The following is a guest post written by Herb Halstead. Herb is a Nazarene church planter and senior pastor of Thrive Church in Jackson, TN. He is a prolific blogger, not only writing for his own blog but contributing to blogs specializing in topics such as technology and new pastor education. Please enjoy his post. I will be taking a short hiatus from new posts on A Heart That Burns, due to a move followed by minor surgery (for both of which prayers would be appreciated). I’ll be checking to moderate any comments, but new posts won’t resume for at least one week.

My bride and I, along with a small handful of people, planted a new church that launched in 2007. In the midst of a heavily Baptist town (a Baptist college is here), the Church of the Nazarene is pretty unknown here, even though there have been at least two different Nazarene churches in the town over the previous century. Both of those churches are now gone, the last closing in 2006.

I still have people ask me “what is a Nazarene?” even after being here for four years (in March 2011). It’s hard to give them a short version of an answer to that question. Usually I say, “we’re theologically similar to Methodists, but more conservative leaning like the Baptists.” Right or wrong that’s as close as I can get without getting into an hour-long conversation. They understand what I’m saying though. Often the response is, “OK, so you don’t believe in eternal security, but you also don’t believe that liberal lifestyles are acceptable?” I return with “pretty much.”

Sometimes they ask a second question, something like, “What are Nazarene services like?” That’s code for “are you a cult?” or “speak in tongues?” or “boring traditional?”

This is where I have some fun. I tell them that Nazarene churches believe in the essential things that all Christian churches believe, that we run the gamut on worship style (ours is modern), and that while we adhere to the scriptural admonishment to “not forbid the speaking in tongues” we also strictly insist on authenticity as the Apostle Paul demands, which has the effect of making tongues scarce in our tribe. Then I say, “but none of that matters, does it?” That is usually met with a tilted head and confused look in their eyes.

What matter most, above all, is our unity in Jesus Christ. What matters is our common beliefs in the one, true God, who sent His Son Jesus to rescue us from the perils of sin, and give us new life that we live with the graceful help of the Holy Spirit. What matters is that we can’t do it of our own volition or power, but through God’s grace. What matters is our responsibility as the body of Christ to make and teach disciples. What matters is the pursuit of those ends. That is what is crucially essential to all churches. For my tribe, that is accomplished in the bosom of holiness theology, where my life is lived as a beacon of His grace. There are people who do not know Him – that’s what matters. There are people who know Him but are stuck in stagnating waters – that is what matters. Yes, I have fun when the conversation gets this far.

If they’re still listening, I say this – the church that God is building is not concerned with arguing semantics or the finer points of denominational theologies – it is concerned with rescuing the created and restoring them to God’s loving arms. My particular corner of that church (my church home) wants to be on that wavelength. We accomplish this through a specific theological lens, and we won’t apologize for it. But, we also won’t hold our differences as dogma – a place reserved for those essentials previously described.

Thrive Church, a Church of the Nazarene, is a reflection of that intentional perspective. We started with 5 Nazarenes. While we are not a large church, all of our growth has been with non-Nazarenes. We have convinced Catholics, those of the Assemblies of God, various flavors of Baptists, Pentecostals, those of Four Square, Methodists, those of the Church of Christ, the Christian Church, and even adamant anti-denominationalists to join the work, together as one community. When we organized, all but two people accepted the Nazarene statement of beliefs and joined the tribe. How is this possible? Do we water down the message? No. The pulpit rings with Wesley’s tradition and entire sanctification (in different words) is heralded. So, How? By recognizing that it is not the theological tradition that truly binds us, but Jesus Christ’s blood. Under that banner – the banner of love – we pursue the work of the Kingdom, together.

Consider the following quote from John Wesley, recently used in a communique from the General Superintendents: “I want the whole Christ for my Savior, the whole Bible for my book, the whole Church for my fellowship, and the whole world for my mission field.” While we enjoy a rich tradition – a specific part of the body – we are ALL of ONE body and ONE mission. I am grateful that we’ve been able to enjoy a diverse fellowship, and as one of our local leaders once said, “we are actually doing what churches say that want to be doing” – and that’s because we are building The Kingdom, not trying to create one of our own. We are united by THE mission.