NWC 2016 Annual Meeting shines spotlight on global service

NWC-News-2016-AM-600x350With a theme of “Serve Globally,” the 2016 Northwest Conference Annual Meetings—for both the Ministerial Association and church delegates—took place at Lakeview Covenant Church in Duluth, MN, April 28-30. Al Tizon, the new Executive Minister of Serve Globally (formerly World Mission) for the Evangelical Covenant Church and featured speaker for the meetings, asked churches to consider what it means to be a “witnessing, reconciling and worshiping Church” moving toward God’s future.

“I believe deeply that the local church is God’s primary agent of change to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth,” Tizon said.

Throughout the weekend, pastors, delegates and attendees heard video and spoken testimony of God’s activity around the world from various Covenant missionaries, including Nils and Erika Clauson (Mexico), Julio and Katie Isaza (Colombia), and Randy Bevis, Special Assignment Missionary with Serve Globally.

Friday Business Session

NWC-News-2016-AM-2-600x350Tizon brought greetings and a ministry update from the Evangelical Covenant Church to delegates at both the Ministerial Association and Northwest Conference Annual Meetings.

“The sort of work we do cannot be done without the commitment to do it together,” Tizon said.

Northwest Conference Superintendent Mark R. Stromberg shared about the impact that churches can have when united together in service.

“It’s an honor to serve our churches. And because we are better together, I do want to thank our churches for providing resources—both in terms of financial support and time given by people from our churches,” Stromberg said. “When you go home, please remind your people that your church is part of something bigger and grander, and that while the local church does most things best, there are other things which can only be accomplished as we work together.”

Stromberg highlighted an upcoming Evangelism Cohort pilot program that will be facilitated by the ECC in the NWC, and the new Covenant Community Bible Experience offered to all churches in the Denomination in the fall of 2016 and beyond.

Jon Kramka, Director of Congregational Vitality, emphasized the “deeper faith and renewed faithfulness” he’s witnessed within NWC churches in the 10 years since the ECC named Congregational Vitality a ministry priority.

“It started with just a shared value for congregational vitality, and out of that common value we’ve developed a common language and passion for church health,” Kramka said.

Kramka pointed to many advancements in the Congregational Vitality program over the last 10 years, including: the formation of the 10 Healthy Missional Markers of a congregation; the creation of quality resources, tools and strategies contextualized to local church level and available at no charge to local churches; regular engagement with Relational Covenants and evaluation tools as a means to spark honest, Christ-honoring conversations in local churches; the creation of the Vitality Pathway, designed to guide churches forward in this journey; and the integration of Congregational Vitality into programs at North Park Theological Seminary.

“We have indication that we have stopped the trajectory of decline in our existing churches,” Kramka said. “We’re starting to recapture again the essence of this church movement, centered around the movement of the Holy Spirit among us. Turn-around stories are happening in our family of churches.”

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 seven new churches started—one new church about every 2.5 months.

“Church planting was and is one of the very normative ways that churches engage in mission. Healthy missional churches reproduce,” Brown said. “Church planting is normative and it is something we need to be engaged in.”

Brown introduced three new church fellowship groups, which are The Door Covenant Church (Blaine, MN), Seeds Covenant Church (SE Minneapolis), and The Story Covenant Church (Powderhorn, Minneapolis, MN). He also introduced Vong Luangkhamdeng, new pastor of Laotian Covenant Church (Brooklyn Center, MN), who will be leading the 14-year-old church plant following the departure of founding pastor, Soudinh Penkhay, who has become a Covenant missionary in Thailand.

Kara Stromberg, Director of Children & Family Ministry, highlighted the NWC’s efforts to equip staff and volunteer leaders in Conference churches through ongoing initiatives like Imagine, Go:Serve, the CY&F Sabbath Retreat, and monthly Connection gatherings for leaders, among other programs.

“The reason I love serving in children and family ministry is it’s a constant reminder to me that the kingdom of Jesus Christ is upside down … Jesus’ approach to, and love for, children is a reminder to all of us to have faith like children,” Stromberg said.

She also referenced her office’s role in offering ministry support to volunteers and lay leaders, personal and professional development opportunities for pastors and staff, monthly communication to ministry leaders, and efforts to equip solo pastors, church planters and parents in NWC churches.

Ginny Olson, Director of Youth Ministry, shared highlights from MOVE, a ministry service event for high school students, which took place two weeks prior to the Annual Meeting. MOVE 2016 featured a Light Rail train com­munity exploration tour addressing justice issues in the urban context.

“It’s not crazy to like cold pizza and stale Mountain Dew … in Jesus’s name,” Olson shared. “This is a calling. The crew of youth pastors we have in the NWC are amazing.”

She also highlighted other NWC youth events like MUUUCE and Adventures in Leadership, which call students to closer relationships with Christ, and the NWC’s strong representation at CHIC 2015.

Jeff Burton, Director of Pastoral Care & Development, gave a report of the work to support the “personal and professional growth of our pastors and ministry staff.” Burton highlighted the many challenges of pastoral service in today’s ministry environment. The ministry area of PC&D in the NWC supports over 500 church staff and other leaders, spread over four states.

“It’s a very complex system in which to provide leadership,” Burton said. “The heaviest costs of being a pastor are not financial. It is a privilege for me to be a servant, on your behalf, to those who are carrying the weight and bearing the wounds for the sake of Christ.”

Greg Ellis, the new Coordinator of CHET NWC, shared the vision of CHET to transform communities with the good news of Jesus Christ through Latino and Latina leaders. Ellis shared that he will soon travel to CHET LA to meet with Manuel Valencia, Dean of CHET, to discuss specifics of CHET’s Ministerial Program. The Ministerial Program builds on the foundation of the Pre-Ministerial Program and the ECC considers graduates of this program ready to begin the process of ordination.

Minnehaha Academy President Donna Harris shared many highlights from the life and activities of the school, including renovation plans for Upper School science spaces, team awards in art, athletics and academics, student involvement in local outreach and ministry efforts, and the undertaking of a new Spiritual Formation Assessment through Arbor Research Group.

Related to the theme Serve Globally, Harris shared about recent student and leader Cultural Field Experiences where participants went all over the Twin Cities, country and world to be immersed in dif­ferent communities and cultures.

“Know that we stand with you and the ministry of the NWC, and particularly in serving globally,” Harris said.

NWC-News-2016-AM-3-600x350Delegates also heard reports from leaders of the Ministerial Association of the NWC, and the Solid Rock School of Discipleship at Lake Beauty Bible Camp.

Attendees participated in companion Mission Experience and Ministry Fair events where they had opportunity to learn about a variety of Conference and Denominational missionaries, ministries and organizations.

Friday Worship Service

The Lakeview Covenant Worship Band led attendees in worship during the Friday evening worship service. The 2016 Candidates for Ordination & Commissioning (15) were also recognized and prayed for during the service.

A special offering taken during the service raised over $5,100 to support the Rev. Soudinh Penkhay, who is now serving as a Covenant missionary in Thailand. Members of Twin Ports Chinese Christian Fellowship, which has been connected to Lakeview Covenant Church for eight years, provided special music during the offertory.

The Compass Covenant Church (St. Paul, MN) and True Light Covenant Church (Minneapolis, MN) were honored with a special Living Legacy Litany. Both churches held their final services in 2015.

Al Tizon shared a message titled, “The Church of the Multicultural Future: Unity in Mission and Worship.”

“The Bible teaches that it’s through global mission that we move toward the end of the world as we know it and into God’s amazing future,” Tizon said. “What kind of Church do we need to be today, in order to reflect God’s tomorrow?”

Saturday Business Session and Workshop

During Saturday’s Business Session, delegates approved a ballot that included: electing Jim Volling (Excelsior Covenant Church, Excelsior, MN) to serve another term as NWC Executive Board Chairperson, Barb Dusek (Faith Covenant, Burnsville, MN) and Mark Hovestol (Roseville Covenant, Roseville, MN) to 5-year terms on the NWC Executive Board, and electing John Ahlquist (Maple Grove Covenant, Maple Grove, MN), Erik Anderson (Crossroads Church, Woodbury, MN), Tom Johnson (Roseville Covenant, Roseville, MN), Keith Meyer (Hope Covenant, St. Cloud, MN) and Kathy Parten (Bethlehem Covenant, Minneapolis, MN) to terms of various lengths on the Minnehaha Academy Board of Trustees.

Delegates approved the MA budget of $12,499,100, as well as the NWC budget of $1,528,598—which includes a designated Church Planting budget of $423,817—at the meeting’s second Business Session on Saturday morning. During that meeting, attendees also heard verbal reports from leaders of Covenant Trust Company, Covenant Enabling Residences of MN, Camping Ministry in the NWC, and Women Ministries of the NWC.

Following the Business Session, Tizon presented a workshop called “Missional Worship.”

“Churches almost certainly have worship committees and mission committees, but I’m not sure if they ever compare notes,” Tizon said. “It seems like these two groups in the Christian community run on parallel tracks. The truth is worship and mission are related—inseparably so.”