By Stan Friedman
OMAHA, NE (April 13, 2011) – Decentralization and empowering others have been prominent themes during the tenure of Ken Carlson, who is retiring this year as superintendent of the Evangelical Covenant Church Midwest Conference.
Ken has served as superintendent since 1995 and earlier as assistant superintendent beginning in 1987.
Carlson had four primary goals when he became superintendent: plant two churches a year, come alongside existing churches and help them meet the needs and demands of a changing culture, encourage the conference to become more multiethnic, and encourage congregations to embrace women in ministry at all levels, especially senior pastorates. “We’ve been able to accomplish all three,” he says, adding, “Our ultimate mission is to build up the kingdom of God.”
Creating geographical “hubs” has been one of the most significant changes that have helped the conference reach those goals, Carlson says. “It was a radical vision at the time, but it has proved to be very well received.”
The hubs were created to enable conference leaders to have more face time with churches, dividing the conference into three areas.
Carlson has served churches in Iowa and Nebraska. Associate Superintendent Dave Benedict has his office in Lenexa, Kansas, and serves churches in that state as well as Missouri. Associate Superintendent Rick Mylander is located in Castle Rock, Colorado, and serves churches there and in western Kansas. Each superintendent has conference-wide responsibilities.
Not all of the church plants have been able to continue their ministry, but most have continued to serve their communities. The conference also adopted 10 churches during the last 12 years.
Carlson has worked to make sure pastors and their families receive ongoing support. Far more cluster groups of pastors are intentional in encouraging members. “That wasn’t as much a part of the culture,” he observed.
The conference also has established a network of pastors and spouses who can offer care to ministry families. They can provide assistance with issues that would be uncomfortable to discuss with conference leadership.
Recent partnerships between the conference and bush churches in Alaska also have been especially exciting to Carlson. The conference has been providing assistance to the Mountain Village Covenant Church, located on the north bank of the Yukon River, approximately 470 miles northwest of Anchorage. Carlson says the relationship is developing into a two-way ministry.
Carlson credits those with whom he works as being vital to the accomplishments over the more than two decades he has served at the conference level. “I have a tremendous staff,” he notes. “Having the longevity of staff is a wonderful, wonderful thing.”
Although he has served at the conference level for 24 years, Carlson says, “There is no question, it has gone by fast,” adding, “I never expected to be here until I retired.”
Carlson and his wife, Nancy, plan to spend time visiting extended family and relaxing. He also plans to return to active ministry, a move he believes is much needed. He hopes to assist first-time pastors. Increasingly these new ministers have never held leadership positions within a church, he says. “They need extra coaching.”
He won’t be doing that ministry in the Midwest Conference, however, out of respect to Tammy Swanson-Draheim, who has been nominated to succeed him. A vote on her candidacy will be held during the conference’s annual meeting this weekend.
“I want to hold to what I’ve preached,” says Carlson, explaining that he has told pastors they should not attend congregations from which they are retiring. “I want to give Tammy all the space she needs.”
Carlson says he looks forward to seeing how the conference will continue to build up the kingdom of God under Swanson-Draheim’s leadership.
Carlson graduated with a Master of Divinity degree from North Park Theological Seminary in 1973 and was ordained the following year.
Having completed his seminary internship at First Covenant Church in Moline, Illinois, Carlson accepted a call to the Covenant Congregational Church in Quincy, Massachusetts. Four years later he was called to plant Crossroads Covenant Church in Concord, California, where he remained more than five years. He accepted a call as senior pastor of the Brookwood Covenant Church of Topeka, Kansas, in 1983, and served until being elected associate superintendent.