Big Things for God? Try Little Things for People

Post a Comment » Written on December 15th, 2009     
Filed under: News
By Gary Walter

CHICAGO, IL (December 15, 2009) – One year into my position as president of the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC), I am more convinced than ever of this biblical principle: doing big things for a big God is merely the accumulation of little things done for people.

I have seen firsthand the big things we are doing in partnership with the Hindustani Covenant Church among sex-trade workers in India. But it comes down to people who are willing to babysit the children of prostitutes while their mothers work in new alternate employment.

CHICI have seen firsthand the big response of students at CHIC as hundreds of teenagers poured onto the arena floor to commit their lives to Christ. But rest assured that it was the fruit of sleep-deprived youth pastors and volunteers who had already poured themselves into the lives of students all week long, all year long, even all high school long.

I have seen firsthand the great relief it is to families to know their adult handicapped children or siblings are in a caring, professional setting in our network of group homes known as Covenant Enabling Residences. But know it comes down in certain cases to staff members who change adult diapers for those who cannot care for themselves.

Doing big things for a big God is ultimately, and merely, the accumulation of countless faithful acts carried out by faithful people. That is why I am so proud of the ECC – our congregations, clergy, lay people, and denominational and conference leaders. We have an abundance of people who understand what it means to serve with obedience, humility, and a servant heart. And that’s why we are seeing an abundant harvest in service to God.

The scope and scale of our missional momentum is real. Hundreds of thousands of real people in real places are impacted every single day all over the world through this partnership we call the Evangelical Covenant Church. But as I recount some of the markers of our collective momentum this past year, in your mind’s eye imagine all of the faithful personal efforts that have gone into each one:

ordain•    Attendance grew for the 17th consecutive year, up a strong six percent. We are touching more lives with the hope of Christ than at any other point in our history.
•    Twenty people were commissioned for missionary service at the 2009 Annual Meeting, the largest number in many years. That group includes four long-term missionaries, the first we have sent out following a six-year gap.
•    Twenty church plants were initiated – on average, one every two to three weeks. Sixty-nine church plants are under development. One-half of churches being planted are among populations of color or intentionally multiethnic. As a result, the percentage of diversity in the ECC has risen again. Twenty-four percent of all congregations are among populations of color or intentionally multiethnic.
•    Seminars offered by Covenant Offices served 330 churches.
•    Following four successive years of modest decline, the base of established churches in the aggregate showed full stability with no combined loss in attendance.
•    Nearly 900 individual pastors have benefited from the Sustaining Pastoral Excellence initiative aimed at investing in vocational development for those in ministry.
•    More than 5,000 people attended this summer’s CHIC – our youth convention – which once again powerfully challenged students to live deeply rooted in Christ.
•    Thirty-one projects were supported through Covenant World Relief, directed to the poorest of the poor around the world.
•    More than $33 million in free care was provided by Covenant Ministries of Benevolence through our hospitals, retirement communities, and enabling residencies.
•    Paul Carlson Partnership received a $658,000 grant to develop micro-enterprise projects in Congo.
•    More than $300,000 has been donated to the Break the Chains initiative to combat human trafficking.
•    North Park University weathered a campus flood and graduated one of the largest classes in history. North Park Theological Seminary saw the highest incoming class in five years this fall.
•    Covenant Trust Company and National Covenant Properties had exceptional results in an exceptionally challenging economic environment.

BaptismQuite simply, we are countering most trends facing denominations today. We are growing – growing more diverse, growing more in conscience, and growing more aware of the world.

And looking ahead? Signs point to continued strong momentum. Early indications for our 125th Annual Meeting next June point to an unprecedented number of new churches, an unprecedented number of people to be commissioned for missionary service, and an unprecedented number of clergy ordinations. Indications also point to the annual attendance survey showing growth for the 18th consecutive year.

But those same dynamics of momentum create a new set of challenges. Growth makes the bonds of cohesion and identity more difficult. Systems and structures designed for a smaller ECC are strained. Living into the promise of an authentic multiethnic fellowship requires a multidimensional approach. Globally, a much smaller world generates a whole new set of opportunities and calibrations. Financial challenges are present.

All of this means this is a critical time to clarify and crystallize our mission going forward. In recent meetings with the Executive Board, Covenant administrators, and regional conference leadership, I described my vision for our work. I believe it is language that is biblically rooted, authentic to our history, and compelling for our future:

From our inception we have been in it together to see: more disciples among more populations in a more caring and just world.

More disciples refers to our commitment to both the new and ever-deepening life in Christ, the continuum of both evangelism and discipleship.

Among more populations refers to both our global commitment and to being more reflective of the entire kingdom of God right here at home.

In a more caring and just world speaks to the heart of Christ for the hurting and vulnerable, a long-standing commitment of the ECC.

If you want to know what I am about, it is advancing that very mission while bridging to the future generationally, multiethnically, and structurally.

CongoAnd so you can see that these are days of great import. I am frequently asked, “How can we be supportive?” Let me identify five specific ways:

1.    Pray for the hundreds of thousands of people we are impacting each week all over the world.
2.    Pray for ECC and regional conference personnel who serve faithfully to advance our collective mission.
3.    Live out in your own setting what it means to see more disciples among more populations in a more caring and just world. Ask your own congregation, “Are we living the full dimensionality of the whole gospel?”
4.    Determine whether your congregation’s financial support is up to date for both the ECC and your regional conference as we approach year-end. Your personal financial support would also be deeply appreciated. The opportunities are great, and so are the financial challenges.
5.    Make plans to attend our 125th Annual Meeting next June 24-27 in St. Paul, Minnesota.

When we stop and examine the name Evangelical Covenant Church, we can see that it really means “in it together.” The “it” is our first name – the evangel, the entirety of the good news. We are in it together to go deeper in Christ and further in mission, to live with God and for God.

Thank you for being in it together. After all, no life-changing, kingdom-changing impact ever happens that is not merely the accumulation of faithful people faithfully pursuing Christ’s priorities in the world. That is who we are at our best. That’s who you are at your best.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the December 2009 issue of The Covenant Companion. The accompanying photos – a representative sample of some of the topics mentioned in this article – appeared in previously published Covenant News Service online articles. They include (descending order:) students packing food during CHIC, ordination during this year’s annual meeting, a baptism in Thailand, and World Mission Executive Minister Curt Peterson with some of his young friends in Congo.

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