This week, I thought it would be good to share with you a slightly adapted version of the verbal report I shared at our ECC Annual Meeting on January 23. If you would rather watch my report, you can click here or on the button at the end of the article.
Spiritual Leadership, Inc.
We have been walking with our coach and consultant, Christin Nevins, and Spiritual Leadership, Inc. for a year now. And in that time, a lot has happened—more than I would have thought possible. A lot has happened in me, as I’ve shared often. A lot has happened in my staff and in our council. And I believe a lot is happening—and is yet to happen—in ECC as a whole, all of it good!
The first Saturday in January, Christin Nevins met with council and walked us through the year and what we have accomplished together. Then she asked us all some questions. The overall question was, “What do you hope to see as a result of our work together?” And then under that were three qualifiers: “…in yourself as a spiritual leader… in council and staff… and in ECC as a whole?”
The general theme of the answers around the room in terms of what we hope for the whole of ECC was about excitement, energy, passion, and a new sense of direction and vision. My answer for ECC, council, and staff was the same. To the question, “What do you hope to see as a result of our work together in council and staff, and in ECC as a whole?”, I answered with one word: Joy.
It seems to me that it is joy that will create the energy for all that we hope for. Joy will mobilize our faith and hopes and dreams. It will increase our excitement and passion for the mission and for our church community, and it will be contagious. People will come to Christ and, hopefully, make ECC their home, when they see the joy of our people playing out in the community—the joy of the Lord will be our strength!
And one of the things that gives me great joy right now is seeing how God is leading us in our vision and strategy for the future, and in knitting us together as a team.
The Top Three Strategic Initiatives for 2022
When I came back from sabbatical, I very quickly developed a list of several things that were important for us in the year to come. That list morphed a bit and a couple of things were added, but the basics of the list are still in play. In my written report, I identify five things, but there are three that need special attention and prayer. This is not to say that anything at ECC is unimportant, but that these things are key for our future in a different way—in terms of timing and emphasis.
Before I jump into the top three, I want to make note of those other two areas that are important and need to be done, as well. The first is the revision of our ECC bylaws to better reflect who we are and to enable us to be nimbler and more responsive in our mission. Ron Smith is currently leading that team and they are plowing along at a good pace.
The second area is the rebooting of our Men’s Ministry Team and the ministry, itself. To be sure, there has continued to be some good ministry going on over the last couple of years, but we are now intentionally reconvening a leadership team and moving forward. On January 22, we had the breakfast and announced our men’s retreat speaker, Chris Croyts. We are also planning to start some men’s small groups in the very near future. I am a part of that leadership team, but Pastor Kurt is now leading it.
When it comes to the three strategic initiatives that we need to win at in 2022, they are:
- To search for and call a successful Pastor of Young Adults.
- To develop a Congregational Care Team.
- To redevelop and reinvigorate a flourishing small groups ministry, now to be known as “Life Groups”.
The one that needs very little commentary from me right now is the search process for a Pastor of Young Adults. The committee has met twice. The job description has been posted on the Covenant’s web site and on our website. If you want to read the job description, you can find it by clicking here.
Pastors Kurt, Kristin, and I also posted the job description at the Covenant Midwinter Conference we attended this past week, as well. For now, we wait and pray, and we invite you to join us.
Congregational Care Team
Second: Congregational Care. Just before the pandemic, the deacons had launched a revisioning process. They perhaps met once or twice, and then, with the pandemic, things changed. Given the challenges of the time, nothing more happened. Basically, for nearly two years we’ve had a nonfunctioning diaconate.
Then, in the fall, after months of reflection, discussion, and prayer between pastors and Stephen Ministry leaders, we ended Stephen Ministry. There were several reasons we did so, all of which were listed during a prayer time in worship in the fall. We gave thanks for that ministry and laid it to rest. We prayed for Stephen Ministry leaders and for those who had received care from them.
But we always believed that out of these two deaths—Stephen Ministry and the Diaconate—a powerful resurrection was a real possibility. We’ve now had three meetings with Kelli Holland and Janet Van Buskirk of Stephen Ministry, as well as Kurt Kincanon, Kristin Mueller, Kate Cogswell, and me, and we have some real hope for a great model of Congregational Care. If congregational care is something you are passionate about or are intrigued by, then we invite you to join us for a conversation about these things on Wednesday, February 23, from 7:00-8:30pm, in the Great Room.
Life Groups Ministry
Third: Life Groups. Shortly after I returned from Sabbatical, I began a sermon series called, Deeper Water. I preached the first of those sermons on Sunday, August 29. In that sermon, among other things, I identified Transformation as key for everything we do at, in, and through ECC. If we are not transformed and ever-transforming, we will not be our best in the other two ECC Touchstones of Welcome and Presence.
While Pastors and Directors were away for a two-day prayer and planning retreat in September, we prayerfully identified community and connection as key for spiritual formation. In particular, we sensed the Spirit leading us to revision and revive small groups at ECC.
Since then, we have landed on the name, Life Groups, and we have been working with our SLI coach to develop a strategy. We realized that when it comes to our mission, To become a community of people who know God, follow Jesus, and pursue God’s purposes in the world, and the role of our ECC Touchstones of Welcome, Transformation, and Presence, Life Groups will be key.
If we were to create a VIN diagram of our Touchstones, Life Groups effectively model, nourish, and are nourished by all three, and they sit in the overlap, the intersection of the three Touchstones, which I envision as an adaptation of the Celtic symbol for the Trinity:
Life Groups sit at the center of Welcome, Transformation, and Presence.
We have done some work on where we currently stand in small group involvement and we think, realistically, we have about 75 people currently involved in small groups. Borrowing from the language of the book, The Four Disciplines of Execution (4DX), our Wildly Important Goal—fully embraced and supported by all pastors and directors—is:
To go from 75 to 150 people actively involved
in Life Groups by September 30, 2022.
We have a strategy to move forward, which you will hear about as we go.
The first part of the strategy is all about Life Group Leaders and potential leaders. If you are currently leading a small group, have led one in the past, or if you are interested in leading a Life Group in the future, we invite you to watch for an invitation to a Life Group Leaders’ Visioning Conversation in the Spring. We are nailing down the best possible date, and we will make you aware of it as soon as it’s set.
Again, I want to emphasize that identifying these three strategic areas does not mean that nothing else is important. It means that at this time in our life as a congregation, these three initiatives must be done well.
To that end, will you do me the favor—all of us the favor—of committing to pray for each of these areas in the weeks and months to come? We are already off to a good start in all three of these areas and in the other two I mentioned, and your prayers will be key in helping us to continue this way.
At the end of the year, in our last monthly meeting with our SLI coach, Christin Nevins, pastors and directors discussed the last chapter of the book we had been reading together throughout the year, Ruth Haley Barton’s, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership. It is a wonderful book. I had read it one time before and ended up reading it twice through this year, as well—once with staff and once with council. I will return to it again and again, perhaps annually.
The last chapter is entitled, “Re-envisioning the Promised Land”, and it deals with Moses, at the end of his life, being denied entry into the Promised Land. Barton shares her feelings about God’s choice to deny Moses this privilege and admits that it seems a harsh judgment call on God’s part. But then she begins to explore the reality of what she’s been writing about throughout the book: Moses has been learning to let go of things throughout his whole walk with God, but there was one final letting go. He would not get to see the thing he had hoped and dreamed and given his life to.
And then she does something rather stunning and beautiful with it. It is certainly true that Moses was being denied entry, in part at least, because he was disobedient. Back in Numbers 20, God told him to speak to the rock and it would provide water, but Moses struck the rock, instead. God’s punishment seems harsh. However, Barton wonders—and convincingly—if by that time, Moses had let go of having to see the fruit of his labors because he had come to a new place, a better place in his walk with God. On his journey with God, Moses has been transformed, slowly and sometimes painfully—as is the case with us all—so much so that, now, he doesn’t need to enter the land. In fact, maybe the true Promised Land for him and for any of us is not success in the mission, but our experience of and with God.
I went back and re-read the story of Moses being denied entrance into the Promised Land, and I think Ruth Haley Barton is on to something. Moses was told that he would not be allowed to enter the land in Numbers 20, but he doesn’t die until Deuteronomy 34. In the chapter before his death, Moses prays blessings on each of the tribes of Israel, and they are beautiful. The words Moses uses as blessings are not the words of someone who is bitter and angry with God. They are the words of someone who is at peace, someone for whom external things no longer matter—not even entry into the Promised Land. They are the words of someone who has been utterly transformed by life in the presence of God.
Barton puts it this way: “…for Moses the presence of God was the Promised Land. Next to that, everything else had already paled in significance.”
As we sat around and discussed this chapter of the book, something was happening in the room. We found ourselves in a sacred space that was very tender and powerful. I honestly could have stayed there all day. It was a holy moment, a “burning bush” moment, as Barton calls it earlier in the book. It was a place where we needed to stop, take notice, and turn to pay attention to what God was doing in our midst.
I think we’re still discerning what that was all about, but one thing is certain: all year long we have been becoming a healthier, more whole, and more unified, collaborative team. And we want what we have been experiencing to continue in our lives and in the lives of every person who calls ECC home or will ever call ECC home—those who are here and those who are not here, yet.
To rephrase something I said in my sermon on January 23: if we at ECC hope to impact our world for the kingdom of God, it will not be something we do, but who we are becoming. Put another way, the way we at ECC will bless our loved ones, our city, our neighbors, friends, co-workers, and our world, is not by doing something amazing, but by becoming something beautiful: souls in union with God and in step with the Holy Spirit.
I see this happening in our council and in my staff, and I see it happening in some of you, too. My prayer is that in the months and years to come, it will happen more and more in us all.
I share all of that with you for one reason: I want you to know that God is at work among council and staff and that we are entering into a new phase of ECC’s mission and ministry. We are not on the cusp of something beautiful God will one day do. We are over the top of the cusp freely and joyfully running into our own Promised Land.
The last thing I want to say to you is that, as lead pastor, I am all in. I am all in on this vision God is birthing. I am all in on all I need to do and all I need to continue to learn to see it happen. My prayer is that you are, too.
Pastor Stacey Littlefield