Sometimes prayers are answered in ways we could not envision. Such was the case for me on May 22 at the General Conference of Elders. Like many elders, I had agreed that if nominated and elected, I would be willing to serve on the Council of Elders. But I also had concerns that doing so would take time away from pastoring the two congregations to which I had recently been sent to serve.
In His eminently wonderful and humorous way, God provided me both the opportunity to serve on the Council and the blessing of not having to miss even a single Sabbath service in the congregations back home. My name was selected as the “second runner up,” but the passage of an amendment to the Bylaws required two operations managers to step off the Council. This meant that I would serve the remaining six weeks of the position held by Aaron Dean. Some of my close friends found great humor in the fact that I was to serve for the shortest term on the Council in the history of UCG.
I had the opportunity to attend two days of Council meetings followed by two days of a retreat for the Council and Administration. The Council asked me to write to you about my perceptions. What impressions did I come away with after attending what is likely to be the only four days of face to face meetings of my unique term?
There are two statements in the Constitution of UCG that I’ve chosen as the basis for my analysis. First, there is the Mission Statement: “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.” The purpose of the Council is summarized a little later: “The Council is established to provide oversight and guidance within the UCGIAfor the service and care of local congregations, the preaching of the gospel and the administration of God’s tithes and offerings.”
From these directives, I distilled my impressions down to four points: preaching the gospel; serving and caring for the local congregations; wise stewardship; and, most importantly, love for one another.
Preaching the gospel (Matthew 28:19-20)
It was encouraging to hear and see the commitment and passion of the Council and Administration working together to press forward with this mission, given to us by Jesus Christ and passed on to every generation of Christians since. There was no doubt about the willingness to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of our efforts, to refine and expand our use of media, and to focus the message to make a greater impact on the lives of those who will hear.
Serving and caring for the congregations (John 21:15-17; Acts 20:28)
Among the Council members and the Administration I saw in many ways that there is obviously a genuine desire and willingness to do as Christ admonished Peter, to “feed My sheep.” I saw in these men a sincere commitment to do all we can to provide elders and pastors to nurture and strengthen every congregation and every member around the world, to allocate the resources to do so as much and as often as possible, and to protect the “flock” of Jesus Christ.
Wise stewardship (Luke 12:42)
One of the major responsibilities of the Council is “the administration of God’s tithes and offerings.” I paid special attention during the meetings to the approach toward this responsibility. Several times acknowledgement was given to the fact that the income of UCG is from the tithes and offerings of faithful people of God. When resources are diminished it is even more important to wisely use and conserve all that Christ supplies. It was gratifying to see how well the entire Council and Administration worked together to improve the fiscal health of UCG. There were many ideas and discussions leading to the formation of policy that will change for the better the administration of the financial and physical assets of UCG.
Love for one another (John 13:35)
There is no greater way to show that we are the disciples of Jesus Christ than to love each other in the way Jesus loves us. After a difficult trial, as we have recently been through, I was wondering what kind of example would be set in the privacy of these Council meetings. Would there be more evidence now than before that we are His disciples, that Christ is living in us and allowing us to carry His message to the world?
Brethren, I can truly tell you that I witnessed the love of God for one another in the examples of our brothers on the Council and in the Administration. There were genuine and repeated expressions of respect and love for each other and for all of the membership of the body of Christ. Men were able to passionately express their points of view on many subjects, even disagreeing on points that were quite important, but always keeping uppermost in their conduct the love for each other. I was so encouraged by this that I’ve prayed several times in thanks to God for allowing me to observe His Spirit working in this way. Those at the meetings shared something that is all too rare—something that we all must recognize, grow, nurture, protect and make more visible in all we do.
I came home from the Council meetings more encouraged than I’ve been in many years. The experiences of those few days will remain among the most memorable experiences of my life. With God’s help, and with continued dedication to His way, I believe the United Church of God will be greatly blessed in accomplishing the great commission that Jesus Christ has given us to do.