My Thoughts on the 2010 Church of God General Assembly Agenda

Now that I’ve published this, it’s time to move on and consider what’s in front of our church at its 2010 General Assembly in Orlando next month.  The agenda is online and can be found here.

This review is not intended to be comprehensive.  It is informed by more than a quarter of a century in the church, more than half of which found me working in the International Offices.

With that in mind, here goes:

Women in Ministry (Item 3): This should have been done a long time ago.  I elucidated my position on this subject here, much to the shock of some at our Seminary.  My only concern with this is that the whole issue of authority hasn’t been thought out very carefully.  My observations of this are here (in general) and here (in particular, relating to women in ministry.)

Pastoral Review System (Item 4): This is a sore subject with lay people, who find it strange that our ministers are unfavourable to periodic pastoral review when Administrative Bishops are subject to same and ministers bristle at the thought of eliminating an elective office or a quadrennial General Assembly.  As my father would say, “I’ve got a no-fit going here.”  (I thought of using my usual expression, “cognitive dissonance moment,” but I wanted to be clear on this subject.)  No substantive action is contemplated here, but there needs to be some.

Quadrennial General Assembly (Item 5): See previous item.  The General Assembly is an enormously expensive enterprise.  A more sensible solution would be a triennium like the Episcopalians use, but I pray that God smites us with a curse if we adopt some of the really stupid resolutions they have at their GC’s.

Elected Positions (Item 6): Personally I think the following would make for a better (or at least more consistent) elected officials mix:

  1. Three (3) Person Executive Committee.
  2. Council of Eighteen (18) with at least half of the members lay people.  (That’s right, lay people.)
  3. State Administrative Bishops (elected, obviously, at the state/regional level.)  If it worked for a Doctor of the Church like Ambrose, it should work for us.

Restructuring of International Offices (Item 7): I think this would have a happier ending for everyone if my Item 6 suggestion (esp. the second point) had been in place before it started.  War is too important to be left to generals; God’s work is too important to be left to our ministers.

International Executive Council (Item 13): See my comment on Item 6.  I’d also mandate that the make-up of the IEC reflect the actual ethnic mix we have in our denomination.

General Overseer (Item 15): This would end one of the more interesting traditions we have in the Church of God, and some explanation (esp. for my Anglican, Catholic and Orthodox readers) is in order.

“And I saw the dead, high and low, standing before the throne; and books were opened. Then another book was opened, the Book of Life; and the dead were judged, according to their actions, by what was written in the books.” (Revelation 20:12)  This is, in effect, the theory behind how we make appointments at the General Assembly.  After our Executive Committee and Council are elected, they meet in conclave while the General Council/Assembly is still in session, and determine all of the “General Assembly appointments”: state and regional Administrative Bishops, missionaries, chaplains, boards, International Office appointees (like myself), and others.  We have a commissioning service at the end, where we who are elected or appointed are commissioned.  Only problem is, our appointments aren’t officially announced until after the service, when we rush to the exits and get a little booklet (it’s online now, too).  At that point “books were opened,” and we see, as one Presiding Bishop put it, “God’s will for our life.”

This delightfully suspenseful if somewhat unprofessional system is to be abolished under this resolution.  The appointments are to be made by the EC and IEC after the Assembly at the leadership meeting.  Although this on paper makes more sense, there are two issues surrounding it that need to be considered.

The first is that it takes yet another week off of the “musical chairs” that we have in August while appointees and elected officials move around (frequently physically) and get situated.  This is especially significant for those with school age children.  It also adds more dead time in the life of our church around the time of the Assembly, and there’s enough of that.

Second, it would add more time for our church’s version of the “smoke filled rooms” to cloud our appointment process, and that time would be after everyone else had gone home.  There’s enough of that already, too.

Affiliate Churches (Item 17): I have to admit that this is the worst item on the agenda.  I think the idea of this is to attract large Charismatic churches with multimillion dollar facilities whose title would not have to pass to the central church (a problem that North American Episcopalians and Anglicans are well aware of.)  But this ignores some very important realities.

To begin with, denominations primarily exist to serve (that’s right, people, we’re supposed to serve) small and medium size churches.  Large churches don’t need a denomination.  And not all churches are called to be large churches, current theory notwithstanding.

More than that, it’s unfair to those who have worked within our system for years to sit and watch others waltz into it, receiving the benefits of affiliation without the price.  If local church ownership of property is so great, we should extend it to everyone (and I think there are very cogent reasons to do this) or at least divest the property to the state and regional levels (as the Roman Catholics do on a diocesan basis.)

Finally, it would over time turn our church into what Sun Yat-Sen would call a “sheet of loose sand.”  The North American Anglicans are wrestling with the problem re the “mission partner” churches on a much larger scale, and I think it undermines the integrity of the enterprise.  (Had they started out being a loose association, it would have been different, but their objective was to receive recognition from Canterbury, so…)

Now that I’ve ripped through the Agenda, let me bloviate on a few choice topics:

Church Planting Initiative

A good deal has been made of this; it has been one of the objectives of the Missional Revolt.  From what I’ve seen, my conclusion is simple: I think that church planting at US$50,000 and up a crack, whether it’s underwritten by the denomination or a local church, is economically unsustainable in a church where the median AGI of the membership probably isn’t that high.  Put another way, we’ll run out of money before we’ll run out of mission.  In a world of house churches and cell groups, using a “World Missions” type of model is probably a good way of marrying the career track of our ministers with our need to plant new churches (and I agree we need to plant new churches.) Obviously if you’re planting the likes of a Worth Avenue Church of God (and that would reflect more “out of the box” missional thinking than I’ve seen in our church) you’d need these kinds of resources; however, I don’t think it should be regarded as the norm.  This would be a good place to employ the services of our lay people, especially if the plant is out of an existing local church, but we are afraid of such an enterprise.

I would urge our ministers to take a look at Roland Allen’s excellent book Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? for an insightful look at this subject.

Internationalisation or Multiculturalisation

One major lacuna in our reallocation of resources is any effort to further the internationalisation or multiculturalisation of our church at all levels of its life.  A church drawn from all peoples was one of the promises of the first Pentecost and certainly the second, but our current set-up suggests a “hub-and-spoke” structure.  This will not do for a long list of reasons.  It will limit our church’s appeal.  Full Gospel Christianity is naturally multicultural, which is, for me, one of its big appeals.  We need not spoil it.

Role of the Laity

I saw a few references to the laity in the Agenda and related documents, especially to putting lay people on more boards in our church on a national and international level.  We will see if this is actualised; I tend to be a sceptic.  As it stands now, the role of the laity in our church as it is currently implemented has no support in the New Testament.  That needs to be fixed.

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