Letter to Members: Discernment Process Conclusion

Apr 9, 2019

Dear Members of Highrock Brookline,

Beginning in the summer 2015, Highrock Brookline began to pray for spiritual revival. We yearned for an outpouring of the Spirit as we repented of sins and eagerly awaited an awakening of spiritual giftings, both individually and corporately.  With excitement, we presented ourselves as open vessels before the Lord, waiting for his will to be accomplished through us. In the fall of 2018 when our founding pastor, Joshua Throneburg, announced his plans to step down from his position, the staff and overseers actively sought God’s direction for this next season in our church. Through corporate prayer, the leaders sensed that God wanted us to  take time to listen to the Lord before determining the next step. In response, we entered into a twelve-week discernment period, guided by insights from Fr. Jim Fleming of the Campion Center in Weston and borrowing from some of the traditions of Saint Ignatius, to seek God’s guidance on three questions regarding the future of Highrock Covenant Church of Brookline through prayer and fasting.

In light of the impending departure of our lead pastor, what is the leadership structure of the church that would faithfully allow the leaders and members to serve and spiritually flourish?

Directly related to the leadership structure is our growing focus on the priesthood of all believers. What does it mean that God has given each of us gifts to edify the Body of Christ with?

Over the last year we have been developing a relationship with Mars Hill Fellowship Church and for the past months we have been worshiping together every week and more. One of the questions we have is what God is calling us to in our partnership with MHFC? Is it close to over? Do we continue as we are now? Is there a new future that God is calling us to enter into?

The discernment process officially completed on April 4th and the discernment team has written out a culmination of what was heard from God and how we might respond.  There are two sections in this letter.  


Section I - What was discerned?
Section II - What is being proposed?


Section I lays out what we believe God has spoken regarding the three main questions we were asking and Section II lays out a few proposed ideas of how we might respond to what He has spoken.

Please keep in mind, we are not suggesting that all of these changes be made immediately, or that these are the last of the changes. We have been growing and maturing as a church over the past ten years, attempting to follow the Spirit’s calling, and that does not always happen at regular times during the year, or at the end of what we define as “a discernment period.” The following describes some changes that we are proposing be made. If these changes are affirmed by the members, the people, committees and resources required to institute these changes will be assembled. Please be praying for these changes. None of them make sense without people who are willing to love and serve their local church so we (the leadership) will be needing you more than ever over the next year. Thank you.

 

Section I - What was discerned?

In this section of the document we lay out what we heard from God over the past several months, but we will defer specific next steps to the Proposal section further down.


Leadership Structure

“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.” (Eph 4:11-13 ESV)
One clear point of unity within the discernment process is that there was a sense that God continues to desire leadership that cares for His flock. In addition, recurring images and words point to a leadership of the flock who protects the church, provides order, and exhibits personal care for each of the sheep. Equally important, there is a great need for strong Biblical teaching for the entire congregation in various settings. Consequently, there is a clear sense that we need two characteristics in the leadership: shepherding and teaching. Of the spiritual gifts, these are not elevated above the others, but we sensed a greater need in the leadership for these specifically. These giftings could be embodied by one lead pastor or a small consortium of leaders that exhibit strong gifting in teaching and shepherding.  

 

Priesthood of All Believers

“You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:5 ESV)
The priesthood of all believers is the claim that we don’t require a mediator to intervene to God on our behalf; we all have direct access to God through the Holy Spirit. And with this direct access to God also comes, in the words of Martin Luther, “the charge and obligation” of being a priest. We each have a charge to build up the church body and also to bring the Gospel to the world. That said, we have different gifts and callings, and some people are equipped for some tasks and some for others. God has presented spiritual gifts to his children, including the five APEST gifts (Eph 4:11-12) that we have been focusing on recently as well as gifts specified elsewhere in the New Testament (see Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:8-11 and 12:28, 1 Peter 4:11). Everybody has at least one gift, and our call is to deploy that gift both within and beyond the walls of Highrock.

 

Mars Hill

“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands,  and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Revelation 7:9-10 ESV)

In the most recent months of our partnership with Mars Hill Fellowship Church, we have explored Biblical teachings on unity, grown Gospel-driven friendships, and sought ways to better serve the church and our surrounding community. The presence of Mars Hill congregants has enhanced both the dialogue and the collective effort within the Racial Justice Ministry.

During the discernment process we have heard God affirming the fruit of the partnership, but we also have a growing sense that this may be only the penultimate purpose of this partnership. Images of an empty womb, yearning expectation of things to come, and perhaps even pain and struggle that precedes the birth of a child have been widely shared within the discernment team.  We feel that there are greater things to come from this partnership.

 

Section II - What is being proposed?

What follows is a set of proposals regarding the future of Highrock Brookline. Nothing below is set in stone but a starting point for us to continue to discuss and carry out a response to what God has spoken. 

In the course of discernment, we identified five key elements that we believe to be core elements of our church.

  • Centrality of the Word and cultivation of biblical knowledge
  • Service to others
  • Thriving community in the midst of a transient population
  • Social justice and racial reconciliation
  • Holistic discipleship

This is not an exhaustive list, but main points of continuing conversation that we want to have with the members over the next few months regarding what this means for us and how we can express them in the life of the church.

 

Immediate Next Steps

Leadership

Jesus, being the head of the church, is fully gifted in apostleship, prophecy, evangelism, shepherding, and teaching. These gifts have been deployed by the Holy Spirit so that through the church, in community, these roles can be fulfilled under Jesus’ headship. Oftentimes the common practice is for the role of the lead pastor to encompass the whole of teaching, shepherding, vision casting, and oversight of the operations. However, during the discernment process we have heard that these roles do not necessary need to be fulfilled by one person.

We propose that we retain congregational polity at a constitutional level. We further propose that we identify three leadership roles, a teaching pastor, a shepherding minister, and an executive pastor. The teaching pastor will focus on teaching and training other teachers within the church body. The shepherding pastor will focus on shepherding and raising up other leaders. The executive will manage the day-to-day operations of the church. All three roles would be appointed by the lay members of the board of overseers, and they would become part of the board of overseers officially.

Clearly, working out the details of this new arrangement given the realities of the church’s budget and the amount of time it will take to bring constitutional changes to fruition requires an interim plan starting 5/31 when Josh’s tenure ends. The overseers will work in collaboration with the ECC and Highrock Network as needed to arrive at an interim plan to maintain leadership until details are finalized.

 

Priesthood

We propose that we continue the MAP initiative as we continue to help individuals identify, develop, and deploy their gifts. Part of the role of the shepherding minister will be encouraging members to develop and deploy their gifts throughout the week. We acknowledge that there is a hunger within the church for greater opportunities for discipleship, and this summer the overseers and BML will investigate building some structures to foster discipling relationships.

 

Mars Hill

At present, there is unity that we should continue in an ongoing relationship with MHFC. We propose that we bring forward a vote for a new future together in September. We will await Mars Hill’s viewpoint on our relationship as they go through their own discernment process. If we are aligned, we will decide together what we will look like after that. We will continue to provide opportunities to continue the discussion together. By the end of August we will formulate a shared vision and mission statement, driven by representatives from both churches. We propose that in the meantime we continue to develop inter-church relationships and start exploring new ministries together.

 

Some Final Thoughts

One of the fruits of the discernment process is that it provided ample opportunities for sisters and brothers in Highrock Brookline to voice their thoughts on church via email, text, and, most of all, through a multitude of conversations within the life of church. There are many aspects of the life of the church that came up during our discernment process regarding church culture, ministry, and vision that we are not including in this document; these topics will continue to be areas of discussion and exploration in our church members and future leadership.

Many great insightful thoughts were shared and many fervent prayers were lifted. The very fact that this many words and prayers were shared is the treasured fruit of this process. Some of the words and imagery served as a prophecy or confirmation and are included in the section above. While many other great thoughts were not tested to be shared as the ones from God, the sheer volume and diversity of voices themselves seem to be a response to our long prayer for revival.  Among all the thoughts, hopes and frustrations shared, a common thread was an undeniably strong desire for deeper, better and more life-changing walk with our Lord individually and collectively. The voices of the community speaks its desire to seek God and God’s kingdom on this earth. Which brings new life - new life in Christ, new life as a disciple, and new life of a community.

We hope that even though this formal discernment process has concluded, we will continue to have a posture of discerning and listening for what God desires of us corporately and individually.

In Christ,
The Discernment Team