“Fellowshifting is not a one-time event,” said Bartley Sawatsky, executive director of the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches (FGBC) as he opened the 2014 national conference Thursday evening at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C.
Sawatksy is also the pastor of Grace Community Church, Mississauga, Ontario.
He began his talk comparing the FGBC to a starfish – a creature that does not have a head and leadership can come from anywhere. An arm can be cut off and it will grow another one.
“The biggest threat to the starfish is the wrong culture,” he said, noting that it can be impacted by its surroundings. He encouraged the audience to consider creating a culture for movement in the FGBC.
He detailed four actions that he believes will help create that culture: celebrate, collaborate, capitalize, and commemorate. These were concepts that came to light after consulting with FGBC leadership and pastors over the last year. He stressed that we could cheer one another on, encourage people to share their ideas, direct resources to groups that are bringing about transformation, and give honor to our “tribe’s” history, belief, and practices.
“The beauty of a fellowship is its diversity,” he said. He also stressed the importance of respecting our roots. “We’ve got good roots,” he added.
He encouraged the audience to acknowledge three things: “that the expression of the church must constantly change, that our mission is what drives us to constantly change, and that we are going to do it together.”
He compared and contrasted what he termed the “first fellowshift” – when the early church in Acts expanded from just the Jews to the Gentiles. He also noted the “establishment” and “movement” styles of Peter and Paul. “Both roles are extremely important,” he emphasized.
He noted several lessons: with the establishment there is no movement, but they must get up to speed; the establishment must hear from God; it takes an establishment person to win over an establishment person; the movement person must be patient in talking with the establishment; and the establishment people and the movement people must be on the same page.
“We are the progressive Brethren,” he said, stressing that the Grace Brethren were among those who wanted to engage the culture and change practice to reach people for Christ in the late 1800s. “Shifting is in our DNA.”
Sawatsky’s talk was at the end of the first session that included worship music led by Jeremy Byng, of Grace Community Church, Goshen, Ind. (Jim Brown, pastor), and Scott Avey, of Grace Community Church, Frederick, Md. (R. Greene, pastor). Also on the program were videos of various ministries, a panel that shared stories of previous conferences, and a fun doughnut eating contest between three generations.
Friday’s session kicks off with the first sponsored meal. The staff of GBCanada will share their ministry over an early morning breakfast. The morning celebration will include Mark Artrip, pastor of Movement Church, Hilliard, Ohio, who will talk about “Three Values Our Fellowship Needs to Leverage.” The evening session will include talks from Sarah Knepper, a member of the church planting team at Movement Church, and Gerardo Leiton, pastor of Iglesia Comunal Cristiana, Tampa, Fla.
Also on Friday are sponsored meals by CE National and the Grace Brethren Investment Foundation, along with the meetings of the Association of Grace Brethren Ministers and Women of Grace USA. Friday evening concludes with a concert by comedian Michael Jr.
Watch the pages of GraceConnect.us for continuing coverage of the conference, including on Facebook and Twitter. Follow #fellowshift on Twitter for live-time reporting from the conference.
Additional photos from Thursday night may be viewed on the GraceConnect Facebook page.