With our Independence Day celebration out of the way, it’s time for those of us in the Church of God to head to Nashville (if not physically, virtually) for the Church of God General Assembly. It should be an interesting one; three of the five members of the executive committee will be going off of that august body; the elections are always the highlight for many.
But there are some interesting things on the agenda too. Without going into a great deal of detail, what’s on the table is to a) allow ordained ministers to join the ordained bishops in the General Council (which would give some of our women ministers a vote for the first time) and lower the minimum age of those in the General Council and running for office. It’s the latter that I want to concentrate on.
That’s made simple by the fact that one Dr. Marty Baker has put together a site called Think Younger. His idea is not only to promote the idea of lowering the voting age, but also to promote those ministers who in his opinion “think younger.” Because of the way American Christianity is bleeding believers (especially among the Millenials) there’s an idea out there that, unless we turn the church over to our younger ministers, we’ll be left in the “ash heap of history,” to use Leon Trotsky’s term. This goes with the idea of “engaging our culture.” This has created a great deal of consternation among our older (and in many cases successful) ministers who are seeing the same possibilities of defection from the faith that we’ve seen in the Main Line churches. (And my Anglican readers know all too well what that means.)
As someone who just completed a PhD in a program with people half my age, this is yet another surreal situation. Coming off of those experiences, my mind goes back to my years at the International Offices, because for all the bravado these people exude, they’re still not addressing what I think is the core issue in the dynamic of the Church of God: the issue of race.
Last year I wrote a piece entitled What Working for the Church of God Taught Me About Race. After a long survey of the history of that subject in the church, I made the following observation:
A large reason Pentecostal churches grow and others don’t is because Pentecostal churches expand among non-white groups in a way that others don’t. Many want to turn this in to another “moral crusade” but the simple truth is that hindering multi-cultural growth is just plain stupid if we’re serious about expanding our church and fulfilling our mission.
Much of the numerical growth in the Assemblies of God in recent decades has been among ethnic minorities. From 2001 to 2015, the number of AG adherents increased by 21.5%. During this period, the number of white adherents decreased by 1.6% and the number of non-white adherents increased by 76.8%. From 2014 to 2015, the percentage of white adherents dropped from 57.6% to 57.2%. It should be noted that the number of white adherents in the U.S. includes quickly-growing constituencies of immigrants from places such as the former Soviet Union and Romania. Without these new white immigrants, the white constituency in the Assemblies of God would be falling even more quickly.
If you look at the worthies endorsed on Think Younger, most are white. If, for example, we want our Executive Committee to reflect our ethnic composition, we would elect two (2) non-white people to the open positions, assuming the other two men with time remaining went back on. I don’t think that Dr. Baker and his allies are ready to do that, based on the make-up of his preferred candidates. (Four out of thirteen are non-white; with three positions up and the other two going back on the Committee, nine should be.)
And I’ll throw out another idea: I think our older ministers would be more receptive to this idea. That’s because our non-white churches tend to be more traditional in belief and worship than our larger white churches. (In many cases they’re more urban too, which is an interesting juxtaposition.) It would also put the cause of our women ministers further down the road because the core of the opposition to women ministers in the Church of God has come from our Scots-Irish ministers, who are well represented in Dr. Baker’s preferred list.
It should be an interesting show from the “cheap seats,” where not only are the exhorters and ordained ministers excluded from the proceedings of the Council, but the laity too. That was certainly the case in 2008 during the “Missional Revolt,” when our younger ministers showed that they didn’t need to change the voting age to change the church.
In the meanwhile, I’ll continue to go to the denomination’s mother church, which is in many transitions these days. One of those is that we now have an Hispanic Pastor (which is a shock to many.) Next Sunday our state Administrative Bishop will visit us to begin the process of bringing in a new Pastor. If the Hispanic Pastor really succeeds, we’ll be in a different state with a different overseer.
And that, people, would be a jolt to young and old alike.