The two most important aspects of the mission of the United Church of God are preaching the gospel and preparing a people. Both are mandated by Jesus Christ, and the two go hand in hand.
The Church's overall mission extends well beyond its initial responsibility of preaching the gospel and making new disciples, as Jesus commanded in Matthew 28:19. As verse 20 explains, the Church must also teach these disciples—students—"to observe all things that [Jesus] commanded ... even to the end of the age." Indeed, the Church of God is to be a continuing source of spiritual nurturing for those God calls into His family.
One of the key charges Jesus gave His apostles was "Feed My sheep" (John 21:17). He has given His Church additional shepherds—a human ministry—to guide, feed and encourage the growth of those God calls into the Body of Christ. As we see from Paul's instructions to Titus and Timothy, God appoints ministers based on criteria vital to the well-being of the other members of the Church.
Jesus Himself, explained the apostle Paul, "gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:11-13, NIV).
The Church Jesus built is commissioned not only to feed His sheep, as He commanded, but to prepare these followers for greater works of service to God, their families, their communities and their fellow man. Jesus placed great emphasis on serving others (Matthew 20:26-28).
For these reasons the United Church of God, though small in numbers, strives to establish congregations around the world in which God's people can assemble and receive guidance in godly living and service. These congregations are served by ordained pastors trained to accurately teach and explain the Scriptures and to counsel those who request personal guidance. These pastors are often assisted by other dedicated men and women in helping congregations reach their full potential in serving others—as opportunity, need and resources permit.
Our congregations meet in various cities around the world. Regional offices in the Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia and the South Pacific serve members and support Church operations in their respective areas. They are also responsible for distributing the Church's publications and handling other requests and inquiries within their particular regions.
A home-office facility near Cincinnati, Ohio, serves as a support hub for operations in the United States and all the associated worldwide operations of the Church. From this location the Church's president and department managers and their staffs support the Church's daily operations.
Our worship services
People often ask us: "What happens at one of your church services? If I choose to attend, what should I expect? Do I need to bring anything? Are there programs that address the needs of my family?"
Members of the United Church of God rest (refrain from normal work and recreation) and meet on the weekly Sabbath in compliance with the Fourth Commandment (see Exodus 20:8-11; Deuteronomy 5:12-15) and with the clear biblical examples of Jesus and early Christians, who came together on that day to worship and give and receive instruction from God's Word (see Luke 4:16; Acts 13:42- 44; Acts 17:2; Acts 18:4).
Some people are surprised when they learn that our congregations meet for regular weekly church services on Saturday. The reason, of course, is that God defines the seventh-day biblical Sabbath as lasting from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset rather than being on Sunday, the first day of the week. Just as Jesus and the earliest Church of God congregations did, we observe the day and time that God has commanded.
The Bible describes the weekly Sabbath in Isaiah 58:13 as "the holy day of the Lord" and in Leviticus 23:2 as one of "the feasts of the Lord." The Hebrew word for "feast" is moed, which means "appointment"—a scheduled time for a meeting. Verse 3 describes the weekly Sabbath as a "holy convocation" or "sacred assembly" (NIV). It is, therefore, a commanded assembly (see also Hebrews 10:24-25).
Putting these verses together, we can see that God commands His people to appear before Him for a meeting, as a regular weekly appointment. (To learn more about the biblical foundation of the seventh-day Sabbath, why Christians should keep it and how to observe it, be sure to download or request your free copy of our booklet Sunset to Sunset: God's Sabbath Rest.)
We encourage everyone attending Sabbath services with us to bring a Bible. Because we believe and teach that the Bible is the inspired Word of God (2 Timothy 3:15-17), our ministers and other speakers in the course of a service will focus on what the Bible says. Members are encouraged to turn to and read for themselves the scriptures quoted. Many will take notes for later review. Instruction given in our worship services is not based on human philosophy or speculation but on the rich teachings of the Word of God and how we should apply them in all aspects of our lives.
In this we follow the instructions of the apostle Paul, who wrote to the young minister Timothy: "I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching" (2 Timothy 4:1-2). Therefore the messages presented in our services are designed to be instructive, helpful, practical and inspiring.
As we assemble before God, we come in an attitude of worship and thankfulness for what He performs in our lives. After opening with congregational hymns, we ask for God's presence and guidance.
After this opening prayer comes the speaking portion of the service, which normally includes two messages. The first, referred to as a sermonette, is short and typically deals with an item of biblical understanding or encouragement.
After another congregational hymn, we usually devote a brief segment of the service to announcements pertaining to local and international church events and activities. Sometimes musicians from the congregation may offer a short and appropriate music presentation.
Next is the main sermon, typically about an hour in length. Sermons deal with a variety of spiritual themes, such as practical Christian living, explanations of biblical doctrines or, occasionally, discussions of current events in the light of Bible prophecy. After the sermon, our services conclude with a hymn and a closing prayer.
Attention to special needs
Recognizing that people's needs vary and many learn more effectively in smaller or more-focused groups, some of our congregations also provide, for those so desiring, Bible studies or classes for adults, teens, younger children, young adults and middle-aged and older adults. Some of these may be conducted before, during or after the weekly service on the Sabbath, and sometimes members may meet for a midweek Bible study. The Church offers these options as opportunities for extra learning, encouragement and fellowship for like-minded Christians.
Church members interact and work together in other ways as well. Congregations often organize special functions to serve various needs. They may include social events, fellowship opportunities at shared meals, sports activities, children's and teens' field trips, men's and women's leadership and speech clubs and occasional work parties to help members and needy people within our communities or even on the other side of the world.
Helping those in need
The focus of the United Church of God is to proclaim the good news of the soon-coming Kingdom of God to all mankind. But this does not negate the need for helping people now.
Jesus Christ healed the sick and comforted the afflicted, and He commands that we be compassionate to others. Economically, we have not been given equal opportunity in this world, and some, recognizing this disparity, want to help make a difference in the lives of others.
Recognizing suffering and poverty is an important first step. But it's not until we do something to alleviate it that God takes notice. Jesus warned of merely saying "Be warm and filled," but not taking action (James 2:16; Matthew 25:34-46).
The United Church of God officially established a Good Works program in 2004. To be more effective, the church partnered with LifeNets, a highly efficient charity a number of church members were already involved in, where a very high percentage of all amounts donated goes to the people being helped. Both have independent as well as partner projects, depending on the needs.
Promoting a hand up, not just a handout
LifeNets develops programs offering practical assistance that promotes the well-being and self-sufficiency of disadvantaged people. These programs expand in impact by encouraging those receiving assistance to "pay it forward" by helping others.
Through LifeNets' support for agriculture and animal husbandry we have seen quantum changes in the lives of very poor people in several countries around the world.
Several years ago disease in central Zambia wiped out entire herds of cattle. People were left with no milk for their children, no draft animals for plowing their fields, unimaginable poverty and potential starvation. Entire communities were without common medicines. Children regularly died from malaria and other diseases.
In 2000 LifeNets started a program to restore cattle to needy communities. It required giving basic veterinary training and animal care to recipients to minimize the risk of future loss of animals to disease.
Drilling water wells has become a regular project of LifeNets. Clean drinking water is vital for human survival, but it's a shrinking resource in many poor countries. In many areas people, mostly women, spend a large part of each day making many trips carrying large containers to fetch water from distant sources. By drilling wells within communities, we have brought fresh, clean water for drinking, cooking and washing to communities.
In the United States a unique wheelchair matching program has existed for more than a decade. Through the LifeNets website (www.LifeNets.org) we have used the Internet to match wheelchair donors with those needing them, greatly benefiting the lives of hundreds of people.
Education to overcome poverty
Education is a key route out of poverty. LifeNets and the Good Works program have supported scholarships for young people to receive an education or specialized training in Guatemala, El Salvador, Peru, Chile, South Africa, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Ukraine and the Philippines.
These scholarships have given lifelong benefits to young people who otherwise may have been relegated to the misery of unemployment and poverty. This also helps their communities—since scholarship recipients in these poor countries can then become pillars in the fabric of their society.
LifeNets has also constructed clinics and schools in Africa and Ukraine and has supported orphan and street children programs in Ukraine.
The Good Works program has also provided Bibles, church buildings and vehicles for necessary transportation for scattered congregations, as well as supporting staff to assist in training and educational programs in Zambia, Nigeria and Guatemala.
"Let us not grow weary in doing good"
The Bible clearly speaks of opening our heart and resources to the poor and encourages us to help those in need: "But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth" (1 John 3:17-18).
The apostle Paul speaks about helping not only our own, but those whom we know have needs: "And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith" (Galatians 6:9-10).
Empowering and developing our youth
Long ago wise King Solomon admonished young people, "Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth" (Ecclesiastes 12:1). With that biblical imperative in mind, we seek to empower our young people for a life of strong character and good works. We provide programs designed to supplement their parents' efforts to mold them into good students in their schools, worthwhile community members in their neighborhoods, upstanding examples in their future jobs and good citizens who will continue responding to the call of God as they mature.
The United Church of God conducts an extensive youth-camp program at more than a dozen sites around the world. During the summer or winter school breaks, our young people can come together to develop deeper relationships with God and be challenged by new experiences. The camp programs are designed to encourage and develop lifelong character traits such as courage, diligence and perseverance. They also build a camaraderie between the campers and a staff of young-adult counselors, ministers and other camp workers—forming bonds that may last a lifetime.
Young adults who want to go above and beyond in volunteering to help others can apply for service in the United Youth Corps. Here young men and women receive opportunities to travel and serve people in the far reaches of the globe. In the summer months, a young person could find himself or herself far from home in such places as Chile, Israel, Zambia and South Africa. Such service could include working with area residents in a language program, a computer-instruction seminar or even an archaeological excavation. Such young people not only give of themselves but are rewarded with many once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
Passing on the truth of God from one generation to the next is a high priority of the Church. Therefore, to provide in-depth biblical and spiritual instruction to the next generation, the United Church of God also sponsors and staffs the Ambassador Bible Center, located in our home-office complex just outside of Cincinnati. It is designed for the college-age or older student who desires an intensive nine-month program of studying the core teachings of the Bible.
In addition to its own resident faculty, the Ambassador Bible Center's staff is supplemented by guest lecturers who bring additional expertise on certain subjects to an eager student body. Many young men and women often choose to enter this program either right before or immediately after their regular college program.
To meet the specific goal of "preparing a people" in regard to our youth, the United Church of God has developed a variety of youth programs. Their purpose is not merely to bring our young people together, but, even more important, they are meant to help them develop and strengthen a loving relationship with God. It is also our desire to educate and equip them for service to their congregations and the world at large.
Nurturing the household of God
We must keep in mind that the Church Jesus built is not an impressive building with stained-glass windows. It has no steeple or bells tolling out the chimes of an old religious melody.
The word translated church in the New Testament means a group of people, not a building. The Church Jesus built is made up of the people who are its members. They are the Church!
Why is this distinction important?
The Greek word ekklesia, translated into English as church, simply means "those called out" or a "called-out assembly." It originally referred to a city's assembly of citizens—summoned to a meeting to conduct the city's affairs. Because its meaning closely corresponds to that of the Hebrew word for "congregation," it became the standard Greek word for the "congregation" of God in the New Testament, the assembly that has come to be known in the English language as the Church.
Christ's apostles describe the Church as those who, having surrendered their lives to God in sincere obedience, have received the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:32; Romans 8:9). Indeed, the Church's members are sometimes compared to the individual parts of a stone building. The apostle Peter wrote, "You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 2:5). Called from all nationalities and ethnic backgrounds, all of the Church's members "are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God" (Ephesians 2:19).
Those in God's Church are thus members of God's family, though not yet glorified. Indeed, Church members fully understand that they are still fallible, imperfect human beings. Yet they strive to do their best in serving their heavenly Father. This they do, knowing He has already given His best for them—His only begotten Son as their Savior. And in His great mercy, He actively prepares them for their role in His coming Kingdom.
In this present age of preparation, God's people draw strength and comfort both from Him and from each other. For that reason Hebrews 10:24-25 states: "Let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day [of Christ's return] approaching" (NIV).
The United Church of God diligently strives to implement the biblical mandate for "equipping the saints"—that is, preparing members of the "body of Christ" to fulfill their calling as God's servants now and as His eternal family in the coming Kingdom of God (Ephesians 4:12).