By Pastor Stephen Hess –
On June 21st – 25th I had the opportunity to travel to the 36th General Assembly of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. The General Assembly is an annual meeting where leaders from across our denomination gather to worship, conduct church business, and make decisions pertaining to our life together. This year’s assembly was held in Northville, Michigan and over 1250 people attended the meeting over five days. There were many blessings during those days and I came away excited about what is happening in our denomination. Here are a few highlights.
Denominational Growth – Ten years ago the EPC had 182 churches and eight “presbyteries” (regional governing bodies). Today the EPC has grown to 587 churches and thirteen presbyteries! In 2016 alone our denomination has already received 16 new churches into its membership coming from other denominations. The EPC is a rapidly growing movement!
Global Missions – The “World Outreach” arm of our denomination sends out Evangelical Presbyterians to start reproducing-churches among people with least access to the Gospel. The EPC currently has 68 missionary “units” in 23 different countries (a “unit” is a family, couple, or single missionary). Our denomination has specifically focused on reaching Muslim areas of the world, with over half of the missionary units serving in Muslim-majority countries. We had the opportunity to hear from many of these global workers and to commission new missionaries as they prepared to enter the field.
Global Partnerships – One exciting partnership that was approved at this assembly was a formal relationship (“fraternal relations”) between the EPC and the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico (INPM). The INPM is the largest Presbyterian body in the western hemisphere with over 6,000 congregations. The EPC and the INPM plan to support one another specifically in church planting. The INPM is seeking help from us specifically with planting churches in larger cities located in northern Mexico. At the same time, we are seeking their help in planting churches in the United States in predominately Spanish-speaking cities and regions. In this way our two denominations can be of great support to one another in spreading the gospel.
Global Relief/Aid – Over the past few years the EPC has collected and distributed funds to help address two different global crises. The first is the “Iraqi Christian Emergency Relief Project”, which has collected $73,000 to support Iraqi Christians who have been displaced and persecuted by ISIS. The second is the “Syrian Refugee Emergency Relief Project”, which has collected $70,000 in the last 6 months alone to help Syrian refugees. Some of our global mission workers are also on the front lines of helping these refugees.
Church Planting – In 2010 there were only 7 active EPC church plants in the United States. Today there are at least 24 active EPC church plants. Our percentage of church plants has grown to 4.1% of the denomination and could easily reach 4.5% by the end of 2016. Church planting expert Thom Rainer says a healthy church planting denomination is planting churches at a rate of 3.5%-4.5% of its total church population. The EPC is becoming a healthy church planting denomination!
Human Sexuality – At last year’s General Assembly a committee was entrusted with the task of writing a new position paper for our denomination on human sexuality. The task of the committee was to update our current position papers on issues of sexuality and marriage by creating a new document that would pastorally address these issues in a Biblical and comprehensive way. The committee created an excellent document that upholds Biblical marriage and God’s design for sexuality. The paper was approved as our new preliminary position paper and can be accessed on the EPC website: www.epc.org/positionpapers
Meetings like this are a reminder that Highview church is part of something much bigger than just what happens in Waukesha County. We are part of a denomination and a movement that is global and where there are many exciting things happening. God is at work in the EPC, and Highview is part of that work. We give thanks to God for all that he has done in our midst, and all he will continue to do in the years to come!