A Season of Change, Part One – Stumbo Video Blog 75

October 12, 2019

12:52

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This month, John seeks to bring clarity to the conversations before The Alliance related to streamlining our organizational structures and reviewing guiding documents.

Transcript

Hello, Alliance family. I announced at Council that we’re in a season of change. I know that for some people I immediately raised your blood pressure—talk of change brings reason for concern. But for others, there’s a sense of expectancy. Today’s video blog is part one as I hope to bring further clarity and explain the trajectory of the conversations before us.

Today I’m coming to you from California where I’m enjoying the joyful ministry of our San Francisco Chinese Alliance Church as they honor their Missions Conference and their 50th anniversary celebration. Yes, I just said “missions” and “anniversary” in the same sentence.

I’m fascinated by a church that is celebrating their history while taking a global focus. As they honor their own story, they’re making a clear statement, “We’re not just here for ourselves. We’re an active participant in God’s global mission. This is who we are as a church.”

This large-hearted congregation has been supportive of world missions from its earliest days and is living out their global mission year after year. God’s doing a good work in and through this church. And it’s my pleasure to celebrate with them and cheer them on to further love and good deeds.

And, I added one more meat—I think you’d call it a meat—to the list of things that I’ve now eaten and enjoyed: pigeon brain. Tiny, but tasty. So I’ve just come from a church picnic—this is my setting. My theme: A season of change. What does that look like right now in The Alliance? Let me move straight to the specifics.

Some of our changes have streamlined ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURES. Over the last two years,

  • Alliance Development Fund and The Orchard Foundation combined their strengths to become Orchard Alliance. This has been an excellent move resulting in increased effectiveness and impact.
  • The CAMA Board voluntarily disbanded so that CAMA could fully integrate with Alliance Missions. I was impressed by the board’s humility to relinquish something they enjoyed and valued—for the greater good of the organization. Mike Sohm continues to lead well, and I invite your ongoing, generous support of CAMA.
    • This change was a necessary step toward a re-alignment of Alliance Missions (formerly International Ministries). Alliance Missions has now mobilized under four ministry teams: aXcess, CAMA, Envision, and marketplace ministries. These four groupings of our IWs work together to Serve Communities, Multiply Church Networks, and Develop People. Increased synergy is happening as Alliance Missions is making more ROOM for more PEOPLE to be more INVOLVED in taking the gospel to the world.
  • Meanwhile, Alliance Women integrated with Church Ministries, giving them a seat at the leadership table. Jen Vogel and her team will have increasing voice in the broadest of Church Ministries’ conversations while continuing to advance the historic purpose of Alliance Women.
  • And we’re simplifying Alliance giving. The Great Commission Fund is being transitioned over a three-year period to better include all aspects of our global work.

We’ve communicated these changes and will continue to do so. I’m not trying to answer every question about them today. But I will say that the result has been that we’re becoming leaner and more responsive. There is more collaboration and, as I said, synergy. As a result, I trust we will be more effective in our fundamental goal of taking all of Jesus to all the world.

As we continue to maximize our effectiveness, more discussions of organizational change may arise, and as they do, I’ll continue to communicate via this monthly video blog. This is my primary means of communication regarding developments of my own thinking, priorities of the National Office and Board of Directors, all that kind of thing. So, thank you for following along with these blogs!

The second category of changes takes a new look at our GUIDING DOCUMENTS.

We’re not seeking to change our beliefs, but we do see the need to communicate them in a manner that carries a redemptive message and is more appropriate for the context in which we minister. Our core beliefs aren’t under question, but the way that we communicate them needs a fresh approach.

The Board of Directors established a rewrite team [that] has worked diligently to give us documents for the Board and Council delegates to review. Their first project was the Statement on Sexuality. That rewrite is complete, was approved by the Board, and adopted at Council without debate.

I’m encouraged that the cultural compromises happening around us are not part of the C&MA story. Our statement is clear that we can be a family who loves people who differ with us while graciously holding to our biblical beliefs: that God made male and female and that sexual intimacy is a beautiful gift reserved for the lifetime commitment of a woman and a man within the marriage covenant. In other words, the current social agenda of the broader public is not up for debate within The Alliance.

Now the rewrite team has begun work on two other documents: the Statement on Divorce and Remarriage and the Statement on Sanctity of Life. Within the next six months, they’ll be presenting drafts of these rewrites to the Board of Directors in preparation for Council 2021 in Nashville.

Our most important document, obviously, is our Statement of Faith. I don’t touch the Statement of Faith lightly. Our forefathers prayerfully provided this for us and wisely established that it takes the action of two consecutive Council assemblies to change anything in this foundational document. They established The Alliance in a way that respects the gravitas of such a statement. I appreciate that. I don’t like the idea of tampering with this document every time Council meets. It should have an enduring, timeless nature to it. Yet, no adjustments or refinements of language have been made since it was first adopted five decades ago. I’ve waited six years to suggest any changes, and I’d like to do so only once during the tenure of my presidency.

There are three specific subjects that I believe we should address in our Statement of Faith.

First, when our Statement refers to all people, we use male language. For example, the sixth point of our Statement reads, “Salvation has been provided through Jesus Christ for all men.” That language feels differently today than it did decades ago. We believe that salvation has been provided through Jesus Christ for all . . . but the male language isn’t necessary or helpful.

The second Statement of Faith issue is a familiar discussion to us as it keeps coming up on the district and national levels: premillennialism.

Here is the question I’m raising: While it’s clear from our history that premillennialism was the conviction of our founder, Dr. Simpson, and while it remains the preferred teaching of the C&MA, is a premillennial position of enough significance in our theology that we would limit credentialing solely based on this issue?

In other words, should someone seeking to be licensed with The Alliance be excluded solely based on their millennial view? We’re not backing away from our view of the personal, visible, imminent return of Christ, which is the believer’s great expectation. On this much we have full agreement. What I will be asking is whether the “big tent” that we show in non-essential theological issues would include those who aren’t convinced premillennialists.

I’m not trying to hide my personal view—I lean toward making a change and opening our licensing to these candidates, but I’m not on a campaign trail to try to press my agenda. I just know that in all my travels, I’ve learned that there is great interest in The Alliance to have this conversation and I’d like to deal with it once and then—however it lands—not deal with it again during my tenure.

The third and final topic that I’m raising from our Statement of Faith is Section 1.7—Sanctification: “It is the will of God that each believer should be filled with the Holy Spirit and be sanctified wholly, being separated from sin and the world and fully dedicated to the will of God, thereby receiving power for holy living and effective service. This is both a crisis and a progressive experience wrought in the life of the believer subsequent to conversion.”

Since this language was released, it has created countless hours of debate among confused licensing candidates meeting with their district superintendents and licensing committees. I think that we can better state what we believe. I not only want us to state it better; more significantly, I want us to live it more fully. The saving, healing, returning Christ is also the sanctifying Christ and I see the need for a more joyful expression of that among us. I not only want to see the statement clarified; I want to see it lived.

I’m inviting us to press ourselves to more fully understand the character-changing, Jesus-reflecting, Spirit-filling life that the New Testament describes.

And does anyone else think it odd that Christ our Sanctifier isn’t acknowledged in The Christian and Missionary Alliance’s statement on sanctification?

The other major category of our change conversation has to do with our Church Ministries policies regarding men and women in leadership. This raises important, but complex, questions regarding when do we require national uniformity, and when do we affirm local autonomy?

And the answer to that can’t be as simple as we might first think because of all the vast array of contexts and cultures among us. We’re not the same Alliance that I was born into almost six decades ago because we’re now home to 37 languages in the U.S. Alliance—representing more than 37 cultures. We’re complex!

Meanwhile, it occurs to me that many of our church policies were primarily written with a Caucasian-only, single-cell church in mind. It was the era before many churches have what is common today: multiple services, multiple staff pastors, multiple sites, multiple languages, multiple cultures. It was a one pastor, one site, one language, one culture, 100-people era, which still exists in some sectors of The Alliance but is no longer the only lens through which we must look as we form our policies.

As we ask the questions about what policies should be owned by all of The Alliance and which ones can be shaped by each local church, it will lead us to talk about leadership opportunities available to men and women in The Alliance . . . but probably from a different angle than some are anticipating.

I’m running out of time for today—to the frustration of some and to the relief of others—but I’m OK with that for a few reasons: 1) I have a Board of Directors meeting coming up later this month and about one-third of the board was newly elected at Council. It is important for me to see if the new board is affirming of the direction I’m taking on this specific point or if I need to make some adjustment. 2) In an upcoming blog I’ll pick up on this theme—particularly getting more specific about the polity questions regarding men and women in Alliance leadership. I know that some are eager to know my approach to this conversation right now, but again, I need some time with the new Board of Directors before I say much more. And 3), we have approximately 50 regional conversations now scheduled throughout the districts in the next 18 months. I will personally be at approximately 40 of them and our vice president for Church Ministries, Terry Smith, will be at the others. And a few districts are still in the planning stage, so there’ll probably be even more.

At the invitation of your district superintendent, we’re hosting these four-hour regional conversations to bring the Statement of Faith and Polity questions to you so that you can personally engage. Consider this your invitation to one of these conversations coming to your region. We want to have you there. As these are district-sponsored events, more information will be coming from your district offices.

A couple of webinars will also be in 2020 for those who can’t personally be present at any of the regional events.

A Missions Conference. A 50th anniversary celebration. A change conversation. I pray that all that we do in The Alliance is to be more effective at taking all of Jesus to all the world. This is a sharpening of the ax moment in The Alliance so we can be better prepared to be more effective in the mission that Christ has given to us.

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