Higher Ground Church covenanted together on August 28th, 2018. Our first service was September 9th, 2018. The entire process of planting Higher Ground has been a remarkable display of God's providence. He provided a sending church, a gifted core group, funding, several supporting networks, and even a building. It's been an exciting journey. Higher Ground is reformed in theology, committed to expository preaching, elder led, practicing church membership and discipline, and is intentionally missional. What exactly do all of those components mean? Keep reading to find out!
Picking a name for a church is difficult. We considered several names: Totah Church, Credo Church, Westgate Church, and Zia Bible Church. Someone even jokingly suggested Tumbleweed Church. My pick was Doulos Church. Doulos, Greek for slave, is a New Testament description for the Christian (Acts 2:18; Rom. 6:15-23; 1 Cor. 7:22). Doulos Church had it all. Not only was it cool and edgy, it perfectly captured the Christian’s relationship to Christ: Jesus is kurios— lord and master. There were a few baristas at Durango Joe’s that I would run the names by for feedback. I was excited to share with them Doulos Church. When one of them heard the name, she thought for moment, and then said, “That reminds me of Shrek. I think there is a Duloc or something in it.” Sure enough, Duloc is a city in Shrek ruled by Lord Farquaad. And with that revelation, Doulos Church would not be the name!
Ten years ago, my sister and I were dreaming of a church plant. I had just returned from my freshman year at Bob Jones University and church planting was on my mind. We were listening to an album of Irish hymns and tossing around what this church plant would be called. She threw out the name Higher Ground Church. The name would stick.
While planning for the plant this year, we kept coming back to the name Higher Ground. God providentially brought us a building located on Harper Hill. Harper Hill overlooks the San Juan River, the border of the Navajo reservation, and the city of Farmington. Higher Ground Church, as it turns out, is the perfect name for this new church plant.
Glorify. Edify. Testify.
These three words sum up the mission and identity of Higher Ground Church.
Higher Ground Church exists to glorify God, edify his people, and testify his Gospel.
The church exists to glorify God. This is the foundational principle for Christ’s church. Church (ekklesia) means a called out assembly or congregation. Members of Christ’s church are called out from the world to bring God glory (Eph. 1:5-6). God desires to be glorified in his church (Eph. 3:20-21). The church exists as a living portrait of God’s counter-cultural, self-glorifying wisdom (Eph. 3:10-11). Glorifying God is accomplished at Higher Ground by principally driven ministry (not pragmatism); unashamed proclamation of and centering upon the Gospel; God exalting worship (singing and preaching); and faithfulness to God’s word.
The church exists for the edification of the saints (Eph. 4:11-13). Edification of the saints consists of discipleship, community and service:
Discipleship. Every Christian is to be a disciple maker (Matt. 28:19). To be a disciple is to be a follower, learner, and pupil of Christ. To believe in Jesus is to be a disciple of Jesus (Acts 4:32; 6:2). Disciples are to be like Jesus (Luke 6:40) and to serve others (Phil. 2:1-8).
Community. God, being triune, exists in community (Gen. 1:26; John 17:20-26). Man is made in God’s image (Gen. 1:16-17), after his likeness (Gen. 5:8). He is made for community. The Church is a relational and interwoven body of believers. The Church is called the Bride of Christ (Rev. 21:9), the Flock of God (1 Pet. 5:2-3), the Fold of Christ (John 10:16), the House of God (Heb. 10:21), the Temple of the living God (2 Cor. 6:16) and the Body of Christ (Eph. 1:22). It is mandatory that Christians be joined to a local church (Heb. 10:23-25). Discipleship and community for the entire family will be accomplished through Bible teaching and relationship building.
Service. Jesus is the ultimate model for every disciple to follow. He taught that his followers must be servants because he was a servant (Matt. 20:20-28). He had a mindset of service (Phil. 2:1-8). He modeled humble service through the washing of the disciples' feet (John 13:3-17). Christians serve other Christians by their meeting their needs and building them up (Gal. 5:13). Christians serve non Christians by their lives of holiness (Matt. 5:13-16; John 13:34-35) and their faithful gospel proclamation (Matt. 28:18-20).
It is the responsibility of every Christian to make disciples (Matt. 28:18-20). Christians must be preaching the Gospel. The Gospel is the power of God for salvation (Rom. 1:16). This is done through verbal proclamation of the Gospel and by distinctive living. When Christians love one another as they ought, they show to the world that they are God’s true followers (John 13:34-35).
Our identity as a church finds its roots in the Protestant Reformation. Being Baptist, we trace our church lineage back to the Puritans. The historic confession we most identify with is The Baptist Confession of 1689.
Being Reformed, we believe in primacy of Christ above all. We believe that God initiates and guarantees salvation. We believe in the sufficiency of Scripture. We believe in the lordship of Christ in salvation. We unashamedly hold to the Five Solas of the Reformation: The final authority for the Christian is Scripture alone. Salvation is through faith alone by grace alone in Christ alone. The Christian life is to be lived to God’s glory alone.
We strive to magnify Christ not only by our beliefs, but also in our practice. Our guiding worship philosophy is semi-regulative. Regulative worship means that everything done in the Christian gathering must have Biblical precedent. We’re semi-regulative because we have kid's classes, and sing more than just the Psalter. When selecting songs we intentionally pass songs through three filters: is the song biblical, congregationally singable, and is it beautiful? Additionally, we match the songs with the specific Biblical text being preached that week. As a result, the songs we sing are not the popular worship anthems on the radio. Instead, we sing a beautiful diversity of the best of hymns and the best of worship songs. Our hymns come from the Hymns of Grace hymnal, and we select many of our worship songs from Sovereign Grace Music, Keith and Kristyn Getty, Citizen’s and Saints, and The Modern Post.
There are two main types of preaching: topical and expository. Topical preaching is when a preacher selects a topic and then uses Bible verses to make his case. Expository preaching, however, starts with the Biblical text. The point of the message is the point of the text. This usually takes the form of verse by verse preaching.
At Higher Ground, we are firmly committed to expository preaching. To exposit means to explain. The preacher’s job is to explain the biblical passage. If the point of the sermon is not the point of the passage, it isn't biblical preaching. At Higher Ground, we work through entire books verse by verse. Our current study is "Light and Life: The Gospel According to John."
Elders are men (1 Cor. 14:33-35; 1 Tim. 2:11-15) who shepherd God’s people (1 Pet. 5:1-2) and rule his church (Acts 20:28; 1 Tim. 5:17). The biblical norm for church leadership is a plurality of elders (Acts 20:17; 1 Tim. 4:14).
In this structure, which we believe is most biblical, there is no single pastor who does it all. Instead, elders as a group, collectively preach, teach, shepherd, and make decisions. There are currently a few men praying about occupying the elder’s chair at Higher Ground. Please pray that God would direct this process and ensure that the right men would join as pastors.
Church Membership and Discipline
Church Membership has largely fallen by the wayside in contemporary Christianity. We’re told its insignificant, that it amounts to just being a list of names and that it isn't even in the Bible. If church membership is seen as joining a club, being listed on a roster, or having authority to vote in the church, that's a correct observation.
That is not, however, how the Bible presents church membership. Biblical church membership is the submission of a Christian to the eldership (1 Tim. 5:17; Heb. 13:17) and to other Christians at a specific, local church (Eph. 5:20-21). Along with church membership, church discipline is largely not practiced in churches. Yet, the Bible commands it (1 Cor. 5:1-11) and instructs us how to practice it (Matt. 18:15-17).
At Higher Ground, we aren’t satisfied with church attendance or huge numbers. Our desire is personal holiness and Christlikeness in the lives of believers. Church membership and discipline are two means to accomplish this goal. Our hope is that Christians who attend on Sundays would covenant together with this group of elders and believers called Higher Ground Church.
God has providentially placed us in a populated area, surrounded by new, developing neighborhoods, in a location where there are not any Bible preaching churches. The communities surrounding our church and the bordering Navajo reservation are our mission field. We must be sharing the Gospel (Mark 16:15; 2 Cor. 5:19-20). We must be making disciples (Matt. 28:18-20). If Higher Ground Church grows from other church transfer growth alone, we are failing in our mission. A new church plant demands new converts.
The proclamation of the Gospel, isn’t just for our local area but should be regional and global in scope as well (Acts 1:8). Ten percent of our annual budget helps contribute towards global missions. We are currently pursuing membership with Acts 29. We are church planted by another church, and we want to be a church that plants other churches.
Locally, we are partnered with Grace Hill Church, our sister church, and the San Juan Baptist Association. Regionally, we are apart of the Baptist Convention of New Mexico and the Gospel Collective (A coalition of reformed, missional churches in the Four Corners). Globally, we are partners with the North American Mission Board, the Southern Baptist Convention, and will one day be apart of Acts 29.
God has greatly blessed us. He has made Higher Ground Church a reality. His providential hand has orchestrated this entire process. We are humbled to be apart of his kingdom building in Northwestern New Mexico. We're fully relying upon him. He will build his church. We're excited about all that he will accomplish in this new church plant!