A Season of Change, Part Two – Stumbo Video Blog 76

November 12, 2019


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John provides a fall Board of Directors meeting update on policy portions of the national conversations before the C&MA. “We’re sharpening the ax for greater mission fulfillment. It’s a good moment to be in The Alliance—don’t miss it!”


Alliance family, I promised I’d come back to you after our fall Board of Directors’ meeting to further unpack what’s going to be happening in our upcoming regional discussions. Well, the board has met. I actually flew straight to Cambodia . . . tell you more about that next month.

But today, I want to give you the update because this is going to get interesting. We have approximately 50 regional events planned throughout 2020 and more still to be scheduled as a few more district superintendents extend an invitation to us. I’ll have the privilege of being at most of these conversations. Church Ministries Vice President Terry Smith, who already led the way with a gathering in the Southwest District, will ably lead the others. This is going to be an intensive effort on our part to lead and listen, to present issues, provide options, seek wisdom, create healthy conversation—in hopes of being able to be ready to present to Council 2021 some solid recommendations that will come as a surprise to no one because we’ve all been engaged in this conversation throughout the last year.

This was the first full meeting of the board since Council, and nearly one-third of the members were newly elected at Council. So, I came to the meeting with curiosity, anticipation, and a little apprehension. I wondered, What will the chemistry of this new team be like?

Well, as always, the board had dozens of issues to address. The Alliance is a complex ministry with higher education, district, local church, budget, and mission issues. And—great news—while celebrating and getting an update on the five dozen international workers that we commissioned at Council, we also had the spiritual privilege of appointing 12 more that will serve in Uruguay, Paraguay, here in Cambodia, Taiwan, and the diaspora within Europe, and two other locations that I won’t mention in this format. The Alliance is a sending family. This is delightful.

Meanwhile, we gave hours of our time to wrestle over issues of Alliance polity in regards to men and women in church leadership. When is The Alliance best through uniformity—agreed upon national policy applying to us all; and when are we at our best by allowing local autonomy—agreeing to support each other despite differences? We have both expressions in The Alliance. It’s part of the beauty of who we are—the national uniformity, local autonomy. We discussed aspects of those questions at length, and while respecting the confidentiality of the Board of Director interaction, I want to give some synopses of my observations from our latest meeting.

So, number one: Our board represents the complexity of The Alliance. For example, one member doesn’t use the word “Reverend” although having been granted it by The Alliance family. Another board member deeply values that title and needs it to enter behind the police lines, where in urban situations he ministers. Another member doesn’t have an equivalence for the word “Reverend” in the language in which he ministers. Meanwhile, still another member could benefit from such a title so as to open doors to minister to the grieving or hospitalized in their community. You see, certain sectors of American society still honor the title “Reverend” and grant access accordingly. With it the doors open; without it, the doors don’t. And for this member the doors remained closed.

What I am simply saying is what seems like this simple title abbreviated by three letters, “R-E-V,” is loaded with complexity, and that was demonstrated in our relatively small group of a few dozen people. So, the complexity of the Alliance family represented by the board was also reflected in that some of us would desire that no change to our policies would occur and probably preferred that we wouldn’t even be talking about any of this in the first place, while others are convinced that this discussion is essential for this moment within the family—a “must” for increased mission fulfillment. In other words, we disagreed with each other quite a bit. And that really came as no surprise.

But the second observation, which I don’t want to say was a surprise but sure was a relief, is that the board handled these disagreements with a godly grace, mutual respect, a Christian collegiality. Not once did the conversations turn from topical to personal, from issue to insinuation. No one second-guessed another’s motive or spiritualty. The beginning of new friendships were actually formed between members with very differing views and backgrounds. The foundations for a great few years of board interaction was laid. The Lord was honored. The church was built up. And, yes, it was hard work.

You’ve heard me make the appeal many times now, that in a vitriolic culture of side-taking, undermining suspicion, and broadscale failure to listen to those who differ with us—from Washington, D.C., headlines to the latest social media shouting—the Church, the Church must arise as a living example of healthy conflict, disagreement without ranker, discussion without division. We can do this. We have the Spirit of God within us. In fact, the one Spirit, one Body, one baptism, one faith, one Lord unity we have causes us to have this starting point that the world could never create or imitate. We already have unity. We’re just called to keep it. Isn’t that what Paul said to the Ephesian church? “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit, through the bond and peace.”

So, I am delighted to announce that your board did this, and I believe will continue to do so. Our disagreements were stated clear and better understood, while our trust, respect, and camaraderie grew. That’s a few good days of board work.

Another take-away from our meeting, which will be of great value to Terry, me, and all of us: The board greatly helped in refining our national discussion tour—the sharpening the ax. Terry already gave it a launch in the Southwest District as I’d mentioned, but I’ll be hitting the road, beginning with the Metro District in January. It will include discussion questions, polling questions, prayer together, and other means of seeking to learn from each other and, I trust, listen to the Holy Spirit.

I attempted a trial drive with the board, and frankly, my presentation was pretty clunky. But they spoke into it, shaped it, and made it better. I’m grateful to them. Maybe some of you are disappointed that the board didn’t just make some decisions on these matters. You know, be ready to come to Council. I’m not disappointed; I’m glad. This allows for the conversations we’re going to have to be real time, real issue conversations that will shape whatever recommendations the board eventually does bring to Nashville Council 2021.

The questions we’ll be posing at the regional gatherings will continue to be reframed and refined, but the board helped me clarify that we will be engaging in topics such as: Where should the power of titling rest—the national district or local level? For example, who is best suited to decide if someone should carry the title “Pastor”? This particular point has nothing to do whether a woman can serve in a position as a lead pastor. That’s a different conversation. But given the fact that 37 languages and numerous cultures are within our U.S. Alliance family, can we have effective, enforced, uniform national policy for titles? Or is this better handled on a more localized level?

A parallel question will be asked: Would we be wise to decouple elder authority from titles—Pastor, Reverend? In a single cell, single culture, solo-pastor model, this may seem like an odd thing to discuss. But in a multi-staff era, should every staff pastor or ordinand carry elder authority in a staff of a dozen or two pastors, which we have more and more of in Alliance churches? This creates unanticipated consequences. How should we handle this?

What was Simpson’s stance on matters regarding a woman’s freedom to serve within a church? Should a woman be allowed to preach from an Alliance pulpit? Should our women be welcomed or participate in the distribution of the Lord’s Supper and the celebration of baptism? What did Simpson have to say about these things? What was his biblical understanding and ecclesiastical practice on these related topics? Again, should we call for uniformity or allow for autonomy? This leads to some additional questions. Just because Dr. Simpson took a specific approach, does that mean we’re bound to it as much as we respect our heritage? What Scriptures would we use to keep us grounded on the authority of the Word? How do we honor sincere Bible students who disagree with our own carefully honed interpretations of the text? Where are the lines between acceptable differences within the family, and where does it interfere with true Christian fellowship and partnership in the gospel? Fascinating questions. Big questions. Denomination-shaping questions. And I hope that you’ll join us in wrestling with them.

One thing that was really clear from the Board of Directors meeting was that this point of unity emerged that we’re committed to upholding and coming together under the authority of the Word of God while seeking to be even more effective in carrying out our mission to take all of Jesus to all the world. The theme “launch” kept surfacing among us. Our message is so powerful. Our Lord is so loving, His call upon is so compelling, and the need of our world is so great that we must retain and intensify our position and our posture of launching.

These words weren’t used at the Board of Directors meeting, but I believe that they would be in support of me in saying that those of us in positions of power should use our privilege to open the door for qualified individuals who otherwise lack opportunities. We who have the privilege of forming policy that then impacts lives do well to become way makers, lead blockers, lane openers, ministry launching advocates for more Kingdom servants. May we truly be a loving, proclaiming, reaching, launching, family while honoring our Lord and His Word all along the way.

So, there you have it. My board update as it relates to the policy portion of our national conversation. Other matters discussed and decisions reached by the board will appear as always in the Alliance Life magazine. The board gathers again in February. It will be another invigorating meeting, I’m sure. We welcome your prayers. But I can hear someone saying. “I know where this is heading, and I’m out of here.” Well frankly, that’s amazing to me and that’s sad. It’s amazing that you’d think you would know where this is heading because I have no idea where this is going to land and not a single board member does either. And it would be a mistake to withdraw. Instead, we believe that this is a time to lean in, engage, shape, and be shaped by it. As a board we’re engaging first with prayer—heart and ear, before tongue and vote. We ask you to do the same. Join us; we’re sharpening the ax for greater mission fulfillment . . . a season where fascinating conversations are taking place. It’s a good moment to be in The Alliance. Don’t miss it.


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