General Secretary’s Report: Celebrating Gains, Recognizing Gaps, and Receiving Grace
Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
Such confidence we have through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:1-6 ESV).
These verses remind us that God’s servants find their credibility and confidence in the context of God’s greater work. When faced with an examination of the results of his efforts, and apparently feeling the need to defend himself, the Apostle Paul found comfort in knowing that God’s work was evident in the lives of people who had been transformed by the gospel as a result of his ministry.
In 2 Corinthians Paul compares his ministry to the ministry of Moses. Paul was able to assert that his ministry was not only credible, it was more glorious than Moses’ ministry. Why? Because Moses’ ministry was written in letters on stone (3:7), and Moses’ face was covered with a veil (3:12). Moses would come from God’s presence with a radiant face that no one could look at for more than an instant. That radiance, however, would gradually fade away.
Paul’s ministry, on the other hand, was written on tablets of human hearts and was a ministry which removed the veil, allowing men and women to gaze on God’s glory. Their lives were changed forever (3:14-18). What an encouragement to know that God is doing His work in all the circumstances of life and through people like us! Paul says it this way: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” (4:7).
In all sorts of times God’s servants find their credibility and confidence in the context of God’s greater work. This is a great encouragement as we are coming out of a COVID year. This may not be the best year for cheerful reporting, but as we account for spiritual goals we are able to celebrate gains, recognize gaps, and be reminded of grace.
GAINS TO CELEBRATE
Like Paul, we can look back at our recent ministries and celebrate gains. The past year has reminded us just how much we depend on the Lord and each other. As we begin to meet in person again, we are reminded of how much we appreciate being together.
At the end of August the Executive Leadership Team finally came back together for a face-to-face meeting. In a normal year we would do that twice, but we have become accustomed to the life on Zoom. After having been physically apart for a year and a half, it was a joy to be in the same room for a meeting and around a table sharing a meal again. I appreciate the work of the core strategy directors (David Fresch, Scott Corwin, Barry Cole, Judith Lynn Maxwell, and Darryl Evetts). They are dedicated servants and seek to come alongside IBC leaders and churches in our mission to “mobilize and multiply disciple-making churches.”
I have tried to step into the GS role with a desire to pick up where Jimmy Martin left off and to move us forward. I was not the only new member of the team. Barry Cole transitioned out of Strengthening Churches and we welcomed in Dan Maxton. We are also anticipating a change of leadership in the Building Connections core strategy. I am grateful for the work of the Nominating Team (the three presidents along with Carsten Lotz, Gilbert Van Beuren, and Dina Dreessen) in examining worthy candidates and narrowing down our choice to one who fits well with the rest of the ELT.
The presidents (Nick Howard, Nathanael Fawcett, and Erik Nielsen) are the Personnel Committee of the IBC. They help make decisions about the roles and responsibilities of myself and the rest of the staff. They are also my closest confidants and share with me some of the leadership responsibility. The calls that they make each month to IBC pastors allow pastors to know how important they are to us.
I cannot estimate how valuable it is to have the opportunity of sharing my outlook and experiences with a close group of trusted advisors and friends. The ELT offers perspective, and they also offer themselves.
The staff, Lorraine Stringer and Judith Lynn Maxwell, are highly competent co-workers in daily service to our IBC family. They are also a wealth of information and always ready to serve for the sake of God’s kingdom. I appreciate the strength that they provide in support of the work of the ministry taking place in our churches.
I want to make sure that I do not fail to thank the IBC Finance Team! Bob Hnat is the leader but team members Joyce Geerts and Joseph Meijs alternate with Bob and Judith Lynn to examine the finances each month. Thanks to their thorough service to the IBC we can feel confident about our stewardship of God’s resources to fund ministry.
As COVID regulations have loosened I have been able to increase my travel. I have enjoyed the challenge of sharing about the IBC in a way that helps our churches to feel connected. I also have had some timely visits in churches that were facing some challenging times with conflict, discouragement, and/or leadership transition. Some churches met for many weeks online (75 straight weeks in Wiesbaden), but ministry continued and, in some cases, new small groups were started and more people joined prayer meetings that had moved online.
Because churches adapted well to a new online reality, I was able to preach from my office in Frankfurt in churches located in places like São Paolo, Dubai, and London. I also met with pastor search committees who were able to find their next pastor during a worldwide pandemic. Out of 11 churches who were seeking pastors, seven have called their next leader.
Interim pastors blessed many different churches this past year. In some cases, these were pastors who had relocated but continued to serve. In other cases, they were pastors who had been called but were unable to move physically until border restrictions lifted. For example, some would get up in the early hours in the U.S. to preach in a service in Europe. A few couples were able to relocate to serve as interims. The number of interim pastors who serve IBC churches in transition continues to grow. We are truly blessed! I am encouraged by the love and dedication that is shown for IBC churches.
2021 provided several examples of our commitment to raise up future leaders from within our churches. In the spring of 2021 the Aquila Initiative (https://www.aquila-initiative.org/about) launched. Several of the IBC’s core strategies continue to offer opportunities to develop future leaders. B.H. Carroll classes are offered to both leaders and members of our churches. We are also seeing a good response to the residency program in various churches. I am grateful for all of the efforts being made to develop leaders in IBC churches.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the gospel remained unfettered. One IBC pastor was able to baptize a man on the first Sunday that the church reopened. They had met while working out in a fitness studio prior to the COVID lockdown and then discipleship continued online. The man made a decision for Christ, and his baptism was a strong reminder that God had never stopped working.
GAPS TO RECOGNIZE
While in no way diminishing the gains, failure to reach goals was also a reality in the past year. Obviously, I did not visit all of the churches that I had hoped to visit. I also only completed half of the CORE groups that I had hoped to lead and did not call all of the pastors that I had hoped to call. A consolation with these unfulfilled goals was the benefits of technology that I had not used before. In addition to setting up calls with pastors, the Calendly tool allowed me to spend time with pastors who had proactively scheduled time with me.
Our CSDs and ministry teams also experienced difficulty in meeting their goals and objectives. Until recently travel was out of the question. We had to cancel the Ministry Leadership Conference, and the men’s, women’s, and youth conferences were moved online. I am grateful to all of our ministry teams for their ability to flex and offer alternative opportunities for those who desired to participate. Next year we look forward to getting back to in-person conferences, starting with the men’s conference in January. The MLCs will also return in 2022, both in Europe and in Latin America.
GRACE TO RECEIVE
I am still settling into my new role of ministry. Therefore, for one more year I will renew the objectives as I shared them when I became GS.
- Improve our leaders
In my desire to make it easy to remember my objectives I chose the word “improve,” but I realize that this did not effectively communicate the relationship that I desire to have with IBC leaders. Simply put — I don’t like to watch them struggle. When leaders are struggling God’s people are also struggling. Jethro reminded Moses of this when he was trying to accomplish everything by himself (Exodus 18:17-18).
I will continue to engage our leaders with phone calls, Zoom meetings, and visits to IBC churches in Germany and beyond. I will offer to coach and mentor groups of pastors and lay leaders. Most importantly Jacki and I will continue to pray for IBC pastors and their families. I recognize that as life begins to return to “normal” our pastors are aware of the toll that COVID ministry has had on them personally. I desire to be the first line of defense in helping leaders who struggle to keep going or are thinking of calling it quits.
- Increase our capacity for disciple-making through multi-generational focus
With few exceptions, churches are either growing or dying. If they are dying, they may be a generation away from extinction. I will continue to encourage us not to give up on God’s vision for leaders to be equippers. I am available to assist those who would like to create a pathway outlining how they will help every disciple to become mature and many of those to become leaders in a way that fits our context.
- Increase our capacity for disciple-making through widespread participation
In his book Wooden on Leadership, John Wooden, one of the winningest coaches of college basketball in the U.S., said, “The star of the team is the team.” John had superstars on a few of his teams, but he recognized the important contribution of every member when they were motivated and prepared well. Church leaders make the church the star as they equip God’s people who in turn edify the church. I will be a champion and cheerleader of disciple-making in the IBC, as I see our churches develop more and more disciples to make disciples.
- Innovate in an agile mindset in the ELT
Having a chance to meet in person again was very important for us. We are working to increase the amount of collaboration among the core strategies.
- Innovate as a social media “influencer”
The video interviews at this year’s ACM are a small sample of what I hope will result in many, many videos celebrating what God is doing in the IBC. I will be traveling with my iPhone ready in the coming months.
Finally, would you please let me know how I might serve you?
- Prioritize shepherding your own soul and let me know how we might support and challenge you!
- Share with me and with others the disciple-making principles and practices that are effective in the IBC setting!
- Find people who are making disciples and hide their identity if you need to, but capture their stories for us to share.
The IBC is a wonderful family of people who are committed to the gospel. Like Paul in the first century, we today have the privilege of seeing the work of God’s Spirit in the people whose lives are transformed. These are the results that we seek from our ministry and our efforts are focused in the same direction; we desire to see more and more disciples making disciples in the year ahead.
I love doing ministry with Jacki. We are a team and share the same passion for disciples, leaders, and churches. We look forward to hosting our leaders in Frankfurt and to being able to go and visit our churches in their context. We look forward to what God has in store for all of us in the year ahead!
by Tim Faulkner