GCI Update

Compelled by Love

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

The most succinct statement about God in the Bible is found in 1 John 4:8 – God is love. He is the source and Jesus is the perfect human expression.

My daughter-in-law, Crystal, is a teacher. She has been an educator for 13 years in various positions, ranging from a kindergarten teacher, creator of a literacy program, to an Early Childhood Consultant. After consulting for the past five years, she is back in the classroom teaching kindergarten.

Crystal has recently taken a job teaching kindergarten in a private church-operated school. During orientation Crystal became uneasy with the philosophy for managing the students. There was a strong emphasis on behavioral control with the use of the “stoplight behavior system.” The stoplight approach uses the red, yellow and green light as a visual to assist a child in knowing how well their behavioral performance is going throughout the day. Every child starts a new day fresh on “green,” which is positive. However, throughout the day, if expectations are not met, a child could move from “green” to “yellow,” and then “red” if behaviors persist. Most teachers have this behavior-control system openly displayed for the class to see, so everyone knows the behavioral status of each student in the class. It is a shameful experience to send a child to change their stoplight color in front of their classmates.

Setting behavior boundaries and responsibilities for children is useful and needed, but modeling grace is pro-actively teaching children to focus their behavior on being Christ-like versus performance-based. Teaching children love, joy, kindness, and patience, as adults express grace while still setting boundaries, creates deeper love and trust. Performance-focused behavioral systems teach children that love and trust are conditional. It teaches they will be rewarded with the materials and accolades of this world instead of discovering the strength and power of the love God has for us, and that we should have for ourselves and others. The stance by the school to use the stoplight behavioral system seemed to be at odds with the core fabric of who God is and created quite a conundrum for Crystal. The school was projecting that love is tied to conditions, but Crystal’s desire for the children is for them to know and experience the unconditional love of Jesus.

In essence, the Christian school would be telling these five-year old precious boys and girls that their behavior was most important. If somehow they behaved well enough, then they could experience belonging in the community atmosphere of the class. This is the classic message that comes from many Christian groups: Behave as a Christian, believe as a Christian, and only then can you belong as a Christian in a Christian community. Performance gets you in.

I believe it was the Holy Spirit who alerted Crystal’s senses to the issue of making behavior the primary concern. Shortly after the school year started, Crystal and Glenn attended a church service and were greatly encouraged by a sermon message. The pastor spoke profoundly about conditional love versus grace and eternal love. He spoke about the need to teach grace and love to our children through our discipline. Grace isn’t the absence of discipline—rather, it is the act of understanding and applying love. Yes, we want our children to behave appropriately, but more importantly, even when they don’t, we want them to be shown love through the extension of Christ-like grace. In turn, they will learn to extend grace and love to others. The application of grace and love requires more time and effort than asking a child to walk to the front of the classroom and change the color of their stoplight. Applied grace and love means acknowledging the child, listening to the child, discovering what is motivating the child, having a meaningful conversation with the child, and mutually agreeing to better forms of action (enveloped in love and belonging). These steps take time and patience, and they imply a relationship where the child is seen and heard. (Isn’t that what love looks like?) Crystal left that church service feeling relief from the philosophical turmoil about where the church stands on the matters of grace and love.

The apostle John continues developing his thoughts about God and love in 1 John 4:19 – “Because he [Jesus] first loved us,” we already belong. Did you hear that? We belong because of Jesus! Jesus died for all, and because we are all under his atoning, spilled blood, we belong before we ever believe or behave correctly. It is the safety and assurance of belonging that frees us to explore more about this loving God who became flesh and died in our place. It is the believing that smooths the path for receiving the marvelous, free gift of grace that is offered only through Jesus. Then as believers in daily active relationship with Jesus responding and participating through the power of the Spirit, we are continuing to be transformed into his likeness, becoming more like him. So, the flow of “Belong, Believe, Become,” is more in alignment with who we see Jesus to be in Scripture and how he relates to his children (kindergarteners and all other age groups).

Just as Crystal is teaching and guiding her beloved students, we as Christ-followers in GCI are also compelled by the love of God to view and treat our neighbors with the unconditional love we have received. We are compelled, driven and motivated to treat the folks around us with value, respect and godly love. We too can acknowledge, listen more intently, and discover more about our neighbors. (For those want to explore more about this, I recommend the book Surprise the World, by Michael Frost).

The apostle John outlines it so well in his writings.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:7-12 ESV)

My beloved (my dear friends, my darlings), focus on how much you are loved. It is this “love received” that in turn can be freely given to others. It is because God has loved us so well and perfectly through Jesus that we now can love others.

“Compelled by Love” is GCI’s theme for 2022. There is much more to come, so please embrace this season of Christ’s birth along with our beloved brothers and sisters around the world and let’s observe how Jesus transforms us and our neighbors in the coming New Year.

Abundant and Flowing Love,

Greg

P.S. I am proud to have Crystal as my daughter-in-law and thrilled that my grandchildren (Emory and Everett) get to grow up in a home where the unconditional love of Jesus is so palpable.

 

Footnote:

Dear Church, in my previous video update speaking about Saint Nicholas and the Christmas season I made a reference to the “Immaculate Conception.” Please understand that I was only referencing the understanding that Mary was “overshadowed” by the Holy Spirt and became impregnated with the Lord Jesus and gave birth to our Savior (and remained human).

It was not my intention to make this reference in the context of Catholic doctrine. It is not our belief in GCI that Mary was free of original sin nor is she the intercessor between humanity and Christ.

Please accept my apology for using this term and creating any confusion.

2021 U.S. Planning Meetings

Hello Brothers and Sisters,

Even during COVID, it’s important we continue to seek God for his direction and continue to plan and strategize as we see the Holy Spirit leading. We cannot pause and wait for COVID to die completely to be about the Father’s business. Jesus hasn’t stopped his ministry of leading and loving, and neither should we. We may need to think outside our old ways of doing things and remain flexible, but we need to keep moving forward as best we can.

In November, leaders from across the nation gathered in Oklahoma City, OK, for our 2021 U.S. Planning Meetings. Those attending included Greg Williams (President), Mathew Morgan (Chief Financial Officer), Pam Morgan (Operations Coordinator), Michelle Fleming (Media Director), Cara Garrity (Development Coordinator), Dishon Mills (GenMin Director and pastor), Jeff Broadnax (East Regional Director), Anthony Mullins (Southeast Regional Director), Rick Shallenberger (North Central Regional Director, Tim Sitterley (West Regional Director and myself (North America and Caribbean Superintendent).

We gathered to pray and evaluate how things have been progressing within the United States and how we can be more effective in casting GCI’s vision and strategies of Team Based/Pastor Led, Love Faith and Hope Avenues, etc. We discussed how we can come alongside our dedicated pastors and fellowship group facilitators to provide the high support and high challenge as well as the tools to make their jobs as easy and clear as possible. Discussions included events for 2022, including Love Avenue training and tools, a development and resource catalog for GCI leaders, 2023 Denominational Celebration, and what our congregations will look like in the future as “hybrid” congregations who not only host face-to-face worship services, but also live digital worship services for their online members.

We discussed how we can better love and disciple our online members beyond just providing a weekly online service. Many of these challenges will take more than a couple days of meetings, and we don’t have all the answers, but we are confident the Holy Spirit knows exactly how we can best “be his church” in the months and years to come. If we keep our hearts and minds open to his lead, we will find his way forward. God is very faithful!

As part of being the church we took one afternoon to do some physical work in the Ministry Training Center in Surrey Hills. We swept floors, helped install new lights and picked up trash around the property. This is something that the constructions company pays someone to do each week. By pitching in and doing these things we saved money that can be put to use in better ways in the new building. We all got a bit dirty but we were so glad to be able to participate in what is happening in the build.

I want to thank all who gathered for these meetings, but I also want to thank all our pastors and fellowship group facilitators who have been faithful for many years and even decades for being flexible and creative in how to be the church during this pandemic and as we move forward.

I love and appreciate you all!

Michael D. Rasmussen
Superintendent, North America & Caribbean
Regional Director, Central US

GCI Buzz – The Love Avenue

This month’s GCI Buzz explains the Love Avenue and provides some examples of how you can contextualize it to your neighborhood.

GCI Latin America Leadership Meetings

Healthy Pastors = Healthy Churches

From November 12 to 14, a meeting of Latin American and Spanish speaking USA churches’ pastors was held in Mexico City.

The meeting was led by Heber Ticas, Superintendent for Latin America and the Spanish-speaking churches in USA.

Pastors appreciated the fact that the focus of the meeting was on the healthy pastor. Hawthorne, CA, Pastor Manuel Ochoa did an excellent job setting the scene for the weekend. He shared some aspects of his 45-year experience as a pastor: from going through theological changes, broken relationships, discouragement and fear, and durability in ministry. This exposed the need for pastoral care and at the same time gave a sense of unity and empathy and marked the common denominator of what pastoral ministry is. We need to pay more attention to the individual needs of pastors! The union that we achieved will help us make the journey and not feel isolated.

Heber Ticas provided training on some of the GCI Tool Kit and together with his wife, Xochilt, shared some talks about pastoral and family health.

One of the highlights of the meeting was that we were able to advance the vision of Healthy Churches. Hector and Paulina Barrero showed visuals of what the structure of the three avenues looks like in the church of Bogotá, Colombia, which helped us to see how to move the structure from theory to practice.

We also had a sample of how this Team-based-Pastor-Led model is working in the Mexico City congregation. The champions of the Avenue of Hope, Yessi and Gustavo, showed us photographs of what the services and the loving atmosphere look like. These counts were very motivating for the pastors of the rest of the focus churches.

Heber and the regional directors, Héctor Barrero (Central and South America) and Luis Soto (Mexico) spoke about the fact that we share the same history, we have theological and ecclesiastical unity.

We also managed to advance our vision forward. This has to be our main focus for a better future.  In Heber Ticas´words, “The Lord has given us vision and we in the power of the Spirit need to develop strategies, and the Lord will give us growth. If we walk together, the rest of the church will walk together.”

It was a great blessing to have this time to get to know each other, have some social activities, learn and pray together. At the end, we shared Communion.

In Christ,
Selena Venegas, Elder, Guadalajara, Mexico

 

Who Attended the Event?

  1. Heber and Xóchilt Ticas, Los Ángeles, California
  2. José Luis and Esperanza Escalante, and Manuel Ochoa, Hawthorne, California
  3. Enoc and Lourdes Palacios, Los Ángeles, California
  4. Carlos and Margarita Duarte, California
  5. Gildardo and Karina de la Rosa, California
  6. Mario y Marina Saenz, Monterrey, México
  7. Rigoberto and Esthela Pantoja,Tamaulipas, México
  8. Silvano and Martha Rojas, Tlaxcala, México
  9. José Luis and Reginalda Seba, Tlaxcala, México
  10. Natanael and Valery Cruz, and Rosario Cervantes, México City
  11. Héctor and Paulina Barrero, Bogotá Colombia
  12. Ruth Nieves, Piura, Perú
  13. Joel and Dania Alemán, Tegucigalpa, Honduras
  14. Sonia and Luis Vengoechea, Barranquilla, Colombia

What does healthy church and leadership look like in their specific congregations?

“A healthy church is one that sets its eyes on Jesus as its Lord and joins the work that he is already doing on earth and shares the good news of him by embracing others and leading them to him through service so that we can walk together with faith, hope and love. -Ruth Nieves, Piura, Perú

“A healthy church is one that is growing in knowledge, in numbers, but above all in grace and love internally and externally. It is being equipped and prepared for the future, as we await an eternal inheritance. He who began the work in us will continue to perfect it every day until the end of the world.”–Silvano and Martha Rojas, Tlaxcala, México

“The healthy church celebrates its salvation, grows in the knowledge of Christ and shares its faith guided by the Holy Spirit.”-Héctor and Paulina Barrero, Bogotá, Colombia

“The healthy church is fearless, it is focused on Jesus Christ, and loves its neighbor.”-Rigoberto and Esthela Pantoja, Tamaulipas, México

“The healthy church is organized and has a sound doctrine. In addition, it is focused on Jesus Christ and worship. Its members are loving and make the visitor feel at home. The church spreads the gospel.”-Xóchilt Ticas, Los Ángeles, California

“The healthy church is one in Christ and embraces the structure of the avenues of love, faith, and hope led by people who in turn lead others in various ministries for building the body of Christ and sharing the gospel with others.” -Mario Saenz, Monterrey, México

“The healthy church is having a vision. It is to live the avenues with commitment and satisfaction for the improvement of the work.”-José Luis and Regina Seba, Tlaxcala, México

GCI Healthy Church Challenge Winners

The votes have been counted and our winners of the Healthy Church Challenge are here! Congratulations and thank you to all who sent in submissions and supported our GCI youth through the voting process. Please click the names below the video for links to the winning submissions.

1st Place:
Daniel – Ghana (15-17)
Makayla, Ziva and youth – Ghana (11-14)
Margaret and Zayne – Fiji (8-10)

2nd Place:
Noelle and Ignite Youth – Columbus, OH (15-17)
Alexandra, Helena and Tracy – Kenockee, MI (11-14)
Jeremine, Naa and Ethan – Ghana (8-10)

3rd Place:
Sam and Lily – Mooroolbark, VIC, Australia (11-14)
Mogau – Polokwane, SA (8-10)

2021 Year in Review

As we look back on 2021, we celebrate the ways Father, Son, and Spirit moved in and among us. Together we moved forward developing and building healthy Faith Avenues. We celebrate the ways our fellowship grew in our walk with Jesus, as well as with one another. Below are the resources and praise reports that were accessed the most this year. Check them out if you missed them, or would like a review:

  1. Denominational Celebration Videos Available Now! – GCI Update – Check out our Main Sessions with stories of hope, revealing how the Spirit is moving in our fellowship, workshops for the Hope Avenue, and worship services with members from across generations and around the globe.
  2. Transitions in Leadership – GCI Update – Features the historic leadership transitions of our GCI Board and leadership with GCS.
  3. Avenue Resources | Grace Communion International Resources (gci.org) – Our digital toolbox with resources specific to each Avenue.
  4. Faith Forward – GCI Equipper – Equipper article setting our theme for 2021.
  5. The Role of the Faith Avenue Champion w/ David Borum | Grace Communion International Resources (gci.org) – GC Podcast episode discussing the role of the Faith Avenue Champion.
  6. The National Advisory Council on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion – GCI Update – An article introducing the members of our DEI council in the US.
  7. We Are GCI: Michelle Fleming – GCI Update – An interview discussing the purpose for GCI Media content, and an overview of the theme Faith Forward and resources that were be rolled out in 2021.
  8. GCI Buzz: The 3 Ministry Avenues – GCI Update – a new tool where we recap GCI buzzwords and terminology. This month’s GCI Buzz explains the 3 GCI Ministry Avenues: Love, Hope, and Faith.
  9. Church Hack: Stages of Faith Discipleship – GCI Equipper – This Church Hack outlines the stages of faith and can be a helpful tool in identifying the challenges and beliefs about God that members of your connect group are working through.
  10. On Being | Grace Communion International Resources (gci.org) – An interactive connect group curriculum, designed for biblically-based, dynamic discussions around being a disciple.

 

2021 Celebrations

In 2021, we had many celebrations and successes that we are grateful for here at GCI Home Office. Here are a few of them:

  1. Faith Forward – We praise God for the community-building and disciple-making that has come about through a greater focus on the Faith Avenue this year. The connect groups that have formed as a result of our Faith Forward focus are actively building relationships and growing deeper in the Spirit together.
  2. Denominational Celebration – The time spent together virtually connecting with church members across the globe and spending intentional time to fellowship and share stores of Healthy Church through the Denominational Celebration was a huge praise report for us all.
  3. Healthy Church Challenges – This year we coordinated more contests and challenges than ever and were rewarded with the gift of many amazing submissions and responses from youth around the world. Connecting with GCI young members through our creative challenges has been a joy.
  4. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion – We look forward to deeper understanding, reconciliation and place-sharing, and are grateful for the members of our Council of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion who graciously accepted a place in the council.
  5. Equipping New Leaders – This year many strides have been made toward equipping new leaders. From the new GCS Master of Divinity and Diplomas for Avenue Champions, to the shifting of board members, jobs created within our staff, and the whole process of planning and building MTCs, we praise God for those who have led the way and made space as well as those who have accepted the call to leadership and continue to pursue their calling.

How is your church celebrating the work of the father, son and spirit in 2021? Comment below so we can celebrate with you.

Devotional – Highly Favored

Greetings, Highly Favored One 

Mary’s initial response to Gabriel wasn’t any different than any of us would have responded. Luke tells us she was greatly troubled at the greeting. Another way of saying this would be, she couldn’t believe what she was hearing. What makes me highly favored? What do you mean, the Lord is with me? Mary was struggling with her identity as a beloved child of God. Does that sound familiar?

Mary had heard the lies that God would not and could not love her unless… Unless she kept the Jewish Holy Days, unless she kept the Sabbath, unless she loved God with all her heart, soul and strength, unless she loved her neighbor as herself. Mary, like most good Jews, focused a lot on behavior, attitude, approach and service. She didn’t see herself as special; she didn’t see herself as highly favored. After all, what had she done?

We too hear the “You are not…” lies of the enemy that keep us from believing we are who God says we are – beloved children. The lies point to our failures, our weaknesses, our fears and anxieties, our sin, and they tell us God can’t possibly love someone as wretched as we are. The lies tell us our sins are bigger than God’s forgiveness. They try to convince us that God’s grace is only for a few and his forgiveness depends on our behavior and attitude and approach to him. The lies tell us Christ only died for a few who are called and the rest of the world is outside his grace and love.

Christmas brings a different message. The Son of God entered the world of sinful, wretched humanity because he loves sinners. He became the Son of Man because he knew we were stuck in the “You are not…” lies and the only way to get us to believe we are the highly favored ones is to take all the lies upon himself and show them for what they are. He came because you are highly favored. He took all your sins, weaknesses, fears and anxieties, and failures upon himself. He took them to the cross and destroyed the liar, so that we could believe the truth.

God calls you his highly favored one. You are forgiven. You are adopted. You are included in the communion of the Father, Son and Spirit. You are redeemed. You are reconciled. You are included in his plan. You are loved. Live in the truth of that love.

During the Christmas season and the season of Epiphany, allow the light of the truth to shine in and through you. Ask God to remove any remaining doubt of who you truly are – a beloved child of God. Be the light you were created to be. Share the love that has changed you.

Mary came to see the truth of her participation in God’s plan and she “burst with God-news; she danced the song of her Savior God” (Luke 1:46-55 MSG). “From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me.” Her song is your song. You are blessed when you know who you are in Christ. Maybe one day your song of praise will be recorded as a blessing to others.

Prayer:

Jesus, thank you for revealing to me the truth about who you are and about who I am in you. Forgive me for my disbelief; help me to daily grasp the truth of my true identity and live in that truth. As you live in and through me, may your light shine so I have opportunity to help others understand their true identity. Thank you for making me one of your own. The Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is your name.

Amen.

 

Rick Shallenberger