By Stan Friedman
SCOTTS VALLEY, CA (April 30, 2010) – Following his election to become the next superintendent of the Pacific Southwest Conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church, Efrem Smith said in an interview that, “I feel like this conference allows me to build upon the vision and the mission that I have been part of serving at Sanctuary Covenant Church.”
Smith planted Sanctuary in his native Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 2003. It has since grown to an average attendance of 1,000 and formed The Sanctuary Community Development Corporation, a separate nonprofit entity.
“I can’t think of much that was a part of Sanctuary that doesn’t seem to be a part of this conference in a broader sense,” Smith said. “There’s a great opportunity to see a great multiplication of the things we’ve been able to do at Sanctuary.”
That work includes furthering the conference’s emphasis on developing diverse churches and leadership. Regardless of their locations, every church must deal with the complexities and opportunities presented of a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society, Smith said.
“The thing I see in this region is you can’t escape diversity,” he explained. “Even the places that would be deemed remote in California, Arizona, and Nevada are dealing with diversity. How we advance the kingdom within that reality is an issue for all of us.”
Not all churches will need to address the issues locally to the same extent, but they share in the work throughout the region. “I hope I can help the churches feel the invitation and ownership of all that is going on in the conference,” Smith said. “So if a church is in Turlock (California), I want them to feel the invitation and ownership of what’s going on in San Francisco or Oakland. Or the church in Phoenix to feel ownership of what is happening in Las Vegas.”
A strong foundation already has been laid, Smith said, praising his predecessor. “I’m just so grateful to Evelyn for the work she’s done and what she’s set up for me to walk in to.”
Smith expects to make changes, however. “I’ve come into this position saying that my hope is to re-invent what it means to be superintendent, and in some ways re-invent the conference,” Smith said. Such change is part of the continually evolving circumstances faced by churches.
“As Evelyn is going to Chicago to be special assistant to the president, part of her role is helping to rethink the Covenant,” Smith noted. “And Gary Walter is seeing that there is a need for re-inventing and re-thinking at a national level.”
Part of the change involves bringing his different strengths to the conference. As an example, Smith said he plans to be more of a preaching superintendent than Evelyn has been during her tenure.
Johnson said she would be disappointed if Smith didn’t make changes, explaining that she hopes he gets rid of whatever “obsolete baggage” she leaves behind. Smith emphasized, “I’m not coming with all the answers. I’m coming to serve and have my leadership gifts stretched.”
The job naturally involves a learning curve as Smith transitions from serving a local congregation to caring for and guiding the conference. “On one hand, there are definitely going to be parts of this job that are going to be new to me,” he notes. “On the other hand, I’m going to lean on the staff and delegate to those who are strong where I am weak.”
Moving to California will mean leaving more than Sanctuary. “I was born and raised in Minneapolis, I married my high school sweetheart from Minneapolis. My parents are in Minneapolis. All my siblings are in Minneapolis.”