COMMENTARY: REPORT OF THE INTERNATIONAL EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE AS APPROVED BY THE INTERNATIONAL EXECUTIVE COUNCIL

***UPDATE: COMPLETE REPORT MADE AVAILABLE FOR DOWNLOAD BY THE COG ON 2/1/2010

I received a copy of a 12 page document entitled “REPORT OF THE INTERNATIONAL EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE AS ADOPTED BY THE INTERNATIONAL EXECUTIVE COUNCIL” It was asked that this document not be published so that time was given for it to be published by the COG offices.  So, I’m holding onto it and not publishing it until the COG puts it out soon.  But, I would like to go ahead and offer some commentary based on the content of the document.

First, I have to say these two bodies put out a number of strong actions taken to confront new realities of COG Gospel mission in the 21st Century.  It is a sweeping document.  And, our denominational leadership teams should be greatly appreciated for some most bold actions.  As is the case when even the most like minded people get together and discuss substance, I don’t agree with it all.  But, I love a lot of it.  Overall it is a very good document seasoned with an honest approach to some of our most taboo issues.

AMONG THOSE ACTIONS, THE PIECES I FIND MOST ENCOURAGING ARE:

1. Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) certification to insure integrity and financial accountability for our denominational offices.

  • The first call I know for that certification or investigation into our books by the ECFA came on June 7th, 2008 in a document posted at MissionalCOG.com entitled “A Letter of Absolute Objection.” It was tied directly to failure to distribute General Assembly mandated church planting resources to church plants in favor of administrative overhead.  While there have been no official public acknowledgements of the past and present abuse of church planting funds (State EHM budget), this is passive recognition of that fact.
  • I knew that the COG was pursuing this certification and was able to discuss that with a member of the Executive Committee at the beginning of 2009.
  • ECFA certification is a good step toward fulfilling the General Assembly mandate of financial disclosure to the General Assembly, which is already in required:
    2002 Minutes of the General Assembly of the Church of God
    S9 Secretary General
    II. Duties and Authorities
    The secretary general shall…
    4. Have an audit of financial records and furnish the International General Assembly a statement of all receipts and disbursements, assets and liabilities, such statements to be prepared by a certified public accountant annually.

2. Consolidation of eight church planting entities on the International Level into one entity and admission that more money for church planting has been spent on administration than on the actual starting of new churches.  

  • On a negative side, the big story here behind this is the elimination of a mandate that 16.6% of the overall TOT should be going to church planting on the state level in addition to our international focus.  This consolidation and this report does not address this significant problem created by the COA through what I in my opinion is the unauthorized elimination of this General Assembly mandate.
  • It goes along way to addressing church planting initiatives and bureaucratic heft on an international level.  This certainly appears to be a big win.

3. Official elimination of 465 churches in the USA that exist on paper only.

  • The existence of paper churches has been a talking point for a lot of people from a lot of different ideological perspectives.  This is official recognition of that and good action to deal with it.
  • Some of those churches have no property.  Some do.  For that reason, I think it is absolutely urgent that the International Executive Council place this proposal directing the proceeds of sold properties on the 2010 General Assembly Agenda. I will resubmit the proposal.  However, it was “forwarded to a study committee within the International Executive Council.  And, they can act on it now without further submission.  I’ve discussed this with many people, again from numerous perspectives.  And, they have been nearly 100% supportive.  On an organizational level, there seems to be fear because of its impact on our financial structure.  I assume that is because all of our local properties are viewed as a real property portfolio for institutional lending purposes.  But, that’s an educated guess on my part.
  • Here are some of the significant opportunities for turning around our organization to becoming what I believe can be one of the most mission-committed Gospel entities (and certainly fastest growing) in the USA.
  • That aside, this a good move move toward honest disclosure of our position in Global mission, as well as, recognition that indeed the COG is not growing in number of churches annually.  But,that in fact, we are in active decline, which provides even more fuel for the push to re-double our efforts and honor our commitments/mandates to start new churches.
  • This fact alone proves that it is absolutely necessary to act boldly and swiftly to repurpose our resources aggressively into mission.

4. Elimination of Administrative staff and consolidation of offices.

  • In this report, there are a number of references to the elimination of administrative staff.  And, while the personal fallout lands on some very good, very decent, and committed Gospel people, it is absolutely essential that we shrink our administrative footprint and continue to do so until we are lightweight and mission-fast.
  • This is an unpleasant reality of both a falling economy, the TOT cut, and some fallout of a lack of trust between International, State/Regional, and local churches.
  • Dealing with it is not only necessary to confront economic issues but also to turn around issues of trust, which seem to initiate some type of “Crazy Cycle” of cause and effect where resources drop, fingers are pointed, trust is inhibited, resources drop further, etc…
  • Thank you to our leadership team for decisively and compassionately dealing with these realities, while providing generous warning of upcoming personnel cuts.

AMONG THOSE FEATURES OF THE REPORT I AM MOST UNCOMFORTABLE WITH ARE:

1. Four-Year General Assembly.

  • I believe we must give our leaders time to work and execute on change.   Assuming Raymond Culpepper serves 2 terms (4 years), he only has one GA Agenda to form AND execute.  Think about that.  It would seem more than reasonable that a Presiding Bishop that leads well be given more opportunity to execute the mandates of the General Assembly over a longer period than 4 years.
  • However, the General Assembly should also have the freedom to “unelect” someone who is not responsive to the will of the General Assembly without having to wait four years on someone who may be determined to stall the execution of General Assembly desired change.
  • Simply put, the General Assembly SHOULD NOT be the victim of cost cutting and missional efforts, especially at a time where it appears that the General Assembly is the very reason that we are able to cut costs and increase mission activity, which ultimately helps us refocus on Mission.
  • Moving to a 4 year General Assembly may reduce costs in our current practice of multi-million dollar GA arrangements in extravagant accommodations.  But, that is no fault of the GA.  This is entirely the fault of those planning extravagant conventions in the highest rent districts that require union labor and high end meeting space.  Plan better. Plan more efficiently.  Don’t diminish the influence of the General Assembly.
  • EXAMPLE: An example of how such a move would negatively affect the operation of the COG is that three Assemblies ago (6 years), Mike Chapman initiated a motion from the floor (not from the E-Council) to cut the TOT. Two Assemblies ago, the E-Council provided an unacceptable proposal to cut the TOT (it didn’t reflect the proposal by Mike Chapman or the promise made by the GO at that time to return that item to the GA). One Assembly ago, another unacceptable proposal by the E-Council was made regarding the TOT only to have the General Assembly assert itself.  In my opinion, regardless of present perceptions, the Executive Committee has a reputation of historically stalling substantive change in the direction desired by the General Assembly while the General Assembly has often attempted to be the champion of mission and field-focus.  A 4-Year General Assembly would have been devastating to the TOT cut process.  The moment we move to such an arrangement is the moment that the rug is pulled out from under a mission-focused General Assembly and the power is given to our denominational apparatus…something that absolutely MUST NOT HAPPEN!
  • I believe we ought to give our leaders more time to get things done.  And, we need to shrink the traditional denominational leadership pipeline where people move from being state youth directors -> AB in a Mission state -> AB of states in the Southeast -> Department head in Cleveland -> Executive Committee member.  Both of these aims can be accomplished by lengthening the possible term while allowing regular elections of sitting officials.
  • Also, in an age of instant and viral communication, it is much easier to hold our administrative leaders accountable while still allowing them to lead for longer terms.

So, what are your thoughts?

NOTE: The full report should be made available by the COG soon…yet another reason to appreciate our Presiding Bishop and to create room for transparency to be executed from a denominational level.

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50 Responses

  1. Travis, I am with you on the positive moves the COG is making. I have read the report too….It gives all of us hope.

    There is one issue that you have been presenting that I ask you to consider my point of view. You want to eleminate Overseers from serving on the Council of 18, and are attempting to convince the voting body that State Overseers are the problem, and should be censored by electing more pastors.

    Please, give some consideration to this….
    Who knows and understands the typical local church and pastor better….a man who spends 80% of his time with our pastors and local churches, or a man who has pastored one single church, in one single city, and in one single state for most of his ministerial experience?

    Most of the pastors who get elected to the Council of 18 have pastored one very large church! Their ministry experience is very different from that of a Bishop who has spent years serving hundreds of pastors…And, yes, an Overseer does “serve”…

    Travis, I absolutely am for “pastors” serving on the Council of 18…but, I am not for additional “quotas”….

    I would be happy for you to be elected on the Council of 18….but, not 17 other just exactly like you!

    Let’s each of us vote for men on the basis of who they are, their love for the church, their track record of faithful service, their talents and giftings….and, pray for God to be pleased with us after we have cast our ballots.

    J. David Stephens

  2. These are really good comments, Bro. Stephens…worthy of more focus than here. Summed up, I’d simply say that what becomes problematic for me IS NOT State/Regional ABs serving on the Council of 18. What is problematic in my mind is leaders who are under direct appointment by the Executive Committee serving on the Council of 18 and formulating GA Agendas and other directional initiatives.

    It seems like a conflict of interests to me…and an approach that insulates the Executive Committee from the need to be responsive to the field and to be obsessed with mission. I don’t believe that everyone gives into those influences. Obviously, that is not the case with everyone. We really do have some excellent leaders serving in those capacities. And, certainly, you know how much I love and admire you, Sister Stephens, and your kids. We really would be hard pressed to find better people of character and care than you caring for the future of our church fellowship.

    I believe the simple resolution for me would be for Administrative Bishops to be elected be their respective regions so that they become champions for pastors and mission in their area of oversight instead of champions for the Executive Committee, which unfortunately is too often the case. And, then anyone that remains under direct appointment by the EC simply cannot serve on that body.

    What do you think about those considerations?!

    travis

  3. Thank you for your kind words.

    I am honored to serve as an Administrative Bishop. Travis, if you ask the people in any of the three states where I have served about my passion for them and the area… I believe you will get a positive response. I am as committed to the pastors and churches I serve as you are to your church and ministry. And, I know that is saying a lot!

    For states to elect their own Bishop will create a political nightmare. Think about it…It will change the process but not fix the problem.

    The problem has never been the system, only the misuse and abuse by individuals in the system. We elected this present Executive Committee, and I think we did a pretty good job…These are men just like you and me, they Love God and the Church of God, and do the best that they can.

    Thanks for the forum to exchange ideas and opinions.

  4. My favoured option would be a 4 year General Assembly (a request that has come from the International community) with a US Assembly in the intervening 2 year periods.

    Too much off the stuff we discuss at the GA is really just stateside stuff.

  5. Nick,

    I am almost persuaded by your wisdom 😉

    My problem with a 4 year GA is the notice requirement placed on us by our bylaws. It could take 12-16 years to deal with major issues by the time we do the notices, referrals to study commissions, etc.

    Any ideas on how to deal with the delays resulting from this measure?

    Keith

  6. Hi Keith
    I guess some of our by-laws need to be changed, don’t they?
    Roberts Rules of Order also needs to be taken outside and shot, as it hinders rather than promotes effective decisionmaking.
    As it stands, I think that issues are referred to committes, and strung out over several assemblies, when they could be dealt with there and then if we were able to discuss them properly instead of endlessly dealing with bone-headed amendments, and then rushing through a vote without even discussing the real issue at hand.
    I would love to see more regional events and/or webinars where issues can be discussed and teased out, so that we know what we’re talking about at the GA, all understand the implications of various stances, and can address the issues properly in an efficient and open way.

  7. Nick,

    I agree that RRO has been a hinderance to actually getting things done… At times, it has been used more as a cattle prod than an instrument of civil discussion. I’ll supply the gun and bullets 🙂

    I like the idea of the regional discussion groups, especially if these were connected to the EC/18 by video conferencing. This could allow for refinement prior to the GA.

    Next time your in town, call and I’ll take you to W & Ws or Angela’s for lunch. Great home cooking!

    Keith

  8. I am in favor of the 4 year International Assembly only if there will be a USA Assembly added in the middle of the 4 years to deal with USA business…. I do not blame the International Community for requesting a 4 year Assembly because our Agenda does not relate to many of them.

    The other side of that issue; we are likely to loose the unity that is a hallmark of the COG, much less any semblance of being a movement if we go to a 4 year Assembly.

    Many of the newer members in the International community do not understand our dna and this energizing fellowship dynamic….

    We can continue the 2 years Assembly and save a lot of cost by making some common sense changes in several areas. I am confident of this!

  9. Very good stuff, guys…good dialog.

    Now, my largest concern is that we go into some type of restructuring prior to getting fundamental flaws addressed. Then, if we distance our directional boards from the body, we have a more distant opportunity to address substantial kingdom opportunities like firewalling defunct properties for the exclusive purpose of re-investing into church planting.

    If we remove our systemic influences further from the influence of the body, selling properties to reinvest in State Administration becomes even more attractive than it already is. Simply put, mandating property sales to fund church planting is not organizationally beneficial in our current political structure. In fact, the current appointed AB system is an example of this concern While we do have some genuinely responsive men in these roles, this is not the case across the board.

    Presently, an AB is not elected. He is not accountable to those he leads. He can come in, circumvent the General Assembly mandates governing the EHM budget with the gusto…even refusing to answer direct and unanimous questions from State-elected boards about the propriety of the use of those funds.

    We must remain in very close contact with our General Assembly. We must provide more opportunity for input. We must provide more financial disclosure. We must allow for accountability for each vote recorded by the Executive Committee, the Council of 18, and the Executive Council.

    Gentlemen, the restructuring aside…costs aside, there is no excuse for removing the body…even an inch from those who serve on these directional bodies. Close the distance…don’t elongate it.

  10. Travis, change happens one step at a time. I can see a thousand things in the Church of God system that need to change – but if you try to change them all at once we both know what will happen – they’ll come before the GA and some old boys will propose amendments and ramble on about nonsense, and the whole thing will be either shot down or referreed to committees for the next 20 years.

    We have to change the system for the better one step at a time, because we have hamstrung ourselves by thinking that the Church should be a democracy, (which it isn’t). But, since we’re stuck with a democratic system, we have to pass what we can and persist until we reach our destination.

  11. Nick, you have served these past two years on the Council of 18. I have not…Do you believe the agenda they will present is the right agenda for the body to debate?

  12. David, yes I think it will be a good agenda. Not quite the agenda I would have come up with I was a Council of One – but that probably just demonstrates that there are wiser heads on there than me. 🙂

    I think the agenda will be reallistic, doablei n that it can be passed, and will represent forward steps for the Church.

  13. Nick,

    What is more damaging a body that says, “It seems good to us and the Holy Spirit?” Or, a patronage system that insulates itself and passes spoils to the favored circles?

    With that said, I recognize everything cannot get done at once. But, I have a rather reasonable concern that in the arena of a 4-year GA, it is possible to vote in great authority to a patronage system that would be further insulated. And, with present leaders, maybe that wouldn’t be a bad thing.

    Additionally, removing power from the body wouldn’t be a bad thing if the local churches weren’t mandated to stay in the COG. That way, at least if there was an abusive state leader who led with threats and intimidation and whose organization flaunted it’s own mandates, a church could voluntarily leave, along with it’s assets.

    But, it’s unwise, in my opinion to propose a system that hamstrings a congregation to laws, which are unlikely to be amended and to be overseen by people who do not feel constrained by those same laws.

    And, the day people come to feel that the structure of the denomination becomes so constrictive that those who lead are unaccountable and those who make up the body, have no legitimate recourse to overcome the inflexibility of a patronage system that is potentially more powerful than ever, that’s the time that people disengage and leave.

    Now, I have not been privy to the discussions the Executive Council (no minutes available). I’ve not been privy to the deliberations that I helped initiate. And, I don’t know how a National and International Assembly would allow us to work. I don’t know what items would be in or out of the scope of a National Assembly to discuss. In fact, the scope of any particular item is mostly subjective and is almost completely determined by the perspective of the chair.

    At the end of the day, I have a lot of reason to be skeptical. And, in the absence of clear and full information, it is only wise to assume the worst intentions- not in the sense of evil…but, in the context of history, that the General Assembly agenda tends to favor the consolidation of power to the EC and the protection of the status quo.

    So, I can’t buy into a 4-year General Assembly willy nilly. There must be substantial explanation. And, to date, there has been almost total silence. And, my experience is that even when you make significant attempts to participate in good faith and with substantial effort, you remain on the outside- the fringes fighting stasis and a patronage system that is very strong. Throw into the mix that there is significant progressive change coming from the Executive Council and resistance from some system players who do not want to see the change on any level and you wind up with a soup of questions, impossible to answer without an abundance of information.

    With that said, I think the General Assembly would be insane to write a blank check to change our structure, without full disclosure of the intended destination, process (minutes of the E-Council meetings), and commitments to clean up the organizational nonsense that happened up until the previous GA and unto this very day.

    You know that I’m a reasonable person. And, there are a lot of reasonable people out here….that deserve information and are valuable members as we process through potential changes- whether they be perceived by the body as good or not. Afterall, the truth is that our General Assembly is our highest governing body, we do elect leaders and commission them to carry out process, and for now that body and it’s mandates MUST be respected and be treated with the utmost deference.

    Much love to you, brother as you navigate through some weighty items…proud of what you guys are doing, your heart, and the prayer you put into it. Remember, there are a lot of people praying for you all…praying for your success in crafting an Agenda that is mission-obsessed and honors the body…very proud…very thankful for good leaders.

  14. Nick,

    Regarding your statement, “Change happens one step at a time.” While that may be historically true, especially in light of your cited example involving the actions of “some old boys,” that may not always be the case. I believe we witnessed something very different at the last General Assembly. The changes that took place were historic.

    Prior to the last General Assembly I was told over and over not to expect too much. But I believed we were more than that…and I still do.

    I have said the following a lot…but I still believe it: I believe we are Pentecostal. I believe our spiritual DNA demands of us that we anticipate the “suddenly” of the Acts 2 upper room. A “suddenly” that leaps across the limitations of our own abilities to comprehend what God is up to. A “suddenly” that transcends barriers of the limitations of human thought and reason, not only of individuals but of groups. I believe we witnessed that very thing in the last General Assembly.

    Without question the wisdom you cited is valid. We would be crazy not to apprise ourselves of the realities and history of our own repeated organizational behavior (the hijacking you mentioned earlier), and that the likelihood of that happening again is substantial. But I believe the Holy Spirit can still invade a moment and absolutely astound us.

    Incremental change initiatives are certainly prudent and there are ample Biblical examples to substantiate that. But I think most of them are remedial. In contrast, the crisis of Pentecost is magnificent! I think God is always ready to make the leap.

    Anyway…this post is somewhat reflective of another thread from August of 2008. Your response in that thread was particularly compelling. (Here’s the link…)

    Last week I heard Bishop Culpepper speak for three nights on the topic of “The Great Commission.” It was fantastic. On the last night he talked about, “the open door of opportunity,” that is before us. I believe we, the Church of God, as a people are at a crisis moment…a defining moment…a moment when the spiritual compass of the mission of Christ is reasserting itself among us. It’s an upper room moment. All we have to do is make unwavering commitment to that mission…even though we may be uncertain what it looks like…and then…..suddenly!

  15. Was the call of the last GA for reformation or transformation? Incremental change (reformation) favors the current power structure. Punctuated change (transformation) favors the proletariat. What’s the end game here? Sanctification (reform) or Born Again (transform)?

    • Ghandi said: “We must become the change we want to see.”

      Transformation is a God thing….systemic change of any movement, that does not devastate and destroy it, is incremental.

      This Church is made up of a lot of good women and men…you and I included. Let’s lead the way and “become the change we want to see”.

      i am committed!

  16. You cannot turn a ship so quickly. It must be done at the right time and the right way. If we are supposedly not going to allow people who are appointed by cleveland to be voted to the ec18 should we not also ask that anyone whose church is behind on tot or owes money to the denom to sit either? And Could we not try a 3yr general assembly first? Thanks for the good discussion.
    God Bless

  17. Chad,

    I think Travis presented clear reasons for his concern of those in appointed positions holding a place on the Council of 18. Could you offer some reasons for your recommendation concerning those who are behind on TOT, etc. not being considered for the Council of 18?

    Thanks

  18. Tom,

    Please don’t misunderstand the spirit in which I make the statement. I believe good ideas come out of these discussion. It just seems 95% percent of all changes being addressed are directed at administration. My reference to the tot or a loan that a member owes could also sway them with agenda issues. Just some thought.

    Thanks
    God Bless

  19. Chad,

    There’s no doubt that someone in some sort of debt could overshadow decision making processes. And I do see the principle your after that is more than people owing back TOT or other indebtedness. There are many other reasons a persons “objective” decision making could be skewed.

    My reasons for wanting non-appointed individuals on the the council of 18 comes from “my” perception of the informal role of that group even more than their formal function. What follows is indeed my perception..and I’ll use my role as an example.

    As a leader myself I want the most healthy dialog and accountability that I can find. Personally I receive a lot of council and engage in a lot of dialog with staff members I have hired (appointed?)…and it is great. They are great people. But I also have another group of elders that are not employed by the church and are not under potential pressure to conform to my wishes. (Although certainly there are social and relational dynamics that play in to that).

    The pastoral staff I work with are all clear headed thinkers and will represent their concerns and perspectives, but there is no doubt the unspoken reality that they work at a place where my determination about their employment carries some measure of finality. I think it is critical to remove as much potential for them being unwittingly leveraged as possible. I have found that the respective roles held by each group (Pastoral Elders/staff and Administrative Elders) provide a wonderful counter-balance of counsel in determining the vision and mission of our church.

    I think an incredible thing would be to have a “Council of State Bishops” who meet as regularly as the Council of 18, and to hear what they have to say. But at the end of the day it is the Executive Council together with the Exec Comm. that ratifies vision and mission directives for the church.

    Another option (and is what I recommended in writing prior to the last general assembly) is for each state/region to vote on their State/Regional Bishop. In such case their serving on the council of 18 would be very different (in terms of all the intangibles I listed above).

    Last: Your opening statement about all the change being focused on administration. I think we have “organizational culture” issues that require substantial shifting. To that end – and from my perspective – it starts with leadership (or administration).

    Thanks

  20. Chad,

    I don’t think the issue is about sway. We all have perspectives and life experience that, without a doubt, influence us and our decision-making. Sway is impossible for any of us to avoid.

    The issue that clearly appears problematic to me and others who have made the call for pastors as the primary agents for change on the Executive Council is about “Protection of the System” vs. Innovation. Tony Scott laid out the case well prior to the last General Assembly in this post:

    https://missionalcog.wordpress.com/2008/07/18/tony-scott-on-the-dynamics-of-the-council-of-18/

    In that post, he stated the need for at least 13 pastors on the Council of 18 due to the makeup of the Executive Council (Council of 18 plus the Executive Committee) and the formation of the General Assembly Agenda. The last two years have proven he was right on.

    Since then, we achieved that benchmark and need to push higher so that the change is even less system-biased. However, with that makeup, Tony stated that he (as a long-term member of the C-18) had been advocating, “regionally elected general officials who live in the region from which they are elected; regional offices staffed by ministry professionals such as Children’s Specialists (far more important to local churches than Youth Directors), Church Plant Specialists, Family Life Specialists, etc.”

    And, while it remains to be seen if our regional oversight will be regionally-elected, we are certainly on pace to staff regional offices with the above described specialists and downsize the number of state offices significantly and arrange ourselves into more regional organizational environments. So, in my mind, it would certainly seem that the theory of “13+ pastors/unappointed members on the Council of 18 = innovation” is no longer theory but is instead accurate as those stated goals are beginning to play out before our eyes.

    That does not diminish the fact that we do have innovative and independent thinkers serving in administrative leadership. But, it certainly bears out the fact that when the makeup of the body shifted toward an increased number of pastors, the outcomes changed radically from stonewalling the General Assembly with puff-piece agendas or Cleveland-centric agendas to forward-looking, more mission-focused agenda items and E-Council action.

    Further, I cannot imagine the pressure that an administrator would have been under for championing the type of action that led to last year’s General Assembly change (TOT reduction, C-18 makeup, and Missional Resurgence Meetings) had 3-4 State Administrative Bishops been the initiators as opposed to 3-4 pastors. Plainly stated, it wouldn’t have happened.

    In fact, it was quite challenging for more than one of us pastors that were involved in the initiation of the process. Those challenges ranged from direct threats, to smearing of good men’s names all over the U.S. on the camp meeting circuits, to leveraging threats of discipline, loss of property, removal of pastorate, threats of trial boards, and unfounded rumors being circulated by numerous administrators (I can name them and provide multiple first-person accounts if necessary…not that it is a secret) who viewed the above described action as a threat to the denomination.

    Now, I’m not trying to dredge things up. But, neither will I forget the system that encouraged or enabled that type of abusive behavior- behavior that has no place in our church fellowship. We would be mistaken to fail to consider that or to forget the past as we decide who should be entrusted with the stewardship of denominational leadership. Afterall, past behavior is the best indicator of future behavior.

    Now, the game changer for me that would cause me to rapidly change my posture on the makeup of the Council of 18 would be if administrative bishops were elected by those they lead as opposed to being appointed by the Executive Committee. That would ensure that the Executive Committee did not have inordinate influence on members of the Council of 18 and that organizationally, the Administrative Bishops on the C-18 would be more prone as a group to form General Assembly agendas in a way that would be more responsive to the areas, pastors, and churches they lead and represent.

    I say all of that as purely as I possibly can and hopefully without bias for/against some of the incredible Administrative Bishops that do or have served. Some of those men, like Brother Stephens have become bigger than the system that governs them. As a result, the influence of the Executive Committee upon those men is diminished. But, the principle that becomes so significant to me is that we can make no room for the kind of power wielding that seems to allow for good men to be pressed by threat of loss of job/favor as opposed to being pressed by clearly articulated mission, vision, and Gospel values.

    I hope that better explains, Chad.

    With that said, I am curious how the 3-year General Assembly relates to the issue of the makeup of the Council of 18? And, what is the benefit of a 4-year or a 3-year General Assembly relating to progress of the Council of 18?

  21. I do not agree with tony scott on many of the issues he posted. I do not agree with you that electing a bishop from within state is a good idea. You will take the politics from the international level and insert it on a regional level. I have seen this growing up with my own eyes, guys competing to see who will become the next bishop in the region. It breeds disunity. Toms assertion is that most leaders that are appointed in this denom are yes men due to wanting to have a job next year. I cannot say he’s completely wrong on this, just that I have seen many leaders who stood their ground no matter what the circumstance. By promoting this agend I believe the spirit of it is lumping to many good men together with those who are yes men. Travis as to the abusive behaviour condoned by some, I would never stand behind that. As to the GA every 3 yrs I was curious as to why that was not enterained as an idea first. I simply disagree with you on several issues. I appreciate change that has taken place. Thanks for this discussion

  22. On February 5th, Leaders of color gathered in Cleveland with EC leaders to get a dialoge on race relations in the COG.

    Tim Hill stated that at General Headquarters, the only people of color in the whole entire setup, is Bishop Wallace & Dorothy Sibley!

    What are your thoughts of inclusion in changing the way the denom deals with people of color?

    • O. G., : I think the Church of God has an endless parade of talented and annointed people of color…many, I consider personal friends…..William Lee, Johnathan Ramsey, Jackie Smith, Ridley Underwood, Martin Wright, Daniel Vassel, Hugh Lee Nelson, Jimmy Campbell, Quan Miller, …and, all of these have risen to various leadership levels in the Church of God….not to mention, Wallace Sibley,to our former Director of Evangelism and Home Missions, and present Secretary General.

      However, we will see more and more people of color find their place of service in International and State level leadership positions…

  23. O.G.,

    Without a doubt, aside from our track record in dealing with Great Commission funds (EHM) which the General Assembly has mandated and Administration has soundly ignored, there is nothing more embarrassing than our continued, institutionalized racial segregation.

    The reason Bro. Sibley is in his position is that the Ordained Bishops voted him in. However and unfortunately, when it comes to appointed positions, we seem to be content to keep the black guys and the brown guys and the other guys (and women for that matter) in their place.

    No black man can serve outside of aptly named, “Cocoa” Offices or a few state/regions in the northeast. The whole Florida arrangement is a travesty.

    We don’t need to be creating placeholder positions for people of varying degrees of melanin and skin shading. What we need to do is be a color blind church that is led by more than just a small circle of white guys from the southeast.

    There are a few ways to go about that:

    1. Continue to elect qualified people regardless of color.

    2. Refuse to re-elect people who refuse to broaden our view of leadership. These small pools of leadership are literally killing us, dividing us, marginalizing us, removing the power of the cross from us, and perpetuating a leadership culture that has insiders and outsiders- not based on gifting or ability or wisdom…but based on skin color, whose family you belong to, or what political family you’ve cozied up to.

    3. Ask our leaders directly why we continue to have a bias against people based on geography and race. Then, tell people how they respond. And, hold their feet to the fire.

    I sense change in some areas. But, in this area until the biases…and sinful behavior is overcome, let’s call it what it is and chart a new course with leaders who have the basic decency to recognize our bonds and familial connection in Christ and who outright reject bigotry with the gusto.

    Institutional bigotry is not a mark of a Spirit-filled, New Testament Church.

  24. Travis, your last post is really something….it seems that you have shifted from a pastor with integrity and some important things to say…to become a sour grapes antagonist.
    This last tirade of epic proportions insinuating that our leaders are biased bigots….is totally unhelpful. Please, retract your statement and, re-focus your comments on things that will unite caring, thinking people, who are looking for answers that they can support.

    Look for things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, that are of good report, full of virture, and worthy of praise. {Phil 4:8]

    J. David {Jim} Stephens

  25. Bro. Stephens,

    I understand what you’re saying and appreciate you sharing your concern. I also understand that I say things with an intended…and unintended edge at times. Sometimes, I deserve correction. Maybe this time I do. And, if I do, I pray that I will be sensitive to correction. I’m certainly willing to be accountable for my words. And, I will make myself available for correction. And, I’m especially open to your counsel.

    But, I truthfully fully intend to be incendiary with those comments. It was pre-meditated and determined. Still, I don’t know if the comments are even able to capture the offensive nature of our organizational arrangement as it comes to the issue of race and organizational leadership within the COG.

    I own the fact that my words and perspective is not spoken off the cuff and they still do not fully capture my emotion and thought about the situation. I know I’m not alone. Florida COG, with a white, black, and hispanic office is a complete embarrassment and does not reflect the heart of the Jesus I read about in the Scriptures and should have no place in the COG in 2010 decades after a secular American culture began to receive correction over our national sin and the civil rights movements that catalyzed our nation against segregated structures.

    I have been told from a number of people that the Florida arrangement is a pragmatic arrangement. I believe pragmatism that flies in the face of Gospel values is an affront to our purpose as a Gospel community that God describes as unable to differentiate between Jew and Greek, slave or free, male and female.

    I believe repentance is in order. Further, I believe my words are far less offensive than our organizational practice that appears to offensive enough to warrant correction.

    The truth is that at least in Florida, we have segregated bathrooms and water fountains. And, that is heart breaking.

    • Travis, you live in Florida. You know better than me…it has always been my understanding that the Coca Office is at the request and preference of the Black community?

      • Bro. Stephens

        Lets say that that is true. What about EVERY other State Office. There are a ton of OB of color in the Tampa Office, South Georgia, and all across the continental US. Why do we have to be limited to the Cocoa Office. I think the mentality is that because of the track record of Cleveland, we cant give up the one position we have and be totally left out of the conversation.

        Southern New England, and maybe New Jersey are the only states that come to mind, where Cleveland has appointed anyone of color as an AB.

        In your previous post you mentioned several names of men you feel are qualified. Why are they all sitting on the sidelines waiting?

  26. With all due respect to the “change takes time” and “you can’t turn a ship on a dime” comments, the fact is the COG is at a critical place right now. I believe that we are in the beginning stages of “Organizational Decline” and the next step is “Organizational Death” or at least “Missional Death”. Many, many organizations have been here before and some have actually found new life. In the cases of organizational revival from the brink of organizational death, there is usually DRAMATIC, RAPID change. No slowly turning the cruise ship. No step by step change.

    This kind of change is what George Barna describes when a dying church actually turns around rapidly because everyone recognizes that the church is in need of dramatic change (breaking the old “it takes 7 years to turn a church” mantra).

    In fact, this kind of organizational change is also described by jim Collins in “Good to Great”. He says that one determined and visionary leader has to champion the changes, regardless of how misunderstood and targeted he is with negativity. That leader is usually demonized in the present but seen as a great leader by history.

    I believe that the COG is closer to this position than at any other time in my lifetime. The financial crisis is actually a blessing in disguise. There is a general consensus that massive organizational change is needed and there is a resurgence of trust in leadership. This is the moment where our leaders can make changes that we have needed for decades. Also, those changes that require GA approval can be pushed through in this collective consciousness unlike any time in recent history. This is what I’m hoping to see this Assembly.

    Jerry

    • Jerry, I appreciate and agree with your thoughts on the need for change. Not everyone agrees on the what changes are needed In a local church, a caring pastor like yourself does his best to bring everyone along, which takes patience and time. Just like the local church is a family that is cross-generational so is the larger body….I know that you agree every one needs to be appreciated and deserves to be treated with dignity.

      Many of our problems are not with present leadership in Cleveland, but with outdated and non-productive rulings made by the General Assembly, and can only be changed by the General Assembly.

      J. David {jim} Stephens

      • Guys,

        The General Assembly isn’t perfect. But, as of this moment, it certainly is the instrument of innovation and guts. There is no other body in the denomination that parallels what the General Assembly has initiated and executed.

        Currently, the denomination is playing catchup with the change called for by the General Assembly. And, everything that the General Assembly decides on only comes to us from the Executive Council. And, when you look at many of those agenda items, you have to wonder, “What is the Executive Council thinking wasting the time of the General Assembly with what appears to be minutia?”

        If you want an effective mission-oriented General Assembly, you have to have an Executive Council that produces substantial agendas that the General Assembly can believe in and buy into. And, if the Executive Council refuses to do that, there has to be an environment at the General Assembly that allows the General Assembly to talk about what it desires to talk about.

    • Momentary Digression

    Bro Stephens,

    I was going to write you privately…but I think it needs to be said here.

    First, a qualification: I think dialog can be derailed by digressing to personal issues…and that is usually by way of something accusatory or negative. But it can also be done by using a positive affirmation. A negative remark puts a person on defense…and flattery creates a potential obligatory disposition. Neither of those are intended by what follows.

    Not only as my current Administrative Bishop, but as a friend, you and I have had many direct conversations and do not always agree. 🙂 Yet you continue the dialog.

    I have written at length (not only online, but to the Executive Comm/Council) about the need for spiritual fathers. You are one of those. And while you have written things here that I may or may not agree with…I want to thank you sincerely for being a spiritual father. Thank you for not ignoring the conversation as if there is no consequence to the substance or to those speaking.

    I am the father of a 24 year old Army Ranger who was recently married. And recently we had one of our Father/Son talks, but I did not treat him like he was five…or twelve…or clueless…or without consequence. I engaged him as a man…because he is. Thank you for doing the same in these conversations. Fathers validate…

    I am not as young as many of the guys who will post here, but I am nonetheless grateful for your involvement and leadership. It’s my hope that others in your place of influence and leadership will join the discourse.

    OK…I’ve hijacked this enough. No need to respond…(just leave the myth in place – LOL!). I probably needed to say this more than it needed to be heard…now on with the dialog at hand…

    • Tom, you are kind and generous, and not the kind of person to use flattery.

      I have found you to be very intelligent, and equally spiritual. You have insights that blow me away. I have never had a conversation with you that did not challenge me, and enrich my life.

      You add value to the Church of God…we need you!

      J. David {jim} Stephens

  27. O. G.; thanks for the honest dialogue. Your point is well made…I am very sensitive to the lack of agressivness in recognizing and rewarding successful people of color. We must be more intentional….

    I guess that there are 300 administrative state/International leadership positions available, max. We have 17,000 ministers in the USA….most “feel” qualified. Some are not, others are. The good thing is that most have found their place of service, and are fruitful in their gifts and calling.

    There is not higher calling than that of the Pastor, and nothing more fulfilling….I am sure of this.

    O. G., This may be a side note: I have seen many people [could name some] who put all their ” hope” in the system…They “worked” for the system, and they “worked” the system, and managed to get what the system offers. But, today they are very bitter! The reality is that the system can not give what it does not have…and, that is personal fulfillment!

    Real promotion is from the Lord…what looks like “promotion” is often a mirage…that is why we place trust in God, He never fails. He will promote us according to HIs plan for us….He has a way of getting us where He wants us.

    God bless you is my prayer.
    J. David {Jim} Stephens

    • Bro. Stephens,

      You just told me as nice as you could that I should be content with being a pastor because it’s the higher calling, and not put my hope in this current jacked up system, because I feel people of color are qualified does not make it so. If I truly want to be promoted, God will do it if He wants it done. Besides, to be appointed to power is really a mirage. We will only become bitter with promotion anyway. That can NOT be what you just told me!

      • My precious Brother Anderson….. Please know that you are right with your reply to my last post..”.that cannot be what you just told me”….It is not what I said at all…..not even close.

        What I said to you, I have said to my son, Brent, who is planting a church in Acworth, Georgia. What I said to you is exactly what I say to MIP men and women.

        “Promotion” has nothing to do with titles or offices that our COG system can bestow…instead, promotion is a “place of fruitfulness” in Kingdom work….

        I am consistent. I am as honest as I know how to be when I say, “If we put our trust in the system, we will only get what the “system” can give….We do not want to follow a that kind of dream….it is not from God, and leads to disappointment…

        Thank you for giving me the opportunity to clarify what I believe….I honor you!

        J. David [jim] Stephens

  28. I completely agree with you, Bro. Stephens. I also think that those voting voices that have held us back or even pushed us in the wrong direction may be more open to change than ever before. It is my prayer that this Executive Committee and Council of 18 will not produce an Agenda that misses out on this historic occasion for positive, salvific change.

    Jerry Lawson

  29. Travis, you are right. The General Assembly did force the issues we are now dealing with. We would not have begun the change process had the General Assembly not voted for the reallocation of funds!

    I do not know what is on this agenda, outside of what we all read in the 12 page General Council report. Some things may appear to be minutia, but are probably necessary for the GA to undo some of the web that has us entangled.

    I appeal for trust and and ask that we give our leadership the benefit of the doubt that they are doing there best to meet the wishes and directives of the body.

    Travis, stay on course!

  30. My point wasn’t to off put the current C-18 or the EC. I believe all of us are encouraged by both of those bodies as indicated by the above article and ensuing comments.

    My point was to raise the value of the General Assembly and to offer another point…or a more 360 degree view about the General Assembly’s posture from this statement:

    Many of our problems are not with present leadership in Cleveland, but with outdated and non-productive rulings made by the General Assembly, and can only be changed by the General Assembly.

    I certainly believe your statement accurately describes some past GA rulings accurately. But, I didn’t want to see the General Assembly, our highest governing and most mission-oriented body of the three left holding the bag for simply deciding “yes” or “leave it the same” on agenda items brought to it by the E-Council.

    The truth is, the General Assembly can be rendered ineffective with long and meaningless…or even manipulative agendas from the E-Council, which has happened in the past as demonstrated in the way the TOT Cut and the targeting of World Missions was repeatedly delivered in direct opposition to the will of the GA.

    Still on target, my bro! 😉

  31. If this current wave of momentum for change is of God, then we cannot resist it, lest we find ourselves fighting against Him. I have no doubt that there are some who seek the recognition of higher office for purely carnal reasons, but I’m also convinced that God is calling some others to lead our denomination through this wilderness. What are the true marks of God ordained leadership? How do we determine who has God’s anointing to lead?

    In our denomination we have chosen the OB’s to democratically vote on who should lead and then empower those chosen to act on our behalf. Not exactly the Urim and Thummim if you ask me, more like the casting of lots. (Both are biblical, however) Do we believe God is working through us when we vote?

    It seems to me if we want a change in leadership, then we must change the process by which leaders are groomed. (Pastor, State Board, State Office Position, Small/Mission State Overseer, Large State Overseer/EC member…etc.) To repeat the same process and expect a different result…well you know the rest. If we truly no longer trust the current system to produce visionary leaders then the system must be transformed.

  32. Wow, this thread is multiplying and diversifying.

    As a pastor of a multiracial church (60% black) I agree that we need to be proactive in promoting diversity in leadership. I would also note that our record is even worse when it comes to discrimination against women. I hope that our appetite for change will extend far enough to stop denying them the right to be in our General Council.

    I agree with Tom that change can occur suddenly (as in the last GA) but there is a difference between changing hearts and changing minutes via Roberts Rules of Order. The more changes you tie together in a package, the more side-issues get involved to derail the change. Therefore I think the GA agenda needs to be bold but also one that can realistically pass.

    However, I think our biggest problem in this area is huge, systemic, and will take a lot more blood, sweat and tears to effect change.

    Over the years our GA has become a fear-based mechanism to try to prevent possible abuses of leadership – rather than to promote and facilitate visionary leadership. The kind of measures that tried to prevent a repeat of mistakes made by Tomlinson also guaranteed that we could never again have a Tomlinson provide us with such pioneering and visionary leadership.

    We have numerous rulings and minutes that have zero relevance or application to the majority of Church of God congregations in the world today. And to change them under our current procedures would clog up the agenda for every GA for centuries as we labor through committees, and then debate each one with the usual amendments etc.

    Sooner or later we will have to live up to our professed claim that the GA is a judicial body, not a legislative or executive body. That will mean electing leaders – empowering them to lead – rejoicing when they lead well – and allowing the judicial body to go through the painful task of judging them if they lead badly.

  33. Do we still believe in Apostolic ministry? Who will speak for the Lord? Without a clearly defined word from God, we run the risk of being contaminated by our cultural POV’s.

  34. Brother Alldredge, you have hit the crux of the problem. My biggest fear for what is being done is that there is more of a shift in power than a change in paradigm. There seems to be more of a shift toward pastoral representation than operation in an area of gifting. Certainly, pastors have other gifts than shepherding people and that may be conducive to the role of overseer or a member of a council, but what about identifying giftings of the 5-fold ministry? In my opinion, seeing yourself represented in the current system could be a change of control from one group to the other . . . same system (and systemic problems).

    1 Corinthians 12:27-28 says, “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.”

    And also reading Ephesians 4:11ff, are we operating on 20-60% of God’s intended order for the church?

  35. Nick, would you equate the women in leadership issue with the “gentile” issue of Acts 10, 11?

    Donovan, I am deeply concerned about our leadership stucture, if we believe it is of God then we should allow the AB/EC the same authority as the Apostolic council of Acts, if not, then what?

  36. James, the gentile issue was a salvific issue at the very core.

    I have no problem with women pastoring churches or voting in the General Council. My problem is with the COG using the NT office of “Bishop” as little more than a convenient label…..we use [abuse it] it to identify one of our three ranks in ministry.

    We have certified many “men”, who do not meet the NT qualifications for “Bishop” What say you?

    I appreciate the dialogue!

    J. David {jim] Stephens

  37. Bro Stephens (actually I’d much rather we called each other Jim and Nick. Would that be OK?)

    MY own opinion is that the concept of Ordained Bishop as it operates in the Church of God is a purely human construct with no Scriptural backing. That’s not to say that the idea of having a General Council is wrong – because we have to set up human structures in every area of life where the Scripture doeesn’t give us a detailed blueprint.

    My own favored role would be to ban ecclesiastical titles altogether from the Church of God (along with clerical dress and honorary doctorates) and just call each other by the first names that our parents chose to give us.

    The Scriptural arguments that are used to deny women access to the General Council refer to very different roles – eg teaching and preaching – and we already allow women to do those things within the Church of God. So that is a different debate altogether.

    At the moment we say that female Church of God ministers can preach the Gospel, can lead churches, they can be arrested and tortured for their faith (and that is happening to some of our lady preachers in China) but we don’t deem them worthy to sit and vote in the General Council – yet we do deem them worthy to sit and vote in the General Assembly, with is the highest body in our Church. That, to me, makes no sense and I think it stinks.

    Every Blessing,

    Nick

    • Nick, I could not agree with you more. women ministers should have the right to vote on COG issues in The General Council sessions. To me, this issue is not a Scriptural consideration….

      J. David {jim] Stephens

  38. @Nick Great words.

    Think of all of the women through our history that could have formally contributed to the organizational formation of the COG from Margeret Gaines to Ida McCoy to Cheryl Johns to the many thousands of women whose names have never been uttered in leadership circles but, who as you say, daily extend their lives to communities and peoples all over the world in cooperation with the mission of Jesus…even under most challenging circumstances.

    Alas, back to the kitchen, ladies. And, blacks, latinos, and asians…back to your separate water fountains. We’re not quite comfortable with you leading us white men yet. Sorry.

  39. My p.o.v. is that we should allow God to decide who He wants to lead and leave cultural, historic and personal biases in the old man where they belong. My reference to Acts is based on Peter’ argument that since God gave the same gift to the gentiles that He gave to the Jews then there was no difference in Christ between them.

    If we see that a woman or a man, latino, black, asian or caucasian has been anointed by God to Apostolic, Prophetic, Pastoral or Evangelistic ministry that should be the argument ender. God has the final word. But the problem is I’m not sure our current system allows for us to even recognize such an anointing.

    That said, clearly our church has made the classic mistake of becoming entrenched in the culture and mentality predominant in our formative years and lacks the organizational will to change. It’s funny that our existence is due to the fact that our founders grew discontented with the status quo of the mainline churches and opened themselves to the will of the Holy Spirit and now we have become the very thing we hate.

    But there is hope! Desperate people in desperate times often are the very thing God uses to renew His glory among us

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