Grace City | Stewards of the Heartbeat

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by Marilyn Tinnin

Unless you live under a rock on a desert island somewhere, you know “the times they are a changin” and the church as we know it faces a host of competing thoughts on what worship should look like. Whether or not those thoughts have the slightest nugget of eternal truth attached is not my point. The fact is that statistics from such respected researchers as the George Barna Group indicate that the 20’s and 30’s generation are not returning to the traditional church in large numbers. Many of these consider themselves Christian but do not consider church membership to be an indicator of a healthy relationship with Christ. The question looms: How can we follow Jesus and help young people faithfully follow Jesus in a changing culture? How can we make disciples grounded in biblical truth, who in turn impact their families, friends, and the world around them?

David Hederman, 31 year-old pastor of Grace City Church in Jackson, is committed to answering those questions. The former minister to 20’s and 30’s at First Baptist Church Jackson, David was tapped by the church fathers when they saw the need to plant a new church in their own backyard.

Visitors find a friendly and sincere welcome

As neighborhood demographics changed over the past few decades, many of the established churches, along with their congregations, migrated to the suburbs. There were 60,000 people living in the 39211, 39206, 39216 zip codes and a dwindling number of vibrant churches reaching out to them. At the same time, young people who had left the city for college were coming back, settling in the north Jackson area and many who had grown up in church were not re-connecting. David calls this group “the de-churched” who for whatever reason had decided they did not fit in at the church down the street. The generation who grew up surrounded by electronic toys, gadgets, and reality television does not always relate to the pace or style of their parent’s worship service.

Rich Price, Worship Leader, says Grace City unashamedly seeks to involve 20’s and 30’s males in the life of the church. There is an intentional nurture and instruction for young men who are cast into a myriad of new roles – as husbands, fathers, and chief bread-winners. The reality of the fractured family of the past few decades has, in many instances, left a gaping hole in the mentoring of young men. “We feel like there is a strong need for men to be men in a church, to raise up godly leaders, family leaders, and community leaders in the church,” Rich says.

David Hederman: Senior Pastor: “I was born into a family where my parents really modeled for me what it looked like to love the Lord God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. It wasn’t just a Sunday morning faith I saw, but when I came through high school, I was probably the religious, judgmental guy. It took a couple of pivotal events during college for me to really understand…being a Christian is not about religion. It’s about relationship with Jesus.”

Rich Price: Worship Leader and Wearer of many hats! “Music has always been a big love in my life. I never thought doing music and leading worship as a career was an option for me. It’s kind of a fluke thing that leading worship happened for me.”

Kim Parrish: Director of Children’s Ministry. Kim, a native of Carrollton, Georgia, she discovered her gift for kid’s ministry by accident. From the first moment she volunteered to help with children, she loved it. “I couldn’t get enough of it! When God puts that passion in you, it just feels like a natural thing. It’s a calling!”

 

Simplicity

Grace City describes their structure as “simple.” In their initial research on how to attract a number of the un-churched and de-churched, a simple schedule was important. David says, ”We want to give families time to be involved in their community, in their home, time to be an influence for Christ right where they are.” One of David’s frequent comments is “Church is not the finish line. It is the starting line for you. I want a person to come on Sunday morning, worship God, hear the word and go out and live it out where ever they go the next week.”

The vision for Grace City was not hammered out by a committee of twenty-somethings who wanted to erase everything traditional. The advisory board includes several over the age of fifty who bring a wealth of life experience as well as leadership experience to the table. Andy Wimberly, who jokingly calls himself, “Grace City’s token old person” is part of a core of more than a hundred regular attendees who fill the transformed auditorium of Gulf Guaranty’s conference center on the I-55 west frontage road every Sunday morning.
Although the church is definitely reaching out to involve young families and singles, David says the leadership team is fighting against being a “niche” church. “I like to have empty nesters here who have kids in this age group. I believe there is strength in a multi-generational church.”

How is such an idea working? Apparently it is working amazingly well. With emphasis on building programs for people around three principles: to reach, to heal, and to release, Grace City’s vision is easy for young and old to support.
Kim Parrish, a former head of children’s ministry at First Baptist, began volunteering at Grace City from the start. Her gift is children’s ministry, and she is absolutely called to it.  Rich and David knew a strong children’s program would be vital for a successful church plant from the very first day, but they wanted a first-class curriculum that engaged the children and captured their hearts. Therefore, Kim was the perfect fit – she was no novice at children’s ministry!

One of the key programs at Grace is the “family worship service” that takes place during the 10:30 adult worship service. Parents are encouraged to attend that service with their children from time to time where the sermon applications are very much geared to the child’s level of understanding. The hope is that such a service encourages parents and children to discuss scripture and principles during the week and lessons learned become life principles engrained.

Jeanne Scarbrough, mother of boys ages seven and five, says family worship is a very meaningful part of the week for her family. “We love that we are able to see firsthand what our kids are learning. It is fun for us to all be together and see them learn to pray and to learn God’s word.”

If reaching others is dependent on attracting potential visitors who will find a warm welcome, meaningful relationships, and sound teaching, then that “reaching” is closely connected to how well Grace City executes the “healing” and “releasing.” As a blueprint, it is all very powerful.

The most amazing thing but something that shouldn’t surprise any believer is that the welcoming smiles and greetings on Sunday morning are not forced, rehearsed, or plastic. These people are genuinely interested in connecting. Their obvious bond with each other definitely feels inclusive to visitors. It’s hard not to be drawn to people who are drawn to you. There is something genuine and not contrived here.

Worship services are filled with songs of praises

Working with Mission First in West Jackson, Grace City performed community clean up and put together kid activities for the Mission First Children's Program

What Releasing Looks Like

The children's ministry is meaningful and packed with learning opportunities.

Being the church outside the four walls of the church is foundational to the membership at Grace City. As a new congregation, they prioritize their collective service to others in the world beyond the church walls. To their way of thinking, their serving means they are obedient to Christ, but their serving together creates a hard-to-explain kind of bond that strengthens their personal relationships with Christ and brings them all closer to each other.

A video on their Face book page chronicles several of their efforts during 2011. For a very new congregation of mostly young families, the video speaks volumes about a focus on serving and a priority of giving of self. When Grace City talks about “releasing” they definitely have in mind to “release” the church to serve both in the community around them and to the larger community as far away as Africa. On both counts, the video reveals a group of sincere believers who realize that giving involves resources and time and personal “being there” to touch the lives of others who are in one kind of need or another. And it is worth mentioning that those serving look like they are having a lot of fun. Like real fun. Like no pretense.

David says, “We are called to release the churched. We are not a body of believers content to keep our faith marginalized and restrained but we know that God has redeemed us to live out our faith not just on Sundays but on every day of the week. And when we follow God’s leading for our community we will bring glory and honor to Christ. Whenever we honor Christ, whenever we worship Christ, it restores our soul because we are living out what we were created to do.”

Fellowship at the coffee bar

I have to emphasize the part about restoring our souls. I have seen that played out over and over with so many interviews over the years. It is so true that as we give, we receive in soul-filled ways we could never have imagined. It appears that Grace City knows this.
Matthew 28:19 is the passage we call The Great Commission where Jesus gave the charge to go and make disciples as we share the gospel everywhere. We, in the Bible Belt, refer to “the gospel” as comfortably as we refer to our third cousin, “John.”  But even here we stop in our tracks and take notice when we see even one person living out the gospel in the mundane every day. To “consider the needs of others above our own,” (Philippians 2:3) to “lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13), to “go and to teach all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20) – well, it just goes against the culture we live in to be that giving toward our fellow man. But it also makes it easy to understand why a movement like Grace City gets so many curious and interested visitors.

People are thirsty, and there is nothing in the world and of the world that is satisfying that thirst. It’s a God-thirst whether we acknowledge it or not. Why not check in to a congregation close by and see what they are preaching. See if anything resonates with the hole in your heart. I am just betting the answers are there. And you might find exactly what you are looking for at Grace City Church.