In His Hands: Convention 2023 Refuels Faith, Restores Resolve

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

By Carl Stagner

At a moment in history when societal unrest swirls seemingly out of control and division is pervasive across all sectors, pastors and ministry leaders of the Church of God movement met for a four-day experience of dramatic contrast. The international travel hub of Tampa, Florida, served as the host city for the 2023 Convention and General Assembly, ensuring accessibility for a hundred guests from outside the United States and Canada. Whether they came from Paris, France, or Paris, Texas, whether they traveled from the Midwest or the Middle East—Convention-goers descended upon the Sunshine State with stories of God’s faithfulness to share and open hearts to hear from the Lord. In sermons and seminars, in connecting casual conversations and conducting formal business, the underlying theme and inescapable collective conclusion was that, surely, “He’s got the whole world in his hands.”

Despite thunderstorms that caused travel delays and spiritual storms that threaten the work of God’s kingdom globally, he’s got the whole world in his hands. Despite discord and division that separate society at home and abroad, he’s got the whole world in his hands. Despite denominational dilemmas and disasters of natural and human origin, he’s got the whole world in his hands. But he’s also got a role for the Church of God to play in the response.

Some eighty-five people rose early Saturday morning to participate in this year’s Global Strategy 5K, from which registration proceeds went to Disaster Relief. In the context of differing viewpoints and lively dialogue, discussion and determinations committed the Church of God to further action toward functional cooperation, biblical reconciliation, and the championing of women in ministry. Electives on a wide variety of pressing topics, in combination with timely teaching from an assortment of gifted orators, offered insights, inspiration, and strategies to pastors and lay leaders for the facing of spiritual storms along a spectrum of type and intensity—handling conflict, avoiding burnout, turning declining churches around, strengthening marriages, embracing God-given identity and assignments, preventing mission-drift (remember, Jesus is the subject!), fostering cooperation and togetherness regardless of diversity, defending the faith, and putting the hardships of life in proper perspective.

Scenes from the Tampa Convention Center during Convention 2023.

Jo Saxton, author and podcaster with Nigerian and British roots, posed the provocative question, “Are we living in to our God-given purpose, or are we named by the things around us?”

Mark Jackson challenged the Church of God to “be the church that is Christ-centered, that includes all people, that has Spirit-filled leadership, and that sees lives transformed.”

Walter Kim echoed Jackson’s Jesus-focused emphasis, urging the people of God not to move faster than the Lord. “If we’re running at the pace of society,” he said, “how can we hear his voice? How can we truly worship the Lord? [Jesus is the One for] whom we must slow down, and savor.”

Eugene Cho, CEO of Bread for the World, warned against the natural proclivity to elevate in one’s imagination one’s pre-converted past—especially self-righteousness apart from Christ. Today’s disciples, like the original rag-tag band of brothers and sisters, might long to “go back to fishing.” That’s why the gospel cannot be relegated to a product fit for transactional evangelism alone, but must always be a personal experience. “If we stop preaching the gospel to ourselves [as well as others],” Cho insisted, “we become mere salespersons, mere peddlers [of a message].”

Inspirational worship on opening night of Convention 2023.

Jeremy Patzer, Canadian Member of Parliament, pointed to the power of personal and collective evangelism and apologetics as a vital, but often overlooked, aspect of church life today. “Do you pray for opportunities,” he asked in his address to the gathered saints, “to tell someone about the hope we have? About Jesus?”

The closing sermon of the Church of God Convention was offered by Rod Stafford. His message tugged at the heartstrings and roused a generous supply of hope and purpose. “Knowing the final score changes the way we engage the darkness,” he related to the spiritual experience. “But it also changes our perspective on the tough stuff we go through personally.” Including cancer. Thank God—praise God—he has experienced the healing touch of the Great Physician.

On the last full day of the event, the Pastors and Spouses Banquet, made possible by a generous donor, not only offered food for the body, but also the soul. Nathan Leasure’s message to the ministers about wrestling through the wilderness en route to the Promised Land was theologically substantive and keenly practical. But Samuel George—pastor from Pakistan—also addressed the 360 hungry guests with spiritual sustenance especially rich because of its invaluable international origin. His brief exposition on Acts 17:6–9, combined with stories of Church of God expansion in Pakistan, ministered magnificently to the majority-Western crowd.

Jim Lyon speaking at Convention 2023.

Of course, the perspective of Church of God sisters and brothers across the globe is indispensable. It’s why the Church of God in the United States and Canada did not organize or provide leadership to the inaugural Global Church of God Alliance, which met Sunday afternoon through Monday after regularly scheduled Convention 2023 activities concluded. Those who have enjoyed the blessing of missions travel and international partnership know what many new friends and supporters of global ministry learned in close proximity to so many global guests in Tampa. To Marcus Archer, pastor of Crosspoint Church of God in Natchez, Mississippi, this notion really comes as no surprise. He commented thus on social media during Convention 2023.

“It’s only through Jesus,” Marcus wrote, “that I would be able hang out last night at our church’s (inter)national Convention with our national leader from Bangladesh (Tapan Borman) and from West Bengal, India (Sanjay Murmu), and hear their hearts for Christ in their ministry context.”

He went on to reflect on the relationship between the church in the West and the church around the world. “The American church is often presumptuous enough to think we have much to teach the rest of the world. But really, we have much to learn from people like Tapan and Sanjay—people who give all to reach unreached people with the gospel. Tapan is leading the charge and planting churches among Bangladeshi sex trade workers who have never heard the gospel, but are coming to Christ, by loving their children and leading them to the Rescuer. Sanjay is a dynamic leader who oversees churches and pastors who are rapidly growing in some of the poorest places in the world….”

Prayer among the Global Church of God Alliance.

How could we forget the 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)? It was a beautiful ceremony that reminded everyone of the universal application of the Great Commission. Encircled by numerous worshipful moments blending the old and the new—rich hymns and life-giving contemporary songs—were executed with near-flawless precision, as led by Sarah Scharbrough McLaughlin and a nationally diverse band that had never, prior to Tampa, partnered in leadership. The singing of heritage hymns made for a special Saturday morning experience under the leadership of Joe Gregory, and the hosting talent—and jaw-dropping illusions—of John Michael Hinton captured congregational interest and imagination throughout.

With the onset of seasons of transition across the Church of God, the reminder to all remains: He’s got the whole world in his hands. Including our global family. Including our local churches and state and regional offices. Including our schools and partner agencies. Including the staff and leadership of Church of God Ministries. Such foundational truth boosted confidence in the Lord and his work through the Church of God during Convention 2023 and General Assembly.

He’s got the whole world in his hands. Now that’s enough to refuel our faith and restore our resolve!

Regional conference opportunities for 2024 are in the planning stages. More information about General Assembly and the Global Church of God Alliance to come. Stay tuned for more updates from Church of God Ministries. Learn more about the Church of God movement at

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

Feature (top) photo: Missionary commissioning prayer during Convention 2023.

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