How Transformational Churches Impact Individuals
Partners with the President with Pastor Bill Riedel
Every month, EFCA President Kevin Kompelien highlights stories, vision and leadership from around the EFCA in his monthly e-newsletter, "Partners with the President." This month, Kevin met (virtually) with Bill Riedel, member of the EFCA Board of Directors and lead pastor of Redemption Hill Church (EFCA) in Washington D.C., to discuss the impact of transformational churches on the lives of individuals.
During my years serving as EFCA president, I’ve noticed a disconnect in how many EFCA pastors and leaders interact with our mission “to glorify God by multiplying transformational churches among all people.” For many, it has come off as overly aspirational. If their church isn’t directly involved in church planting, they have trouble seeing how they fit into the broader EFCA mission.
In all reality, our mission is more than planting new churches; it’s strengthening and revitalizing existing congregations. It starts with each of us—in my heart and in my church. Before we can multiply transformational churches, we need to be transformational ourselves.
What is a "transformational church"?
Based on Craig Ott’s book, The Church on Mission, we crafted the following definition of a “transformational church”:
"A transformational church is a church where people together are becoming more like Jesus and, empowered by the Holy Spirit, are extending the influence of Jesus' redemptive work in the lives of individuals, families and communities among all people."
Transformational churches are churches where the gospel is changing people’s lives. Our mission is not some high-level, aspirational goal up in the clouds. The decisions we make tangibly impact individual lives. If we want to be transformational churches, our focus should be on “extending the influence of Jesus’ redemptive work in the lives of individuals.”
This month, I spoke (in the video below) with Bill Riedel, member of the EFCA Board of Directors and pastor of Redemption Hill Church (EFCA) in Washington D.C. As the shepherd of a congregation on the footsteps of Capitol Hill, Bill shared with me a few stories of how God is working in the lives of individuals through his church—even during COVID-19.
In the middle of this pandemic, this becomes even more important. Yes, we need to respond to COVID-19—and we are responding—but we can’t lose sight of the mission God has for us. And what better time is there to seek to be transformational—to extend Jesus’ redemptive work, empowered by the Spirit—than in a time of crisis?
Being transformational in a pandemic
Amid COVID-19 and now coming out of stay-at-home orders, we have an opportunity to live out our mission in a new way. The question then becomes, how do we do this? For me, three specific characteristics come to mind: wisdom, grace and love.
As COVID-19 restrictions lift and congregations discuss regathering, there is a possibility we may undo a lot of what’s been done well during the last two months of shelter-in-place and virtual church. If we’re not careful in our response—and if we give in to the frustration that’s been building inside of us—we may say unhelpful things to each other or make unwise decisions.
Even as we begin to regather, social distancing guidelines still remain. We must use wisdom in making decisions about structuring services, managing children’s ministries and accounting for the elderly and immunocompromised in our congregations. Bob Osborne, leader in the EFCA West district, wrote an excellent piece that addresses some of these issues and decisions: “10 Things to Consider Before Reopening Your Church.”
Praise God the hope of in-person gatherings is once again on the horizon, but in that excitement, let’s not forget to seek the Source of all wisdom in our decision-making. Above all, we need to prayerfully depend on the One whose “understanding has no limit” (Ps 147:5).
Grace and love
Another EFCA district leader, Brian Farone, wrote a blog post for the North Central District website, encouraging church leaders to “consider the perspective from the pew” as they discuss regathering. Like our mission statement, these are not just corporate decisions; they are decisions with real implications and real individuals.
Individual lives are being touched by COVID-19 and how churches respond. Individual people are frustrated because they can’t gather. Individual people are afraid because they’re 80 years-old with autoimmune issues and don’t want to contract this disease. In a crisis, it can be easy to have tunnel vision based on our own opinions and frustrations. To be transformational, we need grace as we consider the perspectives of others in our congregations—especially those with different views than our own.
In a situation like this, it’s helpful to look at the words of Jesus in John 13. As He’s having the Last Supper with His disciples, He says:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)
We have an opportunity to demonstrate to the world our love for each other. Even in our frustration, angst and anxiety, the world is watching. Will we devour each other by assuming ill motives or will we love one another by considering others’ perspectives and concerns?
Later, in 1 John 4, the same disciple who sat at the Last Supper table with Jesus writes this:
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:7-10)
It’s clear in his language that John knows and understands Jesus’ commandment. This is what we’ve been asked to do, and it’s rooted in God’s love for us. Because He first loved us, we’re called to love our brothers and sisters.
Opportunities for transformation
As a movement, this crisis is an opportunity for us to demonstrate the love and grace of Jesus both in regathering and in following our mission to be transformational churches in our communities.
Just because we can start meeting again doesn’t mean everything will return to “normal.” There are people in need in our communities and in our congregations. There are lots of opportunities to minister to individuals. Leaders: Be wise in regathering, but don't forget to see the opportunities right in front of you.
One opportunity to mobilize your congregation and help meet the needs of individuals during this difficult time is by supporting the EFCA’s COVID-19 Crisis Response Fund. In the middle of this pandemic, ReachGlobal Crisis Response is addressing the immediate and long-term impact of this crisis. Through your generosity, those with physical needs will be served, the gospel will be shared, churches will be planted, and disciples will be made. To give to the response and mobilize your church to join the effort, visit efca.org/covid-response.
To follow our mission to multiply transformational churches, we must be transformational ourselves. Through wisdom, grace and love, let’s extend Jesus’ redemptive work to the lives of individuals—even in the middle of a global pandemic.
In what ways is God impacting the lives of individuals through your church? Share your stories with us on the EFCA website.