As 2015 came to an end, it closed the 8th chapter in the short history of Ecclesia. For all intents and purposes, Ecclesia really began in 2008 with a few churches and a small handful of church planters who were looking to provide a unique witness to the gospel in a scattering of cities, mostly on the east coast. There was a good deal of experimentation in that small collection of churches and churches in development. There was the hope of friendship between leaders and churches that shared a heart to be about God’s mission in the world together.
For the first 6 years our network had a good and consistent rhythm of two steps forward and one step back. We had even more limited funds than we have now and we stretched those as far as possible. Through a good deal of effort and sacrifice, something more solid began to emerge in ways that I believe many sensed and could see happening – but were not as easily coherent in those early days.
In the last two years, something significant has changed, as we have had enough solid footing to actually make some “leaps of faith” toward the future. In 2014 we brought on two other Ecclesia pastors at 1 day/week to help give time to our network that was pregnant with opportunity. This was a step of faith for us in that we didn’t have funds to pay them even at 2/3 of what we should pay them. It was a year to re-connect to both our churches and mission and Jesus provided us with enough funds to pay the bills. Last year we stepped out in faith again, moving everyone on staff to 1.5 days/week with the knowledge we would need to raise outside funds for that to happen. 2015 became a year of solid growth for our network, with not only many churches in our network continuing to develop more vital ministry in their community, but also several churches that were already a decade or more in age, deciding that Ecclesia was the family for them. Within the last year we started several Leaders Circles, strengthened our media and communications, and were able to make more visits to more churches to preach, train, equip and support, etc. our leaders and congregations. Again, Jesus met our needs.
As we come into 2016, there are so many good efforts at work. Leaders Circles are expanding and there is a desire for more to be organized. After some groundwork in 2015, we are preparing to launch a Residency Initiative for churches to help equip future leaders. Our coaching network is in place and available to support leaders and we are preparing to launch our first collective, Ecclesia-wide offering at Pentecost for church planting and pioneering mission. We have 3 new congregations being welcomed into Ecclesia at our National Gathering in March and a least a dozen more that are in process.
When I look through 2016 into the next season of life in Ecclesia, there are 5 words that seem more settled in my soul (and yes, they all start with “f”) – friendship, family, faithfulness, fruitfulness, and future.
Friendship – Ecclesia began with the bedrock of friendship and a desire to leaders to journey together through the uncertain course of ministry in these transitional times. My hope is that, with each passing year, these friendships are taken one step further and new friends are welcomed in.
Family – One of the unique desires of Ecclesia is that we would be a network of churches built off a network of leaders. Our heart from the beginning is to increasingly become an extended family on mission together as churches and leaders. In the coming season, my hope is that this extended family transcends those of us who are in more identifiable “clergy” roles and moves more and more into the churches we shepherd through connecting leaders together, collaborating on joint projects or global partners, or supporting new pioneering church plants and mission endeavors.
Faithfulness – In the midst of a church culture that can easily become captured by a vision of success that looks more like the American dream than a Kingdom dream, we strive for faithfulness to the gospel and the mission of Jesus together. In our time this looks like attending to the work that is in front of us and the community we’ve been called to, over the long journey of cultivating disciples of Jesus from the ground up. In addition, I believe it will increasingly look like the need to encourage one another toward faithfulness around the historic gospel that has been handed down to us from past generations of the church, even though the exclusivity of the good news of Christ will be increasingly challenged by our cultural context.
Fruitfulness – While we want to be faithful, we don’t want to exchange faithfulness for fruitfulness. Our heart in Ecclesia is to see the fruit of the Spirit proliferate our churches so that they are filled with the character of Christ and therefore can carry the power of Christ as made possible through the revelatory ministry of the Holy Spirit. With the fruit of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit at work, we can only expect then to see tangible Kingdom impact from our churches.
Future – Perhaps at the core of what I believe Ecclesia to be about is that we are creating a future together – one that is not isolated – but is a forerunner in cultivating an identity and practice for the whole church as we transition to an increasingly post-Christendom era in the West. When I look at the various streams of influence that flow into our network, it is hard to understand how they can all fit together. Yet, my belief is that somehow the Holy Spirit is at work among us to prepare a community of leaders and churches for faithful mission with an apolitical evangelical identity for the future.
It’s an exciting time to be journeying together in the years ahead. Please keep going with us and inviting others along the path too!
Chris Backert- Ecclesia Network National Director