Serving as the pastor of First Covenant Church in Portland, Oregon, in the early 2000s was a tremendous blessing. The church, birthed in 1887, has a legacy of missional friendship that still influences me.
As a historian and a member of the church, Esther Hallock shared stories that continue to shape me today. One of her stories was about language. Compelled by the love of Christ to reach out to her community, she was often uncomfortable inviting her primary school friends to church. In the early 1930s during the Great Depression, their worship services were in Swedish. And then they switched to English. Esther’s face lit up with joy as she recounted, “Now, I could invite all my friends to church!”
That congregation has a rich history of life and ministry. Pivoting to English from Swedish was one of its many missional moments. Like the tribe of Issachar who understood the times and knew what Israel should do (1 Chronicles 12:32), the members made a bold, missional decision. I am sure there were different emotional responses to that move. Change often feels like loss.
Now we are faced with our own global disruption of life, routines, and our assumptions about the way church works. Pivoting is happening throughout the Covenant. Almost overnight we went from onsite to online in our churches, workplaces, families, schools, and communities. (Please make sure to read “Virtual Pivot” to see the innovative ways the Start and Strengthen Churches team is adapting to this new reality.) All these months later, we continue to navigate our way forward during racial injustice, political unrest, violence, forest fires, and hazardous smoke. It is a distressing time for many of our communities and respective ministries.
Mission is fixed;
the methods are flexible.
Amid uncertainty, we cry out to the living God for peace, healing, provision, wisdom, and courage to move forward in mission. God is faithful and none of this takes him by surprise. Along with the psalmist, we believe that God “is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).
We remain committed to our mission: To join God in God’s mission to see more disciples in more populations in a more caring and just world.
We remain committed to our five mission priorities: Make and Deepen Disciples, Develop Leaders, Love Mercy Do Justice, Start and Strengthen Churches, and Serve Globally.
We remain committed to our affirmations: the centrality of the Word of God, the necessity of new birth, a commitment to the whole mission of the church, the church as a fellowship of believers, a conscious dependence on the Holy Spirit, and the reality of freedom in Christ.
We remain committed to our growing relationships as a multiethnic mosaic of mission friends.
These commitments remain unchanged, yet the ways we live them out are changing. Mission is fixed; the methods are flexible.
As Carey Nieuwhof writes, “Agility is the new superpower. If you’re not pivoting, you’re not leading.” Along with our Covenant churches, conferences, and camps, we as a denominational team are learning how to become more agile. Through a distributed teams model, we are seeking to strengthen Covenant cohesion, build trust, increase the reciprocal flow of information, and bolster talent retention and acquisition.
L. Gregory Jones, the dean of Duke Divinity School, coined the term “traditioned innovation” in 2010. It is “a way of thinking and being that holds the past and future in tension, not in opposition (and) is crucial to the growth and vitality of Christian institutions.” This perspective is necessary to stay fresh, agile, nimble, effective, responsive, and financially sustainable.
We are listening to the Holy Spirit and to each other as we discern how to align the denominational team to best serve conferences and churches. We are pivoting for the sake of mission, just as First Covenant Church in Portland did many years ago.
Please be assured that as a Covenant pastor who has both the honor and the responsibility of serving as the ECC president, I am listening. Amid global disruption, pain, loss, and grief, we know we are still in it together, going deeper in Christ and further in mission.