Over the past four years church leaders across Middlesborough have had a growing sense of call to tangibly express the very real oneness that Jesus has gifted us with by being a part of his Church in this city. This has meant praying together every Tuesday morning at 8 am, having loads of coffees together and learning to be mates.
Out of these strong friendships all sorts of joined up thinking has sprung up, beautiful shared initiatives in youth work, prayer, evangelism and social action. As we have got to know and love each other better and laugh together better it has been a natural next step to join up our thinking and vision-making and pull on the resources of the wider Church when we dream up new things. All sorts of formal and informal connections have started to develop, and the kingdom is advancing.
Despite all of this happening we hadn’t ever worshipped all together. This needed rectifying. So in August we decided that it was about time we did. An event called Christ First was planned and it was mega. No one I asked can remember a time when the Church across Middlesbrough gathered together in this way – and we loved it. 450 Jesus followers gathered from across 30 local churches, and it was loud – really, really loud. The worship was led by a joint band pulled together from across the city, the liturgy was corporately spoken and sincerely owned by the whole Church, powerful prayers were offered from the different denominations that were gathered.
Baptists, Church of England, Methodists, Pentecostals, New frontiers, Salt & Light, Apostolic churches, independent churches, brand new church plants and historic churches, happy-clappy, hand waving churches and contemplative churches, churches where the preacher is at the 50-minute mark and he is just getting warmed up, and churches where the congregation are looking at their watches because the preacher has gone into their eighth minute.
Unity truly doesn’t mean uniformity, and it never should! We sang together and celebrated the diverse beauty of
what Jesus’ Church looks like in Middlesbrough. Some of the best moments came from hearing testimonies from people whose lives were being transformed by Jesus in and through the Middlesbrough Church. We heard how one guy had moved from Iran as an asylum seeker and through the love of the local Church supporting him and welcoming him, has met Jesus and has been baptised and set on the narrow path of discipleship.
We heard from a lad who had his life torn apart because of drug addiction, but because of the local Church, he met Jesus who has set him utterly free and reconciled his relationships. We heard stories from Middlesbrough foodbank and the powerful response the Church has made to fighting food poverty in our city together.
Rev Erik Wilson was asked to share a few prophetic words over the gathering and he spoke of Christ being first: first over the town of Middlesbrough, first over the Church in Middlesbrough and first over our individual lives. And when Christ is first for me and Christ is first for you, over and above everything else, then we get to see clearly that we are truly one in his eyes.
As the night went on we found a growing sense of this oneness, almost like the Spirit was knitting us together in our oneness as we worshipped. A sense of a collective vision was stirred, not simply for the growth of individual churches, but for the growth of Jesus’ kingdom in our land. There aren’t multiple churches in Middlesbrough, there is one Church.
When Jesus looks out across this town he does not see a multiple churches, he sees one Church. He sees his people. He sees his followers. He sees his disciples scattered in every nook and cranny of this town out on his mission day in, day out.
Our prayer, our vision and our mission is that Christ would be first, Jesus would be king over Middlesbrough.
Now we just need to work out what that means we do next.
Written by Rev Stephen Sutton (minister of Coulby Newham Baptist Church)