It was November 2022 when I stood in front of the EFCA All People leaders and shared my heart about the EFCA. I have a long history with the EFCA, starting with my father as an EFCA pastor, my husband and I raising our children in the Free Church and now myself as director of Multicultural Ministries for the EFCA’s All People Initiative. In all that time, I've been drawn to ministry in the EFCA because we’re a family. We span a wide range of people, perspectives and ministries. Despite our differences, we stand committed to the mission Christ gave us, knowing that we’re only stronger when we come together.
Make no mistake, we are a diverse movement of churches. From established, long-standing Free Churches in big cities to small-town church plants; from the churches that sing gospel praise to the churches that sing gospel hymns; from English-speaking to Spanish-speaking to Arabic-speaking churches—we have so many differences.
And like any family, it can be easy to shine the spotlight on our differences for whatever reason, whether ideological, political, theological or simply the way we do church. And if we’re being honest with each other, differences are messy. And create discomfort. It’s hard to work through those differences; when you can’t seem to find a way , it’s even harder to live in the tension. But when we work together in faith and humility, we honor Christ's prayer to the Father in John 17:
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17: 20-23).
Christ has a deep desire for us to unify and when we do, it becomes a powerful witness to the world. When we live out Christ’s heart of peace and unity, we’re closer than ever to achieving the Great Commandment and Great Commission.
One family, many gifts
As one EFCA family, we have an abundance of spiritual gifts and ministries to bless our churches and communities. From national ministries to the local church, the EFCA benefits from our interconnectivity, our different contexts, experiences and wealth of knowledge to help each other grow and make meaningful strides in ministry. If we have the spirit of Jesus, then we have spiritual gifts, and we have a part to play in blessing the body. Yet often we ask, “What are my gifts?” and “How can I use my gifts to bless the body?”
These are good questions, but perhaps we should think in larger terms. Consider this question: How can we cultivate a movement that allows everyone’s gifts to flourish?
In her article People With Disabilities Bless the Body, Jolene Philo offers these words about 1 Corinthians 12:36:
“Paul’s call here is not to define each person’s gifts. His call is for churches to create cultures that allow every believer to practice their gifts and to benefit when fellow believers practice theirs.”
For as long as I’ve been a part of the EFCA, I’ve seen how hard many have worked to build a culture that celebrates unity and diversity while staying on a gospel-centered mission. We’ve had our ups and downs, but we continue to work toward creating a culture that harnesses everyone’s spiritual gifts to the glory of God.
Of course, like any family, we fight. Like any family, we misunderstand each other. Like any family, we wrestle with our different perspectives. That’s just part of being a family like ours with so much to offer. Yet, despite the struggle, we’re united under the banner of Christ and tied together by our Statement of Faith and our common mission to glorify God by multiplying transformational churches among all people.
There are so many other stories to tell that highlight our strengths and so many ministries that bless the body.
EFCA One makes this truth come alive for me—when so many distractions in our world threaten to veer us off course, we have such a great opportunity to reorient and refocus through relationship and fellowship with each other. It’s a powerful reminder that we need one another.
As I reflect on the EFCA’s diversity, unity and spiritual gifts that strengthen the movement, allow me to share a few stories of how I’ve seen the EFCA live out these shared values.
Hosting Afghan refugee families
After spending decades overseas as missionaries, Tom and Gayle Shook returned to the United States and saw a need to welcome and serve refugees. They began building relationships and established an EFCA ministry with the All People Initiative to accomplish their unique mission. God has opened many doors in their ministry, especially among their Afghan friends.
Today, they’re hosting two Afghan refugee families in Santa Ana, California. Gayle says, “We have laughed, wept and celebrated, but we have also fought for them and stood with them as they have needed help.” After a year of building these relationships, a pregnant woman in one of the families asked Gayle if she would serve as a health advocate while the woman delivered her baby.
Gayle accepted and came alongside the mother in the delivery room. As the baby was born, she even had the opportunity to cut the umbilical cord. Through God’s leading and grace, Tom and Gayle continue to deepen their relationships with the families, providing opportunities to show them Christ in word and deed.
Extending the gospel to immigrants
Diane Martinez launched Immigrant Hope Santa Barbara in 2014, providing low-cost legal and educational services to immigrants. By offering this service, Immigrant Hope is uniquely positioned to build relationships and share the gospel.
Let’s continue to prayerfully consider how we can strengthen the unity we have in Christ...
When someone walks into an Immigrant Hope center, they determine if that person has a pathway to U.S. citizenship. But as Diane says, “Whether they have a pathway or not, the joy is in sharing that all people have a pathway to eternal citizenship.”
Now, she, alongside her team, are currently working with local churches to open more centers. Immigrant Hope in San Leandro, California opened in March 2023 and an additional center also opened in Mesa, Arizona. They plan to open church-based centers in Santa Ana, Vista, Arroyo Grande and Indian Wells, California.
When local churches partner with Immigrant Hope, they open new opportunities for the body of Christ to use their gifts and make an impact on people who often are in desperate need of hope.
Multiplying disciplemakers through EFCA GATEWAY
Raised in Guadalajara, Mexico, Renato Jimenez lived in a difficult family environment. In his words, it felt like “life or death everyday.” He immigrated to the United States to escape and find meaning in his life, but all he found was more brokenness. He wanted to find “that something else,” and eventually that came when he heard the gospel and gave his life to Christ.
As he and his wife started serving in an EFCA church in Iowa, he learned about EFCA GATEWAY and joined the program. Since then, his faith has grown exponentially. After graduating in 2017, he worked toward receiving his ministry license with the EFCA. After a lot of study, hard work and preparation, Renato was ordained in the EFCA and today serves as Multicultural Associate Pastor at Summit Evangelical Free Church. Now, he’s eagerly creating more disciples and facilitates an EFCA GATEWAY class of his own.
EFCA GATEWAY provides rigorous, affordable and accessible disciplemaking training for everyone. Whether in-person or online, your church can facilitate GATEWAY cohorts to equip leaders and strengthen the body of Christ. This is an outstanding resource I would encourage all EFCA leaders to learn about and prayerfully consider implementing in their church.
Putting our gifts to work
These are just a few ways the EFCA family has pursued its gospel mission while multiplying disciplemakers and creating a culture where everyone's gifts move the mission forward. Friends, there are so many other stories to tell that highlight our strengths and so many ministries that bless the body. I would love to hear yours. If you have one, please don’t hesitate to email email@example.com and tell me how you’re seeing God work through you and your ministry.
As we celebrate what God has done through our diverse movement, let’s continue to prayerfully consider how we can strengthen the unity we have in Christ, find ways to bless the body with our spiritual gifts and create a culture for others to use their gifts. We have an opportunity to leverage our diversity; let’s take advantage of it.
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