It's easy for reformed churches, and Christians in those churches, to feel isolated from other Christians in their communities. Because of the doctrinal differences, the depth of theological convictions, and the distinctiveness and simplicity of our worship, it can be difficult to connect and collaborate with other local congregations. As a result the years can pass by without our churches having any meaningful contact with neighboring congregations, and we begin to view (and worse, act) like the only believing island in the middle of a vast ocean of unbelief, as alienation and pride begin to feed off each other.
Because we do have convictions we can't violate, solutions to this problem aren't easy to come by. But here are a few things our congregation has been doing to increase our sense of unity and love for other local congregations.
First, for two or three months a year, we pray for a different, local congregation in our morning worship. During those months, each week I contact a local pastor to ask for prayer requests and let them know we'll be praying for them. And, as most Christians know, how we pray guides how we feel and act. Praying for local churches has caused us to love them more. Even something as simple as those phone calls has helped me connect with other pastors and begin to develop our congregation's reputation of love and prayer. Perhaps the most surprising thing has been how encouraged the people in our church are to pray for other churches. Celebrating God's work in other churches and recognizing the Spirit's blessing upon them has humbled us, helping us to hold our convictions with more grace.
Second, I have tried to become more faithful to our local pastors' group (called the Greater Lafayette Gospel Association). This group meets monthly for devotions, passionate prayer and networking. While very few of the ministers present would self-identify as "reformed," they are all faithful Christian ministers and are also genuinely glad to have me in the group. They joyfully sing Psalms when it's my turn to lead devotions. And they even elected me to the board this year, despite my warning: "You all know I'm reformed, right? And that I can't really turn it off like a switch, right?" Being a part of this group has also forced me to acknowledge God's work in other parts of the church and to see how our church fits into the quilt of churches Jesus has patched together in west-central Indiana.
Finally, every month or two, we invite a local pastor to our evening service to share their testimony and tell us about their congregation. It might help to know our evening service is a little unique: we begin with a time of Psalm-singing and corporate prayer before going to our Sunday school classes. Setting aside ten to fifteen minutes at the beginning of the service is a natural way to bring other pastors in (plus...so few churches have an evening service that most of them are available!). Hearing these men's salvation testimonies and getting to hear more about the good things their congregations are doing, has increased even more our appreciation for them and for the Spirit's wide-and-deep work in our city. Then, when people in our congregation meet people from their congregation, they can say with enthusiasm, "Your pastor spoke at our church last month. It was great!" So connections are being formed and strengthened among Christian neighbors, for the good of the kingdom.
I know reformed churches, especially Psalm-singing ones, might always be the odd duck among all believing churches in a city. That's okay. But we can still work as hard as possible to build connections, show Christian love to other Christians and their church families. Not only has it been a blessing to our hearts, we've also seen our congregation's reputation slowly change from "weird" to "weird, but loving and prayerful."
What about you? What do your churches do to connect with neighboring congregations?