The General Superintendent’s Call to Action to the Annual Conferences
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
For I am not ashamed of the good news, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
In June 2018, The Evangelical Church will be fifty years old. This marks a great milestone in our history. I am sure there were times in the early days people wondered if the denomination would survive. However, through God’s faithfulness and the faithfulness and perseverance of many people we have survived. Anytime people or an organization approach a milestone anniversary there is usually a time of looking back and looking forward. Over the next several months leading up to the 50th anniversary celebration there will be an article each month in the OnMISSION Newsletter looking back at stories from our history. Therefore, I want to take this opportunity to look ahead. I want to suggest a future which is more than survival, but one which engages us to be a part of the mission of Jesus to bring God’s kingdom to earth.
A Movement of Disciple-Making Churches
My desire is for The Evangelical Church (TEC) to be a movement of disciple-making churches. This means that every church is committed to building disciples, who through the power of the Holy Spirit have been recreated in the image of Christ in true righteousness and holiness, live holy lives according to all the kingdom values that Jesus Christ taught, and continue His mission to bring His kingdom to earth. I believe this to be consistent with the mandate of Jesus given to the church as His body upon the earth. I believe it is consistent with our ecclesiastical heritage. And, I believe it is consistent with the stated purpose for the denomination as approved by all the conferences last year:
The purpose of The Evangelical Church is to glorify God by proclaiming to all people the gospel of salvation from all sin in this life through faith in Jesus Christ so that people might be transformed to live the Great Commandment and fulfill the Great Commission.
However, there are three indispensable elements needed to be a movement. First, there must be a common cause around which we rally. Secondly, there must be a body (a significant amount of people) working together for the fulfillment of the cause. Thirdly, there must be the realization of goals leading to the fulfillment of the cause. So, what would these three things look like if TEC were a movement of disciple-making churches?
Our cause is not something we freely determine on our own. Our cause is discovered in scripture. This is because we recognize the church to be the body of Christ. The church, through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, is the physical presence of Jesus on earth to continue the mission His Father gave to Him. That mission is to bring God’s kingdom to earth. In the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the kingdom of God has been launched on the earth. The mission of the church is to work along with Christ through the Spirit to establish that kingdom on earth. We are to do this through making disciples. Through disciples baptized with the Holy Spirit and living according to kingdom values as taught by Christ, God’s kingdom is established on earth. This is how God is glorified as the one true God and King of all. This is our cause; live as Christ’s body to establish His kingdom on earth through making disciples.
A movement must have a body of people working toward the fulfillment of the cause. In TEC, this would mean every church committed to the cause. If we are to be a movement of disciple-making churches, then not only do we need a significant number of churches committed to this cause, but we need every church committed to this cause. We need to say this is the one thing that we all do. A church cannot claim to be a part of a movement of disciple-making churches if it is not making disciples. If TEC declares that we want to be a movement of disciple-making churches, then every church that says it is a part of TEC must be making disciples.
Very seldom, if ever, do movements get from where they are to the fulfillment of their cause in one step. The path to the fulfillment of the cause is the realization of intermediate goals. The realization of these intermediate goals moves the body closer towards fulfilling the cause and provides the needed energy for the body to be a movement.
A goal toward which we must work if we are to make disciples is people being converted. Converts are essential to disciple-making. Conversion is the step people take from not being a disciple of Jesus to being a disciple of Jesus. Conversion, as explained in Colossians 1:13-14, is being released from the domain of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of Jesus through redemption and the forgiveness of sins. Without this step people cannot be disciples of Jesus. Therefore, if every church is going to a part of a disciple-making movement then every church must see people converted to be disciples of Jesus.
Is The Evangelical Church a Movement Disciple-making Churches?
While there are churches within our denomination which are making disciples and are seeing significant numbers of conversions, what do the numbers tell us about our denomination as a whole? Let’s just look at two statistics from the 2015 conference statistical reports. These numbers are based upon the report of 104 churches. (That means we did not receive numbers from a little over 20 churches. However, looking at the numbers from those churches in the past they would not have significantly changed the percentages from 2015.) These numbers are not anomalies. They are consistent with the numbers over the last several years. The reason I picked these two statistics is because I believe they are directly related to being a disciple-making movement. I consider both these things to be essential in the process of making disciples. I also chose them because they are two things that both verbally and in written form, in our Discipline, we say are vitally important to us.
I understand the difficulties in interpreting statistics, especially when it comes to measuring spiritual results. However, it seems to me that over time if our results are consistent then it says something about who we are. In my opinion, when the largest percentage of churches report 0 conversions, almost 50% report 0-2 conversions, 65% report averaging less than .5 conversions a month, and you average less than 1 sanctification per church per year, then I do not think according to our behavior you can legitimately say TEC is a movement of disciple-making churches.
How do we create a movement of disciple-making churches? Where do we go from here?
First Step: Change the Culture
Every organization over time develops a unique culture. The culture of an organization, such as the local church, flows from our values, priorities, and behaviors. An organization’s culture is the sum total of these things. Over time the results an organization is getting is determined by its culture. Therefore, if we are not consistently seeing people converted and sanctified, two vital elements in the process of disciple-making, then we are not consistently making disciples. And, if we do not consistently make disciples, then we do not have a disciple-making culture. Therefore, the first step to becoming a disciple-making movement is to change the culture.
To begin changing the culture we must admit to the current culture. My evaluation of our denominational culture based upon my 21 years of pastoral experience and 15 years of superintendent experience is that we have a culture of low expectation. We do not expect people in any significant numbers to be converted and become disciples of Jesus. We have little or no expectation that believers will or can be sanctified (If we even know what that means anymore.). We have a culture where very little corporate intercession on behalf of the lost is taking place. We have a culture where there is no accountability for making or not making disciples. (The fact that we have low expectations of significant numbers of conversions probably influences our aversion to hold people accountable in this area.) Therefore, I do not believe we have a disciple-making culture.
I believe, for various reasons, we have developed a culture where it is legitimate to call ourselves followers of Jesus and yet not do the thing He commissioned and empowered us to do. I believe we have a culture that has succumbed to the belief and behavior that the best we can do is avoid evil so we can get to heaven and maybe, hopefully, take a few with us. We have lost a victorious mentality that the power of Christ through the Holy Spirit is greater than the power of sin and evil. We must change this culture. We must begin this change in prayer. I believe there are two specific things for which we need to ask God.
- We need to ask for fresh encounters with God that radically transform our thinking and behavior. We need encounters with God akin to Moses at the burning bush, Elijah on the mountain hearing the “still small voice” of God, Isaiah in the temple beholding God’s glory, the disciple’s personal encounters with Jesus, Paul’s Damascus road encounter, and John’s encounter with Jesus in the book of Revelation. We need transforming encounters that give us a new perspective of Jesus and our mission. We need transforming encounters that radically transform our false notion that we can be a disciple of Jesus and not be working to make disciples. We need a transforming encounter that changes our behavior from just surviving in this evil world to being more than conquerors through the power and authority of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
These cultural transforming encounters must start by seeking God in prayer. Jeremiah 29:11-14a provides model for us to follow:
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord…
God has plans for TEC, but those plans will only be discovered after we first seek and find God. We need to whole-heartedly want a transforming encounter with God that changes the way we think and the way we behave. We need personally and corporately, to humble ourselves before God and seek a new fresh life-changing encounter with Him that provides the foundation upon which we change our denominational culture. Therefore, I believe our first request is to humbly, prayerfully, and whole-heartedly ask God for a fresh encounter with Jesus.
- We need to ask for Spirit-filled disciples.The writer Luke records both in his gospel and the book of Acts Jesus’ command for the disciples not to depart Jerusalem until they had been baptized with the Holy Spirit. The importance of the baptism of the Holy Spirit to the success of the church in fulfilling its mission is seen in the force of Jesus command, “stay in Jerusalem until.” He means, “sit down and don’t move.” This was a command not a suggestion. This should tell us that without the Spirit’s anointing upon the church we will fail in our mission. The key to the early church’s success in making disciples can be accounted for in these four elements: Spirit-baptized disciples, Spirit-led intercessory prayer, Spirit-empowered proclamation, and Spirit-anointed development.
We must seek God for the baptism and fullness of the Holy Spirit. This can no longer be considered an option, but must be considered a necessity. In prayer, we need to specifically ask for this work of God in our own heart and in the entire church. Jesus promised in Luke 11:9-13 that the Father would give the Spirit to those who persistently ask, seek, and knock. Therefore, I believe our second request is for the baptism and infilling of the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, our first step to being a disciple-making movement is prayer seeking God for fresh transforming encounters with Him and for the fullness of His Holy Spirit.
Second Step: Commit to the Cause
If we are to be a movement of disciple-making churches, then we must be committed to a cause. Our cause is:
Live as the body of Christ to establish God’s kingdom on earth through making disciples.
Together all our churches, pastors, and lay people must commit to this one cause. This must be priority number one. Everything we do should contribute to fulfilling this mission. To be a movement we need every pastor, lay member, and church whole-heartedly committed to this cause.
Commitment to the cause means that we will begin doing what is needed to move us toward the ultimate goal of being a disciple-making movement. In my opinion, if we are going to start toward that goal we need to first see a dramatic increase in the number of converts in our churches. You cannot make disciples without converts. Therefore, I am proposing that we adopt a WILDLY IMPORTANT GOAL! A wildly important goal is an intermediate goal needed to move the movement toward the fulfillment of its ultimate goal. It is wildly important because it addresses an immediate and necessary element in fulfilling your ultimate goal. A significant number of converts in each church is an intermediate goal that is needed to move us toward our ultimate goal. The WILDLY IMPORTANT GOAL I want us to pursue is:
1 x 1 x 1
One convert through each church every month!
How can we do this? I believe there are three elements which God consistently blesses leading to the conversion of the lost. They are prayer, obedience, and witnessing. Therefore, I propose that we endeavor to engage the disciples in our churches in the following behaviors;
“He always lives to make intercession for them.”
Disciples need to daily come alongside Jesus in His intercessory prayer ministry for the lost.
“Follow Me and I will make you fishers of people.”
Disciples need to daily, through the leading of the Holy Spirit, follow Jesus to pursue the lost and share the Good News.
“You will be my witnesses…”
Disciples need to say Jesus is Lord. Say He is Savior. Say He is Messiah. Say what He has done for them.
Can you imagine the change in the culture of our churches if everyone who professes to be a disciple of Jesus was engaged in these three behaviors? Don’t you think God would respond with an outpouring of His Spirit and the number of converts entering the kingdom of God through our churches would increase?
Therefore, I am calling on our pastors and the disciples of Jesus in each local Evangelical Church to take the following steps:
Beginning in July 2017, people in each local Evangelical Church begin praying daily for:
A new fresh transforming encounter with Jesus that changes the way we see Him and our mission.
The baptism and infilling of the Holy Spirit.
Determine for the glory of God and the advancement of His kingdom in your communities to pursue the goal of:
1 x 1 x 1 = One Convert through Each Church Every Month!
That December 2017 be dedicated as Based upon the “good news” announcement of the angel in Luke 2:10 we dedicate this month as a denominational wide month of fasting and prayer for:
God to glorify His name through every Evangelical Church in 2018.
God to help every disciple to proclaim the Good News in their community.
God to grant to us one convert through each church every month.
2. Beginning in January 2018 each disciple of Jesus in each local Evangelical Church will commit to:
3. We report at General Conference in 2018, as we celebrate our 50th anniversary and being “People of the Good News,” progress toward fulfilling our and tell stories of conversions.
4. At our 2018 Denominational Board Meeting we evaluate the progress of our churches toward this goal and determine what we might be able to do help churches struggling to meet the goal.
Jesus ends the Great Commission with this promise, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” I believe this promise includes more than Him just being near to us. I believe it His declaration to provide whatever resources we need to accomplish this mission. He became a human being and gave His life to bring God’s kingdom to earth. All authority on earth has been given to Him to accomplish His mission. Why would He now withhold anything we needed to do the mission He has committed to us?
May the Father pour out the Holy Spirit upon us to transform and mobilize us on the mission of Jesus Christ!
Humbly and prayerfully submitted,
Rev. Brian Eckhardt
While many people object to measuring spiritual results, it is interesting to me that the writer of Acts somehow knew how many people were saved on the day of Pentecost- 3,000, how many believed in Acts 4- 5,000, and that the Lord was adding daily those being saved-Acts 2:47.