Some Thoughts on the 2018 Church of God General Council Agenda

Well, it’s that time of the biennium again, when our ministers and their church pack up and spend several million dollars on the gathering called the General Assembly.  I’ve made it my habit to comment on the agenda, which can be found here.  The last time, OurCoG copied my comments in serial format (guys, next time give a link back) so perhaps they made a little more impact than usual.

It’s true that American Christianity in general and the Church of God in particular are having a rough time.  So how does the agenda deal with our current situation?  Let’s take a look…

The “FINISH Commitment” Resolutions

At the very start the agenda makes a bold statement:

The 77th General Assembly agenda is different. It is conceived and contextualized on the declared Mission and Vision of the Church of God. The purpose of the FINISH Commitment Agenda is to articulate the vision predicated upon six primary areas delineated as resolutions. These include the following: Visional Actualization, Doctrinal Affirmation, Structural Acclimation, Ministerial Activation, Generational Assimilation, and Spiritual Acceleration. Every agenda item is categorized under one of these visional resolutions.

It’s tempting to regard these resolutions as “fluff” (like corporate vision statements) but many of the points in these resolutions are carried through in the agenda items that actually alter the Minutes of the church.  So these are worth paying attention to, and some comments are in order.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this Task Force specifically focus on the following areas and prepare recommendations for the Executive Council to consider for implementation and, as necessary, inclusion on the International General Council agenda for 2020:

a. Evaluation of the departments and ministries of the International Offices to determine the value added to local churches and to develop an instrument for state/regional offices to evaluate the value their programs and ministries are adding to the local church;
b. Assessment of the budget of the International Offices to determine the funding priorities supporting the core values of the church and finishing the Great Commission;
c. Review of the systems (including elections and appointments) and programs of the church considering multinational and multigenerational culture, including language-specific resources, cultural variants, etc.;
d. Appraisal of the church planting and church revitalization efforts and funding with a goal to enlarge and enhance the effectiveness of these priorities;
e. Analysis of the need for and promotion of ministerial recruitment, development, and placement in the Western USA, and other areas;
f. Refine, expand, and promote the current affiliation and amalgamation opportunities and procedures;
g. Devise policy guidelines for multisite campuses; and

BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED that a report of this Task Force’s work be prepared and made available to the 2020 International General Council.

Some of this was done in the wake of the “Missional Revolt” of the last decade, which included the reduction by a third of our local churches’ contribution to the state and international offices (including World Missions.)  Evidently things have not worked out quite as hoped; part of that is due to the fact that the serious changes that needed to be made were not done.  Those include ending the requirement that the central church own the local church property (a sore subject with Anglicans in this country,) the election of state and regional bishops, and other topics that will be discussed.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that our ministers prayerfully reaffirm their commitment to and belief in these doctrinal statements…

With the experience of the Anglican-Episcopal world at my back, I have supported the idea that our ministers affirm their commitment to what the church stands for.  I have gotten pushback on that, which you can see here.  I doubt we’ll get any further with this now than we did then; I hear a ticking time bomb, but I’m not sure how to prevent it from going off…

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that careful consideration be made of our voting and appointment processes to assure that they reflect our multicultural diversity and enhance our missional impact…

Evidently some of the logic of this post is coming to the forefront, but for those of you who might think this is a “leftist” bent, it really isn’t.  That’s because of one simple reality: the ethnic mix of Pentecostal churches is rapidly shifting towards non-white people, and the long-term survival of the church depends upon our ability to attract and keep these people in our churches.  If that means doing like Canada (Ontario) and using a quota system in our leadership irrespective of the offering, so be it.  But getting a church with its current ethnic mix to go along with quotas of any kind (and that includes the “hipsters” who’d like to age the rest of us out) is an uphill battle.

Expanding the Council of 18 to become the Council of 24

Honestly I think the main effect of this will be to enlarge the travel budget of the International offices, and frankly we don’t need that.  Making this body more representative of the international church may involve slaughtering some sacred cows, but they make great hamburger and we could save some money in the bargain.

One thing we need to keep in mind is that, if we internationalise more effectively our executive bodies, and that includes the Executive Committee, Executive Council, General Council and General Assembly, that might be a strong backstop against whatever pansexual agendas ooze out of the “Global North.”  It’s worked for the United Methodists and sort of worked for the Anglicans (who aren’t as tightly bound.)  Just a thought.

Election and Appointment Study Commission

That a Study Commission be appointed to review the election and appointment process, including reflection of multicultural diversity with recommendations to the International Executive Council for implementation of, and as necessary, inclusion on the 2020 International General Council agenda.

I think that we should elect our state and regional administrative bishops.  I know that many think it would make a “popularity contest” but anyone who has worked with our state system knows that, even with centrally appointed bishops, the states still have a great deal of autonomy.  It worked for the Roman Empire church and will work for us too.  Who knows, a layman like Ambrose might get the nod…

Applicants for Ministry

There are  a couple of resolutions on the table on this topic.  Pentecostal churches have been known for relatively easy entry into the ministry, but also have a high attrition rate.  The trend in recent years has been to up the education requirements for our ministers, which is expensive and time-consuming.

Right after we came home from the last General Assembly in Nashville, i received my PhD, so I feel I can say some things about education that I couldn’t before.  They are as follows:

  1. The educational level of the ministers of the church is related to that of the laity; both should be in the same ballpark.  That’s an issue of the minister relating to his or her congregation.
  2. I don’t think that the Church of God, given its current demographic, can financially afford the types of educational programs for ministers that we see in other denominations.  Given the expense of higher education these days, students at both undergraduate and graduate levels receive their degrees with high levels of student debt.  Most of our churches cannot pay the salaries necessary to liquidate that debt; that’s the problem many millennials have with ministerial positions.
  3. I think we’d be better off figuring out a way to produce “90-day wonders” with much continuing education following (and, of course, discernment as to whether a person has any business being in the ministry to start with.)  That would also attract another class of people: those in highly paid (and educated) professions who could support themselves with their jobs and not be so dependent upon the church for income.  The last will become more important as stewardship declines and full time ministry as we know it now becomes the exception rather than the rule.

Use of the Term “Bishop”

That open Ministry Forums be conducted globally to provide opportunity for deliberate and meaningful discussion, dialogue, questions/answers and time for spiritual insight regarding the importance and understanding of ministry ranks, qualifications, and women in ministry with attention upon the meaning and usage of the title “bishop.” Following the forums, appropriate motion(s) be formulated by the International Executive Council specifically addressing the stated issues and brought to the 2020 International General Council.

The title “bishop” should be restricted to state/regional/national/international prelates.  Period.  The expansion was a mistake.  But that, in turn, has complicated another debate: the ordination of women as “ordained bishops” to use the current term.

The history of Pentecostal churches and the way they look at church in general makes the whole topic different from, say, their Anglican counterparts, although Pentecostals could learn a thing or two from that experience.  We actually went through a “listening tour” ten years ago on this topic, and the result was simple: everyone but the Scots-irish were prepared to go along with what the Anglicans call “WO.”  My guess is that these new “Ministry Forums” will generate many travel expenses and come to pretty much the same result, although the generational shift will soften the opposition.  I think this is an issue where real change is going to take more than just a vote of the present ministers and laity.

Pastoral Requirement to Become a State Administrative Bishop

Dan Tomberlin has an excellent piece supporting this concept.  I’m inclined to agree with him; however, the problem in many cases is that, in the past at least, some of our more successful ministers didn’t do well at a local church became they were particularly “pastoral,” but because they were good pulpiteers and fund-raisers.  (in the old days, good building skills didn’t hurt, either.)  Our Administrative Bishops need to be pastors to their pastors; being at a local church is necessary but not sufficient to insure that will take place.

Engaging the “Jeremiah Generation”

That each State/Regional Overseer in cooperation with the State/Regional Youth and Discipleship Director, lead pastors, student pastors, and the perspective state/regional Ministerial Development Board (CAMS and MIP) adopt an annual plan for identifying, mentoring/training, and engaging young men and women designated as the “Jeremiah Generation” in both local and state/regional ministry of the Church of God.

The whole issue of the generation coming up has become a near obsession with our leadership, given the common beliefs that a) the millennials are abandoning Christianity wholesale, b) they cannot be reached by anyone other than their own contemporaries, and c) they cannot be reached by anything other than the methodology those in (b) are putting forward.  I think, however, that this whole topic needs to be tempered by the following:

  1. A discipleship-based approach to church life is an absolute must now.  The biggest difference between what our older ministers are used to and what our younger ones face is that we cannot rely on the culture to pre-disciple our people, quite the opposite.  I can tell you from experience that discipleship-based approaches are a hard sell.  The smaller, more traditional churches don’t see the need and the larger ones don’t want to invest the time because it gets in the way of growing the church financially and numerically.  There are exceptions to that but when a discipleship-based approach becomes the rule and not the exception this divide will fade away.
  2. The economics of full-time ministry are no where near what they used to be.  I’ve discussed this with respect to education, and that’s a big driver.  Pentecostal churches, traditionally, have been better at dealing with economic adversity than their Main Line counterparts.  Unfortunately recent prosperity has blurred our vision of reality; we thought we had seen the light at the end of the poverty tunnel, but it was only a guy with a flashlight.  We need first to be real with the “Jeremiah Generation” leaders about this.
  3. Although Pentecostal churches are not immune to cultural secularisation, most of the exodus from Christianity in this country is among white people.  The changing ethnic mix in our churches will offset this if we have the sense to take full advantage of our situation.

Closing Thoughts

This is a very sweeping agenda; it will be interesting to see whether the General Council actually has the time to get through it.  Most of the issues, however, are ones that have been around for all of this millennium and have been addressed in the upheavals we have had.  Having been a witness/participant in the “Missional Revolt” (and ultimately a casualty in an employment sense,) I see that this didn’t produce the change it advertised it would.  That being the case, if we want to see change in the church, we really need to see some in ourselves, and that’s beyond the scope of any Church of God General Council Agenda.

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