‘We Need to Lead and Love Like Jesus’
A conversation with ECC presidential nominee John Wenrich
Interview by Edward Gilbreath | February 15, 2018
Last month, John Wenrich was nominated to stand for election as president of the Evangelical Covenant Church at the Covenant’s Annual Meeting in June. Wenrich, 56, is currently the executive minister of the Start and Strengthen Churches mission priority. He spoke to the Covenant Newswire about his ministry journey, becoming a lifelong learner, and accepting the call to lead the ECC in challenging times.
Share with us a bit about your faith journey and how and when Christ became real to you.
I was blessed to grow up in a loving, supportive Christian home. At the age of nine, in response to an invitation at Vacation Bible School, I put my faith in Christ. I’m grateful for the youth pastors who discipled me and gave me leadership tasks along the way. I sensed a call into full time vocational ministry at the age of 21. The leaders of the church tested and confirmed the call. I was heading for a career in business, but God had other plans. I responded to the call and proceeded to center my life around it.
As I surveyed social media following the announcement of your nomination, I saw many Covenanters who were thrilled by the news, but I also noticed a few who confessed to not knowing who you are. How would you introduce yourself to those folks?
I grew up near Philadelphia and I cheer for the Eagles. My favorite meal is spaghetti and meatballs. My hobbies are going to the gym as often as possible and riding bikes with my wife, Julie. I also like going to thrift stores and searching for clothes, luggage, and historical nonfiction. I love my family, and I enjoy being a dad. Our first grandchild will be born in March.
I love the Church as the hope of the world, and I run out of ways to describe how proud I am of the Covenant.
I love the Church as the hope of the world, and I run out of ways to describe how proud I am of the Covenant. I see myself as curious and always wanting to learn. I’m a team player and try to be a good listener. I like challenges and enjoy seeing other leaders develop. I’m passionate about the Gospel, like to have fun, and seek to be strategic. I know what it’s like to be broken and to live through the dark night of the soul. My identity is in Christ, and my dependence is upon the Holy Spirit.
This is obviously a season of transition in the ECC, some of it a bit turbulent. Why do you feel God is calling you to this role right now?
This journey is indeed centered in call as I just described, otherwise I would not pursue this role. This is a step of obedience as I respond to the Holy Spirit’s leading and the encouragement of those who know me best. We need to lead and love like Jesus who is full of grace and truth (John 1:14 and 17). These are our compass points for moving forward: both grace and truth. These are the Christ-like attributes we need to practice as we navigate any time there might be choppy waters.
Julie and I sense that this is a convergence of being, doing, and role. Perhaps God has raised me up for such a time as this, but that is something that the whole Church must discern at the Annual Meeting.
What’s your vision for the future?
When I pray about the future of the ECC, one word comes to mind: flourish. My prayer is that every pastor, every lay leader, every congregation, every mission priority, every regional conference, and every affiliate would flourish through the power of the Holy Spirit. We have such a strong foundation upon which to build a flourishing Gospel-centered movement that brings hope to the world.
My prayer is that every pastor, every lay leader, every congregation, every mission priority, every regional conference, and every affiliate would flourish through the power of the Holy Spirit.
If you’re elected ECC president, what would you do on your first day on the job?
I will continue the morning habit of walking into my office, closing the door, and getting on my knees to cry out for the wisdom and filling of the Holy Spirit. I will walk around the office and say hello to as many people as possible, thanking them for their contribution to the mission and listening to their hopes and dreams for the future. I will also ask for their advice. Then I will go home and eat spaghetti and meatballs for dinner.
How does your family feel about the prospect of you becoming the Covenant’s next president?
Julie is very supportive and encouraging. She would continue to be an excellent partner in ministry.
On the day of the interview, I received texts from my three sons. Jonathan said, “Love you Dad! Go in confidence.” Joel said, “Hey, praying for you today and your interview. Love you no matter what.” Jordan said, “Love you Dad and am praying for you today. You are a huge role model and influencer in my life. Blessed to be your son.”
As a pastor’s family, we have experienced many trials and tribulations, but God has proven himself faithful. I’m so grateful for the support of my family.
I noticed in your bio that you pastored churches in the Middle East. Can you tell us about that?
I guess you could say that I was a “tentmaker.” I was on radio and television as a sports and newscaster, but my real passion was planting an underground international church. I lived there for two years from age 23 to 25.
Up until that time I had only read about the persecuted church; now I was pastoring one. It was very intense and risky, but the Holy Spirit encouraged us, and we experienced some amazing things. That was my first experience in learning about other cultures and being persecuted for my faith in Christ. God used that experience to strengthen my faith and to teach me resiliency and perseverance under pressure.
What are your thoughts about the ECC’s progress in areas of diversity and multiethnic ministry, and what would you do as president to continue those efforts?
The multiethnic mosaic is one of the most beautiful and powerful traits of the Covenant.
We will never arrive, but our intentionality, for example through the Five-Fold Test, helps keep us moving. Our multiethnic mosaic is one of Gary’s greatest legacies, and one I am committed to building upon.
Personally, I am undergoing what Brenda Salter McNeil calls a “Holy Spirit-led process of awakening.” Thanks to many brothers and sisters of color, I am seeing things and feeling things I never saw, felt, or experienced before. I’m on a journey, and I have much to learn. We are all on a journey when it comes to racial righteousness. Just admitting that gives us traction to move forward.
The multiethnic mosaic is one of the most beautiful and powerful traits of the Covenant. We will never arrive, but our intentionality helps keep us moving.
How about women in leadership? What is your vision for advancing that value in the Covenant?
Twenty-six years ago, I left a church because it was not supportive of women in leadership. It was then that I joined the Covenant. I am so glad that I did. However, I am troubled by the fact that only 7 percent of our churches have a female in the lead role. We say this is a value, but our behavior at times speaks otherwise.
I believe that women are called and gifted by the Holy Spirit for every leadership role in the Church. I just cannot imagine doing full-fledged ministry without godly, strong, and competent women in key positions at every level: Covenant, conference, congregation.
Let’s say you’re elected. Four years from now, how will the Covenant look different?
We are flourishing in every ministry—even more than we are now. Morale is high, connectivity is deepening, and the mission is fruitful. We are doing what healthy families do: we love each other and engage authentically. We enjoy robust theological conversations on the issues of our day. We continue to grow, grow more diverse and grow intergenerationally. We plant churches at a strong rate, and our established congregations are healthier than ever. Churches are reaching out in word and deed. Internationally, we continue to deepen partnerships and engage in some of the most challenging parts of the world. Our institutions and corporations in their specialized areas are respected leaders in their field. Covenant leaders are as diverse as ever and recognized as thought leaders in their areas of expertise. And perhaps the most important of all, we are experiencing revival and the wave of the Holy Spirit’s anointing.
Anything else you’d like to share?
One of my seminary professors once said, “The best gift a pastor can give to a church is a person in touch with God, spiritually alive and growing.” I think the same goes for a president, and I would be honored to be such a leader for such a time as this.