We are entering our first round of Regional Conferences – renamed “Regional Celebrations.” So, what’s changing? The emphasis is different. Rather than a focus on training, we will emphasize worship, inspiration and relationship building. There will be activities for families, youth, and all ages. No doubt, this will be a GCI good time!
The celebration will begin on Friday evening in your region and will end with a worship service and communion on Sunday. In addition, we will offer specific training for pastors and ministry leaders on Friday. (Check with your Regional Director for details.) This training will follow the theme of Healthy Leaders for Healthy Churches. In preparation for this time we ask that you and your team review and discuss the video series REAL Teams. U.S. Superintendent Michael Rasmussen and I are excited to join with your regional director in this day of helpful, valuable training.
As we prepare to gather at the Regional Celebrations let’s ask ourselves, “What is the attitude of a healthy leader?” For the answer, let’s go straight to the leader of all leaders.
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although he existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8 NASB)
Jesus took on the form of a “doulos,” a bondservant. A permanent role of service – in his case it was absolute subjugation to the will of the Father, fulfilling the divine purpose of humanity’s salvation and the ever-present vision of the kingdom of God.
Both Peter and Paul identify themselves as bondservants to Jesus; knowing that they were bought at the highest of all prices and that their position of servitude was permanent. They were totally comfortable with the title of bondservant of Jesus Christ.
Being a bondservant to Christ means that at some point in our spiritual development as we explore the magnitude of who Jesus is, and then who we are in him that we become sold out. It becomes our desire to serve him with all that we are. Our simple faith grows to a point we can truly trust and say, “I am his.” In other words, “I totally belong to Christ as his property, his doulos. Jesus Christ is Lord over all of me. He is my Lord and my Master, my Savior, my King, my Friend and there is no better place for me to be.”
This is the heart of a healthy leader – being sold out for Jesus. Of course, there is no way we would or could become bondservants to Jesus without him being the first and perfect bondservant. Join me in trying to wrap your mind around this – Jesus, God in the flesh, accepted the limitations of humanity, set aside his divine powers, and masked his glory in the role of a suffering servant. This is our King and Lord who lives and moves in us and beckons us to walk in his tracks.
No matter your title or position in GCI think deeply about your status in Jesus as a bondservant to him. This is where healthy leadership begins. I look forward to sharing more on this topic at the regional celebrations. See you there!
There are many people serving in ministry who are motivated by what may be called “good intentions.” What they may not realize is their good intentions may not fall in line with what Jesus exemplified for us in ministry. This can be the cause of much frustration in ministry.
We all realize people have inherent needs, and many go into ministry with the high aspiration of helping people in need. Some even go so far as entering ministry because they need to feel needed. Frustration occurs when you realize you aren’t enough – you can’t meet all the needs of all the people in your congregation, and you can’t have your own needs met. This is true whether you have 500 people to serve or 10 people. Don’t be discouraged, though—many in ministry face this at some point. Frustration can easily lead to burnout. If you are feeling this way, please talk to someone. You’ll realize you are not alone.
Part of the problem is that our good intentions can be founded on something other than Jesus. This happens when we believe – or are made to believe – that we should have all the answers, or that no one else can do the job as well as we do it. Statements such as, “You are the best pastor we’ve ever had and you have saved my life” or, “I don’t know what I’d do without you – don’t ever leave or stop being our ministry leader” can produce what is called the “Savior Complex” – the tendency to seek people who desperately need help and to assist them, often by sacrificing your own needs.
While this may sound noble, there are some real problems. First, the person being helped soon comes to expect the attention and help and does not take responsibility for their own circumstances. Second, the leader is taking on the role of savior that can only be filled by Jesus. As GCI pastors and elders, we don’t want members to view us as their rescuer; we are elders called to serve. We want them to always look to Jesus. We can listen, visit, encourage, teach, coach and pray with members, but we cannot do what Jesus does. He is the one who heals, redeems, forgives and saves.
Many of us have fallen into this way of thinking at some point in ministry. Don’t get discouraged or lose hope if the Holy Spirit is pricking your heart right now. Healthy church begins with healthy leadership, and our goal is to help all become the best expression of health we can be. To be healthy, we need to understand some of the pitfalls we face.
At the heart of the savior complex is the ugly human expression of pride. Pride is what causes us to stumble and fall (Proverbs 16:18). Pride, or arrogant eyes, is one of the seven things that God hates (Proverbs 6:16-19). Pride was the undoing of Lucifer, and it is a subject worthy of our attention.
Pride seeks out the chief seats and the attention of the important people. In the British comedy series “Keeping Up Appearances,” Mrs. Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced Bouquet) is constantly trying to gain social status and become part of the social elite. Unfortunately, she commits faux pas after faux pas and each episode revolves around her latest. The real tragedy is that her actions cause her to look past, or step on the weak and the less popular on her journey toward high society. We watch the show and laugh, while mindlessly getting drawn into the practice of being a respecter of persons. Pride wins the day.
The sickness of pride also causes us to dwell on the shortcomings of others – often with contempt, irritation, frustration, or judgment. When we do this, we are looking on them as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:16 “from a worldly point of view,” and not seeing them as other human travelers who are also under the shed blood of Jesus. This doesn’t mean we don’t acknowledge and work through challenges and misunderstandings with our brothers and sisters, but we do so with Jesus in the bigger picture.
Recognition and confession of pride is the beginning of the healing process. While it seems to be easy to see pride in others, pride within ourselves is not so readily identified. Pride is insidious; it is the fuel that fills our earnest need for attention and respect, and therefore it is hard to detect its stronghold in our lives. Pride has an insatiable hunger for attention and respect; it’s easy to be fooled and call this an internal drive. (I see it more frequently in myself than I want to admit)
One of the greatest pitfalls is that pride is the enemy of humility and teachability. We use the adjective “stubborn” to describe pride because it is hard to shake off.
In the October meetings with our GCI leaders we focused on how our roles are to be as “bond-servants”; not thinking of ourselves as executives or superiors. We don’t ever want to be filled with anything but humility and love for others. We often pray together for God’s intervention and blessing.
Even if this does not seem like a battle you are fighting, please swallow any pride and join me in setting this matter in its proper place – before the eternal throne of justice and mercy. Let’s confess and pray the words of David recorded in Psalm 139:23-24:
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me and lead me in the way everlasting!
May we be humble and teachable people in GCI as we continue our quest for Healthy Church!
Health is a relative term. According to the World Health Organization, health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. This is an important distinction – especially as we focus on Healthy Church.
We all experience the ups and downs of health in our physical bodies. My very first week of serving as president was likely the busiest and most demanding of my life. Among the ceremonies and retirement parties, there were a number of planning meetings accompanied by informal breakfast and lunch meetings. The dinners included rich foods, robust wines and always some fancy, hard-to-say-no-to dessert. The physical, mental and social challenges were at an all-time high.
I came out of that first week with my heart full due to the overwhelming high support I received; I also came out with my sinuses and lungs filled with congestion due to the long days and late nights. My second week as president involved a lot of hot tea, vitamins, chicken soup, and extra rest. This experience gave me even more thought on the concept of healthy church.
You are aware that I have been preaching and promoting healthy church, and we are just beginning to focus on what this means. Caring for our bodies and caring for our churches have many similarities. The ebb and flow of how we manage our work schedules, our diets and workout routines is a good platform to convey my thoughts. Let’s ask a couple of important questions:
What is the activity level of the church? Almost all our churches host a weekly worship service (some fellowship groups meet less frequently). So, what is the activity level during this gathering? Does the worship team have to come early to get their worship set together, or have they met at some other time during the week? Do we spend too much time on announcements because this is the one time to communicate with the members, or is communication happening through the week with emails or posts on the church’s website? Does fellowship go unusually long because we only see each other at worship services, or do the members’ lives intersect during the week between services? Are the majority of leadership meetings held on the day of services or do these meetings take place on a different day? (Video conferencing can be utilized when it is simply too hard to physically meet.) When do outreach activities and community-building events like picnics, campouts take place? Working toward and creating a balanced rhythm to the overall schedule is crucial to church health.
What is the diet of the church? Ultimately, we should be feeding on Jesus, the Bread of Life. This is why we have some of our best writers creating sermon outlines for the cycle of the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL). We believe that preaching through the Bible over a three-year process creates a steady diet that is nourishing to all church members. We also promote the practice of Bible-based Small Groups because the diet of one weekly meal needs to be supplemented.
What is the spiritual exercise of the church? Exercise (working out) for Christian believers is tantamount to becoming equipped for Christian ministry. This can include formal education – I highly recommend our stellar institutions of Grace Communion Seminary and Ambassador College of Christian Ministry. Learning the art and skills of Christian ministry is more caught than it is taught, so we also strongly suggest the practice of mentoring. It is imperative that veteran ministers and ministry leaders pass along their skills and knowledge for the perpetuation of the church. If you are a veteran please find an apprentice to invest in, and if you are a new believer then search out an area of service that fits your personal interests and latent skills and dive in.
Please understand when I promote the vision of Healthy Church, I am not intending any church to assume the label of being unhealthy. All churches go through ups and downs as they attend to their health; good health is an ongoing process. When we write about church health or create ministry tools for you to use, it is based on our desire to provide support that assists you toward better health. Better ministry practices implemented over time will yield better church health. Every congregation and fellowship group is important to us and we pray all of GCI is on a path to better health.
My sentiment to you is the same as the Apostle John’s to Gaius, a beloved church member in Ephesus –
The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth. “Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul. For I rejoiced greatly when the brothers came and testified to your truth, as indeed you are walking in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John :1-4 ESV).
As you continue your faithful walk in the truth, which is your walk with Jesus, I will constantly pray for your congregation to be healthy and prosperous in your collective efforts to point others to Jesus.
While touring the most popular attraction in Charlotte, I was struck by some coincidental characteristics between myself and the personality for whom the museum was honoring. The video film introduced our main character as, “A southern farm boy from North Carolina who became a gospel preacher and worldwide evangelist.” You may have guessed that I was touring the Billy Graham Library and my “aha moment” was, “Hey, I too am a southern farm boy from North Carolina, and a preacher of the gospel.” It feels good to associate with the likes of Billy Graham (though I don’t have any notions of filling stadiums as he did).
Over the course of the tour I saw more insights into Graham that intrigued me. He had a friendly relationship with every US President from Harry Truman forward. There were pictures of him playing tennis and golf with a few presidents. There were other shots with him at retreat sites or their personal properties, like Lyndon Johnson’s farm in Texas, or George Bush’s vacation home in Maine. Billy Graham was active, athletic and a rather “normal” guy who was good company to presidents and ordinary people alike. I aspire to be rather normal myself.
During his long and storied life of 99 years, Graham displayed humility. He readily admitted that his wife Ruth was a better Bible student than he was. He touted Ruth as being his chief spiritual counselor throughout his ministry. Again, I felt a kinship with him knowing just how important Susan is to me.
Another similarity is that Billy Graham’s greatest attribute was pointing others to Jesus. At his best, Graham was simply reflecting the Jesus in him. More than any aspiration to be like Billy Graham or any other spiritual leader, my greatest aspiration is to be like Jesus. I’m sure this is your aspiration as well.
In several gospel accounts, Jesus was a regular party guest, and I bet he would have fit very well into the social scene of spending time with the presidents of our modern era. Both Matthew and Luke identify Jesus as a “friend of sinners,” and they add glutton and drunkard to their critical review. Ironically, the “friend of sinners” label was meant as a criticism and yet it is one of the highest compliments awarded Jesus. I hope the same label will be awarded to the leadership of GCI. It is a mystery how religious people want their leaders to be other-worldly instead of approachable and likable.
The apostle Peter challenges believers to be like Jesus and to follow in his steps. In his first letter, he reminds us we have been called to be like Jesus in our patient endurance, especially in the light of unmerited suffering. What!?! How am I supposed to do that in a world that has programmed me to stand up for my rights and to fight back against any type of abusive treatment? It is only in the vicarious humanity of Christ that I find the strength to walk in his steps; it is Jesus who has saved me from sin and death, and only him living in me can empower me to endure the struggles of this life.
Following in the steps of Jesus is different from the typical protégé coming along behind a senior mentor and trying to follow his or her pattern of life. Following Jesus is also more than reading about Jesus in the pages of the Bible and then, through our determination and human effort, striving somehow to be like him. Following in the steps of Jesus means actively walking with him, in communion, continually relying on him, and becoming more and more like him in this Christian journey known as sanctification.
The bottom line is that Jesus is more than a historical example. He is the God-Man who is real, relational, and desires to make his home in every single human. Following Jesus means more than admiring him and hoping to be like him. It means participating with him and coming to the realization that we can do all things only through him (Phil 4:13; John 15:5).
From this southern farm boy who shares some commonalities with the late Billy Graham, allow me to echo the sentiment of pointing you to a day-by-day vibrant relationship with your Lord and Savior, Jesus. As the great evangelist said, “I have never known anyone to accept Christ’s redemption and later regret it.”
Hopefully you have taken the opportunity to see the video series where I spoke about REAL Teams. If not, you can check it out here on our Resources site. It is our goal to be more creative in the ministry tools we are producing, and we are designing these tools for ease of understanding as well as application.
A clear understanding of REAL Teams sets the precedence for what we are hoping to accomplish with the new organizational structure we have in GCI for every circle of leadership.
In short, REAL Teams reflect the perichoretic union of Father, Son, and Spirit; the holy, mutually interdependent, completely harmonious relationship shared by the three members of the Trinity. This same kind of love, intimacy and inclusion was displayed by Jesus in the way he interacted with the original disciples.
In John 15:13-16 Jesus told his disciples that they weren’t mere followers or workers, they were his friends. Friends with whom he shared the insights he received from the Father. Friends with whom he shared life-on-life experiences and in-depth dialogue (Luke 24:13-45). Friends that he shared teachings with, which were not disclosed to others (Matthew 13:36-52). Friends to whom he gave high challenges, always with high support seasoned with grace (John 13:1-17). Friends who received tender acts of love from Jesus (John 13:1-17). Friends who were present to share the deepest and most painful experiences of Jesus (Matthew 26:38). This type of friendship expresses the very nature of the Triune God in which we are privileged to commune.
The following chart is the best way to present the new GCI organizational structure. It is not 100% uniform as each region and country has its own set of nuances, but the alignment is close, and it provides me a meaningful way to communicate and serve our pastors and churches around the globe. The biggest upside for me is when I visit one of the six areas around the world, I will meet with 3-4 leaders at one time and it reduces my travel and hopefully amplifies my effectiveness.
It is my desire to develop good chemistry with each of the six teams that we call “Communities of Practice,” and to whole-heartedly support each of the Superintendents. I am dedicated to listening, dialoguing, collaborating and planning with each group and as we bathe our times together in prayer. We expect the Lord of the Harvest to guide and bless.
This is a brave new undertaking and several of the leaders are new to the mix, so please join me in your prayerful support of each name on the chart. Even as I more fully step into the shoes of the GCI presidency, several others are stepping into bigger shoes as well, and I truly believe Jesus has raised up the right leaders for such a time as this.
I will work closely with the media team to keep you abreast of what is happening around the world of GCI. “We are GCI” and we are in this together!
GCI President, Dr. Greg Williams, gives an update on Grace Communion International, sharing the vision of GCI as a “Healthy Church”. He emphasizes that church health and growth starts with Jesus, we, however, are invited to participate with the divine. In our participation with Jesus’ ministry in the world, Dr. Williams encourages all of us to participate wholeheartedly.
“From the President” this time is written by Joseph Tkach, Chairman of the Grace Communion International Board of Directors.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I write this letter mindful that it’s likely my last contribution to Update as a GCI employee (I retire in January). As noted in an earlier issue, I passed the GCI president baton to Dr. Greg Williams in October.
As I reflect on my years as President of our denomination, many blessings from God stand out in my memory. One has to do with our name—Grace Communion International. I think it beautifully describes our transformation as a fellowship. By the grace of God, we have become an international, grace-based denomination that shares in the communion of the Father, Son and Spirit. I have never doubted that our Triune God led us into and through the miraculous transformation that got us to this place of great blessing. My dear GCI brothers and sisters, thank you for your faithfulness in that journey. Your lives are living evidence of our transformation.
Another blessing that comes to mind is one that many of our long-time members will relate to. Over the years, we often prayed in our church services that God would reveal to us more of his truth. Well, God answered that prayer—and in dramatic fashion! He opened the eyes of our hearts and minds to understand the great depth of his love for humanity, and showed us how he is always with us and for us and, by grace, has our eternal future safe and secure.
Many of you have told me that, over the years, you heard no sermons in our fellowship on the topic of grace. I praise God that, beginning in the mid-1990s, we began to overcome that deficit. Sadly, some reacted negatively to our new emphasis on God’s grace, asking questions like, “What is all this Jesus stuff?” Our answer then (as now) was this: “We preach the good news about the one who created us, who came for us, who died for us and who saved us!”
During this Advent season, I’m focused on the wonder and glory of Jesus’ comings for our salvation: through his incarnation and birth, now by the Spirit, and in his yet-future return. It’s amazing that some who expectantly look for Jesus’ return in glory (often called the “second coming”) refuse to celebrate his first coming, his birth. Apparently they don’t realize that there would be no second coming without the first. Have they not noticed that Luke devotes an entire chapter in his Gospel to Jesus’ birth, and that the Bible nowhere devotes a whole chapter to the timing of Jesus’ return?
Following the Bible’s emphasis on the key events in the life of Jesus, in GCI we celebrate or commemorate our Lord’s incarnation, birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension. Though we can’t celebrate his return in the same way (it has not yet happened), we do, during Advent, celebrate the promise of his return, knowing that Jesus always fulfills what he has promised.
As Scripture tells us, our ascended Lord Jesus Christ is now in heaven serving as our High Priest, awaiting his return in glory. As promised, he is preparing “a place” for us (John 14:1-4). That place is the gift of eternal life with God, a gift made possible by all that Jesus has and will yet accomplish. Concerning the revealing, through the Spirit, of the nature of that gift, the apostle Paul, quoting Isaiah, wrote this:
We impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”—these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. (1 Cor. 2:7-10, ESV)
I thank God for revealing to us the mystery of our salvation in Jesus—a salvation secured through our Lord’s incarnation, birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension and promised return. All of this is of grace—the grace of God given us in and through Jesus, by the Spirit.
Though I will soon retire from GCI employment, I will remain involved with our fellowship. I will continue serving on GCI boards in the US and UK, and on the Grace Communion Seminary board. I may also teach a course or two at GCS and do some preaching in my home congregation. My pastor Bermie Dizon has wondered aloud if I’d give monthly sermons. I joked with him that all this work doesn’t sound like retirement—it’s more like being retreaded for more miles! As we know, ministry is not a job—it’s a calling, a way of life. As long as God gives me strength, I’ll never stop ministering to others on our Lord’s behalf.
As I look back at the past several decades, in addition to wonderful memories related to GCI, I have many that are related to my family. Tammy and I have been blessed to see our two children grow up, graduate from college, find good jobs and become happily married. Our celebration of these milestones is heightened because we did not expect to reach them. As many of you know, our church formerly taught that there would be no time for such things—Jesus was returning soon, and we’d be taken to a “place of safety” in the Middle East prior to the second coming. Thankfully, God had other plans, though he does have a place of safety prepared for us all—it’s his eternal kingdom.
When I began serving as President of our denomination back in 1995, my focus was on pointing people to the supremacy of Jesus Christ. Even though I’m now retiring after over 23 years as GCI President, it is still my focus and will continue to be. By God’s grace, I will not stop pointing people to Jesus! He lives, and because he lives, we do too.
Advent and Christmas blessings from my family to yours,
– Joseph Tkach, Chairman, GCI Board of Directors
PS: With this issue we say goodbye to Ted Johnston, Update editor-publisher for the past ten years. Beginning with the next issue (January 9), the new editor-publisher will be Charlotte Rakestraw, member of our Media team. I’m grateful to all the men and women who have contributed so skillfully and faithfully to producing Update over the years, including Ted, Deb Paz, John Halford, Michael Morrison, Gary Deddo, Rick Shallenberger, Nancy Akers, Terry Akers, Janet Shay and many others. It’s been a labor of love.
Though Ted retires from GCI in January, he will continue teaching at Grace Communion Seminary and producing The Surprising God, a blog I highly recommend for its easily-digestible articles written from an incarnational Trinitarian perspective. Often quoting the Torrances and other Trinitarian theologians, the topics addressed on the blog include the Trinity, grace, our worship, final judgment, works, election, freedom, universalism and hell.
I often recall what Jesus said to Nicodemus in comparing the Holy Spirit to wind, which “blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going” (John 3:8). Though the Spirit is always at work in the world, we often don’t recognize what he is doing until after the fact. An example is found in the book of Acts where the Holy Spirit worked in new and surprising ways to lead Gentiles to Christ.
In Acts 15, Luke tells of the church council where there was “much discussion” about what should be required of these Gentile converts. I wonder how long the discussion lasted—was it over a period of days? In any case, at some point Simon Peter stood up and testified that the Gentiles had heard the gospel from his lips and that by grace, through faith (not works of the Law) they had been converted to Christ (Acts 15:6-11).
Students of the Bible know the backstory. In Acts 10, Luke tells how the Spirit had given Peter a vision (illustrated below) to convince him that God truly was including Gentiles in the body of Christ. Obedient to the message of the vision, Peter baptized the Gentile centurion Cornelius, along with a large number of people within his household (Acts 10:27, 47-48).
Acts 10 makes it clear that the Holy Spirit had moved with power to transform Peter’s thinking concerning a particularly controversial issue. He did so by cleverly, using the Old Testament custom of distinguishing between clean and unclean meats to show Peter that what God had declared clean, no person was to consider impure. To emphasize this point, the Spirit gave Peter the vision three times (Acts 10:9-16). Like us, Peter was prone to miss God’s point the first time (and maybe the second as well!).
Though what the Holy Spirit did at this foundational point in church history is in many ways unique, he has continued moving with power down the centuries to transform the church. In GCI, we’ve seen his transforming presence and power at work “up close and personal.” Just recently, the Spirit showed us that we need to make significant changes to our global denominational structure. With many of our leaders retiring and other leadership transitions occurring, we need a leadership structure that better matches our resources to the needs of our churches and pastors around the world.
The primary unit in our new global structure (to be implemented on January 1, 2019) is a group of leaders we call a Community of Practice (CoP). We’ll have six CoPs in order to serve the various regions around the world where we have members. Each CoP will be made up of key leaders within a region who share a common vision and meet regularly to share best practices and resources. Each CoP will be facilitated and supervised by a point person called a Superintendent. In future issues of GCI Update I’ll set out the details of the new structure, introducing the Superintendent and other members of each CoP.
In working out the details of the new structure, I found it fascinating that we were simply catching up with what the Spirit had already been doing in and among us. As noted above, we typically see his handiwork only in hindsight. The process of moving toward the new leadership structure began in January 2018 with my visit to South Africa (RSA) where I worked with our leaders there to form their national ministry team. Doing so involved an unforeseen, though meaningful caveat—RSA would come under the wider supervision of Kalengule Kaoma, who up to that point had supervised other parts of the African continent.
A companion piece to that experience was determining what would happen within our expansive Asian region, given the July 2018 retirement of Rod Matthews. The decision was made to add two Regional Directors, placing them under the direction of Eugene Guzon, who becomes Superintendent of the Asian CoP next month.
My work with Rod coincided with the Australian Conference held in June. During the conference I encountered one of those transformative “Holy Spirit surprises.” One of the conference participants commented that with the restructuring, all the leaders in Asia would now be indigenous to that region. I expressed my agreement with his observation, though I thought to myself that I wished I had been smart enough and intentional enough to have designed the structure with that important goal in mind. Thank God that the Holy Spirit works through us even though we often don’t fully grasp what he is doing until after the fact.
In my musings about our newly formed African CoP, I realized that all its members are also indigenous to that region. For that I praise God! While musing, I remembered a conversation I had with one of the men who stepped into the role of Regional Director (a title held by many of the leaders who work hand-in-hand with their Superintendent). This gentleman asked why he was being considered for that position. My response was that it was due to his long-time, faithful service, and because of the high regard the other leaders in his CoP display toward him.
For me, the primary takeaway from the experiences of this past year is this: Within GCI, our amazing Triune God has been preparing and calling leaders for a time such as this. I have high hopes for how our new structure will function. I truly believe that our best days lie ahead.
Holy Spirit, we will have more please!
Greg Williams, GCI President
PS: I hope you enjoy the new look for GCI Update. The changes we’ve made align this publication with the GCI branding now being used for all our denominational websites and publications. Also, we’re now sending the GCI Update email (that announces each new issue) to all GCI members for whom we have an email address. If you have not received the email announcing this issue, you can subscribe yourself using the “subscribe yourself” feature at right.
In the summer of 2012, while pursuing my Doctor of Ministry from Drew University, I was presented with the unexpected opportunity of taking an elective course called Celtic Spirituality. It required that I travel with the professor and six other students by plane to Manchester, England, then by train into Wales, then by van to the village of Aberdaron, and finally by ferry boat to Bardsey Island. Remote and rather barren (see the picture below), Bardsey has only four permanent residents. Nevertheless, it holds a special place in the cultural life of Wales. Due to the large number of Christians buried there, it is known as “the island of 20,000 saints.” Legend has it that King Arthur is one of those buried there. As a result, the island attracts large numbers of artists, writers, musicians and pilgrims (my class included).
In AD 516, an Irish priest named Cadfan sailed to Bardsey with 25 monks and began a monastery that operated through 1537. It was the mission of my class to recreate monastic life some 475 years after the monastery closed. In order to be formed into a monastic community, each of my classmates was assigned one of several roles: abbot, deacon, cellarer, cantor, acolyte, or the one I was assigned: lector. The job of the lector is to prepare the readings assigned for the mass (liturgical church service). The lector then either reads those long passages or assigns others to read them. I had no idea of the large amount of scripture that is read in these services.
Initially, my reason for reading the passages had to do with fulfilling a degree requirement. But as I read, I was surprised by the profound, personal impact it had as I experienced the Word of God washing over me. As I went back and forth between Old and New Testament readings, my appreciation for Holy Scripture was renewed and deepened.
The course professor, an Episcopal priest, gave me some special attention (perhaps his Tennessee roots paired well with my North Carolina roots!). He teased me incessantly, noting that though we Evangelicals say we are Scripture-based, we read far less Scripture in our worship services than do churches that follow the historically-orthodox worship liturgy. He made a strong case for making Scripture reading a primary part of all worship services.
Being immersed for a week in Celtic spirituality had a significant impact on me. I was particularly moved by sharing in deep, rich community with fellow students. Together, we prepared meals, engaged in morning and evening prayer, daily mass, and other class exercises. But the takeaway I want to share with you is the profound power of Scripture reading in worship services. If your congregation does not already read significant portions of Scripture in each service, I encourage you to do so.
For two examples of how God is heard through the reading of Scripture, read aloud Ephesians 5:21-33. Do you hear God’s instruction concerning marriage spilling over into the mystery of the relationship of Jesus to his body, the church? As we listen, our minds become filled with awe and anticipation. The metaphor of being cleansed by the washing water of God’s Word infers how Scripture is every bit as inspiring and transforming as it is instructive. Now read aloud Psalm 119:9-16. What do you hear? What do you experience?
I encourage all our congregations to follow the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) in their worship services. Each week the RCL has assigned Scripture readings (called “lessons”)—one from the Old Testament, another from the Psalms, one from the New Testament Epistles, and another from the Gospels. Typically, the sermon expounds on one or more of these passages. You’ll find manuscripts for RCL-synced sermons written by GCI pastors and elders in each issue of GCI Equipper (click here for the sermons published to date). Along with each sermon we also provide a Speaking of Life video and discussion questions synced with the readings and sermon. I encourage you to take advantage of these resources as you proclaim and celebrate the Word of God.
Reading the Word of God with you,
Greg Williams, GCI President
This “From the President” letter is by Joseph Tkach, Chairman, GCI Board of Directors.
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
Advent, which spans four Sundays (starting on December 2 this year), is a season of preparation for Christmas. During Advent we ponder the marvels of Jesus’ multiple “comings” (advent means coming). One of those marvels is the Incarnation by which the omnipresent God came even closer to us in the person of the God-man Jesus. As Luke proclaims, because Jesus has come, “nothing is hidden that will not become evident, nor anything secret that will not be known and come to light” (Luke 8:17, NASB). I like Luke’s use of “come to light”—it’s an idiom that points to the reality that with the coming of the incarnate Son of God to earth, things previously hidden about God and humanity are now revealed.
To see physically, there must be a source of light and the same is true spiritually. The light that gives spiritual sight is Jesus—the light of God for the world. The apostle Paul puts it this way:
For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (2 Cor. 4:6, NASB)
The Greek word translated face is prosopon from pros (meaning toward) and ops (meaning face or eye). It can also be translated presence. With the advent of Jesus, the everywhere-present though hidden God may be seen (experienced) through the Spirit in a deeply personal, face-to-face way.
Though omnipresent, God cannot be contained by created time and space. Through the Incarnation, God made himself personally present to us in Jesus. The Son of God first came to us through his human birth; since his ascension he is coming to us by his Spirit; and at the end of the age he will come again bodily. Christ has come, Christ is coming, and Christ will come again.
The season of Advent reminds us that God is not limited by the Incarnation. God remains Father, Son and Holy Spirit; and the Son of God remains who he was from all eternity, while assuming a complete human nature. Because of the Incarnation, our uncreated, omnipresent God is present to all created things while remaining God over all things.
As portrayed in the famous icon at right, the Son of God, who was divine before the Incarnation, remains divine even while being with us in the human person of Jesus. As affirmed in the Chalcedonian Creed, Jesus is one person with two natures.
Jesus was, is, and forever will be, fully God and fully human.
My mind boggles contemplating that reality. Though I cannot fully comprehend it, Advent reminds us that God the Son came from eternity and stepped into created time and space to be with us. In Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin puts it this way:
For even if the Word in his immeasurable essence united with the nature of man into one person, we do not imagine that he was confined therein. Here is something marvelous: the Son of God descended from heaven in such a way that, without leaving heaven, he willed to be borne in the virgin’s womb, to go about the earth, and to hang upon the cross; yet he continuously filled the world even as he had done from the beginning! (Book 2, p. 53)
My mind continues to be boggled as I read what Paul wrote to the church at Colossae:
For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. (Col. 2:9-10)
As a baby lying in a manger, Jesus was still the omnipresent Lord, sovereign over eternity and all creation. Though he became human, the Son of God remained divine. As the author of Hebrews says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8). While on earth, the incarnate Son of God lived a fully human life. Paul puts it this way:
Being in very nature God, [the Son of God] did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Phil. 2:6-8)
The incarnate Son of God made this great sacrifice in order to reconcile, regenerate and transform within himself our rebellious, corrupted human nature. That transformed human nature is then shared with us by the Holy Spirit who ministers to us the things of Christ.
The wonder of the Incarnation, which we ponder during Advent, truly is beyond our ability to fully grasp. Nevertheless, it inspires our adoration and thanksgiving. Advent, along with Christmas and the other celebrations in the liturgical calendar, reminds us that our omnipresent, triune God reached down to us so that we might be lifted up to him. Thank you, Jesus!
Love and blessings upon you all this Advent season,
PS: Due to the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday next week, the next issue of GCI Update will be published on November 28. Happy Thanksgiving to you all.