Tag Archives: Evangelical Congregational Church

Why we’re getting rid of the word “evangelical” from our church sign

13 Jul

Evangelicals are in the news!  Donald Trump recently met with Evangelical leaders.  I have seen so many articles about Evangelicals and politics these past few weeks.  Some signaling the demise of evangelicalism.  Some talking about the decline of evangelical influence.

What in the world is an Evangelical, anyway?

2016-07 Church Sign - Pokemon GoWe are Faith Evangelical Congregational Church.  We normally call ourselves just “Faith Church” because the words “Evangelical Congregational” are long.  It’s much easier to say “Faith Church.”

So we are Evangelical.  But what does that mean?  Why are we Evangelical?

If we go by what we hear in the world out there, we can wonder “Is being Evangelical a good thing or a bad thing?”  Obviously we at Faith Church wouldn’t use the word unless we thought it was a good thing, a biblical thing, a word that would be helpful to the mission of God’s Kingdom.

So the first way to answer these questions is to go back to our historical denominational connection.  Our denomination’s name is “The Evangelical Congregational Church.”

Right around the year 1800 a man named Jacob Albright from Ephrata PA started preaching about Jesus to the German-speaking people, mostly farmers, here in Lancaster County.  God used him mightily and he launched a number of house churches based on the Methodist model because he was discipled and licensed to preach by the Methodist Church.  This group of house churches took the name Evangelical Association (EA).  Albright passed away when the EA was still young, but he and the first leaders laid a foundation for expansion, and expand it did.  Across the country and to many places around the world.

But sadly, the Evangelical Association had growing pains, a big split, then a merger, and eventually, a bunch of the churches trying to be faithful to Albright’s original vision created a new denomination called the Evangelical Congregational Church (EC) in 1922.

Most of our EC churches are in Eastern PA, but we have some in Western PA, Ohio, Illinois and a spattering of other places.  Our headquarters in based in Myerstown, Lebanon County, where we have the denominational offices, then across the street the seminary, and across the street the other way, the retirement community.  Drive up Route 501 through Myerstown and you’ll drive right by all these places.

In the late 1960s one the oldest and largest Evangelical Congregational churches at the time, Grace EC Church in the city of Lancaster, on the corner of South Shippen and Locust streets, had a bunch of people driving into town from the East Lampeter area.  So their pastor David Heil had a vision to start a new church plant out this way, and that’s how Faith Church got started in 1968.  We will celebrate our 50th anniversary in 2018.  It was, therefore, the Evangelical Congregational Church that started us.  We are and have always been a part of the EC Church.

That is the first reason why we have the word “Evangelical” in our name and on our sign.

But is that important?  In 1968 it was really important because the name “Evangelical” meant something important, and most people in the community knew what it meant and they understood it to be a good thing.

What did they actually understand?  What does it mean to be evangelical?  Why don’t we just call ourselves Christians?  To answer that, we need to go way back before 1968 to learn what the word “evangelical” means.

The word “evangelical” is a word straight out of the Bible.  It is actually an English transliteration of one of the Greek words that was used to write the New Testament.  The word evangelical is the Greek word euangelion.  See how similar they look?

In Greek euangelion is the Good News, and in particular it carries the idea of proclaiming the good news.  It was not specifically a word about Jesus or the Bible.  It was used, for example, to describe the birth of the new Roman Caesar, the emperor.  “Good News!  A new leader has been born.”  The Caesars, the emperors, wanted their people to believe that they were God in the flesh, they wanted people to worship them and they wanted people to proclaim them as savior.  The emporer wanted the people to use the word euangelion about them.  Good News! Caesar is born, Caesar is God, and Caesar is Lord.

When the New Testament writers started using this concept about Jesus, they were making a big statement:  there is other good news, there is another savior, there is another Lord.

So the focus of euangelion, or to use the English, evangelism, was to proclaim the Good news about Jesus!

When you read the English word “Gospel” which is found in the New Testament writings quite often, you are reading the Greek word “euangelion”.  For example Paul says in Romans 1:16:

I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believes.

That focus is very important to remember! There is Good News!  Evangelism pointed to a very good thing. Evangelism was the act of proclaiming the good news about Jesus.  When you think of evangelicals, then, we are people who speak about Good News.

So why is there an Evangelical church?  Shouldn’t there just be a Christian church? Aren’t all Christians supposed to proclaiming this Good News?

Well, a few centuries ago, a number of Christians felt that the mission of proclaiming the Good News of Jesus as the Savior had been lost in the institutional approach Christians had been using for church.  So some Christians and churches started to promote the idea that we Christians need to get back to the wonderful task of proclaiming good news.  Because of their focus on proclaiming the Good News, they became known as the Evangelicals.

That was Jacob Albright’s focus.  Remember that he wanted to preach the Good News to the German-speaking farmers in this area?  They were all church people. But the churches they attended focused more on the institution of the church rather than on the Good News.  Albright himself had always gone to church but he had never heard the Good News.  After hearing the Good News from a traveling evangelist himself, and after deciding to follow Jesus, Albright had a passion that his fellow German-speaking Lancastrians would know the good news of Jesus too.  Albright became a traveling evangelist, literally riding on horseback from town to town, from house church to house church, and many people heard the Good News.

Thus the Evangelical movement started.  It featured revival meetings, camp meetings, and so on.  As the years went by, house churches got organized, and as house churches grew they built church buildings and started denominations.  Albright wasn’t the only one.  There are many evangelical denominations: Evangelical Lutherans, Evangelical Free, and many more that don’t have the word “Evangelical” in their name.

There are some beliefs that we have that are uniquely evangelical, ones that we feel are quite important and good.  That takes us into understanding more about the uniqueness of the evangelical movement.

The National Association of Evangelicals, on their website, says that evangelicals usually hold to these four things:

  1. Conversion & Discipleship: the belief that lives need to be transformed through a “born-again” experience and a lifelong process of following Jesus
  2. Outreach: the expression and demonstration of the gospel in missionary and social reform efforts
  3. The Bible: a high regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority
  4. Cross & Resurrection: a stress on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, and his victory over sin and death, making possible the redemption of humanity

This explains what Evangelicals believe the Bible teaches about God’s Good News for humanity.  So why would we want to change our sign?  It’s sounding like the word “evangelical” is a very good thing.

Here’s the problem.  In 1968 when Grace Evangelical Congregational Church planted a new daughter church in East Lampeter, the surrounding culture thought of Evangelicals in a good light.  Fast-forward 50 years. When people in our society now think of the word “evangelical” what comes to their mind?

One way to learn is to search for the word “evangelical” on Google.  The results are very interesting.

Based on that history I just told you, if you google “Evangelical”, there should be something about Good News, wouldn’t you think?  There should be something about how God loves the world so much.  There might be our favorite evangelical Bible verse, John 3:16: For God so loved the World! That is awesome Good News.

But when we Google “Opinions of Evangelicals”, there is a surprising result.  Take a look right now.  See for yourselves.  What are some of the results?

Any images of Good News?  No.

Instead we get images of politicians.  And furthermore when you talk with people what the term “evangelical” means to them, you get a wide range of mostly negative responses.  Evangelicalism has become mixed up with politics.  Evangelicals are considered to be a voting bloc, and people have the impression that evangelicals are Republicans who are against so many issues, rather than for the Good News.

One evangelical scholar recently said this: “Due to the secular media’s ongoing misguided and misleading effort to define “evangelical” as a political posture, people are naturally confused when they discover that I am a lifelong, “card carrying” evangelical.  The National Association of Evangelicals adamantly rejects any identification of “evangelical” with a particular political ideology or even posture. Historically and theologically that is correct—even if most people in the United States who identify themselves to pollsters as “evangelical” also identify as conservative Republicans.”

When people think of the word “evangelical” they are not excited about Good News.

One Faith Church family tells the story about the first time they came to Faith Church.  My wife Michelle had invited them to the final night of VBS when we had a community Fun Fair.  That year Turkey Hill sponsored the Fun Fair and placed one of their huge Turkey Hill cows our church property’s front lawn, blocking the view of the church sign.  The family had a great time, and Michelle invited them to return to church that Sunday morning.  So on Sunday they pulled up, the cow was gone, and they saw the words “Faith EVANGELICAL Congregational Church” on the sign.  The impression they had of the word “Evangelical” was so negative that they almost turned right around in the parking lot and left.  But to keep a promise, they decided to stay.  And in the past eight years they have found Faith Church to be very different evangelicals indeed!

Think about that with me for a minute.  How many people see the word “Evangelical” on our church sign, get the wrong impression and just turn around and leave?  How many people in the community driving by every day see that word on our sign and assume that we are just like the evangelicals they have heard about in the news?  I don’t blame them.  The news is full of stories of evangelicals behaving badly.

I suspect it is very possible that people don’t think of Good News when they read our sign.  They don’t look at our sign and think “that must be a church focusing on good news”. How could they?  Many in our community have never been told about the connection between the word “evangelical” and the Good News.

That word “evangelical” on our sign, then, can become a blockade to the Good News! While we remain committed to proclaiming that there is Good News in Jesus, because the impression of the word “evangelical” has become so confused in our society in the past 50 years, having the word on our sign has made it more difficult for us to proclaim Good News to those in our community who so desperately need to hear Good News!

By keeping the word “evangelical” on our sign we are making it much harder for ourselves.  Unnecessarily harder!

We are not on the mission of getting people to like the word “evangelical”.  We want people to become disciples of Jesus! 

So our Leadership Team has talked about this, and we decided to remove the tagline from our sign.

But hear this, we’re not changing our name.  We’re just not including the tag line on the sign so that the word “Evangelical” is not a deterrent.  We are not changing the name of our church, we are not changing our affiliation with our denomination, and we are absolutely not changing our commitment to the Good News.  Our desire to remove the word “Evangelical” from the sign is actually based in our commitment to sharing the Good News.  We don’t want to place unnecessary deterrents blockading our ability to proclaim the Good News. By removing the word “evangelical” from our sign, we are strengthening our ability to share the Good News.

It is a reminder for all of us to consider how evangelical we are.  Are Good News people?  Or are we political evangelicals?

What does it look like to be people of Good news?

What will it look like for you to be a Good News person?

Do the people in your life know that you are a disciple of Jesus who is living and proclaiming Good News?

Box of books, Background Checks, Planbooks – Monday Messy Office Report – 12/8/14

8 Dec

My office is tidy Friday, mysteriously messy on Monday. Here’s what I found today!

1. Box of Discipleship books. Thanks to Al Giles who helped us get a nice discount on copies of Building a Discipling Culture.  We’re going to have a discipleship roundtable discussion with Al on January 17th.  If you’re in the Lancaster area, and you are interested in answering the question “What does it look like to be a disciple-making church?” perhaps you’ll want to join us.  Let me know!  Because the printing company had a bad run with this batch, the publisher, 3DM, threw in three copies of another book that I am looking forward to reading, Oikonomics.  The title sounds like a pig trying to say “economics”.  oikonomics-mike-breen

2. Background check documents. Last year we had our children and youth ministry volunteers do background checks, something we do every five years.  Just this past month I found out through a colleague on the Conestoga Valley Ministerium that new PA law voids all those checks, and we’re going to have to do it again.  Except that this time, the checks are more extensive…and expensive.  Further, they’ll need to be completed every three years.  My initial reaction to this was disappointment and frustration.  But as I’ve given it some thought, I’ve come to see the new laws as good.  It’s hard to know where to draw the line when it comes to protecting our kids.  I suppose the state could have required us to do five backgrounds every year.  So this week I plan on getting fingerprinted!

3. Planbooks.  Those of you in the Evangelical Congregational Church know what I am talking about.  Planbooks are the annual calendars that our denomination publishes.  They’re filled with event dates, the seasons of the Christian year, and contact info for denominational leaders.  Planbooks remind me, like the ministerium, that Faith Church is connected to the wider church.  I value that connection greatly!  Take the EC Church, for example.  We are 150 churches in the USA, with another 400+ around the globe.  On Thursday, a pastor from the EC Church of Liberia will be with us to talk about the amazing work our Liberian EC brothers and sisters are doing to reach out to fellow Liberians struggling with Ebola.  If you’re nearby, feel free to join us at Faith Church at 1pm.

Now it’s time to clean up this mess!

Race signs, Kids craft, Conference stuff – The Monday Messy Office Report – June 2, 2014

2 Jun

My tidy Friday office is mysteriously messy on Monday.  Here’s what I found this week:

1. Conference stuff – After having been away from the office Wednesday through Friday of last week at my denomination’s national conference, not only is my office messier than normal, I also have a bunch of conference stuff to add to the pile.  Each year pastors and representatives from each of our churches meet together for a few days to discuss the mission of the church.  We hear lots of reports about what God is doing in our churches, and we get stuff!  When you walk into the registration area, there is a bag awaiting you.  The brown paper bag is filled with all kinds of info to take back to your church.  Also throughout the week you can get even more stuff, from display tables or other reports that are distributed throughout the sessions.  While there are some business sessions that can be hard to stay focused on, for the most part, I find our national conference to be super inspiring. This year a delegation from our sister churches in Japan participated in our conference, as they were given national conference status as well!  It was an awesome moment.  A young man who grew up on our church took his pledge to become a pastor in our denomination.  When I first came to Faith Church, he was in fifth grade!  Amazing.  Our conference approved a major strategic planning initiative, one that I believe will help our denomination and local churches be faithful to God’s mission for many years to come.  Finally, we heard lots and lots of stories about how God is at work in the Evangelical Congregational Church.  It was such an inspiring week.

Rev Run 2014 Logo FRONT

2. Race Signs – We started off National Conference, for the second year in a row, with a 5K race to raise money for church planting.  It was a run, walk, and new this year, ride.  One guy did the bike ride, which started at 9am, and in which he got first place, then put on his sneakers and ran the 5K, which started at 10am, and he got third place in that!  Our National Conference meets at Messiah College in Grantham, PA, and if you have never been there, one thing you need to know about is HILLS!  I pretty much have to expect that my 5K time will be two minutes slower than normal. But it is a lot of fun, as the course has roads, hiking trails, and grassy areas.  Both years, I have created the signage.  I put most of the signs and cones away in our church’s shed, but I kept two in my office.  That’s because later this week I’m going to make new signs adverstising our Worship in the Park which is coming up on Sunday!  Feel free to join us worship God in the High Pavilion at East Lampeter Community Park, 10am.  Our denomination’s Bishop, Bruce Hill, will be joining us as well.  I can’t wait for a great morning.

3. Kid’s Craft – Someone (I know who) didn’t want to bring their Sunday School craft home, and decided to leave it my office yesterday.  I really appreciate how creative our kids’ classes are!  So I took the project and posted it on my office door.

I’ve spent all day cleaning up this mess…

Reports CD, Books, Mug – The Monday Messy Office Report – April 28, 2014

28 Apr

My Friday tidy office is mysteriously messy by Monday.  Here’s what I found today:

1. CD with Reports for EC National Conference – I know that for many the word denomination is a really long four-letter word. Maybe you’ve had a bad experience with the institutional nature of the church.  Maybe you’re a part of a denomination that you’re not proud of.  Maybe you question that denomination pretty much equals disunity.  Maybe you have another reason for not feeling so happy about a specific denomination or even the idea of denominations.  If any of those “maybes” speak to you, I don’t blame you.  A lot of junk has happened in the name of denominationalism.  Junk happens in mine too.  But I also want to share that I love my denomination, the Evangelical Congregational Church.  Well, except how long of a name it is.  When we changed our church sign a few years ago, people asked me how our church handled it when we changed our name. I said “Great!”  Because we didn’t actually change our name.  Saying “Faith Evangelical Congregational Church” is such a mouthful, that amongst ourselves we have always shortened it to “Faith Church”.  Our byline on the sign still says, “an Evangelical Congregational Church”.  We’re thankful to the Lord for our denomination. We were planted by the EC Church in the late 1960s, and we are proud to be a member of the EC Church.  Every year in May delegates from all EC local churches gather for a national conference, something I come away from every year inspired and excited about what God is doing.  Some years more than others!  Like I said, the EC Church isn’t perfect, but it is passionate about the mission of God’s Kingdom.  Take a look for yourself at the EC Church website, and you’ll see what I mean.  So today I popped the CD in my laptop and read most of the reports of what God is doing in and through the EC Church.  It is exciting!  I can’t wait for conference to hear more, to connect with friends, and be inspired to worship and serve the Lord.  I love conference.

Mission-Drift-cover2. Mission Drift & The Searchers – These are two books given to me that I recently read.  My father-in-law gave me The Searchers: A Quest for Faith in the Valley of Doubt by Joseph LaConte, a book intended for those who are, as the title suggests, searching for the meaning of life.  If you are reading this and not a religious person, maybe searching, maybe not, would you do me a favor and read the book?  I’d be interested in your feedback.  Personally, while it included some good stories, I was only so-so about it. But that’s me.  Maybe some other people would have a different opinion.  The other book was given by a friend from church, Jonathan, as his brother, Chris, is the co-author, along with Peter Greer, both of HOPE International, an organization doing amazing work in the area of micro-finance.  I thought Mission Drift: The Unspoken Crisis Facing Leaders, Charities, and Churches was excellent.  I just saw Jonathan at the church a few minutes ago, and told him that while it is the accessible kind of book that a person could read through in a couple days, Chris & Peter loaded it with so much thoughtful and applicable material that I can see it having a lasting impact for years. I copied the chapter on board members and gave it to Faith Church’s Ministry Council at our strategic planning meeting this past Saturday.  Though the book is written primarily for non-profit Christian organizations, its principles are broadly applicable to churches, and leaders of all kinds.

3. CEF Mug and brochure – Because our church sponsors a Good News Club (GNC) at our local elementary school, and because CEF (Child Evangelism Fellowship) oversees GNCs all over our county, some of our people went to CEFs 70th anniversary banquet over the weekend.  They brought me back a mug and brochure from the evening.  At home our coffee mug cupboard is packed, so I think I’ll put this one in the church kitchen.  A couple weeks ago we finished our spring session of Good News Club at Smoketown Elementary. I’m very grateful for all the volunteers from our church, and a couple from other area churches, that work hard to run GNC.  7 weeks in the fall and 7 in the spring.  About 40 kids participate, and it has been wonderful to see God at work in their lives.

Now it’s time to clean up this mess!