Dear GCI Family and Friends, during a recent trip to Southern California, I was staying at the Pasadena Hilton as my central point of operation. I woke up by my internal clock, which is finely tuned to east coast time. Being that Since I had four hours before my first meeting, I set out on what turned out to be a five-mile hike.
After getting my morning caffeine at a Starbucks on Lake Avenue, I trekked westward, crossing the 210 Freeway and onto the property that used to be Ambassador College and Home Office of GCI. I worked as a campus tour guide while in college, which gave me a broader understanding and appreciation for the property. One tidbit of information concerned the footprints of Herbert Armstrong and the original four Ambassador students dating back to 1948. These sets of footprints were cemented into a square of concrete at the stairway entry to the lower gardens, or at least they used to be. The footprints are no longer there.
As I walked and talked with God, more perspective came to my mind. Not only had the footprints vanished, at a greater level the institution of Ambassador College had disappeared too. This institution with its extraordinary campus, inviting people and attractive programs had lured me as a high school graduate to journey across the country to engage in the Ambassador experience.
Like it or not, we dubbed Ambassador College the “West Point” of our church, linking it to the famous military academy. Through a liberal arts education and intentionally creating opportunities to develop social skills with a heavy dose of speech training, we annually churned out candidates for pastoral leadership. This institution did its job quite well over four decades.
If my math is correct, the last batch of graduates to come through Ambassador would be nearly 50 years old. The bulk of Ambassador graduates are retired or rapidly headed in that direction. What to do?
My early morning walk across the campus was heightening my awareness to the reality of our challenge. And before you get ahead of me, no, we aren’t looking to rebuild a brick-and-mortar college. However, we do need to create environments where younger men and women are attracted to well-designed programs and the opportunity to learn good ministry skills that can help the denomination create a healthy pool of pastoral candidates for our desired future.
On the heels of my California trip, I was on a zoom conference call with GCI Development Coordinator Cara Garrity and Superintendents Mike Rasmussen and Heber Ticas. Our topic of discussion was evaluating where are we in the process with this strategy of our GCI Ministry Training Centers (MTCs). We concluded that we are just getting started with the MTC strategy, and before we can pinpoint MTC sites around the globe we must first see churches with pastors applying “Team-Based Pastor-Led” leadership, see all three ministry avenues operating and functioning well, and witness a core group of younger people demonstrating a hunger for deeper involvement in ministry. In other words, we want to see the overall expression of Healthy Church on display.
The good news is that we are seeing a few sites across our global network of six regions, and progress is happening. The more difficult news is that it is going to take time. Realistically, it will take the next 2-5 years to build the initial network, and it will take the discipline of our leaders to build it one step at a time, carefully avoiding the temptation to take shortcuts along the way.
Another good news detail is that we have the combined effort of Grace Communion Seminary that can allow us to have the best-educated ministry we have ever had. Do you realize that GCI is too small of a denomination to own and operate a seminary? And yet here we are. Thank you, Jesus.
My walk across the old Ambassador grounds was a moving experience. My mind was filled with recollections of many happy events and relational activities that took place on just about every corner of that property, and yet my heart was stirred and lifted to the future and the possibilities ahead for GCI.
I am convinced that the Risen Lord has us where he wants us, and he knows with certainty where he is taking us.
In and through him,