Several years ago, I began searching for an answer to this question: What makes Converge unique? In Converge, we celebrate our Swedish roots but are no longer a movement of Swedes. We celebrate our baptistic heritage, but few new church plants even include “Baptist” in the church name. So, what is it exactly that makes Converge unique?
I found the answer by studying Converge’s history. Several years ago, when I was talking with Dr. Jay Barnes, the former Bethel University president, he used some terms I was unfamiliar with when describing our heritage: pietism and the irenic spirit. These two words marked the founding of Converge when it was the Swedish Baptist Association, later Baptist General Conference and now Converge.
It seemed that if I could be a Converge pastor for 21 years and not know anything about this, we had somehow lost some of our heritage.
When I find myself at a loss, I study and read and think. So, I began reading voraciously about pietism.
It was like putting goggles on and snorkeling underneath the ocean’s surface for the first time. The vivid definitions and the passion for Jesus I discovered in our heritage were breathtaking and awe-inspiring.
If I could say it this way, Converge’s founding spiritual fathers were avid pietists.
If this term is new to you (as it was for me up until a few years ago), pietism is the insistence that the gospel changes a person’s mind AND heart. When forged during the Reformation, the pietists resisted Reformed Scholasticism, which focused significantly on defining and recovering the biblical gospel. Recapturing gospel clarity was essential.
I am personally grateful for the five solas of the Reformation. But, in Reformed Scholasticism, the gospel became academic, cerebral and sometimes lifeless, focusing on words, definitions and creedal statements.
The pietists said right belief had to take root and change how a person felt. A changed mind would result in a changed heart, leading to passion and devotion to Jesus. A changed heart was evidence of right belief.
Head and heart would also lead to a burden for the lost. Community engagement represented the gospel work of outreach — the hands of a follower of Jesus in motion. Transformed people have a sense of urgency for the lost and the community in which they live.
Pietists pressed for total life transformation. The pietists were convinced that the gospel would transform all three — head, heart and hands. And if the whole person was not impacted, it was not biblical gospel.
The best book I read on this matter is Reclaiming Pietism: Retrieving an Evangelical Tradition (Olson and Winn, 2015). In the book’s history chapters, the authors aim to capture the essentials of being a pietist. They distilled 10 summary statements.
I wrote each of them on the inside cover of my book, stepped back and realized for the first time I am a pietist.
The 10 essential convictions of a pietist, according to Olson and Winn, are:
Embraces classical orthodox Doctrine
Believes in experiential, transformative Christianity
Believes that the inner person can and must be changed
Affirms a strong personal and devotional life
Embraces holy living and transformed character
Loves Scripture because it leads to Christ
Believes the Christian life should be lived in community
Believes that the kingdom of God should advance into social and missiological concerns.
Embraces a strong ecumenical Irenic Spirit (focus on what we can agree on)
Organizes around the theological tenet of the priesthood of the believer
I wondered how pietism had slipped through our hands over the centuries. How had we lost this wonderfully defining conviction of what it means to be a Converge pastor?
And then, my peers helped me find it. It was there all along — just worded a little differently.
Our current Converge organizational structure has four essential values that guide and inform all of the ministry we aim to do. One of those values is “spiritually dynamic.”
And there it was — pietism in seminal form, lurking just under my radar.
Spiritually dynamic means that at the heart of all our ministry advancements is a robust love for Jesus, a passion for his church and a determination to see God’s kingdom advance with power. Spiritually dynamic means that we rely upon the power of the gospel to impact the human head and heart and fuel a passion for the lost.
As I reflect on this journey of discovery, it has energized and expanded my longing for full gospel application in our local churches. Spiritual vibrancy MUST lead to right thinking, a passionate heart, a felt love of God and an unquenchable burden for the lost. Nothing less than this will do.
When I look at the Millennial generation and Generation Z as they enumerate their concerns about the American church, I sense a longing for pietistic spiritual vibrancy. Today’s generation of young people wants the local church to engage the community in fresh, humble, loving ways seeking gospel-oriented change.
Do we have a burden for the lost? How passionate is your love for Jesus and his kingdom? When was the last time you intentionally engaged your neighbor with love and outreach evangelism? Will your gospel presentation represent the entire gospel applied to the entire human framework? That is my prayer.
Converge, may we reconnect to our heritage in such a way that the uniqueness of our movement ignites a fresh, new, impassioned gospel movement in and through our churches into the surrounding communities. Pietism is a simple word fueling so much of what we must embrace.
Everything starts with a love of Jesus and a whole person gospel transformation. If we can reclaim our biblically focused foundations, we will all be better for it, and Converge’s uniqueness will become freshly compelling for any who linger to understand.
I am praying for a new resurgence of the pietist impulse toward gospel power and clarity. Will you join me in this pursuit?
Additional Reading Options
Brown, Dale. Understanding Pietism: Faith, Hope, and Love. 1996.
Davis, Justin A. Pietism and the Foundations of the Modern World, 2019.
Gehrz, Christopher, and Mark Pattie. The Pietist Option: Hope for the Renewal of Christianity. 2017.
Noll, Mark A., Ronald F. Thiemann. Where Shall My Wond’ring Soul Begin? The Landscape of Evangelical Piety and Thought. 2000.
Olson, Roger E., Christian T. Collins Winn. Reclaiming Pietism: Retrieving an Evangelical Tradition, 2015.
Winn, Christian T. Collins, Christopher Gehrz, G. William Carlson, and Eric Holst. The Pietist Impulse in Christianity, 2011.
Converge is a movement of churches working together to help people meet, know and follow Jesus. We do this by starting and strengthening churches together worldwide. For 170 years, we’ve helped churches bring life change to communities in the United States and around the world through church planting and multiplication, leadership training and coaching and global missions.
Ken Nabi, Regional President, Converge Great Lakes
Ken Nabi has served as the Converge Great Lakes regional president since 2016. He has a Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and spent nearly 21 years serving at Community Church of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. He served first as the associate pastor, then as executive pastor, and the remaining 14 years as the senior pastor. Ken is a systems thinker and strategic leader focusing on movements and reproducible systems. Community Church of Fond du Lac planted five churches during his tenure, and those churches helped plant seven more churches.