January 22, 2015 — by Rev. Eric O. Jacobsen


An ECO Synod Executive Council Update

Hi. My name is Eric Jacobsen, and in addition to being a pastor from Tacoma Washington, I am the President of the Synod Executive Council. I’m also a contributor to this blog, so if you are a regular reader, you may already know a bit about me and some of my random thoughts about life in ECO. Today, I wanted to combine two of these hats and use the blog forum to give you all an update from our latest meeting of the Council that took place just last week. Let me first introduce you to the members of the ECO Synod Executive Council:

  • Eric Jacobsen, Pastor (First Pres Tacoma, WA)
  • Bobby Austell, Elder (First Pres Greenville, SC)
  • Linda Gray, Elder (First Pres Jerome, ID)
  • Jennifer Holz, Pastor (First Pres Colorado Springs, CO)
  • Jay Lee, Pastor (Highland Park, TX)
  • Larry Moffet, Elder (St. Giles Pres, Richmond, VA)
  • Scott Palmbush, Pastor (Menlo Park Pres, CA)
  • Laura Smit, Professor of Theology (Calvin College, MI)
  • Greg Smith, Elder (North Palm Pres, FL) 

The ECO Team

Our Synod Executive Council meetings include the board members as well as the ECO staff. I’ve been on a lot of boards and committees in my life, and I have to say the members of this board are among the most capable and committed individuals with whom I have ever worked.  The group works extremely well together as a team. Because of this dynamic, one of the major culture shifts that I have experienced in ECO is that I’ve had to raise my expectations for what will be accomplished in committee work. I come away from our meetings excited about where ECO is headed at the macro level as well as encouraged in my work with the local church. 

ECO: Past, Present, & Future

Dana Allin (our Synod Executive) gave us a comprehensive report of what was accomplished in 2014 and what we’ll be working on in 2015. At the time of the meeting, we had 175 member churches in ECO with another 100 or so in the pipeline to join.  We also have another 200 in the discernment process. One of the challenges we will face going forward will be to maintain the culture of ECO and move forward in our mission while rapidly expanding our base of churches. As we have grown, we have successfully transitioned from 2 to 9 presbyteries. In the coming year, we could expand that number to 15 because of the numbers of churches, but we expect to retain 9 presbyteries to help facilitate the preservation of the culture (then moving to potentially 16 presbyteries in 2016).

Who We Are

John Terech (our Director of Operations) gave us a report of where he has been focusing his attention. He’s working on a Synod Operations Manual and is being very careful to develop something useful that reflects the distinct culture and values of ECO. He’s starting to roll out the Shelby Arena database in some select areas and is beginning to plan some training sessions to help us all benefit from this new resource. He’s continuing to work on our health care plan and has emphasized that since we have a self-funded plan, the best way to reduce premiums is to reduce claims by participating in the wellness program. We have a lot of opportunity for growth in this area. For instance, last year, only 20% of our members took advantage of the free annual physical. We can do a lot better than that!

The ECO 2016 Conference

We spent a lot of time engaged in a good discussion about the next National Synod Meeting. This meeting will take place in January of 2016 and this will be the first time that ECO and the Fellowship will be hosting separate meetings. We reviewed feedback from last year’s synod meeting and began articulating a vision for the upcoming meeting in very broad brushstrokes. Our desire is that this gathering will provide a forum for thoughtful generative deliberation, a venue for sharing best practices, as well as a setting for building relational connections. We recognize that between elders, church staff, older members, younger members, and people of different cultural/ethnic backgrounds, participants will come to this gathering with widely divergent needs and expectations. Our prayer is that we will be able to sort through all of these considerations and pull together a gathering that is both helpful and encouraging.

ECO Finances, Theology Task Force, & Global Presence

On the second day, we heard from ECO Chief Operating Officer, Brenda Smith, and were delighted to find out that our financial health is strong. We also heard from Laura Smit from the Theological Task Force and Bill Young, ECO’s Director of Global Engagement. Laura talked a about the upcoming Theology Consult taking place next week. She explained the rationale for splitting the Task Force into separate ECO and Fellowship Task Forces. In short, the ECO Task Force will help generate discussions for us as we look at the question of maintaining or changing the number of confessions in the Book of Confessions. Bill Young shared with us some exciting opportunities for mission in the Arabian Peninsula through partnerships with Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship, Outreach Foundation, and Antioch Partnership. The Board recommended vetting and advertising these opportunities rather than adopting any of them as an official ECO mission because of our desire to avoid top-down initiatives as a general principle. Opportunities to be involved will be forthcoming.

Where We Want to Go

In addition to these specific issues and concerns, the board spent a good amount of time asking more fundamental questions and dreaming about the future of ECO. A theme that came up frequently in these conversations was ‘unlearning’. All of us joined ECO because something wasn’t working for our churches and in our denomination. Although these things didn’t work well, they have influenced some of our default practices and have shaped our imaginations to some extent. So some of the hardest work we have to do is to ‘unlearn’ some deeply embedded habits in order to free us up to become the disciples, the leaders, the churches, and the denomination that God is calling us to be. Our prayer from the ECO Synod Executive Council is that we would be drawn together as colleagues in ministry as we go through this unlearning process together. 

A Time of Discernment

The Synod Executive Council had an encouraging, prayerful, and fun time together envisioning the future of ECO.  As always, first and foremost, we continue to seek God’s wisdom for the direction of this movement and the people He has called to serve in and through it.  We are so blessed to serve alongside of each of you and we are excited about the ways Christ is alive and working among us. We encourage you to join us in prayer for God’s continued blessings as we seek to build flourishing churches that make disciples of Jesus Christ.


Rev. Eric O. Jacobsen

Eric Jacobsen is the senior pastor at First Presbyterian Church, Tacoma Washington. Eric previously served as the Associate Pastor of First Presbyteriam Church in Missoula, MT from 1995-2004. He also has taught as an Adjunct Professor at both Regent College in British Columbia and Fuller Theological Seminary in California, where he received his Ph.D. Eric is married to Liz Jacobsen, an elementary school teacher who brings her extensive theater background as well as her love for children to the classroom. Liz and Eric have four children, and they both have deep roots in the Pacific Northwest (Liz’s mom grew up in Tacoma!).  

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