Encourages churches to think “courageously, openly, and strategically” about being in community
LANSING, Ill. (August 24, 2023) – He wasn’t looking for a pastorate the first time he preached at Grace Church in Lansing, but Steven Harrison found that Grace was looking for him. The 86-year-old congregation had said farewell to Pastor Leroy Childress in May of 2022, and for the next few months they heard from a variety of visiting preachers who took the pulpit and shared the Word. Harrison, friends with Grace Church Interim Pastor Andy Sons, agreed to take a turn on October 16, 2022.
“In my mind it was just a one-off preaching engagement,” says Harrison. An ordained minister in his home church in Park Forest and leader of Wednesday Night Ministry there, he had known since childhood he would pastor his own church one day, but he was in no hurry. Following his graduation from Moody Bible Institute he worked as a teacher and administrator at Deer Creek Christian School and then Unity Christian Academy, and was transitioning into a position with Chick-fil-A, Inc. “I was still in the place of ‘Eventually, I will pastor somewhere,'” Harrison remembers, “I thought, ‘When the Lord brings me and a congregation together, I’ll know, and then it will be time.'”
Apparently the Lord spoke to Grace Church members before revealing the plan to Harrison. Directly after his sermon on that Sunday in October, congregants asked if he would consider becoming their pastor. Grace’s Search Committee began conversations with him and ultimately recommended him to the Elders, who also recommended him unanimously to the congregation. He was officially installed in June.
For most of its history, Grace Church has been part of the Reformed Church in America (RCA), a traditionally Dutch denomination known for its emphasis on missions and Biblical teaching. In 2014, Grace transferred to the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), a conservative denomination that emphasizes God’s sovereignty and Biblical authority. In 2023, Grace voted to leave the PCA, and the church is currently non-denominational.
Steven Harrison was born and raised in a Missionary Baptist Church, and his particular church emphasized preaching, praise and worship, and community advocacy. Most recently he was serving with The Word Worship Center, a non-denominational church in Park Forest.
He brings a Missionary Baptist sense of local expression to the work at Grace. “Every local church and every local pastor has their own unique DNA,” he says. That DNA is made up of not just spiritual giftings of the members, but also the church’s shared history in a place and time, and the particular giftings of the church’s leadership, all of which informs how (or whether) a church engages the broader community. Harrison recognizes Grace Church’s “rich, deep legacy” of outreach, particularly to youth. He wants to reignite that legacy through old programs as well as new ones.
Rock and Refuge — Grace’s popular middle school and high school ministries — are starting up again this year. The programs once attracted hundreds of kids but have been slow to recover from their pandemic pause. Long-time Grace members Renae and Andrew Fentress have now stepped up to provide Rock and Refuge leadership and are excited about the potential.
Midweek Bible Study is a new program for Grace members and visitors. The format includes a BYOD meal (Bring Your Own Dinner) enjoyed together in the fellowship room, and intercessory prayer in the sanctuary, followed by worship and teaching. Harrison wants church people to remember that “church” can happen at times other than Sunday morning, and that people outside of Grace might find it easier to connect outside of Sundays.
Proclamation with conversation
The Midweek Bible Study will also provide opportunities for Biblical dialogue, which Harrison feels is an important accompaniment to pastoral proclamation of the Word. He is looking forward to “nuanced” conversations. “That’s kind of the key word for me,” he said. “That we can be known as a place where people in the community can have nuanced conversations about the Scriptures and faith. …Where we can talk and ask questions about the Bible. Any questions. Just ask. Let’s talk about them.”
Reliable and flexible
Harrison sees the church’s age and history as an asset because they demonstrate a long-term commitment and presence. “When people come to Grace,” he says, “they will find a genuinely loving and committed group of people who have demonstrated the ability to remain and be intentional about maintaining community for a long time.” In times of change and confusion, such reliability can be life-giving, he believes. “Grace offers reliable hospitality. Reliable worship. Reliable preaching and teaching of God’s Word that is not watered down but is also accessible.”
At the same time, Grace maintains a culture of flexibility about trying new things. The leadership team welcomes new ministry ideas and gives people space and support for having an impact in the community.
Even the church building is an example of reliability and flexibility. The solid brick structure has housed the congregation since 1938 and looks much the same as it did when first built, though rooms and wings and features were added over the years. Recently, the congregation took advantage of pandemic downtime to renovate and refurnish classrooms and meeting rooms. Now they want to invite the community to use the space for after-school programs, literacy classes, counseling sessions, or other gatherings.
Harrison offers this welcome to people looking for meaningful belonging: “If you want to be a part of a church where you can do things, we have opportunities to get involved. You can make a real impact in the community. And that’s kind of the heartbeat of the church.”
Grace Church is located at 2740 Indiana Avenue in Lansing, right next to the Lansing Public Library. More information is available at gracechurchlansing.org.
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