The mission of the United Church of God, an International Association, 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." This reflects the same imperatives that the Church has long recognized in the Bible: sow the seed and care for those whom God calls and enlightens.
In our past, we have often talked about the two commissions: (1) preach the gospel and (2) care for and feed the flock. However it is stated, the job remains the same. The Church is committed to continuing on with this work, all the while looking to God for His power and wisdom. The Church looks to God the Father and Jesus Christ to energize and endow us as human instruments in doing our part of God's great work.
God's Plan and the Little Flock
God has miraculously opened the minds of only a few—the "firstfruits"—down through the ages to His truth and His plan. In God's sovereign wisdom and according to His plan, He has let the majority of mankind live their lives without spiritual enlightenment (John 6:44; Revelation 12:9; Matthew 22:14; 7:13-14). The Bible reveals that these masses will have their opportunity for spiritual enlightenment in a resurrection following the millennial rule of Christ.
In this time of Satan's sway over mankind, a very few have their minds opened to understand God's truth and plan. Those few who are enlightened, not through any inherent superiority of theirs, but because of the gift of God's calling, have in turn great responsibilities before God. They are in their time of judgment (1 Peter 4:17). God expects them to respond to their invitation to eternal life by growing spiritually, overcoming sin and becoming like the captain of their salvation, Jesus Christ.
In addition, God expects them to represent Him and His plan and His will, even if only as a witness to the world in general. God's servants are called to be His "witnesses." It is natural and understandable that God's servants have wanted the people to respond, but have recognized that it is God's sole prerogative to open the masses of otherwise closed, blinded and deceived minds according to His time schedule, not theirs (consider John 6:65; Romans 9:3; 10:1-2).
We see this pattern from earliest times. Noah represented God and His truth and His will as he witnessed to his generation as a "preacher of righteousness" for a considerable period of time. It seems apparent that many heard Noah's preaching and saw the ark during its preparation, but only Noah and his immediate family were saved alive on the ark.
Later, God sent the prophets to Israel with His words. Usually, the nation did not respond and repent. On occasion, God would even declare in advance to the prophet that the people would not respond to the prophet's message from God. They would greet the prophet's message with either indifference or resistance—sometimes harsh resistance. God's words to Ezekiel are noteworthy in this regard (note Ezekiel 2:1-3:7).
The experience of Jesus was the same. He came to His own and His own received Him not. Some were openly hostile to His message, while others were receptive to His person and certain aspects of His ministry. But, after 3 1/2 years of preaching, accompanied by miracles, very few actually followed Him.
The same was true with the apostles and the early Church. They went forth preaching the gospel, but God only added a relative few to their numbers. Before long, heresy, schisms and persecution further diminished their numbers. They were, and have been ever since, a very "little flock." Down through the ages, much seed has been sown, but precious little harvest has been gathered.
Jesus foretold that it would continue in this same vein right up till the end of the present world order. As it was in Noah's time (when most people went along in their everyday lives, unmoved by the witness of Noah), so will it be in the time of the end, just before Christ returns (Matthew 24:37-39).
Compelled to Keep Doing the Work
The United Church of God believes that we are near the end of this age. We certainly do not set dates, but the signs all around us indicate that the crisis at the close of man's age is not far off. We are compelled to keep doing the work that we have been called to do as long as God provides the resources and freedom to do so.
We, like the early disciples and Paul, are compelled to preach the gospel of the Kingdom of God to the world, regardless of how many respond to it or how they respond (Matthew 24:14; 28:18-20; 1 Corinthians 9:16). That we must leave in God's hands, as God's people have done through the ages. We also believe that God expects us to continue on with the spiritual feeding and care of those God has called.
In short, we are committed to continuing on in the path that has been cleared for us by God's servants for thousands of years. We believe that we must both preach the gospel and care for those whom God calls. Our prayer and desire is that God will empower and enable us to do both.
In carrying out these mandates, it becomes necessary to allocate resources in a decent and orderly manner. First and foremost, we look to God and Christ for guidance in being used to do a work. In addition, as an organization we have processes to establish an operating plan and budget every year to carry out our part of God's work, including both of these vital dimensions discussed above. It is not one or the other, but both in tandem.
Synergy Between Preaching the Gospel and Preparing a People
We believe there is a synergy associated with both of these aspects of doing a work of God. In simplest language, having a stable and well-nurtured church provides motivated laborers to help sow the word of God's truth. Further, having established an infrastructure of on-site pastors and stable congregations means that there will be a place to attend and be nurtured for those who do respond to the message and are added by God to the Body of Christ.
In turn, sowing the Word of God's truth in the world involves the people of God in something bigger than just their own individual lives and their personal salvation, though that is certainly not a small or unimportant consideration. One of the fruits of the work of the pastors of the United Church of God in the local congregations is a stable dedication on the part of the members in supporting the work of preaching the gospel. Herbert W. Armstrong often shared his belief that individual Christians grow spiritually in large measure according to how involved they are in a work bigger than themselves—reaching out to the world with the gospel of the Kingdom of God.
In the earliest days of the United Church of God, a commitment was made by its leadership to establish and stabilize the Church and its congregations from the conditions of tumult that existed in the mid-1990s. Having regular Sabbath services and stable congregations in as many areas as possible was a top priority. To the degree possible, the leadership of the Church set about to have local congregations overseen by full-time, trained pastors. Experience has shown that this is the best way to nurture, care for and assist in the spiritual development of the people God has called and chosen.
That decision obviously has ramifications when it comes to our budget. Simply put, it takes a considerable amount of money and human resources to establish and maintain stable congregations (and Feast sites) all around the world. That is not an inexpensive endeavor. Nor is it likely to be relatively less expensive if time goes on many more years, since new pastors will need to be trained and put in place to take over for those who reach retirement age.
In the short run, considerable resources could be freed up to do other things if the United Church of God's leadership decided to discontinue local, pastored congregations in all but a few areas (perhaps only those with fairly large concentrations of members). But that would not be wise.
If United were to switch to an "either-or" approach—either preach the gospel or take care of the Church—considerable resources could be freed up to do other things. That is, if we were to turn our backs on preaching the gospel, and turn all our resources in on ourselves and our local congregations and our individual salvation, then considerable reallocation of funds would result. The same would be true if we decided that nearly all our efforts should be expended in preaching the gospel, with little or no effort to establishing and maintaining local congregations.
We do not believe that this would be wise. Reasonable people of good faith and intentions may disagree, but the leadership of the United Church of God believes strongly that the current model (doing both) is best for the long-term interest of our being used by God to "do the work." We believe that we are following the biblical model in this regard.
More to Public Proclamation Than Meets the Eye
Some may look at the published financial reports of United and conclude that it does not put a high value on preaching the gospel. That is not a correct conclusion. There are other ways to measure the amount of seed being sown, besides just the absolute number of dollars or percentage of total dollars apportioned in an accounting report to a cost center called "Public Proclamation."
As an example, much of the work of writing and editing articles that appear in United's flagship publication, the Good News magazine, is done by individuals who pastor local congregations. The salaries of these men, for simplicity sake, appear in our published financial and budgeting reports under "Ministerial Services," as opposed to "Public Proclamation." The same is true for other publications, such as World News and Prophecy. We could engage in somewhat arbitrary and highly subjective cost allocations, resulting in a shift of dollars from "Church" to "Preaching the Gospel," but this is not a useful or helpful endeavor.
The same is true for a large portion of the budget that is designated "International Subsidy." That is an accounting convention. Much of the money that is spent in this area actually supports the preaching of the gospel in areas outside of the United States. It would take an inordinate amount of time, and in the end would result in highly subjective and arguable numbers, to subjectively apportion these funds between "Church" and "Preaching the Gospel." We choose not to do so.
Other Measures Beside Money
It is helpful to consider other metrics beside money in ascertaining the effort being spent on sowing the seed—preaching the gospel. The Good News magazine circulation has increased dramatically during the last four years. Tens of thousands of new subscribers have been added each year. Many read the magazine for a while, and then do not renew their free subscription when it is time to do so. These individuals are more than replaced by new subscribers. As a result, even in a year when the print run does not increase by much, tens of thousands of new subscribers are added.
Hundreds of thousands of copies of our booklets have been distributed in the same period of time. In addition, thousands of individuals have subscribed to and completed the 12-lesson Bible Study Course in the last few years. These individuals are then offered the chance to receive sermon and doctrinal tapes, further feeding them in spiritual ways. These individuals represent the most "fertile soil" we currently are working, as we look to God to provide fruit from the sown seed.
This is not even to mention the work of preaching the gospel by personal example and otherwise by brethren all over the world. A significant amount of the monies budgeted to "Subsidy to Local Congregations" has to do with representing God and His truth. It would be highly subjective to make sub-allocations of this total, so we don't choose to do so, but the point remains.
The Need for Stick-to-itiveness
All of this is to say that the leadership of the United Church of God is committed to carrying on the twofold work that has been the hallmark of those who have preceded us in the faith and work once delivered. These two aspects are inextricably intertwined and interrelated. We ask for God's help, inspiration, power and resources to carry on with our part of His work, in a balanced and mutually reinforcing way.
We have only a fraction of the human, physical and financial resources we once did, as recently as a decade ago. Growth in the last four years has been characterized by slow and steady increases. This requires patience and "stick-to-itiveness." May we never become weary in well doing. May we always look to God for what we need—not the least of which is wisdom.
In the current fiscal year, the income of the work has been fairly flat. We budgeted for a modest 2.4 percent increase over last year in Category One income (consisting chiefly of first tithe and assistance fund donations). For the first five months of this fiscal year, actual income has been growing at only about half that rate.
We are grateful for what God has given, especially in light of the weakened state of the economy and the resultant challenges some of God's people have faced. We are doing what is necessary to live within the means God gives us. We of course ask that He will provide us with more, as it is His will. That will enable us to do more in both properly caring for the spiritual needs of the Church and sowing the seed of the gospel of the Kingdom of God. UN