Under The "Big Tent"
This summer Immanuel officially became an active affiliate of the Evangelical Covenant Church. It was a really big deal for us. The process was sometimes straightforward and easy, but other times fragile and halting. If it were a dance, sometimes it was wonderfully rhythmic, but sometimes it was clumsy with a generous portion of stepping on toes. Ok, before I write another word, let me say out loud that now that we are “in” we are unequivocally delighted and wonder why we waited so long, but…
Since our church decided to affiliate with the Evangelical Covenant Church, I’ve been asked many times what were the elements that contributed to our decision.
I have never been in a denomination in all of the years that I’ve been a pastor. That’s 33 years. I always have called myself a reluctant bachelor. Every time I would get close to considering a denomination, metaphorically, as we approached the altar I would get cold feet and make a run for it. Suffice it to say that the journey into denominational life has been cautious (understatement). Now, however, since we have made the jump and become fully affiliated, I think I can reflect on a couple of the reasons why we ended up with the ECC.
- Let me begin by saying the decision to affiliate with a denomination began on a personal level. When we started imagining what it might be like to join a denomination, one of the first groups we chose to check out was the ECC. The reason was because of my friendship with Al Tizon, who is the director of “Serve Globally” for the Covenant. Way before Al was the executive minister for the Cov’s global mission initiative, like 37 years before, Al and I met in college and became best friends (actually, he wanted to be my friend because I was on the basketball team and he loved sports). Though we have never lived in the same city since then, we have maintained a close friendship that has evolved into a lifetime partnership. I consider him one of my best friends in the world. That being said, at almost every transition in my life, Al would call and talk to me about joining the Covenant. He had always contended that I was a Covenant pastor that just hadn’t discovered his home yet. So, when we did conclude that we were going to join a denomination, it made sense that we would evaluate the possibility of becoming a Covenant Church.
- Another core reason was my need for relational honesty. Most groups I have been close to or heard about publically states that they value community. The fact of the matter is though (IMHO), as I’ve examined other groups that value is not necessarily embodied. When we first began to assess the ECC, I visited one of their national conventions (Mid-Winter) and if I can be completely candid, I was blown away by how embracing the community was. I was a literally a stranger wandering around like a lost puppy and was engaged over and over again by people simply curious about me, actually wanting to get to know me. It was like a breath of fresh air, and I was warmly astonished by how they lived out that value.
- Third, in our minds, whatever group we were to connect with would have to have a serious dedication to church planting. Because of my history and apostolic calling, church planting is in many ways close to an obsession. Church planting is the mission song I wake up singing and lay my head down thinking about. As I evaluated the ECC, I realized that planting churches was not just aspirational. It was a firm commitment to extend the Gospel into the world through multiplying congregations. It was demonstrated in leadership, it showed up in upfront language, and it was manifested in a commitment to utilize resources to catalyze new churches all over the country. I loved that about them. I hope to partner with the larger group in many ways into the future.
- On the theological level, the ECC is what I call a “Big Tent” evangelical group. It is evangelicalism at its best. For me, that means that they hold to core evangelical positions, such as a high view of Scripture and unflinchingly to the efficacious work of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection without surrendering the center to more tertiary issues. In many ways, the concept of evangelicalism has been reduced to a theological framework that leaves little elbow room for grappling with the issues of the day. Also, sadly, the term has been co-opted into a “right or left” political discussion. This is quite an unfortunate happening. In some ways the term has fallen on hard times. It seems, however, that the ECC has, for the most part, avoided these pitfalls, held fast to what is foundational and good in evangelicalism, at least to the degree that our community can comfortably reside under its leadership.
- Lastly, I was attracted to the denomination’s commitment to racial righteousness (and to a larger degree areas of justice toward all marginalized groups). The denomination as a whole has matured in a commitment to be a multi-ethnic community (think Revelation 7). Though that concept is currently an idea talked about in most streams of the church, particularly in light of the growing racial tension we are all experiencing in the US, for me and them, it is not just a social issue, but Gospel. With that in view, the ECC adopted a firm and concrete determination to become a multi-ethnic group years ago, before it was a “sexy” idea for others. Everybody is trying to figure this issue out, and from my humble perspective, the ECC is in real terms substantially ahead of the curve. This is of vital importance to me and incredibly significant for our community here in Spokane.
Me being invited into fellowship this last summer in Detroit
I have been a part of the church long enough to realize that there are no perfect groups, including the one that I am privileged to pastor, but for us looking for a missional running partner, we feel honored to be on the journey with “The Cov!”