When we were asked to write an article sharing members' perspectives on the Annual Meeting of the General Conference of Elders, we realized we hadn't really given it much thought in past years.
Of course, we prayed for its success each year and read the updates as they were available, but this was the extent of our involvement. Now we had to ask ourselves, why is the conference important and what results do we expect from the GCE each year? We also felt it prudent to ask other members the same questions and include their ideas in the remainder of this article.
So, from a member's perspective, why is the General Conference of Elders meeting important? Or, put another way, what occurs at the conference that is beneficial to the Church, beneficial to the congregations, beneficial to the elders and beneficial to the members?
First of all, we as members and elders, alike, can use the GCE as a reminder not to fall into the trap of provincialism, or thinking only within the bounds of our local congregation. Having elders on location, representing God's people from all parts of the world, emphasizes that the Church exists beyond our congregation, our region and our country.
For instance, how many of us realize that the second largest congregation in the United Church of God is in Santiago, Chile? Those attending the GCE typically hear five or six updates from international areas each year, not to mention the many personal interactions outside of any formal group meeting. The members then hear about the updates through United News or directly from the elders who attended. The General Conference is a yearly reminder of how all of us are part of a larger, world-encompassing organization.
Secondly, workshops and formal instruction allow our elders to add to and improve their various skills. The training helps them apply these skills within the context of serving the congregation as well as the community.
A gathering of all the elders for an extended period of time allows numerous opportunities for sharing, both formal and informal. Longtime elders are able to pass along their years of experience and wisdom to newer elders. New elders may bring a fresh or different perspective to longstanding issues or challenges.
All of this interaction can bring direct benefits to the brethren in our congregations and therefore to the Church as a whole. Methods learned and applied successfully in one rural congregation may work well in another rural or even in an urban setting. This consideration applies equally to small and large congregations and between congregations of different countries.
Thirdly, what results should we expect from our elders attending the GCE? This is most important, because without results, it is just a costly, albeit pleasant, mental and physical exercise.
From our perspective, we expect our elders to return with new and better ideas for improving our congregations. There should be answers to any questions posed before the conference. Possible solutions that haven't been considered before in one congregation, but worked well in another, can now be applied to problems or concerns. Our elders will have had the opportunity to improve themselves as well as learn new skills through the workshops. We should be able to see their growth as they continue to serve and lead us.
Just as the elders have the responsibility to attend the GCE when able, actively participate and apply what they learn, we as members also have responsibilities. We have the responsibility to pray for successful planning before the conference. We have the responsibility to pray during the meetings for productivity, unity and for God's express will to be made known.
We also have the responsibility before the conference to communicate our input on balloting items, ideas, questions and concerns to the elders attending. After the conference, we have a responsibility to pray for the successful implementation of what they have learned. We also have a responsibility to thank our elders for their ongoing care, concern and service on our behalf.
Through the process of writing this article, we have realized that it is easy to take the GCE for granted, something we should not do. We also should not take our elders for granted. We need to be actively involved with the growth of our congregations. We cannot expect our elders to be committed if we are not. If they don't think we care, why should they invest their time, effort and money to attend the GCE? Let's let our elders know we want our congregations to be growing, maturing and thriving. UN