Symbolic Burning Bush Experience:
It was Monday February 16, 2004. My wife Donna had just left to run an errand. I hung up the phone at about 11:55AM. It had been an encouraging “Spirit led” conversation about God’s heart for Spiritual awakening over Chicagoland. I had been talking with Father Dimitri Sala who is an charismatic itinerate Catholic priest and Evangelist in Chicago. He, Donna and I previously had some good conversations about prayer, evangelism and revival for Chicago. Today he had challenged me to try to set up a meeting with Apostle John Eckhardt of Crusaders ministries to discuss a strategic prayer strategy for Chicagoland.
It had been my custom on Mondays to fast and pray for Fox Valley pastors over the noon hour. As I walked to my place of prayer near my office I had a wonderful sense of God’s presence prompted by the phone call with Father Sala. Then I heard the words in my heart…. “Tony, it is time to call some of the primary influential pastors of Chicagoland together.” I prayed, Lord who would these primary influencers be. A series of names flooded into my mind. They were names of pastors that Donna and I had met in large group settings before, but only a few of them would have known us personally.
I wrote down the names to share them with Donna… Carlton Arthurs, John Eckhardt, Bill Hybels, Erwin Lutzer, James Mac Donald, James Meeks, Mark Jobe and Joseph Stowell. After writing the names down, I had a bit of a symbolic burning bush experience. I said, “God why would any of these pastors listen to me? Why are you calling me to do this instead of some other City Reacher in Chicago? Would these charismatic and none-charismatic Evangelical leaders of large churches and networks of churches come together across such diverse lines?” It was as if God was saying to me… “Yes, they will come into Unity under my Headship, not necessarily conformity with each other, but unity concerning the essentials.” After some time of struggle I conceded that I would talk to Donna about our being willing to write and phone each of these pastors and try to meet with them to cast the vision of their getting together.
Short history of Tony & Donna’s journey:
In 1976 we were led by the Lord to join two other leaders in helping to found a ministry called Riverwoods Christian Center. I had become a Christian in 1963. A few years later I began attending a Baptist Church in Western Springs, Illinois. An attractive young lady, named Donna, was the President of the church’s Youth Group. She invited me to join them in ministering weekly with youth from poverty areas in the Fox River Valley around Aurora, Illinois. The next 10 years took us through 3 years of my own business, being drafted into the military, marriage to Donna, college for both of us, and seminary. Donna graduated with a teaching degree in Studio Art and I completed a Master of Divinity degree. Later I was ordained as a Baptist minister at the Western Springs Baptist Church, which is the only church Billy Graham ever pastored. Donna began a teaching career at Downers Grove High School. It was during our tenure at the Western Springs Baptist Church that some pastoral mentors challenged us to return to the Fox River Valley and mobilize a Christian caring force of volunteers to enable youth and families in the economically stressed areas of Aurora, Elgin and Carpentersville.
Developing Riverwoods: www.RiverwoodsChristianCenter
The next twenty years of Riverwoods leadership was active with the challenge of implementing ministry in the housing community, fund raising, cross cultural staff and board recruitment, site development of an 85 acre headquarters Camp & Conference Center and vision casting to the churches and community at large. In 1995 Donna and I were both rather stressed and tired. We had developed friendships with some 50 pastors who reached out to help Riverwoods mission among at-risk youth in the Fox River Valley. We had seen thousands of youth go through the camping programs and year round church connected advocacy ministries in the poverty areas. We had one child, a son who loved competitive swimming. Donna’s Art teaching career expanded into leadership of regional Art Shows. We were loosing far too many youth to the pressures of the hormone-years… teen pregnancy, drugs, alcohol and gangs. We sought the Lord for spiritual renewal and he blessed us with a call to intercession and unity.
Argentina City Reaching:
In 1997 I met with some 60 Chicagoland pastors for a four day prayer summit. It was there that I read about great moves of God happening in Argentina. By God’s grace Donna and I were on a plane heading to San Nicholas, Argentina and four weeks of training by Ed Silvoso of Harvest Evangelism. We had met many Argentinean pastors who had witnessed great moves of the Holy Spirit over their cities. Our training was very practical and provided many opportunities for hands on ministry with local pastors. We witnessed a pattern. When pastors would come together across cultural and denominational lines for prayer, evangelism and social justice it was as if the spiritual climate would change over the city. People, young and old would gain a new drive or passion to know God.
Fox River Valley City Reaching and beyond: www.FoxRiverCityReaching.org
Donna and I came back to the Fox River Valley. We drew four contiguous circles throughout the Fox River Valley. Each circle represented about 150,000 in population. Each region had over 100 churches. Some of the areas had pastor groups others did not. We began meeting weekly or monthly for prayer and strategy. About 20 pastors in each region showed interest in meeting from time to time.
I continued my involvement with the annual Chicago Pastors prayer summit and agreed to join the leadership team. Pastor Phil Miglioratti called for various pastor gatherings. Some were large and exciting. Others were small in attendance. We traveled to over 20 US Cities discovering and studying City Reaching efforts. God obviously has a heart for Chicagoland. He has sent Dwight Moody, Billy Sunday, Billy Graham and others to live here for seasons of ministry.
Revival Anticipation fatigue:
After about seven years of juggling Riverwoods, Fox River Valley City Reaching and Chicagoland Prayer summits a sense of “Revival Anticipation fatigue” set in. When we would walk into pastor meetings after weeks of prep and marketing and discovered only a handful of pastors we would say, “Not yet but soon!” It was obvious that God was teaching us that He was in charge and that it wasn’t my charm, charisma, or marketing skills that would ignite a Spiritual Awakening over Chicago, but by His Holy Spirit and timing.
We had learned long ago that we needed to not rationalize away God’s leadings as our own imagination. God still speaks through his scriptures, mentors, pastors, visions, dreams and words of knowledge in our hearts. The key is to hear and “obey.” Test all things against scripture and prayer, and if need be a small group of mentors then step out in faith. If God is in it, then your faith assignment will succeed. If God is not prompting the assignment you can conclude it was a good try.
Letters and Visits to the 8 Pastors:
After some simple research we sent a letter of introduction to all eight pastors I had identified. We explained City how extensive City Reaching had become. W then asked if the other seven came to the table would you be willing to come and talk about what we could do together to bless Chicago that we could not do apart.
Over the next five months we met and corresponded with many of the pastors. One of their associates called them the “Gatekeepers of Chicagoland. In time we started referring to the group as the G-8.
Should there be a Disciples Dozen?
Early in the process of calling them together I thought that I should research further names and invite a disciples dozen to the table. We realized that there are many Gatekeepers in Chicago. Every pastor is a Gatekeeper to their community. However, Donna cautioned me not to add to the group of eight. Then we were reminded that we attended a rally at Apostle John Eckhardt's church six months earlier. I had listened to it again on tape. Dr. Dutch Sheets preached,
“In Illinois we need to connect the intercessors, Apostles, Evangelist, and Pastors with the Market Place businessmen ministers of their faith.
ILLINOIS needs to go to another level of networking this state. There must be an Apostolic Expression of Connecting on every level.. Intercessors are to connect. Pastors Connect. Evangelist Connect. Prophets connect. Justice Pastors connect. Market place ministers need to connect.
Satan will succeed at lowering the level of Holy Spirit power and purposes if we do not aggressively unite and connect all the streams, body’s, denominations and groups.
I feel the Lord is saying that 8 will come together in Holy Spirit unity. then they will move to unite and connect 8 more to be 64. And it will multiple. Call it forth.
The grace is here from God to come together and is coming on Illinois. Now it is here. Decree the connecting of the Saints in Illinois. He is healing the wounds, differences, separations, arguments.
Donna pointed out that this prophecy could be pointing to the eight names we were given. We decide not to add to the number of eight.
Five months later all eight said yes. Some of them said “If” you can get the other seven to the table they would be there. It took another three months to get a date when all would be in town at the same time.
Trying to set a date when eight national and international speakers would be in Chicago on the same day was a major challenge. During this process Dr. Joseph Stowell resigned from Moody Bible Institute and took a position as a Pastor alongside James MacDonald at Harvest Bible Chapel. Joe’s secretary finally informed me that he regretted to say that due to his transition process he would not be able to be a part of the group. Donna and I sought the Lord in prayer for many days. We talked to some of the Eight about the need for a Latino Pastor from one of the largest Latino churches in Chicago. We were given various referrals. After much prayer we met one Sunday morning with Pastor Wilfredo DeJesus, the pastor of New Life Covenant Church. Wilfredo and his church greeted us with open arms not even knowing why we were coming to talk with him. That day it was clear that Wilfredo was to be one of the original Eight Gatekeepers.
The First Meeting:
After many phone calls and emails a date appeared when all eight would be in town…Thursday, December 2, 2004. Donna and I met with two City Reaching Consultants to discuss a strategy for the first meeting. There names are Rev. Phil Miglioratti, who is based out of Chicago and is a national facilitator with Mission America… www.CityReaching.org and Rev. Jim Tomberlin who was a lead Pastor with Willow Creek. Prior to Willow, Jim had been a Pastor of a large church in Colorado Springs and very involved in forming “The Net” a City Reaching movement of multiple churches in that region. We made some basic decisions that set the stage for the first meeting of the group. First, we decided to call them “The Gatekeepers” (John 10:2-3 MSG) just to have a name to refer to. Later they became known as the “G-8.” Second, we decided that Donna and I should rent a Hotel conference room near O’Hare Airport so they could meet on neutral ground. Third, we decided it should be a two hour meeting including lunch which Donna and I provided. Fourth, we decided that each Gatekeeper could bring a silent partner who could be an associate or peer in ministry. The guest could take notes and be someone the Gatekeeper could compare ideas with before and after the meeting. Fifth, we would call a intercession team of men and women to come and prayer walk the Hotel before, during and after the meeting. We rented a room down the hall for them to meet in.
December 2nd came and all eight showed up. Actually, some of them had their secretaries phone each others churches to see if the other seven were coming. Donna and I facilitated the meeting with the help of Phil Miglioratti and Adam Shields who helped with technical computer support and statistics. The agenda was simple. After introductions, reviewing some Chicagoland statistics, and discussing our purpose for meeting:
As leaders of Anchor Churches of Chicagoland, you have been
invited to talk about the possibility of working together for the
transformation of our Chicagoland region.
We then asked one question: What can we do together that we can not do apart?
The first hour was full of skepticism. It seemed as if there was little belief that this diverse of a group of pastors from large churches and networks could bond and work together. Then about half way into the meeting the general mood changed and they began dreaming together. One of the Gatekeepers said that they were not aware of any mega city in the USA where such diverse Church leaders were coming together to bless the city and pray for transformation. Another said, “Why couldn’t Chicago be the first?” another said, “Why not Chicago!”
They have met quarterly since the beginning. Many have had private lunches together repenting of differences and getting to know each other. They have been rotating to each others facilities to have a tour and see the neighborhoods. The Silent Partners have become a Task Force of the Gatekeepers Senior Associates. The Task Force meets with the Gatekeepers for lunch and then discuss ways they can best support what the Gatekeepers want to do together. The Gatekeepers have decided to bond together as friends before they do some greater works together in the arenas of united prayer, blessing the city and caring for the poor and needy. After a tour of the facility and lunch with the Task Force they separate into a private room to discuss mutual issues of being a large church pastor, racism, homelessness, poverty and other related issues. The Gatekeepers have met with Tony and the Task Force with Donna and Phil.
After the first meeting Donna organized a leadership prayer team from each of the eight churches to meet monthly to strategically pray for the Gatekeepers and sustained transformation of Chicagoland. They have met as a group in each others churches, prayer walked strategic places of Chicagoland and for prayer throughout the day when the Gatekeepers have their quarterly meetings. The monthly meetings have been open to any intercessors who want to believe God for a sustained move of the Holy Spirit for Transformation of Chicagoland.
Conclusion: Every Pastor a Gatekeeper!
Time will tell how God will bond these eight Gatekeepers into facilitators to bring the Church of Chicagoland together to bless the city. They realize that every pastor is a Gatekeeper for their neighborhood. Paradigms are shifting. Pastors are beginning to see that they pastor the City as much as their local congregation. There is much more to share, but this is a start. What can Jesus do through a united Church that doesn’t care who gets the credit other than God? It is interesting to note that God is at work uniting the Church of Chicagoland with various groups of Pastors and Market Place leaders around the perimeter of Chicago as well.
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