BEHIND THE SCENES: THE MINISTRIES COUNCIL
Later this month, I will meet face-to-face with the Church of God Ministries Council. Church of God Ministries is a nonprofit Indiana corporation, the legal expression and footprint of the General Assembly of the Church of God in the United States and Canada. The Ministries Council is the governing board of Church of God Ministries, representing the General Assembly (and, among other things, is my employer).
The Council has both legal and spiritual responsibilities; it is both a legal and spiritual platform for much of the ministry our 2,000-plus congregations in two countries share. About 60 percent of our resources are spent abroad, fielding staff and resourcing Church of God efforts on five continents and in 90-plus countries; the balance is invested in work here at home (in the United States and Canada). Our “base camp” (home office), since 1906, has been in Anderson, Indiana, a city on the northeast edge of the Indianapolis metro.
The Ministries Council meets in person twice each year, once in March and again in September. Historically, the Council routinely met in Anderson, but for the last five years, the Council meetings have moved across the country, usually hosted by a local church. In this way, Council members can see a broader swath of the church and meet (and hear from) members of our church family that often have never traveled to Indiana. The chair of the Council has the largest voice in determining meeting location, although other Council members can also speak into the process. An unofficial rule of thumb during the last few years has been to convene Council meetings in the states/provinces with the largest Church of God populations—the geographic areas of largest Church of God census. The fifteen largest states/provinces in the Church of God (based on weekend attendance) are: (1) Ohio, (2) Indiana, (3) California, (4) Florida, (5) Pennsylvania, (6) Michigan, (7) Kentucky, (8) Oklahoma, (9) Washington, (10) Illinois, (11) Massachusetts, (12) Kansas, (13) Virginia, (14) Tennessee, and (15) Arizona. The Council has been moving its meetings through this list, all over the map. The church’s voice and perspectives are everywhere formed by the Spirit and Scripture, but sometimes also informed by locale.
It’s not just the meeting places, though, that make our Ministries Council a unique forum. It’s also the way it was constructed by the General Assembly, when it first launched the Council and Church of God Ministries in 1998. Church of God Ministries was formed by merging a collection of previously independent agencies that had served the church separately. To provide a governing board for this new arrangement, the Assembly embraced a Council model that strives to engage the voices of our church family across many communities, geographies, and neighborhoods. There are twenty-four voting seats at the Council table—with a 25th seat reserved for the non-voting chair-elect and a 26th seat held for the general director (also non-voting).
Who sits in these chairs? Who will I see at the September Council meeting (this month in Tampa, following our last ChoG Regional Convention)? Well, ladies and gentlemen, (trumpet fanfare here) it is my privilege to introduce you to one of the finest collection of believers, anywhere. Note: the position numbers reflect their terms—“A” positions expire June 30, 2019, “B” positions expire June 30, 2021; I am also identifying ethnicities and gender, as this reflects the striking cosmopolitan and inspired diversity of our Council table these days):
First, there are four officers elected by the General Assembly (who also hold the same brief as officers for the Council):
A1 Diana Swoope, our Assembly and Council chair; Diana is an African-American woman who serves as senior pastor at ChoG Arlington, Akron, Ohio; she also chairs the Council’s general director’s Performance Review Committee and always says with a smile that she “has the gift of making people feel tall.” She has many other gifts, more significant, I promise. I’d call her a powerhouse.
B2 Eric Livingston, our Assembly and Council vice chair; Eric is a white guy who serves as the regional pastor for ChoG Illinois (and is also pastoring a local church in Illinois, to bless the local community and keep his pastoral gifts sharp and honed, even as he comes alongside other pastors in his region).
A2 Vincent Miller, our Assembly and Council secretary; Vincent is an African-American who serves as senior pastor at ChoG First, Tampa, Florida; he has unusual gifts of prayer and encouragement, with extraordinary experience in multicultural settings.
B1 Timothy Clarke, our Assembly and Council chair-elect (meaning he will succeed the present chair when her term expires June 30, 2019); Tim is an African-American who serves as senior pastor at ChoG First Columbus, Ohio. The chair-elect is a non-voting position. Tim is a towering figure in the Movement, with a teaching and preaching presence second-to-none.
Second, there are five seats reserved for our “partners in ministry” (unique communities within our larger church family), our universities, and an “at-large” representative:
A3 John Pistole, representing our four ChoG universities; John is Caucasian and president of Anderson University (AU); a lawyer, a career FBI officer who served at its highest ranks, and former head of the United States Government’s Transportation Safety Administration (TSA), his is a profound faith that has framed his distinguished career and present calling at AU.
A4 Miki Merritt, representing the ChoG National Association (an umbrella and fellowship of our historically African-American congregations); Miki is the son of an African-American dad and Japanese mom who married and raised a vibrant family; he pastors at ChoG New Cote Brillante, St. Louis, Missouri, but came to the table as presiding elder of the Association.
A5 Mary Ann Martinez, representing the ChoG Hispanic Council; Mary Ann serves as a pastor in Puerto Rico, but sits at the Council table on behalf of the Concilio Hispano; a brilliant linguist, she has been instrumental in developing the Spanish-language content for Leadership Focus, making this training and licensing engine available coast-to-coast and beyond.
A6 Maureen Woodman, representing the ChoG American Indian Council; Maureen is an American Indian and member of the Navajo Nation, co-pastoring (with her brother) ChoG ministry among the Navajo and serving as the elected Chief of the ChoG American Indian Council (which brings her to this Council table).
A12 Jeff Stewart holds the “at-large” position on the Council; Jeff is a white guy who serves as executive pastor at ChoG Crossings, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; he also serves as chair of the Council’s Audit Committee. He has been a core member of ChoG Crossing’s leadership team and a key contributor to its expansion and success.
Third, there are sixteen seats reserved for geographic regions and Canada:
From the Northeast Region:
A7 Milton Grannum; Milton has recently become pastor emeritus at ChoG New Covenant, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; he is an African-American, born and raised in Guyana. Milton also serves as a member of the Council’s general director Performance Review Committee. He also is recognized by the ChoG congregations in Guyana as their bishop; he has wide international ministry experience.
B11 Laura Pires-Hester; Laura lives in New York City and is an active lay leader in the Church of God there; she is African-American. She has deep ties to ChoG Jamaica in the Caribbean, is exceptionally well informed on international issues and contexts, and is a woman of influence in the social and community fabric of New York City.
B12 Clifton McDowell; the newly-elected presiding elder of the ChoG National Association, Clifton is the African-American senior pastor of ChoG East New York, in the City; his Council seat is as a representative from the Northeast. The stunning new facilities of ChoG East New York have been developed under his leadership and the congregation’s reach excels in its densely urban environment.
From the Southeast Region:
A9 Dorothy Sharp; Dorothy is Caucasian; she and her husband have retired after years of service as ChoG Global Strategy staff missionaries in east Africa; they also have a rich history in pastoral ministry; she is an active lay leader in her local ChoG First Knoxville, Tennessee, congregation.
B7 Terri Montague; Terri is a lay leader in one of our most historic congregations (founded in 1897), ChoG Martin Street, Atlanta, Georgia. She is an African-American woman, an attorney with broad government and private nonprofit experience, managing large portfolios in both Washington, D.C., and Atlanta.
B8 Ken Love; Ken is a white guy who serves as regional pastor for ChoG Florida (and also as senior pastor and church planter at ChoG Grace River, Orlando, Florida), representing the Southeast Region. Ken has an intuitive sense of the Spirit’s pulse, a shepherd devoted to prayer and community.
From the Great Lakes Region:
A8 Eric Marquardt; Eric is a lay leader in his local ChoG congregation near Detroit, Michigan; he’s Caucasian and holds a key post at Ford Motor Company. Eric’s experience runs deep in several veins of the Church of God, from its work in Michigan to its work through the National Association.
B5 David Colp; Caucasian and serving as senior pastor at ChoG First, St. Joseph, Michigan, representing the Great Lakes Region; David’s ministry at St. Joe has expanded rapidly, with multi-site outreach and sustained growth at the original campus. The transformation of a funeral home in Stevensville, for instance (just south of St. Joe), into a center of ministry and life is worth a trip.
B6 Leslie Barnes; Leslie serves on the pastoral staff at ChoG Arlington, Akron, Ohio; she’s an African-American woman who also serves on the Council’s general director Performance Review Committee. A dynamic musician and choral director, Leslie’s gift set unusually combines art, strategy, and analytics.
From the Central Region:
A10 Steve Weldon; Steve is a white guy, recently retiring as founding and senior pastor at ChoG Hope Community, Andover (suburban Wichita), Kansas; in a model for others, ChoG Hope invited Steve to remain on staff, even as he stepped away from serving as the lead. He now wears several hats, working with his successor and the congregation for which he has given his life.
B3 Lawrence Arbeiter; “Bud” is an active lay leader in ChoG First Marion, South Dakota, and a successful farmer with deep roots in his community and generationally in the German Church of God; he is Caucasian, travels widely across oceans and continents, and models commitment to the cause.
B4 Tim Gould; Tim serves as senior pastor at ChoG First, Houston, Texas; he’s a white guy and young husband and father, whose adoption stories are sure to inspire. He was recommended to the ballot by voices in the Central Region calling him, “one of the brightest, one of the best, a young man with the Lord’s hand on his shoulder.” Yep.
From the West Region:
A11 David Winn; David serves as regional pastor for ChoG Southern California; he’s the “senior regional pastor” in the Movement, having served in his post longer than any other of his peers in the mix today; he’s Caucasian, with longstanding partnerships with ChoG work in the Philippines and a history of pastoral ministry in the local church, also.
B9 Paul Sheppard; Paul serves as senior pastor at ChoG Destiny Christian Fellowship, Fremont, California; he’s African-American with a popular on-air radio ministry in the Bay Area and beyond. A superlative preacher, he also is a church planter, establishing Destiny just in 2010; it is now one of our 30 largest congregations.
B10 Ed Nelson; Ed has recently retired as senior pastor at ChoG Sloan Lake, Denver, Colorado, and become an active lay leader at ChoG PEAK Community, Ft. Collins, Colorado. He’s Caucasian, drawn to the Colorado Rockies and adventure, he played a key role establishing the ChoG work in Siberia (diving into unchartered territory there), and with assignments at some of our most influential pulpits.
B13 Bev Henry; Bev is active in ChoG First, Toronto, ON, where her husband serves as senior pastor; she is a black Canadian, born in the Caribbean. The Canadian seat is customarily held, in alternating terms, by representatives from Western and then Eastern Canada. Bev’s term as ChoG Eastern Canada chair recently expired, but she remains Canada’s choice to speak at the Council.
I could go on and on (yes, I know, I have already), but I felt impressed to help you understand the breadth of our Ministries Council. As they meet in late September, their agenda will be jam-packed. They will consider a report from the Project Imagine roundtable, they will discuss the who and how and process defining the next general director’s term (it starts July 1, 2019), they will review the Church of God Ministries financial statements, they will think and pray and explore ways forward for the Movement, within the scope of their responsibilities assigned by the General Assembly, they will be updated and review developments on both the global and USA/Canada front lines, and, well, so much more.
Lift them in prayer. Encourage them. It’s no small task; it is costly (as Council members are asked, insofar as is possible, to underwrite their own expenses); Council members often must take vacation days from secular employment to participate. Not everyone outside of the Council agrees with their decisions or believes them qualified. It’s not, as I say, a small thing to serve in this way.
But, I am so thankful to be able to sit with them. I thank God for each one and am praying earnestly for wisdom, courage, and a prophetic sense as the next Council meeting convenes. Thanks for joining me in so doing.
And, while you’re praying, add the Assembly’s Business, Leadership, and Resource Committee (BLRC) to your prayer list. It will begin meeting in September, as well. The BLRC is a twelve-member standing committee elected by the Assembly and charged with drafting the ballot for the next General Assembly meeting (which opens at the end of June 2019). Half of the Ministry Council seats are on the ballot every two years; the A positions in my introduction to members above are all terms expiring June 30, 2019.
Be encouraged. There is a deep bench (and a growing bench, I believe) of outstanding men and women of faith who want to get in the game with us. Those already on the field are God-sends; they are people who long for more of Jesus’ presence and leading. The Lord is two steps ahead, for the good, always. Jesus is the subject. Be bold. Take back what hell has stolen. And, give life.