DENVER, CO (January 23, 2019) — In his first address to a Midwinter Conference as ECC president, John Wenrich announced the creation of a new staff position to promote the development of women leaders, saying that although the denomination voted in 1976 to ordain women, there is “a gap between our espoused values and our lived realities.”
Justice and leadership development were themes woven throughout Wenrich’s report, which outlined his vision for six new “focal points” of ministry:
- Leaders developing leaders
- Churches planting churches
- Fostering the flourishing of women
- Disciples making disciples through evangelism
- Mission from everywhere to everywhere
- Responding to God’s call to do justice and love mercy
All Covenant ministry, including any new initiatives, he said, will bear fruit only through the power of the Holy Spirit, which he called the “Blazing Center.”
“The Holy Spirit is the blazing center of our mission, because the Holy Spirit brings the fire and passion to know God and to make him known,” Wenrich said.
Before introducing new initiatives around each focal point, Wenrich identified the Covenant’s foundational commitment to advancing the mission through the multiethnic mosaic of churches. “Let me be clear: advancing the mission through the multiethnic mosaic of churches is not simply one of the vision focal points. Instead, it is a collective commitment to Jesus’s kingdom vision.”
Wenrich announced the addition of a sixth element to the Five-Fold Test, the document created in 2004 to help the denomination live into this commitment: Practicing Solidarity. “Practicing solidarity asks, ‘In what ways are we standing with and advocating for the multiethnic mosaic of churches and ministries on mission? How are we sharing in the suffering and joys of others on both an individual and communal level?’” he said.
Leaders Developing Leaders
The future of the ECC will depend on developing leaders at all levels, Wenrich said. “If we want more servant leaders, we need more intentional systems to develop those servant leaders. In so doing, we fund our future.”
Two initiatives will help do that.
1) The ECC President’s Book Club will launch February 1. “Our goal is to encourage a culture of learning and accountability among our Covenant leaders, both clergy and lay, around the subject of leadership,” Wenrich said.
The first book will be Deep and Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend, by Andy Stanley. Discussions will occur in a dedicated Facebook group, and participants will discuss a different section of the book every several weeks.
2) Wenrich also announced “30 for 30”—a name he admitted to borrowing from the ESPN series of the same name—which will create a new cohort of 30 individuals under the age of 30 every two years for leadership development.
Each cohort will visit five missional churches in different contexts. The pastoral staff of those churches will provide training. A retreat will be held at Covenant Offices, and each participant will have a mentor and a small group of peers. A replicable pipeline model will be developed for local churches and conferences, as well as the denomination.
Churches Planting Churches
Wenrich, who previously served as executive minister of the Start and Strengthen Churches, said, “We are setting a God-sized goal of planting 500 Covenant churches in the next 10 years.” Of those, 100 will be in underserved areas.
He added that more than 60 percent of current ECC church plants are multiethnic and led by pastors of color. In 2018, 25 percent of the church planting agreements included women in lead or co-pastor roles.
Fostering the Flourishing of Women
“One of the distinct markers of the ECC is that we are both evangelical and egalitarian,” Wenrich said. “But we can and must do better in fostering the flourishing of women.”
He added, “As president, I want to apologize to my female colleagues for how the church has been complicit in oppression and suppression.” He pointed to statistics that showed that only 7 percent of 1,878 active credentialed pastors are female lead or co-pastors. Just 4.5 percent serve in solo pastor roles.
Wenrich told the male clergy in the room, “In many ways it is in your hands to lead your congregations forward.” He exhorted them to encourage women in their congregation who are called and gifted for vocational ministry.”
The new position will be located in the Office of the President and “will help to ensure the flourishing of women across all five mission priorities, both clergy and laity,” Wenrich said.
Responding to God’s Call for Justice and Mercy
New initiatives also will help the Covenant further its mission in pursuing racial righteousness and justice by continuing to address root causes. The first initiative is a call to every ECC pastor to participate in Sankofa, Journey to Mosaic, or similar immersion experience.
“I know for me, the Sankofa experience catapulted my journey forward in terms of responding to God’s call to love mercy and do justice,” Wenrich said.
Mission from Everywhere to Everywhere
A new initiative, Free, is being launched to combat the sex trafficking of women, men, and children both domestically and globally. The collaborative effort between Love Mercy Do Justice and Serve Globally calls on people to pray and become involved through partnerships with ministries and community-based organizations.
Disciples Making Disciples through Evangelism
Wenrich encouraged every pastor to join an evangelism cohort. “We have found that when the lead pastor is practicing and modeling the work of evangelism in ways their people can imitate, things happen,” he said.
The theme for the 2020 Midwinter Conference will be “The Blazing Center: How the Holy Spirit works though all five mission priorities.”