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Relationships drive Champion Forest’s support of urban churches

During a February trip to Detroit, Houston’s Champion Forest Senior Pastor Jarrett Stephens, second from right, meets with members of the Fellowship Collective, a partnership driven by his friendship with Detroit pastor Torion Bridges, third from right. Others are, from left, pastors Leon B. Morehead Sr. and Theodore Turman, Commonwealth of Faith Church Pastoral Assistant Michael Phillips, and Pastor Enis Monroe Sr.

HOUSTON (BP) – Relationships drive Senior Pastor Jarrett Stephens of Houston’s multisite Champion Forest Baptist Church. Through his friendship with Detroit Pastor Torion Bridges, Stephens partners with a handful of pastors spreading the Gospel with few resources.

“I think that the Kingdom of God advances on relationship. I would never have a heart for Detroit if I didn’t have a heart for Torion Bridges,” Stephens told Baptist Press weeks after visiting Bridges’ pastorate, Commonwealth of Faith Church in the Detroit suburb of Redford.

“With Torion I see a guy who wants to make a difference in his city. I see a guy who is committed to his city. And even though he’s in a difficult area, he’s doing a great work,” Stephens said. “Guys like that need to be supported.”

Pastor Jarrett Stephens, second from left, dines in Detroit with, from left, Pastor Leon B. Morehead Sr., Send City Missionary Wayne Parker, Pastor Torion Bridges and Pastor Enis Monroe Sr.

Bridges, an unsalaried bivocational pastor, planted Commonwealth in 2019 through the North American Mission Board. Bridges is also a member of the Fellowship Collective, a group of four Southeast Michigan churches that have found a friend and partner in Stephens.

“Jarrett Stephens and Champion Forest have provided one of the most organic, loving and deep-rooted connections between a major multicultural church and a major urban city,” Bridges told Baptist Press. “It’s a long-term investment not just into the church, but into its pastor.”

Bridges, the only Southern Baptist in the Collective, describes the Collective as pastors pooling their resources and “doing what African American churches have always done – more with less.”

“This isn’t a recruiting thing” to draw other congregations to the SBC, Bridges said of the Collective. “What I find is it’s just one church (Champion Forest) using their resources to make sure that the Gospel is reached in very hard-to-reach places.

“It’s about a major financial SBC (Southern Baptist Convention) partner coming alongside and saying, ‘I see you. What do you need? Let us help you.’”

Champion Forest hosted a Let’s Talk Preaching Conference in October 2023 in cooperation with the North American Mission Board.

Other Collective members are Pastor Leon B. Morehead Sr. of New Grace Missionary Baptist Church in Highland Park, Pastor Enis Monroe Sr. of First Baptist Church of Detroit Southwest, and Pastor Theodore Turman of First Baptist Church of Detroit Southfield, a separate congregation from First Detroit Southwest.

Stephens envisions helping the Collective pastors in needs large or small. When building renovations are needed, he can connect the Detroit churches with building contractors among his membership. He can support community outreaches, position pastors for theological education and scholarships through Southern Baptist seminaries and provide other needs, which Bridges said have included financial help and sermon preparation resources.

Stephens toured Detroit with Collective pastors Feb. 9-10, seeing firsthand their ministry context, sampling soul food and touring the city known for Motown and automobiles.

He mentions the Parable of the Talents in describing his partnership with the Collective pastors, whom he describes as on the same page theologically at least regarding the main points of faith.

“We’re very well resourced at Champion Forest. We’ve been given so much,” Stephens said. “My friendship with Torion and others there in Detroit, they don’t have the resources that we have, nor do they have the networking that we have.

“Where my heart comes in, if we can come and meet a small need for them, whatever it may be, I want to utilize my input and the resources that God has entrusted to us, and the relationships that I have, to see how can we meet needs for them.”

Bridges and Stephens describe the relationships among the pastors as reciprocal.

“I appreciate his friendship,” Stephens said. “He loves me. He encourages me. He calls to check on me. It’s not like we’re coming down from Houston, and we’re just Superman riding in.”

Bridges first met Stephens at a CF-Connect gathering in Houston.

“We actually love Jarrett. We love the leaders at Champion Forest,” Bridges said. “We are in the business of educating one another.”

Champion Forest is invested broadly in equipping pastors for success. Through its relationship-driven CF-Connect outreach, Stephens connects pastors with Champion Forest and with one another for encouragement, networking, church planting and church revitalization. Stephens calls CF-Connect Champion Forest’s “church resourcing arm and pastor-blessing ministry.”

“God just put it on our hearts,” he said. “It’s kind of the Parable of the Talents – to whom much is given much is required.”

Champion Forest continues to support the North American Mission Board’s Send Network. In the past three years, Champion Forest has planted over 30 churches and given nearly a million dollars to church planting, Stephens said.

“We’re very involved in the North American Mission Board. We have church planters through the Send Network all over North America,” Stephens said. The church hosts training events for Send pastors a few times a year, he said, mentioning a 2023 preaching conference and another planned for this October.

Stephens would like to develop similar relationships with pastors in other cities in addition to Detroit, and encourages other Southern Baptist pastors to look for ways to develop similar connections.

“My dream is to find a guy like Torion in every city, who I have a relationship with and there’s a rapport there, who is connected to the city,” Stephens said. “And use him as kind of a catalyst to help other pastors.

“So if Torion is our relational connect in Detroit, I wonder if we could have another in New Orleans, or another one in Philadelphia.”