This week, I had the privilege of attending the 125th North American Convention of the Church of God in Anderson, Indiana. You might usually refer to this event as “campmeeting,” although it seems most attendees these days stay in hotel rooms rather than in campers (and certainly not in tents). As usual, this was a good time for folks in the Church of God to reconnect with each other, to share ideas for ministry, and to worship God together. I’d like to share a few things with you that stood out to me from this year’s convention:
The identity of the Church of God. For many years, the Church of God as a movement/denomination has been struggling with the question of its identity. Who are we? What do we stand for? What can we contribute to the world of Christian faith? Now it finally seems that some important voices are beginning to clarify these questions.
- First, our General Director, Dr. Ron Duncan, gave an excellent annual report to the General Assembly (pastors and lay leaders from our congregations). In this report, Dr. Duncan clarified what we believe and what makes us distinct from other Christian groups, and he explained what we have accomplished and where we are going as a movement. If you’d like to see this report, please let me know – I have a copy in my study.
- Second, a new book entitled “Signals at the Crossroads” has been published. This book combines Dr. Gil Stafford’s two previous “Crossroads” books and includes new material that he was writing at the time of his death in 2008. I’ll be reading this book this summer, and I’d be glad to let you take a glance at it if you like.
- Third, I’ve been invited to participate in the Strategic Planning Conference of the Church of God, which will be held in Nashville, TN in September this year. While the agenda of this conference has yet to be released, the meetings promise to give our leaders even more clarity and direction to the Church of God for the coming years. More details will come later!
Changes to the North American Convention. Attendance at campmeeting has been declining for many years, and as a result of this and several other factors, the General Assembly has appointed a task force to study several options for consideration. The main ideas are that the convention (a) may be held less frequently, perhaps every other year, and (b) may be held in locations other than Anderson. No decisions have been made yet; the General Assembly will hear suggestions at the 2012 campmeeting and may make a decision at that point. In any case, the 2013 campmeeting has already been repurposed and renamed as a “Global Gathering” of the Church of God; church leaders from around the world will come to Anderson for a week of worship and fellowship. The earliest we would see a significant change to the North American Convention would be in 2014.
Interest in in-depth Bible study. This year, I helped to lead a pair of conferences entitled “Difficult Texts of the Bible.” Last year, we held one similarly titled conference, and fifty people attended; this year, thirty-five people came to each conference. These were very strongly attended, and we had excellent conversations! The conferences focused on wrestling with difficult passages of scripture – passages that are hard to understand, challenging to accept, or apparently contradictory with other parts of the Bible. This year, we studied Ecclesiastes 7:15-18, which calls us to be righteous, but not too righteous; in the second conference, we studied Mark 10:1-12, which is often interpreted to say “divorce is sinful” but really says much more than this. The strong response to these conferences is important to me because it shows that people in the Church of God are hungry for in-depth Bible study. Are you? If you’d like to know more about these conferences, please ask me!
If you are curious about anything else that took place during the North American Convention this year, please let me know. I’d be glad to talk about it with you!