Opinion—A Call to Rediscover “Us-ness” as a General Assembly

 In All Church of God, CHOG, Church of God Convention, Op-ed

By Bob Moss

Editor’s note—Views expressed in the following op-ed do not necessarily reflect those of Church of God Ministries, Inc., or its affiliates (in this case, we offer an enthusiastic Amen! to the spirit of this article in support of General Assembly participation). We publish op-ed features to provoke thought, stimulate healthy discussion, and inspire us to be with Jesus, become like Jesus, and do what Jesus did. We’ve asked to hear from a diverse range of voices across the Church of God movement. This op-ed features one of these voices.

One of the best examples of Christian unity was demonstrated to me by a retired blue-collar worker in my first pastorate. He had respectfully, yet forcefully expressed his opinion in a church business meeting that our proposed remodeling of the church sanctuary was far too costly, unneeded, and perhaps frivolous. Nevertheless, by a strong majority, the congregation voted to move forward with the project.

Imagine my surprise when this brother showed up, tools in hand, for the first workday to launch the remodeling project. When I expressed my amazement to him, he simply replied, “Pastor, I stated my opinion. But the church body voted. I’m a part of this body, and what has been decided I will support as we do it together.” He had clearly decided that unity was achieved by working together rather than merely taught as an abstract theological idea. Throughout the months-long endeavor he demonstrated unity through his dedication and hard work on a project of which he had originally disapproved.

That was more than forty years ago. This dear brother is now with the Lord. Yet, his expression of unity has forever served to shape my understanding of how the body of Christ ought to work. He expressed his opinion, but the church chose differently. Laying aside his personal feelings, he stepped forward and faithfully served throughout the project to support what his brothers and sisters had decided to do. In short, he exemplified “us-ness.1

Bob Moss

I’m concerned that we have lost our understanding of “us-ness” as the General Assembly of the Church of God. No other gathering of pastors and church leaders exists whereby the scope and breadth of the Church of God is so represented. This is the seminal event where the values and priorities of our movement are discussed, debated, and decided. It’s the opportunity for each participant to decide to share in our collective pursuits.

In years gone by, our General Assembly has given birth to agencies, universities, initiatives, and various task forces to solidify both the ministry and stance of our movement. Yes, reports are given, but it’s a mistake to view our Assembly as a reporting session only. It’s the place where a loosely affiliated collection of independent church leaders can embrace “us-ness” and commit ourselves to the principle of a collective good accomplished in collaboration together.

In 1926, Gospel Trumpet editor F. G. Smith described the movement as being divinely led without an ecclesiastical overlord. “Since the principle of human organization of the church is repudiated, there is in this reformation movement no general ecclesiastical authority, except such as exists in individuals by virtue of their divine gifts and qualifications. Such authority is not positional, but moral and spiritual in its nature.2

It remains abundantly clear nearly a century later that the authority under which we serve in the Church of God is divine. In the decades of my participation in the General Assembly as both a member and its chair, I’ve seen strong resistance to any leadership that smacked of authority. No human authority has ever been granted to one individual to speak authoritatively on behalf of the Movement. We’re a collection of independent people! Yet we seem to forget that our Assembly was formed to create collaborative and cooperative progress from among a collection of independent pastors and churches. Let’s commit to our participating in our Assembly and to giving life to the decisions and direction of our movement in our local context. Let’s give life to “us-ness.”

When “Us-ness” is Most Vulnerable

We need to be aware of certain dynamics that weaken our General Assembly and thereby weaken the Church of God movement. These are discernable points of vulnerability. The first is a lack of participation and engagement in considering important topics. It distresses me when I hear outrage and denunciation of the decisions of the General Assembly only to learn the condemning voice comes from one who did not participate in the meeting either in person or online. It constitutes neglect of opportunity to engage in the discussion. That’s a perfect example of “us-ness” disregarded.

A second point of vulnerability happens when conversation on important topics is sabotaged. When individuals are fearful of what may be proposed, there is an insidious tendency to create obstacles and distraction that prevents a conclusion being reached. Ideas should live or die on their own merit, but not because those ideas were never given honest consideration. In recent memory there were two major task forces set in motion by the General Assembly only to face fierce resistance and opposition from the field. This seems like “us-ness” expelled.

A third vulnerability occurs when the decisions made in the General Assembly die at the exit door. A review of the minutes of the Assembly will reveal those decisions passed but never implemented. For instance, in 2012 the Assembly heard a report from a Stewardship Task Force and passed a recommendation describing how local churches could best support the various Assemblies to which each congregation is connected by recommended percentages. For the most part, the initiative never lived past the lobby. That’s only one example of decisions made that were never lived out in state or regional assemblies and local churches. It is “us-ness” forsaken.

Bob Moss has championed unity for many years.

Signs of Hope for “Us-ness”

A generational shift is happening in the leadership of the Church of God. A retirement wave of the baby-boomer generation is now upon us. Another generation with different expressions of “us-ness” is beginning to take the helm of leadership. Our General Assembly has not yet been chaired by a person born in 1960 or later. If we are to experience a needed generational shift, we should recognize those born in 1975 will become 48 years old in 2023. These leaders should not be viewed as novices! I predict a different spirit will emerge to propel our movement forward once we intentionally hand leadership to the next generation. It is a sign of hope for “us-ness.”

Another positive sign for “us-ness” is the increasing participation in our biennial General Assembly gatherings. We are still far from reaching the potential attendance of several thousand representatives to the General Assembly. Nevertheless, I predict we will soon experience the rise of a new spirit of creativity and collaboration among the many individual ministries that comprise our movement. Time will tell, but the signs of increased “us-ness” abound.

I encourage every reader to make our upcoming General Assembly a priority in your life, in your calendar, and in your budget. Important matters face us as a movement. Forces of division have battered us in recent years but have not blown down the tent. Come to Tampa. Let’s pray together. Let’s plan together. Let’s worship together. Let’s reclaim “us-ness” for our movement.

In forty-five years of ministry in the Church of God, Bob Moss has a wide perspective on the Church of God movement. He has led prominent congregations as senior pastor and has served two terms as chair of the General Assembly and Ministries Council. He was state pastor of Indiana and an executive at Church of God Ministries. His connection with the Church of God internationally extended to four continents. It is from the insights gained through these experiences that he shares about the need for leaders to value and participate in the General Assembly.

“He’s got the whole world in his hands.” What an encouraging reality! Be inspired by it, be challenged by it, and experience it firsthand at Convention 2023 and General Assembly, June 22–25 in Tampa, Florida. Learn more and register at www.chogconvention.org.

1The state or quality of being or belonging to a cohesive group of people, especially a group that includes the speaker (wordsense.eu).

2F. G. Smith, A Brief Sketch of the Origin, Growth and Distinctive Doctrine of the Church of God Reformation Movement, Gospel Trumpet Company, Anderson, IN, 1926.

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