Reflecting on EFCA One 2021
Partners with the President on EFCA One 2021
Three things encouraged me this year at EFCA One, the EFCA’s biennial conference: our gospel-oriented mission is clear, we get to share the good news together and God is at work in our movement. With EFCA One, God provided us a time to hear gospel-centered stories pointing to who God is and who we are as a movement. He gave us an opportunity to speak to things that we should be thinking about in our present reality.
Livestreamed for the first time in its history, EFCA One was accessible to more people than ever before. People from all over the world tuned in to see what God has been doing in and through the EFCA. While I missed seeing so many faces and greeting people, I’m so glad God used EFCA One for His glory and purposes to bring the EFCA together.
I'm especially thankful for this year’s celebration service. It was a powerful reminder of the compassion of our Heavenly Father and our unity as one people worshipping Him together. I wasn’t alone in my gratitude; We heard that many were encouraged by the worship and stories of God’s work in and through the EFCA.
The celebration service encouraged me as well, seeing how God works powerfully through our movement. I’ll give you a taste of what was shared: We celebrated the launch of the Disability and Special Needs Affinity Group to train and equip disciples to make disciples with special needs. We also celebrated the launch of a ministry through ReachGlobal to end scripture poverty in areas where the Bible is yet to be translated. I was equally encouraged to hear the powerful stories of new church plants sprouting during the pandemic, of missionaries ministering to vulnerable children and of churches loving all people.
Watch the EFCA One celebration service:
From the bottom of my heart, thank you to all the EFCA pastors and constituents who attended the Business Session. Your willingness to participate in this important gathering—in a manner (virtually) that may have felt foreign—to hear ministry reports and elect the next body of the EFCA’s leadership makes us stronger. I’m thankful for your partnership in our mission.
I also want to take a moment and thank everyone for the humble opportunity to serve the movement. It is one of the greatest honors of my life to serve as EFCA President. I was five days old when I first entered a Free Church. The Lord used the ministry of EFCA churches to make me who I am today. I look forward to the opportunity God has given me because I deeply care about churches and the mission God has given us.
Story of one EFCA
God calls us together in unity as one EFCA. As one body, the EFCA One event reminds us of the unity we have in Christ and the unity we have in our mission, our Statement of Faith and our shared values and relationships. Often, this oneness comes full circle.
The story about the Encuentro Church plant best exemplifies one EFCA. It tells the story of Pastor Daniel Perez, who grew up in Venezuela. His parents were brought to Christ by EFCA missionaries. As an adult, Daniel was moved to plant a Spanish-speaking church in the U.S., and connected with Bob Rowley, superintendent of the EFCA Texas-Oklahoma District, to see a gospel-centered, Spanish-speaking EFCA church in Odessa, Texas. Daniel and his family moved to Odessa and planted the church during the pandemic.
This is one EFCA: missionaries faithfully followed God’s call and made disciples in Venezuela. Now disciples from that mission field are planting a church in Odessa, Texas, to make more disciples. If you haven’t had the chance to watch the video, I encourage you to watch it:
I’m thankful for EFCA One because it allowed us time to reflect, refocus and recalibrate. After a tumultuous year, we’ve all needed time to pause and pray on how God would have us move forward. But He impressed on my heart something else. Before we can know how to move forward, we need to remember why.
Americans excel at finding the what and the how of things. We can franchise anything and make businesses like Kentucky Fried Chicken more popular in other countries than our own. Similarly in ministry, we often look at the what and the how. But sometimes, when we’re deep in our mission and work, we lose sight of the why. I’m reminded of Revelation 2, when Jesus praises the Ephesians for their hard work and perseverance, but then in verse 4 He says this:
“Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.”
Jesus saw the Ephesians’ heart. They were doing good things, but they lost the why. The why is the most important part of our ministry. The why fuels our mission. It gives us a reason to keep going, helps us stay focused and provides clarity on how we do ministry.
But what is the EFCA’s why?
It's the compassionate heart of God for lost people in a broken world. We see His compassionate heart all throughout scripture. God looking on lost people with compassion and calling them to right relationship with Himself.
I can’t remember sermons I preached 35 years ago, but I do remember a comment Joe Aldrich made in a chapel service at Trinity when I was a student at TED's 40 years ago. Joe Aldrich wrote Lifestyle Evangelism and served as president of Multnomah School of the Bible in Portland, Oregon. He said, “When the Scriptures say that Jesus was a friend of sinners, what I think it's saying is sinners called Him their best friend.” Then he added, “How many sinners would call you their best friend?"
Do we see sinners the way Jesus does? Do we have the same compassionate heart for them that He does? Jesus’ compassionate heart poured out on sinners like you and me. He raised us from the dead into new life, just like Paul writes in Ephesians 2. This is why we tell people about what He has done for us, why we share the good news over dinner tables and in driveways, why we build relationships with people on the margins, why we clothe and feed the poor, sit and listen to widows, and extend care to immigrants and orphans. We were dead, but the compassionate heart of God brought us to new life and that great love compels us to pour out that same heart on others.
Keeping our eyes on God's compassionate heart
To keep our eyes on God’s heart, we need to call ourselves back to it daily. Jerry Bridges, a member of The Navigators and author of The Pursuit of Holiness, used to say he had to preach the gospel to himself every day, reminding himself of how broken and lost he was and how great God’s grace was for him.
We need these reminders. Reminders are important because the why is quiet; it’s subtle. It doesn’t shout loudly. You can’t expect it to appear at the right moments. Keeping it at the forefront of our minds requires consistent reminders and unceasing prayer.
But we also need to tell and celebrate stories of how people are made right with God through the message of the gospel, how relationships are reconciled, how lives battered by guilt and shame have found a sense of meaning and purpose because of the death and resurrection of Jesus. When we celebrate these stories, we remind ourselves and others of God’s compassionate heart for lost people in a broken world.
EFCA leaders play an instrumental role in keeping the why in front of us, motivating us and pointing us to it. Lord willing, in the months ahead with “Partners with the President,” I’ll have the pleasure of asking questions to faithful leaders in our movement, talking about how the EFCA raises up, trains and equips leaders to engage our broken, ever-changing world. Stay tuned.
My prayer for EFCA One was that we would be captured by who God is and what He wants us to do. EFCA One’s worship time was a powerful way for us to do that. In worship, we’re not just a people of God doing good deeds; we’re after His heart.
Now, as we move forward in our clear mission together, my prayer is that we would daily remind ourselves of His compassionate heart for lost people, listen for His voice and find where He is at work and go there, multiplying transformational churches among all people.