COG: A Credibility Crisis…period!

For the last year or more I have been reading on the Actscelerate forum, as well as dialog with groups of Church of God pastors regarding the present “ambiance” or atmosphere in the Church of God. For me they all seem to end up in the same place…

And at risk of simply being a nagging echo, or “harping,” I offer the following point …again…albeit through a somewhat different occasion.

Immediately after the close of the opening meeting of the Engage 21 conference (Thursday night) I had a lengthy conversation with the Presiding Bishop/General Overseer, Dennis McGuire…

I shared with him pointedly that pursuant to the events of the 2004 and 2006 General Assembly meetings – WE HAVE A CREDIBILITY VOID, VACUUM, VORTEX….

I told him if he would have walked to the microphone (at the moment the submitted motions were about to be presented) as the General Overseer elect and taken Mike Chapman’s motion in hand…and said something like:

“Gentlemen, I hold in my hand one of the most radical considerations to come before this body perhaps in the history of our church. It is extreme. I don’t think it is the best way for us to begin our new millennium…I think it would create such undue burden that we would not be able to achieve the ultimate end that appears to be the spirit of this measure.

However, we as the Ordained Bishops hold a sacred trust together to dialogue openly regarding the future of our church…it is a covenant declared in our guiding document. Our document of covenant declares that we as the Ordained Bishops TOGETHER bear the responsibility to determine the will of God for our church in open dialogue and prayer together.

I would prefer that this measure not be discussed because of the potential knee jerk reaction that may ensue resulting in unbearable economic realities. However, this motion has been presented in accordance with the covenant directives we share and so we will go forward with it.

I make this statement not as a leader separate FROM you…who is granting YOU who sit there some sort of privilege or permission to speak…but as one who stands WITH you as a fellow Ordained Bishop trying to determine God’s will for our church.

Should you choose some radical reduction that would task me with the responsibility to have a garage sale on the corner of Keith and 25th…then so be it. But the greatest asset we have is not one of real-estate or finance…it is the TRUST that exists between us. And nothing is more valuable than that.”

I told Bishop McGuire should something of that fashion have transpired…I BELIEVE that there would have been an absolute ground swell of a rallying behind the leadership…and that there would probably have been some sort of motion to begin a capital stewardship campaign to pay off the existing debt. I told him that I believe the group of guys that were there would have gone out and collected coke bottles to pay off the debt.

But instead…Mike Chapman’s motion was placed on the bottom of the pile and the parliamentary shenanigans began. Very Unfortunate.

I said further that we have created a primary commodity and “currency” of real estate and fear rather than relationship and trust.

I said, “Maybe I’m wrong.”
He said, “Maybe you’re right.”

I talked with him about the incongruity of primary voices of leadership in our denomination (by name) who stand and intimate one thing at the general assembly…and then return to their church and redirect tithe dollars to the general fund and call it “creative streams of revenue.” PLEASE!

I told him I would support his campaign to hold accountable those who “break covenant” in the TOT issue if he would begin by cleaning house with those at the highest levels of leadership who are doing it blatantly.

Bishop McGuire seems deeply committed to making fiscal cuts…but I don’t think the cuts, in and of itself is the answer.

Our conversation went lots and lots of other places…lots.

WE HAVE A CREDIBILITY CRISIS IN THE CHURCH OF GOD.

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15 Responses

  1. Travis,

    I agree with you 100% on this issue. I was there when all of the shenanigans went down in 2004 and have never been more disappointed in the COG in all of my life. What is now being voiced by a number of people via personal conversations, emails, blogs, and other venues is far too heart-felt, too articulate, and too RIGHTEOUS for leadership to ignore. If there is not some “top-down” directed effort to restore credibility in the system soon, I don’t think the COG can stand much longer.

    I spoke with Raymond Culpepper recently and asked him what is the most important issue facing the General Assembly this year: TOT reduction, Unified Budget, Tenure limitations, Appointment powers??? He said, very directly, “The biggest issue facing the COG this year is trust in leadership.” I then went on to tell him quite pointedly why I did not trust COG leadership. I spoke is specific terms about some detailed seemingly untrustworthy acts committed by COG leadership. Dr. Culpepper was very understanding and spoke candidly back to me.

    Personally, I really think Raymond really “gets it.” I believe that he can be and will be an agent of change. But I also know that trust is a choice. When we trust someone, we have to choose to do it. I am going to this GA and choosing to trust our leaders. I am going to vote to give them more authority, more room to act unilaterally, and more benefit of the doubt. Why? Because they’ve earned my trust? NO! But because trust is the way the Body of Christ operates. I expect my membership to trust me even when they don’t understand why I am doing what I do, so I will choose to trust the new EC until they prove me wrong.

  2. Jerry,

    I like the name Travis a lot. But I’ve told you before, please feel free to call me Tom.

    Oh yeah…I just got your DVD of Easter…can’t wait to watch it.

  3. Tom and Jerry,

    I agree with the critical nature of where we now find ourselves in terms of trust and credibility. I am curious what ideas you might have for administration to win back that trust. Tom, you used an excellent example of something that could have been done at the 2004 G.A. But if you were in charge of making such an expression this year, and could not guarantee that a parallel event (controversial measure proposed or whatever) would take place at the 2008 G.A., what would you plan in an effort to win back the trust of the other O.B.’s? Jerry, if you found yourself on the E.C. what “…’top-down’ directed effort to restore credibility in the system soon” would you personally propose? These are not ‘leading’ questions, just a genuine desire to hear what some of your ideas might be!

  4. I’m with Jon on this one. I’ve heard from various corners of the church that there is a credibility/trust issue between the leadership and the grass roots level. But I don’t have any real “facts” to base this perception on … it’s always hearsay. (This is a disadvantage of living overseas…or perhaps that’s an advantage?)

    But the cry for credibility and the restoration of trust in the leader/follower relationship is not restricted to our church. Pope Benedicts XVI’s remarks on the south lawn of the White House were an attempt to restore some broken trust between the RCC church and its adherents.

    And we don’t have to look to far for secular examples of broken trust. Enron is just one example that comes to my mind.

    So, now if I have two questions:
    1) When did the credibility crisis develop and how? Have they (or we) failed in the following areas? Or does the problem lie with us followers?
    * Credible leaders practice what they preach
    * They walk the talk
    * Their actions are consistent with their words
    * They keep their promises
    * They do what they say they will do

    2) And how does trust and credibility get restored? And it has to be more than just finances (TOT). Just how is trust, credibility earned?

  5. Tom,

    Are facts alone needed? If so, I’d say they abound in fists-full. But, absent those facts, the consciousness or the pulse of the organization is screaming loudly and manifests itself in pastors who have in the past been silent, pushing themselves to address the issue…sons of administrators standing up in the General Assembly and saying “We don’t trust you.”

    In the case of the Roman Catholic Church, there is no official credibility marker to be referenced. But, there is a systemic issue of child molestations and ensuing lawsuits that are precursors and causes of credibility loss.

    Likewise, when we repeatedly engage: broken promises (2004 General Assembly, 2006 General Assembly, National Church Planting Office 2006 GA offering and failure to deliver to all 5 church planters, repeated abuses on the field, excessive top heaviness, lack of financial integrity with every single EHM Budget in every single state/region in the USA, and repeated heavy handed, dismissive leadership decisions, there is zero doubt that there is a credibility/trust problem sweeping through the COG like a wildfire on a dry California hillside.

    I’d say that trust issues are inevitable in any hierarchical organization. I’d say we’re facing some fairly massive issues, extraordinary issues unique to us.

  6. I will get back to you guys later today….great questions/observations…looking forward to it.

  7. Travis,

    You’re right. Facts alone are needed because perceptions often do shape organizational realities.

    But you mentioned a series of events/issues that have substance. (Okay, some of them I’m aware of, and I’ll just take your word them..) And the first step to regaining trust is address these very issues. But where and how?

    Your comments remind me of Harold Bare’s dissertation and his postings back in 1999 when they held “open forums”. Of course, the open forum was defined by filling out a questionnaire and perhaps a few unrecorded speeches from some pastors.

    I’ve scoured the web looking for it in which he talks of our how political structures have become an obstacle for the future of the church. It is our structure which promotes a sense of distrust, according to Bare. And even though his writings are almost a decade old, they are still spot on today.

    The closest thing I can find is his new blog in which only Chapter 6 is posted. It can be found at http://haroldbare.blogspot.com/2007/11/1996-recommendations-to-executive.html

  8. Wait a minute. I found the dissertation

    http://members.aol.com/lailajb/phd.htm

    Trust me, it’s worth the read.

  9. At last assembly, I was the one who stood at the mic and stated, “Mr. Moderator… we respect you, but we do not trust you.” It was heartfelt, and it saddened me to no end to say it. I had immediate comments on both the positive and negative sides from that statement.

    The statement was not a stand-alone one, but one that came on the end of several reasons that it was important for the Ordained Bishops to get together. There needs to be time for dialogue, not limited debate (2 minutes) or shutting down voting so we make sure to get to the preaching that evening. The floor needs to be a place where the business of the church is truly the worship that it is meant to be.

    Name any issue, it really doesn’t matter. There are always going to be disagreements on “issues.” The real issue is how the “issues” are handled. THAT is where the trust factor plays a huge role. I believe that our structure is set up to allow for growth beyond what a local church can accomplish on its own; but when that structure is used just to simply KEEP the STRUCTURE, with no regards as to whether or not the structure is doing its job, then those not in upper leadership will always question the validity of that structure. Not sure that made sense…

    It’s like the oil factory that made just enough oil to keep it’s own factory lubed.

    I simply question the whole thing, at times. I honestly pray about it. I don’t have an answer as to how to restore the trust. It just needs to happen. Maybe it begins with me, on my inside.

  10. Sorry I called you Travis, Tom. But you’ve probably been called worse!!!

    As for the question from Johnathan, “What top down efforts from the EC would I employ to restore credibility,” here are a few:

    1. Radically redesign the COG web site so each member and minister would be able to log in and access different levels of information. For Ordained Bishops there would be a detailed financial accounting including some level of salary information.

    2. Set up a weekly webcast/podcast for each EC member designed to answer concerns, give information and uplift the body. With each EC member doing one a week, there would be a short statement from the EC daily. When people are not communicated with, they are left to make up their own assumptions about issues that concern them. This has created a great deal of distrust of the EC (most of which is probably unwarranted). But, in the absence of truth, people WILL believe a lie.

    3. First, make radical cost-saving moves (staff cutbacks, mailout & publication savings by using the internet, common sense financial accountability like I do every day at my church). THEN, make those cost-saving moves public for all to see. Again, this would belay many sceptics concerns.

    4. Allow for OPEN dialogue with each group in the COG at their level. a) Young ministers – have an EC blog where they listen to and respond to concerns as well as receive ideas. b) Older ministers – possibly a retreat where the same concerns can be voiced. c) Members – ANYTHING done by the EC to reach out to the membership would be a historic first.

    5. Highlight ministry leaders at the highest level. In other words, stop making General Assembly worship services a “Gaither Homecoming Reunion.” Get the most post-modern team we have on Monday night (preacher, music, drama, dance, video, etc). On Tuesday, let us hear from the most TBN group (God help us), On Wednesday, the most liturgical wing of the church. On Thursday, the most ethnic….you get the point.

    6. STOP REWARDING MEDIOCRITY! If a State Overseer is unproductive, demote him! Even if he roomed with the Presiding Bishop at Lee!!!!!!!!! My sister and brother-in-law are on my staff, but if they couldn’t cut the mustard, they’d be GONE tomorrow. Why? Because I am paying them with the Lord’s money. NOT MINE!!!!

    I have about 100 more, but I’m trying to listen to the Pope’s HOMILY right now!

  11. When i think of Trust, I think of Honesty and when questions are asked by tithe paying members and no answers given, then I feel there must be something the membeship is not supose to be. In this bleesed land we are allowed to know the salaries of the President down to the lowest G-Level. Yet we are nor allowed to know th salaries of the Church of God Leadership. I pay my tithes to God , not to the church, but the way things are done within our leadership, how can we expected to trust where the Church Funds go and are our leaders more interested in keeping their salaries a secret them being hones with the membership. I feel we have reached the point that many are turning away ffrom the Church of God due to this very reason.

  12. My father-in-law owns a business. He therefore gets the rewards of owning that business, as well as, the punishment. He drives F250 diesel truck, his wife a ford t-bird (the newer one). They have a motorcycle and a 86 JAG they are restoring. All the employees think, that all they do is make him more money-which is true in a sense. But, they do not realize that the cost of product increases, the new equipment was paid for, and a list of other profit eating things. Whereas I feel that the “owners of the COG” those that have been in power for a long period without being a Pastor for longer than they were in Administration of time feel that the church is their business and that they should be compensated for it. When we have Overseers staying in $250,000+ homes and driving nice new cars and motorcycles and boats and vacations to wherever and then 70% of the Pastors or “workers” have to be bi-vocational just to feed their family while Pastoring a church that the State Office personnel could not pick out of a lineup is what causes mistrust. I believe that a man is worthy of is pay and such. But, the ultimate goal is to win souls and if the Word says that you cannot serve two masters then how do expect the 70% to win souls when they are more worried about making the car payment, feeding the kids, and the dump a trailer that is called the parsonage is falling because the 15% had to be sent in and not spent at the local level.

    Here are some questions I have please give me some insight
    1. What does my 15% pay for if most everything I go to I have to pay for? If I order anything I have to pay for it?
    2. Why do I have to pay an entry fee for the GA when the state and the general office both say that it so expensive for us to do it every 2 years lets move to a 4 year?
    a. If there are expected 10,000 delegates and say half are married couples , a quarter are over 65, and the other quarter are 16-19
    i. 5000×65=$325,000 2500×10=$25,000 for a total of $350,000
    b. The exhibitors I am going to assume
    i. 100×1200=$120,000
    c. This brings grand total for the entry fees to be $470,000 dollars

    d. Based on rates from the http://www.sanantonio.gov/convfac/documents/Class%20II%20Rates-ConvCenter.pdf
    I guesstimate the figures to be roughly $470,000 to rent all the spaces at GA
    3. What does Cleveland really do when they are not planning the assembly? I know this is very open please be respectful and know I have asking in a sincere heart because I am concerned for the future of our great denom..just realized that is just a few miskeys from being demon.

  13. Jerry,
    I agree with everything that you said in your post on how to build trust, but just building back the trust in our own membership is not adding members to our churches. As you have done in Cullman and I hope that we are accomplishing in Decatur is that we have to build trust and recognition in our communities. The Church of God national has left advertising and promotion of the church name to the local churches. I understand that there has to be change within the denom. but if we fail to promote that change then it has not helped in building membership. Building membership is the answer to many of the problems that our church faces. In building membership we have to be “all things to all people”. Some examples in ways I believe we can do that are through the web as you have already mentioned but also:

    (1) In updated discipleship material that reaches a new generation of people that love small groups. The younger generation doesn’t want to sit and listen to a lecture but they want to interact, and we need resources to promote that.
    (2) More media driven material. We have the equipment and means to create cutting edge worship videos, promotion videos, etc. but we have not using them. The younger generation grew up watching MTV and we are wanting them to sit and listen to a four point lectures.
    (3) Promotion of the Church of God name. I don’t know about in other parts of the country but in North Alabama we still have people think a box of snakes is going to come out in the mist of a church service. The Church needs to show who we really are. Through the web, commercials, mailouts, and anything else we can think of.
    (4) Place pastors in churches that fit. Quit promoting on name recognition and promote on merits. We have pastor that have been to four chuches in six years and they alway move to a larger church, not because they do a great job but because of who they know. We need a better system when it comes to place pastors and churches together. Let both parties have more say in the process. If they church chooses the pastor and the pastor chooses the church then they are more likely to hang in their longer.
    These are just a few of the things I see a need for.

  14. Travis,
    I have left blogger and came over to wordpress. My new blog address is http://www.pastorjay.org

    Thanks

  15. Jay: in answer to your (1), we’ve done this at least for men:

    https://lifebuilders.to/store/product_info.php?products_id=619

    J.W.: in answer to your question about what we do in Cleveland between assemblies, I can’t answer for others in the “Celestial Hierarchy” but for us the answer is simple: we hurry up and prepare stuff like this course and go around training people before we have to drop what we’re doing and get ready for the Assembly!

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