I’m often asked, “What is the Church of God, anyway? Is it a denomination? Is it a fellowship? Is it a network? What is it?” I know I’m not the only one to field the question. We often brand ourselves as a “movement” (hence the name of this newsletter). Some cringe at the word “denomination,” as it implies for them some kind of “man-rule” or controlling hierarchy. Others are not satisfied with other descriptors: “fellowship” sounds too old-fashioned, “network” is too modern or reminds us of a secular business. The Church of God with general offices in Anderson, Indiana, is, after all these years, still a thing. Just what kind of thing is it?
One word that seems to fit is family. The New Testament is jammed with all kinds of family language; we are “brothers and sisters,” we have a “heavenly Father,” the Scriptures describe Jesus as a “groom” and the church as His “bride.” Marriage is often used as an illustration of the kingdom; believers are lovingly addressed as “children.” The Church of God is a family.
Family systems vary from place to place and time to time, but some elements of family life are universal. A healthy family is a loving one. Families that flourish have a certain sense of identity that frames them (as in a last name and history), even as they can have a range of diversity in the same fold. Family members care for each other, call the best out of each other, and defend each other. Siblings may quarrel every now and then, for instance, but they stand as one when challenged from the outside.
And, families get together. They celebrate, laugh, listen, learn, grow, and relax together. Even as children become adults and pursue independent ambitions, they long to be at the family reunion, to catch-up with other members of the family, and re-ground in their sense of self and family identity.
Christmas can be a family reunion. So can Thanksgiving be. Or maybe a milestone birthday celebration draws family from far and near. Some families vacation together at spring break or during the summer. But, every healthy family makes the reunion a priority.
My wife and I have four adult sons who now have established homes in four different states, separated by thousands of miles. We have three daughters-in-law and six grandchildren, spread across the continent. We have developed a rhythm of spending every other Christmas together. We see our boys and their families here and there, sometimes alone, sometimes in pairs, at other times, but every other Christmas (so far 😊), all the boys and their families have spent Christmas with us, together, as one family. We are so thankful for our daughters-in-law who have married into the family and for their commitment to maintaining these family ties, too. Families grow through adoption, through marriage, through new birth—but it’s always a family. One family.
Our family learns from each other at these reunions, we listen to each other, we catch up with each other’s stories and dreams. And we reaffirm that we are bound together as a family. No matter what.
The Church of God has a family system, too. And key to that system is the way in which we get together, every now and then—and especially every other year at the Church of God Convention. In a movement without a book of discipline, without the rules and regulations that define so many other parts of the body of Christ, without prescribed liturgies and language, our family, more than most, relies on the relational commitment born in our reunions. It is at the table of our conferences, camps, and conventions that we find life and give life. In Jesus’ name. It is at these reunions that we affirm our identity as a family in Christ. No matter what.
Our family reunion is set this year for the World Center Marriott in Orlando at the end of June. It’s a spectacular facility, a very accessible destination (you can fly non-stop from almost anywhere in the world to get there), and it’s an event for which we have long planned and prayed.
Part of the reason we meet now every other year (instead of annually, as in our beginning) is to allow members of our church family, far and wide, to save and prepare for the reunion, so that everyone has time to plan. With a growing Church of God family all over the map, most will always have to travel a great distance to be at the reunion. But by moving the location around, we’re also opening the door for brothers and sisters from all over the country and the world to attend. This is especially true this year, as we are experiencing a huge response of family members from beyond the United States and Canada who are registering to join us. Orlando is a place the world wants to visit and to which our family members can fly, without changing planes or finding ground transportation to take them many miles from the airport to the reunion. Orlando is a global gateway. And, this year’s church family reunion will give all of us a chance to enjoy our family, with representatives from every continent.
I know my sons must make plans way in advance to join us every other Christmas. It’s very expensive to fly a family of four, for instance, from Anchorage (where our oldest lives) to Indianapolis—and then drive sixty-five miles, one way, from the airport to our home. But, the boys are all in. It’s their family. The same is true for our church family reunion, the Church of God Convention.
When we have a family reunion we enjoy the shared experience of a few days under one roof. There’s the food, of course. And, storytelling. And, listening to the same content on television and processing together. Plenty of laughter, too. Sometimes, we’re moved to tears, by the tenderness of a moment. It’s all a part of the reunion. We leave the reunion better for having been there.
The Church of God Convention is just like this, as well. Our Convention venue allows us all to be under one roof. There are many places on site to eat together (from poolside to the Starbucks store inside to the many restaurants and cafes in the World Center). The meetings in the vast auditorium will empower us to hear, learn, laugh, think, and pray together—and then process with other family members in the spacious hallways, park-like grounds, and astonishingly airy and bright public spaces, lobbies, and terraces.
Sometimes, at our family reunions in Indiana, we must talk seriously about business. There are always a few things that require some time to talk: about the nitty-gritty, money stuff, dreams that we share or might hold independently. At the Church of God Convention, we do this, too, setting aside time for the General Assembly (which will meet in the morning on three days). At the General Assembly (which is comprised of all our pastors, lay delegates chosen by their congregations, and members of our endorsed and affiliated agency boards) we talk about the nuts and bolts, but with a spiritual frame, as everything at our family reunion is tuned to make Jesus the subject.
There are other kinds of meet-ups on my calendar throughout the year. I attend classes, I go to events for professional development, I book time for friends, and am game for A to Z. But, I have only one family. I would not be able to keep all the other balls in the air or even remember who I am were it not for the chance to connect to family, at reunions, from time to time.
I actually have two families. I have my family defined by my last name—my wife, our sons, their families, and so on. But, no less importantly, I have another family: the Church of God. To this family I also owe my life. I was literally adopted into the family which gave me my name; but I was also adopted into the Church of God family, which has given me life. Yes, I became a member of the family as I surrendered to Jesus as Lord, being born again. But, the Church of God—this family, with general offices in Anderson, Indiana—took me in and loved me. No matter what.
That’s why I’m counting the days to be a part of my church family reunion. I’ve talked, from coast-to-coast, to others who are also all in. I spoke with a pastor on the East Coast recently who hasn’t been to a Church of God family reunion in decades (even though he was raised in the family), but he is inspired and excited to be with us in Orlando and won’t miss this one. I spoke with another pastor on the West Coast, just a few days later, who has recently become a part of our Church of God family and he, similarly, can’t wait to be at his first family reunion, in Orlando.
Our Convention will have a dynamic ministry for children (in partnership with Warner Press, inviting them to a Vacation Bible School called KidzLIVE! down the hall from our main auditorium). There will be some “extras” available in the days before and during the Convention (electives for which you can also sign-up). There will be a gospel concert with Natalie Grant that, smack down, will take you to the mountain-top. There will be preachers and teachers that you will never forget. Jesus is at the center.
And, there will be your family. Yes, your family. A family that longs to love you, know you better, and stand with you. In the world in which we live today, having a family to stand with you is no small thing. Even the largest congregation cannot navigate alone these days. And the smallest congregation is every bit as treasured as a member of the family, too.
My boys were all home with us for Christmas in 2018. That means it will be 2020 before we have them and their families together again. It seems like a long-way off, but we’re saving and planning even now.
But, I have another family reunion this summer, this June, in Orlando. The Church of God family from around the world will be gathering together. Don’t miss it. Whether your place in the family has long been secured or whether you’re new to the tribe, we long to see you there.
Save your place today. The rooms under our “one roof” are being reserved fast and space is limited on site. There’s still time, though. There’s still a chair with your name on it. There’s a family waiting to love and know you. Click the button below for all the specs. It’s that simple.
See you in Orlando at the World Center Marriott in fifteen weeks! We cannot be a movement if we are not committed first to being a family. And as a family, there’s no mountain we can’t climb. For Jesus’ sake.
I am so thankful to be your brother in Christ,