‘Develop Leaders’ theme permeates Northwest Conference 2017 Annual Meeting

With a theme of “Develop Leaders,” the 2017 Northwest Conference Annual Meetings—for both the Ministerial Association and church delegates—took place at Maple Grove Covenant Church in Maple Grove, MN, April 27-29. Throughout the weekend, pastors, delegates and attendees heard video and spoken testimony on the topic of leadership development and participated in workshops offering different perspectives on leading in the Church.

“We know that healthy, missional churches occur when there are healthy missional leaders,” NWC Superintendent Mark R. Stromberg shared. “When leaders are healthy it tends to start infecting the church in a good way. And so, we are about empowering and equipping healthy missional leaders in our churches, both pastoral and lay.”

Friday Business Session

Mark Seversen, Director of Missional Congregations, brought greetings and a ministry update from the Evangelical Covenant Church to delegates at both the Ministerial Association and Northwest Conference Annual Meetings.

“Each and every one of your churches has been given a unique call to serve around the world,” Seversen said. “Our job is to figure out ways to optimize Great Commission impact in our churches. We just want to serve you and your churches in that way.”

Superintendent Stromberg thanked churches for their individual ministries doing Kingdom work in the area in which they reside.

“The horizontal work we are called to do as followers of Jesus must be the result of our vertical relationship with God … It is not our job to make the Gospel more palatable to others, though we certainly do not want to be an obstacle. Rather it is to be faithful with what has been handed down to us, that we are to then hand on to those who follow after us,” Stromberg said. “Evangelism is not a dirty word. My friends, this is our call. We have a Christian mandate to preach the Gospel, to make disciples.”

Stromberg highlighted the NWC Second Miler program, which collects gifts from individuals within the Conference and distributes them in the form of quarterly grants to churches with specific needs.

“This is a practical way that you as an individual can become a blessing to another congregation,” Stromberg said.

Jon Kramka, Director of Congregational Vitality, said, “In the NWC, we are building a regional culture that fosters the development and support of vital, thriving and fruitful congregations.”

Kramka shared that throughout the last year, eight churches began their journey in revitalization through Veritas. Many congregations also helped their people connect to the personal discipline of Bible reading through the ECC’s Community Bible Experience.

Seven churches utilized Pulse to assess how well they are living out the 10 Healthy Missional Markers of a congregation—the largest number in a single year since Congregational Vitality efforts began in the NWC. And clusters of pastors and congregations that are “traveling the Vitality Pathway” together are forming around the NWC for mutual support and encouragement.

“God is pulling for your church to flourish in your pursuit of God and God’s mission,” Kramka said.

During his report, Kramka interviewed Todd Spieker, Pastor of Bethel Covenant Church in Ellsworth, WI, about the impact of Congregational Vitality resources in his church.

“My relationship with Congregational Vitality started right after I started at Bethel. It really gave me a lot as a new pastor—a framework for leadership and tools to help me understand what it means to lead people,” Spieker shared. “We’ve seen a tremendous change from an ‘anxious leadership culture’ to one where our leaders are growing as spiritual leaders, knowing that if we want to lead anyone, we have to go there first as leaders.”

Mike Brown, Director of Church Planting, shared that since launching “50 by ’25: Our Mission to Plant” at the 2014 Annual Meeting, the NWC has seen 11 new churches started.

“We heard the call of Jesus to go and make disciples, and where new disciples are being made, new churches are being born,” Brown said.

Brown introduced one new church fellowship group, Lighthouse Covenant Church, Pastor Dee McIntosh (Minneapolis), which began earlier in 2017. Three new church plants also signed new Covenant Agreements on stage during the meeting, including: Awaken Covenant Community, Pastor Dan Lukas (St. Paul), Midcurrent Covenant Church, Pastor Sten Carlson (Hudson, WI), and Lakeside Covenant Church, Pastor Steve Anderson (Chanhassen, MN).

“Welcome to the maternity ward today. Covenant Agreements signal the official birth of a new church—a new mission outpost to reach more people for Jesus,” Brown said. “Today we are witnessing God’s Kingdom expansion, and our Conference is growing as well.”

Kara Stromberg, Director of Children & Family Ministry, shared that one-third of churches in the NWC have a paid staff person serving in children’s ministry leadership (50 people). And of those paid staff positions, only 18 are full-time positions, with the other 32 staff members serving in a range of part-time roles. This means that 90 churches in the NWC have entirely volunteer-led children’s ministries.

“Some churches really invest in this area and are seeing much return on there investment, and some want to invest but can’t for a variety of reasons,” Stromberg said.

She then shared research from the Fuller Youth Institute that suggests that intergenerational relationships are one key to building lasting faith in students.

“I get really excited thinking about some of these smaller, volunteer-led ministries that have lots of opportunities for intergenerational interaction,” Stromberg said.

The role of children and family ministry leaders is always changing and the skill set is always broadening, Stromberg explained.

“Ministry is about more than good intentions. Without ongoing resourcing, these leaders will burn out because the task is too overwhelming and exhausting,” Stromberg said. “The culture is changing rapidly around us, but the mission of passing on faith to the next generations remains the same. Christ is still the hope for all of us, and that’s especially true for these next generations.”

Stromberg then highlighted the NWC’s efforts to equip staff and volunteer leaders in Conference churches through ongoing initiatives like Go:Serve and monthly Connection gatherings for leaders.

Ginny Olson, Director of Youth Ministry, highlighted the fact that nearly one-fourth of the U.S. Population—70-75 million people—now belong to Generation Z.

“This is a population that we cannot afford to ignore,” Olson said. “We have youth workers who are trying to figure out what it means to do ministry with Generation Z. Students are dealing with more now than ever before. We need youth workers that are trained, connected, resourced and coached.”

Olson praised NWC churches that are “stepping out in faith” to hire new youth pastors—with 12 new youth pastors starting ministry in Conference churches this year alone. She also highlighted NWC youth events like MOVE, MUUUCE and Adventures in Leadership, which call students to leadership in the Church.

“I have watched as we do Adventures in Leadership, and identify key young leaders in your churches, and we pour into them and encourage them that, yes, you can be a leader,” Olson said. “On a national level we do CHIC, where students come together to learn what worship is and hear the call of God in their lives.”

Jeff Burton, Director of Pastoral Care & Development, highlighted two trends witnessed in pastoral ministry throughout the NWC—increased conversations with local churches around issues of caring for pastors (fair compensation, healthy workload, sabbaticals), and the sheer number of transitions that pastors are experiencing within the Northwest Conference (retirement, moving from one congregation to another).

Due to the variety of roles each pastor has to play, Burton explained that development of competency, character and constancy are essential to pastoral care.

“While in most professions, the training is focused on competency, the greatest measures for success for staying in the job for pastors are more often character and constancy,” Burton explained.

The ministry area of PC&D in the NWC supports over 500 church staff and other leaders, spread over four states.

“It is a privilege to serve our pastors on your behalf,” Burton said.

Greg Ellis, Coordinator of CHET NWC, shared the vision of CHET to transform communities with the good news of Jesus Christ through Latino and Latina leaders. While experiencing a lower number of registrations than in years past, CHET NWC is continuing to evaluate its programming to ensure “we are developing leaders in the way that best fits the need” to develop Hispanic leaders in the Twin Cities and beyond.

“When the Covenant started our language was Swedish, and people needed to hear the Good News in Swedish. Then we changed over time to English,” Ellis said. “And now … people need to hear the Good News in their language. And this is why we have CHET NWC. To develop leaders whose heart language, whose native language is Spanish.”

Attendees heard a report celebrating 40 years of women in pastoral leadership from Jan Bros, Pastor of Abbey Way Covenant Church, liaison to the NWC for Advocates for Covenant Clergy Women, and a member of the ECC’s Commission on Biblical Gender Equality, which works to help clergy women fully live into their calls.

“What will the next 40 years look like? As much good conversation can happen, and as many good plans can be made and executed … it can all be in vain if the Lord does not build his house,” Bros said. “My payer for us is, may God open our eyes to see. May God open our ears so that we might hear. May God open our voices so that we might affirm and teach, so that all might live into the beauty and majesty of God’s Kingdom come. Men and women together.”

The ECC’s 3StrandStrong giving initiative was also introduced during Friday’s business session. The ECC’s and NWC’s hope is that every congregation would advance its percentage giving over time to both the Covenant and Conference toward a combined 10 percent or beyond as together we pursue God-orchestrated opportunities to do Kingdom work.

“We are a covenant of churches, not of individuals,” Stromberg shared. “The resources that we have are truly necessary for the ministry we all share. While the local church does many things best, some things are best done as we join together.”

Minnehaha Academy President Donna Harris shared highlights from the life and activities of the school, including new action on the results of a recently conducted Spiritual Formation Assessment through Arbor Research Group.

The study affirmed MA’s clear Christian distinctive, the positive and life changing experience at MA, the Christian model of faith by devoted faculty, and the safe space for students to express doubt and ask questions.

ARG recommended that MA operationally define faith formation, develop a fresh faith formation scope and sequence, assess and strengthen the role of Chapel in faith formation, consider the role of a faith formation advocate at MA, and conduct ongoing faculty development in faith formation to facilitate spiritual curiosity and development (or growth) in students.

Harris shared updates on each recommendation, including the creation of a Faith Formation statement, and the creation of a new Executive Director of Faith Formation position at the school.

Related to the theme Develop Leaders, Harris shared how the school desires to support students with learning differences, continue to grow its STEM program, expand fine arts opportunities, and leverage students hearts to find ways to bless the community through social entrepreneurism.

“We are thrilled to be able to journey alongside our students, who are today’s and tomorrow’s leaders,” Harris said.

Delegates also heard reports from leaders of the Ministerial Association of the NWC and Covenant Trust Company. Attendees also had opportunity to learn about a variety of Conference and Denominational ministries and organizations.

Friday Worship Service

The Maple Grove Covenant worship team led attendees in worship during the Friday evening worship service. Five Candidates for Ordination were also recognized and prayed for during the service.

A special offering taken during the service raised over $2,200 to support the Solid Rock School of Discipleship at Lake Beauty Bible Camp. Church representatives also brought forward prayer bookmarks collected as part of the ECC’s BLESS Intentional Evangelism initiative, which will be brought to Gather 2017, the national Covenant annual meeting in June.

Emmaus Road Covenant Church (Hopkins, MN) and Good Shepherd Covenant Church (Blaine, MN) were honored with a special Living Legacy Litany. Both churches held their final services in 2016.

Marcy Baumann, Pastor of Crossroads Church, Eagan Campus, shared a message titled, “Experience It!”

“Healthy leadership flows out of a humility, the kind that offers help and the kind that also readily asks for it,” Baumann said. “The bottom line is that we cannot develop as leaders until we drop the pose and take hold of humility and community. The health of your home, your church and God’s Church is at stake.”

Saturday Business Session and Workshops

During Saturday’s Business Session, delegates approved a ballot that included: electing Jim Volling (Excelsior Covenant Church, Excelsior, MN) to serve another year as NWC Executive Board Chairperson, Nichelle Kaul (Salem Covenant, New Brighton, MN) and Jeff Laabs (Mission Covenant, Poplar, WI) to 5-year terms on the NWC Executive Board, and electing Tim Carlson (Crossroads Church, Eagan, MN), Vanda Niemi (Bethlehem Covenant, Minneapolis, MN), and David Sylvester (Bethlehem Covenant, Minneapolis, MN) to 5-year terms on the Minnehaha Academy Board of Trustees.

Delegates approved the MA budget, and the full NWC budget of $1,566,047. On Saturday morning, attendees also heard verbal reports from leaders of Covenant Enabling Residences of MN, Camping Ministry in the NWC, and Women Ministries of the NWC.

“So much rises and falls on healthy and missional leaders,” stated Superintendent Mark Stromberg. “This is true in a local congregation, a regional conference, or a denomination. May God give us the courage to do the right thing because it is the right thing to do.”