The Cleveland Faith Communique

March 31, 2019

More than 120 people gathered in Cleveland this last weekend of March 2019.  We were joined by others in Maryland, Texas, Illinois and several other places via online live streaming.  We discussed faith and how we can build together in ways that best strengthen it. We shared honest discussions, warm fellowship, and musical celebration.  We posed critical questions about faith and reached agreement on several key issues. Agreement is not enough, though. We are resolved to pursue the best ways to grow stronger faith together.

The discussion on faith included many issues, but there was broad agreement on these points:

  • Faith is a powerful topic that goes well beyond where we have often put the emphasis.  Faith must contain belief and trust.  The starting point is the easy part—we have a deep repository of shared knowledge of God’s word to affirm our belief in the Gospel.  But faith is much more than doctrine alone. The far more difficult part is putting trust in God across a lifetime. That trust gets refined in the crossroads of uncertainty and the trials of affliction.  Indeed, those are the soil in which faith grows. This vital trust element needs far more attention if we want to attain the fullest measure of faith.

  • Faith is meant to grow and grows best together.  Faith is intended to grow into an abundant harvest of the Fruit of the Spirit.  Whether the vine, the human body or a temple for Him to dwell in, God lifts our minds to the lessons of faith growing together.  These pictures remind us that faith grows best when we stay together, work together and build strong together. A growing faith will naturally give rise to action.  Indeed, service and action are the hallmarks of a faith that is growing.

  • Current faith trends in our Community are cause for concern.  There are many challenges to our faith today, and some are being ignored.  The challenges are being felt by individuals, ecclesias and our Community as a whole.  The world in which we live, work and go to school is becoming ever more hostile to the faith that pleases God.  Many ecclesias are small and are at risk or already in decline. Some suggested the very future of our Community is in jeopardy.  

  • The demographic ‘downdraft’ in our Community must be faced squarely.  Participants agreed that the aging in our ranks represents a huge challenge.  It is easy to cite the ‘world’ as the reason youth are leaving. But the youth here cited our ecclesial health and Community discord as bigger factors.  We need to rethink how we create the conditions for a faith that grows across our generations. Our youth want to be part of his discussion, and they want to serve.   This calls for better mechanisms for trusted communication across generations.

  • There is much we do not know about current faith trends, and we agreed we should work to understand them better.  All agreed there is need for more and better information on faith in our Community so that the best action can be taken.  But one thing is already clear: We are not content to let current trends continue unchecked.

  • Current trends demand far greater urgency and a heightened awareness of our ‘Faith Health.’  Our current faith condition has developed over a long period of time.  But it merits much closer watch today given the risk of decline in ecclesias and in our Community.  Too often, we are not fully aware of faith challenges—in ourselves, in others, in our ecclesias and in our Community.  The faith-hostile world in which we live only adds to today’s faith problem. We agreed it is urgent for us to take steps to promote a thriving faith—individually and collectively.  There is no time to waste.

  • Our faith awareness must include some prayerful soul searching.  In many respects, we stand at a critical crossroads.  The risk to our Community is real and urgent. Addressing the present challenges will take more than the responses of the past.  We must be honest about the toll that disunity has taken. We must recognize that our love for Christ and the standard of Biblical principles do not always triumph over tradition and legalism.  This calls for humility as we seek to build together.

  • We have many strengths on which to grow more faith.  Our faith is being challenged, but those assembled also pointed to several strong qualities that can fuel a new wave of growth in faith for individuals, ecclesias and our Community.  These include the love we share and our shared acknowledgement that Christ is our uniting head.

Based on these points of agreement, and with a collective heart eager to build stronger faith, we resolved to:

  • Nurture a ‘Faith Renaissance’ in our Community.  We are not content to let current faith trends continue as they are.  We must build together more effectively—in ways that inspire, engage hands and hearts and, above all, grow faith together.  Doing so will require a willingness to look within us and overcome an inertia that may be keeping us from aiming higher, growing to be more like our Head.

  • Grow faith as a family.  We must do more to build a strong collective family, one where faith will grow naturally across the generations.  This means rising above the discord of our past. It means finding better ways to give voice to faith challenges. We must build trust across our generations if together we want to grow trust in God.  Above all, we must manifest our love for our Lord and one another—the animating spirit that knits us together as one body.

  • Make the trust element of faith a more central part of our collective worship.  When we come together today, there are few opportunities to share our faith concerns, learn from the faith experiences of others and share how God is at work in our lives.  Creating a place for such sharing will take out-of-the-box thinking and a shared commitment that growing faith is an overriding goal.

  • Launch a slate of new initiatives to build together.  We discussed many possible forms of ‘Faith Barn Raisings’ including: new use of media to share the real stories of faith; sharing best ‘Faith Practices;’ a survey effort to better understand faith trends; new means of using music to spur faith; and showing faith to those in greatest need.  Much planning work remains, but there was strong resolve to move forward and start building together in these activities. The Survey Team’s information and input from other Faith Building Events will help guide planning.

  • Find meaningful roles for everyone in our Faith family.  Women and our young people believe there are not enough ways for them to express their faith.  We did not identify what these roles might be, but we did agree it is important for everyone to contribute to growing faith.  For its part, WCF will form a Youth Council to encourage participation in the path ahead.

  • Persevere in building together.  The weekend was imbued with a strong uplifting spirit.  We came with weary and burdened hearts and left with the spirit of victory that God supplies when we put our trust in Him.  We were united in this faith—and in the conviction that faith never gives up.  

In the end, we agreed the two days in Cleveland are but the beginning of new efforts to build stronger faith.  We must lean against hostile winds from the world in which we live. And we must put our focus on the fullest measure of faith—enlarging our trust in God and in one another.  There is important work to be done. We left with one common refrain: Let us rise up and build