The Post-Covid Church

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

The COVID-19 pandemic was an external shock to our established systems unlike any of us have ever experienced. Our pastors and ministry leaders have been challenged to re-think church. It has certainly been a time we have needed the creative voices among us. Many congregations have done well to listen to the creatives and have found clever ways to worship and fellowship via technology. (GCI Creative Community FaceBook Page is a splendid resource for continued sharing of fresh ideas).

So, now that we are a quarter of the way through 2021 and are seeing signs of hope, how do we approach the possibility of movement out of the pandemic?

Meredith McNabb, Associate Director for Educational Programming at Lake Institute, says this:

“On the practical management side, in a time of external shocks, the leadership task might best be summed up as asset management: what resources do you have, and what do your core values say should be done with those resources?”

This is good, straight-forward advice. I would add that it needs to happen in the spirit of Acts 15 and the Jerusalem Council, where after hearing testimony and meetings bathed in prayer, they arrived at meaningful conclusions that “seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (verse 28).

As we have relied on our creative folks to help learn new ways to sustain the work and presence of the church, now is a good time to for church leaders to convene and have serious conversations about the values and mission of their local church.

McNabb adds these helpful questions:

        1. Why does the congregation exist?
        2. What is the spiritual, transformational, life-giving, and meaning-making work that caused the congregation to gather in the first place?
        3. How do these elements play out going into our future?

These questions set the table for what could turn into a transformative leadership meeting.

I am happy that our focus this year is on the Faith Avenue. Much of our pre-Covid focus was on the Sunday gathering. I would speculate that up to 80% of our attention, resources and energy went into the Sunday meetings, and then the pandemic shut our doors. This blip in church life may prove to be an incredible wake-up call for the church to better distribute its attention, resources, and energy.

What is the new storyline for our church?

Connect Groups are a timely answer as we continue to build and nurture relationship with one another, and collectively walk with Jesus. These groups can thrive online or in the physical setting of someone’s living room.

Cross-Generational Care is a demanding need as some of our senior members and at-risk members will not be able to gather the same as before the pandemic. It is the authentic care of the church that finds meaningful ways to keep these members still included as part of church life. This is an area that requires us to step up.

Community-Building Events may receive more attention than usual since many of these activities can happen outside in a safer setting for social distancing. This is a key spot where the Faith Avenue Team converges with the Love Avenue Team. Sharing and comparing ideas from both teams that will develop into plans will be extremely helpful. And be sure to give special consideration to how these activities mix and match with neighborhood engagement.

A healthy church will find ways to function well in all three ministry avenues – Love, Hope, and Faith. It begins with a focus on Jesus as our Lord, Provider, and the Head of our church. What has Jesus been saying to us through this global health challenge? How has he reorganized our church? What priorities is he directing us toward? These questions need to begin the assessment process for your leadership teams, as you gather to set your eyes toward the future.

Jesus is our Love, Hope, and Faith. As we actively pursue thoughts, plans and activities in each of these avenues, let’s be assured that he is the one leading, and we are alongside as participants.

Faith Forward!

Greg Williams

P.S. Click here to read my letter, addressing Lament for the Asian-American Community.

From “Hosanna” to “Crucify Him” to “He is Risen”

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

Coming down from Mt. Tabor after the Transfiguration, our Lord Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem. The journey to Jerusalem is ultimately toward the cross, and people shouting for Jesus to be crucified. Yet we cannot come to “Crucify him!” without the triumph of, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of Lord,” which occurred on Palm Sunday.

The crowds are absolutely correct as they sang praises of Jesus from Psalm 118. Designating him the title of king is accurate. Jesus is indeed the One coming in the name of the Lord; he is blessed; he is the King of Israel! The setting in which Christ parades down from the Mount of Olives finds Rome in charge of Jerusalem. The Temple is empty of God’s glory, and the people of Israel are in waiting. They are waiting for their King, but their expectation is for a conquering King on a white warhorse. However, we have the one who is already King entering not on a warhorse or chariot, but on a donkey. What?

Jesus did not enter Jerusalem as a militaristic king to overthrow the Roman regime. His kingdom is different and unexpected. His reign is humble, yet immeasurably powerful; it is founded on transformational godly love. His power is not displayed by overthrowing the gentile rulers, rather, it is shown through his willing and voluntary death on the cross, where sin and death are defeated.

Having entered the city, we now turn our attention to the events of the days leading up to the cross. It would be extremely confusing for someone to move from Palm Sunday and the Triumphal Entry only to return the following Sunday to hear about the Resurrection. What happens in between these two bookends is extremely important. To see the story as a complete story requires that we include the celebrations and recollections of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.

As we move past the Triumphal Entry, we cannot miss how the humble procession of Palm Sunday frames the unfolding story. To fully feel the impact, we must juxtapose the image of the crowds crying “Hosanna” with that of Jesus standing before Pilate just five days later and the crowds screaming “crucify him!” It is not enough to simply focus on the original cast members. Feeling anger toward Judas, perplexed by Peter, or mystified by the fickleness of the crowd doesn’t take us far enough. A major reason we need to rehearse the unfolding story of Passion Week is so that we can personalize these accounts. Where would I be?

The real work is to recognize and own that I am the one shouting “Hosanna” and laying down palm fronds because I celebrate the triumphal entry. However, a few short days later, I am also a voice in the crowd approving his death with the words “Crucify him!” because he wasn’t the king I expected him to be, and because I am easily swept up in the emotion of the moment. O wretched man that I am. Who shall deliver me from this body of death? I thank God that through Jesus I can be delivered (see Romans 7:24-25).

Don’t just rush through this week—bask in the richness of what the week offers, savor in the deliverance. On Maundy Thursday dig into the Passover meal that Jesus shared with his closest friends. Note how he instituted the Eucharist with its simplicity and profundity. Think about the rich words of the new commandment he gave—to love as he loves. Pay attention to the instruction and encouragement that the disciples could not fully appreciate until months and years later. Place yourself in the story and think and feel the thoughts of the disciples.

On Good Friday feel the weight of being before Pilate, the sting and trauma of the cat-of-nine-tails, the heaviness of carrying the cross, the jeers of the soldiers, the presence of your mother and the disciple that you love, and the release from the words, “It is finished.” You can draw parallels between Psalm 22 and the words of Jesus on the cross. Be awed by the forgiveness Jesus bestows even while being murdered. The picture of pain, agony and humiliation serves to amplify the picture of victory on Resurrection Sunday. (I leave it to your pastor to share the Easter message.)

All of this is good, and it paints the story of Jesus and the salvation he brings for humanity. Palm Sunday reminds us of the humble, powerful, unique King that we hail as Hosanna. Good Friday reminds us of how quickly our hearts can turn away from the King. And because of his saving mercy, we have Easter Sunday to assure us that “He is risen, He is risen indeed!” In the middle of our up-and-down human experience that is so vividly displayed in the Passion Week and Easter, we have a Savior who set his face firmly toward Jerusalem—all because of his indescribable, non-fickled, undeterred love for us. And our risen Savior lives to continue the love story of bringing humanity to glory.

Wishing you an awe-filled Passion Week and Easter!
Greg Williams

 

Mentorship

In this Update, President Greg Williams talks about the life of the church and how Christ-centered mentorship plays a vital role in our ministry journey.

Video Transcript

Hello Church. We are winding down the season of reflection and preparation that brings us to Easter. The months of winter seem to move with a slower and perhaps more deliberate rhythm – I think it is by God’s design that we are given the seasonal changes to provide a disruption to our routine. In similar fashion the worship calendar taps into our rhythms to disrupt us from life’s busyness to draw our attention to Jesus – his life, his salvific work, and especially to the reality that he is present with us. It is extraordinary to consider the benefits we have because of Jesus – it is in him that we live and move and have our being. All that we have and all that we are is in him. It is Jesus who holds all things together. In John’s Gospel Jesus says he came to give us life in abundance. So, what does that mean to a person living in the 21st century? Especially in our materialistic, consumer-driven world. It comes down to our understanding of abundance. Was Jesus talking about financial wealth and the accumulation of physical stuff? This was not the intent of his communication. The “zoe” life (the Greek word for life in John chapter 10) that he was speaking of springs from a conscious, tangible, daily relationship with him. It is by being with him that his nature transforms our nature. It is his love that fills our life so that we can love; it is his faith that stands for us so that we can be faithful; and it is his peace that comforts us in life’s storms. True, abundant living does not happen apart from Jesus. Acts 4:13 says this about Peter and John: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” – They had been with Jesus. It is so easy to be jealous of the original disciples. What would it be like to spend three years following Jesus around Israel and having personal interaction? We can relive the experiences as we interact with the written word which is deeply meaningful. And the really good news is that we, too, can be with Jesus by communing with Him because he is the Living Word of God. Listen to Commentator Matthew Henry. “Those that have been with Jesus, in converse and communion with him, have been attending on his word, praying in his name, and celebrating the memorials of his death and resurrection, should conduct themselves, in everything, so that those who converse with them may take knowledge of them that they have been with Jesus; and this makes them so holy, and heavenly, and spiritual, and cheerful; this has raised them so much above this world, and filled them with another.” This concept of “being with” translates to how we approach ministry. After the Damascus Road experience, the Apostle Paul was in Arabia for three years and during this time was being taught by Jesus. It is this same Apostle who instructed the Corinthian church to follow him as he followed Christ. The list of Paul’s protégés is quite long, with Timothy and Titus being the most notable. Bible Professor Dr. Andreas Köstenberger says “While Paul preached the gospel everywhere, he went and planted numerous churches, perhaps his most important contribution was mentoring men such as Timothy and Titus.” Paul approached ministry with the intention that he would pass along what he knew and what level of expertise he had to other capable men and women so that Gospel Messengers would multiply, and that Jesus would be made known. There are many facets to mentoring. Sponsorship mentoring: Barnabas did this for Paul as he began his ministry. Barnabas lent his good name and credibility to Paul. He opened doors Paul could not open for himself. Paul in turn shows a more intensive style of mentoring in his relationship to Timothy. He intentionally takes Timothy under wing and disciples him. In essence he is a teacher, model, and guide for Timothy. He whole-heartedly believes that Timothy can care for the church in the same way that Paul does. Over the course of time, he sends him out to serve as a church Bishop. Back in the early 2000’s I spent two years in a mentoring relationship with my good friend and pastor Bill Winn. Once Bill completed his internship and answered the call to pastor our GCI congregation in Richmond, VA he gave me this plaque. (READ) Mentoring happens in seasons of time. Over the last few years, I have been learning about reverse mentoring. I have younger staff members who help me learn about their generational preferences and creative ways of thinking and operating. Being that we are an international fellowship I engage with multiple people groups around the world, and I must learn from them if I am going to serve them well. In their book Connecting, Paul Stanley and Bobby Clinton sum up mentoring this way – Mentoring is a relational experience in which one person empowers another by sharing God-given resources. Having a relational guide to help you increase your knowledge base and learn new skills is an awesome gift to treasure. In 2021 our Media department will be creating video clips to better define and educate us about the GCI ministry tools and values. The Apprentice square is a specific clip that will unfold more about the methodology and power of mentoring I think Jesus was onto something when he sent the disciples out two by two. Think of how they learned from one another and the support they felt. Earlier we talked about how it was Peter and John ministering together when the crowd identified their intimate tie to Jesus. It circles back to acknowledging and celebrating Jesus. As we make final preparations for Easter, may we be in a posture that allows us to whole-heartedly receive the overflowing graces of Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. Our forgiveness and salvation was made secure with Christ’s willing sacrifice on that dark Friday afternoon. And our hope and assurance for eternal life with Jesus was solidified when the Father raised him, and he went triumphantly out of the tomb. Amen, and amen! 

The God Who Makes Everything Complete

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

The writer of Hebrews in his benediction provides great encouragement to the church for all ages.

Now may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, make you complete in everything good so that you may do his will, working among us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20-21 NRSVA)

The entire book of Hebrews points to Jesus. He is Creator and the perfect reflection of the Father, his sacrifice alone is effective for the salvation of humanity, he is the eternal High Priest between God and humanity, and he is the Shepherd of the church. This is great news!

So, how has the Great Shepherd been shepherding GCI? Personally, I have been amazed and humbled by how Jesus has been leading us more closely into his ministry, both in style and purpose.

In 2014 I was asked by Grace Communion Seminary to create the class CM510: Polity of Grace Communion International. It was during the creation of this class that I introduced the concept of Team-Based, Pastor-Led. As I taught the course, I had wonderful discussions with students about this ministry concept, especially with regard to how it matched with our Incarnational Trinitarian theology and reflected the way that Jesus worked with and through his original disciples.

Notice again verse 21 of Hebrews 13, which reminds us the God of peace will “make you complete in everything good so that you may do his will.” Making us complete begins with justification and the process of sanctification in Jesus, and it moves forward to equipping us so that we can participate with him in his ministry to our neighbors. Certainly, the equipping from Jesus involves the calling and gifting that comes from the Holy Spirit, but how are we to be organized as a church? What structures help us to be the healthiest expression of church that we can be?

After having taught the Polity class three times and seeing the positive response from the students over Team-Based, Pastor-Led, it gave me the incentive to introduce this with greater confidence to our U.S. ministry leaders. We began sorting through the ramifications of this teaching with enthusiasm, and one of the greatest breakthroughs was when the media team decided to join the cause by creating visuals. (Since 65 percent of the general population are visual learners, this step made good sense.)

I am also a visual learner, and in the early stages of explaining the concepts I found myself drawing sketches of faith, hope, and love circles on napkins while sitting in restaurants with key leaders. I believe my good friend Jeff Broadnax saved one of those napkins. Thank God for Charlotte Rakestraw, our GCI Graphic Designer, who cleaned up my elementary artwork.

The U.S. Regional Directors (RDs) fully embraced the model of Team-Based, Pastor-Led with its three ministry avenues. In 2019 we held Regional Celebrations across the U.S. I was so pleased and proud to sit in on the sessions while the RDs so clearly articulated the Team-Based, Pastor-Led model.

In the COVID year of 2020, I was thrilled to watch the GCI Superintendents host zoom meetings across the world for the training of what is rapidly becoming our new ministry model.

The power of the Team-Based, Pastor-Led approach is that it opens wide the gate for all believers to find their place of participation with Christ and his church. Pastors no longer carry the ministry load on their shoulders—instead they share the ministry with others. In community they experience the joys and sufferings of participating in Jesus’ ministry, and thus more fully discover the presence of Jesus.

As our media team continues to create more tools around the Team-Based, Pastor-Led model, we continue to discover new depths. It is a lot like the more we get to know Jesus, the more we realize we have only begun to scratch the surface of this relationship, and likewise with his ministry. So, if you are just beginning to explore the Team-Based, Pastor-Led model of leadership, please don’t think of this is akin to a “paint by numbers” project. It is a framework to get you started. As you find the right leaders to oversee the Faith, Hope, and Love Avenues, and as they add team members with their own unique mix of personalities and gifts, you will see this model of leadership play out in the context of your church neighborhood. I believe this will change the culture of your church and the church neighborhood in ways you probably have never imagined.

I get chills just thinking about how our Great Shepherd is equipping us and positioning us to join him more closely and personally as we yield to his lead.

To him be the glory!

Greg Williams

Readiness

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

I came across an intriguing quote that says, “When the student is ready the teacher will appear” (unknown origin)

Good organizational structures and systems accompanied with good ministry tools and practices cannot accomplish what we hope for unless we start with a spirit of humility and teachability. As the wise saying suggests, there needs to be “readiness” within the spirit of our would-be leaders. We define readiness as a stage when a person displays the willingness and capacity to receive instruction and then to engage and act in fresh, Christ-like ways.

We find both of these spirits evident in the great story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch.

On the heels of the martyrdom of Stephen in the early church, followers of Christ scattered from Jerusalem to avoid persecution. Philip “the evangelist” was one of those followers (he was one of the original seven deacons described in Acts 6).

Philip was directed by an angel of God (Acts 8:26) to go to Gaza, where he would encounter a eunuch from the court of the queen of Ethiopia in Africa. (This eunuch was apparently either following or at least exploring Judaism). The eunuch was returning from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, traveling south to his home country, Ethiopia.

The eunuch was reading from the writings of the prophet Isaiah—specifically a passage about the suffering of the promised Messiah. The eunuch did not know how to interpret what he was reading. He was a ready and willing student in need of a teacher. Philip, the able teacher and preacher, explained to him how the prophecy had been fulfilled by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, who was the Messiah talked about in the ancient writings.

As they rode together in the eunuch’s chariot, they came upon a body of water, and in response to the gospel, the eunuch professed his faith in Christ, and requested Philip to baptize him. Philip obliged, and then was immediately carried away by the Holy Spirit to another location. The eunuch continued homeward rejoicing in the salvation and new life that he had received in Jesus.

This account in the book of Acts leaves us hanging regarding the rest of the eunuch’s story. It is reasonable to infer that the eunuch would have been the first to bring and share the gospel message to Ethiopia and the continent of Africa—thus, fulfilling Christ’s proclamation in Acts 1:8 for the spreading of the gospel from Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the world.

Why the eunuch? Why this marvelous encounter with Philip? Undoubtedly a divine appointment was at play— the angel instructing Philip to pursue the eunuch, the interaction with the scriptures and its fulfilled meaning in Jesus, the regeneration symbolized in the act of baptism, and even the Spirit redirecting Philip to his next excursion. For the eunuch, he was finally seeing something clearly for the first time, even though it had always been there; the Old Testament puzzle pieces had finally been joined to display the magnificent picture that is Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah. The light came on and changed his life forever!

This Bible story is about this state of readiness. When I say “readiness,” the posture of the eunuch is a great illustration. He was open and teachable with a desire to learn. When the light came on about Jesus being the fulfillment of the prophecies, he embraced the truth and displayed his surrender and allegiance through the act of baptism.

In Paul’s correspondence to the church at Ephesus, he explains why we have teachers in the church like Philip the evangelist.

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13 NRSVA)

Paul wants all believers to come to the same understanding about Jesus that the eunuch displayed. It is crucial for the community of the church to have a thorough and unified knowledge of Jesus and to live out a unified faith. But get this, the journey of faith is a process of maturity—growth and movement away from childish behavior and toward Christ-likeness. In other words, toward a life overflowing with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Readiness is embracing this growth process with the assurance that the Holy Spirit is continuing a good work in us, moving us closer to and more like Jesus. This is not a clever behavioral modification program, but rather a dynamic work of the Spirit. Please understand that the Spirit is constantly at work, not just showing up in times of crisis and only working part-time hours.

My good friend and one of our Regional Directors, Anthony Mullins, gave me permission to share this story with you to emphasize the meaning I am trying to convey. Anthony, who serves as RD, local church pastor, moderator of a GCI podcast (Gospel Reverb), and coordinator of our GCI coaches, came to me and confessed that he was in a dry season and felt void of joy. Instead of enumerating the multiple circumstances and situations in his busy life that may be obstacles blocking the joy, he simply wanted me to join him in prayer to entreat the Holy Spirit to freely restore the spiritual fruit of joy to his life.

Please understand that Anthony was open to discussing his life circumstances and challenges, and quite honest about areas that needed attention and fresh responses from him. However, the inner joy that abides in a believer regardless of ups and downs was not going to come by fixing a schedule, or much worse, trying to fix other people or himself. Rather a humility that led to submission and reliance on the Spirit was the game-changer.

I see a kinship with Anthony and Philip—servants who are fully sold out for Jesus, going about their days freely sharing the good news about the Savior, and are open and receptive to the lead of the Spirit with an ever-forward trajectory of growth toward the stature and fullness of Jesus.

Growing with Jesus and aspiring to be more like him day by day!

Greg Williams

Culture of Liberation

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear Family and Friends,

You may recall seeing the Support/Challenge Matrix in some of our publications. This diagram effectively demonstrates ways of being and operating that create a cultural pattern for a person or organization.

I was recently challenged to define what I mean by a culture of liberation. Is the concept biblical? Does it fit with our Incarnational Trinitarian Theology? The short answer is yes, it is biblical, and it fits with our theology. Further, it describes the emerging culture of GCI.

One of the greatest gifts Jesus gave us is freedom. Luke tells us Jesus has set us captives free (Luke 4:14-21). He is the one who has freed us from the dominance of legalism and the culture of fear and manipulation. He is the one, through the power of the Spirit, who has filled us with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. He is the one who moves out of the culture of apathy. He joins us to the purpose of the Father in pointing us to the eternal kingdom and away from the culture of self-centeredness and entitlement.

And yet we are called to participate. To do so, we must come out of the prison cells of our old self and our old surroundings and embrace the freshness of life in him. We are free because of him and through him. He is the one establishing the culture of empowerment and opportunity in us. It is his good pleasure to do this work in us.

In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul talks plainly about what a healthy church community looks like.

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Ephesians 4:14-16)

Rather than a community that gets swept up in and entrapped by the noise, rhetoric, and false news of the day, in Christ we are freed to be a community that boldly “speaks the truth in love.” Striking the balance of high support and high challenge toward one another—out of “grace always”—is the sign of a healthy church, where leaders and members speak honestly and lovingly to one another. Being honest and loving is how we are joined and held together, and it is all from him who is the head of the church—the one who empowers us through the Spirit.

This may seem like a nuance, but a culture of liberation is not license. Rather it is a strong commitment to Christ and to one another. Empowerment and opportunity do not let us off the hook for being our brother and sister’s keeper. Being united in Christ means that we are for one another; we are accountable to each other—even (and maybe especially) when we experience differences of opinions. If it takes strong bones, toned muscles and elastic ligaments all in alignment for a human joint to operate smoothly and effectively, imagine how much active participation it takes from you and me to be a part of a mature healthy church?

The culture of liberation that we are growing into allows us to be free from sin, death, guilt, and shame, and yet it goes further. Not just “free from,” but “free for.” We are free to become the best versions of ourselves as we grow in relationship with Jesus and with one another. I think of freedom in Christ as an invitation and empowerment. I am free to join him and participate in much of what he is doing. I am free to see how he is at work in people around me, and I am free to share his love that he has liberally bestowed on me.

Brothers and sisters, it is Jesus who has joined us together. It is Jesus who liberates and empowers. May we embrace, celebrate, and perpetuate the culture of liberation that he is showering upon us.

Praising him for my liberation,

Greg Williams

Faith Forward

GCI President, Dr. Greg Williams, gives an update on the life of Grace Communion International. Greg talks about the significance of the Faith Avenue as we move forward into 2021.

 

In light of recent events in the United States, Greg Williams has written an additional message this week. Click here to read it.

Video Transcript

Over the past two years, we have been teaching, promoting, and reporting about what we call the “Team-Based, Pastor-Led” model for congregational oversight. It is beginning to lodge in our thinking and vocabulary, and it is also being manifest in the shape of our ministry practices. I am impressed with how this expression of ministry is translatable to all 6 regions of GCI around the world. Our African Superintendent Kalengule Kaoma said this in a recent monthly report.  We re-stated our Vision 2025 of being a Healthy Church that is Living and Sharing the Gospel through the three ministry avenues of Faith, Hope, and Love. We then spent time discussing “How to create a Healthy Faith Avenue, Hope Avenue, or Love Avenue”. The seminar was very timely as it became clear that as we prepare to re-open our churches, we can make a clean break with the past, and chart a new journey of Faith, Hope, and Love towards 2025. We can develop new habits, new plans, and new ways of doing ministry in line with our Vision. This was music to my ears and to my spirit. Having common ministry practices supported by a common language and ministry tools positions us to better join with Jesus as a denominational movement. As we launch into 2021, we will emphasize the Faith Avenue. We are calling this “Faith Forward.” The COVID year has slowed us down on many levels, and yet it has created a season of deeper examination and reflection. I am happy to say that we have used this time to revise and update publications, manuals, etc. It has also provided space to create fresh ideas and new support material. An expanded view of the Faith Avenue is one of the new pieces. The Faith Avenue is about discipleship – believers growing in their walk with Jesus as well as their walk with their Christian brothers and sisters. Growing deeper in relationship with Christ and becoming more like him is the faith forward that we desire, and this best happens in the community and life of the church. We talk about the Faith Avenue in the “Three C” subsets: Community-building, Connect Groups, and Cross-Generational Care. Community-Building: Spending meaningful time with the church family in activities and events with the goal of growing deeper in relationships. Connect Groups: Small groups gathering typically in the comfort of members’ homes for relationship building and spiritual growth. Cross-Generational Care: Recognizing and meeting the needs of the different life stages in our congregation. These three areas define where we establish Faith Avenue ministries and help to provide spaces for ministry leaders and ministry workers. How will we know that our Faith Avenue ministries are making a difference? Here are some key markers.

  • Church Life is happening outside of the Sunday Service
  • New disciples are being formed
  • Existing disciples are growing in relationship with one another & in following the way of Jesus
There will be much more to come as we dive into 2021. We will not neglect the other Avenues of Love and Faith, rather we will highlight the aspect of the Faith Avenue. Many of our articles and church hacks will further educate our church about ways they can further develop the Faith Avenue. It is my hope that we can see the person of Jesus through the lenses of Faith, Hope and Love. If this is who he is, then it only makes sense that his ministry would exude his nature and find expression in practical application. I pray that 2021 will be the Post-COVID year we all hope for. I also encourage you to continue to learn and apply the Christ-centered aspects of Faith, Hope, and Love as you continue to live and share the Gospel. Let me end my message with a foundational Bible passage. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:19-20 (NRSVA) May the faith of Christ in you and the faith of Christ in me be the catalyst for our collective “Faith Forward.” I am Greg Williams updating you about the life of the church.

State of the Church

In this Update, GCI President Greg Williams talks about the 2020 theme “Focused on Hope”. He continues to expound on the significance of “Hope” and how it has taught us to persevere throughout these challenging times. During this season let look unto Jesus, our true Hope.

Video Transcript

Hello GCI. It is hard to believe that 2020 is actually coming to a close. You are probably aware of how in a dog’s life 1 year is equivalent to 7 human years. One of my good friends equated the COVID year to that of a dog year, and in many ways, it seemed to be much longer than normal. In this State of the Church address, we will reflect on how the theme of “Hope” was set for 2020. Hope is one of the three key elements of our ministry focus as we seek to join Jesus in his ongoing ministry. The Hope Avenue centers around the church gathering in worship, and how the support teams work in alignment to point people to Jesus and make the gathering transformative and memorable. Think of the three “I’s” when you think of the Hope Avenue.

  1. Intentional preparation
  2. Inclusive gathering
  3. Inspirational Sunday Service
The Worship Leader and Team, the Audio Visual Leader and Team, the Host Leader and Team, and the Pastor all are considering what they are doing days and even weeks ahead of time. They are addressing questions like “What season of the worship calendar are we in?” “How do we decorate the hall?” “What songs will be meaningful to the season?” “Will my sermon be timely and fix the spotlight on Jesus?”
  1. Intentionality – on purpose, with a purpose!
The Hope Avenue Teams mentioned before are considering how all peoples and age groups are being included. “Can people with physical limitations negotiate our meeting space with ease?” “Do we have nursery facilities?” “Is there a quality children’s church being offered?” “Can the senior members readily be served the communion elements?”
  1. Inclusive – no one left out or behind
The Worship Team and Pastor are especially thinking about inspiration. “Does the music help usher the worshippers to the throne room?” “Are we singing not only about the Triune God but to the Triune God?” “Does the scripture reading wash over the worshippers with awe and wonder?” “Does the sermon move the congregation closer to Jesus, and call to greater participation?”
  1. Inspiration - being mentally and spiritually stimulated to more fully join Jesus
You may be thinking that’s all exciting Mr. President, but do you forget that this was a COVID year? I do realize. “It was a year for Hope to be re-imagined.” We had to become technologically savvy if we wanted to gather our people. Pastors had to figure out what setting they would broadcast from, and what platform to use. For those who used Facebook Live there had to be “online greeters” who managed the ongoing comments. Thank God we already had “Text to Give” in place. In 2019 there was hesitation to give offerings through texting, but 2020 sped up that process. I wonder what special ways the Lord worked among our people as they prepared their own communion elements to then be shared as the church gathered online? There are probably scores of COVID stories yet to be told. What truly amazed me was how that by physically closing the doors to our church buildings we now opened the virtual doors to our church through media platforms. Many of our churches have connected to old friends and new contacts. We are faced with the challenge of continuing to serve our online audience and going deeper with new contacts. One church analyst said this: Growing churches in the future will become digital organizations with physical expressions, not physical organizations with a digital presence – let that sink in. The New Year will bring new challenges. I encourage you to view the challenges as opportunities. Opportunities to adapt, create, and grow as the Spirit guides you. The Hope Avenue wasn’t shut down in 2020 as some suggested, it was simply challenged and expanded in new ways. Isn’t that just like our mysterious God? The one who had the strange notion to save humanity meant becoming human. The one who was and is king would be born in an animal stall and not a palace. The one who is Head of the Church is Head of the Gathered and the Scattered, the in-person and online. So, whether you are gathered with others or still in place at home this Christmas, may you intentionally, inclusively, and inspirationally welcome Jesus our Savior! Merry Christmas from Susan and me, and all of the staff from the Home Office.

Welcoming New GCI Board Members

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Not too many people get excited about governmental structures and systems. Who recalls civics class as the most scintillating of your educational journey? I suppose that I am a bit nerdy when it comes to church government, and I will do my best to make this article more exciting than the dry class lectures you may dimly recall.

In Grace Communion International we are “Board Governed.” The GCI Denominational Board of Directors are a diverse group of elders responsible for overall stewardship of the Church and the appointment and oversight of the President. The President is responsible to the Board for the general management of the Church, with the help of other officers, managers, and staff to carry out day-to-day operations of the church. (This is the short version for the civics test.)

The Directors operating according to the organization’s Articles and Bylaws have 3 fiduciary responsibilities mandated by law: duty of care, duty of loyalty, and duty of obedience. Board directors are called fiduciaries because they are legally responsible for the high-level oversite of a nonprofit entity ensuring that support is raised and resources are spent well in support of its mission.

Duty of Care

Duty of care means that directors are required to give the same care and concern to their board responsibilities as any prudent and ordinary person would. Board members must be active participants in board meetings and committees. Working with other directors, they actively advance the mission of the Church. They fulfill their responsibilities by overseeing and monitoring the Church’s activities, including strategic planning, finances, audits, board director development, and recruiting to ensure the Church’s long-term goals are achieved.

Duty of Loyalty

Duty of loyalty means that board directors are required to place the interests of the Church ahead of their own interests. Board members do not serve on the board for personal gain but for the benefit of the organization. They must be loyal to the organization by appointing qualified and loyal members to replace themselves as they rotate out of their positions so that the Church successfully operates as a healthy entity in perpetuity.

Duty of Obedience

Duty of obedience means that directors must ensure that the church is abiding by all applicable laws. The duty of obedience also means that directors carry out the mission of the Church.

Board Officers

The Board appoints “officers” to administer the operations of the Church. The Chair, Vice-Chair, President, Chief Financial Officer, and the Secretary of the Board serve in this capacity. Currently, these positions are filled by Dr. Joseph Tkach, Dr. Randy Bloom, Dr. Greg Williams, and Mathew Morgan, respectively. Dr. Williams and Mr. Morgan serve as ex-officio Board Directors in our governance structure, which means they serve as Board Directors as long as they hold their current positions.

Administration

Under the Board’s oversight, the President, working with other officers and managers, provides direct management and administration to carry out the Church’s mission and is a steward over the administrative functions and day-to-day management of the Church.

In our governance framework, the President, under the supervision of the Board, provides oversight of Superintendents in the US and abroad, providing worldwide focus and collaboration in pursuit of the mission of preaching the gospel and caring for the church.

Board directors and officers carry weighty responsibilities for the care and welfare of the denomination and must have specific requirements necessary to serve. In addition to a willingness to shoulder the duties mentioned earlier, a director must be an ordained elder in GCI, have relevant advanced education, a willingness to work together with other directors to advance the mission of the Church and be nominated and selected by the Board.

It is my pleasure and joy to share the news that Celestine Olive and Jennifer Gregory have been nominated and elected to serve alongside the current Board Directors (Chair Dr. Joseph Tkach, Vice Chair Dr. Randy Bloom, CFO and Secretary Mathew Morgan, GCI President Dr. Greg Williams, Dr. Russell Duke, and Pastor Tommie Grant).

It is a “Welcome back” to Celestine, as she has served a previous term on the Board. She is now retired from GCI employment and serving actively as an elder in the Lancaster, CA, congregation. (see her attached bio)

Jen will be coming on as a Board Director for the first time. She serves side by side with her husband Anthony as they pastor the Grove City, OH, congregation. Welcome Jen! (see her attached bio)

I think we all can appreciate the quote from the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg – “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.”

It brings me great joy to have the presence and voices of Celestine and Jen on the GCI Denominational Board of Directors.

I would be remiss not to mention that Dr. Charles Fleming and Elder Wendy Moore just completed their terms of service and have cycled off. A big thank you to Charles and Wendy for their dedicated service.

Please pray for the health and wisdom of the GCI Board of Directors, and that the Lord will continue faithfully guiding our journey forward.

 

Greg Williams

Leadership Matters – Meet Dishon Mills

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

It may sound cliché, but we do live in challenging times. The struggles with and through COVID-19 continue; the politics and elections in many countries are more divisive than they have been in years; there is the constant fight for our personal time, attention and resources (not that I am a conspiracy theorist, but the documentary The Social Dilemma on NetFlix made me think); and there is a great need for racial reconciliation and equality. Amid all this, we have our unified mission to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ into the 21st-century world – not a small task. And I especially think about how best to share the gospel with Generations Z and Alpha.

Leadership matters – this concept shows up across all eras of history and certainly is needed today. In a recent internet search, I came across a site for the organization “Leadership Matters for America.” (While we do not affiliate with or endorse this organization, their site provided some useful information that follows.) They identified the markers below as vital ingredients to leadership:

      • Strategic Thinking: We want someone who can bring about the right change not just out of rage but with the right thought.
      • Planning & Delivery: Planning the right course of action and making sure that the action has brought you to the right place.
      • Persuasion & Influence: All the planning will go to waste if people do not understand the right way to be the change.

These are excellent qualities that we want for all our GCI leaders and they certainly align with Christ-centered leadership qualities described in Scripture. This leads me to an important and exciting announcement.

We are at a juncture where a significant leadership transition will be taking place in GCI. Our current Generations Ministry (GenMin) National Coordinator, Jeff Broadnax, is handing over the baton of leadership to Pastor Dishon Mills in January 2021. Jeff will continue to be one of five U.S. Regional Directors. (See the attached article from Jeff called “The Acceleration Zone”).

In our prayerful and careful process of identifying Dishon for his new role, we were looking at his experience along with the following leadership characteristics we list on our job descriptions that make him a good fit to take on the leadership of GenMin.

        • Personal health: lives in community, with integrity, and maintains good spiritual/emotional/relational health.
        • Self-aware: knowing who he is in Christ, having clarity about personal strengths and weaknesses, and is comfortable filling in his own gaps with competent team members.
        • Time manager: well organized and able to divide his time between specific activities and effectively fulfill work-related goals.
        • People skills: the ability to deal with a wide range of people in a friendly and effective way that achieves good results.
        • Life-long learner: continuing to grow in knowledge and capacity, especially in the areas of youth culture and development resources for Christian ministry in the 21st century.

Above any life experience or leadership qualities, there is the matter of spiritual calling. Is this a role that the Lord has been preparing and grooming Dishon for? How has Dishon discerned this? And what does Dishon want to share with us as a way of introduction? I will ask Dishon to continue this introduction in his article entitled “Big Things with Small Things,” and in our December issue of Equipper Dishon will introduce a new column. I will end by saying “Welcome to Dishon and Afrika, his delightful and supportive wife. We are so glad that you said ‘yes’ and we are excited to see what the Lord accomplishes through you.”

Looking forward to equipping leaders,

Greg Williams