As many of you know, I traveled to Nashville, TN last week for the Church of God’s “Strategic Planning Conference” (SPC), which is held every five years to help our movement relocate its identity, its vision, and its direction for the coming years. I was honored to be invited to attend this series of meetings, and I’d like to report to you some of what took place in those days.
The conference was attended by pastors, administrators, missionaries, and educators (among others) from all around North America – and we even had a few from other continents as well. About 140 people were in attendance, and as preparation for this event we were all asked to read Signals at the Crossroads, a new book by the late Dr. Gil Stafford which combines his two previous Crossroads books with new material he was writing in his final days. This book raises many issues that the Church of God movement is facing, and it’s worth your time. If you’d like to read it, you are welcome to borrow my copy!
We had several excellent speakers at the SPC who highlighted several concerns for our movement: how we cast a vision for the movement as a whole, how we resolve conflicts inside and among churches, how we keep pastors from being isolated from each other, how we encourage women in ministry, how we balance religious enthusiasm with theological reflection, how we sustain our rich heritage while we engage our present culture. We spent time in prayer and in worship as we brainstormed around these ideas.
For several years, the Church of God movement has lacked a strong, central, driving vision: our reason for existence is not as strong as it has been in the past. Granted, throughout our history, we have experimented with a number of different ideas for our purpose, mission, and vision. Over the course of time, though, these ideas have faded, and where we are – in terms of a guiding purpose for the movement as a whole – is a little uncertain.
So, much of our time together, as a combined group and in our smaller break-out groups, was dedicated to recapturing a vision for the movement as a whole. Through most of the conference – at least the two-thirds of the conference which I was able to attend – we saw evangelism move into the forefront of our collective vision for the Church of God.
On the positive side, it is surely part of our mission as people of God to spread the good news of Jesus Christ to individuals that are outside the kingdom of God. After all, this was summarized by the Great Commission which Jesus gave his disciples at the end of Matthew. We do well to emphasize this component of our Christian faith and mission. However, I fear that we may become single-minded (for instance, ignoring the lifelong task of discipleship) if we focus too much on evangelism. Also, we must remain faithful to our theological heritage while we press forward with evangelism.
One of my major concerns is with a recent trend in the Church of God to set numeric goals for our corporate success. You may remember our Focus40 event this past spring; another is being planned for next year, and this time there is a stated goal of 25,000 new believers worldwide through the implementation of Focus40, and this was repeated at the SPC this past week. Also, at the conference, one of the small break-out groups suggested that the Church of God set a goal of having 10,000 congregations on its roster by the year 2020. This latter goal is simply mathematically impossible: we would have to plant two or three churches every day for the next nine years to meet that goal.
The Church of God movement – and Mt. Haley Church of God in particular – must resist the urge to set numeric goals for their success. If we as a congregation see fifty souls saved by Christ in the next year, we will have great reason to celebrate! But if we set that goal ahead of time, then we are (at best) risking manipulation of God or (at worst) setting ourselves up to fail. As one of our SPC speakers said, we need to balance religious enthusiasm with theological reflection.
Who are we? What are we all about? These are questions that we as a congregation are beginning to tackle once again; I hope it is beneficial for you to know that the Church of God movement is in a similar position. May we all rely only on the Lord for the casting of our vision as we strive to carry out his will, until Christ returns and takes us home.