August 13, 2014 — by Rev. Eric O. Jacobsen


Words I Never Thought I'd Say

Feelings of dread


Rank in order (from most undesirable to least undesirable) the following experiences:

  1. A root canal

  2. An IRS audit

  3. Your denomination’s synod meeting

  4. Putting your dog down


There was a time in the not-too-distant past when ‘item C’ might have beaten out a few of these for the status of least desirable. I’m not kidding. I really used to dread going to denominational meetings. It’s not that denominational meetings were literally as painful as a root canal, but in my experience, they were painful in their own way. The pain I experienced had to do with the yawning gap between what could be and maybe what should be and what I actually experienced.

I could usually manage to make it to the end of the meeting without too much grief. That is, until the thought began to surface that this was supposed to be the place where I was going to be strengthened, energized, and resourced for all of the challenges I was facing at the local church to which I have been called. This was not supposed to be a meeting to simply endure—to just get through. This was supposed to be something I looked forward to—a part of my schedule to cherish. But when that first draft of the agenda appeared in my inbox, then with each additional committee report and ‘agenda update’, my sense of dread would grow. What are we doing here? How did it get to this point? Is there any way this could be different? All of this is really a lead in to something I never thought I’d hear myself saying:

I am really looking forward to our ECO Synod meeting next week in Dallas.

I really am. I’m excited to connect with fellow travelers who, like me, are seeking to build flourishing churches that make disciples of Jesus Christ. I’m excited to find out where the Kingdom is breaking through in our growing movement. And I’m even excited to collaborate with others on a polity that is structured enough to provide guidance and accountability while being nimble enough to allow churches to respond well to the challenge of doing ministry in a post-Christian society.

Imagining a new way


I don’t know about the rest of you, but I feel it was a prophetic moment when John Ortberg articulated a vision for ECO at the Covenanting Conference in Orlando, back in 2012. I am thrilled Menlo Park is now officially a member of ECO and that John Ortberg will be able to join us and give the opening Bible study for our Synod meeting.

ECO-gathering-Orlando-2012 Covenanting Conference 2012 | Orlando, FL

And that isn’t even the half of it. After our Synod meeting, we are going to join forces with our brothers and sisters in The Fellowship to hear from some of the leading thinkers and practitioners in missional theology today. These past few months, Alan Hirsch’s amazing books have been mind blowing for me and I’m especially looking forward to hear what he’ll have to say to us, in our particular situation. Alan Hirsch is just one of the amazing speakers we have an opportunity to learn from over the next couple of days.

Next week in Dallas, I fully expect to be strengthened, energized, and resourced for all of the challenges that lay ahead. But at the same time, I want to be careful to not respond to one mistaken approach by making a mistake on the other end of the spectrum. My old denominational meetings tended to be boring and lacking focus. It would be a mistake, I think, to see our future meetings only as more exciting and more focused versions of what we were doing before.

We are going to have to continue to think about what it means to do this differently. That’s why I’m excited to share this experience with you as we collectively live into this exhilarating and wonderfully surprising challenge of ECO. I don’t have all of the answers, you don’t have all of the answers, and I’m not looking to our presenters to provide the answers for us. But I am confident the answers will come as we take risky steps into this unchartered territory. I believe we really can do things differently, but it will only happen if we come not as consumers of a ‘new and improved denominational experience,’ but rather as a people committed to being a community together.

I’ll see you in Dallas.


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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