As a Regional Superintendent in the Evangelical Covenant Church, last week I attended our Annual Meeting held in Estes Park, Colorado. During one of the business meetings, I was a bit surprised by one of the announcements made by our Executive Minister of Finance. Let me just quote the announcement made based on the following handout-
“Federal Tax Credit Available to Local Churches-
One of the early results of the March 2010 passage of the Health Reform Legislation (entitled Affordable Health Care Act) is the ability for small employers to receive tax credit for years 2010 through 2013, if they meet certain eligibility requirements…We encourage Covenant Annual Meeting attendees to call this issue to the attention of their local financial officers.”
He went on to report that our churches had already saved $500,000 and next year could save between 2 and 3 million dollars. It looks like so-called “Obama Care” is helping small business and in our case, Evangelical churches. This is not an endorsement of President Obama or the Health Care Plan. What it is, is a wake up call to not be duped or enslaved by political division and rhetoric. As evangelicals we must study for ourselves and be willing to support public policy based on truth and Scripture, not based on reports by CNN, Fox, or the self interests of the major political parties themselves. When we study the truth, it’s hard to be totally sold out to either of the major political parties. Sometimes a party will get it right and sometimes they will get it wrong. In this case the Health Care plan, which many evangelicals oppose, is actually helping pastors and local churches with the expenses of Health Care coverage. Some are trying to convince us that the plan is and will actually hurt small businesses and churches. Well, so far in the Evangelical Covenant Church, this is not the case.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the future of the church or what could be called, the church of the future. Mostly, these thoughts have been limited to the church in the United States. After rereading a number of book recently on the future and state of the church though, my thoughts have gone more global. Phillip Jenkins sees places like Africa and South America as the future of the church. If this is true, then compassion, mercy, and justice must become a major focus of the church of the future. This does not mean that compassion, mercy, and justice replaces evangelism, discipleship, and mission. What it means is that compassion, mercy, and justice must be interwoven into evangelism, discipleship, and mission. This is not just an issue of relevancy, more importantly, it’s biblical. In the bible, God speaks to the chosen people about remembering their deliverance by being mindful of the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the immigrant. The future church must speak beyond social politics, towards a Spirit-filled picture of justice. A new liberation theology must be embraced by the church of the future, which includes the authority and centrality of Scripture.
Dave Olson says that the church is in crisis. When compared with population growth in the United States of America, the church is not growing. The vast majority of Americans are not in church on Sunday morning. So not only do we still have a segregated church on Sunday morning, we have a dying one as well. With all the mega-churches in our nation, a major movement of evangelism and discipleship within the local church is in question. I believe that the church still being for the most part a segregated institution is directly connected to its struggle in keeping up with population growth. Even though the United States is becoming more and more multi-ethnic and multicultural, the church is still stuck within the race-matrix of black and white. Even, many of our Asian and Latino churches are stuck with choosing worship songs and developing ministry models within a black and white framework. The future church must be multi-ethnic.
Soong-Chan Rah says the church is held captive by the western church. This points to the historic European influence upon the church in the United Staes. It also points to a dominant White theology and philosophy within the church. Please know that I don’t believe in eliminating the European and European-American perspective from the church. I believe we must add to this perspective. Large suburban and predominately European-American churches must be willing to become students of the church of the future. They must be willing to have their current cultural mindsets challenged, accepting that some of them are not biblical, but more based on a racial constructed upbringing. The answer to this is further developing cross cultural competencies.We must also develop best practice models for small, medium size, and large churches that take us beyond the black and white matrix. In order to do this we can’t be anti mega-church. The mega church has the influence and resources to point the way to the future church.
Together, as black, white, asian, latino, small, medium, large, urban, and suburban churches we must begin the journey towards the future church. If we do this, we can advance God’s kingdom like never before in an ever-increasing multi-ethnic and multicultural world.
It has been way too long since I posted a blog and I will try very hard not to make this mistake again. My life has taken quite a turn in the last few months. In mid January I was nominated to serve as the next Superintendent of the Pacific Southwest Conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church. The election takes place at the Annual Meeting of the PSWC in about two weeks in Northern California. If elected, I will provide servant leadership to about 160 churches in California, Hawaii, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah.
Accepting this nomination was a very tough decision for me. I have enjoyed so much the opportunity to serve as Senior Pastor of the Sanctuary Covenant Church the last seven years. Seven years ago, God gave me a vision to plant a church with a diverse group of God’s beloved children, that would be intentionally evangelical, multi-ethnic, and urban; including a community development component. The Sanctuary Covenant Church and Community Development Corporation are now a transforming reality because of God’s grace and Spirit. The church has a membership of over 400, a weekly attendance of about 1,000, and a diverse and gifted staff. This is why this decision to look to a new season of potential ministry leadership out West was very tough for me. Minneapolis is the city of my upbringing, the place where I met Christ, and the place where I entered into ministry.
Minneapolis is also the place where I developed a passion for the multi-ethnic church and came to the understanding that theologically I was an evangelical. I also came to the realization that evangelicalism has been kidnapped by political ideology and rugged individualism. Evangelical has moved from meaning the good news to abusive news and news of judgement. I’m so glad that Minneapolis is also the place where I came to know the Evangelical Covenant Church. This movement is committed to presenting evangelicalism as the good news that biblically connects both the good news of eternal salvation and life transformation thru compassion, mercy, and justice.
When I came into the Evangelical Covenant Church, I finally found a theological home. I have also found a Christ-centered, multi-ethnic community of women and men who believe in the authority and centrality of the Word of God. There is a high value on relationship and growing in Christ in community. This is why as tough a decision as it was, I prayerfully made the decision to be considered as the next Superintendent of the PSWC of the ECC. I’m humbled and honored by the potential opportunity, pending election. I hope to multiply the kingdom work begun at the Sanctuary Covenant Church. I’m in time of excitement, grieving, nervousness, and hope. My prayer and focus is on finishing strong, beginning well, and trusting God.
The Bible is full of stories of God using young people to do incredible things. In 1 Samuel there is the story of a boy named David who defeats the giant, Goliath. None of the adults trained for battle were willing to take on this task. There is a whole book in the Old Testament named after a girl named, Esther. Even though she didn’t know her biological father or mother growing up, she became a Queen who was willing to risk her own life for her people. In one of the books of Kings in the Old Testament as well, we read about Josiah who becomes king at 8 years old.
In the book of Jeremiah, we read about a young prophet God uses to speak truth when the adult prophets were unwilling. In the New Testament, a teenager named, Timothy is mentored by Paul to become a church planter and leader. Throughout the Bible, God uses these young faith heroes to advance the Kingdom of God.
In our more contemporary history young people are found at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement and the movement to realize freedom in South Africa. Even now in Iran, it’s youth and young adults who are protesting an unjust political process.
Children and youth are not too young to make a difference for God. We must be willing to see children and youth the way God does. We must encourage them to know that they can make a Kingdom mark in the world. They can be Gods’ agents of truth, transformation, compassion, justice, mercy, and reconciliation. The church must be a training ground for the equipping and empowerment of young heroes for God.
I remember as a kid, going into my backyard in the summertime and pretending to be a superhero. Batman, Spiderman, Superman, and even the Hulk. I wanted to save the day with super powers. I thank God that when I became a Christian in high school, I had adults in my life, who believed I wasn’t too young to make a difference in the world. I know that this had a direct impact on the ministry call that I’m living out as an adult today. Consider the young people around you, do you see them as the young hero they can be? Do you pray that they realize this potential? Do you speak this into their lives? If you are a young person and reading this blog entry, I hope that you would allow God to use you in an amazing way. You can make a Kingdom difference in the world among the lost and the poor.