New York, NY – March 10, 2017
The World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) held its annual International Leaders Meeting (ILM) last week in Bad Blankenburg, Germany under the theme of ‘Authentic Leadership in Challenging Times’. For five days, some 45 leaders from over 20 countries focused on strengthening the working relationships across Evangelical Alliances on global and regional levels and down to the nations and grass roots. Participants also commemorated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, reflected on its meaning and issued a statement on its relevance for believers today.
Graciously hosted by the Evangelical Alliance in Germany at its Allianzhaus, the ILM brought together WEA’s International Council, Executive Leadership, heads of Regional Evangelical Alliances and heads of select Commissions.
Bishop Efraim Tendero, Secretary General of the WEA, says: “Coming to Germany in the year of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation was very meaningful for us, as it allowed us to walk in the footsteps of Martin Luther and reflect on what the reformers’ message means for us today. We’re especially grateful to the Evangelical Alliance in Germany for hosting us. Their generosity and hospitality has been an inspiration to us all.”
WEA leaders from more than 20 countries gathered at the Allianzhaus in Bad Blankenburg, Germany.
‘Authentic Leadership in Challenging Times’
The location itself set the atmosphere for what it means to be authentic leaders in challenging times. Located in former East Germany, the Allianzhaus and its Conference Hall have a rich history of devoted Christian leaders gathering despite government pressure. For more than one hundred years, including the entire time of the German Democratic Republic, up to 5,000 believers gathered for the annual Summer Bible Conference in Bad Blankenburg to study God's Word.
The Allianzhaus at that time was also the place where leaders of Evangelical Alliances in communist countries from around the world – many of whom had once been in prison for their faith – could gather and have fellowship. And later, when the Berlin wall came down, the Evangelical Alliances from East and West Germany united and established their office in Bad Blankenburg under the leadership of Hartmut Steeb who still serves as the General Secretary to this day.
Devotionals by Dr. Rosalee Velloso-Ewell, Dr. Richard Howell and Rev. Emerson Boyce offered Biblical perspectives on authentic leadership in challenging times.
Further illustrations of authentic leadership were shared on two of the evenings when so called ‘Café Conversations’ were led by Dr. Goodwill Shana and Marc Jost.
Dr. Shana who serves as a member of WEA’s International Council and as President of the Association of Evangelicals in Africa, shared about his experience in leading a National Evangelical Fellowship in Zimbabwe during a time of social and political tensions. As church leaders, they had to find a path forward together that would avoid being pulled into political agendas and rather speak out with one voice for the good of the country, holding all political parties accountable to the same moral and ethical standards.
Dr. Goodwill Shana (2nd from right) shares from his experience as head of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe.
On the second evening, Mr. Jost who is one of the co-General Secretaries of the Swiss Evangelical Alliance, shared about his personal experience of the influence of culture on the Church. Coming from a small country with three minority languages and cultures, believers are naturally marked by a mindset of consensus and compromise which could be a valuable contribution to the global Church in times of increasing polarization and nationalist movements. He also challenged participants to reflect on the unique cultural riches as well as challenges of their own contexts, asking what they might have to offer to the Church around the world.
Celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation
As this year marks the 500th anniversary since Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg on October 31st, 1517, it was an opportunity for participants to learn more about the Reformation in Germany and its impact on the Church then and now.
At a lunch reception, the Chairman of the Evangelical Alliance in Germany, Ekkehart Vetter, illustrated the proximity of Bad Blankenburg to significant Reformation events, many of which took place within a 200km radius. Dr. Thomas Seidel, Representative for the Reformation of the regional government of Thuringia, then shared about the 500th anniversary celebrations and the opportunities they offer for the region to re-engage with the Christian faith in a time when about 85% of the population do not associate themselves with any local church.
Dr. Thomas Seidel introduces the 500th Anniversary Celebrations in the region of Thuringia.
The following day, participants went on a trip to Wittenberg where they were welcomed by ‘Lutherstadt’-Mayor Jochen Kirchner, followed by a lively tour through the historic town led by the Director of the Lutheran World Federation office in Wittenberg, Rev. Hans Kasch. Both emphasized that Wittenberg was home not only to Dr. Martin Luther, but also other important figures such as Philip Melanchthon or Luther’s wife Katharina von Bora without whom the Reformation would likely not have happened.
A New Reformation?
In the ‘New Reformation’ session facilitated by Rev. David Ruiz and Dr. Bertil Ekstrom of WEA’s Mission Commission, ILM participants also took some time to reflect on challenges faced by today’s Church and how the WEA could respond in practical ways. They first looked at the most relevant elements that prepared the platform for the Reformation five centuries ago, and then compared those to similar elements in the Church today that are crucial for rethinking the way how the Church functions.
Finally, on the last day, ILM participants issued a statement that reads as follows:
As leaders of the World Evangelical Alliance, we feel privileged to have gathered in Bad Blankenburg, Germany, which is geographically close to the birth place of the Reformation. It is a historic moment to be here in the year of the 500th anniversary.
Coming from many nations and walking in the footsteps of Martin Luther, we reflected on the meaning of the Reformation for the Church today and what inspirations we can take back to our respective countries and contexts.
While only some of our churches trace their heritage back to Luther, we are all bound together by the spirit of Reformation that desired to bring the Church back to the essence of its faith: Solus Christus, Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia & Sola Fide – Christ alone, Scripture alone, by grace alone & by faith alone.
The message of the reformers is as relevant today as it was five hundred years ago. Therefore, we commit ourselves to prayer, asking God to continue to guide us by His Holy Spirit that through the study of Scripture, we may all be brought together in finding common faith in Jesus Christ, our God and Savior.
Working together in a 21st Century Context
Another element of the ILM2017 was a focus on adjusting and improving the organizational structure to better fit today’s context and prepare the WEA for future growth. A Structural Framework Task Force has been commissioned to study structure and mechanisms currently in place and begin to make recommendations for changes within the upcoming months.
Bp Tendero commented: “We are grateful for an intense working time together here in Germany and look forward to even stronger collaboration in the future.”
For those interested:
All photos (c) Grace Croley, WEA.
Over two billion Christians in the world today are represented by three world church bodies. The World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) is one of those, serving more than 600 million evangelicals. Launched in 1846 to unite evangelicals worldwide, the WEA continues to be a dynamic movement with 7 regional and 129 national Evangelical Alliances, and over 150 member organizations. WEA's mission is to establish and strengthen regional and national Evangelical Alliances, who in turn enable their national Church to advance the Good News of Jesus Christ and effect personal and community transformation for the glory of God. For more info, e-mail [email protected] or go to Worldea.org.
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