New church defines existence one week at a time in Jackson

Saturday, October 25, 2003

It's a little odd for a pastor not to have an office, but things are still a little out of the ordinary for Dr. Brian Anderson.

Meetings are conducted over a cup of coffee at the Hardee's restaurant. He also works at home, writing sermons and articles for the church's Web site.

After years in a traditional church setting with a sanctuary and piano and organ playing during worship, Anderson found himself leading a congregation into a new era.

There isn't a building, furnishings or even a staff for Jackson's newest congregation: Crossroads, a contemporary Southern Baptist church. Anderson, previously pastor of First Baptist Church in Jackson, is the pastor for this new church.

Crossroads began only a month ago and didn't have a name until two weeks ago. But this new Jackson congregation is functioning at full speed -- looking for office space, hiring a secretary, trying to find a way to hold a baptism when there isn't a baptistery. The new church will baptize its first member Sunday.

About 300 people from First Baptist Church felt called to start a new church in the community and asked Anderson to join them in late September.

Crossroads member Ken Callis said he'd have told people they were crazy if they suggested he'd be leaving First Baptist Church to start a new work, but he did.

Callis admits he's sentimental, but that leaving the church where he was a member for decades and where his family was baptized wasn't that difficult after all. There's an excitement about the new church, he said.

At first, founding member Steve Gregg didn't feel comfortable with the idea of starting a new church, he said. He was afraid it would seem like a bunch of dissatisfied members who couldn't get along with the other church. But he realized that there wasn't going to be a new church otherwise.

So about three months ago, members began meeting to talk about what might happen. They met with a man who started eight churches in Atlanta and talked over their ideas. After that meeting, the group realized "this was going to happen" whether or not the pastors joined them, Gregg said.

Getting relaxed

The atmosphere is more relaxed than many other churches, with most of the congregation wearing casual clothes. Coffee and refreshments are served before the service as people mill about the room greeting one another and extending handshakes or hugs.

People line up to get in. Inside the building, volunteers pass out name tags and pens.

Praise music, louder than some churches might approve of, could be heard outside the doors two weeks ago at the Elks Lodge, where the church has been meeting for the last few weeks.

This Sunday, the congregation moves to a larger space in the Jackson High School auditorium.

Everything about Crossroads is different and developing.

In a sense, the church is learning that it's all right to "experiment as God reveals himself," Anderson said. It's sort of a faith-building exercise, since "you never know where you'll be next."

The order of the worship service and the songs -- or even the number of songs -- sung vary from week to week. Some songs are familiar hymn choruses, others are new contemporary Christian pieces just being released.

"The passenger or occupant is the same -- that's the gospel -- the basic message is the same, we're just putting it in a different vehicle," Gregg said. "Some people cannot separate the methodology from the theology."

The church isn't following any molds or methods set out in a book or kit. This work isn't guided by a "mother" church that controls its budget or location. The work is truly one developed by the membership, Anderson said. "We're depending on one another and on God," he said.

ljohnston@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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