When I was tapped to lead the national conversation called Project Imagine, I received some wonderful advice from an experienced longtime leader in the Church of God, Dr. Edward Foggs. “Bob,” he said, “You may need to spend as much time talking about what this is not as what it is.”
In this post, I will share four things that Project Imagine is not so that the explanation of what it is can be unhindered by misconceptions.
What it is not, #1. It is not an attempt by the offices in Anderson to control everything.
At the core of our movement is the belief that each local congregation is autonomous, as well as interdependent. Our interdependence is most frequently observed by what we do together. We have supported missions and outreach together for over one hundred years as a hallmark of interdependent work. A key distinctive of the Church of God is our commitment to provide local congregations freedom to follow the Spirit’s leading by the measure of Scripture.
I’m confident that the discussion at the Project Imagine roundtable will focus on the need for every congregation and every pastor to be able to clearly understand what our Movement is about and what we believe God is calling us to do. Then we can discuss the ways we can fulfill God’s calling most effectively.
Project Imagine is not about designing a rigid exoskeleton to fit over the gelatinous form we call the Church of God. It is about creating new avenues of communication and cooperation to fulfill the calling of Jesus in this lost and dying world. It’s about stewardship. It’s about shared language and vision. It’s about collaboration. It’s about being a movement of God’s people, keeping Jesus the subject, and reclaiming what hell has stolen.
What it is not, #2. The roundtable is not a façade directed to achieve a predetermined outcome.
This week I’ve been receiving responses from those who’ve accepted the Ministries Council’s invitation to serve on the roundtable. A significant group of visionary leaders is beginning to form. I’m encouraged. Anticipation is building.
While the group is not yet finalized, and while the first meeting has not yet been held, I’ve been surprised by some conversations I’ve had with persons who think that what will be presented is all a foregone conclusion. Once I’m able to publish the names of the roundtable, I’m hoping that others will realize that this group does not consist of any pushovers. These men and women are leaders of note who love the Church of God and are committing their time and resources to see our movement move forward. Names will be published as soon as the roundtable is populated.
There’s been quite a bit of speculation about the ideas that our general director Jim Lyon shared with the Ministries Council last March. I am glad he shared ideas. He was placed in his present post and charged with bringing some new ideas forward. In time, those ideas can be shared more broadly, but for now, the roundtable will need to grapple with these ideas—and to present some ideas of their own. We can be glad Jim is doing what leaders do; bringing forth some new ideas. Ultimately all ideas must pass muster with the roundtable, the Ministries Council, and the General Assembly.
What it is not, #3. The motivation for a new ministry plan is not to seize assets of other ministries.
The Project Imagine plan to be presented to the General Assembly in 2019 will certainly not be a plan to seize and control all of the assets of the Church of God. Yet I’m sure it will be a proposal for greater stewardship of resources through the consolidation of some services and the expansion of others. I’m trusting that a new plan will make sense to our General Assembly and they will want to support it.
In many quarters of the Church of God, there are entities struggling to do ministry for lack of resources. Others carry on and live within their means—but few achieve their full ministry potential. I pray that we can imagine a new and better path forward so that ministries can succeed.
What it is not, #4. Project Imagine is not restructuring for the benefit of one entity alone.
The highest aspiration for Project Imagine is that every expression of the Church of God, congregations, regions, agencies, and other ministries will benefit from a clearer focus and a collaborative ministry model.
Dr. Barry Callen has shared many thoughts, ideas, and perspectives that will undoubtedly be helpful to the roundtable. He is a historian, a theologian, and a brother deeply committed to the Church of God. His recent essay, “Being a New Testament Church,” challenges us to keep the main thing the main thing. Dr. Callen says:
Jesus said virtually nothing on the subject of church organization. So, his answer to “Which is the best pattern?” appears to be, “All of them, and none of them, depending on how well each serves the church’s main thing in given circumstances.” Since Jesus said much about the main thing, apparently it is to be the deciding factor in deciding organizational matters.
To serve well the church’s central function appears to require adapting organizationally to shifting circumstances in which the church finds herself. Such adapting reflects a willingness to be responsible for the sake of mission relevance. To claim any organizational pattern as the only New Testament way for all Christians in all circumstances is simply wrong and irresponsible. The church’s mission is to be served by the church organizing for proclamation and service in the way that fits best the circumstance being faced.
The clear New Testament message leaves open the organizational question and directs us instead to a vision of prior divine initiative and ongoing divine intent. It insists that the ministry of God’s Spirit comes first. It’s insistent on first things being first for the followers of Jesus. A fixed pattern of formalizing church life is not a first consideration. If it’s allowed to be the primary thing, it soon becomes a negative thing.
What is the main thing? For the earliest Christians, what Jesus said should come first. It is a waiting on the presence and power of the Spirit of God that enable believers to become a Pentecost people, a people formed, governed, and sent by the Spirit. Being such a people requires focus on the Great Commission of sharing the good news with all the world. God was with us and for us in Jesus! Patterns and procedures are significant, but only as secondary considerations. The main thing is getting out the message.
Will you include Project Imagine in your list of prayer concerns? The way forward depends so much upon Holy Spirit leadership undergirded by the prayers of God’s people.