Monday, October 10, 2005
Lifting the Basket from Our Candles and Envisioning the New Lampstand
Thanks extend to Mike Edwards (of Everett) for taking on the difficult task of reporting and summarizing all that took place in the Lombard Summit. Here is his completed account of the two days. Thank you, Mike, for such a thorough record of these significant days.
Lombard: Lifting the Basket from Our Candles
Matthew 5:14 "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; 5:15 nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light (NASB)[ I have elected to quote Matt. 5: 14-15 in reference to Lombard because I feel that the "basket" of liberal denominational oppression has been lifted, with an air of finality, from the evangelical "candles" of our ABE congregations! I will address the analogy of the "lampstand" in another post, but suffice it to say that we left Lombard filled with images of how superior and worthy that new "lampstand" might be! ]
This momentous gathering at the Lindner Conference Center in Lombard, IL, for the "Summons to Lead" conference was an awesome experience! The Conference was announced following the determination of the Board of Directors of the American Baptist Evangelicals that any further effort or expenditure of resources directed toward renewal of the ABC-USA denomination was futile. A decision was then made to disolve the ABE organization and query the membership to see if a new beginning should be attempted as a wholely new organization with a new vision and mission. In attendance were at least 350 individuals, including American Baptist Evangelicals member pastors from local churches across our nation, ABE officers, at least three executive ministers representing ABC-USA Regions, as well as officers and representatives from Mission America, Green Lake Conference Center, Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, Ministers and Missionaries Benefit Board, the newly-formed Great Commission Network, and Saddleback Church's Purpose Driven Ministries.
All of us were filled with a powerful sense of eager anticipation mixed with a high level of anxiety, wondering what the agenda might be, what we might be able to achieve in less than twelve hours, and how the Holy Spirit was going to manifest Himself in this place and time. Our Northwest Region was represented by Pastors James Amend (Southside United Protestant Church-Richland), Michael Hughes (FBC-Sunnyside), Clay Self (Faith Fellowship-Mill Creek), Worth Wilson (Cle Elum Community Church), ABC-NW Region Executive Minister Charles Revis, and myself. Because of having recently labored together in reclaiming our region for a conservative theology and practice honoring the Authority of God's Word, as well as having experienced the horizontal restructuring of our region under the able and dynamic leadership of our new executive minister, we were uniquely like-minded, enabling us to join together with a real sense of purpose and desire to move boldly forward in unison.
There was a full spectrum of positions and perspectives exhibited by the conferees, ranging from those that were, although uncomfortable and desirous of renewal, still feeling closely bound to the ABC-USA; those that were on the verge of deciding to disassociate from the denomination; and those from the ABC-Pacific Southwest Region who had already virtually disassociated. This spectrum required great skill and sensitivity on the part of the ABE Executive Director Bill Nicoson to successfully navigate us through the potential points of difference and concern toward a new and mutually-agreed-upon vision of a missional future together.
As the morning of Friday, Sept. 23 began, we proceeded into corporate Worship, lifting up our voices in songs of praise and petition, followed by prayer seeking the Holy Spirit's empowering presense and lead. Then, in open plenary session, Dr. Paul Cedar, President of Mission America addressed us, speaking on authentic spiritual unity from John 17: 20-23, Jesus' "High Priestly Prayer". He counseled us that the "Unity" our Lord Jesus speaks of cannot be organized nor legislated; it is a supernatural unity of personal relationship, heart to heart, never the end objective, but only the means to that end. In addition, he spoke to Fidelity to our Father; Obedience to our Lord and Saviour; Focus on the Great Commission; Finishing the work before us; and the fact that absolutely nothing of eternal value will occur without seeking the Empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
Bill Nicoson, ABE Executive Director, then introduced the agenda. He posed a challenging question:" What can we do collectively that we can't do alone?"...stating," I don't have a grand scheme to offer you. I hate to disappoint you. But, I do have some ideas!" Bill stopped for a moment and lowered his head and then looked up at us and declared with obvious and deep sincerity,"I don't want to look back anymore... What bothers me is the reality of a world without Christ. Can we unite for mission?"
Bill asked us to consider Acts 6, in which, through the newly focused efforts of the Apostles, " The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly..." In addition, he highlighted the following: (My sincerest thanks to Sr. Pastor Glenn Layne for his quick note taking! This material is para-phrased from his web log or "blog" at: http://www.durabledata.blogspot.com/ ) :
"Standards of effective Servant Leadership (from Acts 6):
1. Quick action, not bureaucratic red-tape;2. Dynamic interaction between leaders and the led;3. Priorities need to be established and honored; some things are more important than others; The apostles knew this, and that’s why the “deacon” task force was set up. “Servant Leadership” takes a backseat to the preaching of the Word and prayer;4. Servant Leadership selection was based on a unique set of qualifications. Not “personality type” but godly character
Bill stated in summation: “As we lead together, let’s do it Biblically!”
He followed immediately with a vision of the future :-
“A group of Baptist congregations committed together to an orthodox, biblical and theological foundation that will result in the growth of the church of Jesus Christ as demonstrated by healthy congregations.”
Bill cautioned that as we proceeded with the conference, we would undoubtedly become subject to Satanic attack, as this was an endeavor totally contrary to the great deceiver's purposes.
He reminded us that real, true growth of eternal use to our Father was going to be accompanied by real problems, but false growth would be an experience of even worse proportions!
He recommended that as we considered the work that lay before us, we should pay considerable attention to what he referred to as our organizational "DNA": Doctrine (Christocentric and orthodox as a solid basis for mission), Nurturing (Spiritually uplifting and replete with opportunities for on-going fellowship and professional growth), and Accountability (Covenenting for mutal edification, exhortation, and admonishment, ).
He then submitted some proposed "Core Values" for our consideration: Accountablity; Authenticity; Confessing ( A Confession or Statement of Faith); Leadership; Mission; Relationships; Reproduction (More disciples, church growth and planting); and Transformation.
Finally, he asked us to examine our definition and expectations of "Leadership"from the perspectives of : Solidarity; Priorities; and Unique Qualifications.
He advised that we would be going into Breakout Sessions later to answer "Four Questions":(1) Do we want to organize into a new group?; (2) What would it look like?; (3) How would we get there from here?; (4) What would be the results or outcome. The remainder of our Breakout Sessions work would be focused on bringing back those answers for presentation and discussion in plenary session.
Bill then spoke briefly to the demise of the organization currently known as American Baptist Evangelicals as a segue to introducing the next panel of speakers, Dr. Scott Gibson, ABE President, and Dr. Vic Gordon, ABE Vice President.
Dr. Gibson gave us the historical background to the founding of ABE in 1993, at which time Dr. John Eby was chosen to be the founding Executive Director. (Our own Senior Pastor, Dr. Brian Harpell, was sought out to serve on the new ABE Board of Directors.)
The pertinent issue was then, as it is now, the ABC-USA's denominational abandonment of Biblical Authority. Through these last 13 years, including a passing of the Executive Director baton to Dr. Eby's successor, Bill Nicoson, (as well as a transition years later by Dr. Harpell to other important Kingdom duties), ABE has diligently pursued its charter of denominational renewal through organizational growth, prayer, publication of theologically conservative articles as well as a widely-read academic journal, and biblical exhortation and admonition of denominational officers. However, it has become sadly and painfully obvious that such renewal of ABC-USA is a futile exercise and that no further efforts nor expenditure of resources should be made toward that goal.
Dr. Gibson then stated that the ABE Board met this last August to determine the nature of the transition of ABE to a potentially new organization and charter. From that discussion, the "Summons to Lead" conference was envisioned, prepared, and announced. In summation, he declared that, from a personal perspective, "If we don't have a theological center, we are empty! This is truly an Esther moment!"
ABE's Vice president, Dr. Vic Gordon, was then introduced, and he proceeded to speak to Ephesians 4, in particular vs. 4, "There is one body and one Spirit,...". That "body" is the "body of Christ", His church. He suggested that, "the concept of an 'independent' church was an oxymoron", and declared that "Our unity is essential to achievement of our mission! Our unity is more important than our diversity. We need to set our minor theological differences aside." (The ABE orthodox "Statement of Faith" was a given Core Value and was not negotiable.)
He then announced, "We are called to a MOVEMENT: Can you imagine it? What God can do with us is yet to be known!" He proposed that we pay particular attention to the People, Regions, Congregations, and Institutions that could be favorably impacted for His purposes by the outcome of our deliberations pursued this day at the Lombard conference. He then said in closing, "We are at a sea change now... from renewal to a new beginning. Like Popeye, I have reached the point where I must say, "“That’s all I can stands and I can’t stands no more!”
At this point, region Executive Ministers Dr. Al Fletcher (ME) and Dr. Larry Swain (OH) were introduced. They had just returned from a gathering of eight region Executive Ministers in Parchment Vally, West Virginia, and offered an opportunity for Q&A concerning their meeting together. Represented Regions included: Ohio, Indiana/Kentucky, West Virginia, New Jersey, Michigan, Pennsylvania/Delaware, Maine, and Pacific Southwest. At this meeting they apparently forged an agreement on a mutually beneficial way to create a "home" for the PSW Region and to carry forward with a shared set of core values, including Biblical Authority, in order to pursue ministries and mission together. They represent approximately 2300churches, or 40 % of the ABC-USA. With the potential addition of the Northwest and West Regions as signatories, this would represent a slim majority of ABC-USA churches declaring themselves to be bound by Biblical Authority, IF the Executive Ministers are capable of getting their Region Boards to vote in affirmation.(What is fascinating about the disclosure of the Parchment Valley Agreement is that it represents a "second track" of effort for American Baptist churches to return to the Authority of God's Word. It will apparently be running in parallel with the "first track" of new beginning for the old ABE, and it can only move forward at a snails pace (in excess of a year) compared to the rapid developmental speed of the leaner and meaner mission machine that will be the newly-created entity. It will be very interesting to see how these two tracks compare over time!)
The plenary session then returned to an open discussion of Bill's "Four Questions", in which numerous opinions of a general nature were presented and questions posed.
At noon, Bill invited us to break for lunch, in order to enjoy the fellowship of one another, to play "catch up" with old friends, and to discover new ones. I found this to be a wonderful opportunity to meet those individuals with whom I have communicated on the ABE Message Boards for so many years, and yet only knew by their internet pseudonyms. This was an amazing gathering of truly dedicated, gifted, talented, and sincere people, all of whom were motivated by one overwhelming motive: They wanted to be where God was leading them and to be doing His will in obedience.
Upon our return, and following a short period of Worship, we were presented with an opportunity to hear a Special Report with Q&A from Sarah Day of the Ministers and Missionaries Board concerning the "Benefits for Life 16% Contribution Plan" for pastors. My understanding of what she said is that should a pastor leave an ABC-USA associated church, his or her "Contractual Benefits" will stay intact, but the "Non-contractual Benefits" would cease to be available. Should the church choose to terminate the "Covenant of Relationships" and disassociate from the ABC-USA, they can continue to contribute to the pastor's "Contractual Benefits", which can be retained in current force simply by applying for "Affiliate"status with the denomination. However, the "Non-contractual Benefits" would cease. Regardless of circumstances, whatever is "vested" in the "Contractual Benefits" account will be available to the pastor at any future point in time for retirement purposes.
We were then directed to form into Breakout Session groups by region. Our Northwest Region group gathered and began deliberation of the "Four Questions". More will be reported on our efforts and the collective output of the sessions in a second posting entitled "Lombard: Envisioning the Lampstand". In brief, after first agreeing not to waste valuable time by revisiting the past disappointments and exasperation we each felt concerning the current state of denominational affairs, we found ourselves to have remarkably similar thoughts and answers for each of the questions, with each individual presenting ideas that were well-met by the other members of the group. There was mutual agreement that above all, we did not want to become part of another vertically-structured denomination, with layer-upon-layer of bureaucracy!
After spending about an hour in the Breakout Session, the conferees returned to plenary session and began sharing their responses. They were uniquely appropriate to the current circumstances of the region reporting. Some represented the perspective of a region that, for whatever reason, perceived the denomination as not yet beyond renewal, and that it was simply a matter of more time needed to achieve it. Others saw the questions in light of a gnawing frustration with the denomination for its refusal to acknowledge Biblical Authority and who saw it as increasingly resistant to renewal, but were not yet prepared to deal with disassociating from it. Others, such as the Northwest and Pacific Southwest Regions, responded with acute awareness that the ABC-USA was, without doubt, beyond repentance and renewal, and were seriously examining the options currently available, or had already virtually disassociated.
From that point forward, it became a matter of attempting to integrate those three perspectives and associated answers to the "Four Questions" into a cohesive set of responses that would encompass the needs of each stakeholder. Obviously, that was a daunting task requiring more time! So, Bill called for us to revisit the answers the following Saturday, Sept. 24.
We then heard a presentation from the President of Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr Chuck Moore. He most graciously welcomed us to his campus and provided some insight into some of the current and projected future course offerings of his Seminary, and highlighted some intriquing ones that would be of interest to those in attendance.
Following Dr. Moore's presentation, Bill asked us to spend the remaining half-hour until dinner in corporate and personal prayer, to plead with our Father for the empowerment of His Holy Spirit, and to seek His will for this conference.
Following dinner, we reconvened at 7:15pm for Worship and then the Closing Plenary Session.Dr. Charles Revis, Executive Minister of the ABC-Northwest Region, proceeded to provide the evening Conference speech entitled:"LAUNCH! What Will It Take to Become a Missional Movement?"
From Romans 6:
To Become the Missional Movement that God Desires, We Must:
1. Be clear about the nature of the Gospel.
2. Believe this Gospel Has the Power to Change the World.
3. Believe that Sharing this Gospel Is Job Number One.
4. Embrace New Testament Practices that Sustain the Movement.
1. New forms of connectionalism.
2. Historic patterns of Baptist Associationalism.
1. The provision of a duly qualified ministry for the churches. This association developed regulations and procedures for the recruitment, education, ordination, and placement of ministers.
2. The assoc. provided printed materials for the churches. Included in the standard publications were such items as a Confession of Faith, the Treatise of Discipline, a catechism, and a hymnal.
3. Home Missions, benevolent work, and struggle for religious liberty. The Philadelphia Assoc. began by sending missionaries into Virginia as early as 1745. They also gave funds to destitute churches and financed the relief of widows.
4. Provided models for preaching. “Preaching was always a major feature of association meetings, and churches put forward their best preachers. The younger ministers, and the less capable, heard Baptist preaching at its best and learned thereby.” (McBeth)
5. The assoc. afforded the churches an opportunity to 'upbuild one another in love”. That is, the association provided fellowship for “lonely Baptists.” “In areas sparsely settled, with Baptists at best unpopular and at worst severely persecuted, the opportunity to share with others like-minded was important.” (McBeth)
6. Theological stability. When a church deviated from the accepted Confession of Faith, the Association stepped in to give a ruling. For example, in 1748 the Minutes of the Philadelphia Association indicate a censure was requested for those who denied the foreknowledge of God. In 1784, a church admitting unbaptized persons to the Lord's Table was the recipient of letters from sister churches exhorting a discontinuance of the practice.
7. The Association assisted local churches in solving various types of problems that they could not work out for themselves. They also spoke out on political and social issues. The Associations also provided Baptists a means of speaking and acting in unity on such matters as religious liberty, separation of church and state, slavery, and the use of intoxicating beverages.
3. Embracing the Practices of the Early Church
They Joined Together:
1. For MUTUAL ENCOURAGEMENT and ACCOUNTABILITY. Romans 15:14, 15; 32, 33
2. In SHARING RESOURCES. Romans 15:23-27
3. In DEVELOPING and SUPPORTING LEADERS. Romans 16
4. In MISSION (primarily in the form of church planting). Romans 15:18-20
5. In PRAYER. Romans 15:30-31
These are the kingdom endeavors we can do together IF we are willing to join together and become a missional movement. It will require that: • we agree on the nature of the Gospel • believe the Gospel is nothing less than life-changing • we demonstrate that sharing the Gospel is Job Number One • we follow connectional, historical and scriptural practices for sustaining the movement as we launch it.
Dr. Revis' speech was delivered with understated force and conviction, and included endearing stories and anecdotes of mission efforts by small churches in the Northwest Region. He left no room for doubt about the advisability and practicality of his plea to revisit a solid Biblical foundation for our corporate understanding of the Gospel and Mission, and the need to reconsider the merits of early eighteenth century Baptist Associationalism as a model for our new organization.
This report on the proceedings of the "Summons to Lead" Conference , Day One, Friday, September 23, 2005, is provided to the best of my recollection in chronological order and with all attributions possible. I extend my sincerest apologies to any conference presentor whom I may have failed to include, and to anyone whom I may have inadvertently misquoted, or failed to provide the correct attribution.
Lombard, Day Two : Envisioning the New Lampstand
Matthew 5:14 "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; 5:15 nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light." (NASB)
Day Two of the ABE "A Summons to Lead" Conference held in Lombard, IL, Saturday, Sept.24,2005, began with a Worship session filled with prayers of petition for the Holy Spirit's lead, for clarity in envisioning the new organization's potential structure and purpose, for His counsel in how to address the diverse needs of all those in attendance, and for wisdom and grace in the process.
ABE Executive Director Bill Nicoson brought us to order in Plenary Session and directed that the representatives from each of the previous day's Breakout Groups come forward sequentially to report their determinations. The room literally buzzed with excitement and expectation, each group looking forward intently to hearing whether their answers to Bill's "Four Questions" would be in concert with those of the other groups. However, since the Breakout Groups were each defined by their geographic region, most conferees recognized that due to the unique experiential status of each region, there were bound to be some points of substantial difference. That proved to be the case, to the dismay of some, and to the calm expectation of others.
In addition, there was some general consternation felt by the conferees in regard to what impact the Executive Ministers' announcement of the Parchment Valley Agreement might have on the day's proceedings. Would it modify some of the positions taken Friday? Would it exascerbate some of the opinions already expressed? Above all, had that surprise intrusion on the Agenda taken some of the wind out of Lombard's sails?
As each representative came forward and spoke from the podium, the essence of their answers was distilled and displayed behind them on the Powerpoint screen for all to see and make note of. They came forth and spoke with passion and sincerety, humor and anecdotes, some providing a rationale for their position, and others simply stating their determinations with obvious resolve. There were exciting moments of response from the conferees in which loud applause and shouts of agreement arose, and there were other more somber moments of absolute quiet and perhaps murmurs of discontent, sadness, or disappoinent. A synopsis of each report has already been published on numerous forums.
They all focused on TWO DISTINCT DECISION POINTS :
FIRST, was continued regional participation in the ABC-USA "Covenant of Relationships" warranted, andSECOND, was reconstructing a successor to the soon-to-be dissolved organization known as American Baptist Evangelicals a desirable endeavor? If so, what might the essential character of that new entity be?
Given these two decision points, it was apparent that there were at least FOUR PRIMARY
PERSPECTIVES being reported out from the Breakout Groups:
PERSPECTIVE ONE : "Our relationship with the denomination has become seriously impaired by its refusal at the national level to deal appropriately with matters concerning biblical authority. Its failure to deal with these matters in a forthright manner has taken us beyond the possibility of reconciliation and renewal in a reasonable amount of time. We have therefore concluded that disassociation is the most appropriate process for us to consider and pursue. We desire to establish future covenantal relationships that are soley vision and mission-focused, not to exclude association with ABC-USA regional entities that are of like mind and spirit. And, yes, we most definitely need an ABE successor organization to serve as a catalyst for ordered and positive change".
Regions whose reports epitomized this perspective were :
Pacific Southwest: Having already entered into the official process of disassociation from the denomination, they are at the leading-edge of this perspective. They envision a "movement" vice a new denomination, one in which they could participate and call "home", organizationally lean, multi-ethnic, mission-focused around a doctrinal statement expressing the Authority of Scripture, and covenanting for association and accountability in mission with other entities.
Northwest: Battle-scarred and seasoned with wisdom derived from a heart-wrenching and extended process of removing from its midst the radically-liberal elements that have since become the Evergreen Association, they hold a distinct distaste for the extremely liberal stance taken by the denomination. Although they perceive the need to ultimately disassociate, they are simply too exhausted organizationally at this point in time to mount a region campaign to pursue that objective. They declared a sincere desire for involvement in the formation of an ABE-successor that encompassed the confession of an orthodox Statement of Faith, was a pastor-led coalition for the support, equipping, resourcing, and networking of pastors, and that had a sufficiently national footprint and professional reputation to maintain a roster of ordinations and Chaplain credentials that would command respect and acceptance across the country.
PERSPECTIVE TWO : "We perceive the current circumstances within the ABC-USA denomination to be untenable, but feel that there are parliamentary actions in process, taking the form of "Statements of Concern" and "Resolutions" placed before the ABC-USA General Board for consideration, that require all our current attention and focused involvement. The outcome of these parliamentary efforts will determine our future strategic and tactical planning. In the interim, we affirm the need for an ABE successor, and see it as a valuable adjunct to those regions which are ultimately bound to pursue association and mission together under the banner of the Parchment Valley Agreement."
Those regions reporting such a perspective included :
Indiana / Kentucky : They declared,"Come Lord Jesus!", as a preface to their report. Expressing an ardent desire that the Indiana/Kentucky "Resolution", addressing the ABC-USA national organization's response to the practice of homosexuality and a concern for the health of the denominational family, would pass the General Board readings and then be presented to the ABC-USA Biennial gathering in 2007 for affirmation. They indicated that their immediate focus was on their Executive Minister as signatory to the Parchment Valley Agreement, and that they were eagerly anticipating his coming report to the region concerning the ramifications of the "PVA". In addition, they see the ABE-successor to be a rallying point and banner-bearer for the potential of a new denomination or movement that would be administered by a coalition of region Executive Ministers, as well as served and supported by the Great Commission Network.
Ohio :( Although I have no statements attributed to an Ohio Region Breakout Group, I do know that they submitted to the ABC-USA General Board a "Statement of Concern" in support of IN/KY's "Resolution".)
West Virginia : Although the region seems to have been overshadowed by the vocal position taken by West Virginia Baptists for Biblical Truth advocating disassociation, their Breakout Group report was far more ambiguous.They stated, "Perhaps denominational decisions do not need to be made yet... “In order to find God’s will, we must first get rid of our own.” –Blackaby... We believe ABE should hold the banner and stay together and perhaps be patient and let God show us where He wants to go." ( It is apparent that WV as a region will be addressing parliamentary considerations at their next Convention that could lead to disassociation from the ABC-USA, however there is no clear evidence to cause us to presume that will be the outcome. In the interim, there are numerous churches within the region that have independently opted to quietly depart from the denomination.)
Michigan : Having submitted a "Statement of Concern" to the ABC-USA General Board seeking the creation of a task force to examine potential organizational change within the ABC-USA, there was an anxiousness expressed concerning the outcome of the Board's reading. They suggested that if there is a failure to respond to their concerns at the national level, they would probably advocate disassociation no later than the ABC-USA Biennial in 2007. Expressing strong support for the ABE's contributions toward denominational renewal through the years, they suggested that the successor organization could potentially provide a home for disaffected churches in the ABC-USA, possible becoming a quasi-region in and of itself. Their report also stated a minority position in which region churches might very well pursue future association with another denomination.
PERSPECTIVE THREE : "We are very disheartened by the current state of affairs within our denomination. However, we would prefer to leave all of our options open at this time. Perhaps the concept of "dual-alignment" should be considered, wherein we could remain within the ABC-USA, while at the same time affilliating with the successor organization to the ABE. We recognize that it could potentially grow to quasi-denominational status, at which time a decision could be made as to which entity was the best expression and facilitator of our region's vision and mission. We have found membership in the ABE to have been extraordinarily beneficial for our pastors and churches historically, and we have no doubt it will continue to be so in its reconstituted form." Regions that expressed this perspective included :
Central and Nebraska : "We share a concern to allow churches to be dually aligned. We see that as most advantageous at this point in time. We sincerely desire to affiliate with groups of like-minded churches for mission and ministry, ones that are willing to commit in covenant to a confession of faith. We would like to form a coalition, perhaps grass-roots based, in which we can work together."
Northeast : " We agree that something must be done, however we do not have a majority of evangelicals in our region, (so we are forced to view these matters with extreme caution). Our churches would be slower to jump directly into a new organization, preferring to implement dual-alignment at first. We would need to find ways of creating "hubs" (of like-minded churches) that would allow for the crossing of regional geographic boundaries. We are in agreement with the Statement of Faith (we all signed in affirmation prior to attending the conference). We desperately need resources of all kinds - program materials, ideas, books, etc. (We see the ABE-successor as able to respond to that need)."
PERSPECTIVE FOUR : "We have concluded that it is currently not in our best interest to participate in an exodus from the denomination. At this juncture, we find ourselves seriously concerned by the division fomented by the national organization's failure to exhibit dynamic and appropriate leadership concerning these matters. We also find ourselves truly saddened by the enmity and mistrust that has developed between so many faithful servants of God. However, as a region we intend to remain focused on the vision and mission we have been and currently are successfully pursuing. We choose not to be distracted by the internecine struggles going on between one denominational faction and another. We shall continue to be a region intentionally conforming to the "Covenant of Relationships", fully committed operationally at least, and philosphically at best. We acknowledge and applaud the dramatic contributions of the ABE to our denominational health over the last thirteen years, and we feel that it should somehow continue that tradition into the future. We view any opportunity to equip, support, and network our pastors in a manner suitable to furthering our vision and mission as advantagious." Among those regions declaring this perspective was :
ABC-West : "We do not see any useful purpose served in the creation of a new denomination. Nor do we see an association that exists soley within the ABC-USA as fitting for the times or expressed needs. We like the idea of a network - a place churches and regions (choosing to remain) within the ABC-USA can go (affiliate with), but also a place where those who choose a different strategy for the future can go, as well. We feel that the smoothest means (of transition) would be to have the ABE rename itself and refresh its vision (and mission statement) in order to be that network for us."
At this point, and in recognition of the time constraints requiring that the conference conclude at noon, the reports and discussion were terminated by ABE's Executive Director, Bill Nicoson. He then proceeded to conduct a standing floor vote seeking affirmation of the draft proposal for a new Vision Statement :
" We intend to be...“A group of Baptist congregations committed together to an orthodox, biblical and theological foundation that will result in the growth of the church of Jesus Christ as demonstrated by healthy congregations.”
With virtual unanimity, the conferees all stood in affirmation and it was adopted by acclamation. Each one of us realized the incredible importance of the concept of "healthy churches" as the key to doing God's will for the future.
It was suggested from the floor that the key driver to the character and essence of the new organization was the "Statement of Faith" that would be offered as a covenantal confession for future members to affirm. A recommendation was made to hold a standing vote on accepting the "Lombard Statement of Faith", which we had all affirmed prior to our arrival, as the one to be incorporated into the Bylaws and Standing Rules of the new organization. The "Lombard Statement of Faith" was again overwhelmingly affirmed by acclamation in the standing vote.
Bill then invited two well-known speakers to the podium, introducing them as institutional and organizational visionaries, respectively. The first to make his presentation was Ben Mott, Vice President of Marketing and Catalyst Conferences, from the Green Lake Conference Center :
Ben provided a brief overview of the current offerings from Green Lake, including "CECL", the Center for Excellence in Congregational Leadership. This is a program offering dramatic change and development of church leaders which incorporates the following:
" The program is designed to produce healthier congregations by developing more effective leadership. Some outcome areas are more personal in nature like integrity, spiritual growth, physical vitality, and maintaining a good balance between ministry and family life. Other outcome areas focus on effective leadership in the church by creating strong teams and moving congregations through a process of visioning and change that leads to a healthier congregation. There are also several process outcomes like accountability and coaching and peer learning. Pastors are able to connect with other pastors and learn from one another in peer groups. Leaders develop greater accountability in their life context as they work toward personal goals and learn to work with a personal coach to keep them moving toward their vision."
He then proceeded to describe other service offerings from Green Lake including :
Church Planting Assessment
An incredible list of internationally-famous speakers that most smaller organizations could not afford to offer, such as Dr. Henry Cloud, Pastor Kenny Luck from Saddleback Church, and Lauren Bethell, internationally known for bringing girls and women out of prostitution.
He highlighted the fact that if you wanted to determine "Where is God working, and how can I join Him there?", the Green Lake Conference Center was an outstanding place to start.
The next speaker was John Draper, "P.E.A.C.E. Plan" Program Director from Saddleback Church. John introduced us to Saddleback Ministries "alphabet soup" program of :
Planting ChurchesEquipping Servant LeadersAssisting the PoorCaring for the SickEducating the
All guided by the Core Values of PLAN:
Purpose DrivenLed by Small GroupsAttacks the Global Giants Networks Church to
ChurchSends to the Whole World
John invited us to prepare for PEACE by becoming healthy, balanced churches. He explained the process of becoming healthy and balanced and then recommended that we use P.A.T.H.S. to P.E.A.C.E. :
Participate in PEACE (vision phase)Activate our Small Groups (mobilization phase)
Train our Small Groups (training phase)Hit the Road (sending phase)Spread the Word (mentoring phase)
Following this spirited look at Saddleback Ministries new world-wide ministry program, Bill Nicoson thanked our guest speakers and then invited Dr. Scott Gibson, President of the ABE, to provide the conference with some parting thoughts on the "A Summons to Lead" Conference.
Dr. Gibson presented a cursory review of the ground we had covered in the last two days and acknowledged that it was only a beginning. He reminded us that we had determined a committee of select individuals with an incredible array of expertise in new organizational development should be granted the privilege of transforming the ideas brought forth at the Conference into a recommended structural model of the new successor to our beloved American Baptist Evangelicals, and that this group was to be announced at a later date. He counseled us to recall the Conference focus on biblical unity as defined in Ephesians 4, and the Apostle Paul's admonition in Phillipians 4: 13-14 :
14 "Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead,15 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Jesus Christ."(NASB)
He asked us to consider making this a rallying cry for our future work together, thanked us for our attendance and comitted efforts, and then requested that we utilize the half-hour remaining to invest ourselves in private prayer and petition, seeking God's will for the future of the successor organization, and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to bring it all to fruition.
The Conference concluded at noon on Saturday, Septemer 24, 2005. I was drawn in my time of prayer to a scripture reference that seemed to sum up for me what we felt collectively at that moment in Lombard :
From Phillipians 1: 27
"... standing firm in one Spirit, with one mind striving together for the Faith of the Gospel;"