Remembering our history

Our Evangelical Heritage and Heart for the Gospel

Partners with the President with David Gustafson

Every month, EFCA President Kevin Kompelien highlights stories, vision and leadership from around the EFCA in his monthly e-newsletter, "Partners with the President." This month, Kevin interviewed Dr. David Gustafson about the EFCA's ​heritage and history sharing the gospel. You can watch the full interview here.

When I worked as the Africa division leader for ReachGlobal, I remember bouncing in the back of a Land Cruiser on a horrific, bumpy road with my dear friend Dr. Nupanga. Dr. Nupanga grew up in the Congo Free Church (a result of Free Church missions in the Congo) and now has a PhD in Old Testament and is the President of the Bangui Evangelical School of Theology, a French-speaking seminary. So, as we’re chatting, Nupanga mentions the brokenness of people’s lives in Africa. I said to Nupanga, “What do you see as the future of Africa?”

Now, Dr. Nupanga is a tall man with a deep voice. I’ll never forget how he looked me right in the eyes and said simply, “Kevin, I’m convinced the Church is the hope for Africa.” And I said, “Why? Tell me why.”

“Because no one else carries the good news.”

I haven’t forgotten these words, and the conversation with Nupanga shaped my thinking moving forward. In Africa, I saw poverty, injustice, sickness and pain and the effects of sin that break God’s heart. When I came home to San Jose, California, right in the heart of Silicon Valley, flying into San Franciso International Airport and then driving home, I tried to make sense of it all.

It was as if God was asking me—“Kevin, don’t you understand?” The community around you is broken. There’s poverty, injustice, sickness and pain here, too. Don't let outward appearances fool you. Everyone needs the overwhelming love of Jesus and His good news. They need the Church. Because that hope isn’t just for Africa, it’s for America as well; it’s for the world.

Our heritage

As the Evangelical Free Church of America, carrying the good news is our heritage. In the mid-to-late 1800s, a spiritual awakening spread across Scandinavian countries. People came to genuine faith in Jesus Christ. But, when they went to church, they saw a church deeply comingled with the state and neighbors who didn’t take Christianity seriously. Out of these experiences, faithful followers of Jesus started something new.

The EFCA’s forebearers began meeting in “readers groups” studying Scripture and worshipping together. They believed faith isn’t supposed to be institutionalized; it is supposed to be a deep personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

They believed faith isn’t supposed to be institutionalized; it is supposed to be a deep personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Those Christians would immigrate to the United States and settle in cities from New York to Chicago to Seattle. And their evangelistic fervor would shine. They carried the good news with them developing disciples and disciplemakers. As a result, Free Churches were planted all across the country. Not long after, the first Free Church missionaries were sent to Salt Lake City, Utah, and then other missionaries, to China. You see, our heritage is “evangelical,” which is a modern translation of an ancient Biblical word that means good news.

To dive deeper into this heritage, I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. David Gustafson at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Dr. Gustafson speaks fluent Swedish and recently translated a historical document of the first 30 years of the Swedish Free Church from Swedish to English. He has a passionate heart for evangelism, serving as a pastor, a campus director with Cru and writing several books on the topic. Please take a moment to watch our conversation together on the EFCA’s heritage and evangelism.

We were once dead

So, we see brokenness in our world and we naturally want to fix it. It is tempting to believe these situations can be fixed only through other means—like money, politics and power. However, our brokenness goes deep, beyond the reach of earthly solutions, as we read from the apostle Paul in Ephesians 2:

“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you previously walked according to the ways of this world, according to the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit now working in the disobedient. We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also” (Eph 2:1-3, CSB).

It's not that we’re broken just a little. We’re dead! We’re dead in our trespasses and sins. Nothing can bring something dead back to life except God. And yet, what grabs my heart is the character of God in His mercy and love, raising us as sinners to new life. Paul continues:

“But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love that he had for us, made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace!” (Eph 2:4-5, CSB).

Only God, through His mercy and grace, can make us alive again. When I think about that, when I think about how I was once dead in my sin and God made me alive, it reminds me of why the EFCA exists—to glorify God by multiplying transformational churches among all people. We are His ambassadors entrusted with the good news that we were once dead but God loved us and gave us new life. We are called to tell others about this saving grace.

Our present and future

I’m confident the evangelistic fervor in the hearts of our Free Church founders pumps in the EFCA’s heart today. Yet, as I mentioned last month, the idols in our lives can easily derail our gospel mission and witness. When that happens, it’s good to recognize those idols and cast them aside. When we remember where we came from and how the saving work of Jesus impacts our lives, those cherished memories will strengthen our resolve and give us confidence to share the gospel.

But how should we live to honor our evangelical heritage and emblazon our gospel witness to the world? First, the gospel must take precedence in our lives. The early Free Church was a true gospel movement; they were all about saving souls. This passion is now built into who we are and why we do what we do. We want people to know Christ and root them deep in His Word, because the good news has real, life-changing implications for our communities. Let’s live with the same passion for the gospel as our Free Church forebears.

People won’t ask you for the hope that is within you if they don’t see it.

Second, the world needs to see our hope. In 1 Peter 3:15, Peter writes, “but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, ready at any time to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” People won’t ask you for the hope that is within you if they don’t see it. Our lives should burn so brightly with hope that people are compelled to ask—why do you have so much hope? After all, our world is drenched in hopelessness, and the little hope they cling to is often misplaced. We can show our neighbors and communities the true and perfect hope of Jesus Christ by relentless perseverance in doing good works.

For instance, Reflection Church, a new church plant, started from a family helping homeowners rebuild their homes through ReachGlobal Crisis Response. Kevin Saegert and his family saw a need for the gospel in that community and organized several outreach events to share Jesus’ love. They donated 200 diapers to a pregnancy center. They gave out $200 in quarters at a laundromat to help people with their laundry and also donated 450 food boxes to families in need. Through those good deeds, Reflection Church had opportunities to share the gospel. And, thanks to God’s faithfulness, Reflection Church saw growth, officially launched this year and now worship together at a local restaurant.

Practical and attitudinal challenges

Yet, it’s important we acknowledge our realities. As Christians, we can always expect trials and obstacles to hinder our witness. However, I see two distinct challenges for us today.

First, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to create a practical challenge. Many of us are stuck at home most days. I haven’t been home this much in fifteen years! We have new neighbors on our court and Becky and I want to get to know them and invite them over for dinner. The problem is: we can only talk to them from our driveways. So, we need to get creative.

But we need to be clear: people are not the enemy. The Enemy of our souls is the enemy.

I know of one person who puts together a little note with a ribbon that says, “My name is Amy. I know this is a really hard time. I just want you to know that I’m praying for you. If there’s anything I can help you with, here’s my number.” And she hangs the note on the doorknob of her neighbor’s house just to say she cares. Other ideas have sprung up as well. Recently, a ReachGlobal missionary shared on the EFCA’s blog how she’s been witnessing to others during this time; I encourage you to read the article.

Along with practical challenges, we also have attitudinal challenges. We live in a polarized age. It seems increasingly like people either consider you an ally or an enemy wherever you stand on an issue. But we need to be clear: people are not the enemy. The Enemy of our souls is the enemy.

As people, we are dead in our sin and need the hope and love of Jesus. Someone may have a political sign in their yard or say something you disagree with online, but they are not the enemy. The Enemy is the enemy. To effectively share the gospel, we must abandon the idea that anyone who isn’t like us or disagrees with us is the enemy.

Simply, we must look at people with the heart of Jesus, who loved us and raised us to new life even though we were spiritually dead. We must show others the same love that He showed us. Then, we can boldly share His good news, pointing to Him who brought us from death to life. Like those parents in the faith who pioneered the EFCA, our love of Jesus, the gospel and our fervor to share it should define us—nothing else.

These challenges are significant. But our Lord Jesus is greater. Let us look to Him for comfort when we grow weary and strength when we feel weak, for He will help us overcome any obstacle in our path. As we look to Him, let’s remember His heart for a world that is full of broken people, hungry for hope. Their only hope is Jesus and the Church.

Because no one else carries the good news.

Kevin Kompelien

President, EFCA

Kevin Kompelien is president of the Evangelical Free Church of America, serving in this role since June 2015. He previously served more than 20 years as a local pastor in the EFCA and then nine years as international leader of the Africa division with EFCA ReachGlobal. He and his wife, Becky, are members of Hillside EFC in San Jose, California.

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