An Interview with John Wenrich

John Wenrich

John Wenrich

John Wenrich serves as the director of Congregational Vitality for the Evangelical Covenant Church and instructor in North Park Theological Seminary‘s certificate in congregational vitality. His article, “The Holy Spirit and Congregational Vitality,” leads our upcoming Quarterly issue. Here John shares his own journey into congregational vitality, how international and seminary teaching have shaped his ministry in North America, and his vision for the Evangelical Covenant Church. (Read the full issue here.)

What led you to the ministry of congregational vitality? What primary factors have contributed to your passion and gifting for guiding congregations toward vitality?

I came into the Covenant as a church planter in 1994. The concepts I learned in church planting prepared me for leading revitalization when I became pastor of First Covenant Church in Portland – a church established in 1887. I experienced firsthand the wind of the Spirit blowing through the valley of dry bones while leading the revitalization of First Covenant. Through the very rewarding experience of pastoring this congregation, God showed me that dying churches can change their trajectory as the Holy Spirit moves and guides. This is why I am passionate about church plants and established churches learning from each other.

As a young boy, I was very close with my grandfather. That significant relationship taught me how to treasure the elderly, listen to their stories and learn from their accumulated wisdom. I remember visiting the oldest living member, Harold Anderson, the very first week “on the job” at First Covenant. I asked him to bless me. I will never forget that experience. Something supernatural happened. God has given me a love for the local church and a passion to see the Gospel burn brightly and warmly in our hearts. I like envisioning, building, and casting a vision of hope.

In your experience, what are the strongest indicators that a congregation should begin the vitality process? Do the indicators look different depending on cultural context or socio-economic circumstances?

There are obvious indicators like flat or declining attendance, decreased giving and a lack of healthy missional leaders. But there are more subtle indicators: apathy, stagnation, a loss of hope, or living in the past. These indicators tend to cross cultures and class.

Yet there is a perception that the pathway is a last resort. Like postponing a doctor’s appointment, some congregations wait until the pain of not changing outweighs the pain of changing. The best time to work on vitality is now. This is true even for healthy missional churches. Our vision is for every church to walk the congregational vitality pathway regardless of their current state of health; we hope vitality becomes the new normal.

Statistics put out by Start and Strengthen Churches suggest that the majority of pastors entering the vitality pathway are white men. How do you interpret this? Is the vitality process culturally-specific? Is there a correlation between white churches and churches in need of vitality? 

It is no secret that the majority of established congregations in the Covenant are white and are led by white male pastors. Statistics refers to this as a distribution sample. This says more about established Covenant churches as a whole than it does about vitality. Most of the multi-ethnic growth in the Covenant is coming through the portal of church planting, not established churches. Continue Reading

Sneak Peek: CQ 74:1 | Congregational Vitality

Our upcoming Covenant Quarterly issue engages the congregational vitality initiative of the Evangelical Covenant Church. In it John Wenrich, director of Congregational Vitality for the ECC, roots vitality efforts in the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Covenant pastors Ryan Eikenbary-Barber and Corey Johnsrud share the results of their respective doctoral research assessing the impact of the vitality pathway as a whole and of the Veritas seminar in particular. Here’s a sneak peek.

John Wenrich

John Wenrich

John Wenrich currently serves as director of congregational vitality for the Evangelical Covenant Church. He has recently been nominated executive minister of Start and Strengthen Churches for the ECC.

“A Chinese proverb says, ‘The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right name.’ Churches often have an easier time telling the truth about Jesus than they do about themselves. Telling the truth about our current reality and trajectory is no less a work of the Spirit than a powerful miracle, sign, or wonder—a lot less glamorous to be sure, but no less significant. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of power and the Spirit of truth. Power and truth must go hand in hand in congregations as they do in the person of the Holy Spirit. Power without truth is dangerous; truth without power is lifeless. Power without truth is abusive and arrogant; truth without power is dry orthodoxy.”

from “The Holy Spirit and Congregational Vitality


Ryan head shot

Ryan Eikenbary-Barber

Ryan Eikenbary-Barber is lead pastor of Bethany Covenant Church in Mount Vernon, Washington. His Doctor of Ministry research at Luther Seminary investigated the impact of the vitality pathway on a single Covenant congregation.

“The vitality pathway helped us navigate our way through new realities. We began to seek the continual conversion that Darrell Guder advocates. Bethlehem employed both servant and transformative leadership styles to help guide the congregation forward. We were inspired by Heifetz’s, Grashow’s, and Linsky’s teachings on adaptive leadership. We sought deep cultural change instead of cosmetic tweaks. We understood congregational change to be a spiritual practice, not just an exercise in human autonomy. Conflict led to change, which ultimately led to growth.”

from “New Life at Bethlehem


Corey Johnsrud

Corey Johnsrud

Corey Johnsrud is pastor of adult ministries at Redwood Covenant Church in Santa Rosa, California. He earned his Doctor of Ministry degree from Luther Seminary, researching the efficacy of the ECC’s Veritas seminar.

“There is a strong tendency in the Covenant ethos that values friendship over mission. That is demonstrated especially when there are hard conversations to be had or difficult directional decisions to be made. We generally seek to preserve friendship over mission. If we are truly to live into the missional ecclesiology that I believe is at the core of our DNA as a denomination, we have to recapture the tension between mission and friendship. If we continue to value relationship over mission we will continue to see our established congregations, for whom the Veritas seminar was developed, languish and decline. Alternatively, if we embrace the wind of the Spirit and the gifts given to the church, we may yet see healthy, missional congregations emerge.”

From “Healthy Missional Churches: An Exploration of the Impact of the Veritas Seminar on Congregations


Resources: Chaplaincy & Mental Health

Our authors have recommended the following books and websites on chaplaincy ministry, the church & mental illness, and specific topics raised within Quarterly articles and Forum posts. What other resources would you suggest to those considering, or currently serving in, chaplaincy or mental health ministries?

Chaplaincy | Books & Websites

Mental Health | Books & Websites


Select the “comments” link under post title above to add your reviews and recommendations.


An Interview with Chaplain Jeff Saville


Jeff Saville

Jeff Saville has served as a Navy chaplain for twenty-three years around the globe. As chairperson of the Covenant Chaplains Association, Jeff’s leadership has been seminal to our upcoming Quarterly issue. He shares with us here some of the challenges, rewards, and lessons of chaplaincy ministry.

What do you find most challenging and most rewarding about chaplaincy ministry?

A chaplain works with people of every faith and none. When I was with the national parks ministry, I spent time with students and school administrators from over forty Christian denominations. To be effective, I had to learn to understand mindsets that were very different from my own evangelical background. Over time I learned not to judge but to appreciate and learn from the variety of Christian expression in the United States – from the Assemblies of God to the United Church of Christ, from Roman Catholics to Quakers. As a Navy chaplain, I learned to minister to people of every confession.

How do chaplains contribute to the larger church?

The chaplain belongs to two entities simultaneously—the church that endorsed them, and the secular institution that hired them. Chaplains serve institutions, many of which are secular (hospitals, military, correctional institutions, corporate workplaces, campuses, retirement communities, and more). Chaplains extend the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ into places of deep need for spiritual insight, care, and compassion. Continue Reading

Sneak Peek: CQ 73:3-4 | Chaplaincy & Mental Health

Chaplains comprise approximately 10% of the Covenant Ministerium, serving in diverse institutional contexts from hospitals to corporate offices. In the upcoming issue of the Covenant Quarterly, due for publication November 30, 2015, four Covenant chaplains offer theological reflection on their ministry, with relevance for all pastoral caregivers. The issue features articles from Robert L. Hubbard, Tim Fretheim, Joel Jueckstock, and Kyle Vlach. An additional piece from author & editor Amy Simpson considers the church’s role in caring for families suffering from mental illness. Here’s a sneak peek.


Robert Hubbard, Jr.

Robert L. Hubbard, Jr. (PhD, Clarmont Graduate School) is emeritus professor of biblical literature at North Park Theological Seminary. Ordained by the Evangelical Free Church of America, Hubbard served four years active duty as a U.S. Navy chaplain, including a tour in Vietnam, followed by twenty-six years in the Naval Reserve. He and his wife Pam live in Denver, Colorado, are the parents of two grown sons, and have one grandson.

“Further, the incarnation reminds us that we must be people living in genuine communion with God. To represent God to humans (and humans to God, too) we must intimately know God. Through that relationship, cultivated by worship, Scripture, and prayer, our understanding of who God is grows. It’s the only way that we, like angels and prophets, can be on intimate terms with God….A chaplain’s representing the living God effectively – demonstrating God’s love and mercy, or speaking or acting on God’s behalf – requires an ongoing relationship with our Lord that profoundly shapes our outlook, our attitudes, and our very personhood.”

From “Chaplaincy: Incarnation in Action


Tim Fretheim

Tim Fretheim has served for twenty-three years as chaplain at the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital of Vancouver, British Columbia. Prior to chaplaincy ministry, he served for fifteen years as a Covenant minister in various capacities, including parish minister, church planter (whose plant only grew two feet tall), and Teamster (in good standing!). He and his wife Marcia, a spiritual director, live in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, and have three adult children.

“The challenge for chaplains is to learn how to reach out to people that have delusions with religious content, both in the hospital and in the community. These persons can be behaviorally difficult and disruptive. They may require a great deal of time from the pastor. A congregation might be apprehensive and fearful about such a person. Thoughtful preparation will need to be given to ministering to a person with these needs. But the studies mentioned above indicate that positive spiritual coping benefited these people, allowing them to live a richer life.”

From “Many Will Come in My Name: Spiritual Care for Persons with a Delusion of Grandiosity with Religious Content


Amy Simpson

Amy Simpson is the award-winning author of Anxious: Choosing Faith in a World of Worry and Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission (both InterVarsity Press). She’s also a personal and professional coach, senior editor of Leadership Journal, and a frequent speaker. You can find her at and on Twitter @aresimpson.

“Individuals and families affected by mental illness need help and support. They routinely find themselves on their own in the dark, unsure of how to get the help they need. Many often find themselves in crisis, and when they do reach out for help, they run into stigma and fear that alienate others from getting involved. Many people believe there is nothing churches can do to help. They are wrong.”

From “Supporting Families Living with Mental Illness


Joel Jueckstock

Joel Jueckstock (MDiv, Bethel Seminary) is a Covenant pastor serving as supervisor of Spiritual Care Maple Grove Hospital and adjunct professor at Bethel Seminary while in the final stages of doctoral work at Luther Seminary. Joel and his family live in St. Paul, Minnesota, and worship at Salem Covenant Church.


Kyle Vlach

Kyle Vlach (MDiv, Bethel Seminary) is a Covenant pastor, licensed marriage and family therapist, chaplain, and Clinical Pastoral Education supervisor at United Hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota. He lives in St. Paul with his wife and daughter and is a member of First Covenant Church.

“Effective pastoral care requires that the caregiver recognize not only the priority of divine agency but also one’s own agency, seeking to align oneself with God’s work. The task of reimagining a ministry of active presence is not necessarily concerned with the ‘what’ of incarnational ministry but with the ‘how,’ specifically the ways in which the pastor’s agency can be best aligned with God….If the pastor is without a sense of agency, self-awareness, and capacities for ministry, her potential will not be fully actualized. Pastors may better partner with the ministry of the Triune God through increased awareness of the self in ministry.”

From “Claiming a Substantive View of Presence: The Significance of the Pastor’s Self

Essential Reading: Intercultural Biblical Interpretation

Want to read more on intercultural biblical interpretation? Get started with these resources – and let us know what we’ve missed.

  • Allen Dwight Callahan, The Talking Book: African Americans and the Bible (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006).
  • Brian K. Blount, Cain Hope Felder, Clarice J. Martin, and Emerson B. Powery, eds., True to our Native Land: An African American New Testament Commentary (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007).
  • Cain Hope Felder, ed., Stony the Road We Trod: African American Biblical Interpretation (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991).
  • Charles Crosgrove, Herold Weiss, and K.K. Yeo, eds. The Cross-Cultural Paul: Journey to Others, Journey to Ourselves (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005). An experimental volume of essays in which authors of different ethnicities interpret Scripture from their own cultural location and those of others.
  • Eunjoo Mary Kim, Preaching the Presence of God: A Homiletic from an Asian American Perspective (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1999).
  • Francisco Lozada, Jr., and Fernando Segovia, eds., Latino/a Biblical Hermeneutics: Problematics, Objectives, Strategies (SBL Semeia Studies 68; Atlanta: SBL Press, 2014).
  • Mary F. Foskett and Jeffrey Kah-Jin Kuan, eds., Ways of Being, Ways of Reading: Asian American Biblical Interpretation (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2006).
  • Randall Bailey, et al., eds., They Were All Together in One Place? Toward Minority Biblical Criticism (SBL Semeia Studies 57; Atlanta: SBL Press, 2009).
  • Tat-Siong Benny Liew, What Is Asian American Biblical Hermeneutics?: Reading the New Testament (Intersections: Asian and Pacific American Transcultural Studies; Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2008).

Do you have feedback on any of these books? Additional resources to share? Let us know in comments (link under title above).

An Interview with Max Lee

MaxLeeTallMax Lee is associate professor of New Testament at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago. Our upcoming issue of the Quarterly took early shape in Max’s course, Reading the Bible Interculturally. We talked with Max to explore further his academic and personal commitment to intercultural readings of Scripture.

Max, outside of being a professor and scholar, tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you do in your free time?

What I want to do is reach the gym and make a heroic attempt to keep myself in shape, but alas, much of my day, evenings, and late nights are spent managing the tension between my vocation as a professor and my investment in my two teenage sons. I hope and pray that they will grow up to be godly men.

When I’m on top of my game, my sons and I all make it to gym and run the treadmill, pump iron, and cool down at Starbucks after we are done.

What do you love most about teaching?

There is a genuine joy in gleaning insight from Scripture and sharing this with others. I love sharing what I learn, and I love learning from those with whom I share. If the Lord uses what I teach to inspire, encourage, challenge, and transform my students, and they, in turn, share what they learn with others through their preaching and ministry, my joy, in the words of Apostle Paul, becomes complete.

When did you first come across the subject of intercultural biblical interpretation? What drew you to studying it further?

My first formal exposure was in 2002, through my participation in the Korean Biblical Colloquium which meets concurrently with the Society of Biblical Literature each year. At KBC, I engaged with scholars who shared different hermeneutical commitments than my own, but nevertheless challenged me to think about how the social and cultural location of the reader affected biblical interpretation. Continue Reading

Sneak Peek: CQ 73:2 | Reading the Bible Interculturally

When we read Scripture, we necessarily do so from a particular socio-cultural location. What difference would it make if we were to examine this location and its impact on how we read? What would it look like to attempt to read the text from outside one’s own cultural context? Is such a practice possible? Desirable?

The next issue of the Covenant Quarterly, due for publication Monday, August 24, explores the practice and possibilities of intercultural biblical interpretation. This inaugural online issue includes contributions from Max Lee, Nilwona Nowlin, Erik Borggren, and Bruce L. Fields. Here’s a sneak peek.

Max Lee

Max Lee

Max Lee is associate professor of New Testament at North Park Theological Seminary. He blogs at Paul Redux.

“What better way can we love our neighbor than to take steps to learn about the cultural histories that shaped their identities and somehow, in the process, empathize with their struggles and make them our own? What better way can we love ourselves by letting our neighbors help expose our invisible presuppositions and prejudices? And what better way can we love God than when we, as a united community of diverse believers, learn from one another’s readings of Scripture so that we can obey its teaching with greater faithfulness?”

From “Reading the Bible Interculturally: An Invitation to the Evangelical Covenant Church and Evangelical Christianity

Nilwona Nowlin

Nilwona Nowlin

Nilwona Nowlin is the administrative specialist for governance for the Evangelical Covenant Church. A graduate of North Park Theological Seminary (MA, MNA), Nilwona is an active member of the Christian Community Development Association and serves on the launch team of Kingdom Covenant Church, Chicago.

“The story of Joseph offers resources for African and African American reconciliation. Joseph’s being sold into slavery by his brothers finds a parallel in the history of African Americans. Despite the years of pain, shame, and marginalization his brothers caused, Joseph was able to forgive them and be reconciled to them. Is a similar reconciliation possible between African Americans and Africans today? My paper pursues this question, drawing from the Joseph narrative…so that, as with Joseph, God may continue to take what was meant for evil and turn it into something good.”

From “To Save Many Lives: Exploring Reconciliation between Africans and African Americans through the Selling of Joseph

Erik Borggren

Erik Borggren

Erik Borggren is assistant pastor of Lincoln Square Presbyterian Church, Chicago, and spiritual formation coordinator for North Park University’s University Ministries. The focus of his work in discipleship and spiritual formation is the intersection of imagery, art, literature, liturgy, and social justice.

“This call to faithful submission and hope-filled resistance, especially in light of unjust powers, can be communicated in a way that is oppressive, even destructive. However, acknowledging that Christ is the true King…enables the church to reimagine submission, resistance, and the church’s cruciform identity through the lens of Japanese gaman, ‘to endure the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity.’ Far from passive silence, a call to Christian gaman is a call for the church through worship to ‘discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect’ (Romans 12:2).”

From “Romans 13:1-7 and Philippians 3:17-21: Paul’s Call to True Citizenship and to Gaman

Bruce L. Fields

Bruce L. Fields

Bruce L. Fields is associate professor of biblical and systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where he chairs the biblical and systematic theology department. Dr. Fields’ Eaton-Jones lecture, delivered February 16, 2015 at North Park University, appears in this issue, revised for publication.

“The fulfillment of the hermeneutical task requires serious study of the biblical text to determine its message. The task, however, is not complete until there is the careful communication of the message to an audience in its situatedness. If the analysis of one or the other is awry, the hermeneutical task is impeded. The fulfillment of both requires multiple participants. If the Black church and its hermeneutic are not given voice in the analysis of both the biblical text and the sociocultural environment, the hermeneutical task is dramatically hindered. It is hindered not only for the Black church but for the entire church.”

From “The One and the Many: What Can Be Learned from a Black Hermeneutic