19-year-old cancer victim’s faith inspires parents to keep serving
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Nick Brumfield would have loved the…
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Jeff Pendleton met and married his wife, Marcia, at the Red Bridge Church of Christ, a once-thriving congregation less than a mile from the Kansas state line.
He baptized his daughter, Kelly, there.
When loved ones died, he sang hymns and shed tears there.
“It’s a cherished place for so many,” said Pendleton, who served as a church elder. “There are so many memories there.”
At one point, average Sunday attendance topped 350. The church expanded to two morning worship assemblies.
But in more recent years, the congregation became older and grayer. The numbers shrank, down to about 80 on a typical Lord’s Day. Attracting and retaining young families became increasingly difficult.
“Lord, show us your will for Red Bridge,” the church’s leaders began praying a year ago. “What do you want us to do? What do you want us to become?”
The answer came not with a whisper but with a loud thud — as God opened the door for the old, declining church to close and a new, growing church to replace it.
“Sometimes, the Holy Spirit does whisper, as was told in the Bible when the tornado came, the earthquake came, the forest fire came, and then the whisper of the Lord came,” Pendleton said, referring to Elijah’s experience in 1 Kings 19. “Well, this time, he came and thudded on the door.”
While the Red Bridge church sought divine guidance, the 151st Street Church of Christ in fast-growing Olathe, Kan. — about 20 minutes away — took its own leap of faith.
For years, the 151st Street congregation had contemplated planting a new church when it outgrew its facilities.
In 2016, the congregation hired domestic missionary Joe Brumfield — who earlier had planted the Jackson Street Church of Christ in Willard, Mo., near Springfield — to lead that effort.
This past fall, the 151st Street church sent off a big chunk of its own membership — roughly 40 percent — to begin meeting at Martin City Elementary School on the south side of Kansas City, Mo.
“When we asked members for a firm commitment to go with the plant, we were somewhat surprised by the size of the response,” said Richard Wolfe, the 151st Street church’s minister since 2005. “By this time, we were averaging about 350 on Sunday morning, and 150 said they would go.
“Many of our staying members were a bit anxious over this development,” Wolfe added, “but eventually they saw it as a good thing. We had always said that we wanted our planted church to be strong and self-supporting, with a full complement of elders, teachers, song leaders, etc., from the very start, and we had accomplished our goal.”
Cody and Emily Johnson and their four children — ranging in age from 2 to 12 — were among the families who committed to devote their talents to the new Southpoint Church of Christ.
“It was hard to leave that close body of Christians there at 151st Street,” Cody Johnson said.
But for the sake of the kingdom, they decided to go.
“We prayed about it,” Emily Johnson said, “and just wanted to see how God would use us.”
After just a few months, the Sunday gathering at the school exceeded 200 men, women and children on a regular basis.
But then came an unexpected challenge: School officials told church members they’d need to be out of the building by the end of May.
Summer renovations were planned that would make the weekly assemblies impossible.
“This was not the news we were hoping for,” Brumfield said. “We had been looking for a future space or for some land that we might be able to build on. This forced us to start looking for another option much sooner.”
As doors kept closing, the Southpoint church asked its real estate agent to reach out blindly to the struggling Red Bridge congregation and see if it might be willing to sell its building.
Almost a month passed.
When the answer finally came, it was, “Maybe.” The Red Bridge elders wanted to know if the inquiring party was a Church of Christ.
“No small number of our members had gone to that church,” Pendleton said. “It was only a few miles from here. I mean, let’s face it — they were on a roll.
“I’m not going to say God was against us or for them more than us,” he added. “But it was clear that there was a lot of excitement and momentum around their startup and their plant, and we thought, ‘Why don’t we just to the best of our ability let them come and have this building?’”
The Red Bridge church had a few financial obligations that it needed to cover, and it wanted to offer severance to its preacher and a former minister.
But after discussions between the two congregations’ leaders, the Southpoint church paid “a fraction of what the building is worth” for the 20,000-square-foot facility and two nearby homes.
“And they are asking their members to stay and be a part of the new church,” Brumfield said. “It is an incredible ‘gift’ to a newly planted church.”
The Red Bridge elders resigned and put themselves under the oversight of the Southpoint shepherds: Scott Eggleston, Randy Powell and Brad Wayland.
Pendleton said he can’t speak for all of the Red Bridge elders.
“But my thinking was: There’s some reason people are leaving here and going other places,” he said. “Why would we want to muddy the waters trying to keep our foot in the door when these guys are on a roll? … Let’s get our leadership out of the way and let their leadership get to work.”
The first Sunday of the new arrangement drew a crowd of 375, including 121 children. Most, if not all, of the Red Bridge members chose to become a part of the new church and submit to the new leadership.
Only God could have orchestrated the Southpoint congregation’s move to the new site, said Marcus Hicks, whose family moved to the area just as the church plant began meeting.
“When you’re doing things God’s way, things work out like this,” said Hicks, who is married to Brandy and has two sons, ages 9 and 2. “I feel like the elders and Joe have been about God’s business, and that’s what made this happen.”
What’s the secret to the success of the new church — now called Southpoint Church of Christ on Red Bridge Road?
It’s not innovative worship style: The congregation features a cappella singing with a single song leader.
It’s not expanded gender roles: Men lead the assembly.
It’s not progressive theology: The sermons emphasize simple messages from God’s word.
“I try to do everything I can to be just as positive and straightforward as possible,” Brumfield said. “I also think it’s a clear presentation of the Gospel.
“I think that’s attractive to people,” he added. “It’s not nuanced. It’s not hard to understand.”
Once a month, the congregation focuses on learning new songs.
“We try to keep that part of our worship fresh and new,” Brumfield said. “We try to bring a lot of energy that way. For whatever reason, our church plant gathered a lot of workers, and they work hard.”
Perhaps the secret is simply a fresh start.
“Churches have a life cycle,” said Brumfield, citing insight from professor Evertt W. Huffard of Harding School of Theology in Memphis, Tenn. “They’re born, they grow old, and they die.”
For Pendleton, the chance to keep praising God in a place so close to his heart is a blessing.
However, the new name on the sign outside has required adjustment.
“I was a lifelong Red Bridger, so to speak,” the former elder said. “But if you can get over that, it was nothing but upside.”
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