Believers in Christ Church is a remarkable congregation in North Minneapolis that blossomed out of a ten-year-long friendship between Pastors Joseph Sutton and Mark Bettenga. Together they founded Believers in Christ Church, after the extraordinary merger of their two churches last October. Pastor Joseph led an African-American congregation in North Minneapolis, while Pastor Mark Bettenga led a Caucasian congregation in Robbinsdale, Minnesota.
Believers in Christ Church is a remarkable congregation in North Minneapolis that blossomed out of a ten-year-long friendship between Pastors Joseph Sutton and Mark Bettenga. Together they founded Believers in Christ Church, after the extraordinary merger of their two churches last October. Pastor Joseph led an African-American congregation in North Minneapolis, while Pastor Mark Bettenga led a Caucasian congregation in Robbinsdale, Minnesota. To many, the union of these two churches may seem like a challenge, but Pastor Joseph explains, “The first thing everybody will see is a white pastor and a black pastor coming together, but that wasn’t it. It was two friends with the same vision coming together. He has been to my house and I’ve been to his house. He knew my family and I knew his family. His church leaders knew me and my church leaders knew him. Over the course of time the merging of the churches was the easy thing to do.” Believers in Christ is a unique church that has successfully merged out of sharing a mission and vision and a strong focus on relationships. Pastor Joseph finished by saying, “Reconciliation is birthed out of relationships.”
It all started a year and a half ago. Pastor Mark was looking for a new church location down the street from Pastor Joseph and jokingly said, “If we are going to be that close we might as well merge into one.” As the laughter settled they started to realize the commonalities between the two churches. They both had a unique vision to reach those that are least, the lost and the last—so much so that the two churches had similar mission statements, which they summarized by saying, “It all adds up to [people] becoming who God sees them be already; helping them see that by serving, loving, and challenging them to think differently about themselves. With God in their lives it changes everything about them.” As they prayed about it they became assured that God had been leading them to bring their churches together. They created what Pastor Mark called, “A covenant between the two churches trying to help those in North Minneapolis who are less fortunate and need help.”
As the merger approached, members of both congregations grew nervous. “Some of the people that came were a little nervous; they didn’t know what to expect. The fear of the unknown keeps us from understanding one another. To me, reconciliation is about bringing a new perspective to a situation, a life or even a way of thinking,” said Pastor Mark. This fear quickly disappeared as people gained a fresh perspective from their new relationships. “Having the same mission statement has helped. We didn’t have to force it. It’s the nature of both congregations to be so relational,” commented Pastor Joseph on the rapid development of relationships. Members of Believers in Christ have come to love their church and those worshiping and serving alongside them. After Sunday worship, very few people rush to leave; instead they stay to fellowship with the people they have now come to know and love.
Their story of reconciliation is likely to inspire many, but it is always difficult to know where or how to start. Pastors Joseph and Mark have a saying that may prove helpful: “You attract what you are, not what you want.” As both pastors can attest to, many people say they want their church to be multi-cultural or multi-ethic, but they don’t have any friends outside of their culture or ethnicity. “As your personal circle diversifies, that is what you will attract. If you do it first in your personal life then it will spill over into your church, ministry or institution. These things start with relationships,” explains Pastor Joseph. But this can only prove successful if the relationship is genuine.
Many pastors have approached Pastors Mark and Joseph and say they want a relationship, but they don’t mean a personal relationship. What they really mean is a working relationship, where their congregation serves Believers in Christ. “You might want to send your youth group to paint my church, but you won’t even let your own youth group paint your youth room. You pay a professional to paint your youth room, but you want them to come and paint mine? You want their church to understand giving and serving because it is more of a blessing to give than receive. But at the same time you force my congregation to never be blessed. You feel like you always have to serve me, but you won’t let me serve you,” describes Pastor Joseph. This one-way style of giving does not create an equal relationship that builds the kind of trust needed to truly reconcile. Pastor Joseph continues by saying, “It’s a byproduct of how we treat Jesus; we come into the Kingdom and immediately try to tell Jesus how to run His Kingdom. We forget we came into the Kingdom to develop a relationship with Him. We came to sit at His feet and learn.” It has taken ten years of friendship to build the trust that it takes to bring these two congregations together. There were no short-cuts or hidden agendas; it took a genuine friendship.
Exciting developments are occurring as the congregation finds its identity. It is switching its name to Sprit of the Lord Church. “Isaiah 61 really explains what we do and why we are there. It is only because of God in us and through us that allows us to make an impact on others. If you come through our doors you will feel the Spirit of the Lord. That is our prayer and statement,” explains Pastor Mark. Their desire to live out Isaiah 61 is also demonstrated in their active community outreach including youth programs, leadership development training, and Biker Sundays. They truly try to invest in the new generations. That is why a majority of their budget is dedicated to reaching the youth in their community. They also enjoy serving a specialized group with Biker Sundays. “All the bikers love us! They say we are their church and they swear I’m their pastor,” exclaims Pastor Joseph.
The newly-named Spirit of the Lord Church has incredible lessons to teach us, but there are more stories to be heard and lessons to be learned from North Minneapolis and across the U.S. This is why I am so excited about our upcoming 2012 CCDA National Conference. It is an opportunity for people around the nation to build relationships, gain perspectives, and move closer to the feet of Christ. Join us in the Twin Cities, September 26-29th, 2012.