The following is one of the memorable stories of how God began an incredible movement of unity over 24 years ago, what is now CityChurch Network (formerly The Nehemiah Network).
Both excitement and nervous anticipation filled the air as the bus pulled out of the church parking lot. Ray Williams was one of thirty-one pastors on the bus that January morning, representing twenty churches and ten different denominations. There were pastors he had never met and a few with whom he was concerned might have significant theological differences. None of them knew what to expect. What would it look like to spend four days together with no agenda but to seek God and to pray for their churches and city?
For Ray, the journey had begun almost two years earlier. He was serving as a pastor in a church he deeply loved. Ray saw spiritual fruit in his ministry and yet did not see significant community impact. There were other churches also doing good things, but their fragmented efforts were not yielding widespread community transformation. Along with Ray’s longing for greater spiritual impact, he had a close family member suffering from a significant health issue. Looking for God’s intervention in these situations, the Holy Spirit led him to fast and pray for forty days. On April 2, 1996, while in prayer and reading in the book of Nehemiah, the Holy Spirit spoke. It wasn’t audible, but it could not have been more clear.
I sensed God calling me to help organize a time of prayer to unite pastors in Central Arkansas.Ray Williams
In the following weeks, as he waited on the Lord to reveal the next steps, the Holy Spirit began to direct Ray to other pastors whose hearts were being stirred in similar ways. Through these new and expanding relationships and the help of national leaders from the Pastor’s Prayer Summit movement, God brought together all the details for the first Arkansas Prayer Summit in January 1998, beginning with that cold bus ride.
Then, God did something incredible!
During that four-day Prayer Summit experience, God transformed hearts and minds. As the pastors worshipped and prayed together, they began to encounter God’s holiness in a new way. They confessed to one another their sin against God and each other. Tears were shed. New relationships were formed and existing ones deepened. The pastors who began that bus ride as skeptics returned as brothers. Brokenness and humility led to a genuine unity that established the foundation for what has become a sustained movement of prayer and community impact for our churches and our city.
Since that initial Prayer Summit, God has continued to do amazing things as churches unite for the good of our community. In unity, churches have powerfully demonstrated the love of Christ through city-wide serving events such as ShareFest and CityFest. Churches have worked together to have a transforming impact in areas of the community’s greatest needs such as foster care, prison re-entry, and third-grade literacy. God has taught us significant lessons and given us greater clarity in how churches can most effectively work together. There have also been times of significant adversity and challenge. In critical moments, when it seemed like the movement might be finished, God sustained it. He has continued to fulfill his promise to unite the Church in Central Arkansas.
We can say with confidence, a united and thriving church is the greatest hope for any city.