The following post is from John Daugherty, pastor of First Baptist Church in Fort Myers, Fla. This post is the last of a four part series on his church’s journey.
After our first meeting, Pastor David and I had a number of conversations with our church leadership. Both groups were open to exploring possible ways the two congregations could begin to share facilities.
The first idea was that perhaps Elevation Ministries could worship in the gym of the activity center while First Baptist worshipped in the worship center. My concern from the beginning was the acoustics of the gym – it is a gym, not an auditorium! There was not sound absorbing material anywhere in the building and no baffling for the very high exposed ceiling area. Having watched as acoustical engineers “shoot” a room to track sound waves looking for straight lines and angles, I would have expected in that room to see spaghetti lines – chaos. The praise team brought over their equipment for a rehearsal one Saturday and left the building completely disappointed, not to mention completely addled and with head-aches.
The phone call I received only confirmed what I had anticipated: “There’s no way we can worship in that space without everyone leaving dizzy and disoriented.” I was disappointed and Pastor David was disappointed. And for about a month there was little contact between us.
In early December 2010 David called and asked if it might be possible for them to have mid-week ministries on Wednesday evenings with us. All they had on a semi-permanent basis was office space which did not lend itself to holding mid-week studies and children and youth activities. First Baptist had a few dozen coming for supper and held one Bible study and prayer time. With ample room, it was certainly a great idea to have the space fully utilized.
A simple use agreement was established and in January, 2011. Elevation Ministries and First Baptist began to share space on Wednesday nights. We still had separate events: two meal times and different study times. During this time the leaders from Elevation were exploring other options for holding Sunday services which would also provide mid-week opportunities as well.
In mid-January I received another phone call from Pastor David. He and some of his elders were actually at a facility which he described as absolutely everything they could want and there would be no conflict with the existing Seventh Day Adventist church. Then there was a long pause, and the anticipated “but.” David indicated there was only one problem, this was not where he and the elders believed God was leading them – they believed God was leading them to 2nd and Jackson Streets in downtown to be with First Baptist Church. “Is there any possibility of our sharing the worship facility and the two churches forging a relationship?”
I shared the conversation with the leaders at First Baptist and we began to pray and to consider scheduling and alternatives that would open the facilities to having Elevation Ministries on our campus full-time.
Obviously, the first issue was scheduling the use of the worship facility on Sundays. Being more liturgical in order and a bit more scripted and disciplined in time usage, it soon became evident the best solution was for First Baptist to switch the times of Bible Study and worship and have Elevation take the 11:00 am worship time. Don’t assume from the brevity of this explanation that the decision was a small matter for the people of First Baptist!
For nearly 125 years First Baptist had worshiped at 11:00 am preceded by Sunday School at 9:45 am. Not only would be switching times, but we would be starting worship at 9:15 am followed by Bible Study at 10:30 am in order to allow sufficient time for transition between two very different expressions of worship. With a few exceptions, the First Baptist folks have been gracious and the change has worked well.
The attorneys finally agreed on what kind of legal document would best express the new relationship. Neither congregation was interested in a simple business deal between a landlord and lessee – both insisted on establishing a partnership in kingdom ministry. For those who know the difference, the legal agreement was a “license agreement.” But more importantly a covenant was created to express our commitment to full partnership in God’s kingdom work.
“Believing we have been brought together under the power of the Holy Spirit, and believing God has called our congregations for the purpose of building God’s Kingdom on Earth as it is in Heaven, and believing we can do more together sharing our resources, gifts, and passions than we can apart, the congregations of the First Baptist Church of Fort Myers and Elevation Ministries commit to a partnership of shared ministry.” This is the opening statement of the Covenant of Shared Ministry signed by both congregations’ leaders on March 29, 2011 during a joint worship which initiated our shared ministry.
As we began the partnership neither pastor nor church leaders had any idea how the relationship would play out in the months and years ahead, but we trusted and followed as God led. The next “chapter” will tell the story of the last two-and-a-half years and how we came to the decision to merge into one, unified congregation.