Reflections on the 2008 General Assembly

Another Church of God General Assembly is, as I like to say, “in the can.” The “preachers’ watering hole” in the lobby at the Marriott Rivercentre (the bar, for my Anglican friends, was Starbucks) is quiet now, having been the place to be for much of the Assembly. All you had to do was to just sit there and you could see everyone: outgoing and incoming members of the Executive Committee and the Council of 18, pastors and seminary professors, and just about everyone else. If the General Assembly is the family reunion for the Church of God, the Rivercentre lobby was the denomination’s temporary great room.

But there was more to this than just getting together: this Assembly was a kilometre marker in many ways. Let me take a look at a few.

Elections

The elections to the Executive Committee, Council of 18 and the departments were historic in many ways. I’ve harped on the importance of ethnic diversity and internationalisation, not because it’s politically correct but because that’s what the Church of God looks like these days. Working at Laity Ministries’ booth at the Convention Centre and simply watching and interacting with those who passed and stopped by, I was reminded just how non-white our denomination really is.

That being the case, it was gratifying to see Wallace Sibley become the first African-American to serve on the Executive Committee and Victor Pagan to become the first Hispanic Assistant Director of World Missions. From a personal standpoint, that was especially gratifying in the case of Dr. Sibley: I have worked with him at both Cross-Cultural Ministries and Evangelism and Home Missions, and have found him to be a great person. In the case of Victor Pagan, on Sunday evening he was a very busy man, shuttling between two banquets (World Missions and Chaplains Commission) to receive awards at both!

Beyond that, a generational change is taking place. Our ministers wanted change and expressed that desire in those whom they elected. But the men they elected are both new and familiar at the same time. The first task of our new leaders, and especially of our new Presiding Bishop, Raymond Culpepper, is to insure that our laity and clergy alike repose confidence in our denomination’s central governance. Such is necessary for the health of the Body of Christ. Our situation is product of a long process that is not the work of one individual or even a small group of men.  That process is one which, frankly, all of us in this church are a part of.

Based on my knowledge of Dr. Culpepper in the time he has been our divisional liaison, I believe that he is suited for the task at hand.  I for my part want to be a part of the solution and not of the problem, and I believe that many others are of like mind.  Much of the focus now is on the budget and its reallocation.  But I am looking beyond that to the time when people in this church view their International Offices more favourably, because if their impression of the central office is not optimal, they’re not receptive to what we have to offer, be that good, bad or indifferent.  Under such circumstances, it doesn’t make much difference what the budget is.

MissionalCOG and the Church of God Blogosphere

There’s no doubt that the whole MissionalCOG effort had an impact on this General Assembly, even though they did not achieve all of their objectives. The number of pastors on the Council of 18 increased from 9 to 11, and the whole drama of the realignment of resources—which ended in the kind of move of God we always preach about and pray for—would have never taken place without the whole MissionalCOG effort, both the blog and the meetings during the General Assembly at the USO.

Having been both observer and participant to the Anglican/Episcopal world’s conflict—in many ways the first major church conflict fought heavily in cyberspace—I learned that the power of the Internet in general and the blogosphere in particular cannot be underestimated. The challenge to all of us in this realm is to remain both open in communication and constructive in intent. We in the Church of God don’t have the deep divisions of doctrine and life that our counterparts in Main Line churches do; we need to take advantage of that basic unity, and not squander it on things that don’t serve the long term interest of the mission of Jesus in our church.

Other Agenda Items

I took open positions on two items: the Exhorter’s licence and Doctrinal Fidelity. I was glad to see that the General Assembly turned down the former. In a centralised church, a local church certification doesn’t have the impact as it would in a congregational church like the Southern Baptists or the Assemblies of God. Our church is wrestling with the whole issue of entry level ministry credentialing; evidently there’s more study to be done. Personally I think we’re too worried about the high attrition rate at the Exhorter’s level. It’s better to find out that someone isn’t called of God sooner than later.

Concerning Doctrinal Fidelity, the unease that many of our ministers felt about this was evident in the responses on this blog, and that was reflected in the rejection of the part which would have entailed loss of credentials for lack of fidelity to the Declaration of Faith. One Administrative Bishop told me that he was concerned that the passage of the agenda item in its original form would have led to a great deal of petty ecclesiastical litigation fuelled more by rivalry than the maintenance of the faith. I still think this is an important matter, and was glad to see that speaking in other tongues being the initial evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit was upheld by our church. Given the doctrinal issues that normally arise in our church versus those in others, at this point this is not the life or death issue that it has become in, say, the Anglican/Episcopal world.

Laity Ministries at the Assembly

Our department had a good General Assembly, both in the friends we saw again, the resourcing we did at our booth, and at the Seminar and Laity and Clergy Luncheon we had on Friday. Leonard Sweet was an outstanding speaker, and my greatest regret is that, with our overcrowded General Assembly schedule, more people were not able to take in either or both of his talks (which should be available on CD shortly.) And it didn’t hurt that I got to take him to Starbucks!

One of the most memorable moments for us took place at our booth. We are working on expanding our offerings of resources in Spanish. Our State Lay Director for the South-east Hispanic Region, Carlos Jaffett, was explaining our materials to a group of ladies. I was busy with something else, but shortly turned to hear crying and praying from across the booth. Brother Jaffett was having an altar service right in our booth! Don’t wait for church to minister or be Pentecostal!

And As For Me…

One of the unique customs our church has is not to formally announce all of the appointed positions until the close of the Commissioning Service on Saturday morning. The new Presiding Bishop concludes the service, and everyone heads to the exits to get a little white booklet with all of the appointments—department heads, chaplains, missionaries, state and national Administrative Bishops, etc.

At this point, the books are opened…

Well, I found myself there in the same place as before, along with my superior Leonard Albert and our department.  I am grateful to the Church of God for the opportunity for someone like me, not even the product of an Evangelical upbringing to say nothing of this church, to serve at this level.

Most of the life of this website—which celebrates its eleventh anniversary at the end of the month—has been directed away from the Church of God. The last several months have altered that to some extent. But through the emergence of the blogosphere in this church and the inclusion of this site in same, my relationship with the Church of God has been broadened and deepened in ways I had not anticipated. I’m looking forward to continuing the ongoing dialogue with others in this church. But my first purpose here was to reach out to others, and ultimately that’s what is most important—fulfilling the mission that Our Lord Jesus Christ commanded us to do. After all, isn’t that what all this “missional” effort is all about?

6 thoughts on “Reflections on the 2008 General Assembly”

  1. Dang it, Don!

    You said, “my relationship with the Church of God has been broadened and deepened in ways I had not anticipated. I’m looking forward to continuing the ongoing dialogue with others in this church,” and here I was hoping you’d see it in your heart to come back over the the wonderful world of the Holy Hand Grenade! Hey, you could be a Kenyan without even learning ki-Swahili!

    I spent most of my summer a little closer to the stem of that blessed device, prospecting in Ireland. Have to tell you about it.

  2. Don, it was good to see you at the Chaplain’s Commission Dinner and the video was great. Thanks for all your support of our chaplains. I must say that I have been quite surprised, and encouraged with what I have seen and heard at this assembly. From one who has not been able to attend an assembly for six years I felt like a new convert drinking it all in.
    I knew nothing of this movement on the net and in our church but I must tell you it has invigorated my spirit. With being out here “Beyond the Gates” I did not know how thirsty I had become. Blessings!

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