Highland Church of Christ’s Jonathan Storment is known for his on-stage, caffeinated nature. Since being christened to the church’s head pastor pulpit three years ago, he engages the sanctuary with visual aids and colorful stories every Sunday at 10:15 a.m. and once more at 5 p.m. But on a late Thursday afternoon, there is no going around it, pastor sightings during the off-season Monday through Saturday are bizarre.
Storment returned from an elder’s luncheon, showing physical afflictions of the afternoon slump and the realities of pastoral work, a job extending well past the 8-5, one that is never quite finished.
With a city church directory bursting at its seams, Sunday services could be easily mistaken for Game Day, congregations in competition, battling how to best pack the pews and rid trays of communion cups. Abilene has a unique problem in answering how to seek the lost in a crowded church market, and further, if these ministering multitudes should work collectively or unaccompanied.
Pastor Storment is but one in the city’s preaching pack, actively and radically problem-solving this dilemma, pushing the idea of practicing “church” outside the borders of one’s own bricked building. He recalled an experience during his freshman year at Harding University when a Baptist friend asked him to come preach at his Baptist church.
“I started freaking out,” he said. “I didn’t know what I would say to them.”
He called one of his Harding professors to ask for counsel.
“Son, do you guys not agree on anything? Do they believe in Jesus?'”
“‘Well, yeah,'” Jonathan replied.
“‘Well, I’d start there.'”
Storment said the experience changed his approach to ministry, including all denominations to play a part.
“It made me rethink: where we overlap is a lot more significant than where we don’t,” he said.
The idea of preachers confined to their own church bodies, their own denominations, is an old way of thinking, Storment said. This sort of thinking is something many Abilene ministers are trying to break away from.
“I would imagine most of the preachers in town, most of the circles I run around with, sense that,” he said. “That the kingdom of God is much bigger than what is happening in your own church.”
Storment and several other Abilene preachers make up a board called One Kingdom, where the ministers congregate, collaborate and brainstorm how to better thread their congregations to partner with each other.
He uses the marketing analogy “red ocean, blue ocean” to explain the competitive Abilene church market. Red ocean, he says, refers to having too many sharks in the water and not enough fish, making the water just bloody.
“There’s a limited chance to succeed, there’s not enough fish,” Storment said. “So I think if we have this idea of competition, then it’s really easy to have in Abilene, because there are so many churches.”
These are the facts, he said: an estimated 70 percent of people are not connected to any church in Abilene, the city crime rate is going up and street corners show there is a disproportionate number of homeless.
“That’s the blue ocean,” he said.
In February, Storment took to blue waters by launching Sunday evening services at one of Highland’s satellite campuses, Grace Fellowship.
Using Grace’s low-income region locale and instrumental worship, Highland’s evening service seeks to target both the local residents and university students, two demographics somehow overlooked in a city of steeples.
Storment is a flag bearer against the former idea of faith practiced within the boundaries of one’s own body and denomination. He derives this belief from John 17, Jesus’ last words to his disciples and Storment’s go-to verse in answering how church bodies should interact with each other.
“I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.” (John 17:11)
On the coffee table of Pastor Storment’s office, the out-of-place face of U2’s guitar player, The Edge, peeked out under mounds of doubtless future sermon notes or church budget paperwork.
“Joshua Tree is one of my all-time favorite albums.”
The avid U2 fan gabbed on with album reviews, concert relivings and the love for a band, talk that contradicts the pastor image norm, a further example of his taking former church ideologies by storm.
Pastor Storment is holy-employed to a career extending well past the 8-5, making his mission as Highland’s head preaching honcho to break denomination binds and instead demonstrate faith.
Backing his belief, Storment quotes David McQueen, a fellow Abilene minister at Beltway Park Church, whom he considers a ‘close friend.’
“David has done a really great job at Beltway, constantly saying, ‘How many churches are there in Abilene? One church.'”