A Global Experience
My Dad’s little church in West Texas helped send our family to the first General Assembly I ever attended. That General Assembly was held in Memphis and I was less than a year old. Because of my young age, I can’t say that I remember anything about my first “Assembly experience,” but I do have some mementos of that time in my life. Among my cherished possessions handed-down from my Dad are the printed version of the 1960 General Assembly program, along with the hotel receipts and the ticket stubs from us riding a riverboat on the Mississippi River. I even have a picture of Dad on the riverboat. Of course, as always, he was dressed in his white shirt and necktie. Surprisingly, he had relaxed enough to roll up his sleeves …. almost to his elbows. Through the years that followed, going to the General Assembly was the one trip that allowed my family and I the opportunity to venture out beyond the familiar borders of ministry and social interaction we had in West Texas, and get to experience fellowship with other believers from around the world.
It would be easy for me and others to let our memories take over, allowing each of us to get lost in the sights, sounds and fellowship of what a General Assembly was for so many of us for so long. While there certainly are still some semblances of the past, by and large, the General Assembly has changed through the years. Of course, feelings vary as to how good or bad those changes have been. The week-long event, the domed stadiums, and the Saturday morning meetings of the state delegations with their new overseer are all gone. Even with the changes, the General Assembly continues to be the one event that magnetically draws Church of God ministers and laity from around the globe together once every two years. Depending on the agenda and program, some come hopeful, some skeptical, some curious, and some come with prayerful expectation that God, once again, will use the General Assembly gathering as an opportunity to speak to the Church of God with undeniable clarity.
A history making event
From the first General Assembly in 1906 until now, each Assembly has held its own particular place in our denominational history. Some General Assemblies were marked and are remembered for their strong agendas, while others are remembered for a particular visitation of the Holy Spirit that sovereignly guided the church to a place of critical presence in a lost and dying world.
The news media has typically picked up bits and pieces of our discussion, or quotes from our resolutions, in an attempt to characterize the Church of God’s place in a dynamic and changing culture. As society has become increasingly more complex with every issue imaginable affecting the global population, seldom anymore is there a General Assembly where new and updated resolutions aren’t needed to better define and clarify the church’s position on any number of matters, hopefully using clear Biblical guidance to address the pressing issues at hand. Of course, when polity, structure and church governance issues are debated and passed, becoming a part of our core governing book of Minutes, the effects of a General Assembly are often far reaching and long-lasting. To take us back to the original purpose of the gathering we call the General Assembly, every decision, and especially the core of our decision-making process, must be fully grounded in a clear understanding and interpretation of scripture.
…every decision, and especially the core of our decision-making process, must be fully grounded in a clear understanding and interpretation of scripture.
Simply put, General Assemblies have historically been important – and they remain so today. Admittedly, some have left a more lasting mark on our church than others, but none has been inconsequential in our church’s journey as a movement. Each Assembly has been important in its own way. This year’s 77th International General Assembly, scheduled for July 30 through August 3, 2018 in Orlando, Florida will be no different. In a year when the only elections before the General Assembly will be for the Council of Eighteen, we have a unique opportunity to prayerfully gather around and focus on a FINISH Commitment agenda that better positions the Church of God to be a leading participant in fulfilling the Great Commission.
A time to shape the future
The inevitable question that I know some of you are asking is “why should I attend this Assembly when there are only a few elections?” A question of this nature is indicative of what the Assembly may have become in the minds and hearts of a few good and caring ministers. Let’s be honest! For some, the General Assembly is little more than a political convention, similar to the conventions held by the Democrats and Republicans every four years. Yes, I said it!! Such is evidenced by the fact that after the votes are in and all elected positions are filled, the attendance at other business sessions decreases exponentially. Based upon the weightiness of the subjects being discussed, there have been times that attendance was honestly too low for the issues to be fully debated. In those times, there have been questions from “the floor” raised relative to a quorum being present, as well as whether the lack of participation represents a healthy denominational response to such significant issues.
Granted, the frustrations caused by a lack of participation are legitimate. Considering the time involved, money spent, and the distance traveled, we must ask was the General Assembly really worth the effort? Only the lasting results from each General Assembly can actually qualify to answer that very legitimate and worthy question. This I know – as a leader and speaking on behalf of others elected to serve with me, there is a weight of responsibility attached to planning and preparing for a General Assembly. That responsibility results in countless hours of prayer, preparation, and sleepless nights leading up to such an event. As leaders, we are duty bound to spend our energy bringing to the delegates of the General Assembly a meaningful agenda. It can’t be reckless. Instead, it must be an agenda that is Christ-honoring and forward thinking. It must be an agenda that speaks to a multi-ethnic, multi-generational and multi-faceted church. And it must be an agenda with the Great Commission as its’ main focus and singular purpose.
As leaders, we are duty bound to spend our energy bringing to the delegates of the General Assembly a meaningful agenda.
Since before the last amen was pronounced on the 2016 General Assembly, the General Assembly “cabinet” has been at work to make the upcoming Assembly both successful and meaningful. The cabinet has worked through more issues than I can even begin to enumerate here or that most people could even imagine. Where to place childcare, where to place directional signs, how to accommodate Junior Talent and thousands of other details that go into a convention that goes on for five days with thousands of people moving around a convention center with almost a half million square feet dedicated just to our event. The list could go on and on.
In addition, for two years now the Executive Council has been discussing and constantly praying for the upcoming General Assembly. The Agenda Committee, made up of members of the Executive Council along with their professional parliamentarians and consultants, has collected your motions from the field and mixed those with others coming directly from the Executive Committee, as well as those referred to the body by the previous General Assembly. With that abundance of information in hand, the Agenda Committee has been meeting regularly to craft a meaningful agenda that will hopefully continue to move the Church of God as a movement forward in the spirit and power of Pentecost.
…the Agenda Committee has been meeting regularly to craft a meaningful agenda that will hopefully continue to move the Church of God as a movement forward in the spirit and power of Pentecost.
And of course, I must not forget to mention the General Council Motions Committee. Recent Assembly history shows that significant and far-reaching items have come directly from the “floor” of the General Council by motions submitted through the Motions Committee. Having such direct input from the body – from those who are in the field carrying out the harvest – is an opportunity that should be welcomed by leadership, and not dreaded. When the General Council has worked its way through the prepared agenda and that work is completed, the General Council Motions Committee will render its report, and as they say, we will be off to the races again. I will be as anxious as anyone to hear those proposals, properly administrate their presentation, and allow for this important aspect of General Council expression to have its place in the business of the church.
Priorities, Paradigms, and Purpose
In the fall of 2017, I sent you a small booklet entitled, “The Essential Alignment of Priorities, Paradigms, and Purpose.” In that booklet, I shared 25 items that are at least partially guiding the Executive Council’s agenda creation process. I grouped these items under six separate headings:
The agenda of the upcoming General Assembly will be set out under these six considerations.
As provided for in the Minutes, the agenda will be available to you at least thirty days prior to the opening of the International General Council. So you, as well as all pre-registered delegates, should have available to you a copy of the agenda items by no later than the end of June.
May I make a special request of you? When you have access to the General Council agenda, will you please make each agenda item a matter of committed prayer? There is no doubt that every item that is on the agenda will be weighed in the court of public opinion – and the bowels of the internet – long before we arrive in Orlando. That is to be expected and absolutely fine with me. I encourage you to talk about the agenda items, discuss them with your friends personally, through electronic means, and social media, but please do not do so until you have carefully read and prayed over and about each item. And as you go through the content of the General Assembly agenda, you will see that hearts heavy with passion and vision for a relevant and Great Commission focused church have carefully, and in some cases courageously, submitted these items to the General Council for debate and consideration.
God did not call us to be in unison, but rather to be in harmony. - I Peter 3:8 NASB.
As a song writer and singer, there is nothing more beautiful to me than four-part harmony. The noted Southern Gospel quartets of the past half century have excelled at that type of harmony. But there is a world of difference in being in “harmony” and being in “unison.” God did not call us to be in unison, but rather to be in harmony. I Peter 3:8 NASB. We may not always agree on every topic that is presented at the General Assembly – and we may even “sing” different parts about a particular item. However, when all is said and done and the final gavel comes down on the 77th International General Assembly on Friday, August 3, 2018, we must go forth united and harmonious as a movement to reach a lost and dying world for Jesus Christ. He demands no less of us!
I have complete confidence that this General Assembly can and will be one that glorifies God and moves the church further towards a global Pentecostal experience and results in a revival of souls being won into the harvest. This will not occur because of “what” the General Assembly is, but because of “who” it is – a body of dedicated believers, members of the great Church of God, committed to make a Kingdom difference.