Two Wary Pastors Tell Why They Joined the Covenant

Post a Comment » Written on November 13th, 2008     
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CHICAGO, IL (November 13, 2008) – Two Evangelical Covenant Church pastors are among eight ministers from different contexts who contribute articles to the current issue of Theology News & Notes that focuses on “Emerging Churches Within Denominational Structures.” Fuller Theological Seminary publishes the journal.

Phil Jackson, pastor of The House Covenant Church, and Eugene Cho, pastor of Quest Covenant Church, discuss why they and their church plants have found a home in the Covenant even though the ministers initially were wary of becoming part of any denomination.

The House is a unique partnership with Lawndale Community Church in Chicago that uses a hip-hop service to reach 500 to 600 teens and young adults. Quest is located in Seattle.

The relationship of emergent churches to larger denominations – and whether they are even compatible – has been a question receiving increasing attention. More people are claiming no denominational affiliation, and denominations can be wary of the new forms of worship and missional activity that – on the surface – seems to break from traditional means.

They were wary of denominations before becoming members of the Covenant.

Jackson and Cho were picked to write for the issue because of their work, which has been recognized in contexts outside the Covenant. The opening article in the journal states, “we invited individuals who are exploring emerging church within an historical tradition in a North American context. We searched the United States for the most compelling emerging experiments within denominational structures. We found eight savvy practitioners of change within these structures.”

Although they now are grateful for the relationship, Cho and Jackson say they were wary of denominations before becoming members of the Covenant.

“I was extremely disillusioned by what I perceived to be an unhealthy bureaucracy of the denominational and institutional network,” Cho writes in his article. “Did denominations exist to serve the local church or did churches exist to serve the denomination?”

Jackson’s experience growing up attending a denominational church in Kansas City, Missouri, left him with a strong distaste for denominations. They were only out to support themselves, he reasoned.

In the end it was the Covenant’s ethos . . . that drew the new multiethnic congregations.

On their journey to finding a place in the Covenant, the pastors had conversations with denominational leaders that expressed their doubts and hopes. In the end it was the Covenant’s ethos – which has guided the denomination since its founding by Swedish immigrants in 1885 – that drew the new multiethnic congregations in the 2000s.

Quest was not part of the Covenant when the local church was launched in 2001. Cho came to believe that the small part of the body needed to be part of something much larger.

Months of conversations with the Covenant followed. “We saw an opportunity not simply to be encouraged by the ECC in what we are doing, but an opportunity where our community church could impact and serve the denomination,” Cho says. “Simply, we saw an opportunity for relationship.”

He adds, “Their polity of giving both accountability and direction, and still giving space for freedom in ethos, culture, and expressions (are) particularly important to our urban, multiethnic, emerging, postmodern church,” Cho says.

Jackson also had to be convinced and did his research. “I sought out good friends who started new works in different cities and within the Covenant Church,” he writes. “I asked them pointed questions, hoping to prove my theory that denominations have done more to disassociate people from Christ than to truly bring them to faith in Christ.”

“The ECC has been willing to learn the what, why, when, and where of planting churches in new ministry models.”

Jackson’s theory fell apart, he writes. “Still, the more I talked to people, the more a partnership with Lawndale and the Covenant denomination seemed to be a perfect fit.”

Like Cho, Jackson writes in his article that the relationship between the local church and the denomination is one of mutuality. “The ECC has been willing to learn the what, why, when, and where of planting churches in new ministry models,” he explains. “We have learned from and valued each others’ insights through the process while seeking the will of God to awaken our culture to Christ.”

Jackson even writes, “I find that the values of the ECC denomination are similar to those of hip-hop culture. This is why I have felt at home within the denomination, and why it is the healthiest one to reach the culture – because of the connection with the movement of God.”

In his article, Jackson expands how hip-hop culture meshes well with Covenant values: “evangelical but not exclusive,” “biblical over the doctrinal,” “congregational but not independent,” and “traditional but not rigid.” Click here to order a copy of Jackson’s book on hip-hop culture and the church.

John Notehelfer, interim executive minister of the Department of Church Growth and Evangelism, expressed his appreciation for the work of the pastors and others in the denomination, which he says is “gladly embracing” them.

Although some people in the denomination share a wariness of the new churches that equals the pastors’ initial concerns, Notehelfer says substance is more important than style.

He refers to author Dan Kimball, who has said, “The most important questions about the emerging church are not what the worship gatherings look like, what the music is like or whether the name of the church is different and cool.  The most important question is what theology is behind what is happening in emerging churches.”

Notehelfer, who is a former superintendent of the Pacific Southwest Conference, says the denomination and churches are good for each other. “In both of these stories what attracted these keen missional pastors to the ECC is our sound biblical and theological positioning that focuses on going deeper in Christ and further in mission,” he says.

“These young leaders seek to find the stability of an alert spiritual home base,” Notehelfer adds. “At the same time they welcome our willingness to be risk-takers with them for the sake of seeing more and more lost and hurting people found and healed in the name of Christ.”

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