CELEBRATING GOD ON THE MOVE IN STATES, REGIONS
Autonomy. Some would suggest it’s both a major blessing and a major curse in the Church of God. The freedom before God to shepherd a local church in the way he has prescribed is a beautiful thing; so is the interdependency of churches working together to advance the kingdom of God. It’s easy to focus so much on the programming of the local congregation that we miss what God is doing at the district, state, regional, national, and even international level. Several states and regions in the Church of God are now in the midst of change—change that is already recapturing the attention of pastors and local congregations. And it’s not because of a reworded appeal to support the collective ministries. Instead, the collective ministries are asking how they can support the local work.
Take Oklahoma, for instance. In just a few years, God has orchestrated a coming together of hearts and minds to restructure and realign the work of the state ministries office. In a season without someone wearing the title of regional pastor, it may have seemed to some in Oklahoma, as well as outside the state, that things were spinning out of control. But God was in control the entire time, and over the past year, in particular, he has proved it so.
A few years ago with resources running on empty and a growing fatigue when it came to state ministry matters, leadership got together and were asking what reason the state ministries even exist. If the organization had a compelling purpose, involvement would follow. If the state ministries organization appeared to only exist for itself or to consume the resources of local churches, why would anyone want to participate? But this was where James Eustace, member of the state team and pastor of Faith Community Church of God in Shawnee, saw a turning point.
“I would say what’s been happening is that the Holy Spirit has been speaking into different leaders, and it’s been obvious that he has been saying the same thing,” James explains. “What excites me most is a new alignment around the mission of Jesus. I know that may sounds generi, but that is the reality.”
Gary Underwood serves as the president of the Oklahoma leadership team. He explains that their new vision is more than just trite words put on paper; it’s been an arrow giving them direction and now they know what they’re doing and why they exist. “OKCHOG” exists to “invest, connect, and encourage” their pastors and churches so they can “fill Oklahoma with the love of Jesus.”
“The main thing is since we have revisioned, the focus has changed from how the local church can support the state office, to how state ministry can support the local church,” Gary explains. It’s not been easy to do, however, and there have been bumps in the road, but the kingdom fruit has been sweet to harvest. “Because we sold our campgrounds, we now hold the children’s and youth camps just on the interest being drawn from the principal we invested!” Now the children’s camps are doing very well, attracting more than three hundred kids with many salvations reported. The state ministries have been able to provide their churches and pastors with free resources, including—but not limited to—Be Bold Academy subscriptions for Oklahoma pastors. Oklahoma pastors now also enjoy a pastor-spouse retreat for regular renewal. Mutually beneficial relationships have been reestablished or strengthened with churches both small and large. Additionally, the new direction of state ministries has capitalized on the long history of district-level activities in Oklahoma by establishing a new model of state pastoring. Instead of one state pastor bearing the weight of shepherding all the pastors in the state, pastoral teams offer necessary encouragement and support within three distinct regions.
Oklahoma isn’t the only region where God has been bringing rejuvenation and renewal. Nebraska has demonstrated willingness to remove structures down to the foundation and start over with new purpose, personnel, and plans. The Church of God in Texas has been in the midst of rebranding ministries, life-giving reconciliation across ethnic and cultural lines, and a strengthening of partnerships.
To one degree or another, Church of God Ministries has been blessed to offer counsel or support in what only the Lord could accomplish in these states and regions. Handel Smith is thankful to have been given the opportunity to offer wisdom and insights, as well as offer revitalization boot camps. Gary Underwood notes that a whopping 90 percent of Oklahoma churches participated in the one offered in Oklahoma. “Handel has been the primary connection for our state to have a great partnership with our national offices, and for that we have been grateful,” Gary reflects.
Handel is also blessed to be a bridge of communication, a sounding board, and a source of outside strategy and support. As he celebrates where God has already moved powerfully in the states and regions, and how there is yet more work to be done, he asks this concluding question to the Movement: “What are those critical ministry initiatives that you must do as a state that will rejuvenate the local church and reclaim your communities for Jesus Christ?”
Would your state or district benefit from a revitalization boot camp, too? Would you simply like to chat with someone at Church of God Ministries whose heart longs for the health and wholeness of our state and regional ministries? Contact the Church of God Ministries U.S. and Canada Strategy team at 800-848-2464 or e-mail Handel Smith at HSmith@chog.org.