The Committee on Administration (COA) report—Strategies for Transfer to Transformation—at the 34th General Assembly in Knoxville, Tennessee, was presented on Thursday, June 19. Representing the COA were by EPC Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah; Teaching Elder Dean Weaver (Alleghenies); Ruling Elder Scott Griffin (Pacific); and Teaching Elder Bill Enns (Mid-Atlantic).
Jeremiah began by reminding the Assembly that he told the 2013 Assembly in Denver that it was time for the EPC to move from a time of transfer growth to transformation growth, and that the concept has resonated well throughout the denomination. However, the challenge is to articulate that as a movement now that there are more than 500 churches in the denomination. He said that the COA did not want to build a bureaucracy at the national level. “We believe Jesus is calling us to do something else, and that is what we will present today.”
He described the understanding of the term “mission” as a statement of “who we are,” and read the EPC mission statement: “The EPC exists to carry out the Great Commission of Jesus as a denomination of Presbyterian, Reformed, evangelical, and missional congregations.” He noted that this statement is how the EPC has defined itself for past six years, and serves as a starting point for next steps.
Dean Weaver then took the podium and talked about the difference between statements of mission and statements of vision. “Mission is a statement of being,” he said. “Who we are.” He noted that Jesus is the missio Dei, the mission of God, and as Jesus dwells in us we become the mission of God to the world.
“If ‘who we are’ is God’s mission to the world, then what does that look like, and how will we know when we’ve arrived there? Those are questions of vision.”
Explaining that vision is a “clear, compelling, preferred future of what God would give us and lead us to be,” Weaver referenced a relevant translation of Proverbs 29:18, “where there is no revelation, people wander unrestrained.”
“This is not about us trying to come up with something clever; this is about discerning what God is revealing in our midst and seeking to follow after Him.”
He then read the proposed vision statement for the EPC: “To the glory of God, the EPC aspires to be a global movement of congregations engaged together in God’s mission through transformation, multiplication, and effective biblical leadership, embodying Jesus’ love to our neighbors near and far.
Noting this this statement is just the beginning of an articulation of what that preferred future might look like, he expounded on six phrases:
- To the glory of God. “We don’t want to do anything unless it brings Him the glory.”
- Global movement. “It’s already happening. You see it in World Outreach and Engage 2025; there are so many initiatives. And there are churches around the globe that are seeing what God is doing in the EPC and saying, ‘we would like to be a part of what God is doing through you!’”
- Engaged together. “That’s a way of saying, ‘we’re Presbyterian, we mean it, and we like it.’ We believe we are stronger together than apart, and we need one another.”
- Transformation. “That’s what this statement is all about. It’s not enough to say that all these churches are transferring to us. We are talking about being transformed as God does that work of renewal in our body.”
- Multiplication. “We are not just talking about the Great Commission; we are talking about the cultural mandate of ‘be fruitful and multiply.’ We are called to be fruitful and multiply.”
- Effective biblical leadership. “We have those words together purposefully; we don’t think they are mutually exclusive of one another. We think we can be effective, biblical leaders just as our Savior was.”
- Embodying Jesus’ love to our neighbors near and far. “That’s in our mission statement. That’s who we are.”
Weaver then told the there are some ongoing strategies that are occurring in the EPC that indicate that this vision statement is something that God is already doing.
- Develop and implement a church planting strategy. “It’s already happening, and not just in our Presbyteries—there are churches, individuals, and clusters of churches that are planting.
- Revise education and equipping of ministers. “Last year at our Assembly we commissioned a group to look at this idea of credentialing and ordination, and how we can serve congregations on the front lines.”
- Engage unreached people groups around the world. “World Outreach and Engage 2025 are already doing this, and many of you have joined and partnered in that.”
While these three portions of the vision are already occurring, he noted that there are a number of areas in which fully developed strategies do not exist.
Griffin then spoke about four additional strategies, but first described the process of how the vision statement was developed. The first step was discerning where God is leading the EPC as a denomination. The second step was identifying gaps between where the EPC is today and where it would like to be. The third step was addressing strategies that would bridge those gaps. The final step was to reduce two pages of strategies to the four that should have priority. He then explained the four areas of emphasis.
- Promote and resource church planting. “This looks familiar, but we wrote it as new strategy because of the word ‘resource.’ What would happen if money wasn’t an issue when we look at church planting?”
- Promote and resource church revitalization. “We have churches in the EPC that have flat membership or are declining. How can we come alongside those pastors and elders, and do we have best practices? We need to have the same amount of passion about church revitalization as we do about church planting.”
- Create a structure suitable for a global movement. He noted that the EPC is already becoming global, with churches and affiliations on three continents. “What should our denomination look like in three years? Is having presbyteries outside the United States the most effective way for us to seek out God’s mission for us as a denomination?”
- Create a leadership development approach. “I like to think of this as ‘what is our nurturing strategy for ruling and teaching elders?’” He emphasized that pastors who get their first lead pastor opportunity need to be mentored and nurtured by people who have been there and know what the challenges are going to be.
Griffin concluded by noting that the four priorities don’t look like new strategies because “it is evidence that the vision statement is solid and is coming from God.”
Bill Enns then talked about the leadership development strategy in greater depth, emphasizing that the desire is not to have a top-down approach, but broad-based participation and that a number of groups have already had input into the vision statement.
He also said that the EPC wants to be a global movement rather than a static institution, noting that a movement has a vision, a purpose, and a goal while an institution is only concerned with preserving itself. “Because of that, we have to come up with appropriate strategies to help us become the movement that we say we want to be.”
Enns then described the three questions the COA asked as they developed the vision statement.
- What kind of congregation do we want the EPC to be at the local level?
- What kind of Presbytery facilitates that kind of congregation?
- What kind of General Assembly-level resources that kind of presbytery and congregation need in order that we might become the people that God created us to be?
He reported that the COA determined the most significant area of growth and the most important entry point into the EPC leadership process is the local congregation. He pointed out that being engaged together means that the preferred future has to be “in identifying leaders for the church of Jesus Christ—and that is a congregational moment. Every other court in the Presbyterian system is ruled by people who are identified at the local level.”
He continued by describing some gaps in leadership development that currently exist at the local, presbytery, and General Assembly levels.
At the local level, a current weakness in leadership development is a tendency for candidates for office in the church to self-identify. He said that is not always bad, because “we do believe in the internal call.” However, he stressed that each candidate must be vetted by a discerning body of Christ.
“Let me remind you,” Enns emphasized, “that the primary duty of an elder is to represent the mind of Christ. And I also want to remind you that that is together, not alone.”
A second concern at the local level is for the Session as a group and for Ruling Elders individually to operate from a stance of true spiritual leadership, and not simply as a board of directors. “The default position in every organization—I don’t care what it is—is to do the stuff that’s in front of you and lose sight of the mission. When that happens, you get lots of rules and very little action. So we want elders to be identified as spiritual leaders.”
As an example, he noted that the terms teaching elder, ruling elder, and especially stated clerk do not communicate the mission of the EPC. He stressed that it should be “crystal clear about what God has called us to do, so that the world understands. Our mission field is the world, and how they perceive us is more important than anything else.”
At the Presbytery level, the preferred future is that pastors are cared for. Currently, the responsibility for pastoral care of pastors is irregular.
At the General Assembly level, he said it is important that leadership development is resourced, and not directed. “We believe the mission of God in the world has a church, and the church needs to organize itself in such a way that it deploys spiritually mature, vibrant, vital people for the sake of the world.”
Enns concluded by restating the goal of deploying congregations that are fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ, Presbyteries that build that kind of congregation, and a General Assembly Office that resources to the greater glory of God.
Jeremiah then recapped items that are already in progress—church planting, church revitalization, and ministerial education, and outlined five important expectations going forward.
The first is that the COA will engage with both Teaching Elders and Ruling Elders. “It’s imperative that we engage together in this as leaders in God’s church,” he said, noting that a number of groups are already involved—including the Next Generation Leaders (Teaching Elders under age 40, of which there are more than 185 in the EPC).
A second expectation is that it is to be a dynamic process. “This is not an event; it is a process.”
A third is to assign and expect accountability. “That’s part of what it means to be a connectional church, connected together as brothers and sisters in Christ.”
The fourth expectation is to utilize existing resources and funding. Jeremiah emphasized that because the COA, as the Session of the EPC, has not built a bureaucracy at the national level of the church over the past seven years, “we have the financial resources available to fund these strategic opportunities.”
The final expectation Jeremiah declared was that the COA will provide updates on Strategies for Transfer to Transformation at future General Assembly meetings.
He concluded by stating that he welcomes any and all ideas or comments, which can be sent to email@example.com.
“Transfer to transformation—this is what we believe our future is in Jesus Christ, trusting the Lord Himself will lead us and He will empower us. We will be in touch, as together we proceed into this future we believe He has for us.”