I recently came back from a long week away from my family to meet with the board of the 4C’s (Conservative Congregationalist Christian Conference) and to participate in our annual church planting conference. I came away more encouraged than ever, and wanted to write why I personally am thankful for the 4C’s and why I am honored to sit on the board, and excited to play a hand in raising up leaders in our Church to be credentialed through the 4C’s and Lord willing help Pastors, Church planters and Churches looking for a covering consider the 4C’s as an ecclesiological home.
Let me start by saying what it isn’t. It’s not the name. It’s just a mouthful, the name is way to long. Imagine trying to print that on a mug. The other issue is with the word ‘conservative’ in what today is perhaps the most polarized time in our nation. The question is ‘conservative’ in what way and to whom? 75 years ago, when the denomination was formed, it meant theologically conservative, in that we accept the truth of the bible, the miracles it records, the virgin birth, the death and resurrection of Jesus and just the overall authority of scripture in our lives and faith. For me I say absolutely to all of this, sign me up! Having been a part of the 4C’s for the past 5 years, I can tell you that men and women are all over the map politically, yet there is an absolutely refreshing spiritual center where we all meet at the foot of the cross as sinners receiving His mercy together.
Sadly, there are increasingly fewer and fewer places you can meet with believers who don’t beat their political drum louder than their love for Jesus left! It’s also not the size or the money. We are a small humble denomination of about 300 churches and if you’re looking for that big corporate sponsor to put the wrap around sticker around your Nascar car to fund your ministry, this ain’t it.
So then why am I?
Autonomy with support, as we are currently preaching through the 7 letters to the 7 churches in Revelation chapters 2 and 3 and one of the things that stands out to me is the reality that each Church is a lamp, shining it’s light into the place God has place it. Jesus stands before the church, He is the one that gives her promises and warnings, He is the one they are both ultimately and immediately accountable to. The congregationalist way places a high value on the individual conscience of each Christian and a high responsibility on each Church to be faithful to their mission, where God has placed them. Each church is a complete Church ruled by Christ, and in a tangible and real way, exercising that authority through the priesthood of every believer as they are led by His Spirit.
But just because each church is autonomous and responsible to God, in the way that each person must live their own life before God, it doesn’t mean we aren’t here to help each other. We have one Lord, one faith and one baptism (Ephesians 4), and we co-labor together on the same mission (Matthew 28). We are here to support each other and so I love the way Churches can reach out for help, and there are ministries to come alongside them that can create a covenant with those Churches to help them, with mutually agreed upon and clear boundaries for that relationship.
A focus on Health. In the extremely helpful paper on ‘The Nature of our Fellowship’ which is found on the 4C’s website, it states “We recognize that as Congregational Christians we do not have to agree on everything to achieve Biblical respect and spiritual health. In the spirit of Acts 15, we seek to promote maximum freedom for the rule of God in our churches.” The seven values of the 4C’s are “A Culture of Believing Prayer and Intercession, Healthy Pastors, Healthy Disciple-making Churches, Healthy Church Multiplication, A Community that Lives Out Shared Life & Shared Mission, A Culture of Peacemaking and Reconciliation, and a Membership Reflective of the Harvest Field’s Diversity.” All of these could be summed up into a focus on the comprehensive health of our conference and every gathering, every business meeting, and every relationship I have encountered there has been this genuine and intentional Godly focus. In a time when we can be seduced by a priority of power, influence, growth, or money, which all come by some ‘proven and branded method’™ to ensure the desired results, I find the 4C’s to be an Oasis in the desert with its focus on health and mutual respect while promoting as much freedom and diversity as possible.
A broad yet deep fellowship. Within this communion are women pastors, and those who do not have women pastors, those who baptize babies and those who only baptize adults by full immersion, Calvinists and Arminians, charismatics meeting in house churches and traditionally liturgical high church congregations that meet in buildings older than America. I spent about five years as a missionary with African Inland Mission, and a friend a Calvinist missionary who served on a reformed mission board once asked me, “How can you work together and pray with Christians who don’t believe in the sovereignty of God?” I didn’t know how to respond or relate to the question. Genuine health and genuine respect doesn’t have their source solely in us having all the same books on our shelves and exactly the same theological language. Broadness doesn’t have to cancel out depth! Godliness isn’t owned by one tiny corner of Christianity. While there is a broadness in the 4C’s the essential commitment to the Word of God, and the Mission of God is clear enough to give us an awesome platform to serve together. Our irreducible core is to love God and love our neighbor, making disciples as we go.
One of the differences in the 4C’s and other more broad missions and denominations is that there isn’t a push for all Christians to just adopt a shallow ‘reader’s digest’ version of the faith so they can get along with others. No, each church, each pastor has the freedom to hold deep convictions. We have deeply held differences, and love and work with each other, imagine that! Some other denominations will have hundreds of positions on every area of life you could imagine, I appreciate that the conference has come together to speak on issues rarely and cautiously, and while it is time to update some of the language, I am glad to be in communion with brothers and sisters that stand together on those positions so that we can move on to fellowship, mutual support and laboring together for the gospel.
A respected platform for credentialing ministers. Having our ministers go through the difficult process of being examined and endorsed by the 4C’s credentialing committee is deeply important. What if God calls one of our Pastors to serve at another Church? What if it’s another 4C Church or Christian & Missionary Alliance Church, or an Evangelical Free Church, or a Baptist Church? The list goes on and on, but because of the relationships and reputation of the 4C’s, being a part of global congregationalist fellowships and a member of the National Association of Evangelicals, those we ordain in our Church and are credentialed with the 4C’s have doors open to them they would not if we just went it alone!
Experienced Missional Pastors in secular and under resourced areas. I have had the opportunity to swim in various ecclesiological waters, connecting with different networks and denominations. One of the greatest values to me in the 4C’s is her ministers, many of whom serve in incredibly secular and under resourced areas. While some denominations are solidly based in the American South, and in a solidly Christian subculture, certainly not all but many 4C’s pastors have been serving in places where they are in an extreme minority. The region we have the most Churches is up in New England which is the most secular part of the country with the lowest rates of Church attendance. I love breaking bread with Pastors who are evangelist among people with crowded hearts and real shepherds to truly hurting people. I find deep commonality and gain a ton of wisdom being with those who have lots of experience serving in contexts similar to my own. For Church planters who are breaking difficult new ground the value of this resource is beyond measure!
I just see Great potential in the future of the 4C’s. There is a genuine desire to help Churches revitalize, replant, and to use the assets from legacy churches for the Glory of God and the good of under evangelized communities. Every year the Church planting efforts of the 4C’s has taken huge steps forward, with some 40 church plants in the past couple decades, there are now 9 new works in the pipeline this year alone. I also see a massive opportunity to increase generational and ethnic diversity in the conference in the years to come, and it’s something that I am personally committed to helping our conference grow in. With fewer and fewer spaces that value both genuine Christian freedom, yet a commitment to great commission I believe the 4C’s can be a home to many who don’t just don’t fit in the traditions they come from that have become increasingly polarized and divisive. They find they are too liberal, or too conservative for their tribe, or Pastors and Church planters find that they are called to reach a community that isn’t on the already set agenda of the network or denomination, yet in the 4C’s they will find a home that would be grateful for them that would support them in finding their fit, and the place they would flourish. For those looking for a solidly biblical and evangelical denomination that is centered around Jesus and not just one political, cultural or theological camp, a denomination that will care deeply about them, and their comprehensive health yet respect their freedom and will truly pray to the living God to see them be effective in the gospel where God has called them, the 4C’s is a great home.
I’d love to continue the conversation that has any more questions about the 4C’s, do not hesitate to reach out! Just fill out the form below and I’ll get your email.