The Complicated Blessing of Our Relationship With SPC

Sean Mortenson / June 10, 2016
building, church, Presbyterian, SPC, vision

“If God wants to give us a complex, delicate relationship to navigate in order to root us in humility from the start, we are better off for it.”


Back in March, the people of Scottsdale Presbyterian Church (SPC) invited us, the loud church plant that lives across the courtyard, to worship with them in the Main Sanctuary. We accepted. Graciously, SPC allowed us to lead all aspects of the service – music, flow, sermon, all of it. You can imagine how that might have felt a bit odd for them, like someone rearranging the furniture in your home and cooking a strange meal in your kitchen. But they welcomed us enthusiastically. We bought lunch for them afterward and we all sat in the courtyard getting to know one another more. The congregations mixed with very little prodding and listened to each other’s stories. It was an opportunity for SPC to experience who we are, how we worship on Sundays, and for us to bless them.

This past Sunday we gathered together in the Main Sanctuary once more. This time SPC led us in worship, an opportunity for us to get to know them and be blessed by them. And this time we had opportunity to adjust to their typical Sunday morning experience. The (awesome) pipe organ Call to Worship set the tone for our people from the beginning that it would not be like a typical Redemption Scottsdale Sunday. By the time the service was over, the contrast was solidified.

That contrast goes beyond our worship service styles; we are fundamentally different congregations. When two contrasting congregations (or people) attempt to coordinate there will inevitably be tensions that surface and issues to resolve. One might think that a church plant (like us) would benefit from avoiding such things; we have enough to figure out internally. But the truth is, working through this relationship might actually be one of the main things God wants to use to shape us for our good and for his purposes.

A Very Brief History

SPC is our landlord. But more than that, they are our partners in the Gospel, and we don’t take that for granted.

When we began talking in the fall of 2014, SPC was admittedly aging and in a season of decline. (I don’t say that to be harsh; it is how they would describe themselves even now.) On top of that, they were on the cusp of entering a season of discernment about leaving their denomination, an unenviable process they are navigating as we speak. I reached out to SPC at the time to learn who they are, hear their wisdom about the area, and inquire if there happened to be space available for our new plant to gather. From the very first meeting, the spirit of our relationship was cooperative and mission-driven. We immediately focused on our commonalities and started thinking creatively and optimistically about the future.

SPC gave us a five year, virtually rent-free lease to call their campus home. To make the chapel and classroom spaces usable we invested some money up front for improvements. That financial commitment was not insignificant, but it is still less than we would spend renting space in the area.

We’ve spoken many times about how our relationship with SPC is truly a picture of God’s sovereign hand at work, an answer to prayer for both parties. He set our development and SPC’s transition in motion and then brought us together. We now have a financially advantageous situation for us, with years of stability, in a beautiful space that is essentially our own. That’s an absurd blessing from the Lord for a church plant. And our presence provides an infusion of life, energy, and laughter (read: lots of little kids) for SPC. We also provide a picture of hope that future generations will be reached with the Gospel and ministered to on that campus.

Are We Hoping to Merge With SPC?

Let me be clear on this, we did not plant Redemption Scottsdale to revitalize SPC. Nor are we leading the church with that purpose in mind. That is to say, our vision is rooted in the doctrine, philosophy, and culture of Redemption Church, applied to the unique dynamics of South Scottsdale in 2016. We have full freedom and space on the campus to become what we believe God is calling us to be, independent of SPC. Some aspects of who we are will be foreign, and possibly even offensive, to some people from SPC. That’s not our intention, of course. But while we have very similar doctrinal convictions and a common Spirit, we are coming from very different philosophical and cultural starting points.

That said, we have had (and continue to have), very real, very candid dialog about the two congregations coming together under the banner of Redemption Scottsdale at some point in the future. The term “merger” is a bit misleading as it implies a 50/50 blend and we’re still pressing into our own convictions, not looking to assimilate to others. There are many, many steps and a great deal to figure out before any type of official unification is set in motion. It is not a given that it will even happen. But it is an optimistic goal we share. After all, it is a worthwhile goal; the story of congregations coming together for the sake of the Gospel is the story of Redemption Church, and a counter-story to the divisiveness we see (and the world sees) so often in the church.

Now, two very different congregations coming together is not something that just happens easily and seamlessly. It requires the hard work of healthy relationships: humility, grace, empathy, service, clear communication, etc. Hence the current season we are in. We are essentially co-existing on the campus while getting to know one another, building relationship, looking for ways to work together, and even serve one another. If we move forward with discussions about coming together we can then do so with a realistic sense of one another and, hopefully, a well of relational equity to draw from.

Conviction With Humility

Any tension that emerges in this season of relationship-building is (probably) good for us. That’s because while we have convictions for the church that we do not want to compromise on, we want to hold our convictions with humility.

The truth is that church plants can very easily be (and often are) built on arrogance, not humility. It’s a sneaky kind of arrogance shrouded in the spiritual language of mission. It shows up in a new plant believing they are the first or only church to do worthwhile ministry in an area. It shows up in a new plant thinking too little of the people who have come before and too highly of their shiny new (often uninformed) vision. It shows up in a new plant buying into any hype that “finally, a decent church” has arrived, believing they are the bearers of cool, or relevancy, or right theology, or good programs. It shows up in a church plant banking on the power of its prospectus and not the movement of God. It shows up in a church plant believing, “We need to reach this city because no one else can.”

But our relationship with SPC gives us opportunity to appreciate a church that has served the neighborhood for fifty years and learn from their legacy. It gives us opportunity to lay down our idols of preference and be edified by things that are “not our style”. It gives us opportunity to observe faithful men and women wrestling with questions and dealing with the issues inherent to a different stage of life (both as individuals and as a church). It gives us opportunity to pursue common ground in the faith and rely on the Spirit together, with patience.

In a sense, our relationship with SPC challenges us to respond in one of two ways. Will we be arrogant and dismissive of SPC, taking their blessing but wanting nothing to do with them? Or will we be humble, receptive, proactive in serving them and getting to know them? The latter is MUCH harder, as the path of humility often is. But if God wants to give us a complex, delicate relationship to navigate in order to root Redemption Scottsdale in humility from the start, we are better off for it.

So we will continue to move forward, into the unknown, pursuing what we believe Jesus would have us pursue. There will be tensions and more issues to resolve. I can promise that. But God is using those challenges to shape us into a faithful church that embodies the Gospel in South Scottsdale. We hope Hayden and Osborn is our home for generations and that the story that plays out on the campus will be one that captures imaginations with a picture of humility and unity in Jesus. We will see what God has in store for us.