by Pastor Kevin Wiebe
In the culture in which we find ourselves it is popular to be critical, cynical, and to complain about the deficiencies we see in the world around us. All too often we as the church simply follow suit. While in favour of accountability and honesty, I am also in favour of being encouraging. So even though I do more than my share of complaining, I felt it was high time for me to share some things about the EMC that I have come to greatly appreciate:
The EMC takes theology seriously. That is, the leaders take seriously the responsibility to correctly handle the Word of Truth (2 Tim. 2:15). While there are always different interpretations of what a particular passage may mean, I have yet to meet another EMC pastor who does not take this responsibility seriously. Furthermore, as someone who has come to love Anabaptist Theology, I find that the EMC holds to those faith convictions that are deeply important to me. Things like spreading the Gospel, taking care of the downtrodden, and understanding the Bible in the light of Jesus. It includes recognizing the dignity of humanity as image bearers of God and how that applies to views against violence and against a culture of death.
As a life-long churchgoer, and now as the pastor of a church, I know how easy it is to become incredibly busy with all the events, struggles, and joys of one’s own church. Yet we as a local church are only one expression of the global body of Christ, and we as churches need one another. Through our connection to other EMC churches, it gives a sort of pre-existing relationship with others where we as leaders can go to for fellowship, friendship, advice, or teamwork for local and global projects.
These connections with other pastors and with conference leaders help provide a framework of accountability. We as leaders and churches are accountable to other churches and to the wider conference for the actions we take. How this works itself out varies from one situation to another, but it is there and it is helpful for us as we seek to serve the Lord together.
Support in Troubled Times
When churches go through difficulties, the EMC is there, willing to send in mediators, advisors, and to pray for and with churches as they experience conflict. I know that not everyone has experienced this. I have on occasion heard various complaints about the EMC for not providing this support. After listening to those criticisms, the first question I asked was, “That sounds hard. But did you call EMC leadership and ask for help?”
Each time I’ve heard that criticism and asked that question, their answer every time was “No.” The leaders in the EMC are human beings, just like you and I, not some magical, psychic, all-knowing beings. Only God is all-knowing. Thus for the rest of us we must learn how to communicate and ask for help. I will say, however, that for myself and others I know who have asked for help, it was given. Was it perfect help? No. But there was love and support in the times we needed it the most.
The New Beginnings
There are always new church plants on the go within the EMC. The church I pastor is less than 20 years old and is the result of the EMC having the vision to send a church planter to our community and start something new. I greatly appreciate the vision of the EMC leadership to see beyond what simply is and onward to what could be or will be. Could we do more of this? Absolutely. Could we do it more efficiently? Sure. This, however, takes people. People like you and I to be bold and brave and to step out and do something new.
For as long as I have known the EMC, more than half of the budget is spent on missions. Another significant portion is spent on Canadian church planting. The remaining minority of the budget is spent on ministering to our existing churches and administration. I appreciate the emphasis on serving and giving instead of hoarding. I mentioned theology earlier, and the budget is where we “put our money where our mouth is.” Generally speaking, the EMC does this well and is fairly consistent between what we profess to believe and what we do with our money.
I appreciate how the EMC does missions and cares for its missionaries. I know things have changed over time and will continue to change, however there have been countless missionary efforts that have done some pretty amazing things. Ministry in one part of Mexico was so successful that a number of years ago the EMC actually stopped working there because the local people caught the vision for themselves and now do their own work. It was empowering and life giving. I get nervous when ministries seem to be more about expanding their own base of power, instead of about how to empower others. From what I have heard and seen about EMC missions, it does quite well in this regard.
I will speak as a pastor for a moment. There are certain realities about being a pastor that are difficult to live through and hard to explain to those who have not been there themselves. Please understand that I am not trying to belittle the struggles of others or put pastor’s up on a pedestal. We struggle along like any other human beings. What the EMC has given to me, however, is a network of other pastors, many of whom have become close friends, and who have been there for me through everything from my birthday party to theological questions to advice when in times of conflict.
Speaking to other EMC churches, or any church for that matter, encouraging your pastor to spend time with other pastors, even just as friends, can do great things for your congregation. It gives your pastor much needed support and when things get tough, they will be able to do a much better job during those times if they have trusted friends.
There are a number of events put on by the EMC regularly that help provide education, inspiration and support to church leaders and church people. There is the annual EMC convention, the twice-yearly Conference Council where decisions are made, the semi-annual Ministerial retreat, the semi-annual youth gathering we call Abundant Springs, and other events like youth leader retreats, spiritual gift seminars, training for church accountants and more. I have learned a lot through these various events, which have strengthened me as I serve.
There are a number of publications that the EMC produces which have educated me, made me think and re-think issues, and have helped me in my personal spiritual development. Need I say more?
It has been on my mind for a while to write this non-comprehensive list. My hope is that those in our church and those in other EMC churches will find renewed vision to continue to work together for the sake of the Gospel. What would you add to this list?
Kevin Wiebe is the pastor of the New Life Christian Fellowship (Stevenson, Ont.) and is a member of the Board of Church Ministries.