The small differences between Christian denominations tend to be blown out of proportion.
Certainly, separate congregations have unique approaches and beliefs on certain aspects of their faith. But for a group of Johnson County pastors, focusing on those tiny distinctions pulls people away from the true focus: Christ and his teachings.
“We’re not in competition with other churches. There is a reason we have different churches, in that we value different things or do things in different ways,” said Daniel Jepsen, pastor at Franklin Community Church. “But we are all on the same team. Our unity in Christ is far bigger than our differences.”
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For about five years, a group of pastors at small local churches have met on a monthly basis to pray for each other and reflect on being part of a small church congregations.
The bonds formed during these meetings have led to greater cooperation and participation across all of the churches involved. The pastors have brought their individual congregations together for a day of prayer and to host holiday meals together.
On the most sacred of weekends for Christians, they will come together once more to worship during a special Good Friday worship service.
“It’s just nice to not have denominational boundaries. We are similar in so many of the major things, and the minor things we have to just let go,” said Jeff Souders, pastor at Impact Christian Church in Franklin. “There are differences, but we try to work on our strengths, and just pray together.”
This unique partnership among different churches grew out of an informal gathering of pastors that started around 2013.
Gary Walker, pastor at Franklin City Church, was planting a church in Franklin at the time. He saw a need for pastors in the area to come together for support, share ministry and talk about the joys and challenges of starting a small church.
“We all know each other, see each other at different things. It became a time at first where we could just pray for each other,” Souders said. “As a pastor, you’re usually the one praying for and helping other people, so sometimes it’s nice thing to do that.”
A group of pastors from similar churches — coming from a variety of denominations, but all mostly with fewer than 200 members — started meeting once a month.
“We meet for lunch and share life together, share our ministry together,” said Dan McLaughlin, pastor at Community Congregational Church in Franklin. “We thought we could show our churches and the community in general that it’s not about the different churches, it’s about one big church, and we’re all in this together.”
As the gatherings became a regular part of the pastors’ lives and they saw the benefits that could come with working together, they suggested expanding this cross-church camaraderie to their congregations as well.
By doing activities together, they could achieve more than they likely could as individual churches, and a sense of Christian unity could build, Jepsen said.
A joint Good Friday service was determined to be a good starting point.
“It has always been amazingly well attended and received. It’s something people talk about a lot,” said Bruce Bendinger, pastor at New Beginnings Community Church in Franklin. “They seem to appreciated meeting some other Christians and seeing what some other churches are about. We all kind of look forward to it every year.”
The service was a success, with members from every participating church coming together as one to recognize one of the holiest days in the Christian faith.
From that point, the pastors opted to plan additional activities throughout the year, including a banquet the Friday before Thanksgiving, a prayer gathering at the Johnson County courthouse and a community event focused on the start of the school year, praying for teachers and students.
The school event brought close to 500 people involved, Souders said.
About 10 local churches will be taking part in the Good Friday service this year. Community Congregational Church will host the event because they have the largest worship space to accommodate a large group of people, McLaughlin said.
Each church will have people participating and helping make the service a success, from providing music to reading Scripture.
The service is an ideal opportunity to recognize the connections that all Christians share, Jepsen said.
“I can think of no better time for us to be together, since that is where the basis of our unity lies, in the cross,” he said. “We have our disagreements, but at the cross those things don’t matter.”
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Community Congregational Church, 4592 N. Hurricane Road, Franklin
What: A joint service put together by a group of several smaller churches in Johnson County
Who can come: The service is open to the community.