda with him, I realized this is a man who loves Jesus as much as anyone I’ve ever met, and he has all this influence he’s using for the gospel, and it’s changing the world. He comes from a Southern Baptist tradition, but there are not many differences between Saddleback Church and most of the churches we call part of our brotherhood. And they baptize people like crazy!
In Malawi we gathered leaders from Anglican to the Assemblies of God. They believe different things about all kinds of issues, but they were all in one room to advance the gospel. I disagree with some leaders of our generation on some pretty big issues, but I’m going to partner with them if it means sharing Christ. We have to manage the tension of that, definitely, but when I get to Heaven, I think God is going to ask me if I brought a bunch of people with me, not if I was right on every issue.
Tim Harlow serves as senior pastor at Parkview Christian Church in Orland Park, Illinois. Parkview runs the Saddleback PEACE plan in Malawi.
For a unity movement to divide as many times as we have is interesting. I’ve always thought if what we believe is true, then what do we have to be afraid of in connecting with other groups? Participation with someone else is not necessarily an endorsement of everything they believe.
When I was working at Cincinnati (Ohio) Christian University years ago, there was a small denomination with 500 churches. They wanted to partner with us. That meant, out of the 120-hour degree program, they wanted from us all but 20 hours of coursework for their history and theology. And I remember one of the professors said, “What happens if those young men come here and marry our girls and they leave our churches?” And I said, “They’re going to spend four years here, go to chapel, do 100 hours of our coursework, and we’re concerned we can’t influence them?” What are we afraid of? Either we have truth to share or we don’t.
Nothing in the world happens outside relationship, and the only people who can speak into my life are those I’m relationally connected with. So when we create relationships, we open the door for conversations. It doesn’t mean we compromise what we believe. It means we build relational bridges. The Externally Focused stuff has opened the door for us to share who we are with thousands of other churches.
We’ve chosen the wrong enemy—each other. When we ask who our competition is and we list other churches in our community, we need to think about who we are and what we’re doing. Our competition is a secular mentality that faith doesn’t matter. It’s a post-Christian culture. It’s not the Lutheran church down the street. I understand we’re going to disagree on theology with some groups, but that doesn’t make them the enemy.
Rick Rusaw serves as senior pastor with LifeBridge Christian Church in Longmont, Colorado. He is coauthor of The Externally Focused Church, The Externally Focused Life, The Externally Focused Quest, and The Neighboring Church: Getting Better at What Jesus Says Matters Most.
Having grown up in a movement that taught me we are Christians only, but not the only Christians, it’s been quite natural for me to interact with the broader Christian world. Sometimes that was looked on with confusion or criticism, but for me it’s about having a sense of security about my own identity, about where my roots are, and about who I am in Christ. It’s also a spirit of humility that says, I don’t have everything figured out, and neither does the tribe I belong to and love. There are things I can learn.
As I’ve traveled in the broader church world, I’ve never felt I’ve had to be somebody I’m not or abandon my principles. But I have had my thinking stretched and been impacted in good, healthy ways. That’s made me a better leader on the one hand and also given me a deeper appreciation for our tribe. I became aware of how significant and special our movement is, and that others are looking to us. Sometimes influential leaders from other groups even ask how they can join us because we have something they’re not finding anywhere else.
The question about how to connect with others without watering down doctrine always mystifies me. Being with someone who doesn’t agree with me doesn’t change who I am. I live with someone who doesn’t always agree with me!
When I went to serve at Willow Creek in 2003, many people had questions: Am I changing? Is my doctrine changing? But I preached the same theology there that I preached at Central Christian Church in Las Vegas and that I preach at Eastside Christian Church in Anaheim. And it wasn’t because I’m part of the Restoration Movement; it’s because I’m a follower of Jesus preaching his Word.
I have enormous excitement and optimism about our own tribe and its future in the coming years. I hope to help an emerging generation of pastors and church leaders from our tribe develop that appreciation of who we are and realize the grass is not always greener on the other side.
Gene Appel serves as senior pastor with Eastside Christian Church, Anaheim, California.
We need to engage outside our movement and also preserve our own tribe. Both are important. And both need to happen because of mission.
Sometimes we think we’re being more “faithful” by keeping to ourselves. But Jesus understood things differently. For him, it wasn’t about avoiding the messiness of relationships with other people, it was about diving into relationship. That’s who he was and how he did things. I’m not emulating Jesus if I’m not intentionally connecting with any and all of God’s people.
If someone in my church has read only a bit of the Bible and they’re not “right” doctrinally in every way, but they’re moving in the direction of Jesus, I’m absolutely going to fellowship with them, serve with them, love them. So it makes no sense to refuse to connect with other denominations because we are suspect of them and their worship or nonessential beliefs.
In a time when Christians are becoming an unappreciated minority in an increasingly post-Christian society, rather than cluster in our subgroups, it seems important to come together, unite our voices, combine our strengths for mission, and demonstrate unity across denominational lines like never before. And besides, we might learn something.
We’ve been slow to accept that unity can handle diversity. But eliminating diversity leaves you with uniformity—or conformity—not unity. So let’s not kid ourselves. No tribe makes up the entirety of the body of Christ. Paul urged us to value all the gifts, all the people Jesus has called, all the parts of the body. Refusing to acknowledge other groups ignores the biblical call and the spirit of our own movement.
If you want to point to a moment where this movement began, it might be that famous handshake between Barton W. Stone and “Raccoon” John Smith (speaking for the group called Disciples of Christ, led by Alexander Campbell). There were huge gaps between Stone and Campbell—who they were and what they believed—a gap much larger than many would tolerate today. But they shook because of a higher value: unity for the sake of mission.
We need to learn to serve with others outside our tribe. You don’t have to have a theological discussion to serve soup together. But Christ followers serving together might be the greatest apologetic for the gospel to a watching world. All Christians coming together to serve proclaims a gospel statement we cannot make if we keep to ourselves.
We’ve created this false choice between clinging provincially or in an isolationist way to the Restoration Movement or just letting go of it altogether. But both choices are shortsighted. We need to think bigger. We need the synergy that comes from uniting as a tribe and the growth that comes from engaging outside it. We’ve got to think bigger—bigger than what I want or like, bigger than “what will help my church,” bigger than this or that college, bigger than “our movement.” We’ve got to ask what is the end game? What will do the most kingdom good? I think the answer is having a tribe that freely connects with others.
Ben Cachiaras serves as senior pastor at Mountain Christian Church, Joppa, Maryland.
Jennifer Johnson, a CHRISTIAN STANDARD contributing editor, is a freelance editor and writer living outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.