GCI Update

Christians and politics

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Here in the United States, political campaigns are gathering momentum in preparation for the November 2012 presidential election. Churches are tempted to choose sides and get involved in the politicking and infighting. And we all have opinions.

However, it is very important that we remember denominational and congregational leadership within GCI is non-political. This is not just our decision – there are strict laws legislating what non-profit organizations can and cannot do. I have asked our Legal Department to prepare a thorough briefing concerning this policy. Please click here to read an important legal briefing concerning this policy from the GCI Legal Department. Please make a point of reading this without delay.

As Christians, we are expected to be concerned about the way we are governed. But we should express our concerns and opinions in prayer, as several places in the New Testament remind us. There are important political changes happening all around the world at this time. We should ask God to direct these choices so that his agenda to spread the gospel in all nations is advanced. Remember, a quiet word of prayer can accomplish more than hours of angry argument. So let’s pray that God will direct the political process so that the agenda of his Kingdom can be advanced.

In this week’s Update, I have included a report from the Director of our Heartland Summer Camp, and also news of a community outreach in Denver. Daniel Boesch has sent us news about the Annual Festival in Ferrara, Italy. I was encouraged to see how our Italian church is growing slowly but steadily.

After 37 years of ministry, one of our pastors in Montreal, Dennis Lawrence is having to go on Disability leave for the foreseeable future. His congregation held a celebration of his life and work.

To round things out this week we have some tips for developing leaders by Bob Logan, and news of a new Master’s Program in the Philippines.

To see any of these stories, just click on the links. If you are having difficulty using this new way of presenting the Weekly Update would you let us know. I want it to be a truly useful vehicle for letting you all know what is going on in our truly International Fellowship.

Until next time, blessings and love from my family to yours.

Joseph Tkach


Celebrating Dennis Lawrence’s ministry

Top (left to right): Rob Brockman, Victor Zampin, Dennis Lawrence. Bottom: Andrew (Dennis' grandson).

On September 10, the Montreal, Quebec congregation held a celebration in honor of Dennis Lawrence’s 37 years in ministry. Dennis is the longest serving pastor for the Montreal congregation. Because of health difficulties, Dennis is on disability leave for the foreseeable future. Thus it was considered appropriate to acknowledge and honor his many years of service. A presentation was made, sharing where Dennis has served, with some stories and maps.

Many people sent notes celebrating Dennis’ ministry. These were placed in a scrapbook, and several were read during the celebration. As each was read, a little LED light was placed on a tree that had been purchased for the occasion. Each light was a visual reminder of the light of Christ that Dennis has brought into many lives. Some of the members gave short messages recounting their memories and thanking Dennis. Then a toast was given and the church presented Dennis with a lovely gift. The official celebration ended with a hymn and a special finger food buffet.



GCI Philippines masters program

Following the signing of the memorandum of agreement between the International Graduate School of Leadership (IGSL) and Grace Communion International, Philippines (GCI), the first class of IGSL’s Master of Arts (in Organizational Leadership) was started in Cebu City for some 24 leaders and members of GCI churches coming from Samar, Leyte, Bohol, Negros Oriental and Cebu provinces. The sessions were held at the Christ for All Nations church in Talisay City, Cebu on August 26 to 30.

The first class, Theology 1 (Salvation Theology), which focused on Trinitarian, Christ-centered theology was well-received. Sessions were interspersed with a lot of questions which revolved mostly around the distinctives of Trinitarian theology and how to apply them in practical pastoral work and ministry.

Italian Festival report

Over 60 members from all parts of Italy and guest speaker John Halford gathered in the beautiful town of Ferrara (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) from August 25 through 28 to celebrate their annual Festival. Because of Italy’s unique geography, and economic hard times, it is hard for the members to see each other very often. This makes our Annual Festival a very special occasion.

Activities included daily worship services, prayer meetings, a worship evening, a bike tour around the walls of the city and a boat trip on the sea with dinner on board. An International Festival of Street Musicians (the biggest worldwide) which took place at the same time in Ferrara provided lots of free quality entertainment.

This year’s overall theme was “Our Identity in Christ.” Messages included encouragement to be aware of our spiritual identity, letting Christ live fully in us, putting to death the old self, and other topics such as prayer and unity in Christ. One of the highlights was the baptism of the wife of one of our leading members in Italy. The festival concluded with the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

Heartland SEP camp report

The following report is from Heartland camp director, Todd Woods.

This summer, we held Heartland SEP Camp at Eagle Crest Camp on the banks of the Illinois River. Our 93 staffers arrived Friday and prepared spiritually with a foot washing/communion service that set the tone for our “Living Loved” theme. Several new staffers were present, having been recruited through our new staff-in-training program titled C.R.E.W. (Coaching Real Enthusiastic Workers). Several staffers came to us from the Gateway to God camp in the St. Louis area. Gateway is taking a brief hiatus as they further develop their camp staff.

Heartland staffers

Our 99 campers arrived on Sunday. We offered them 25 camp activities, including such new additions as tie dyeing, origami, job search and sign language.  A camp highlight was the prayer service we held mid-week. Campers and staffers brought their needs forward to the pastoral staff that laid hands on them and prayed. Throughout the crowd, campers (including young children) were laying hands on each other and praying without any prompting from the staff! On Saturday, many parents arrived in time to share the final chapel service, which included seven baptisms. Several staffers announced that they will be launching a weekend camping event in eastern Illinois. This multiplication is an answer to our prayers that the camp ministry spread to new areas.

Heartland mini-campers
Heartland teen campers
One of the girl's dorms

Follow Jesus in developing leaders

A key concern of pastors and ministry leaders is to participate with Jesus in identifying and developing additional leaders. Here is a helpful blog post on that topic from author Bob Logan.

– Ted Johnston, GCI ministry developer

Leave it to Jesus to be forward-looking. He knew there would be many years to come when he could not be there with his followers, showing them how to do things. He taught them how to figure out how to take the next steps. He shaped their characters and prepared them to learn to listen to the Holy Spirit who would come. He encouraged them to engage in service and learn as they go.

Can we do the same for our people? How can we prepare them to serve and to lead when we are no longer there to guide them? Read the scriptures below as you reflect.

  • Jesus challenged people to take the next step (Mark 5:19, John 8:11)
  • Jesus invested in a few, not in the masses (Luke 6:12-14, Mark 10:32, Mark 9:2)
  • Jesus invited people into an apprenticing process (Matt 4:18-20)
  • Jesus chose unlikely disciples (Matt 9:9, Matt 4:18-19)
  • Jesus engaged people in service (Luke 10:1-24)
  • Jesus shaped people’s character through life experience (Luke 9:51-56, Luke 22:54-62, Mark 9:14-29)
  • Jesus ministered with an eye toward multiplication (Matt 10:1-8, Luke 10:1-3)
  • Jesus intentionally embedded the essential DNA into his followers (John 15-17)
  • Jesus taught in a way that made people think for themselves (John 3:8-9, Mark 4:33-34, Prov 20:5)
  • Jesus told stories that helped people see from a new perspective (Luke 12:13-21, Luke 18:9-14, Luke 15:11-32)
  • Jesus had a plan for his ministry to go on without him (Matt 16:17-19, John 15:26-27)

Building Blocks in Colorado

This report was filed by Mark McCulley, GCI pastor and district pastoral leader in Colorado.

In 2010, our GCI congregation participated in Building Blocks, a joint outreach initiative by 25 churches in Arvada, CO. The program encouraged members of the participating churches to get acquainted with the people living in their neighborhoods.

The program began in response to a challenge from Arvada’s mayor (who is Christian), to bless the city through obedience to the second Great Commandment (to love people). Each participating pastor gave a series of three sermons on the topic, challenging people to stretch themselves to reach out – doing such things as hosting a block party in their neighborhood. Some people responded, and wonderful stories emerged about the building of relationships with neighbors.

In 2011, we participated again – this time with a new tool – an online map where people could register their home as members of one of the participating churches (see the map at http://buildingblocks.us/). The last time I looked, more than 1,000 homes were registered. The effort has spread to other parts of the Denver area as more pastors catch the vision and gather in prayer to seek God’s direction.


Marj Friddle

Marj Friddle reported good news about her progress with colon cancer! We rejoice with her and Jim that the staph infection she had been fighting has now healed completely. In addition, her latest lab reports showed no elevation in white cell count.

Marj wrote: ” We are SO THANKFUL AND GRATEFUL for the MANY cards (68 at last count), numerous e-mails and phone calls that we have received. Our friends have been wonderful with their prayers and love for us. We DEEPLY APPRECIATE all the prayers, not only for me, but also for Jim. Our son, Nathan, was here for two weeks and that was a huge help. I still have to take it easy. There is a lot of soreness in my abdomen which will take time to go away. I feel so amazingly blessed that the cancer had not spread and that it was on the right side of my colon so I didn’t have to have a colostomy.”


Crossing Borders, shoebox outreach

Crossing Borders of GCI Generations Ministries is a mission outreach that travels to Mexico twice each year: for a week in the summer for a variety of mission activities, and for a weekend in the winter to deliver shoeboxes packed with gifts for children.

There is much instability in Mexico right now, making it difficult for the majority of the people to live normal lives, providing for their families in peace. In these trying conditions, it is important that the love of Jesus continue to be spoken and demonstrated. One way to do so is through the Crossing Borders shoebox outreach.

Now is a good time to consider involving your church, school club, women’s group, community service club, youth group, neighbors, friends and family to collect items, pack them into shoeboxes, and let Crossing Borders hand-deliver them to children and families in Mexico. The trip will take place December 9-11, so we need to receive your shoeboxes before then.

For details about what to put in the boxes and how to pack them, go to http://www.cbmission.org/ and click on the Shoebox Ministry tab.

P.S. The trip into Mexico to deliver the shoeboxes is open to anyone. It’s a great opportunity to get a taste of cross-cultural mission work. If you have questions, email info@cbmission.org or call Lee Berger at 903-746-4463.

Legal briefing: involvement by churches in political activity

This briefing from the Legal Department concerns how the denomination or local churches may or may not legally become involved in political or election activities.

Although the 2012 presidential elections are more than a year away, the media is currently abuzz with talk about the various potential candidates and the primaries for the major parties, which are only a few months from starting. In every election season, this one included, the IRS issues guidelines and cautions for churches about what is permissible and impermissible in regard to political involvement (mostly impermissible!). Often, other groups, including in previous years the National Association of Evangelicals, issue long, detailed reports explaining where the legal “line” is separating the permissible from the impermissible. It is important for churches to avoid any impermissible political involvement, since violating the law in this area can bring serious penalties upon a church, including the complete loss of its tax-exempt status.

Although the law regarding involvement of churches in political matters forbids most such activities, some very few political expressions or actions are allowed, under narrow circumstances. However, notwithstanding any narrow or slight activities that might be allowed under the law, it is the policy of the denomination that its local churches are not to engage in any political activities or statements whatsoever. This policy is based on two over arching principles:

1) The law is complicated and even lawyers can and do argue about how it might apply in any given case, which means staying completely out of the political field is the only safe course.

2) The Denomination simply does not believe that local pastors or church leaders should be trying to influence local members or the community at large about whom they should support or what political view or position they should take.

In light of this strict “nonpolitical activity” policy, pastors and church leaders should refrain from all such activities, including refraining from statements in sermons suggesting one political party is better, more Christian, more in line with the Bible, etc. than the other. Neither should any leader praise or condemn either party, any candidate, or any current office holder, including the current president, for things done, said, or not done or unsaid. While it is plain that some issues that face our society are issues about which Christians care, no one in the congregation should feel that he or she is being pushed or pulled by the Church or its leaders to support or vote for or against any party or candidate. Indeed, the congregation should not really be able to discern the pastor or other church leader’s political positions from their public statements. Their public statements should not include political content at all.

In short, our sermons, teachings and community involvement projects should be strictly about the gospel and not about politics. To be clear, our policy is not to be “politically neutral.” Our policy is, instead, to be “apolitical,” meaning “without politics” at all. It can be helpful for our pastors and leaders to state this policy of being “without politics” and “without political content” to the congregation from time to time so that our members understand our policy. If members wish to be politically active in some way, they are of course free to pursue such activities on their own or through affiliations with political groups, but not through the denomination or its local churches. We do not forbid political activism, per se. We only forbid political activism sponsored and endorsed by the church.

It is not always easy for a pastor to clearly separate his “personal” life from his “professional” life. The two are almost inextricably intertwined in a listener’s mind. For this reason, even in a situation where views about a political candidate or position might accidentally or inadvertently come up, church leaders should make it absolutely clear that their political thoughts are personal to them and are not in any way an official representation of the denomination. It should be understood that it would be a violation of the church leader’s responsibilities to the congregation and the denomination, not to mention a violation of the laws protecting churches from the government and protecting the government from churches to deliberately endorse or promote a particular candidate or issue from the pulpit or in any other way in their official capacity as a representative of the church.