To date, a handful of the 24 scheduled open Global Ministry Forums have been conducted. I have been extremely pleased with the level of participation seen in California, the Heartland Region, Hawaii, DelMarVa/DC and Southern New England. Combined, more than 850 people have attended and engaged in almost 20 hours of discussion thus far. As we approach the end of March, over 4,500 people have also taken the survey associated with the forums. Most of the surveys have been completed online, either through the minister’s reporting portal or by going directly to globalministryforums.com. For the sake of ensuring objectivity and statistical relevancy, the results of the surveys submitted have not been reviewed and will not be analyzed until the forum process is totally completed.
The General Assembly mandated that we discuss four primary topics in these forums - the Use of the Term “Bishop” for our highest-ranking ministers, Women in Leadership, Qualifications of Ministers, and our different Ministry Ranks. However, I have not limited the discussion and have encouraged the discussion of other subjects that pertain to the Church of God being more effective in today’s world. Because of that open door to other topics, numerous other vitally important subjects have been raised. Some of those topics have included the church’s critical presence in a sin-motivated society, how to better reach younger generations, ministerial training, multicultural and international representation, and many more. Every comment and suggestion have been excellently presented and given with passion, courtesy, and great love for our movement.
Once we get past the first twenty minutes or so of each forum in which I provide instruction and administer the survey, the rest of the forum belongs to those present. So far, there has been no hesitancy from anyone. Once started, people are quickly moving to microphones and speaking freely. My standard line is, “I don’t care what you say or which topics you speak to, as long as you do it with a smile.” Accordingly, even the most intense speeches have been given with a great spirit and attitude.
In consideration of the four mandated subjects, the following is the order of most discussed topics in the first few forums:
Women in Leadership
Use of the term “Bishop”
Qualifications of Ministers
So far, the last two topics, Qualifications of Ministers and Ministry Ranks, have drawn minimal discussion. They are mentioned and briefly discussed but the other two topics have generated the most comments and interest from the forum attenders.
So, here’s some of what I’m hearing and observing:
Women in Leadership
I have not yet heard from anyone who doesn’t want to advance the ministry and leadership opportunities for women in the Church of God. However, how we achieve such seems to be the question. Most ideas and suggestions have initially focused first on honoring Scripture, pointing out the role of women throughout the Bible. There has also been an acknowledgment of the multiple ministry and leadership skills of women throughout our denomination. There has been a recognition of the role that women ministers in the Church of God have played as we advance the reach of God’s Kingdom and this movement around the globe. I firmly believe that these comments will assist the Executive Council in preparing meaningful agenda items where this question can be fully debated.
Use of the term “Bishop”
While some have spoken to the lack of understanding of how the term “Bishop” helps them in the fulfillment of their ministry, others have acknowledged their belief that the term has opened at least some doors of opportunity in ministry. Others have voiced their concern that the term “Bishop” is being used as a title or rank, rather than a function of ministry and leadership. Suggestions have been made to use other titles or even return to the titles used previously - Exhorter, Licensed and Ordained Minister.
Ministry Ranks and Qualifications
Honestly, very few have spoken to these subjects, and yet they are very important. The few who have spoken on these topics have pointed out that very little, in their opinion, is stated in the Church of God Minutes about what qualifies men and women for ministry. While the Minutes articulate various ministry ranks and position titles, the inclusion of qualifications is not always present. In most cases, the primary criteria listed is focused on selection, requirements, and generally just the listing of duties and authorities. The emphasis appears to be upon the selection process and authorized administrative ministry operation. Some have pointed out that qualifications should stress specific variables including Scriptural significance, ministry calling, skill sets (administration, leadership, giftedness, integrity, etc.), servant commitment, spiritual maturity, enough training, and experience.
Again, I could not be more pleased with the decorum and demeanor of the forum speakers so far. In the completed forums, both men and women, almost in an equal balance, have spoken freely and with great substance. Overall, the audiences have been multicultural and multi-generational. Millennials - and younger - have attended, and in good numbers. A respectable number of laity have also attended the first few forums, but I’m hoping for better participation as we move through the remaining forums.
We have nineteen open Global Ministry Forums to go. I have no doubt that as we move along there will be more definitive observations made on each of these topics. I truly believe that once we reach the end of the forums, the Executive Committee and Executive Council will have clearly heard the heartbeat of our church and will be able to draft motion items to bring before the 2020 General Assembly in Indianapolis that will move our movement forward in carrying out and completing the Great Commission that we have been called to finish.