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Johnstown was buzzing as the planning began for the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the city. Being one of the largest cities in the state, it enjoyed a close association with many surrounding cities, who were also looking forward to being part of the celebration.
Johnstown officials formed a volunteer organization to coordinate the event, which anticipated one million visitors to Johnstown during the week-long celebration. Individuals, businesses, and organizations were invited to join in the planning and participation of the celebration, which included sporting events, many children’s activities, guided tours of local historical landmarks, and a large parade with a few well known celebrities and fireworks.
The event got the attention of the local Ministers’ Association, which had been meeting monthly for five years. The group had organized a few evangelistic musical events together, and enjoyed joint fellowship times with their spouses. They were committed to their monthly prayer times, and considered their relationships close, but once the school year got going, pastors’ schedules got crazy.
This anniversary celebration was something they felt they couldn't pass up. These opportunities for ministry would not come again anytime soon, and with their strong passion for evangelism, they plunged into discussions on the scope of their participation.
They had nine months to coordinate their efforts. They met monthly for strategic planning, and followed through with these plans between meetings. There was so much they wanted to do, but were limited by the lack of motivation in the congregations. They pressed forward and came up with a plan that would include both ministry opportunities, and joining with city efforts to provide basic visitor needs. The congregations contributed to their efforts in manpower and financially as they were able.
During the preliminary meetings, a letter was sent out to other area churches who did not participate regularly with the Ministerial Association, inviting them to come to a planning meeting and join in their efforts. At the next meeting, Pastor Joshua, a local pastor from a charismatic church showed up, excited to join them. This congregation had been in the area for only a few years, and had been growing steadily. Their members were excited to participate, and were able to contribute financially as well.
But the Ministers’ Association was concerned with Pastor Joshua’s participation. They had strong disagreement with some of the theology of these types of churches, and were anxious that people who might go to their church as a result of the outreach might be misled by their teachings. The realization that they had extended an invitation through a mailing list without first reviewing who was on it had put them in a quandary. Now what could they do, since they had extended the invitation? They discussed their options privately, while continuing planning their cooperative activities for the event with Pastor Joshua’s participation in the group.
During one of the planning meetings, the group discussed what they might charge for certain services or items they provided to the public at the event. In the centers of activities the Ministerial Association would pay for and staff three booths, providing free sodas and snacks, Bibles, and evangelistic materials. As a service to the city and public, the Ministerial Association would also keep open two of the participating churches that were most strategically located to the event areas, and also provide free water and snacks at these two locations.
Pastor Joshua’s church was not one of the most strategically located, but they still had a fair amount of exposure to the event activities. Since the Ministerial Association was not using their church in the plans, Pastor Joshua’s congregation decided to open their church as a “resting place” for use of their facilities, and for free parking. They would also provide sodas and snacks during the celebration, but would charge for them to help pay for the cost of supplies for their Vacation Bible School. The rest of the Ministerial Association thought that charging for these items was inconsistent with the rest of their efforts of providing everything free of charge. They decided to continue this discussion at the next meeting.
In the interim, discussions also continued about the doctrinal differences with Pastor Joshua’s church. The inconsistency of charging for refreshments at his church seemed to provide an easy way to not join together for the Anniversary Celebration. At the next meeting, the Association pastors reiterated their desire that participating churches not charge for any goods or services provided. Pastor Joshua shared that his congregation had discussed and were in agreement their desire to provide refreshments at their “resting stop” for the event, but needed to charge for them in order to have the finances available for their VBS. Pastor Joshua said he understood if this meant that the Ministers’ Association thought that his congregation should not participate in the cooperative activities, and the Ministerial Association confirmed that they thought this would be for the best.
Before leaving the meeting, Pastor Joshua presented the Ministerial Association with a check for the amount his congregation promised to contribute for the cooperative activities, which was accepted gratefully, and they blessed each other’s efforts.
What is your initial reaction to the situation in Johnstown in relation to the unity of the Body of Christ, and churches working together?