Les McCullough was appointed president of the United Church of God, an International Association, in the spring of 1998, at a time of crisis in the Church. Without recounting all the difficulties of those days, suffice it to say that the Church was then experiencing great upset, instability and loss of membership, to the point that its organizational and financial viability and the ability to carry out its mission were in real question.
As he leaves office in the spring of 2002, there is much greater stability in UCGIA than four years before, and the Church is fulfilling its mission with ever-increasing power and scope. He would be the first to give God the Father and Jesus Christ the credit for mercifully granting the blessings and strength to the Church that it has experienced.
Further, in the human realm, he would not claim personal credit for all that has been accomplished, because the work of many has contributed to what has been accomplished. But, it is nevertheless fitting to document some of the more notable steps forward that have occurred during his tenure in office, and to express gratitude to him and his wife, Marion, for their leadership, service and example. Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. McCullough!
Vigorous Promotion of Proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom of God
At the time Mr. McCullough became president, the circulation of the Good News magazine was 80,000 per issue. The Church had published six booklets, and none in the preceding nine months. During his first address to the General Conference of Elders after being appointed president, he rhetorically asked the questions, "What motivates me? What do I consider most important?" He answered, "The Kingdom of God!" He expressed a strong desire to spread the message of the gospel of the Kingdom of God.
Almost immediately, he proposed doing what was necessary to double the print run of the Good News, and this at a time of very limited financial strength for the Church. Then, within a year or so, he announced the very bold initiative of increasing the print run of the English language edition to 500,000 within another four years. It actually has taken only three years to reach that number.
The Church now has 29 booklets in print. When Mr. McCullough took office, the first lesson of the Bible Study Course had been printed, but only as an insert in the "expanded" edition of the Good News, which was sent primarily to members of the Church. Now, the full 12-lesson course is in print, as stand-alone publications, being sent to many thousands of readers, most of whom are not members of the Church. The Church now also proclaims the gospel via the Internet, radio and cable TV. The amount of "seed" being sown has greatly increased in the last four years.
Spiritual and Financial Stability
In the spring of 1998, there was great upset in and around UCGIA, and the Church was very near financial collapse. There was significant and growing loss of membership and pastors for the local congregations. The Church faced substantial liabilities in the near term, far more than its bank balances or cash flow stream (which was diminishing at a rapid pace) could service. The Church's auditors would not issue the financial statements without expressing reservations about its ability to survive as a going concern.
Mr. McCullough addressed the Council of Elders concerning the gravity of the situation and received support for writing a letter to the membership of the Church, explaining candidly the reality the Church faced, requesting prayer and extra financial support.
The membership responded magnificently. A sizable special offering was received enabling the Church to survive that immediate crisis. Gradually, through conservative budgeting and financial management, including very difficult cost-cutting measures, the Church's financial position has improved, and it now has modest emergency reserves.
More importantly, the Church is now more settled and focused on its mission and the future. There has been modest, but steady growth in membership of the Church, as a result of God's calling.
Successful Transition of Home Office From California to Ohio
The entire home office operation was moved in the summer of 1998. Such a move is never easy, but it took place with relative smoothness.
Ambassador Bible Center
One of the most obvious needs of the Church is the duty to pass along to the next generation its unique, God-given understanding of the Bible, true doctrine and God's plan, in a structured and formal way. In the last 10 tumultuous years, the Church had lost its center of formal education, and simply does not now have the resources to duplicate it. In light of the Church's aging membership and ministry, there was a great need to do something, within the scope of what we could afford, to fill the gap of structured and intensive biblical instruction.
In the summer of 1999, Mr. McCullough presented to the Council of Elders a plan to begin a center of biblical instruction at the home office in Cincinnati. He urged them to act quickly to begin this program, and they unanimously adopted the proposal to begin that coming January.
The name that was adopted was ABC, the Ambassador Bible Center. The name is a reminder of the purpose of the program, emphasizing the basics (the "ABCs") of Genesis-to-Revelation exposition and the fundamental doctrines of the Church. The program has been enthusiastically embraced. With very little time to prepare and move to Cincinnati, 24 students attended that pioneer session in 2000. The second year, 40 attended, and this year there are 53. ABC represents a statement that UCGIA is looking to the future and will continue on with the work of the Church for as long as God gives it the freedom and resources to do so.
Establishment of 403(b) Defined Contribution Plan
A very significant development occurred in 1999. One of the great financial "overhangs" on the Church is the fact that for 50 years, nothing had been set aside on a year-to-year basis to fund the retirement needs of its many employees. This amounted to an enormous unfunded future liability. To begin to address this sizable problem, Mr. McCullough proposed the adoption of a matching 403(b) plan in 1999, wherein employees voluntarily contribute a portion of their earnings each year to a tax-sheltered personal retirement account, and the Church contributes a generous matching amount into the plan. This was the first such current funding of future retirement needs in the modern history of the Church.
Over the course of 10 to 20 years, this plan will gradually provide for some degree of retirement income security for the Church's employees, rather than total reliance on discretionary retirement payments, as has been the method in the past.
Growth Into a New Multipurpose Home Office Building
The last four years have been characterized by steady growth in many aspects of the work and fruit of the Church. Operations in Cincinnati had literally grown to the point of bursting at the seams in our leased office and warehouse space. Seeing the growth that was being realized, Mr. McCullough brought to the Council a proposal to build a new building. Just as Mr. McCullough leaves office, we have moved into the new building which will house the administrative offices, media operations, mailing and warehousing operations, Ambassador Bible Center and auditorium for the Cincinnati East congregation's weekly Sabbath services. This beautiful and functional new facility will add in many ways to the operational efficiency of the home office operations.
Growth of the Camp and Other Youth Activities
During Mr. McCullough's tenure, the United Youth Camp program has made tremendous strides forward in serving the youth of the Church. He has been quite supportive of the Church's excellent camp leadership staff in developing a high-quality, safe, spiritually oriented camp program, which has been accredited by the American Camping Association.
In addition, the United Youth Corps has been initiated, providing service and leadership training programs internationally for the youth of the Church.
Steps for Unity—Church of God, a Christian Fellowship and Remnant Church of God
In the last two years, the first steps toward bringing brethren within the Church of God community together, rather than further fragmenting them, have taken place. The membership and ministry of the Church of God, a Christian Fellowship, have joined together with UCGIA.
The same has taken place with regard to the Ghana-based Remnant Church of God.
During the last four years, Mr. McCullough has appointed task forces to work in a collaborative manner for the development of many administrative policy matters and other initiatives that have then been adopted by the Council of Elders.
Some who have worked with Mr. McCullough on the Council and in the administration offer the following miscellaneous comments about his leadership and personal qualities during the last four years.
• "He helped save us financially; his many years of experience in administration of finances and budget and managing and his credibility in that area helped stabilize United. His vision in the area of how to promote and build the GN magazine—it has exceeded expectations. It has a high reputation for quality. He knew and understood the difference between a business and a Church."
• "God brought him to this point at the right time, when we really needed him. He has proven over many decades (from all that he has been through and his many different jobs in many different countries)—he has a world perspective, not just a U.S. perspective and that has added to his wisdom. He has showed us a wonderful example of humility and graciousness in stepping aside peacefully; and has shown the Church the way to do it, even in disappointing circumstances. He truly appreciates the help of the wife of his youth, saying, 'one of the best things I ever did was marry Marion.'"
• "He listens to others and accepts input."
• "He adapted to the 'new' way of doing things in UCG, and subordinated his opinion and will to the decisions of the [Council], when it went the other way."
• "He has provided good, sound, solid leadership—quiet leadership; he stated on more than one occasion that we simply had to do certain things to do the right thing, and rely on God in faith to make it work. On the other hand, he was often not quick to make decisions—he didn't make a lot of snap decisions; on important matters he took the time to sort through important matters before planting his feet."
• "He did not believe in changing a winning plan, but instead—expanding on it."
Mr. McCullough recognizes the hand of God in blessing his efforts, as well as the contributions of many others who have worked to bring about the progress of the last four years. His desire is that the Church continue on in its efforts to fulfill its commission of preaching the gospel and caring for those whom God calls. UN