Spirit of Repentance, Reconciliation Overtakes Canada Conference
By Carl Stagner
“Those who have ears to hear, let them hear what the Spirit is saying to—our district.” The personalized application of the repeated admonition found in the second and third chapters of Revelation provided the foundation for one of the most pivotal gatherings of the Church of God in Western Canada. On February 20 and 21, Canadian Church of God Ministries hosted LeaderConnect 2020 for which the theme would prove profoundly prophetic: “Healing the Heart of Our District.” Instead of presentations that touted the region’s successes and strengths, leaders humbled themselves before one another and their affiliated congregations, offering specific words of repentance. In an unprecedented display of vulnerability, hearts were laid bare, past hurts were acknowledged, and forgiveness was extended.
A major component of the conference was the passing of the torch of leadership of the region from Ken Wiedrick to George Lutzer. Much of the event, though, was characterized by solemn assembly, modeled after the example found in the book of Ezra. More than a generic solemn assembly, this service was composed of a variety of leaders confessing failures of the district over the span of it history.
The “Healing of the Heart of the District” approach led Ken and Canadian Church of God Ministries to, “like an X-ray machine…identify and address ‘root’ causes of ministry frustration, providing a biblically based, systemic approach to ‘body’ problem.” According to the program booklet for this event, which was held at Grace Point Church of God in Edmonton, Alberta, the process was designed to
• “make sense of why there is (and has been) so much pain in our ministry,
• discover how Jesus uses corporate pain to speak to us and get us to listen,
• learn his way to heal and rebuild damaged or broken trust in leadership,
• bring lasting reconciliation and peace to our ministry, and
• experience new hope for spiritual revitalization and for fulfilling the purpose for which our ministry exists.”
Furthermore, the process emphasized that “indicators of how well a church functions on a systemic level include:
• healthy communication,
• spiritual growth and reproduction,
• trust in leadership,
• weather a church’s overall spirit is joyful or not, and
• the presence of unhealed wounds in the life of the church.”
Ken Wiedrick has been in ministry for forty-two years, and at his retirement this May will have served Canadian Church of God Ministries for eleven years. In this time, he has learned that some issues simply cannot be resolved through yet another program or initiative. The Church of God in Western Canada has dealt with its fair share of problems, including, but not limited to, a decline in congregations, a decline in adherents, the disassociation of the German congregations by establishing their own network, doctrinal differences, the closing of their college, the discontinuation of their regional newspaper, and an unsuccessful reconciliation attempt with two leaders in the 1990s that resulted in termination instead.
More often than not, when a church leader is transitioning out of a long-held position, every effort is made to shine the spotlight on his or her accomplishments. Sometimes these spotlights ignore ministry setbacks and even failures, avoiding awkward conversations and occasionally sweeping the dust under the rug. Ken Wiedrick wasn’t at all concerned about his name being somehow tarnished in the history books. His concern was obedience to the Holy Spirit, and doesn’t feel like the experience damaged his legacy in the least.
“Really, it turned out to be the opposite,” Ken reflects. “In many ways it feels kind of like clearing the debris for George following in my footsteps. I’d been familiar with the Healing the Heart of the Church material, both when I served in Michigan and then out here. I was presenting the material with one of our congregations in Western Canada back in January 2017 and heard the Holy Spirit clearly say this to me: ‘You’re really intent on getting the speck out of their eye when there’s a log in your eye.’ I hadn’t really done a lot of close examination of the history, but I’d heard stories of what the General Assembly here used to be like, including some of the pain. I came to the conclusion that, in order to be obedient, I needed to do this.”
Through the solemn assembly, Ken and other leaders read “corporate statements of confession” that addressed each of the major points of pain felt by the Church of God in Western Canada. Most of the statements reflected mediatorial authority, patterned after the biblical solemn assembly, wherein leaders would “stand in” for others and confess the sins of former generations. Ken insists such a practice is not a copout, for “it’s really an acknowledgement that, if we had been there, we probably would have done the same thing. Mediatorial authority is a humble approach, recognizing that we have the same capacity to sin as anyone who preceded us.”
In Ken’s address, for instance, he confessed four corporate sins, including what he describes as the region’s spirit of independence, arrogance toward their German brothers and sisters, a proud spirit toward the Church of God in Eastern Canada, and ongoing identity struggle with the Church of God in the United States. Citing the rugged individualism and western expansion of the Church of God that formed their beloved region, his confession communicated the need to repent from these natural, but harmful tendencies.
An “Eighth Letter to the District,” synthesizing the region’s sentiment that pivotal day in February, was a practical application of the seven letters to the churches in Revelation. In unison, the gathered assembly read this letter aloud and resolved to heed both the commendations and the open rebuke. “It was a way to capture and condense what we believe the Holy Spirit would speak to us today,” Ken explains.
The positive feedback to the experience was instantaneous and continues to trickle in. Bob Moss, who was invited to offer the keynote address, prepared his sermon well before the event yet providentially underscored the theme of the gathering with his words. Bob was an eyewitness to the repentance and reconciliation that broke out in western Canada. “Rather than this reconciliation being an ending, it is a beginning,” he reflects. “It was an honor to attend, representing Church of God Ministries and the US members of the General Assembly. I believe there are transferable principles in what happened in western Canada that could be helpful all across our Movement.”
Also present for the occasion, intentionally, were the regional pastor for the Church of God in Eastern Canada (Chris Bonis) and the president of the Canadian Mission Board (Ron Taron), which is the overarching leadership board for the German network of congregations in Canada.
George Lutzer, the new executive director for Canadian Church of God Ministries, is grateful for what happened at LeaderConnect. He concludes, “My prayer is that we would continue to humble ourselves and attend to the voice of God’s Spirit, such that we would hear what he is saying to us as a region (and as individual congregations), obey his directions, and abide in him. We sense a fresh wind is blowing and we simply want to stay in step with God’s Spirit, joining him where he is already at work around us.”
As a parting token of remembrance for all God had done in their midst over those two momentous days, each congregation was given a tuning fork. Ken reflects, “We want to get to the place where we resonate with the Holy Spirit, not distracted but using it as an icon to remind us to stay in tune with him. That’s why we’re here.”
Learn more about the Church of God movement in the United States and Canada, as well as missions that reach beyond, at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.