1-on-1 with the president

Mickey Seward

Director of Communications

Point Magazine // January 2022

A sign rests high above Scott Ridout’s desk. It reads Love First, Lead Second. He’s been known to use the phrase from the pulpit, in a boardroom or during a conversation ― usually with an addendum: “But always do both.”

During a time unlike any most of us have seen, the Converge president has leaned on Scripture and those traits ― love and leadership ― to guide the movement through challenges while it continues to move forward in following its God-given mission of helping people meet, know and follow Jesus by starting and strengthening churches together worldwide.

In January, Ridout sat down with Point editor Mickey Seward to discuss how the past two years have changed the way Converge and Converge churches operate, what we have to celebrate, what the future looks like for Converge and one word that can change everything.

Mickey SewardEven with everything that’s happened over the past two years, there’s so much to celebrate right now. What are some things that stand out to you?

Scott RidoutIn March 2020, when COVID went public, I remember seeing the president on television. I was in Connecticut at the time, and I thought, “This is going to be a game changer.” And then soon afterward, I heard these terms about COVID: It is going to be a blizzard, a winter or an ice age. In other words, it would last a few weeks or a few months, or it was going to change the way things are being done. Well, now we know ― it was an ice age.

And we had to change everything. Everything except the gospel itself has changed. All our methods and all the things we were trying to do changed. Our churches responded in faith, they responded well, they responded just like they were supposed to respond.

Most of the Bible was penned in a storm. It was penned in crisis. And the people of the Bible had to make decisions ― real-life, real-time decisions about how they were going to handle situations. And they said, “First of all, we’re going to believe God and we’re going to trust that he’s still in control. We’re going to move forward in his mission.” Over and over in the Bible you see this story. That’s what Converge churches did.

Related: 3 observations about crisis, leadership and the church

Now, the greatest part about this whole two-year time period is the level of collaboration. “Better together” is not just a cliché or saying. We saw it happen over and over and over again in our churches, among our district and national office staff and our missionaries. I could not be more proud of how everyone responded.

And then you get to 2021. We had challenges. Our board of overseers has talked about them. We really had to look internally, not just externally. We looked closely at how we function. “Pivot” is the word that everyone uses in COVID. We pivoted, too, but we think now we’re in the place where we are going to have better structures, better systems, better safety protocols, better clarity and better unity than we’ve ever had. So, I’m excited about this next season.

During the pandemic, we did a lot of really good things. We planted churches, opening 23 new congregations in 2020 and 43 new congregations in 2021. Our assessment centers were full. We’re getting great candidates, not just for church planting, but also for our global workers (missionaries).

And there have been challenges, there will continue to be challenges, but we’re going to move forward. So, I’m excited about what God has us doing right now.

MS: What is one of the greatest challenges Converge is facing?

SR: My biggest concern coming out of these last two years of COVID is that it created isolation. COVID created feelings of, “I have to protect myself; I have to preserve myself; I have to watch out for me.” And that’s on top of a society that’s already a therapeutic society, which means it’s all about, “Do I feel good? What’s the best thing for me?” It’s all very me-centric.

And I think our biggest challenge is the evangelistic edge that has historically been a part of Converge since the beginning. I mean, from the beginning here in the United States, when people would get off the boats in Chicago, if a Swede met a Swede, he would say, “Brother, sister, are you saved? Do you know Jesus?” Converge has been extremely evangelistic from the very beginning.

Related: The story of Converge – Highlights from more than 165 years of starting and strengthening churches together worldwide. (PDF)

I think our greatest opportunity and our greatest challenge is evangelism, because now we’re meeting digitally, as well as onsite where we’re much more hesitant to connect in large groups and where we’re not as engaged with people in our community as we were (before COVID).

Our biggest opportunity is a fantastic one because people realize they’re lonely and they need other people. They’re looking for fellowship. They’re looking for purpose. They’re looking for hope. They’re looking to overcome their fears. And the gospel message is the answer to that.

So, we need to reestablish our evangelistic edge. That in itself will lead to church planting, because when new people come to Christ, they typically come to Christ and create new congregations.

Our biggest opportunity is a fantastic one because people realize they’re lonely and they need other people. They’re looking for fellowship. They’re looking for purpose. They’re looking for hope. They’re looking to overcome their fears. And the gospel message is the answer to that.


MS:
 How can individuals or churches participate in helping reestablish that evangelistic edge?

SR: Over the last few years, we’ve asked individuals and churches to prayerfully commit to four “each one” challenges: each one reach oneeach one raise oneeach one start one and each one send one. That hasn’t changed.

With each one reach one, we want everyone to experience having someone come to Christ. Each one raise one means we want everyone to disciple that new person in their faith. Each one start one is more for the church than for the individual. We want every church to be involved in starting a congregation ― intentionally, not through a church split. And each one send one means we want them to send somebody cross-culturally, cross-continentally around the world.

Related: Converge mission and vision

MS: A lot of people don’t know that not all of our partnerships come from within the Converge movement. How does Converge partner with other groups to advance the gospel?

SR: One thing that is so exciting is Converge is collaborating with other organizations to try to finish the Great Commission. We’re trying to finish the task.

I’m working with a group of leaders led by Rick Warren from Saddleback Church. Ivan Veldhuizen (Converge vice president of International Ministries) and I have a goal to get all of the world’s denominational leaders who care about the gospel, who care about the world, to actually work together to finish the Great Commission.

When Pentecost happened, there was only one denomination ― the Church of Jesus. And now there are more than 45,000 denominations around the world. But what if we actually acted like one church?

What if we actually decided to take those secondary issues, theological or whatever, and put them aside and said, “What matters most is that people meet, know and follow Jesus. What matters most is that people don’t have access to the gospel get access to the gospel. What matters is that they have a Bible in their language and a church among their people and there’s a believer in every place in the world.”

MS: One specific word has really come into focus for you as we head into 2022. How does that word relate to all of us personally. And how does it relate to how Converge leaders on the national and district levels and our churches work together.

SR: In December, I was meeting with our executive management team, and we all shared verses that meant something to us. I shared Philippians 1:27. Paul wrote, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, then whether I come and see you, or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel.”

Paul was saying, “Whatever happens, I want you to stand firm. And I want you to stand strong and stand firm with each other and stand strong in the mission of the church.”

And I just don’t see that very often. I’m not sensing that in American Christianity. I see glimpses of it in certain places. But I asked, “What if?" What if Converge as a movement could actually do that? What if we could stand firm and stand strong?

My word is undivided.

What if we could be undivided?

What if we could give God our undivided affection?

What if we could have undivided hearts with God?

What if we could actually have an undivided focus and attention on the mission God’s called us to: to start and strengthen churches together worldwide?

And what if what if we could actually have our churches be a witness in the community, where the community sees the fellowship of believers that are undivided? They see a church that doesn’t allow politics, social issues, preferences, race to get in the way of unity.

What if we could actually get to the place where the divided world saw an undivided church? What kind of witness would that be ― That despite all our differences, we can come together?

Here’s the great thing about the gospel: In Galatians 3 and Ephesians 2, there are passages that talk about our differences, and how Christ has broken down the differences. These passages tell us the power of the gospel is this: our differences no longer define us. So, they should no longer divide us.

Our differences no longer define us. So, they should no longer divide us.

And so how do we get to the place where we believe what Scripture teaches and live that kind of life together so that the world sees and says, “I’ve never seen anything like this”? They would see Democrats and Republicans and people who are from different ethnicities and people from different economic backgrounds and different education levels come together around something that promotes love and strength and power; forgiveness for the past, power for the present and hope for the future. And they say, “I want some of that.”

That’s my dream. I want us to be an undivided movement of churches with undivided affection for God, undivided attention to the mission and undivided in our fellowship with one another. If we could do this, God would be doing something powerful in our midst ― and through us.

MS: You work closely with Converge’s regional presidents. What are the questions they are being asked by pastors?

SR: I spend a lot of time with our regional presidents. No one’s done a better job than them in keeping us together, making sure our pastors are cared for and making sure we stay on mission. They are Converge’s unsung heroes. Our regional presidents are doing a phenomenal job of keeping us focused and moving forward. I don’t know what I would do without their partnership.

They see a group of pastors who are tired, another group of pastors who are energized, and there’s probably people in between, as well.

What pastors want to know is, “How do I lead this very diverse group of people in my community? How do I lead Christians to actually care for each other and care for the people in the community as well? How do I get them to focus out rather than focus in? How do I get them to realize that God is bigger than the things we’re going through, and continue to be the courageous people that God’s called them to be in this next season?”

MS: Biblical diversity is crucial for us as a global church and for the Converge movement to become what God wants us to be. What has been the impact of a greater focus on biblical diversity?

SR: God has blessed us over the last number of years to move from a predominantly Swedish-background movement to a truly multicultural movement. We have a Swedish past, but a multicultural future. And God’s already blessed us ― about a third of our churches have a constituency of people of color or language, people of ethnicity. And I’m grateful for that because there’s an experience of life and there’s experience of God and there’s an understanding of culture that just adds value and adds beauty and adds strength to our movement.

Related: Unity through diversity – reaching people of all colors, cultures and classes with the gospel.

A challenge we’re facing right now is that we have just come through an extremely political season. Rick Warren talked about political instability, which means, "If you don’t agree with me, if you don’t see what I see, if you don’t think what I think, you’re my enemy." That’s uncivil. The danger of the moment is that we see everything through political eyes.

It used to be that things like race and ethnicity were pre-political, non-political. But once someone makes it political, everyone makes it political. But the Bible is really clear that there’s a sanctity to marriage. It’s really clear that there’s a sanctity to life, from the womb to the tomb. The mandates of Scripture for the oppressed, for the poor, for the foreigner are really clear. All those things are in Scripture ― the Old Testament and the New Testament.

And yet today in America, we’ve taken those things and said, “Well, the first two, sanctity of life and marriage, are Republican, and caring for the poor, the oppressed, and the foreigner is Democratic.” And we’ve seen things through political eyes, rather than biblical eyes. We’ve allowed our political leanings to override our biblical callings.

And so, I would just beg that we would all step back from the politics and our societal influences, stop listening to just one newscast of any kind and step back and read our Bibles and recognize that God has called us to reach every person from every background ― Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, non-American. We’ve been called to live differently ― to engage the stranger, to love the person who is not like us, to reach out to those who don’t look like us, think like us, act like us, speak like us or believe like us ― for the gospel. That means that we’ve got to be humble and focused on the fact that God did the same thing for us.

Related: Who is my neighbor?

God isn’t like us. Yet, he came and lived among us. And he said, “I didn’t come to condemn, I came to save.” And I think that’s what the church needs to do. We need to say, “I’m not going to condemn those who are different than me, I need to figure out what it’s going to take for them to know Jesus.”

MS: A couple years ago, our districts came together and committed to deploying 312 church planters before 2026. Why is church planting important? And how is Converge doing in our pursuit of this church planting goal?

SR: We came together a couple years ago and each district made a decision. They went to their boards and their churches and listened to them, talked with them. Then they came back to the national office with a number. Now, 312 is simply a number we heard from our districts and churches. But what we’re trying to do is recognize that it’s great what God does in each region, but together, we can make such a bigger difference, and we can celebrate what God is doing.

Related: Converge launches five-year church planting goal

We’re almost to the place where we’re planting one church a week. We’re very close to that. Our 312 goal refers to deployed planters by 2026. And then that would result in churches being planted. We have deployed 115 church planters since the start of this emphasis (as of January 2022) and have seen 66 churches open.

We’ve got a number of states where we still don’t have churches. I’m excited about our first church coming soon in West Virginia. I’m excited about our first churches in Nevada and New Mexico and Oklahoma and Mississippi. I look forward to having a Converge church in these places.

Related: Great progress, greater opportunities

But here’s the issue: Over the last number of years, the church (in the U.S. as a whole) has lost ground. We’ve closed thousands more churches than we’ve opened over the last couple of years. Which means a thousand-plus communities that used to have a bible-believing, gospel preaching presence no longer has it. That’s tragic.

This is my dream: I want to move from asking God how we can go from launching one church a week to one church a day.

How do we how do we do that? It shouldn’t be that hard for us. We’ve got 1500-plus churches in the United States and the Caribbean. If every church planted just one new church every four years, we would reach our goal. If every four or five churches came together and planted one church a year, we’d reach our goal of having a church launching every single day.

Over the last number of years, the church (in the U.S. as a whole) has lost ground. We’ve closed thousands more churches than we’ve opened over the last couple of years. Which means a thousand-plus communities that used to have a bible-believing, gospel preaching presence no longer has it. That’s tragic.

It’s not that far off. God’s beginning to provide the resources. He’s beginning to deploy and provide the leadership. He’s providing the unity.

It may take us a decade or two to get there. But you know, what? Why would we not want that? Why would we not want to go after that? 

More people come to Christ in a church plant per capita than in an established church. With more church plants comes more evangelism. And with more evangelism, hopefully more discipleship. With more discipleship comes more leaders and more workers for the harvest field.

Related: See the new church plants and campuses and read how God is working in and through them

I’m excited about the district church planting teams and the churches that are adding congregations through multisites. Converge is one of the leading organizations when it comes to church planting. And we need to keep moving forward and figure this out. Because people are watching us. They want to see what we do. And they’re following our lead.

Converge Mid-America/Southeast/Caribbean regional president Gary Rohrmayer leads a group called Church Multiplication Partners which trains other organizations and denominations how to create a church planting movement. Gary and his team, which includes Converge Great Lakes regional president Ken Nabi and others, are doing a phenomenal job helping other movements. It’s not just about us. It’s about the kingdom.

Related: Converge Church Planting – Because every people group and community needs a church

MS: Converge International Ministries is laser-focused on its vision. We are asking God for a gospel movement among every least-reached people group  in our generation. If the Great Commission is to be fulfilled, reaching the unreached and least-reached peoples of the world with the gospel is imperative. How are Converge and our global workers progressing as we make an effort to go into all the world and preach the gospel?

SR: Just like church planting is standing on the shoulders of the Johnson brothers and Team America, this generation of global workers is standing on the shoulders of those missionaries (we call them global workers) who went out from the 1950s to the 1980s. They went to the Philippines and Ethiopia and Japan and other places and established a great foundation for us. I am so thankful for the previous generation.

We made a shift back in 2014 or 2015. We knew we could send missionaries everywhere. But we asked, “Who needs it most? Where are the places that are most difficult?” We decided to send the majority of missionaries to the least-reached peoples of the world, which means they have less than 2% of an evangelistic presence in their country.

This has opened doors to places in Southeast Asia. It’s added focus to parts of Europe. It’s added focus to other places in the world that desperately need the gospel but simply don’t have God’s presence and an established, sustainable gospel presence in their communities.

This focus has attracted some of the highest-quality global workers Converge has ever seen. And what I love about it is that they’re people of all ages. Some are second-career leaders, but many are in their 20s and 30s who are saying, “I want to devote my entire life to seeing these people experience God and have a church for the very first time.”

Related: Become a missionary

Ivan Veldhuizen, Converge vice president of International Ministries, and his team have built a structure not just for sending, but for caring for missionaries, for coaching them and bringing them together in teams. We’ve never had healthier International Ministries structures. We’ve never been clearer in our mandate of what Converge uniquely does ― going after the least-reached peoples of the world.

MS: Converge churches play a huge role in raising up and sending out global workers to reach the nations with the gospel, don’t they?

SR: I can’t wait to see what God does as more churches get involved. We are asking our churches to think Converge first. When you have someone who’s looking at missions, let’s see if they fit with Converge before looking at other organizations ― and there’s many great organizations that we’re working with around the world. But we would love for potential global workers to join us in what God is doing around the world before they look at other organizations.

If churches aren’t sure how to begin a global missions emphasis, we can help them increase their missions impact. We coach and train many churches around the country to help them with their missions work in their church’s context. And we also connect churches to other similar missions-minded churches, and to our global workers around the world.

Related: Converge International Ministries can help your church reach the nations

MS: So much of what we do and who we are revolves around relationships. How is Converge helping pastors and ministry leaders stay healthy so we can continue to move forward together and make a gospel impact?

SR: When Converge’s national and district leaders came together and established a 10-year vision in 2016, a primary focus was on healthy leaders, because healthy leaders lead healthy congregations. Healthy things grow and healthy things make an impact on other things.

As part of that vision, we included a pathway to health and specifically encouraged two things:  

1. Every leader has a coach.

There’s someone who’s ahead of you, someone who’s been there and done that, someone who speaks into your life (and you actually listen to them), someone who has your respect and has your best interests at heart. That person is going to bring the best out of you. 

2. Every leader is part of a team.

The team will always outthink, outlast and outperform the individual. We are truly better together.

What if we started doing things not just in our church, but in our community, in our world, together with other churches? What if every team would have an expansion strategy that emphasizes missions, church planting and community impact that goes beyond the four walls of the church?

I would just beg anyone who’s reading this to reach out to their district leader, to reach out to other pastors in their community and say, “I don’t want to do this alone. I want a team. I want brothers and sisters to walk beside me in this. Because I think that’s the best path in this next season ― to lean on each other.

“Better together” is not a slogan or a cliché. “Better together” is a mentality and a way of life. If you choose it, you will never be disappointed.

Learn more about Converge, including how your church can partner with more than 1500 churches on the same mission to help more people meet, know and follow Jesus.

 


Mickey Seward, Director of Communications

Mickey Seward is Converge's director of communications and Point editor. He served in ministry positions as director of communications at Mobberly Baptist Church, a multisite church based in East Texas, and as national director of communications for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Prior to holding those positions, Mickey spent 15 years as a college sports information director.

Additional articles by Mickey Seward