“Us-ness” Expounded: God’s Delight in, Design for the Church on Display in Tampa
By Carl Stagner
In January, Church of God Ministries published an op-ed in which Bob Moss issued a clarion call to the Movement to “rediscover” what he describes as “usness.” Through reasoned and inspirational expression, he drew from biblical perspective, church history, and personal experience in the pulpit and in various influential leadership positions (like General Assembly chair), to make the case for togetherness. On Friday, June 23, 2023, leaders from across the Church of God, present in Tampa, Florida, for the second day of the Convention and General Assembly, heard from the Lord, once again, to trade our isolationistic individualism (“me-ness,” perhaps) for biblical, functional unity (“us-ness”). In so doing, the gathered saints were reminded, through worship songs, meetings of many kinds and purposes, and some of the best preaching this side of heaven, of God’s delight in, and design for, his one, glorious church.
Launching from the eleventh chapter of the book of Acts, Mark Jackson preached a substance-packed, theologically rich sermon to kickstart the day. Primed by another blended set of modern worship songs and traditional hymnody, the message from God’s Word challenged the Church of God movement to keep Jesus as the subject. If Jesus is the subject (and the object of our worship), he must be the filter through which every assertion arises. He must also be the foundation upon which every doctrine rests. As God’s design for the church must include people of every “nation, tribe, people, and language” (Revelation 7:9), therefore, all must be welcome into the fold of a loving, life-changing God; in the fold of God’s love, the Spirit sanctifies our nature.
“Let’s be the church,” Mark preached, “that is Christ-centered, that includes all people, that has Spirit-filled leadership, and that sees lives transformed!”
Mark outlined, in illustrative fashion, several strategic, Scripturally supported insights and practical tools for becoming that kind of church—one in which God so delights, and one living up to God’s grand design. But it wasn’t only Mark’s message on Friday that resonated through the church about the church.
While some guests of this year’s intentionally international Convention of the Church of God gathered early Friday morning for additional electives, a crowd also gathered for the Town Hall with Jim Lyon. Though time couldn’t allow for every question to be addressed, no question was off-limits. Inevitably (guided surely by the Spirit, yet again), the conversation quickly turned to the design, purpose, and practical functioning of God’s church—especially this beloved Movement. With winds of change blowing in the church and society, in government and the culture at-large, the dependable constant is Christ, and the bride of Christ should thus reflect his love, his values, and his priorities. Only then can the Movement move forward, fully funded, growing, and healthy as God intended.
The opening moments of the second session of the General Assembly on Friday afternoon were marked by a continuation of the theme. Concentration on the Movement, its leadership, and how the Church of God will navigate transition led to the formation of small groups throughout the Brotherhood Mutual Ballroom at the Tampa Convention Center. These small groups cried out simultaneously in audible prayer; the desperate petitions to the Lord reverberated in a chorus of humble intercession for Jim Lyon with conclusion of his final term on the horizon, committees involved in the transition process, and for God’s clear identification of one woman or man of God has divinely appointed to ultimately take the baton of leadership. Rigorous, yet healthy debate characterized portions of the General Assembly meeting that followed—but not without celebration of the ways in which the Lord is leading the Church of God to address problems of the past and present, in order to offer tangible solutions for the future. This included a collective embrace of God’s design for his church to be united and loving in the midst of beautiful diversity. More information on General Assembly moments and motions to come!
But, speaking of that beautiful diversity in the Church of God movement, did you know that “we have something [particularly] special in the Church of God”? Dan Turner, reflecting on research accomplished in pursuit of the goals of the Justice and Equity Task Force, ensured that the General Assembly understood the richness of diversity that is ours to steward in the Movement. In the landscape of denominations, only four or five reflect the kind of ethnic and cultural diversity that comprises the Church of God movement; furthermore, he observed, in Wesleyan-holiness circles, the Church of God movement is the only family of faith with our degree of diversity. To steward that diversity, however, things “had better be better.” Without ongoing improvement, the Church of God cannot live up to God’s design. With cooperation, deference to one another, and with Jesus as the subject (exhibiting “us-ness”), we can live up to God’s design.
As the late-afternoon sun-splashed skyscrapers of Tampa’s downtown signaled the onset of evening, explicitly Jesus-centered song lyrics and soul-stirring melodies and harmonies glorified God and ministered to the masses. The In Memoriam video segment was particularly poignant, reminding everyone of those who have gone on to be with the Lord over the past two years. In the solemnity of the moment, the Spirit aroused fresh devotion to the Lord and the call he has placed on our lives; these rich moments preceded another strong sermon—Friday night’s from a very special guest onsite with the Church of God—the president of the National Association of Evangelicals.
Expounding upon truth from the first chapter of Colossians, Walter Kim, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, identified Christ as the “image of the invisible God” and therefore, One has every right to insist his design be carried out among us as the people of God. “So, who are we? What is our identity in this moment when the world is trying to define us?” Walter Kim asked. He went on to insist that Jesus is the only One who can define us individually, and therefore collectively, as the church. But if we’re running at the pace of society, 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.”
Slowing down and savoring the person and presence of God—that’s precisely what the Church of God Convention has offered guests from around the world this year. In the presence of God, and in the company of sisters and brothers in the family of God assembled in Tampa, Florida, it was abundantly clear that God surely delights in us. May we delight in him and his design for us—and for that sometimes elusive, yet demonstrably attainable “us-ness.”
Saturday’s schedule suggests another day of moments that God will orchestrate to further his holy agenda. Events like the Global Strategy 5K, the Heritage Hymn Sing, and a concert of illusions with John Michael Hinton jumpstart the day, while speakers Eugene Cho and Jeremy Patzer are slated to preach the Word.
Follow Church of God Ministries on social media for updates throughout the Convention, including daily news coverage. Visit www.chogconvention.org event details.
For further reading, check out our daily reflections from the Church of God Convention 2023 and General Assembly:
- Wednesday, June 21, 2023
- Thursday, June 22, 2023
- Friday, June 23, 2023
- Saturday, June 24, 2023
- Sunday, June 25, 2023
Feature (top) photo: Crowd gathered in the East Hall at the Tampa Convention Center on Friday evening during the 2023 Church of God Convention.