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Leading In Love

John Stumbo reflects on his first year as president of a Christ-centered, Acts 1:8 family

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How has your first year been?

Amazing! The fastest year of my life, without question. I feel so honored to have this role as twelfth president of the C&MA.

Tell us some highlights.

The National Office team has come together. I led us through a painful reduction in force as I felt the responsibility of being a good steward of the GCF gifts that are being given to us. Difficult as that was, the remaining team has coalesced and is serving well together.

The sending of almost four dozen new international workers—our largest group in recent years—was a great joy. The monthly video blogs—2,700 complete views per month—and the two prayer events have been well received. I’m grateful for the high level of participation from the Alliance family.

Getting to know the Alliance family throughout the nation and world is an incredible honor. We have godly, dedicated people in our pews and pulpits and international work.

You have been traveling a lot. Tell us about that.

I told the National Office staff when I first arrived that I believed that I would serve them best if they didn’t see me very much. It’s easy as the president to focus primarily on the issues within the National Office. As important as they are, I’ve been elected to be the president of the entire U.S. Alliance and need to be with that broader family as much as possible—building relationships, listening, understanding the breadth of the C&MA family, as well as the beauty and complexity of the dozens of languages, cultures and nuances that make us who we are. The extensive travel has enlarged me, helped me understand the C&MA and I believe helps me lead us better.

On those travels I’ve preached approximately 160 times since being elected; I’ll have to slow that down a bit. But the privilege of being with the C&MA family and speaking into who we’re becoming has been invaluable.

Is your wife, Joanna, able to travel with you?

Happily, yes—more than half the time. God has used her to encourage many. She is a huge assistance at my side and my primary prayer partner. Besides, people always like me better when they meet Joanna!

How’s your health been holding together in all this?

Many of you know my story of being stricken with a mysterious muscle illness in 2008 that just about took my life. I’ve been on a healing journey with God ever since. I’m happy to announce that I’m stronger today than the day when I was elected. I still have muscle issues, which cause weakness and discomfort, but my stamina is strong. I am experiencing the fulfillment of the promise that I believe God gave me the week that I was elected. He assured me that I would have everything I need for every day. This has certainly been the case. As a personal highlight, it seemed poetic to climb a 14,000-foot mountain in 2014, and with God’s kindness—and the support of a few guys from the office—I recently had the pleasure of summiting a “fourteener” in Colorado.

Where’s the Alliance family heading?

With the Board of Directors of the C&MA, we’ve summarized the call of God upon The Alliance at this point in our history as a “Christ-centered, Acts 1:8 family.” We must continue to be a ministry that loves Jesus, celebrates Jesus, preaches Jesus and obeys Jesus. Acts 1:8 teaches us that empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are sent to every segment of human society. The word “family” reminds us that we are in significant relationship with one another as we accomplish this mission. So our theology is summarized by the simple phrase “Christ-centered,” our current calling is summarized by “Acts 1:8” and the word “family” calls us to do this together.

What we’re seeking God’s leading for now is this: What are the priorities that He would have for us as we live out this Christ-centered, Acts 1:8 family calling? What are we asking the Alliance family to accomplish together, to emphasize, to pursue as a movement? Some significant thoughts are in formation, but it would be premature to share these with the broader C&MA family at this point.

What encourages you about what you see internationally in The Alliance?

The high level of dedication of our international workers is commendable. The places that they are serving are among the most difficult and resistant on the planet, yet our teammates arise day after day to be the loving presence of Jesus in regions marked by hatred, violence, oppression and sad misunderstandings of what a relationship with God looks like. The many ways that our Alliance workers are finding to bring Jesus into conversations is evidence of the work of the Spirit of God within them. The creativity, the tenacity, the boldness are exceptional.

One of the historic strengths of the C&MA is that we build the local church. Too many ministry efforts of other organizations create a Western dependency. When finances or personnel from America have to be removed, the entire work comes to a close. However, when the local church is established and strengthened, the ministry moves forward, even when American presence is no longer possible. The consistent efforts of our people to establish churches that can govern themselves, support themselves and train themselves is one of our great strengths.

What encourages you when you step into Alliance churches here in the United States?

I’m in Alliance churches with attendances of dozens and of thousands—and everything in between. Our Alliance family is very concerned that we stay faithful to the Word of God and not join the sad parade of other denominations that have drifted from the authority of the Scriptures. I’m happy to stand for those congregations in saying that not on my watch will we stray from the authority of the Word of God. I’m delighted by the conversations we aren’t having as an Alliance family—conversations of compromise.

I am delighted that, increasingly, Alliance churches are understanding that Acts 1:8 sends us to every segment of society. More churches are becoming intentional about finding ways to minister not only to their immediate vicinity—their Jerusalems—but also are having eyes to see the Judeas and Samarias around them. The Alliance has a long history of reaching the ends of the earth. May we not back down a bit on that. Yet, it was never intended to be an “either/or” but a “both/and”—both Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and the uttermost parts. It’s a bit overwhelming for individual Alliance churches to do that themselves, but this is one of the beauties of being part of a broader family: that what would be overwhelming for one isolated church becomes very doable for us as districts and as a denomination when we work together.

What has God been saying to you lately as the spiritual leader of our denomination and a follower of Jesus?

I’ve been intrigued by the word “wait” from Isaiah chapter 40, verse 31: “Those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength” [KJV]. Evidently, there’s a certain type of waiting that is strength renewing. Meanwhile, many of the ways that I wait are strength depleting. When I’m waiting impatiently in a line, thinking that it’ll never end; when I’m pacing back and forth because something isn’t getting done as fast as I would like; when I’m wringing my hands with worry, waiting for some news to come back—my strength is not renewed. The Hebrew word comes from the idea of “to twist or to turn,” perhaps to crane one’s neck in anticipation. This is the form of waiting that renews; this is the word that is used in Isaiah 40—to wait with eager anticipation, expecting, craning my neck, looking for where God is going to move next, what He’s going to do next. So I sense God calling me to wait—Isaiah 40—style—with anticipation, believing that He is at work among us, is leading us and does reveal His ways in His timing. With eager anticipation I’m waiting—most days; once in a while, I get a little discouraged.

What makes you most tenderhearted when you think about The Alliance?

When I commission a single worker to enter a closed-access country that makes our headline news on a regular basis, I feel the weight of what we’re doing and am inspired by the obedient response to the call of God in yet another human being’s life. When a member of an Alliance church stands before me with tears in their eyes, thanking me for the books that Joanna and I have written, I am moved knowing that they, too, have a story of wrestling with God in the midst of pain and life’s hardest questions. When a pastor tells me of the sermon series he’s preaching in response to his times alone with God as a timely word to his congregation, I’m delighted that so many leaders filling our pulpits are seeking to be not only great students of Scripture but humble listeners to the direction of the Lord.

As you look ahead to year two, what do you anticipate?

I anticipate building on the momentum of year one with the video blogs, prayer events, the redesign of Alliance Life magazine and other communications efforts. I’m eager to be able to, with the Board of Directors, have clarity on the priorities for the years to come. And I’m excited about Council 2015 in Long Beach, California. The outline of a Christ-centered, Acts 1:8 family is shaping everything we do as we plan for Council. Francis Chan, Leith Anderson and Joni Eareckson Tada will share the Word with us, along with some of our own Alliance leaders. Great seminars are coming together. As a former pastor, I’m excited about having a congregation assembled that I get to lead for a week in a manner that spiritually encourages and inspires vision for the work of God among us.

How can the Alliance family pray for you?

I love the question because it implies a high level of involvement with the Alliance family and is a practical expression of the fact that prayer is vital for God’s people. First, pray that I would love the Lord my God with all my heart, my soul, my mind and strength and live every day walking in the power of the Holy Spirit. Pray also that as our leadership listens for where God is taking us, we will have a clear sense of His priorities for this moment of C&MA history. Finally, please pray for the anointing of God upon my leadership and preaching.

Bottom line: I have the honor of leading one of the finest organizations that I know of. What a privilege, what a pleasure. The people that I meet, the services I get to be part of and the ministry opportunities before us are some of the finest experiences of life. I am a blessed man.

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