For seventeen years Wes Granberg-Michaelson has served the Reformed Church of America (RCA) as general secretary. I not only count Wes as my friend but admire his leadership skills and the job he has done to make the RCA one of the few mainline denominations that remains focused on missional-ecumenism in a vital and Christ-centered way. One of the reasons I am a minister of Word and Sacrament in the RCA is because of leaders like Wes. I believe the vision he has pursued is one of the most biblically faithful in North America. It is not perfect. No leader casts a perfect vision for those he or she serves. But Wes has led with incredible faithfulness.
A few weeks ago Wes gave his last report to the General Synod. He stepped down following this annual gathering to pursue a new phase of mission in his life. When I asked Wes what this new phase would be the answer he offered, in short, was missional-ecumenism. I then asked him if we could find ways to work together in coming years. Time will tell how the Lord leads us both but I am praying that Wes will continue to be a leader in the global church. He has so much to give to other leaders and to the whole church, both of which he knows extensively from travel and friendships that he has made all over the world.
In his final address to the representatives of our church body Wes began with a look at progress related to Our Call, the Reformed Church's 10-year goal to start new churches, revitalize existing congregations, and become more multicultural and freed from racism. It is this very Call that attracted me into ministry in the Reformed Church. I weighed several church families when I concluded that I was no longer a Baptist. The RCA Call made my choice compelling to be honest.
"Our Call has prioritized what is most critical and is changing the RCA," Wes said. "We are seeing new fruitful and faithful ministries emerge. Over the last three years, official RCA new church starts are emerging at a faster rate than at any time in the history of the RCA — in other words, since 1628."
Granberg-Michaelson highlighted some of the developments in the RCA since Our Call was adopted by General Synod in 2003:
- 185 RCA congregations have been planted and had New Congregation Plans approved.
- An additional 45 new congregations are underway.
- 55 percent of the new RCA churches planted over the past three years involve people of color, and several have been multiracial churches since their beginning.
- Several female church planters have emerged as part of the church planting movement.
- 77 pastors network groups nurture and support 478 RCA pastors.
- 220 church leaders have been trained as "coaches," people who come alongside pastors to encourage and support them.
He also offered a glimpse of the challenges he believes the RCA must recognize and to which the church must react:
- The deep alienation of young people from traditional religious institutions.
- Understanding the nature of the church in a time of rapid organizational change.
- The urgent need for proclaiming and living a whole gospel radically centered on following Jesus.
Granberg-Michaelson then posed a question to the church. "These three challenges can be summarized by one question–a question I'd like to leave with you as you seek to discover God's desired future: 'How do we develop a creative and transforming witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ in ways that can be seen and heard by those outside the doors of our congregations?'
"Answering that question will keep the RCA on a journey of deep change. That's where we need to be."
Granberg-Michaelson recognized a number of individuals and instances that have enriched and blessed him in his time as general secretary. He also emphasized that he is eagerly looking forward to the continued opportunities God has in store. "The end of an era is not the completion of a destiny," he said. "Every end is an opportunity for God to do a new thing.
"In the end, the purpose of all we do as a denomination, through our committees, commissions, classes, consistories, choirs, and callings; in workbooks and worship liturgies; in benefits programs and church loan funds; in seminaries and seminars–in all of this, we desire to make disciples of Jesus Christ.
"That's why we have to recover who Jesus is, and ask again and again, 'What do we do about Jesus?'
"So that is the question that you and I, and all in the Reformed Church in America, must continue to courageously answer. In so doing, we will become the vessels used by God's love to transform the world."
I cannot think of more fitting words for any church or denomination in 2011. “We have to recover who Jesus is, and ask again and again, ‘What do we do about Jesus?’” Amen Wes. Every church and church family ought to ask this question. Our mission is nothing less than transforming the world by God’s love!
And thank you Wes for serving so faithfully for seventeen years. The RCA is much stronger because of your leadership. You led with courage and deep thoughtfulness. You did not settle for filling an office, putting in your time. You gave yourself to something bigger than you could ever have imagined and Christ, I am persuaded, is pleased. May your successor follow in these steps and do even more by the grace of God.