A new day for FIEC
Churches up and down the country are shrinking or closing at an alarming rate and, amid the erosion of our country’s spiritual heritage, Christianity is being systematically driven from the public square.
However, alongside the negatives there are many positives. Churches are being planted, people are being saved and men and women are being trained for gospel ministry. In addition, there seems to be a new spirit of partnership among gospel-minded people. An example of this is the number of churches which have committed themselves to the forthcoming A Passion for Life mission.
For the Fellowship of Independant Evangelical Churches (FIEC), the need to spread the gospel and promote the wellbeing of independent evangelical churches is as pressing as ever. However, the landscape constantly changes around us and we must find new ways of meeting these well-established needs.
From time to time, every organisation needs to review its goals and objectives and refresh its structures and methods to meet the needs of the next generation and, over the past three years, the FIEC has been working through such an exercise.
Goals and objectives
This culminated in a recent Assembly at the end of November, when delegates voted through a number of significant changes in the way in which FIEC will function with effect from September 1 2010. The goals and objectives which have motivated these changes are threefold.
* to reaffirm that the Fellowship belongs to its member churches, not the other way round;
* to identify and empower key leaders who will be able to drive forward the ministry of the Fellowship as churches see the need to find new ways of working together; and
* to sharpen the FIEC’s focus on its core ministries of caring for churches, supporting outreach and training gospel workers.
Some of the changes taking place within the FIEC are internal and relate to its governance. However, two big changes are likely to be visible. The first is the establishment of an FIEC Leaders’ Conference (reported in the December EN). The second is the replacement of the existing staffing structure, including the FIEC President and General Secretary with a senior staff team empowered by the Leaders’ Conference and led by an FIEC Director.
The FIEC Council has appointed John Stevens to serve as FIEC Director from September 2010. Educated at Cambridge University, where he became a Christian in his final year, John was a law lecturer for 16 years until 2007, combining this role with his responsibilities as one of the three pastors of City Evangelical Church, Birmingham, which he helped to found in 1999. The church now has a regular congregation of 300.
John, who is 41, is married to Ursula and they have four young children — Harriet, Oliver, Madeleine and Rosie.
Alongside his other ministries, John is co-chairman of the A Passion for Life steering group, a member of the Midlands Gospel Partnership steering committee and he runs the Midlands Ministry Training Course.
Understanding the times
Welcoming the FIEC Assembly’s confirmation of John’s appointment, FIEC president Rupert Bentley-Taylor commented: ‘John displays a profound understanding of the days in which we live and of the challenges and opportunities that lie before our churches. He has an inspiring and strategic vision of what, under God, can be done to move FIEC, and the broader cause of the gospel, forward in our land. He also has a deep theological understanding, a love for God’s Word and confidence in preaching God’s truth both to strengthen the churches and to reach the outsider.’
As FIEC Director, John will be supported by others, including the current General Secretary, Richard Underwood, who will be developing his ministry in support of churches and pastors.
Addressing the FIEC Annual Assembly in April, John gave delegates four reasons for hope:
* the social revolution spawned in the 1960s has failed. People — especially young people — recognise that life is not working and are ready to listen to a message of hope;
* there is among conservative evangelicals a growing confidence in Bible ministry;
* there is a growing recognition of the importance of gospel co-operation;
* the Bible constantly reminds us of inevitable victory of the Lord Jesus Christ.
A will and a way
In the face of the urgency and the opportunity of the present challenges, Free Churches need to find the will and a way to work together strategically. None of the changes threaten the independence of any local congregation, but it is a simple fact that we can do much more together than we can do alone. And there is a great deal that needs to be done — particularly in finding, growing and caring for pastors who will lead churches into mission.
Renewed common vision
How will these changes serve the churches of the Fellowship and promote gospel ministry? No one imagines that greater ministry effectiveness will simply flow from organisational restructuring. However, there is a desire for a new day among the churches of the Fellowship. Leaders are beginning to see what is possible; a renewed sense of common vision and purpose is beginning to grow. FIEC can never be a denomination, but it does have the potential to be a growing gospel movement as independent churches learn how to partner for the common good.