Of Sequoias, Partnerships, and a Regional Assembly of Elders

2014 Northeast Regional Elders Retreat

Sequoia Surprises

Those who know me well know my fascination with Sequoias. Some of these herbal behemoths live for thousands of years, stand some 250–300 feet into the air, branch out with limbs bigger than every tree that most of us have ever seen, weigh in at 2,000,000 pounds, are voluminous enough to swallow 13 blue whales, and are so fat that four tractor trailers can drive through one simultaneously—all of which makes them among God’s more impressive natural wonders.

But here’s the thing that surprises: these massive trees, standing so high and weighing so much, have root systems only 4–5 feet deep. That’s the distance from my chest to the ground. Yet they stand through storm and wind and fire and time as monuments to endurance and to an enduring life-sustaining God.

So what is their secret? The answer is that their roots travel outward. These far-reaching, underground, tenacious webs wind their way out over 2–3 acres of land, grasping countless tons of dirt in their fibrous grip. As importantly, they interlock their roots with those of other Sequoias. Big, enduring, lasting Sequoias are almost always found in groves. Rarely do they grow alone. Rarely do they flourish alone. Rarely do they last alone. Almost always do they live and lock together. I call this grove partnership.

A Metaphor and a Regional Assembly of Elders

It’s a useful metaphor. I think it’s what Sovereign Grace Churches need to be about. I’m not advocating for shallow roots (that would be a metaphor malfunction). Rather, I would suggest that as we grow downward, we must also grow outward. Churches are meant to be Sequoias: tall, strong, enduring monuments to the glory of God. And we are strongest when we stand together. We are strongest when our roots intertwine and provide interlocking stability. We are strongest when, as churches, we realize that storm and wind and fire will never stop raging this side of heaven—and only those who stand together will stand for long.

The Sovereign Grace Churches (SGC) ecclesiastical union is a grove partnership. Each of the current SGC regions is a grove partnership. And SGC Regional Assemblies of Elders (RAEs) provide root-growing and root-intertwining opportunities. So when the Northeast RAE met on April 11 and 12 and enjoyed a great time of fellowship, discussion, debate, and brotherhood, roots grew deeper, tighter, closer, and stronger.

As dozens of regional pastor-elders gathered to worship and pray—and we did lots of both—roots intertwined in the soil of grace. As we discussed (and debated) mission and polity, partnership strengthened. As we shared updates about church planting, global opportunities, and men being ordained to gospel ministry, the grove grew and will stand stronger and longer as a result.

As we heard about the biblical option of bi-vocational ministry (from yours truly) and the glories of revival (from Craig Cabaniss) and the mission to make and mature disciples (from Ian McConnell), we were all stretched and nourished in spirit. As we shared reports about our new Judicial Review processes and safeguards, we discovered that our roots felt somehow more secure and stable. And as we discussed pending (most likely soon-to-be-made) decisions to multiply our one region into two to four, we were reminded that the grove is growing and the branches of gospel truth and grace will spread even further as a result.

Glad to Be a Part

There’s nothing romantic about all of this. It takes work and time and effort and humility and honesty and leadership and grace—kind of like the slow, steady crawl of Sequoia roots in all directions. But it is worth the effort. Poll the guys who attended the Northeast RAE, and I think you’ll find that they agree. We’re all glad to be a part of something bigger than us, and we are the stronger for it. The trees keep standing and the grove keeps growing. This is the Lord’s doing, and it is wonderful in our eyes.

+ original photo by Flickr user Joi Ito