Converge helps make stronger churches in the United States, Ukraine and everywhere

Ben Greene

Pastor & writer

  • Church strengthening

Ian O’Meara, a retired master chief petty officer of the Navy, quickly perceived a similarity in ministry and military leadership when he became a pastor three years ago.

He and his elders recognized that a unified, focused team of leaders could achieve Christ’s mission better than the best pastor working alone.

“If you’re going to have strong churches, you have to have strong leaders,” he said. “You need a group of core leaders to move the church forward.”

That’s why the Sylvan Way Baptist Church board embraced a year in a self-generated learning environment. Then, the Bremerton, Washington, church contacted Converge Northwest staff and Bruce Hopler, Converge’s vice president of Church Strengthening.

“Part of the encouragement here is you’re not going through it alone,” O’Meara said. “There’s resources and people that we can tap into.”

An outside voice for an inside look

Hopler also believes churches are Christ’s means for heaven’s mission. So, he listens closely whenever a group of believers seeks to be a more powerful congregation.

He regularly engages Sylvan Way’s core team as they utilize Converge’s Church Board Development tool. The online training (which comes at no cost to Converge churches) uses videos, discussion questions and sessions with Hopler to help boards lead the church.


More than 150 churches are going through the training at their pace. Topics include a board’s purpose and unity, creating a culture where people serve Christ and best practices for finance, online giving and background checks.

O’Meara noted that Hopler’s input has amplified their unity and competency by building on their accomplishments.

“We had made some good strides ourselves, but we were ready for that next step of listening to outside voices,” O’Meara said. “Listening to them gives us that outside perspective which challenges our inside perspective.”

Making stronger churches from every tribe, nation and tongue

Converge, a 170-year-old movement of disciple-makers that began with Swedish Christian immigrants, has long embraced God’s global heart. Our commitment to forming vibrant groups of believers goes far beyond American disciples.

Oleksandr Pakhai, a pastor in western Ukraine, was about to quit his ministry to feed his family. His church rapidly grew during the war as traumatized and displaced people fled to his community.

At the same time, many in his congregation had less income or none at all. Plus, several others had fled the area or joined the military. Those gains and losses pushed Pakhai into a corner.

So the pastor, with desperation in his heart, went to his knees in prayer. The young pastor knew the Lord would supply extra income to feed his family by a specific date, or he’d stop serving the church to find new work.

The night before the deadline, Pakhai got a phone call: Converge had sent funds to the Baptist Union of Ukraine. So, the union would send him financial help so he could stay with his church and care for his family.

“We’re trying to encourage and strengthen those shepherds to stay and to withstand the blows being struck,” said Bob Marsh, Converge’s Impact Team leader for the Europe/Mediterranean region. “The intention of that great persecution is to scatter the flock, to leave them like sheep without a shepherd.”

Related: Would you like to keep Ukrainian pastors with their church?

The war, evil as it is, has opened a new opportunity to strengthen churches, according to Marsh.

In August, Marsh joined Converge director of Mobilization Tania Martin, Converge North Central regional president Mark Bjorlo and Converge Heartland regional president Jim Capaldo in visiting their partners at the Baptist Union of Ukraine. The Converge leaders went to Lviv to empathize, pray and ask what they needed most.

Amid the chaos, the Ukrainians’ unanimous, clear need was easy to understand: nearly 1000 churches don’t have a spiritual leader.

“They have a massive deficit of pastors,” Marsh explained. “We were all burdened with that need for keeping shepherds with their flocks.”

Choosing stronger churches over strategic compassion

Therefore, Marsh said he and others who oversee the Converge Ukraine Relief Fund for Converge decided to dedicate the remaining donations toward keeping pastors with their churches. That decision wasn’t made lightly, quickly or without significant consideration of the tremendous need for humanitarian aid.

The fund resources pastors so they can afford to stay with their flocks while financially providing for their families. That decision has saved at least one pastor besides Pakhai from choosing between his flock and his family.

“We’ve been so encouraged by the generosity of the people who gave,” Marsh said.

From a human viewpoint, the Ukrainian church is facing an existential crisis. Helping them develop transformational pastors, church planters and missionaries and strengthening local congregations for gospel multiplication is exactly what Converge is about.

Bob Marsh

Converge also works with Bethel University and other ministries to train pastors in trauma care and develop accelerated elder training programs. Through those efforts, Ukraine can have more mature, strong leaders and maintain the country’s legacy of producing disciples who make disciples among post-Soviet countries.

“From a human viewpoint, the Ukrainian church is facing an existential crisis,” Marsh said. “Helping them develop transformational pastors, church planters and missionaries and strengthening local congregations for gospel multiplication is exactly what Converge is about.”

Churches can overcome their frequent, familiar challenges

Hopler spent more than 20 years pastoring churches before embracing his current role for an international effort focused on strengthening churches. As a result, he’s faced the typical challenges often rooted in the people or the community’s organizational systems.

Hopler explained there are four main categories of risks to a church, and only one is external — the attacks of Satan.

“The evil one knows if he can take down the pastor, he can at best cripple the church and at worst kill the church,” Hopler said.

On the other hand, internal threats include systems that enhance the comfort of particular people or preserve traditions rather than obeying Christ. Hopler added that some churches tolerate unhealthy people who habitually sin against others or perpetuate dysfunction by avoiding discussing specific sins.

The evil one knows if he can take down the pastor, he can at best cripple the church and at worst kill the church.

Bruce Hopler

Lastly, Hopler said pastors are humans too. They can struggle mentally, emotionally, spiritually or relationally, yet don’t get help for various reasons.

“Most churches are perfectly organized to work against themselves,” he said.

Whatever the challenge, God is ready to help his people and has a gracious answer. 1 Peter 5 says Christ is the chief shepherd who appointed under-shepherds to lead the flock under his care. Therefore, Converge’s effort to make strong churches embraces the leaders so that churches thrive.

Converge helps churches when they face challenges that hold them back or limit their potential. They offer pastors resources, such as the Compass experience, and provide leadership training to reinvigorate the church and promote faithful and fruitful obedience.

Strong shepherds, working together, mean a church shines forth hope

O’Meara and the team at Sylvan Way have been meeting with Hopler since February. The resources positively challenge the team, plus they’re gaining language, clarity and unity as a board.

They want to be a faithful church powered by the Spirit, so they seek to be capable leaders. Ultimately, they desire the Lord’s work through them among thousands of military personnel at nearby bases and civilians who call the harbor side community home.

Sylvan Way’s shepherds trust in Hopler and agree with the biblical goals of Converge, O’Meara said. So they are grasping their potential and making progress in Christ’s mission.

“As we work through that together, we become strong leaders and a strong church,” he said. “That’s my vision for us. It’s about the leadership of Sylvan Way rallying around that mission and vision here in this community to be a beacon of hope.”

Converge equips leaders to fulfill the unique calling God has given them through tools for leaders and churches. As a result, you can overcome growth barriers, form discipleship strategies and become financially self-sustaining. Check out our resources to help your congregation.

Ben Greene, Pastor & writer

Ben Greene is a freelance writer and pastor currently living in Massachusetts. Along with his ministry experience, he has served as a full-time writer for the Associated Press and in the newspaper industry.

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