We’re live blogging from the site of the 2014 meeting of the General Conference of Elders. This page will be updated throughout the day, so check back periodically for updates and news.
The 2014 meeting of the General Conference of Elders convened at 9:00 a.m. EDT. Chairman Robin Webber called the meeting to order. He called on Jerold Aust, pastor of the DeFuniak Springs, Florida, congregation, to lead the Conference in prayer.
Mr. Webber pointed out that this is the 20th annual meeting of the General Conference of Elders, an important milestone. The first order of business was to introduce new elders and wives to the ministry of the United Church of God.
He then called on Church secretary Gerald Seelig to conduct the balloting portion of the meeting. After the ballot was taken, chairman Robin Webber once again took the floor the address the Conference.
Introductory Address—Robin Webber, chairman
On the occasion of the 20th meeting of the GCE, he asks, “Where did the time go?” This meeting is a time for some reflection on the past and what the Church has been through over the last two decades. He asks how the Church should move forward into the future, spreading the good news of the Kingdom of God and the personal peace that news can bring people right now.
Mr. Webber introduces the overrarching theme of this year’s GCE meeting: Creating an Environment for Growth. It’s a theme that focuses on the personal spiritual growth that God expects of all Christians. The theme was gleaned from the messages of the epistles of Paul and Peter. These epistles consistently end with the words “grace and peace.” They are two great concepts that bookend the gospel message the Church has been commissioned to take to the world.
These words represent a blessing that God is offering people who come to Him and humble themselves to His will. He offers grace and peace to His people in a world that is so often devoid of both.
God promises to complete His perfect work in His people. Christians must have patience and endurance in allowing this perfecting process to take place in them.
Jesus Christ, the Rock upon which the Church is built, is our one constant. People come and go, but He will never change and will never leave us. We can always place our trust in Him.
He turns to Ephesians to focus the meeting in this direction: “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:1-6 Ephesians 4:1-6  I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that you walk worthy of the vocation with which you are called,
 With all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love;
 Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
 There is one body, and one Spirit, even as you are called in one hope of your calling;
 One Lord, one faith, one baptism,
 One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.
American King James Version×).
The apostle Paul provided the proper focus for Christians: that there is one Spirit that binds us together; one Lord, Jesus Christ, who leads us by His divine example of perfection; one faith; one baptism that washes away our sins; one Father, by whose power and might all things were created.
Creating an evironment for growth isn’t accomplished through techniques, technologies or programs. It’s created by giving our lives to our one Lord, our one Father, and Their one purpose for the Church. Growth begins internally through God’s Spirit guiding us to become more like Jesus Christ, who gave His life so that we might have ours.
The key to creating this environment is that we can truly say, “What [God] has done for me, I can share with others.”
After his address concluded, Mr. Webber introduced Church president Victor Kubik.
Keynote: Creating and Environment for Growth—Victor Kubik, president
Mr. Kubik points out that this year’s theme has four main concepts within it: creating, which is begun by Jesus Christ and God the Father and extends to the Church as we follow Their lead; environment, which needs to be based upon the culture of faith, grace and peace that is revealed in the Bible; spiritual, which means that everything is based on God’s Spirit, which He uses to lead us in following Him; and growth, which begins within each individual Christian, then extends to the congregation, then the Church as a whole, and then those not yet a part of the Body who God will work with in their time.
In times past those who were seeking the gospel message really had a limited choice in where to go. Currently there are so many avenues people can take to find the truth of the Bible. There is much clutter in the space of Bible knowledge. Much of it is good, but much of it is not. We need to give people their best chance of finding good biblical food.
People have questions. Questions about the basics of life. The Bible has the answers. God’s job for us is to help people find the right answers, based on what the Bible actually says about how God wants people to live.
We need to be able to have positive pride in our congregations. They need to be places we can be happy to have new people come to, with kind, gracious members who can each help others grow in grace and knowledge. We need to be a group of people who deeply desire to share with others what God has given to us.
Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you.” Do we live in that peace every day of our lives? Does it pervade everything we do? It’s a peace that comes from God’s Spirit within us and leading us to God’s perfect peace. Growth comes from peaceful environments.
Mr. Kubik says that Christians are identified by the love and peace they create within their environment (John 13:35 John 13:35By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another.
American King James Version×).
The number one environement that each person has control of is their own lives. We can be the starting place for an environment in which others can grow by setting the right example in everything we do.
After Victor Kubik’s keynote address the conference recessed for a short break.
The meeting reconvened at 11 a.m. EDT. Macon and Columbus, Georgia, pastor Ken Martin led a presentation honoring recently deceased elders and wives for their years of faithful service to God and Jesus Christ.
Following the tribute, president Victor Kubik, chairman Robin Webber and Lisa Fenchel of Women’s Services presented a tribute and honor to Church employees who have served God and Jesus Christ for 50-plus years. He echoed the apostle Paul’s sentiment to God’s servants: “Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor” (Romans 13:7 Romans 13:7Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.
American King James Version×). The service of these faithful men and women is much appreciated.
At 12:20 p.m. chairman Robin Webber called on Bill Robinson, elder in the Columbia, Maryland, congregation, to lead the Conference in prayer for the lunch recess.
At 1:34 p.m. chairman Robin Webber reconvened the meeting by calling on David Jones, associate pastor of several congregations in the Nebraska/South Dakota areas, to lead the Conference in prayer.
He then introduced Rick Shabi, UCG treasurer, to present his report on Church finances.
Treasurer’s Report—Rick Shabi
Mr. Shabi begins by quoting the Bible about King Jehosephat: “And as long as the king sought guidance from the Lord, God gave him success.” He also quoted Psalms 127:1 Psalms 127:1Except the LORD build the house, they labor in vain that build it: except the LORD keep the city, the watchman wakes but in vain.
American King James Version×“Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.” Mr. Shabi says that as long as we seek God and follow Him in Spirit and truth, He will build the Church and care for its needs.
The Church’s cash reserves are ahead of projection and the minimum figure legislated by our reserve policy. He doesn’t anticipate that we will take our reserves under minimum during the coming year.
He reiterates the mission statement of the Church: “The mission of the Church of God is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God in all the world, make disciples in all nations and care for those disciples.” There are three main elements of the mission: preaching the gospel, making disciples and caring for those disciples. In the proposed budget, all three elements are well represented.
A big part of caring for disciples is the section of the budget that’s directed toward congregational care. We care for our congregations by providing trained pastors and resources for education and opportunities for our members. One educational opportunity we provide is Ambassador Bible Center, where members can take part in a focused biblical curriculum.
Other areas this section of the budget provides for are festival sites for God’s Feasts, assistance for members in need, and international subsidy, which helps us care for our members all over the world.
Another section of the budget we prioritize is preaching the gospel. This part of the budget provides funds for Beyond Today TV, the ucg.org website, advertising for all of our media efforts, producing and printing our library of booklets and study aids, and The Good News magazine.
Our Good News renewal rate has increased, which means that we are building an audience who rely on the biblical message we help provide.
After Mr. Shabi’s presentation, Roy Holladay, Ministerial and Member Services operation manager, took the floor for his update.
Ministerial and Member Services Report—Roy Holladay
Mr. Holladay begins by stating our congregational goal, which is, “A godly environment that promotes Christ-like service, spiritual growth, humility, love and unity.” As each local congregation builds in strength and character, the Church as a whole will grow in unity and become more like the Church that Jesus Christ wants us to be.
Our attendance dropped a bit during the harsh winter months we had, but thanks to the local Sabbath services webcast from the Cincinnati East
congregation, those people were often still able to be cared for on a weekly basis.
This past year, our Holy Day attendance was over 8,000 in both the latter festivals of 2013 and the first festivals of 2014.
Mr. Holladay emphasizes that we must provide and develop strong and effective leadership for the Church. Where do these leaders come from? They come from our congregations. They’re people who are already serving and leading by godly example in every church around the world. These individuals will be developed further to become even more effective and service-oriented. Our current pastors are acting as mentors for the next generation of leaders and servants, following Jesus Christ’s example of selfless service.
Mr. Holladay then turned the floor over to Peter Eddington, operation manager of Media and Communication Services.
Media and Communication Services Report—Peter Eddington
Mr. Eddington begins by discussing the power of a true multimedia approach to preaching the gospel. Beyond Today’s best programs for the 2013-2014 fiscal year were “The Four Horsemen of Revelation,” “Seven Prophetic Signs Before Jesus Returns,” “The Next World Superpower,” and “Is the Rapture Real?”
Many of our programs actually do better on repeat airings than they do upon their initial airing. Repeats on the ION Network are giving some of our older, WGN-aired programs new life.
Mr. Eddington says that TV is the dominant advertising channel. It makes up 38.1 percent of total media spending. The predictability of TV audience is one of the greatest strengths for using it as a premier media channel. Ads on TV are more influential than ads on other mediums.
Tablet Web traffic is becoming the new leader. More people will use a tablet to access digital content than a PC in the coming year. TV still blows it away in terms of traffic and access numbers. Nearly every American watches TV. By 2017 90 percent of all Internet traffic will be video.
We receive many encouraging letters from people who watch our TV show, read our magazines and use our website daily. God is calling people to His truth.
One reader said that “UCG is a church like none that I have ever seen before.” This type of positive response is very encouraging as we continue to work hard to preach the gospel to a world that so desperately needs God’s message and His way of life.
We have the highest number of coworkers on file since UCG began. We are very thankful for their engagement and support of what Jesus Christ is leading the Church in accomplishing. We have had 86 baptisms from January to April 2014.
We have a limited budget to do the most important work in the world—the work of God. But God provides and makes every dollar and every penny go as far as humanly possible. None of it would be accomplished without His guiding hand and unending support. He is the one who makes it possible to make a difference in people’s lives as the gospel message impacts them.
Chairman Robin Webber took the floor to recess the Conference for a short break at 3:03 p.m.
President Victor Kubik recovened the Conference at 3:33 p.m.
Importance of Local Websites—Victor Kubik and Tom Disher
Mr. Kubik points out that active, well maintained local websites are an important and powerful tool in helping those God is calling find His truth and become involved in His Church. He expresses thanks for those in the ministry who have stepped up and put forth a strong effort in developing their local congregational websites and making them a welcoming, inviting, helpful place for people to go.
Mr. Disher asks, “Why does our information need to be online?” In the modern world people looking for information go to the Internet first. He points out that 80 percent of people research a product online before buying. That principle holds true for people looking for biblical truth.
Since the new local websites were launched, 128,791 people looked for Sabbath service information on the local websites.
Mr. Kubik says that there is a ladder of involvement in helping people find biblical information. If there are missing rungs on the ladder, people will begin to lose their way. Part of our emphasis needs to be on fixing the “missing rungs” and help people have an easier route to biblical truth and involvement in the Church.
Chairman Robin Webber then called on secretary Gerald Seelig to announce the ballot results.