Opinion—Out of Duty, With Delight: The Responsibility and Joy of General Assembly

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

By Carl Stagner

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.

I recall it quite vividly. Suitcases, books, toys, a road atlas or two, snacks, Gaither and Sandi Patty audio cassettes—all these and more were arranged “just so” to fit snugly (barely) into the family car with my parents and sister, bound for greener pastures (corn and soybean fields) in dramatic escape from the drab desert landscape of the scorching Southwest. While we surely got our kicks on Route 66 many a summer with myriad memories made along the way, the zenith of our summer cross-country treks was unquestionably Camp Meeting (though Anderson is technically a couple hundred feet lower in elevation than our home in Phoenix!). While it is true that my childhood and teenage imaginations weren’t then captured by what “those grown-ups” were doing in Reardon Auditorium on Monday and Tuesday mornings, I soon matured to find immense value not only in the worship, fellowship, preaching, and conferences, but also the “business meeting” of the Church of God movement.

Both blessings and drawbacks can be attributed to the functioning structure of the Church of God movement. We rejoice in our autonomy as individual congregations, yet we champion the unity of believers. We’re thankful for independence from creeds and rulebooks that would dim the light of eventide, but we long for the interdependence which brings accountability, relational connectivity, collaboration, and collective accomplishment. On one hand, we grip our individual liberties tightly; with the other, our welcoming gesture communicates we’re “better together.” No one can compel our cooperation, attendance, or participation in the broader work of the Church of God movement, but without it, we who sing of being “on the winning side” find ourselves flailing and fledgling on multiple fronts.

Most of you know me for the writing I do on behalf of Church of God Ministries. But it’s more than a job or mere artful expression—the Lord called me into vocational ministry as a young adult and I was ordained ten years ago. I acknowledge and appreciate the unique ministry that is writing for the Movement, but I also enjoy the more traditional ministry practices in the local church setting, where I lead worship, teach Sunday school, preach periodically, and accept other assignments common to associate pastors. So, when I address the subject of participation in the biennial Church of God Convention and General Assembly, I offer perspective not exclusively from one who’s compensated for his time, but also as one who operates, throughout the year and around the clock, under the steeple (and in the surrounding community).

As a late teen, my first General Assembly experience in 2006 when I was surprised with the honor to be recognized in front of the gathered pastors and delegates as an “emerging leader” in the Church of God.

It thrills my soul to be so involved in something beyond myself, something incredibly meaningful, and something wonderful, though not always flawless or seamless. I’ve “seen the Church” that is glorious and blameless, and I’ve cherished the Movement of God’s people working in and through structures coordinated by fallible, but beloved and sincere human beings. Indeed, I consider my local church ministry also wonderful and meaningful, but this awareness doesn’t check off a box for such spiritually rich experience; instead, it leads to a longing for much more. Even the largest congregations among us, though capable of many tremendous feats for the kingdom of God, cannot create in isolation what our biennial gathering—and perennial cooperation—produces.

The business of the church, both local and collective, is ministry. Pastors and lay leaders know this is true in their own settings. Annual business meetings of the local church may not always attract a crowd, but we still admonish our congregations to prioritize these gatherings. Isn’t it ironic that so many pastors don’t consider the General Assembly “business meeting” important, and it doesn’t even happen more than once every two years!

In the Church of God, we believe the Holy Spirit speaks through and to the whole. We tend to denounce individualism as a cultural conformity rather than a virtue of holiness, but we don’t always practice what we preach. CHOGnews and Church of God Ministries social media channels may help the Movement know what’s going on in the United States and Canada, as well as around the world, but these intangible resources cannot replace the indispensable firsthand account of what the Holy Spirit reliably does in the midst of his gathered saints. In the General Assembly meeting, stewardship is demonstrated in the ways Church of God Ministries spends the invested dollar. In the General Assembly meeting, updates are provided that reveal how life-changing ministry is happening because we’re working together and not apart. In the General Assembly meeting, ideas and strategies (and resolutions) are presented to fuel the momentum and mark the trajectory that the Spirit has directed for us as a unified body, as a team, and as a family. And when we hear about what the Lord has accomplished in and through us, we celebrate. The family rejoices! When we hear about our struggles and losses, we mourn. We grieve. Then we encourage one another with fresh resolve for another two years of “collectively building a Jesus-centered, biblically grounded Movement that brings the kingdom to life on earth as it is in heaven.”

In my position, I have heard it all. In some sense, I’ve seen it all. I’ve read the compliments and the complaints. I hear the confidence and the frustration. I also hear the excuses and the rationalization from pastors and potential lay delegates. It’s easy to do, after all; refraining from participation in the whole is less confrontational, less time-consuming, less expensive, and less risky. Bill and Gloria Gaither echo this sentiment in song, writing, “I am loved, you are loved, I can risk loving you….”

In relationship, especially within the broader family of God, there’s always a chance something could get messy. But the relationship still matters, and I will fight fiercely to sustain and restore it to health. There’s always the possibility I’ll hear an update for which I’m not in favor, or a resolution will be proposed that will pass or won’t pass—much to my chagrin. But I care deeply about the direction of the Movement and want to speak into it. The Lord has shaped me in the Church of God and I sense I owe her a debt of gratitude in Jesus’ name. I do feel a sense of duty concerning the role I play in the Movement, and I recognize—just like local pastors challenging their parishioners to engage their spiritual gifts for the benefit of the body—that my personal part in the collective work matters greatly. Especially as a pastor in a local church, I don’t want to be hypocritical in the way I fulfill my God-given role as a “parishioner” in that which is my larger congregation, the blessed and beautiful Church of God movement.

Thankfully, it’s doesn’t have to be drudgery. I delight to participate in the Church of God Convention and General Assembly. Have you seen the eclectic and electric lineup of speakers and worship leaders scheduled for Tampa? Did you notice how practical and timely the color-coordinated list of electives are for today’s ministry landscape? To my heritage-hymn-loving friends, did you notice Joe Gregory returns this year with another inspirational occasion of singing the classics? This is going to be good!

Whether out of duty or delight—or both, like me—I sincerely challenge you to make the choice to meet me in Tampa.

“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.

Feature (top) photo: General Assembly 2014.

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