Convention Day Three: Saturday Saturated with Spirit-Filled Stories, Songs, and Sermons

 In All Church of God, CHOG, Church of God Convention, Southeast

By Carl Stagner

On the third day, the sun rose and so did approximately eighty-five runners ready to make a world of a difference in the highly anticipated return of the Global Strategy 5K, this year benefiting Disaster Relief. For those who simply hadn’t had enough coffee for an early start (or simply lacked willingness to run when no one is chasing them!), beloved heritage hymns were waiting to be sung, and a concert of illusions and jaw-dropping tricks was waiting to be watched. Special luncheons and dinners closed the gaps in Saturday’s schedule for many, interspersed with stories of international impact and sermons of profound relevance, reception, and resonance. Convention Day Three offered something for everyone, but all glory and praise to God whose favor has rested upon the Church of God gathered this week in Tampa, Florida.

“How did he do that?!” John Michael Hinton has hinted at his talents all week, offering glimpses of the incredible illusions of which he’s capable; those gathered in Tampa know he’s served also as Convention host during our main sessions. On Saturday morning, Convention guests were blessed with a full-length show from the Christian illusionist. At the same time, another crowd had gathered in another ballroom of the Tampa Convention Center, singing at the top of their lungs, “There is Joy in the Lord,” “All in Jesus,” “What a Mighty God We Serve,” and a dozen-and-a-half other hymns. Various guest directors added variety and poignancy to the morning, especially as lead director Joe Gregory spontaneously invited George Skramstad to the podium for the closing hymn. Skramstad was honored in a special reception Thursday evening for his more than a half-century of pastoral and music ministry in the Movement.

Nathan Leasure (left) and Samuel George (right) speaking at the Pastors and Spouses Banquet on Saturday.

Eugene Cho, CEO of Bread for the World, brought an outstanding message to the masses late Saturday morning. Drawing from the story of Jesus’ post-resurrection interaction with his disciples as recorded in John 21, Eugene Cho urged the Church of God to be wary and watchful against the natural human tendency to idealize the past and elevate one’s pre-conversion experience. With wit and wisdom, Cho—an avid angler himself—illustrated the caution that we, like the apostles, might long “to go back to fishing,” to the way things were before encountering Christ on a personal level. Instead, as Jesus-followers, we must keep pressing on the upward way—especially as ministers of the gospel.

“If we stop preaching the gospel to ourselves [as well as others],” Cho insisted, “we become mere salespersons, mere peddlers [of a message].”

The General Assembly met for its final session of the year on Saturday afternoon, commencing with a powerful devotion from the heart and mind of Arnetta McNeese Bailey. Voting took place for the various offices of General Assembly leadership, sandwiched between additional agency reports and debate over remaining motions up for consideration. More details on the General Assembly results to come!

Missionary commissioning on Saturday evening.

The evening Pastor and Spouses Banquet was a notably special occasion, for which some 360 pastors owe a debt of gratitude to anonymous donors with a desire to bless a large number of spiritual shepherds. During the dinner, Pakistan Church of God leader Samuel George offered several reflections on Acts 17:6–9, while encouraging listeners with facts about God’s amazing activity in his home country. Pastor Nathan Leasure, of Greeneville First Church of God in Tennessee, also offered encouraging insights for pastors, drawing from the examples of Moses and Joshua.

One observation repeated person-to-person and on social media about this year’s Convention is the sheer excellence of this year’s worship band and their visible (and audible) keen sensitivity to the Spirit. Blended worship of timeless hymns and lyrically rich contemporary songs connected with near-seamless flow. Sarah McLaughlin Scharbrough with her husband and brother, joined with Leslie Barnes, Michael Romero, Allen Swoope, Aaron Woolsey, and Leo and Meagan Flores, truly executed their roles with unparalleled skill and remarkable authenticity. Saturday night was yet another example of congregational worship where voices were heard, hands lifted were seen, and words like “Praise God from whom all blessings flow” were communicated clearly and powerfully. Or, in the case of Saturday evening in Tampa, communicated in Spanish, too!

Jeremy Patzer speaking on Saturday evening.

Following a beautiful, prayerful commissioning of Global Strategy missionaries Tim and Jenn Adams (to Southeast Asia—from the Church of God in Canada), and Brian and Melissa Richey (to Coast Rica), Canadian Member of Parliament (MP) Jeremy Patzer addressed the Church of God gathering from the perspective of a politician in public service, wholly committed to God’s kingdom first.

“Do you pray for opportunities to tell someone about the hope we have? About Jesus?” he asked, urging listeners to sharpen their understanding of Scripture to defend the faith whenever and wherever necessary. Acknowledging the stronger witness that stems from a unified body, Patzer cited Ephesians 4’s pronouncements about “one body, one faith, one Lord,” while commending, from a politician’s particular perspective, the General Assembly for notably healthy, though spirited, dialogue and debate.

Sunday’s closing session of the 2023 Church of God Convention features acclaimed pastor, speaker, and international influencer—Rod Stafford.

Follow Church of God Ministries on social media for updates throughout the Convention, including daily news coverage. Visit event details.

For further reading, check out our daily reflections from the Church of God Convention 2023 and General Assembly:

Feature (top) photo: Eugene Cho offering a photo-illustration of “returning to fishing.” See article above for context. 

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