GCI Update

GCI’s 3-Year Plan Toward Healthy Church

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

The story of Nehemiah and his team rebuilding the wall around the city of Jerusalem has often inspired me. While being cupbearer to the king of Persia, Nehemiah was concerned that Jerusalem had been destroyed and the people were scattered. He lamented over this situation, weeping, praying, and confessing that Israel had forsaken God. As he prayed, a plan began to form for rebuilding the wall.

Nehemiah asked God to act on his behalf for favor from the king and provisions for the project. Invariably, in an enterprise of this scope, there are factors over which one has no control, so God must arrange them. (“Unless the Lord builds the house, the workers toil in vain.” Psalm 127:1) The king not only granted permission for Nehemiah to return to Israel, but he also made provision for Nehemiah to procure all the necessary building materials.

Nehemiah went to Jerusalem, and just as he had heard, he found the wall in ruins. He became more aware of the list of original inhabitants—Ammonites, Amorites, Amalekites, Hittites, Jebusites, and Perizzites. Any of these “ites” that remained in the land could be an enemy and a continual threat to Israel and its temple if a wall was not built and secured. It took courage and resolve for Nehemiah and his delegation to undertake this project.

Certainly, Nehemiah was a visionary leader, a pioneer, to see the possibility of a restored wall and a restored Jerusalem. But how would he rally the people to accomplish the fulfillment of the vision? Nehemiah was insightful to see how people are inclined to participate more fully if their efforts are in their own backyard. He rallied the families of Israel to first build the sections of the wall that were adjacent to their property and neighborhood. This coming together worked well to accomplish the great task before them.

How does the story of Israel and Nehemiah speak into the life of GCI in the 21st century? First, we have recognized that our church has not been in the state of health that we desire. As your President, I have lamented this for some time, and I know that many of our leaders and members have shared my concerns. I am the first one to confess to our Triune God that we have not been as intentional and active in making disciples as a healthy church should, nor have we been as intentional and active in equipping the saints for ministry as we should. We need to collectively cry out to God in confession and seek his guidance in transforming us into a church that is a healthier expression of Jesus.

The good news is that all 6 GCI Global Regions, under the leadership of their Superintendent, have been making measured progress towards developing elements of Healthy Church. However, each region is unique with different needs. It’s particularly easy to stall when you are limited by a lack of resources, ideas, or strategies that can work, along with the feeling of being stuck. It’s a bit like confrontation with Ammonites and Amorites. But what if we unite and excite? These “ites” can bring us together; after all, we are better together.

In the annual planning meeting with the Superintendents that took place February 13 -16, there was unanimous agreement on a 3-year plan toward the vision of Healthy Church. This 3-year plan is designed to bring movement through a collaborative team process, aligning our efforts in a way we have never done before.

The Process / High Challenge

  1. Each Superintendent, with a Development Coordinator and other key staff leaders, must prayerfully and strategically identify the healthier churches with capable pastors that can most benefit from the long term, high support of training and coaching.
  2. These pastors/congregations—which we’re calling “Vision” pastors/churches—will be invited into a 3-year process of training with a coach to provide support. In return, these Vision pastors/churches will commit to meeting a benchmark of Healthy Church expectations that display their commitment to GCI. It may take the collective effort of the group over the course of 2022 to fulfill this one assignment of committing to the process (and that’s okay).
  3. The Vision Pastors are then invited to attend workshops that take a deep dive into the Hope, Faith, and Love ministry Avenues (workshop templates have been beta tested in the US and can be contextualized for international sites). In each case, the pastor will bring the Avenue Champion along for training. Each workshop has follow-up materials that are sent home to continue training at the congregational level.
  4. Coaching will be provided for pastors and Avenue Champions. It is ideal for the Avenue Champions to be connected with a cohort group and a skillful coach for the continuation of learning and sharing post-conference. (A few regions will need to establish coaches, and help is available to train coaches).
  5. Determine a master plan and schedule for rolling out workshops. It seems logical that the Hope Avenue training will be done first (What will a new person come to and how will that experience go?), followed by the Faith Avenue for establishing the care for new and existing people, and finally the Love Avenue for how we become intentional in reaching new people.

Moving from concepts to application takes time. We are hopeful that doing this over the next three years will give us space for deeper learning and better application. We also want to assure our church around the world that we are committed to the ministry strategies we have established and that there is a strong commitment to follow through.

Resources / High Support

The US has been moving along these lines and learning the process as we go. Because our pilot program has been tested, we have the benefit of sharing what works well and what can be done better. Items that are available:

    • Workshop outlines with training material set in the context of an interactive learning style
        • If needed, workshop facilitators could be made available to participate alongside other Development Coordinators to jumpstart the process—through Zoom and possibly on-site in rare occasions.
    • Ministry tools on the GCI website
    • Video webinars for training
    • Cohort support from fellow Superintendents
    • The faith goal of having an international Development Coordinators cohort, similar to how we operate with the Communities of Practice (CoP) of our Superintendents (Read this story for a refresher on CoPs.)

The unity among the Superintendents is inspiring. And even with time zone challenges, all Superintendents want to meet by Zoom every 2 months to work toward the progression of the 3-year plan. The excitement of what we can accomplish together over the next three years is promising.

May I remind us to walk in the shoes of Nehemiah. Be visionary to see a better future. Be in prayer seeking God for the variables that are beyond us. Be courageous knowing that there are enemies to our plan, but also knowing that if God is for us then who can be against us. Be committed to staying the course of building out the wall of ministry in your backyard!

Better Together!
Greg Williams

Meet Sondra Peters

“Being involved with children energizes me. When a child shows interest in learning about God, that is the ultimate boost that gives me a charge for a long time!” Check out this month’s GCI Profile to get to know Sondra Peters, member of Grace Fellowship, the GCI congregation in Clarksville, Tennessee. To read her full profile, click the image below. #WeAreGCI

Superintendents’ Retreat

Superintendents from the 6 regions around the globe gathered February 13 – 16 for meetings via a cabin retreat on Lake Norman near Charlotte, NC. Unfortunately, only 3 (Gavin Henderson – Europe, Michael Rasmussen – North America & Caribbean, and Heber Ticas – Latin America) of the 6 were able to be there in person but thanks to technology the remaining 3 (Eugene Guzon – Asia, Kalengule Kaoma – Africa, and Daphne Sidney – Australasia) were able to connect via Zoom for all our meetings. Mat Morgan (CFO) joined via Zoom. Michelle Fleming (Communication Director) and Cara Garrity (Development Coordinator) were able to be in person at the lake house to give presentations on Media and Development.

The last time that all 6 had been together was in November of 2019, just a few short months before the infamous Covid-19 hit the world. As much as everyone wanted to be together in person, this was the next best thing. We began our meetings at 7:30 a.m. each morning to accommodate the vast array of time zones represented (some as much as 15 hours difference), so when those of us at the cabin were gathering early in the morning, it was late afternoon and late evening for those connecting via Zoom.

Our cabin at the lake had one entire wall of windows. During one of the meetings several of us (me in particular) were distracted by a bald eagle that flew into a tree eating his large fish.  We had to explain to those on Zoom what was happening and why some of us had gotten up to watch more closely. At the end of our time together, we enjoyed taking communion looking out over Lake Norman.

L-R: Susan & Greg Williams, Heber Ticas, Mike Rasmussen, Gavin Henderson, Cara Garrity, Michelle Fleming. Not pictured: Pam Morgan

Even though we were miles apart, we were still able to have great interaction during our meetings and even had some catch-up time before and after. For those meeting in person, we had lots of time to build deeper relationships and encourage one another on our different journeys both in the workplace and personal lives.

Scorecard of Super Bowl predictions

When we set the dates, we did not figure in the Super Bowl game. A couple people were diehard fans, and some were just ok with sitting around and chatting. We even had a chart on who would win (Gavin did quite well considering he got his answers from the internet).

During our down time, we had the opportunity to play some rousing games of dominos, Phase 10, and Code Names. All the games brought lots of laughter.

We look forward to June 28 – July 2, 2023, when we will all hopefully be together for the Denomination Celebration. As this group of leaders continues to spend more time together, it is obvious that the Holy Spirit is moving through each of them as they lead in their respective areas the vision of healthy church.

By Pam Morgan
Operations Coordinator

 

Interview with NAE President, Walter Kim

GCI President, Greg Williams talks with the President of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), Walter Kim. They discuss Walter’s role, his experience in the NAE, and GCI’s relationship with the organization.

Dr. Walter Kim, President of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), visited our Home Office in Charlotte on February 10th. Susan and I have known Walter and his wife, Toni, for the past few years and have grown to respect him as a profound Christian thinker. We also have enjoyed them as fellow Christian leaders who need strong ecumenical friendships.

Walter was installed as NAE President in February 2020, just one month before the Covid 19 pandemic reared its head. Walter and his team worked very effectively through the zoom platform to keep NAE members informed about important topics like dealing with the challenges of the pandemic and joining us to the deep discussions related to Black Lives Matter. We had guest zoom meetings with respected leaders such as Dr. Tony Evans, Author Jemar Tisby and Attorney Justin Giboney.

The NAE has been a huge resource for me personally so from time to time you will see us point you toward some of the good materials they produce.

I held high expectations for Walter’s visit to GCI, partly because I have received skepticism and direct criticism about our (GCI) involvement with the NAE. The NAE, like all human organizations has some skeletons in its closet. Walter does not deflect the checkered past, but instead he takes ownership. In my opinion, he does a wonderful job of displaying what the NAE is today. But please don’t take my word, rather watch the interview with Walter in the above video. In a few more weeks, we will release the presentation that he made to our Superintendents, US Regional Directors, Home Office staff, and pastors who were in town for an orientation session.

I pray that these videos will be a blessing to you and to our GCI church family.
Greg Williams

Black History Celebrated—Ladson, SC, US

Each year during Black History Month, GCI Ladson features “A Moment in Black History.” Each Sunday during the month of February, we pause for a moment to celebrate the contributions of Black Americans and to understanding where we have been and where we want to be in the future. We try to be aligned with the national Black History theme which this year was Black Health and Wellness. Therefore, we highlighted the contributions Black doctors made to the health of Black people and how they advocated for the health care of Black people. In an effort to bring the accomplishments and contributions of Black health care professionals forward, we started with the disparity of diseases and health of people of color in America. Many Black healthcare professionals concentrated their efforts on the lack of quality and accessibility of health care for Black people.

Wanda Jones introduced us to Dr. Daniel Williams, a general surgeon who performed the first open heart surgery. Because many hospitals did not allow Black doctors to practice, he established the Provident Hospital and Training School for Nurses.

Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller, circa 1910

Also highlighted was Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller the first African American psychiatrist and researcher of Alzheimer. Fuller performed autopsies on Alzheimer patients and discovered that their brain had undergone physical changes, proving that Alzheimer is a true disease and not insanity. This presentation was enlightening given that many people in our congregation know someone or have a family member with Alzheimer.

Dr. Patricia Bath, an inventor and ophthalmologist, invented an improved device for laser cataract surgery. Dr. Bath took note of the high number of Black people suffering from blindness and other eye disease. Through her research and observations, she was moved to establish humanitarian efforts to help restore eye sight and provide eye care for many people.

Our concentration on Black Health and Wellness encouraged us to take care of our physical bodies which are the temple of the Holy Spirit.

By Mary Robinson
Love Avenue Champion, GC Ladson, SC

 

Black History Celebrated—Atlanta, GA, US

The congregation at Living Hope Christian Fellowship in Atlanta, Georgia truly celebrates Black History every year! We shine a spotlight on the rich heritage of Black people as Americans, as well as share what we learn about Africa, whose ancient name was Alkebulan, meaning “mother of mankind” or “garden of Eden.”

Ann Johnson

 

The documented accomplishments of African Americans since their arrival in North America during the 1500s, along with the more than 5,000-year history of the numerous civilizations of Africa, considered to be the oldest inhabited territory on Earth, is, admittedly, hard to truly celebrate in the shortest month of the year. However, we at Living Hope strive to tell the overlooked stories of notable African Americans who have made significant accomplishments in science, math, and technology, as well as poets, musicians, dancers, writers, inventors, and teachers.

We have displays, presentations, artifacts, and pictures of many of our local congregants and family members who are highly revered and accomplished citizens. We have praise dancers, who tell heart-felt stories through movement, and dramatic readings of pieces penned by famous authors. We also pay homage to many of our personal ancestors, who have been heroes and sheroes in their own right.

Pastor Charles and First Lady Debbie Young

During February, members wear authentic, African-inspired clothing to services and sing “Negro spirituals” that continue to play a prominent part in our culture and music ministry. The sanctuary, decorated with touches of African objects and artifacts, ensures that our youth are aware of and understand not only our difficult legacy, but also how Africa has contributed to the history of the world and how African Americans have contributed to the history and economic progress of the United States.

 

Another part of the month-long celebration is when the congregation gathers together for a potluck meal and members bring prized dishes of “food for the soul,” cuisine originating in the South and traditionally eaten by African Americans. The cuisine is strongly influenced by the traditional practices of West Africans and Native Americans from its inception. Today, “soul food,” synonymous with the cuisine of the American South, has become a celebrated aspect of mainstream American food culture, found in some of the most famous restaurants in the world.

Helen Garrett

Finally, concluding each Sunday’s service during Black History month, the congregation sings “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a deeply religious masterpiece by J. Rosamond Johnson and James Weldon Johnson, known as the “African American National Anthem.” It was the rallying cry during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s and the poignant lyrics speak of the yearnings of enslaved African Americans. Through the suffering and pain, the joy and hope, it speaks to the resilience and faith of a people who, much like the Israelites, believed and trusted that God would hear their prayers and lead them out of bondage to freedom. As was said during one of our Sunday sermons, “our stones tell a story.”

Free at last, free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!
Amen, amen and amen!

By Suzanne Smith-Wigfall
Love Avenue Champion & Treasurer,
Living Hope Christian Fellowship, Atlanta, GA

Black History Celebrated—Hamilton, Bermuda

Elder Antione Lightbourne leading worship.

Our celebration of Black History was not as grand as previous years, but we still honored the month. We did this by highlighting some of the original Black ministers in GCI.  We expressed our gratitude for the contributions of these people, which includes Harold Jackson, Abner Washington, Stan Bass, Leslie Schmedes, and Edward Faulk. On the last Sunday of the month, one of our local elders, Kevin Bean, gave some examples of Black persons in the Bible from the Old and New Testaments, demonstrating how people of color were always included in the Salvation story.

We decorated the church hall with African drums and costumes. We also displayed posters of prominent Black contributors to politics, science, sports, music, literature, and business. Some of our members wore African attire. The service ended with a light lunch and fellowship period.

Display showcasing Black authors, podcasters, musicians, & athletes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Cecil Pully
National Director & Pastor, Bermuda

Calling all Love Avenue Champions!

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Devotional—The Lost Son

Luke 15:11-32 NIV

20 So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

The scriptures are filled with wonderful stories, poems, historical accounts, and prophesies, but there is one story that really speaks to my heart. It’s the story of the “Lost Son” or the “Prodigal Son” found in Luke 15:11-32. This is not just a story or a simple parable, but it reveals the deep things of God. Remember Jesus is the one sharing this story. This is critical, because Jesus came and put on flesh for a few reasons, but one of the crucial ones was to reveal the Father to humanity. Jesus tells his disciples that no one has seen the Father – except the Son (John 1:18). Jesus is telling this story specifically to reveal the Father’s heart, character, and unconditional love for his children – ALL his children.

In this story a man has two sons. The younger son decides he doesn’t want to wait for his inheritance upon his father’s death. Instead, he demands his inheritance now. He then goes off to spend his inheritance on wild living in a foreign country. Things do not go well for this son – and that’s putting it mildly. In time, the son gets sick of his wayward life and decides to go home. In his brokenness, he is willing to forfeit his sonship and serve as a lowly servant to his father. Well, to make a great story short, he arrives home only to find his father waiting and hungering for his return. This selfish and sinful son is lovingly accepted back into the family and restored to full sonship. The amazing part of this story is that Jesus is telling all of us that our sins do not separate us from the Father—except in our minds and hearts (Colossians 1:21). Jesus has made a way for all of mankind by living a perfect life in our place, then willingly to trading his life for ours. We can accept this unbelievable offer from Jesus, but we cannot add to it. He is the Alpha and the Omega and everything in between. Salvation is found in no other name under heaven.

Lord, let us trust completely in you and your love. Help us to stop trying to be lord of our lives and trust in your will and timing. We love you and thank you for your amazing and unconditional love. Help us to see others around us with this same kind of love and help us to not look at anyone from a worldly point of view because of what you have done for all of us!   

By Mike Rasmussen
Superintendent of North America & Canada