This Disciple leader loved both the U-word and the E-word.
Since their earliest days on the American frontier, Disciples have cherished unity – what we might call ‘the U-word.’ But evangelism – the E-word – hasn't stirred much excitement lately. For Disciple pastor, ecumenist and evangelist, Jesse M. Bader, the two concepts went hand in hand.
Born in 1886 in Bader, Illinois, a town named for his immigrant grandfather, Bader graduated in 1911 from Drake University, a school historically related to Disciples. With his initial full-time ministry at First Christian Church in Atchison, Kansas, and later serving a pastorate in Kansas City, Missouri, the gifted young leader was able to grow his flock by an average of one member a day, according to biographer Samuel McCrea Cavert.
Bader's passion for outreach led to his call in 1920 to serve as secretary of evangelism for the newly formed United Christian Missionary Society. Logging tens of thousands of miles each year encouraging Disciple congregations to reach out to others, Bader would next become head of the Department of Evangelism of the Federal Council of Churches, predecessor to the National Council of Churches.
It was while Bader was leading outreach at UCMS that he thought of a new way for Disciples to put into practice their historic emphasis on unity. With other Christian communions at the time sponsoring worldwide meetings of member churches, Bader founded the World Convention of Churches of Christ to bring together churches in the Stone-Campbell movement from across the world.
Meeting in Washington, D.C. in 1930, the first World Convention drew 10,000 people from numerous countries. Held at various intervals and locations across the world after its launch, World Convention has met every four years since 1980. An ongoing ministry strengthening ties among the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Christian Churches / Churches of Christ, and Churches of Christ in North America, as well as Stone-Campbell churches in other parts of the world, the 17th World Convention meets July 30 – August 3, 2008 in Nashville, Tennessee.
Bader served as the first president of World Convention and as general secretary for more than three decades. He represented the convention as a delegate-observer during the historic Second Vatican Council in Rome in 1962. He died the next year as he and others were organizing the 1965 gathering slated for San Juan, Puerto Rico.
In a long life spanning two centuries, Bader successfully navigated what some would see as the conflicting goals of proclaiming the uniqueness of the gospel, practicing unity, and promoting a just world.
Biographer Cavert observed that, when Bader began his work at the Federal Council of Churches in the early 1930s, some colleagues worried the new leader in evangelism might be lukewarm toward efforts to promote peace and justice in a racially divided society at home and a tense political context overseas.
But Bader "welcomed these activities and had a steadily growing interest in them," Cavert wrote, "always remaining firmly convinced that the individual's personal encounter with God in Christ was the precondition of vital Christian service in every area of life."
Longing to reach all people with the love of Christ and call believers into closer fellowship, Bader bridged concerns that still challenge Disciples in a doubting and divided world.
Written by Ted Parks
for the Disciples of Christ Historical Society
This article was provided by the Disciples of Christ Historical Society and used here by permission.
To learn more about your faith story, please visit the Disciples of Christ Historical Society's website at: www.discipleshistory.org
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