Following Jesus Takes Us to Challenging Places

By Stan Friedman

DETROIT, MI (June 29, 2013) – “The invitation (to follow Jesus) is not to a tourist bus – it is to a grand adventure of the greatest order, the greatest significance, and the greatest consequence,” said President Gary Walter during his report to delegates during the 128th Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Covenant Church.

“It is the call to follow the very heart of God into the world,” he said. “And when we follow the heart of Jesus into the world, it will take us to challenging places, dangerous places, places where we encounter the best and the worst in ourselves, places where we encounter the good and ugly of what happens in this world, and yes, places where we encounter powers and principalities who stand in opposition to God.”

It is a call that the Covenant has been answering, but must be vigilant to continue doing so, he said. Walter noted that the leader of another organization once said, “ ‘The Covenant fights above its weight class.’ In other words we take on outsize challenges relative to our size.”

During his report, he honored Richard Carlson and Ray Dahlberg, two people he called “legacy figures” who helped push the denomination to outsized ministry. Carlson has esophageal cancer, and Dahlberg died last week.

Carlson, a former pastor and a professor and a long-time North Park Theological Seminary professor, “was ahead of his time,” said Walter. “He was always encouraging us to remember the poor and those on the margins, encouraging us to not escape the world ,but to engage the world and its struggles. Richard used his agile mind to help us do just that – and how to walk slowly home to Jesus with dignity, graciousness, and confidence in the mercies of God.”

Walter said he had asked Carlson if there was a message he would like shared with the delegates. Carlson replied, “In the midst of all that this year has meant for me as I am living with esophageal cancer, I truly have only one word: blessing. I pray that God be with you as president, that the laity may know God’s grace, and that pastors may be fruitful in their daily work.”

He also noted the many accomplishments of Dahlberg, who led the Department of World Mission for 20 years. The Covenant’s missionary work expanded throughout the world during Dahlberg’s tenure. He also was a pastor to the missionaries, Walter said.

Walter and others lauded Dahlberg’s commitment to the ministry in a Covenant News Service article last week.

During Walter’s report, he interviewed a panel of several leaders.

John Teter, pastor of Fountain of Life Covenant Church in Long Beach, California, and new team leader for church planting with the Department of Church Growth and Evangelism, said a new emphasis would be placed on strengthening the lives of church planters.

Church planters are on a “very treacherous path” as they try to start new work while also growing their own family and individual lives, he said. One-third of pastors in churches, including non-Covenant congregations, do not “finish well,” and the number is probably higher for planters, he said.

In response, a new emphasis will be built around the question, “Anyone can start a church, but will you be able to finish?”

To highlight the need for mentoring – having someone help fellow ministers – Teter related that one of his favorite people in scripture is Barnabas, who mentored Paul. “If we don’t have Barnabas, we don’t have 60 percent of the New Testament.”

Reesheda Washington, project director for Covenant Kids Congo, said the historic partnership with World Vision and the Congo Covenant Church is now sponsoring 6,000 children and development work to improve their lives in Gemena in Democratic Republic of Congo. The partnership also is attracting the attention of other major relief organizations.

Cecilia Williams, ministry initiatives director for the Department of Compassion, Mercy and Justice, joked that her “long and storied tenure has now arrived at the tenth day.” For more on Williams, click here.

She said she will bring the same attitude as was evident throughout the previous church she served as associate pastor, Sanctuary Covenant Church, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, which stands in a zip code where one-third of the population lives below the poverty line. The church was able to immediately mobilize to help victims in its neighborhood that was hammered by a large tornado that destroyed many homes, including one that ripped the roof off her house.

Power was knocked out at many other homes. The church had additional generators it was able to provide some residents. One resident came to them and said, “I hear you have power,” the double meaning immediately recognized by the delegates.

Williams then told the delegates, “We have the power of the gospel, we have the power of the word, and we have the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Cynthia Halverson, the Evangelical Covenant Church’s executive director for advancement, highlighted the need for giving levels to increase, if the denomination is to continue advancing the mission.

Walter also outlined a proposal that would reorganize the national structure of Covenant leadership and Covenant offices with the goal of becoming leaner and better able to more effectively and efficiently carry out mission priorities.

Walter concluded by calling the denomination to live out the attitude of the founder of one of the newest churches adopted into the Covenant, Canal Street Covenant Church in New Orleans, formed in the 1800s.

He told of Pastor Martin Whitman Trawick, who died in 1878 at the age of 40 of yellow fever while caring for people who were suffering the same disease.

“People implored him to leave when the epidemic first broke out, but instead he chose to stay and serve, only to contact yellow fever from those he was caring for,” Walter said. “He wrote this which is now on a plaque in the church: ‘I would rather stay with my people and die than go away and live. Life is not worth anything unless it is laid on the altar of Christ and offered up to his service.”

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