Post TheoCon2023 Report

Greetings EFCC Brothers and Sisters!

I trust that you are encouraged as you serve our God! It was so good to see so many of you in Okotoks at our 2023 Theology Conference! I was also encouraged to know that many more joined in online. We have heard from many that they loved our speakers and the spirit with which they presented their material. We heard from many women that they felt seen and heard by their brothers in the EFCC in a refreshing way.

I appreciated the spirit with which our Free Church attendees (online and in person) asked their questions, particularly how you all treated Beth Allison Barr. It dawned on me that Beth faces unique challenges when she steps onto a stage. When Beth gets up to speak, she knows that many people are already offended before she even speaks – simply because she is a woman and is standing on stage. On the other hand, Andrew (as a man) does not offend anyone until he says something they find offensive. This is a significant difference in experience between being a man and woman, and I so appreciate how gently and respectfully questions were asked during our conference.

I love the Word. As a leader in the EFCC, I can attest that we do not want to promote any policy that is against the clear teaching of Scripture. We want to uphold God’s beautiful truth while being ministers of grace in a world of broken people and systems.

Our EFCC Statement on Human Sexuality on the website is an example of how we want to both uphold truth and minister graciously. You will also find our strong Statement on Biblical Marriage there. In the EFCC we distinguish between essentials and non-essentials. Our theological essentials are summarized in our 10 Article Statement of Faith. Our moral essentials are summarized in our EFCC Covenant of Personal and Professional Ethics (CPPE). The issue of what roles men and women can play is clearly a non-essential issue. Throughout our history, we have allowed a diversity of belief and practice on this and many other issues. While we have convictions on these issues, we are determined to hold those convictions with grace.

Some of you have asked why we did not have speakers reflecting all sides of the debate as we did in 2013, when we had scholars from both sides of the discussion present their cases to us. A few have voiced a concern that we are pushing a policy that would force churches to hire and ordain women. That is not what we were trying to accomplish with this conference. We had Andrew Bartlett speak to help complementarians and egalitarians understand each other better – by revealing the assumptions and weaknesses of both sides. We had Dr. Barr speak to help menOne in Christ understand the experiences and hurts some of our women throughout history (including today) have experienced by the actions and words of church leaders.

We were not trying to present a case for both sides as we did at the Theology Conference in 2013. This conference was offered as a conversation held among family (One in Christ) to help us to have empathy for our brothers and sisters who may feel like second class members of our family. We have not set a policy on the ordination of women and there is not yet anything to recommend to the EFCC BOD or the conference at large. Therefore, ordination was not mentioned or discussed at all during the theology conference.

There seems to be some confusion regarding what we did at our National Conference in 2014, so a review might be helpful. The motion presented in 2014 was to change our credentialing procedures to allow women to be ordained should the local church want that. While the motion received a majority vote, in the interest of unity, leadership had requested a 2/3 majority before implementing the change to the credentialing procedures. Since we received 56% instead of the 67% we desired, we did not implement the change and the board has honored its promise not to bring back a motion on the ordination of women for 10 years.

Let us return to this year’s theology conference: we had more women attend this conference than ever before. The topic clearly resonated with them. Additionally, I can see some being concerned that we are preparing to discard the Bible in order to “get with the times.”  Please hear me say that this is not our intent. Our local churches each choose to hire who they want, and they give them the mandate to carry out whatever role they ask the person to serve in. Some of our churches have women pastors, some do not. Some have women on the board, some do not. We are not looking to change this.

The District Superintendents are working with the Ministerial Standing Committee on a completely new Formative Accreditation process that we hope will ensure our churches that their ministry staff (and any lay leaders they commend to us) will minister in Free Church ways alongside local church leaders. We hope to build a formative process that produces ministers who can rightly, and humbly, handle the Word. The policy needs to be finalized by MSC and approved by the BOD before coming to conference (hopefully in 2024). The new proposal will not force churches to hire or ordain women. Please feel free to speak to your District Superintendent or to myself as this is making its way through Board approval if you would like more information on what this could look like.

Please know that we love and value each of our churches – whatever their view and practice on leadership. We are congregational and hold to the priesthood of all believers. Yet we involve men and women in our ministries in different ways. Our Free Church ethos and history allows us to do that, and we desire to give each congregation that freedom. We continue to work closely with our District Superintendents on all these key issues.

May God bless each of you as you encourage men and women in your context to love and serve our Lord Jesus Christ!

Serving with you,

Bill Taylor
EFCC Executive Director

Rebuilding our Witness and Reputation

rebuilding our witness and reputation

I didn’t get much sleep last Sunday night. I was grieving for the body of Christ, as another body blow to its reputation landed in its gut. I’m writing this less than a week after the Matt Chandler (Village Church in the USA) announcement regarding his leave of absence, after having engaged in an inappropriate social media relationship with a woman. Whatever the facts of this case may be (we are not going to explore them here), it is just one in a lengthy string of celebrity pastors and Christian leaders who have fallen. Regardless of tribe, distance, or church size; this hurts the entire body of Jesus.

In this blog, we have been talking about rebuilding. Especially rebuilding after Covid. What if there’s other rebuilding which needs our attention? What about our part in rebuilding the witness and reputation of the body of Christ? You may say, “we had no part in destroying it, why should we be concerned about rebuilding it.” Or “those are other churches with other kinds of leaders.” While there may be truth in that, we are not altogether separated from these issues. I still remember the faces of shock and grief, as I read a letter from the EFCC Home Office to our congregation, a little more than two decades ago, which announced the resignation of our EFCC President at the time. I think the questions for us remain. We have a part to play. But what exactly is that part?

Charting a comprehensive solution clearly requires something outside the scope of this blog. However, some great books addressing some of the issues are out there. It would be healthy for us all to give these matters some thought. Here are three recommendations:

  • A Church Called Tov – Scot McKnight & Laura Barringer
  • Celebrities for Jesus – Katelyn Beaty
  • When Narcissism Comes to Church – Chuck DeGroat

Finally let me talk about two things that I believe matter greatly:

Character Matters

We are the church of Jesus Christ. We are disciples. The finished product of discipleship is to look like Jesus. While this will not be accomplished in this life, that is the journey we collectively help each other travel. Jesus says those who abide in him will bear fruit. That fruit should include the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. When the church of Jesus Christ empowers and emboldens leaders who are far more concerned with results and growth than the pursuit of godly character and fruitfulness, we are flirting with disaster. I’m not saying this is the case in every single scandal, but the telltale signs of this have been all over most of them.

Church Culture Matters

We must be intentional about developing and maintaining church cultures built on the foundational pillars of humility, servanthood, and accountability to one another. We are all servants. Submission is the posture of a disciple. Walking with each other in that posture is how we grow.

Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back unto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important. Gal. 6:1-3

Most of the leaders who have crashed have been the product of a church culture that seems, at least to me, opposed to the verses quoted above. In an attempt to manufacture the “bigger and better” church there is a trend that Christian writer Skye Jethani has called the “Evangelical Industrial Complex.” He identifies the product being produced in this Complex as the celebrity pastor. After all every major enterprise needs its CEO and protecting the “brand” becomes imperative. I suspect he is right. For each of these crashed leaders, a culture was in place that enabled a style of leadership to develop, unchecked at times, which ultimately led to a crash. Understand, I’m not making excuses for their bad behaviour. These leaders made terrible choices that they didn’t have to make. The above quoted passage goes on to talk about personal responsibility and the fact that we reap what we sow. However, culture still matters.

You may still be saying, we aren’t that kind of church, why does this matter to us? Well, we love to copy “success.”

Haven’t we all been tempted at times to adopt principles, methods, or a church model from somewhere else just to get results?

And let’s be candid, some of this stuff just appeals to our fleshy desires. It feels good to be called the “chief elder.” I have heard that term bantered around at a conference by church leaders. It seems innocent in and of itself – and may well be — but when does it begin to infect a culture with pride and protectionism as opposed to humility, servanthood, and accountability?

I’ve got far more questions than answers these days, especially about this topic. But let’s continue to talk as an EFCC family about the part we play in helping rebuild the witness and reputation of the body of Christ.

Neil Bassignthwaighte
ServeCanada Director & Interim Prayer Catalyst

Rebuilding Our Vision for Ministry

rebuilding our vision for ministry

Vision is crucial for organizational and leadership success. Without a clear vision, leaders and organizations will stagnate and go nowhere. If leaders do not see where they are going, they are unlikely to get there.

Vision can serve as a True North for organizations and help leaders keep their bearings as they lead their people forward. Any organization with no clear vision of where it is going is in danger of mission drift and being sidetracked and failing to accomplish its purpose. A leader or an organization without a vision to serve is at risk of becoming self-serving.

Helen Keller was once asked, “What would be worse than being born blind”? She replied, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.”

A clear and compelling vision is critical for leaders and organizations. But where do ministry leaders get their vision?

I once led a national mission organization and was expected to have my vision to move the organization forward. There was tremendous pressure for me to come up with a personal vision. It was very stressful, especially when my vision did not match other leaders’ visions. Leaders are expected to generate a vision, envision a desirable future for their organization, and then develop a plan to achieve the results. The leader is responsible for interpreting the rapid global changes around them and looking into the future to determine the best approach for their organizations.

But God does not ask His leaders and followers to operate this way. When it comes to vision, no statement is more frequently quoted or misquoted by many Christian and non-Christian leaders than King Solomon’s famous observation: “Where there is no vision, the people perish (Proverbs 29:18 KJV). A more accurate translation in Hebrew is, “Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint (Proverbs 29:18 NIV). People come up with a vision, while revelation is something people receive.

Great leaders can dream a vision but cannot discover God’s will. God must reveal it. Leaders who ignore God’s will project their vision and accomplish their own agendas.

Great leaders in the Bible like Abraham, Moses, David, Paul, and Peter received visions from God. Abraham did not become the father of many nations because he had a vision for it. God called him and revealed God’s vision to him. Abraham obeyed and led with God’s vision. Moses became the deliverer of Israel not because he had a leader-generated vision. God revealed to Moses His vision to deliver His people from Pharaoh. Moses obeyed and ran with God’s vision. It was not Paul’s vision to become the Apostle to the Gentiles. He persecuted the Church, but God called him on the road to Damascus. God revealed His vision to Paul. Paul obeyed and embraced God’s vision. Great leaders in the Bible did not come up with their vision. They did not create their vision. God revealed His vision to them. They obeyed, and God’s vision was their vision.

God has revealed His vision for the Church in Revelation 7:9-10:

After these things, I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all the tribes, peoples, and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes and palm branches were in their hands; 10 and they cried out with a loud voice, saying,

“Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

This is God’s vision for the Church, and He calls His leaders to obey and run with His vision to become a reality. Today, God’s vision has not changed. As we rebuild our vision for ministry in the 21st century, let us renew and rebuild our vision with God’s vision.

Ike Agawin
ServeBeyond Director

Rebuilding According to Reality not Partiality

rebuilding according to reality not partiality

If you read our EFCC Blog regularly (or even semi-regularly), you will know that over the past several months we have been talking about “rebuilding.”  We have talked about the foundation of our rebuilding work, which thankfully has remained unchanged. And several of the posts have challenged us with considerations about “how” to effectively rebuild. But there is one consideration of rebuilding we have not yet talked much about:  Who are you rebuilding for, and with? Certainly, we are working for God’s purposes, yet there remains an important consideration regarding the specific target group our calling embraces.

Allow me to start with this:  We need to rebuild, not refresh. Refresh assumes many things remain the same. Rebuilding assumes many things have changed. So, to rebuild, we must consider well the context we are rebuilding with and for.

Paul had a special calling to the Gentiles (see, for example, Acts 9:15). Peter, on the other hand, spent much time ministering to the Jews. They both understood something of the groups they were called to, and their ministries took into account the culture they were seeking to impact. Even as Paul spoke to the philosophers at Mars Hill in Acts 17, he made certain that he knew something about what they believed, what their worldview was. Without pushing further into these examples, I simply want to say that it is really important that we have an accurate picture of the people God has called us to minister to and with.

Friends, you do not need me to tell you that the world has changed over the past couple of years. And I would say that more change is coming – to our world and thus to the church. What people expect of the church, what people are willing to give to the church (time and resources), what the community expects of the church, what will be effective in engaging the community – in sum, the culture we are ministering within and to, has all changed and will continue to do so. My question for you to ponder is simply this:  are you working to rebuild for a 1999 culture/world, or a 2025 culture/world. We may wish things were the same as they used to be. We may wish that people in our churches were the same, that the people in our communities were the same. But wishing will not make it so.

We cannot rebuild the past. Nor should our rebuilding ignore reality.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said that “He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.” (Life Together, p 27). Stretching Bonhoeffer’s observation into our context here — if you have a picture of the church you are trying to rebuild that is based on your personal dream and not the reality of where people are truly at, the world you want versus the world we have, you will struggle to experience fruitfulness.

So, my plea is simply. Look around. Ask. Listen. Learn. Do your best to understand where people’s hearts are at today. What are their needs? Will you meet them where they are at, not just where you think they should be? Will you rebuild based on where they are at, not where you think they should be? Will you be flexible enough (as Neil talked about last week) to rebuild based on the “new normal” not the comfortable past, or your ideal future? More than ever, we need to be students of the culture, students of the people, students of worldviews different than what we are used to, maybe even different than what we are comfortable with.   Only then we will be able to rebuild with the effectiveness God calls us to.

When rebuilding the right focus and foundation is essential. Wisdom, humility, respect, and a gracious attitude are key. But knowing and understanding the world around you cannot be ignored. We all need to take another, honest, brave look around us, and then begin to rebuild with the context of our world in mind.

Terry Kaufman
EFCC Leadership Catalyst

Rebuild to Generate the Right Product

rebuild to generate the right product

Jesus came and told His disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

I recently read a great blog post from Carey Nieuwhof entitled, “When the pastor becomes the product.” In it, Nieuwhof reminds us of how easy it is for both mega churches and small churches to mistakenly make the pastor the center of the church. Indeed, the pastor ends up being the “product” a church offers to consumers (and potential customers) inside and outside of the church. Nieuwhof rightly reminds us that the church, not the pastor, is the Body of Christ. He illustrates how making the pastor the center places way too much pressure on the pastor. Lastly, he admits that pastors can enjoy being the center of the church way too much (and resent the pressure that comes from it at the same time).

I quoted Matthew 28:18-20 above. The Great Commission of Jesus reminds me that all authority has been given to Jesus. He is the center of the church (read Colossians 1 on this), not me. The product that He wants us to invest in are disciples who are taught to obey everything Jesus commanded. In Paul’s language from Ephesians 4, that would be mature disciples who are equipped to do “works of service.” Gifted celebrity preachers and omnicompetent parish chaplains are not the product we try to sell to the world and to sheep currently residing in other sheepfolds.

We are not rebuilding post COVID to manufacture the best programs, spiritual packages and personnel so that more sheep will be attracted to our sheepfolds than to the church down the road. The product is a mature disciple.

It’s not that the pastor and the programs aren’t important. In fact, pastors need to be at the center of helping a local church discern what a mature, fruit of the Spirit disciple looks like. The pastor also needs to help a local church design disciple-making pathways that help disciples become “conformed to the image of His Son.” This actually necessitates that pastors think through carefully what the Sunday morning worship service can accomplish as part of the disciple-making pathway. Then we need to ascertain what other parts of the church program help a disciple mature and produce “fruit of the Spirit” “works of service.” Simply telling folks what they are doing wrong and what more they need to do on Sunday morning is not enough. Jesus didn’t intend us to “teach them to obey everything He commanded” exclusively from behind a pulpit (from a safe distance). Jesus walked with disciples for the better part of three years, and His teaching was mostly informal and situational – in the context of whatever was going on in life at the time. Yes, Jesus occasionally had a more formal “sermon” (on a mount), but most of His “Word-working” (as Lee Eclov calls it), was in informal everyday life contexts.

Steve Sharpe and Neil B have insightfully highlighted that there is a great difference between accountability to law and accountability/discipling by grace. Discipling by law means I tell disciples what they should or should not do – but I don’t walk alongside them to help them succeed (or restore them and encourage them to try again once they have failed.) Discipling by grace means someone commits to walking alongside me and helping me succeed. It’s like two people who want to lose weight and agree to be accountability partners. Accountability by law means we will check in once a week and share how we ate junk food and didn’t exercise and we will promise to do better next week (but we know deep down that we will fail again because we are on our own). Accountability by grace means that we will agree to go grocery shopping together to make sure we don’t buy junk food. One of us will pick the other up on our way to the gym and we will exercise together. If we want to rebuild the right product, we need accountability partners who will help each other succeed. We need to build systems where disciples are accountability partners of grace. Sunday morning services will be important for some things, but if the product we are trying to build is a mature disciple, then we will need to “teach them to obey everything I have commanded” not only in sermons, but in incarnational pathways of grace.

Bill Taylor
EFCC Executive Director

Flexible like Water

flexible like water

The infamous Ross Geller “pivot” scene from the TV show Friends resurfaced in Covid. Ross is trying to direct people moving a sofa up a stairway. All he can do is stand and yell “PIVOT.” Covid felt like that.

The flexibility we learned during Covid may bode well for our future. But let’s try a different metaphor. Water is highly adaptable. Just ask seven-year-old me. The walk home from school during the spring thaw was a blast. I got to race popsicle sticks down the sidewalk gutters with my friends. Strange kid, right? It was great fun! We would run ahead and build snow blockades and channels for the sticks to navigate. The amazing thing was the running water almost never got stopped. It always found a way past the obstacles. Water does that.

Let’s take that metaphor and apply it to church and ministry. In our rebuilding, I hope we aren’t simply rushing back to “normal”. I hope we are reflecting on what adapting to a new ministry context means.

We witnessed a fair amount of isolation and loneliness during the pandemic. I’m not sure that was isolated to the pandemic, it seems to be on-going.

Should we be thinking about strengthening “church as family” in this context? What would we need to do to make church feel more like family? In what ways do we need to shift how we function to ensure that people and relationships trump programs and structure? This is only one of the ways we could and probably should adapt. But adapting is hard.

One of the things that I love about my job is that I hear quite a bit from church planters. Church planters are typically highly adaptable. They must be like water, always finding ways around obstacles. Here are a few ideas from their world that might help us be more flexible:

Conduct short-term experiments

When church planters start, everything is a short-term experiment. However, established church have a harder time doing experiments. Most churches try to implement change with a vote on something that no one has tried. What if you could test drive a change? Try out a change for three months, or six months to see how it fits? Would that help us become more adaptable?

Foster an R&D environment

Church planters don’t stop experimenting. It’s pretty much their life. It’s necessary. Research and development are crucial to the process. While that kind of change is clearly uncomfortable for most people, how could your ministry or church be more like an R&D environment? How would this help you move ahead in ministry?

Make space for small failures

We almost always learn more from failure than from success. Church planters certainly do. I believe our churches and ministries could too. Now there is a huge difference between small failures and colossal ones. A culture of short-term experiments will result in some small failures. However, if we can’t make space for small failures so we can learn, a much larger failure may be waiting for us down the road.

Always evaluate

Experimenting, R&D, and space for small failure, don’t matter if there is no evaluation. A handful of questions should be asked after every experiment. What did we learn? How did this help us make disciples of Jesus? How has this helped or hindered our mission? Is there a better way to accomplish what we set out to do? What failure do we not want to repeat? What success do we want to celebrate? I suspect you could think of a few more.

Being flexible like water sounds a little bit scary, but it just might be one of the skills we need to move forward.

Neil Bassignthwaighte
ServeCanada Director & Interim Prayer Catalyst

Building and Rebuilding the Foundation of Mission

building and rebuilding the foundation of mission

Japan is located in the world’s most active earthquake zone. Because of the many seismic activities that happen every year, constructing a skyscraper in Japan is a work of engineering. It is said that the foundation is the most critical aspect of building a skyscraper in Japan. The building foundation is very deep and made of cylinders of concrete, steel, or both that penetrate the earth until they reach a stable bedrock layer to prevent the building from sinking or toppling in an earthquake. The higher the building, the deeper the foundation.

The Lord has given the Body of Christ, a mandate for mission. It is essential to have a good foundation if we were to accomplish the task the Lord has commissioned us to do. There are critically important foundations the Church needs to recapture to build and rebuild. To do mission successfully, there are four essential foundations that we need to consider:

1. Biblical Foundation

The actual word mission is not found in the Bible. Neither are familiar words like trinity or rapture. These are all terms that represent concepts that are present in the Bible. However, we cannot study mission in the Scripture by looking at a concordance, though all Christians would agree that the concept of mission is in the Bible.

If mission is not in the concordance, are there direct ways to trace it? Are there other words that we can study? Is mission merely a minor theme in Scripture, or is it of major significance? Many Christians assume that mission begins with Jesus in Matthew 28:19-20: 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. Jesus gave these clear marching orders to His followers before returning to His father. Yet, if we seriously examine the Bible, God gave these marching orders from the very beginning – in Genesis, all the way to Revelation.

Therefore, if the global mission is a topic of serious biblical concern, it should appear before Jesus’ last moments on earth. The Old Testament contains 75% of the Scriptures. Is mission found in the Old Testament? On the other hand, if mission is God’s “big idea” throughout the Bible, why don’t we preach and teach about it and talk about it more often? In our study of the Word, wouldn’t we have noticed such an important topic? Only very few theologians actually expound on such an idea.

Mission is more than just a minor addendum to God’s overall intent. Nor an optional ministry department in the Church. Mission is the very reason written Scripture needed to be given to us in the first place.

We need a missional reading of the Scripture using missional hermeneutics as our tools in developing a Biblical foundation for mission.

2. Historical Foundation

The presence of a mission mandate throughout Scripture becomes visible once we know what to look for. When this is understood, the mission theme connects Scripture into a meaningful whole. The Bible emerges as a singularly focused book instead of a seemingly scattered collection of laws, stories, poetry and chronologies. God’s goal is to reveal Himself not only to Israel but also to the nations. When His intention to reach all nations becomes clear, the Bible fits together sensibly and purposely.

If mission is the focus of all Scripture, then it must also become our focus. By studying biblical history with this understanding, we see these principles worked out in real time and human space. Looking at history in light of God’s global objectives transforms our view of what happened and why. A study of events that formerly seemed dry, dull, and tedious is now filled with relevant lessons.

3. Strategic Foundation

God is accomplishing His worldwide mission and instructing His kingdom people to join Him. His desire to reconcile nations to His loving rule is the primary moving force behind all history. Each of us has a part to play until His mission is completed. Having comprehended His plan in Scripture, we now move to the next step: finding our part and carrying it out in obedience to Him.

With a daring and dangerous charge before us, we need clear and well-thought-out plans and strategies. Some people think that having a strategy might prevent them from being led by the Lord or that it might put them in the position of “running ahead” of God’s will. But God is a strategic God. Made in His image, we are called to be strategic people. Rightly understood, strategies can come from Him and be used by Him. We must determine where the least-evangelized peoples are and then begin to strategize to reach them.

4. Cultural Foundation

Our mission foundations received light from many insights. First, God desires to reach all nations of the world with His truth. Next, He is working through the ages toward that end. Then He desires that His people connect with the remaining unreached peoples. Now we come to the challenge of culture.

Each of the people group who needs to receive God’s message has their unique way of life, its own distinct mode of operating, and its own ideas and stories. From their history, circumstances, and experiences, they have developed their particular culture. Simply reciting John 3:16 in their language will not suffice.

Missionaries shared John 3:16 in many animistic cultures, but people from these cultures were not concerned about love. They were concerned about protection from the spirit world, and until their needs were addressed, the gospel message was not of interest. When people from animistic cultures learned that Jesus had power over the spirit world, the message had value.

To successfully reach people from all nations in Canada and beyond, we must build or rebuild these four critical foundations for mission. Together as a Church, we can finish the global mission task in our generation!

Ike Agawin
ServeBeyond Director

Rebuilding on Foundation and Cornerstone

rebuilding on foundation and cornerstone

So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. We are His house, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus Himself.  We who believe are carefully joined together, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. Through Him you Gentiles are also joined together as part of this dwelling where God lives by His Spirit. 

I love the above verses from Ephesians 2:19-22! During this season we are considering what “rebuilding” the church post-Covid looks like. Over the past few weeks, Terry Kaufman talked about deconstruction, Ike Agawin shared about missional identity, and Neil Bassingthwaighte highlighted the firm foundation of God’s hesed. In my last post I ruminated a bit about building on divine calling. Before we get to practical suggestions for rebuilding ministries post-Covid, I want to briefly consider Paul’s words to the church in Ephesus.

Firstly, I am struck by what we should be rebuilding. If we build in alignment with the redemptive heart of our God, then our primary goal must be to build family. We were strangers and aliens to God’s family, but now we have the privilege of being a holy people who are citizens of His Kingdom. We have the missional task of inviting other “foreigners” into His family. If we build according to God’s heart, then neither buildings nor programs nor reputations should be our primary goal. In dependence on the Holy Spirit, we invest our energies towards the building of people – both as unique individuals and as family.

Secondly, I consider where/on what we build. We are His house, and we build upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets. Jesus Himself is the cornerstone that holds the entire house together.

There is no power in building God’s kingdom on a foundation of human technique, strength, and fame. One can build only a temporary human kingdom using human ingenuity. Building something eternal takes the supernatural power of the gospel of Jesus and His Holy Spirit. We dare not build on anything else but the Living Word.

Lastly, I notice how we rebuild. I love Paul’s point about how carefully each believer is fitted together as an integral part of God’s holy temple where God lives by His Spirit. There is something beautiful about how our God lovingly builds us into His dwelling place. Oh, how He must value every one of His children!  God purposes that each believer be a strategic piece of His temple and a priest who ministers His presence in this world. We dare not treat believers as mere cogs to keep “church machinery” running.   As we rebuild His temple presence in this needy post-Covid world, we must do so in ways that treat each family member with care and honour. After all, believers are entrusted to one another, and are being joined together into a loving, holy unity by the Master Builder.

So, let’s arise and rebuild! Our God will give us wisdom and ability to do so.  Yet may we be clear about what, where, and how we build!

Bill Taylor
EFCC Executive Director

Rebuilding the Church’s Missional Identity

rebuilding the missional identity of the church

Dr. Darrel Guder coined the word “missional” in His book, “Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America.” In that book, he chose the term “missional” to talk about the missionary nature of the Church, that mission is not a program of the Church but rather the essence, purpose, action and character of the Church, all wrapped up in this larger understanding of God as a missionary God. God is engaged in the mission of redeeming all of creation and has commissioned His Church, the Grand Collective, to be on mission with Him.

Unfortunately, the term “missional” became so popular and became a cliché in our churches today. “Missional” seems to be used to describe almost anything. We have missional communities, leadership, cohorts, cafes, and countless books which claim it in a title. The term became a fad or an attempt for relevance in our current ecclesial environment. There is no end to problematic use of the word especially to imply that if everything is mission, then nothing is mission.

But the term “missional” is still significant and crucial in our understanding of our missional identity as God’s people. The call to be missional is also timely because of the significant changes that have been happening in our world today. There had been a shared consensus among theologians and missiologists that we are living through the end of Christendom in the West, and yet we are still living as though Christendom were intact.

The context where the Church is located has already changed. We live in a society marked by religious pluralism, ethnic diversity, and cultural relativism, yet we are not doing enough to reach our next-door neighbour.

We know Acts 1:8, which commands us to be God’s witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and the ends of the earth. Yet, the reality is that Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth are now in one place, and frontier missions can now be done right where we are! God has sovereignly brought many unreached people groups right on our doorsteps (Acts 17: 26-27), yet very little outreach is done among them. We now live in the glocal (global and local) era where the paradigm of global and local mission exists together.

In light of this present context, the call to be missional is as urgent as ever. If God is a missionary God, it follows that God’s people, the Church, are also missionary. In the Triune God, God the Father sent His Son to the world on a mission to redeem His creation; Jesus sent the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is sending the Church to the world on mission with God. Jesus said, “Just as the Father has sent Me, I also send you (John 20:21). That is the Church’s missional identity in Jesus.

The question is, how do we rebuild our missional identity?

First, we need to have broader mission theology that will help us define our missional identity in Christ. In the past, there was no theological framework that could provide the basis for mission. Systematic Theology and Biblical Theology are good, but they are inadequate. As you can observe in most Bible Colleges and Seminaries today, mission theology is not being taught. Missional identity development should be an intentional effort of the Church and needs to be emphasized in the discipleship process in our local churches.

Secondly, our missional identity begins with recovering a missionary understanding of God. By His very nature, God is a “sending God” who takes the initiative to redeem His creation. Understanding the Missio Dei will cause us to redefine our understanding of the Church. Because the Church is comprised of the “sent” people of God, the Church is the instrument of God’s mission in the world. However, most people believe that mission is just an instrument of the Church, a means by which the Church is grown. Although Christians frequently say, “The church has a mission,” but according to missional theology (Alan Hirsch), a correct statement would be “the mission has a church.” This understanding is essential in rebuilding our missional identity.

Thirdly, “missional” or “missional living” is a Christian term that describes a missionary lifestyle. Being missional includes embracing the posture, thinking, behaviours, and practices of a missionary to reach others with the message of the gospel. The basic premise of this thinking is that all Christians should be involved in the Great Commission of Jesus as commanded in Matthew 28:19-20.

And fourthly, to rebuild our missional identity, we need to understand that the Church is sent to every culture wherever they may be found. The scope of the imperative to make disciples is to all nations – (Grk. panta ta ethne in Matthew 28:19-20). We are to engage the nations with the gospel locally and globally.

The task of reaching the nations for Christ often feels overwhelming and insurmountable. Nevertheless, God has gifted people in local churches to fill every need and conquer every obstacle. The task of reaching the world can only be accomplished by renewing Paul’s vision of developing every Christian for his or her place in God’s kingdom. This can be done by developing or rebuilding the missional identity of local church members so that they as a church can represent Jesus to the world by “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).

Ike Agawin
ServeBeyond Director

The Role of “Deconstruction” in Rebuilding

the role of deconstruction in rebuilding

As our Executive Director (Bill Taylor) noted in his blog post last week, we are shifting our focus in these posts to “rebuilding.” He appropriately challenged us to recognize the universality of the divine calling we have received as part of God’s family – the call of the church is a call to us all. As we then begin to process thoughts about rebuilding, we must recognize both the present reality as well as the divine design we are working toward. This leads us to this presently controversial word of “deconstruction.”

In some measure, we are at a place of “rebuilding” because of COVID, but it is more than that. COVID regulations and ripples did not singularly change the context and effectiveness of our ministry, though it exacerbated or magnified what already exists in some measure. The last several years also laid bare what we are doing, in a way, clearing the table for us. The question then is: “What was swept off the table of ministry in the last several years that should be put back on?” That is for each of you and your churches to sort out, but I want to suggest that it will be hard to do that well without engaging in a form of “deconstruction.”

“Deconstruction” has been getting a lot of press lately. I have people asking me what I think about it, and how we should respond. Without getting too deep into the manifestation of deconstruction we are seeing in Christian celebrities (that may be a topic for another blog), I would want to clarify that in its essence deconstruction is not the same as destruction. Deconstruction is not equivalent to abandonment – though that seems to be an equivalency too often implied. Deconstruction is a more careful and thoughtful process of taking something apart for the sake of understanding and improvement rather than a critical spirit engaged for purposes other than rebuilding.

The truth is that to rebuild we must first disassemble, or at least review.

COVID did some of that deconstruction for us, but it has left lots of work for us to do. I believe that healthy deconstruction is only a first step – whether it is personal or corporate. The next steps are evaluation (bible based) and then rebuilding. Bill has helped us to begin to think about the rebuilding portion.

Unfortunately, some of us refuse to reconsider anything. Others too easily dismiss what has gone before. Neither approach is right and both invite trouble. Peter is one example of someone who wrestled with this same process. He had to reconsider the reality of Jews & Gentiles and rebuild his approach to ministry. That is deconstruction in its appropriate application: guided by the Holy Spirit and motivated by a concern for the lost, growing God’s church, and bringing honor to His name.

Where are you at in the rebuilding process? Do you refuse to revisit your plans and strategies? Are you simply longing to put everything back together as it was before? Or have you inappropriately thrown out all things historic too dismissively, simply because they were used by a previous generation or leadership? Hopefully, we are wise enough to avoid both of those ditches.

Additionally, let’s hope that what we have built is made up of components so evidently valuable and appropriate that when our ministries are deconstructed, they will reveal the great building blocks of God’s amazing truths, the sources of hope and purpose, of love and charity. And may we have the humility to allow others to test what we have been building, and building on, to make something stronger, better, purer, and even more effective.  In fact, let’s be building blocks on which those coming after us can build upon to reach higher for God’s kingdom.

Maybe we need to avoid the word “deconstruction” because its meaning has been hijacked. But the concept we must not run from. To rebuild well we must not tear down and abandon, but disassemble to evaluate what parts still work, what parts are necessary and valuable, and then reassemble with those pieces. To do this well we must listen to the Holy Spirit and the truth in God’s Word. In fact, that approach is at the heart of our heritage in the Free Church. So, let’s rebuild well!

Terry Kaufman
EFCC Leadership Catalyst

When Theology is Not Enough

When Theology is not Enough

I am haunted by some verses found in John 5. The context – Jesus has just healed on the Sabbath and the leaders are upset. Jesus offers up an explanation for healing on the Sabbath. This leads to more trouble as the Jewish leaders clearly understood Jesus’ statement about his father (v.17) and want to kill him for blasphemy. In the middle of the subsequent rebuttal by Jesus we read verses 39-40:

39You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! 40Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life.

Wow! Think about those words for a few moments. These men were the elite theologians in Jesus’ day. They knew their Scriptures inside and out. They had been educated in the best rabbinical traditions. They had systematized their Scriptures into a detailed theology and created a whole host of religious practices to live that theology. But they missed the point! They missed Jesus.

Do we do the same thing?

Before we go further, please understand that I am in no way advocating that we give up on becoming better students of the Bible. I am also not setting up a false dichotomy between theology and religious experience, or theology and Jesus, or the Bible and Jesus. We need to be more robust in our theology, but we also need to experience Jesus in our daily lives. Theology without experiencing life with Jesus is like the experience of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day.

When was the last time you truly experienced Jesus in your life?

Do you have friends that can ask if and how you are experiencing Jesus?

When I say experiencing Jesus, I am simply referring to those moments where we can clearly identify God showing up in some way, shape, or form in our daily lives. It might be as simple as a Bible verse taking on new meaning. It might be an answer to prayer. It might be another member of the body of Christ who visibly lives out Jesus in their words and actions toward us. Whatever it is, it leads us to a bigger, bolder, and more beautiful vision of who Jesus is.

This whole blog season has centered around the theme of theology. As we close that theme, I want to leave you with this encouragement. Our theology comes to life when it is infused by seeing and experiencing the living Lord in our lives. As we meet Jesus throughout our daily lives: we learn more about Him and His good plan for the flourishing of all life, we learn more about His character, we are drawn deeper into His love, life, and mission, and we grow in our understanding of what it means for us to follow Him. As our experience of Jesus grows, our theology deepens.

Do you want to deepen your theology?

The flipside of that question could be this one:

How are you making space in your life to be open to hear from, see, and experience Jesus?

Neil Bassignthwaighte
EFCC National Mission Director & Interim Prayer Catalyst

The End of Mission

the end of mission

Some people believe that mission is over. Jesus said in Matthew 24:14 that “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.” The Gospel has indeed been preached to all the countries of the world, but Jesus is referring to the nations – the ethnic or people groups with their distinct cultures and languages. Almost half of the world’s population, representing many people groups, are yet to hear the Gospel.1 The Gospel has not been preached to them. Mission is not over, and the task of world evangelization is still in effect for the Church. But when will mission end?

Throughout the Book of Revelation, John records his vision and revives the confidence of the Churches in the certainty of the spread of the Gospel throughout all the nations. Persecutions and slaughter cannot stop the spread of the Gospel until all that dwell on earth has heard. The song of the twenty-four elders addressed to the Lamb of God celebrates the redemption of men from all nations. They are redeemed out of all peoples of God’s purpose: He has “made them a Kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:10). In another vision, John sees “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language” in worship before the throne of God (Rev. 7:9). Representatives of all nations will be there in heaven worshipping the Lord and thus fulfill God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12. This is where history ends. God is moving all history towards the completion of world evangelization.

In Revelation 21:24, John describes his vision in heaven “The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendour into it. The glory and honour of the nations will be brought into it (v. 26). The worship of God by people from every nation, tribe, people, and language will bring the highest glory to God! This should be our guiding vision of ultimate purpose, that God would be most glorified in every people by a movement of obedience and worship to Christ.

This multicultural worship in heaven will happen because this is God’s unchanging purpose on earth.

We read in Hebrews 6:17-18 the two unchanging purposes of God; (1) To bless Abraham and his descendants, and (2) To bless all peoples or nations of the earth through His descendants or seed. So, between Abraham in Genesis 12 to the worship in heaven by all the nations of the world in the Book of Revelation is mission. The worship in heaven and the completion of God’s promise to Abraham will only be realized through missions.

The Book of Revelation closes with a vision of new heaven, new earth, and the eternal city in which the Lord Himself is the Light. There once more, we meet the nations. In the new Paradise is the tree of life with leaves for the healing of the nations (Rev. 22:2). And so, history is complete. Mission is over. The nations, the families of the earth who have always been the object of God’s love, redeemed and preserved, have a place in God’s creation. The Lord will be their light, and they shall reign forever and ever (Rev. 22:5).

Ike Agawin
EFCC International Mission Director