Now that the Episcopalians have completed their boffo performance in Indianapolis, we can turn to another large church gathering: the Church of God General Assembly in Orlando, which will be warming up this time next week. There are many issues on the agenda, including the church’s favourite parlour game: who will move up in the Executive Committee and who will end up where–if anywhere–in all the appointments.
Behind all of this, however, is in my opinion our church’s greatest challenge in North America: properly integrating all the various people groups into the leadership of our church, which incorporates the issue of the kind of church we need to be. There is the politically correct version of why we should do this, but what I am about to say is not politically correct, but the product of my study of the Scriptures and years of experience both in the business world and in the church.
It’s axiomatic in business (and politics for that matter) that if you have “markets” which have an affinity for the product or service you offer, you cultivate the “markets” and the people therein. If we look at the patterns of church growth in general and Pentecostal churches in particular, we see that non-white groups, be they Hispanic, black (and that in itself is a very diverse group), Asian or what not, have joined our ranks in great numbers and with great enthusiasm. My experience in the church tells me that they tend to be more denominationally loyal than their Scots-Irish counterparts. (In many ways, the “tithe on tithe” controversy is a Scots-Irish volte-face par excellence.) That being the case, it makes sense that we should do what we can to cultivate this kind of growth, and that in the long run means bringing these people into positions of leadership in the church. That’s underscored if you look at the Church of God on a truly international basis.
That isn’t happening, and the reduction in funding for the states/regions and the International Office is only serving as a vehicle to cut their representation further. I believe that our non-white people groups are getting an especially short end of the deal in the process, which is one reason I felt it was time for me to leave two years ago.
One thing that is driving this–beyond the desire of appointments and patronage, which is drive enough–is that the Scots-Irish in general, in and out of the Church of God, have adopted a siege mentality during the reign of the current Occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. From a political standpoint, that’s dangerous. The last time that happened, we had the War Between the States, the bloodiest conflict our continent has seen. From an ecclesiastical standpoint, it has the potential of setting our church back at a time when Evangelical Christianity is under enough attack as it is. The survival of meaningful Christianity of any kind in this country depends upon our ability to attract non-white people.
But will we stand in the way? Christian history is, in many ways, a relay race. One group predominates and then gives way to another. There’s no question that the missional accomplishments of Europeans and their cousins on this continent are considerable. But the time has come to pass the baton to those to whom we have ministered in the past but now have come to fullness in their own right. Will we pass it or will we drop it?
It really isn’t our church; it’s God’s church. How we respond is our choice, but don’t be surprised if God finds someone else to carry forth the work he has sent us to do.