The annual General Conference of Elders of the United Church of God began with a Sabbath service on May 4, 2013. This year’s focus is on developing spiritual gifts and providing an environment for spiritual growth in the Church.
Elders and their families from the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, Latin America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia gathered in Cincinnati, Ohio, to worship and fellowship on God’s Sabbath day. The service included split sermons by Bob Berendt, pastor of UCG congregations in Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada, and Gary Antion, an elder in Cincinnati and instructor at Ambassador Bible Center.
Mr. Berendt’s sermon focused on the need for the Church to have a strong vision of God’s coming Kingdom. His Kingdom will last forever, and it will span an eternity with no pain, suffering, grief or sin. Mr. Antion spoke about the fact that spiritual gifts flow from God’s Holy Spirit working in the life of a Christian. He stressed that any gift given through God’s Spirit must be used to serve God and other people, and never to serve oneself.
After a several hour recess for fellowship, the conference reconvened Saturday night. The chairman of UCG’s Council of Elders, Robin Webber, introduced the conference and spoke about the theme of spiritual gifts. He then led the entire Conference in a question-and-answer session, which covered topics such as UCG’s gospel proclamation efforts, the presidential selection process, and how the Church facilitates parents in raising godly children.
The session ended shortly after 10 p.m. and will reconvene at 9 a.m. Sunday, May 5.
—UPDATE 10:30 a.m., May 5, 2013—
The General Conference of Elders reconvened at 9 a.m. Sunday, May 5, to the confirmation of the minutes of last year’s GCE. After the ballot was taken for general items and four Council of Elders positions, Scott Ashley presented the first keynote of the day titled “Edifying the Body Through Spiritual Gifts.”
Mr. Ashley focused on the reasons God gives spiritual gifts to His Church. God’s good gifts are to be used to build up and strengthen the Body of Christ, God’s Church (1 Corinthians 14:12 1 Corinthians 14:12Even so you, for as much as you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that you may excel to the edifying of the church.
American King James Version×). They are never to be used for personal gain, but always to God’s glory.
He encouraged Conference attendees to study through Romans 12:6-8 Romans 12:6-8  Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith;
 Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teaches, on teaching;
 Or he that exhorts, on exhortation: he that gives, let him do it with simplicity; he that rules, with diligence; he that shows mercy, with cheerfulness.
American King James Version×; 1 Corinthians 12:7-10 1 Corinthians 12:7-10  But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit with.  For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;  To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit;  To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:
American King James Version×, 1 Corinthians 12:28 1 Corinthians 12:28And God has set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.
American King James Version×; and Ephesians 4:11 Ephesians 4:11And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
American King James Version×. After the first keynote, the Conference was recessed for a break. It will reconvene at 10:40 a.m.
Following the break, Council chairman Robin Webber once again took the floor. He expressed that the questions “Why are we here?” and “Where are we headed as a Church?” are important in defining what we’re accomplishing. He expressed that the attendees of the Conference are called by God to be faithful servants both to God and His people, the Church.
He said that we must remember that the human leaders of the Church are temporary. They come and go. Jesus Christ as our Head and High Priest is eternal and unchanging.
He said that our biblical focus and grounding principles allow us to do some good every day.
Church treasurer Aaron Dean followed with his report on the finances of the Church. He pointed out that we went through some difficult times in terms of finances, but God’s mercy and guidance saw us through it. We are now presenting a balanced budget and back on the way to growth.
After two presentations, one honoring elders and wives for their longtime service, and the other honoring those recently deceased elders and wives, the meeting recessed for lunch at 12:15 p.m.
—UPDATE, 1:38 p.m., May 5, 2013—
The Conference was brought back into session by chairman Robin Webber. He introduced the international reports.
Derrick Pringle spoke representing the region of southern Africa. His region includes the countries of Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa. The region serves approximately 350 people. Around 900 people in the region receive The Good News magazine.
Johnnie Lambert represents the area of Eastern Europe, the Baltic region, and Scandinavia. He said that this region presents different types of challenges and opportunities than the other international regions.
Instead of serving congregations of dozens of people, we serve scattered individuals and families. Their faithfulness despite their isolation keeps the Church functioning in this area.
Mario Seiglie speaks representing Latin America. There are seven ministers and wives who help to serve this large area. Some of the congregations are quite large, with many families and children.
Carmelo Anastasi represents the Italian churches. He says that socially Italy faces several challenges, such as large rates of immigration and high unemployment.
Taxes are very high, and the economy has been hurt by the economic system of the European Union.
Despite these challenges, due to God opening avenues using the Internet to preach the gospel, the Italian work can be more effective at first contact with the public through the Internet.
After the regional reports, operations manager of Ministerial and Member Services, Victor Kubik, took the floor to report on MMS activities. He began by mentioning that the name “Ministerial and Member Services” was inspired by Bill Eddington, who pointed out that the department serves the entire membership, not just the ministry.
Around the world as of April 26, we have 349 ordained elders. There are 272 in the U.S. and 77 in the rest of the world. We have 81 pastors in the U.S., of which 64 are salaried full time. Twelve are part time. Five are totally volunteer pastors.
One main goal for MMS this past year is to increase the effectiveness of our pastoral care in the congregations. We are finishing our first year of classes in the pastoral training online program. It’s been greatly successful in improving the effectiveness of our local pastoral care and training ministers more fully.
The most recently held regional conference was in the Northwest. There are three additional budgeted for this next year.
Peter Eddington then took the stage to give his report on the work of Media and Commuication Services.
He began by quoting an article from the Minneapolis StarTribune stating that more and more people are watching religious programming on TV.
We have a long-standing and proven approach of utilizing all three main media: TV, print and Internet. We have a two-headed goal of preaching the gospel and preparing a people.
The dedicated Beyond Today Roku channel has been very successful so far. TV is actually growing, mainly because of Internet streaming on devices like the Roku. There will be 145 million people who watch TV this way in 2013. In 2014 these people will surpass 50 percent of the U.S. Internet user population.
Beyond Today responses are at an all-time high in 2013.
We find that 47 percent of those who call in as a result of BT are repeat viewers. We’re building a stable TV audience.
The Beyond Today YouTube station is also very successful, with 2.4 million views. Why do we bother with YouTube? It is the most recognizable and used online video hosting service in the world. The vast majority of U.S. Internet users (60 percent) visited at least once per work in March of 2013.
There were 4.6 million unique visitors at UCG.org for the calendar year. We are running advertising dedicated to mobile devices. In 2012 desktop PC search volume declined for the first time. The mobile share of the market reached nearly 20 percent.
We’re currently ranked 13 or 14 of Christian denominational websites in the United States. It’s a very big deal to get into the top 10, which we will hopefully do with God’s blessings.
Following Mr. Eddington’s presentation, the chairman announced that the conference would recess for a 20-minute break.
—UPDATE, 4:00 p.m., May 5, 2013—
The meeting was reconvened at 4:00 p.m. Darris McNeely presented a keynote titled “Creating an Environment for Growth.”
Mr. McNeely points out that when the congregation in Antioch was in its early stages, it was something very different for the Church. In Jerusalem, which was the center of the Church at that time, a congregation in a gentile city like Antioch was new and different. They weren’t sure what was going on. They decided to send someone to find out what was going on.
They had a choice in who to send, and this choice defined what would happen at that time. They sent Barnabus. He was the right man for the job. Barnabus was an encourager. He didn’t go to Antioch to “put things straight” or to “investigate.” He went to help and to encourage the Christians there to continue to follow Christ.
Barnabus had vision. He could see repentance and conversion in people. He saw the grace of God working in the people of Antioch. He saw an environment and an opportunity for growth. The people in Antioch had a gift for evangelism. They had true riches in God’s ways, and they wanted to share it with the world.
Perhaps Paul had the people of Antioch in mind when he wrote about spiritual gifts in Romans 12 and other places. He experienced the grace and gifts of God working in the people there. No doubt it had an impact on him.
We need to be a Church that expects growth. Not just in new converts, but also in spiritual growth among the members we already have.
One thing we must do to see this growth is something Barnabus did in Antioch. He listened. He listened to what was happening and how God was working there. We have to be willing to listen to one another and know one another deeply. We have to remove our own egos and agendas from the equation and truly submit to one another.
Next is having an encouraging attitude. Barnabus was, above all, an encourager. No one knew what to do with Paul after his past. Most people probably wanted nothing to do with him. Barnabus gave him a chance. Barnabus encouraged him to act with strength in the Spirit and serve God powerfully.
Thirdly we must have trust. We have to trust each other. In doing so we trust the Spirit of God within each other. Mr. McNeely mentions that he was looking into what the founding ideas of the United Church of God were 18 years ago. He said that as he revisited some of our material from that time, it was remarkable—we were talking about all of these things. They’re built in to our founding principles.
Chairman Robin Webber then introduced the next group of speakers.
Roy Holladay, Steve Nutzman, and Mark Welch presented on the United Youth Camps program.
Roy Holladay began the presentation by mentioning that many people work and serve to keep the camp program going. The camp directors do the majority of the groundwork for the camps. It’s their enthusiasm and heart that makes it all run well.
He turned the presentation over to Steve Nutzman to describe the success and benefits of the camp program.
We’re in the 19th year of UYC. There were over 300 staff last summer, and just over 500 campers. God has greatly blessed the efforts of the camp program.
Camp is all about relationships. All of the activities are used to build relationships and help the campers grow. They are a means to an end. A lot of the teaching actually takes place during and after activities. There are camp-wide and daily themes that we use to teach campers about God’s way.
“The mission of United Youth Camps is to support parents and the Church in teaching youth to develop their full godly potential (their calling into the Body of Jesus Christ and the work of the Church) while learning that God’s spiritual laws are practical ways of living.”
- Strategic Plan approved 210 to 20
- Operation Plan approved 211 to 19
- Budget approved 210 to 16
- Roc Corbett affirmed to maintain his seat on the Council of Elders 207 to 14
- Amendment to the Constitution 3.1 adopted 218 to 15
- Council of Elders Nomination Process ratified 191 to 34
- Resolution for the GCE to submit an agenda item ratified 201 to 14
- Resolution for the GCE to submit an agenda item without a meeting ratified 196 to 17
- The following four men were elected by the General Conference of Elders to serve three-year terms on the Council of Elders:
John Elliott, Rainer Salomaa, Mario Seiglie, Rex Sexton
—UPDATE, 9:00 a.m., May 6, 2013—
The General Coference of Elders was reconvened Monday morning, May 6, 2013 by Council chairman Robin Webber. He introduced Victor Kubik to present the first plenary session of the day titled “Actually Using Spiritual Gifts.”
The former Soviet-bloc churches Mr. Kubik would visit told him, “You could do so much more with the Holy Spirit. Your description of the Spirit is very passive.” That has stuck with him.
We know one aspect of what the Spirit does is edifying or building the Church.
Since there has been abuse of things like grace and Spiritual gifts we’ve sometimes been afraid of them. That’s a shame, and it doesn’t have to be that way.
Mr. Kubik says we need to look to the beginning of Christianity, in the book of Acts. The early Christians acted in such a way and with such boldness through the Spirit that people stood up and took notice.
How did the Church in Acts explode so quickly and so powerfully? How is it that with all of our modern methods, the Internet, TV, advertising, hype, etc., we can’t act as powerfully as Christians did 2,000 years ago?
When the Church in Acts preached messages that were threatening to the local authorities, they did it with power. Even though they were in danger. They were asked by what authority they did these things. Peter, being filled with the Holy Spirit, boldly gave an answer. He wasn’t afraid to stand up and say that it was by the name of Jesus Christ, who they had crucified, that these powerful things were done. It was the Holy Spirit that gave him this boldness and power.
Mr. Kubik expressed the thought, using the book of Acts, that the time of greatest power for the Church is yet ahead of us. It’s just out of our reach. We’re almost there.
The Conference was recessed for a break at 9:55 a.m.
It resumed at 10:30 for the start of the breakout session workshops.
—UPDATE, 3:45 p.m., May 6, 2013—
After the workshops, Council chairman Robin Webber called the meeting to order at 3:35 p.m.
He summarized what was accomplished at the 2013 General Conference of Elders. He said that the attendees received so much in the way of instruction and inspiration from God’s Word. But any information is pointless unless it is put to good use. He encouraged everyone to go home inspired and ready to actually act on what we covered. God showed us the way to utilize and develop spiritual gifts. We need to follow His lead.
Mr. Webber expressed that if we look to men, we will be disappointed. If we always look to Jesus Christ as the Head of our Church, we cannot possibly be disappointed or let down. We will always be able to overcome with Him at our backs.
Jesus Christ took our lives which were at one time not worth anything, and made them full of worth to Him and to God the Father.
God will fill our lives with His peace that comes only from His Spirit.
Mr. Webber concluded: “We cannot be a people that are fear-based, but faith-based.”
The 2013 General Conference of Elders came to a close with a hymn led by Steve Myers and a closing prayer offered by Bart Bornhorst.