Strategic Planning Conference

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.

–Pastor David

North American Convention

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!

–Pastor David