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Compelled by Love: Generosity with Time and Talent

From time to time, I invite a guest writer to share meaningful experiences and information with our church audience. It is my pleasure to have GC Cleveland Pastor, Tamar Gray, as our guest writer this issue. Tamar presented at the Love Avenue workshop in March, and she is uniquely gifted as an educator. Her relational connections in her community are serving her very well in reaching out to new people with the love of Jesus. Tamar has some important words to share about how we use our time and talents to better participate with Jesus in his mission to the world.

–Greg Williams, President


“This most generous God who gives seed to the farmer that becomes bread for your meals is more than extravagant with you. He gives you something you can then give away, which grows into full-formed lives, robust in God, wealthy in every way so that you can be generous in every way, producing with us great praise to God.” (2 Corinthians 9:10-11, The Message)

I was asked to join a prestigious music board and replied “yes” immediately to the honor before knowing the requirements. I was disappointed to learn there was an expectation of a sizeable monetary donation. As I prepared to decline the invitation, the board president explained that it was not the financial contribution they required, but my time and talent.

This epiphany moment poses the question, how often do we allow our preconceived mindsets to limit sharing ourselves because we believe what we have to offer will not be of value? Placing our time and talents into the hands of the Master will be an invaluable resource for work being done here on earth as the compelling love of Jesus overflows in every aspect of our lives.

Time

There are only so many hours in a day, and giving time speaks to what and who we consider important. In scripture, we witness Jesus being generous with time. He would share with those considered the least in society, heal their infirmities, or share the good news that would change their lives.

One example is found in Mark 5: 25-34. Jesus was on his way to heal Jarius’ daughter when he was “interrupted” by the woman with the issue of blood as she reached out to touch his garment. He could have told her he would pray for her as he continued on his way. Instead, Jesus stopped, saw her, and by faith, she was healed. As we move about our busy lives, may the Holy Spirit make us aware of those who are touching our garments.

Taking time for others means something else will not get done at that moment, but it is usually time well spent. As a teacher, I find interruptions occurring every day in the classroom with students and colleagues who need to be seen and heard. Participating as Jesus works in their lives and sharing the time becomes a privilege.

A transformation can take place with a touch, word, or prayer. As the church, we can impact our communities by taking the time to share our personhood and allowing space for others to do the same. It is in our relationships that we encounter Jesus.

Talent

We can use our God-given talents to place-share and create relationships that allow us to see Jesus and begin to know each other. Some skills are apparent, while others take some discovery and encouragement. When we share our abilities for God’s glory, they become the conduit for spreading his word and praise.

As I view my life, I can see three talents God has gifted in me:

      • Teaching—the ability to share knowledge that people can use in the classroom, community, and church.
      • Singing—a ministry that brings people together, gives hope, and can bring others closer to God.
      • Administration—the capability to see the big picture, implement details, and gather groups of individuals to put a plan into action.

I am using these skills in the classroom, community, church, and now as a member of the prestigious music board which helped me recognize the value of time and talent.

What about you? Are there any newly developed giftings that you see God growing in you for this specific season? Take time to pray, reflect, and ask God to show you the areas in your life where God may be calling you to share your gifts.

As we continue on this compelling journey of love, may our Lord of generosity continue to bless us, and may we give him the praise so richly deserved.

Tamar Gray

Tamar Gray
Pastor, Cleveland, OH, US

 

 

Editor’s Note: Pastor Tamar wrote about using our God-given talents to place-share and create relationships. Want to dig deeper into place-sharing? See this GC Buzz.

President’s Video—Living and Sharing the Gospel

In this month’s Update, GCI President Greg Williams reminds us why “Living and Sharing the Gospel” continues to be our mission statement. He goes on to share the activities that are happening in our denomination as we give light to this year’s theme, “Compelled by Love”.

Program Transcript


GCI President Update | June 2022

Hello GCI.

You can see our Mission Statement handsomely displayed on this large wooden plaque gifted to the denomination by the UK Church in the 1990s. It looks good in our office and is a constant reminder of what God has called us to do.

Our Mission Statement – “Living and Sharing the Gospel” is historical and still spot on. This first part of the slogan is alive and vibrant. As I travel the world and meet with GCI folks, I see the fruit of the Spirit in the members. I see the amazing,
Christ-like qualities of love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Our members shine brightly as they live out the Gospel in their personal lives. However, the second part of the slogan, “Sharing the Gospel” needs attention.

The good news is that when we talk to pastors in all regions around the world, no one argues against this observation. I think we have a consensus that we need to attend to this matter, and I can assure you that we are.

The theme for 2022 is “Compelled by Love” – which means being fueled and driven by the love of Christ that fills our lives to the point of spilling over to our neighbors around us. This is the only fuel that will properly operate the church in the manner that Jesus intends. Any other fuel of clever tactics or schemes that are empty of the authentic, unconditional love of Jesus will not do.  

Permit me to come back to the example of Nehemiah. My mind has been captured by this story. Nehemiah’s mission was to rebuild the walls of his beloved Jerusalem. He began with prayer, seeking the Lord’s will, favor, and provision. Like Nehemiah, we acknowledge that all ventures of the church must begin with seeking the face of God, and the continued reliance on him.

The Lord answered Nehemiah’s prayer and gave him favor with the king, and the Lord worked through the king to supply the provisions (security guard for protection and then physical supplies to accomplish the project). We would call this arrangement a “strategic partnership.” We have more to learn about these types of partnerships as we journey forward.

I get ahead of myself in the story. On Nehemiah’s first trip to Jerusalem, he saw the rubble and ruins.  He was “broken-hearted” and lamented. The context of the story sounds as if this was a lingering lament, not just a passing emotion. What are we lamenting? Rather than a broken wall, hopefully, our lament is lingering because of people we know who are living broken lives because they do not know the salvation and joy of a relationship with Jesus.

After the period of lament and utilizing the resources supplied by the king, Nehemiah rolled up his sleeves and got busy. Ministry is work that requires diligence and a great deal of energy and sweat. And the real genius in Nehemiah’s God-backed plan was that he was gifted to organize others and achieve the goal of including all the returning refugees. In church speak, we would call this “ –” You have probably heard me say that we are better together. It was true for Nehemiah, and it is true for you and me.

While Susan and I recently met with leaders across three of the four regions in Africa the notion of “intentionality” kept coming up. May I recommend that we be intentional in three areas? Intentional in prayer; intentional in lament; and intentional in our thought-out plans and execution. During our trip to Africa, the leaders agreed that we can’t just gather and talk about ministry concepts, these ideas need to become actions. The church needs to join the Lord of the Harvest in the white, abundant harvest field.

Speaking of ministry actions, it is my good pleasure to announce the efforts of Outside the Walls events that will be happening in the US this summer. In June we will be having OTW weekends in Grace Communion Ladson, SC, then in Grace Communion South Kansas City, MO. In July we will be on the west coast on Grace Communion River Road.

Behind the scenes, work has been happening working with the local pastors, their Love Avenue Champions, and Love Avenue team members to do the prayerful planning and preparation. Many Zoom video meetings have occurred as part of the training and preparation. Church Multiplication Ministries Coordinator Heber Ticas has been serving as a consultant for these events and the US Regional Directors have been actively involved as well. It has been “all hands on deck.” That’s how important it is for us to learn how our churches can better connect with our neighbors to spark meaningful relationships that can lead to knowing Christ and joining his church. Sharing the Gospel is a priority for us to become Healthy Churches.   

These purposeful events are now upon us. Join me in a prayer of blessing…   

Father God
Jesus, Lord of the Harvest and Holy Spirit the transformer of lives
We call on you our great Triune God to bless our OTW events that will happen in June and July
From the east coast to the middle of the country and the west coast
Please inspire the last-minute preparations
Bless us with comfortable, temperate weather
And most of all, please bring new people to us that we can love with your love,
and tell them about you
May each of these events be launching pads for other Love Avenue events to come in the future
We join you Lord Jesus in the Harvest Field, and we trust you for the growth
It’s in your strong and true name that we pray
Amen!

I am Greg Williams, speaking about the life of the church.

The Good, Long Day in Nairobi

Greg and Susan Williams, planting the palm tree

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

In the previous Update, I raved about the conferences held in South Africa and Zambia, and they were highlight events. But that was only part of our African journey. Susan and I also went to the eastern region with Superintendent Kalengule Kaoma (KK) to spend a good, long day in Nairobi, Kenya.

We arrived late on Monday afternoon, giving us time for a relaxed evening of rest. We were going to need to be well-rested to meet the rigors of Tuesday’s schedule.

Our day started with getting a Covid test so that we could board our flight scheduled for that night at 10:45 p.m. Thankfully the young man administering the test allowed us to do the mouth swab (I experienced the Q-tip in the nostril several times, and I am not a fan).

The Gachanja Family. Left to right: Anthony, Jane, Lucy, Philip, Beth, Peter

Once tested, Regional Director, Anthony Gachanja came to pick us up at the hotel. Riding across Nairobi gave us a feel for their culture. I made three observations as we travelled the busy streets. My first impression was how closely the cars and trucks tailgate one another—getting cut off by another vehicle is the rule of the road. Even with what felt like aggressive driving to me, there were no car accidents along the way. The second observation in traffic was how many passengers can ride on a motorcycle. It was common to see three people on a motorbike and occasionally there would be four. Amazing! My third observation was the abundance of Bible scriptures or Christian slogans on van and bus windows. A good reminder that the gospel gets displayed even in traffic.

Anthony’s first stop for our group was his home. His wife Jane and their four lovely children greeted us. They were so pleased to welcome us into their home. We shared stories around the table as we ate fresh fruit and thoroughly enjoyed the hospitality of the Gachanjas.

Anthony and Jane then took us to the Nairobi church building, where their pastoral team and key leaders were dressed in their Sunday best to greet the GCI President and his wife. I am deeply humbled by the reception I get from our members, and it continues to amaze me how many want to get their picture taken with Susan and me. I realize that it is the office in which I serve that they respect, and what a privilege it is.

KK with the trees planted in 2021

At the church building, which is a remarkably beautiful and well-thought-out facility, we were given a short history of the building and a tour. They are just now completing a space with one room that will serve as a teen meeting room and a second room that will be the pastor’s office. It was wonderful to have a prayer circle with the pastor and pastoral team and pray a prayer of dedication over that space. From there we went outside, where Susan and I were to plant a tree to honor the occasion (in December 2021, KK and the four Regional Directors of Africa met at this location, and each planted a tree to represent GCI Africa and its leaders). Susan and I planted a nice-sized “Royal Palm” tree that we hope grows to be a healthy plant, just as GC Nairobi grows to be a heathy church. I love the symbolism.

If this had not already been an eventful day, we went from the church to a hotel conference room where we met with church leaders from across the eastern region. The countries of Rwanda, Tanzania, Burundi, and Kenya were represented, and the lead pastor from the Kakuma Refugee Camp was able to join us. I had the opportunity to give a presentation explaining GCI’s vision, starting with Jesus as the center, who we are in him, and how our ministry models and strategies are reflective of who he is. KK gave out copies of A Giant Step Forward (the book I wrote with Rick Shallenberger and Tom Nebel), along with the GCI Toolkit so that these leaders can continue to learn about GCI’s overall movement and its ministry concepts. We are coming to better realize that it is Jesus’ ministry, and we are privileged to join him and participate with him. As KK often says – “Hallelujah!”

The various leaders came bearing gifts, and Susan and I were lavished with many wonderful tokens of their love and gratitude. Several of these items will go into our Presidential display case in the Home Office where we can cherish the wonderful memories while honoring the faithfulness of our beloved members in east Africa.

We ended this good long day at the “Carnivore Restaurant.” It was a meat-lovers festival, giving us a taste of some of the exotic meats that Kenya offers. Ostrich and crocodile topped the list. The servers continued to come around with their variety of meats on long skewers until the group finally surrendered by laying down a service flag at the head of the table. As desserts were being served, Susan and I were whisked off to the airport for a late-night flight.

I don’t ever recall having such an eventful day with so many highlights packed in, and it was my good pleasure to assure Anthony and the eastern region that we will return for a full-length conference in 2023—God willing!

Still rejoicing in the good, long day,
Greg Williams

PS
We acknowledge the deep pain the violent attack in Buffalo, NY has caused our Black community. We lament with them and join with the entire Body of Christ in rejecting white supremacy. We embrace this statement from the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE):

We reject white supremacy, call for justice for victims and their families, and exhort churches to combat attitudes and systems that perpetuate racism. We also lament the violent attacks this past week in California, Dallas, Milwaukee and Philadelphia. Every person is created in the image of God and has inestimable worth (Genesis 1:27). (Read full statement here.)

Compelled by Love Conference in Africa

Greg & Susan Williams

 

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

It is with great pleasure that I report to you about the excellent conferences that took place in Aruka, South Africa and Chongwe, Zambia. Susan and I were accompanied by Superintendent Kalengule Kaoma (KK) for these outstanding meetings. How sweet it was to spend quality time ministering with KK!

KK & family

My heart had been longing to meet with our African leadership since the 2020 and 2021 conferences were postponed due to Covid-19. This long season reminded me of the apostle Paul when he was often delayed due to various hardships, and he sent letters to churches that he longed to be with in person. There is nothing that can replace being together and sharing life-on-life experiences.

Left to right: Anthony Gachanja, Greg, Susan, Kalengule Kaoma, Takalani Musekwa, Gardner Kunje, Emmanuel Okai

Takalani Musekwa, Regional Director (RD) of South Africa, and his wife Margaret (pictured right) hosted the conference in Aruka over the Palm Sunday weekend. Aruka is a retreat property (formerly named Linga Longa) owned and operated by GCI South Africa. The flow of presentations, followed by table discussions and then group debriefs, made for a wonderful sharing and learning environment. It is also noteworthy that I was able to share lunch with the South African Board of Directors. These faithful volunteers are much needed stewards of our ministries and serve as wise advisors to our ministry directors in their respective countries. GCI is filled with such good, service-oriented people.

Zintle Ncokazi

The praise and worship throughout the trip was amazing and inspirational. The African members express their joy through beautiful voices, passionate smiles, and the movement of dance. When I worship with them, I feel like we are joining the heavenly host at the throne room in a deeply meaningful way.

 

Here’s a story I hope will encourage you, as it did me. On my first night in South Africa, I awoke at 3:30 a.m. and couldn’t fall back to sleep. As I prayed and thought about the upcoming presentations, a praise song ran through my head. I kept thinking about the concept of rising up like an eagle and being overwhelmed by the power of his love. I couldn’t quite put all the words together in my head, but it moved me. I was thrilled when, on the first day of worship, the praise band had chosen “The Power of His Love” as one of the worship selections. I sensed the Holy Spirit winking at me and confirming that these meetings were meant to be.

Gardner Kunje, Regional Director of Central Africa, along with KK hosted the conference in Chongwe over Holy Week. We stayed true to the Worship Calendar and highlighted the events from Maundy Thursday through Resurrection Sunday. We even held a foot-washing ceremony. This had not been done in several years, and it was a joy to participate out of the freedom we have in Jesus. And happy were we as we did it.

I cannot recount all the highlights as they were so numerous. Major themes that stood out were unity in purpose and movement toward Healthy Church, especially as it relates to making new disciples.

There were many wonderful conversations about how we are actively working together to become a healthier church, and all the conference participants were eager learners. A specific point that stuck out is when we acknowledged how our mission statement—“Living and Sharing the Gospel”—is just as relevant today as when we came up with it many years back. However, we noticed that while our members are quite good at living out the gospel in their private lives, we have not been quite as good at sharing the gospel with others. Hence the emphasis on being compelled by love (the love of Jesus).

One of the presentations in Zambia by Takalani struck a strong chord. He referenced the apostle Paul in Romans 10:1.

Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them (Israel) is that they may be saved. (NRSVA)

For Israel to know Jesus and to be saved was a burning desire that Paul held closely. Do we share a burning desire for our people group (be it family, neighbors, or co-workers)? Effectively sharing the gospel begins with our broken-heartedness for those who don’t yet know Jesus. Maybe we could begin our days by asking the Lord of the Harvest to guide us to people in our sphere of influence who he is preparing and drawing? I think he will honor such a prayer. Let’s see what happens.

The spirit of goodwill and unity of purpose was palpable. An example of this unity of purpose came from West Africa Regional Director, Emmanuel Okai. He gave an outstanding presentation called “Building a Farm System.” He spoke from his 70-years of life experience about how we can invite others in and effectively walk with them around the apprenticeship square so they can be prepared for ministry. He reiterated the need for us to be like John the Baptist, willing to personally decrease so others can increase. Then he ended the talk with the inspiring thought of how the ones coming after us can be like Elisha succeeding Elijah and be given a “double portion” of the Spirit. What a bright future that paints!

In a personal conversation with Emmanuel, he said if all of us keep doing these same methods and practices over a long stretch of time, imagine what an amazing transformation there could be in our church. I resolutely stated, “Yes! And what if this is true in all six global regions around the world?” The two of us shared an invigorating notion that caused goose bumps. What if?

I must recognize KK and his RDs as they have been casting a vision for Africa they call Vision 2025. They began this in 2020 and are now weaving in our global three-year plan, which fits quite nicely. Well done!

On a long journey in the same direction,
Greg Williams

PS
Stay tuned for more about our trip to Africa in the next Update issue.

Jesus, Place-sharing all the Way to Calvary

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

Many years ago, I read a book that equated Jesus to a chief executive officer (CEO). The gist of the book was to overlay the “How tos” of Jesus onto the role of a modern-day business leader. The book fell woefully short because it failed to establish the “Who” question. If Jesus is just a good person, a good teacher, and a model to imitate, we miss who Jesus is. We relegate him to the list of Mohammed, Buddha, Socrates, and the like.

Jesus, as a member of the Triune God, emptied himself and became human. He lived a perfect life, tempted in every way that we are and yet without sin. He is creator of the universe, and it is in him that we live and move and have our being. Jesus is the King of Kings, and we shall ever be growing into the comprehension of who he is.

So, what was Christ really like? How did he place-share with his disciples? Consider this list—a 24-hour snapshot—of how Christ interacted with his followers that final day before Calvary.

      • He gave them detailed preparatory instructions for the gathering in the upper room. Coming together and being together was always a priority of Jesus, and frequently surrounded a meal and festive environment.
      • Jesus was about serving other people. On this night he girded himself with a towel and took the wash basin, then one by one he knelt and washed the feet of his disciples. He set the tone for how much he valued them.
      • Continuing with other people in mind, the profound words of instruction he shared with them and the intimate intercessory prayer he prayed for them was for their comfort. Jesus, who is the “Suffering Servant” portrayed in the writings of Isaiah, deeply identified with the suffering and grief that his followers would face, and he attended to this.
      • Jesus was honest. He warned them of the troubles they would experience in the world and that ministry would be hard. He then assured them that the Holy Spirit would be the guiding presence to see them through.
      • Jesus gave them hope for a future. He proclaims that he will share in the sacrament of communion with them again in the kingdom to come.
      • He shared that he would go away, and during this interim he would be preparing a place for them in glory.
      • Ultimately Jesus willingly went to the cross and laid down his life. The broken bread and wine pointed to the actions that would come the next day.

(Read chapters 13-17 of John’s Gospel and see if you can identify other ways that Jesus demonstrated deep care and friendship for his followers)

In this “one-day” amazing display of love and friendship, descriptors that leap out of the fabric of this event include servanthood, sacrifice, truth, hope, security, purpose, and friendship; all being of the highest order. These authentic qualities of Jesus demonstrate his deep love and care for his followers. This loving, caring, belonging relationship is what Jesus extends to all humanity.

The apostle Paul says to follow him as he follows (emulates) Jesus. More Christlikeness and more of the tangible expressions of Christ’s love is absolutely what the church of today needs.

May the rejuvenation we have experienced on Easter Sunday firmly remind us of how our personal following of Jesus is also about a personal sharing with others. May the season of Eastertide be punctuated by how we place-share with our neighbors, family, and friends.

Compelled by his love!

Greg Williams

President’s Video—The Love of Christ Directs the Path of the Church

Dr. Greg Williams talks about the life of the church as we start to open our doors emerging from the pandemic. He reminds us of our collective vision as a denomination, the pursuit of Healthy Church with the love of Christ.

Please go to the link below regarding Greg’s March Update.

https://update.gci.org/2022/03/letter-from-the-president/

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Program Transcript


GCI President Update | April 2022

Hello beloved Church. We are certainly living in an interesting stage of history. I believe that all of us around the world are slowly, but surely emerging from the 2+ year pandemic of Covid-19 and its variants. Certainly, there will be aftermath from the loss of loved ones and the loss of opportunities, especially with our inability to gather in person for church life, family life, and personal pursuits. As restraints are lifted, we will begin making up for lost time. My travel schedule for this year includes six international sites. It’s a good marker for making up for lost time.

Then we recall the words of Jesus in the Olivet Prophecy recorded in Matthew 24 when he assures us that there will be wars and rumors of wars, but the end is still to come (vs 6). We pray for those suffering in Ukraine and the surrounding region, beseeching God for his mercy and peace. In light of the chaos and the suffering, we are more deeply convicted to continue the work of the church; to proclaim the gospel, make disciples, and equip the saints to join in the work of Jesus through the church.

Did you hear the clarity about our collective work? In our pursuit of our vision to be Healthy Church – the best expression of the church of Jesus Christ that we can be, we must improve in the way that we reach out to our neighbors in love and actively sharing the good news of Jesus. In my last Update video, I spoke about being compelled by the Love of Jesus in us, and we will continue this theme throughout 2022. It is the love of Jesus that fills us and will spill over to our “not-yet-believer” neighbors. The more actively we are involved in the Love Avenue the more likely we are to grow in church health.

And it is not just getting new people through the doors of our church. As we engage new people the loving, responsible action of a Healthy Church is to help them grow in their knowledge of Jesus. Will they experience the presence of Jesus through the Holy Spirit as they engage our members and join in our worship? Will they come to love the “Living Word of God,” Jesus, as they hear the “Written Word of God” preached clearly and boldly week in and week out? Will there be appropriate classes to help new believers find their path to growing in relationship with Jesus and in the life of the church? And finally, will there be on-ramps where new believers can find their best fit to actively participate in the ministry of Jesus through the ministries of the church?

Simply put, Healthy Churches make new disciples and effectively equip the saints. This is the direction we are going in GCI.

In my March 9 Update, I spoke about a 3-year plan that is being embraced by all 6 Superintendents and all 6 Global Regions. If you are not familiar, then please go back and read that letter (it is one of the most important that I have written in my three years as President). In February, I met with our Superintendents over a four-day period. We agreed that we have been on the same path of ministry using a shared theology that is foundational to who we are, and a developing practice of ministry with a common language that we can all build from. For those who appreciate academic language – we have a “Graceful Orthodoxy” and by the power of the Spirit we are growing into a “Graceful Orthopraxy.” In more simple terms, our beliefs are informing our practices.

To have all Superintendents in all our global regions embracing the shared theology and developing ministry practices, is not a small thing. It is a wonderful window of opportunity that is before us. It is also a lot of work that will require new ways of thinking and new ways of acting. The course ahead can feel overwhelming, but hasn’t our Lord been faithful to see us through storms and challenges before? Didn’t Jesus assure us that all authority in heaven and on earth is his, and that he will never forsake us or leave us? Is he not the Head of his church and the one who is the Captain of Salvation for all people? So, if the Lord be for us, what can stand against us.

GCI, we are united by the bond of the Holy Spirit, and we operate under the power and authority of our King Jesus. Let’s move forward together over the coming three years. We are better together. And I ask that all of our National Directors, Regional Directors, Pastors, Ministry Leaders, and members join with me and the Superintendents in this amazing journey toward Healthy Church!

I wish all of you an inspiring Holy Week and may we greatly encouraged as we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior on Easter Sunday. Blessings from my family to yours.

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

Full of Grace and Truth

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

Back in December we celebrated the Incarnation – God becoming man in the person of Jesus. An incredible verse that captures my imagination is John 1:14.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14 NRSV)

What a mysterious, fascinating concept that causes us to stop, ponder and worship.

When we dig into scripture and see the first recorded interaction of Jesus the human, we see him at age 12 interacting with the Jewish priests at the temple in Jerusalem. He’s exchanging ideas, sharing in questions and answers, connecting and relating. I’m certain that he blessed them with some truths that were new to their ears, and very likely blew their minds.

Truth most often comes in statement form – “I tell you the truth, you must be born again.” Then thinking more about John’s account of Jesus, we hear the declaration statements about who he is – “I am the resurrection and life,” “I am the Good Shepherd,” “I am the Bread of Life” and the rest of the seven of these “I am” statements that reveal the deity of Jesus.

Truth statements challenge the thinking and stir the spirit. Oftentimes they hang out there for us to think about in wonder and amazement. Jesus also taught that truth has the power to divide and be a point of contention. It can be wielded as a weapon when it is used untampered by grace.

Thinking about our personal lives and our Christian witness, are we more comfortable with stating truth than engaging in dialogue?

Not long ago, Susan and I were riding on public transportation through a sprawling urban center. A middle-aged man with his five- to six-year-old daughter got on the train. The little girl’s behavior and speech seemed to indicate symptoms of autism. The dad was quite calm and patient with her. There happened to be a lady sitting close by on the same bench seat. As we pulled into the next stop, the lady moved to get off and immediately spoke out to the father with bold, emphatic words. She said “Don’t be fearful, perfect love casts out fear. You are a child of God. You are loved and blessed. Be blessed.”

I certainly agreed with her words of truth, but her delivery seemed awkward and came across as bombastic parting words at a train stop. Why not engage the little girl and her dad during the ride?

Then there are the obnoxious words or phrases that Christians use in declaring their understanding of truth. “The Bible says it and that settles it.” Did this ever win a non-believer over to a meaningful conversation? Or point them closer to Jesus?

I recognize that I am comfortable with being direct and stating the truth. And while there is a time to be concise and direct, the more I grow in self-awareness, I see how being “full of grace” is more engaging and better at connecting with others.

What does it mean to be full of grace? Grace is about tangible, transforming love that brings about acceptance and belonging. In my experience, grace most often appears in the form of heartfelt open-ended questions and interactive conversations. Grace flows from the grace-giver, Jesus, and it starts with connecting us to himself, but it doesn’t bottleneck there. This received grace becomes extended grace, and it is about connecting, sharing, building trust, bonding, and authentic relationships. Grace is about give and take in an atmosphere of love and respect.

Jesus was the master at asking discerning, alluring questions. Who do you say that I am? What do you want me to do for you? Will you give me a drink? Do you want to get well? Etcetera.

What if we followed his example more closely and became more effective at engaging others? What if we seasoned our truth with healthy doses of grace?

In 2022 we are following the theme of “Compelled by Love.” (Compelled by Grace fits quite comfortably into this mix). We see the Holy Spirit moving us to engage and love our neighbors with greater awareness and intentionality, and this can only happen as we join Jesus by being full of grace and truth.

May our witness of the Gospel be a testimony to truth and may the grace we share build eternal relationships with new disciples. Amen!

Still growing in grace and truth,

Greg Williams

P.S.

We mourn along with our worldwide family the atrocities of war. Join us in holding the people of Ukraine and all those affected by the conflict in prayer. We ask our God of justice to bring peace and comfort. For prayer points and actions we can take to support our Ukrainian brothers and sisters, please visit the NAE website at: Pray for Ukraine | National Association of Evangelicals (nae.org)

Why Faith, Hope, And Love?

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

By now you have heard of how GCI seeks to better join Jesus in his ongoing ministry through the avenues of faith, hope and love. It is important for me to answer the question of “Why?” Why are we following this path? Why is faith, hope and love so profound for our church going forward?

In the middle of their varied disorders and factions, Paul reminds the church leaders and members at Corinth of the high value and absolute necessity of faith, hope and love. They are the greatest virtues that speak to who Jesus is and what he is about in his active ministry to humanity.

For now we see in a mirror indirectly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:12-13)

Chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians is the capstone to important teaching concerning spiritual gifts and godly living (chapters 12-14). Paul articulated the diversity of gifts available to believers as the Spirit orchestrates and then the necessity of maintaining unity among themselves under the virtues of faith, hope and love. The successful use of spiritual gifts by and among believers must be undergirded by faith, hope and love.

So, is faith, hope and love an isolated topic trapped in 1 Corinthians 13? Faith, hope, and love are indeed prominent in the Scriptures. Let’s look at a few examples.

We heard about your faith in Christ Jesus and the love that you have for all the saints. Your faith and love have arisen from the hope laid up for you in heaven, which you have heard about in the message of truth, the gospel that has come to you. (Colossians 1: 4-6)

In this passage, we see that hope has a vital connection with faith and love. All three work together to provide “a confident hope” for the believer which not only assures of a heavenly, eternal future, but empowers the believer to live a godly life here and now.

Here, Paul picks up with the “Big Three” as he tells the church:

We must stay sober by putting on the breastplate of faith and love and as a helmet our hope for salvation. (1 Thessalonians 5:8-10)

For God did not create us for wrath and condemnation, but for receiving salvation and love through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us, whether we are alert or asleep, we will come to life together with him.

Faith and hope appear together at the opening of the “Hall of Fame” faith chapter in Hebrews 11. This chapter speaks to a wide range of people in a wide range of circumstances, and it shows how through Jesus the believer can live a settled life in an unsettled situation. And how living in a threatening, chaotic world there can be an active, and confident faith in God and the believer can live a life of assured hope. For all “Pilgrims” to come to this end is what Jesus and his church is working toward.

The concepts of faith, hope and love cannot be separated from who Jesus is. It is his faith that fills my unbelief; it is his hope that covers my doubts; and his love that cancels my fear. And he is this Savior of perfect faith, perfect hope, and perfect love for all people.

Faith, hope and love are the three great permanent Christian graces, as opposed to the lesser temporary gifts of prophecy, miracles and tongues spoken of in 1 Corinthians. These three “remain” and will be our continued framework for ministry in GCI.

In Jesus’ perfect faith, hope, and love,

Greg Williams

Simplifying Complexity

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

Have you ever considered the complex world that Jesus came into? It was plagued with politics and domination from the Roman empire. The state of the Jewish religion was all over the map with as many as 72 different factions and sects of Judaism. A common hope that many Jews shared was for the coming of a Messiah spoken of by the Old Testament prophets. The expectation was the Messiah would be a socio-political leader who would overthrow the Romans and restore Israel to dominance. But then here comes Jesus, a non-celebrated rabbi from the back-water town of Nazareth. You can only imagine the external forces he faced.

Throughout this season of Epiphany, we have been focusing on Jesus being the light of the world. Throughout his teachings we see him continually boiling down and refining difficult topics, often using stories with commonplace examples to make his point. The climax of his teaching and effort to simplify is when he expounds on the two Great Commandments—loving God with heart, mind, and soul and then loving neighbor as self. He declares that all the Law and all the Prophets are summarized in these commands. Can it be any clearer than this?

Fast forward to our 21st century. We too face external forces. Political strife, religious confusion, economic struggles, etc. We also have internal forces to deal with. Think of Jesus and his organized band of 12 disciples. He brought them alongside himself to watch him minister to the people of Israel, to join with him in the ministry, and ultimately to be prepared to be founders of the church. Internally they were plagued with dullness in learning, competition among themselves, and a frequent lack of faith, yet Jesus never gave up on them. The church was successfully founded and continues to our day.

In GCI we face our own challenges with external and internal forces. Have you ever considered that we operate in 66 countries across the world? Do you know that translates to 40+ languages and dialects our superintendents work with? There are 2,000 languages and dialects in Africa alone. The seemingly simple task of communication is incredibly complex. For example, when working with the superintendents we were talking about the skill and process of welcoming new people into our churches, referring to this as “assimilation.” Daphne Sidney raised her hand and shared with our group that in Australia there was a government move to assimilate the indigenous people (the Aboriginal people), and this ultimately meant the ending of their culture. We made a quick pivot and dropped the word assimilation and replaced it with “integration.” This challenge to use words that are properly conveying the intended meaning is an ongoing struggle, and relies on the Spirit’s lead.

As Jesus worked with his band of 12, at times we see him working with a smaller group of three. No doubt Jesus was the perfect mentor/teacher, and he was intentional with how he developed those around him. In walking in his steps, we too seek to be intentional in how we work with our groups of leaders. By now you have heard about “Team-Based, Pastor-Led.” This model stresses that ministry is not a “solo” endeavor, but a shared work that ultimately includes all believers. The leadership role of the pastor is extremely important, and yet it is clearly lined out in Paul’s letter to Ephesus when he says that the pastor is to engage, equip, empower and encourage the saints so that they are actively participating in the ministry of Jesus in their time and space, and through the vehicle he designed – the church.

As President, I, along with other GCI leaders, are working long and hard to move us toward the team-based approach. It is our desire that we have a simple, understandable structure and system whereby we more actively join Jesus in his mission to the world (described plainly in the Avenues of Love, Hope and Faith). It is my prayer that the mosaic of our churches and pastors in 66 countries can be organized so that all believers utilize their personal giftings, passions and calling that the Lord has for them individually and can express those gifts corporately through the life of the church.

This all circles back to the two Great Commandments and the clear instruction of Jesus. Before we jump into our response of whole-heartedly loving God, think about this – the Father sent his one and only unique Son Jesus into the world to save us from sin and death and to prepare us for eternal glory. The Son in turn sent the Holy Spirit to be our Guide, Intercessor and Helper, actively transforming us into the image of Jesus. To grasp the understanding of Father, Son, and Spirit, and what they are actively doing in us and through us which compels us to fully accept, receive and engage in loving him with our entire being. With the fullness of his love in us, how can that not spill over to our neighbors?

The amazing Triune God who holds ALL things together, who makes the complex simple and understandable for us, certainly has GCI in the palm of his hand – loving us, caring for us, shaping us regardless of any external or internal forces. The ministry of Jesus we celebrate as we review the scriptures is continuing to minister through us the church in 2022.

Praising him for the simple and the complex,

Greg Williams