The Measure of a Healthy Church

 

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Friends and Family,

A significant Christian author and church leader is how I describe Dr. Gene Getz, a long-time friend of GCI. A few years back Gene hosted me for his annual men’s retreat and ski outing in Beaver Creek, CO. He is a kind, welcoming man with loads of spiritual depth.

Gene wrote a book in 1995 called The Measure of a Healthy Church (updated in 2001 and 2007). He recently sent me a signed copy and it has stimulated more thoughts and ideas about our shared quest toward Healthy Church.

Throughout the book, Gene shows how spiritual growth must be the focus above monitoring numerical growth. He also points out, however, that spiritual growth and numeric growth are not mutually exclusive – it is recorded in Acts chapter 2 that about 3,000 were added to the church after Peter’s compelling sermon about Jesus, the true Lord and Messiah.

Gene tells stories about several of the New Testament churches, and the one that intrigued me the most is the back story of Ephesus. Paul made this large Roman city of 300,000 people his base of operations for nearly three years. In Acts 19:9-10 we see that Paul met with people on a daily basis in the lecture hall of Tyrannus for a stretch of two years. Can you imagine what that lecture series was like?

An important factor in the growth of the Ephesian church that often gets missed is this raising up of other leaders. In Acts 19:6-7 Luke tells us that there were 12 men raised up and gifted in a similar way as the original apostles on the day of Pentecost. Recruiting, equipping and empowering other leaders matters.

The most encouraging and conforming section for me was chapter 4 – “A Divine Trilogy.” Gene demonstrates how faith, hope and love are a trilogy that jump off the pages of the New Testament and form a comprehensive perspective for evaluating corporate Christian life. He cites a quote from C.K. Barrett, a British Bible scholar who says, “Faith, hope and love are the central, essential and indefectible elements in Christianity.” Not only are these three qualities the true measure of the church, they are the best words in our English language to describe the person of Jesus. Jesus is faith, hope and love personified.

In GCI we encourage our members to manifest the spiritual virtues of faith, hope and love as Christ lives and shines in them. We have taken this a step further to design and structure our church ministries around this divine trilogy.

        • The faith avenue is about discipleship. As individual believers, are we growing in our walk with Jesus? Are we growing deeper as a community of Christian believers?
        • The hope avenue is about worship. Is Jesus being proclaimed in our church gatherings? Is corporate worship inspiring and are lives being transformed?
        • The love avenue is about engaging in our church neighborhood and witnessing to the love of Christ. Are we out there daily as we see demonstrated by Paul in Ephesus? Are relationships being built and cultivated so that witnessing naturally happens?

So, what have we learned from this thumbnail sketch from Dr. Getz?

        • Healthy churches preach Jesus and trust the Lord to add the numeric growth.
        • Healthy churches multiply leaders for the work of the church.
        • Healthy churches are centered around faith, hope and love (we can abbreviate this by saying healthy churches are centered in Jesus).

As President of GCI, my goal is to make the main things as plain as possible. I sincerely believe if we are attending to the basic principles outlined in this letter, we will see an abundance of spiritual and numeric growth in ways in which we have only dreamed.

A big thank you to my friend Dr. Gene Getz for his teaching and most of all for his loving support.

 

Growing Healthy Together!

Greg Williams

 

 

Denominational Vision

GCI President, Dr. Greg Williams, gives an update on the life of Grace Communion International. He talks about our plans for the future of the denomination and addresses the question, what is our greatest need?

For further reading on our denominational vision, please check out our next issue for an article from Dr. Kerry Magruder about the strategy for Ministry Training Centers (MTC’s) across the global landscape of GCI.

Additional content will be coming out in future issues as well, including a video interview with GCI Development Coordinator, Cara Garrity, who will oversee the development of current and future MTCs.

Video Transcript

As we wind down 2020 and look forward toward 2021, it is a good time to think about our highest priorities as a global fellowship. As I travel the world and interact with our Superintendents and Regional Directors, the unified answer to the question of “What is our greatest need?” is the development of new leaders. Our church is aging and if we are not investing in younger men and women then our future could be in jeopardy. At the denominational level, we have been listening and are continuing to respond in tangible ways. We have Grace Communion Seminary offering graduate-level degrees in theology and pastoral ministry, and we have Ambassador College of Christian Ministry offering a Ministry Certificate that is being utilized in many regions of GCI. The vision of “Healthy Church” means that we have educated pastors and ministry leaders. We have been making progress in becoming more educated, but we have further to go. In churches where “Team-based Pastor-led” is being utilized, the Faith, Hope, and Love ministry champions could easily enroll in classes that can enhance their knowledge base. I highly recommend that these ministry champions make the effort to enroll in a class and see how stimulating and helpful this experience can be, especially if you take courses together. There is something dynamic about being in a learning group that is also practicing ministry shoulder to shoulder. Be courageous and take this next step and sign up for an upcoming class. The development of a new generation of leaders means that we must have practical learning opportunities where these emerging leaders can get their hands dirty and be able to skin their knees doing meaningful ministry. All GCI churches are making efforts toward better church health and all healthy churches should be practical training grounds developing new leaders, yet we have some spots where there is greater capacity and greater opportunity for young adults to learn. We are calling these sites “Ministry Training Centers” (MTCs). MTC sites will work with interns who are undergraduate students who will be immersed in the Faith, Hope, and Love ministries of the church. Then the secondary level will be pastoral residents who are specifically learning pastoral skills. Working with these young men and women takes careful, focused attention over 4-6 years. It isn’t a rapid process, it is, however, methodical, and thorough, and will serve us well for the future of GCI with new leaders who are carefully prepared. It costs $6,200 per year to provide the learning opportunity for an intern, and it costs $25,900 per year to support a pastoral resident as they pursue a master’s degree from Grace Communion Seminary, and simultaneously serve longer hours in the life of their church. Please understand that the interns and pastoral residents will be trained in fundraising skills and be required to raise a significant portion of their income and it is our hope that this experience will prepare them for future roles in church leadership. Their fundraising efforts will reinforce the program for others who come behind them. Surrey Hills, Oklahoma, on the west side of Oklahoma City, is our first official MTC in the US. Their building, designed to house an MTC will be completed in 2021. We will continue to update this church’s progress as they engage in their neighborhood and intentionally work to develop younger leaders. The church there was chosen because they have a dynamic leadership team that is well connected in the neighborhood and is already actively ministering. This project is a large undertaking and one that will require financial help through their infancy stage as they seek to add new members from the surrounding neighborhood. Operation expenses that involve utilities, internet, custodial, and maintenance will cost around $90,000 per year. The local church is sharing these costs and is planning to become completely financially self-sustaining within a few years, but this will take time and diligence. Paying for operations is not the most exciting part of ministry, yet these are real needs that either make or break a church. In the US, we have established a GCNext fund to help underwrite the process and programs for developing new leaders. Donations to this fund will perpetuate the MTC strategy for developing a new generation of leaders. I am working with our six Superintendents around the world to follow the pattern of establishing GCNext funding in their regions, to formalize an internship program that fits their context, and to identify their potential MTC sites. As this global network gets established, we will coordinate the operation of these sites under the guiding leadership of Cara Garrity. Cara is a product of the intern / pastoral resident program, and now she is at the helm working with others to refine and improve our efforts. I invite you to watch the interview that I did with Cara and hear her story on the video interview series “We Are GCI” which will be released on the next issue of GCI Update. If you are compelled to get behind the MTC strategy and the development of interns and pastoral residents, and we hope you will, please send your financial gift to the GCNext . Please consider making this gift in addition to your regular donations so current local missional operations will continue to be sustained. This additional gift will be an investment in the future of GCI as we participate with Jesus to grow his kingdom. The Lord has been generous to GCI in providing us with good people and gracefully allowing us to learn how to best develop the next generation. We have good, dedicated senior leaders in place who are working with sound development strategies, and our programs are already spawning new innovative leaders. It is our long-range vision to have a network of successful MTCs around the world in addition to other healthy churches that are spawning new leaders. We are making the initial steps to take us in this direction.  We envision every congregation participating with Jesus mentoring new leaders and being the church in their neighborhood. Healthy organisms reproduce and grow! Your partnership with us through prayers and financial offerings is an investment in the next generation of pastors and ministry leaders. It is a great season for GCI, and we thank you for your participation! I am Greg Williams updating you about the life of the church.  To send your financial gift to the GCNext fund visit gci.org/give2gcnext

The New GCI Pastor DNA

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

For 2020 I asked our GCI leaders to consider the word “focus” as our word for the year. To achieve a perfect focus of 20/20 sight, there must be clarity. Anyone who has ever undergone an eye exam was given a series of lenses to peer through and asked, “Which one is most clear?” until you achieve clear vision.

The clarity for GCI starts with me as the President having a well-defined job description – a clear lens of what my job is. (Thanks to the GCI Board of Directors, I have such a lens.) Once clarity for my job was established, it is on me to fashion priorities and goals around the activities that I have been asked to accomplish on behalf of the denomination. One of those priorities is to create a job description for the leaders who serve at the management level of the church. This applies, in turn, to our church pastors.

Our pastors are the frontline managers for our church. These men and women are the backbones of our organization. As go our pastors, so goes our church. This is not meant to imply a sense of heaviness or pressure, just simply stating the reality.

The old DNA for pastoring in our church was:

  • An able teacher who could support and articulate our church doctrines
  • A counselor to the members on all of life’s issues
  • An available leader who regularly visited members in their homes

As we are now 20 years into the 21st century the job description for pastors has changed significantly.

In accordance with what we see in Ephesians 4, we desire that pastors look to the leadership of the ascended Christ in not only using their gifts, but in helping members use their God-given gifts. Pastors and ministry leaders are called “to equip the saints for the work of ministry,” so that the church is built up. Equipping is done through the training and empowering of believers.

We desire a dynamic movement of ministry within our churches where people come alive in Christ, grow up into his maturity, and walk in step as they share in Christ’s ministry (verses 13-16).

We are asking our pastors to be theologically educated in GCI’s Incarnational Trinitarian theology and to express their abiding relationship with Father, Son and Spirit in how they relate to others and how they teach the gospel message.

We are asking our pastors to be intimately familiar with the Love, Hope and Faith avenues of ministry, and to prayerfully appoint leaders and teams of people for the ongoing attention and execution of these foundational ministries. Pastors must first be Team-Builders, then Leaders of Leaders, as well as Constant Custodian over the foundational ministries.

It takes a lot of effort to be a healthy church, yet isn’t that our goal? Every pastor wants his or her local congregation to be the healthiest expression of church it can be. This requires focus and clarity. A pastor’s congregation is his or her local focus of operation. To provide clarity, allow me to share—in a condensed fashion—how we are asking pastors to see their role as described in the flow of Engaging, Equipping, Empowering and Encouraging.

Engagement means being among people in the congregation and community to discern individuals who can possibly grow into ministry leaders, then intentionally engaging and recruiting potential leaders by giving them opportunities to stretch their capacity and helping them become better known.

Equipping God’s people for works of service begins in the awareness of who God is, and then who the individual is in relationship to God. How has God shaped them through their personality, life experiences, talents, and spiritual gifting? What is God calling them to in correspondence to building up the church? The pastor must rely on the help and resources from the Faith Avenue leader and team members to thoroughly work through this process. Equipping then means matching individuals to appropriate educational opportunities, and relationally connecting them with able ministry leaders who will make space for the new believer to be apprenticed—knowing that information without imitation falls short, mentoring counts.

Empowerment is a function of trust and resourcing. A pastor will give meaningful opportunities for leaders under him or her and allow liberty for the person to succeed or fail; celebrating the successes and patiently working through the failures. The pastor will work collaboratively with the team leaders to wisely determine their needs, and will follow through with provision of finances, tools and related resources.

The constant Encouragement will come to the broader congregation with the week-in-week-out preaching that is in correspondence to the Christian calendar, and in harmony with the Hope Avenue leader and team. The more specific role of encourager applies to the oversight of the core ministry team leaders, as the pastor facilitates vision-casting and alignment, relational management, and strategic review and careful planning. The pastor is the greatest cheerleader for the ministries of the church, showing support by participation and ongoing communication.

The passage in Ephesians implies growth in spiritual maturity and the winning of new disciples to the church. The pastor will rely on the Love Avenue leader and team to make sure that healthy rhythms of neighborhood engagement and relational connections are happening in the target community. A vigilant pastor will be attentive to numeric and spiritual growth and proactively lead the congregation to receive the growth provided by the Lord.

The new DNA of the four “E’s” – Engagement, Equipping, Empowering, and Encouraging – will be the catalyst for how pastors lead and serve their congregations. This continued transformation is a part of the spiritual renewal of our fellowship that has been going on for more than a quarter of a century.

Thank you, Holy Spirit. We will have some more please!

Greg Williams

P.S. The Regional Directors will be helping pastors have more clarity about their role and how to most effectively shepherd our precious congregations.

Biblical View of Racism

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

The interracial and international makeup of Grace Communion International is a blessing and a strength of our fellowship. As I hear and read about the controversies between the “black church” and the “white church” in America, I am pleased that we have ongoing dialogue internally as a GCI family that cares about one another.

As President, I must continually pay attention to ways that the church is being challenged and then prayerfully consider how we move forward. Thankfully, I have a wonderful team of people around me who help me with the multitude of issues. Just as I ask our pastors to be “Team-Based, Pastor-Led,” I seek to be “Team-Based, President-Led.”

I recently asked one of my team members, Dr. Gary Deddo, to write some helpful thoughts on the topic of racism as we see it addressed in Scripture. See his thoughts below.

What does biblical revelation contribute to the concern regarding the evil of racism?

What biblical revelation offers out of its incarnational and trinitarian center can be summed up in four points.

  1. Biblical revelation sheds strong light on this form (and all forms) of evil. It does so by locating all sin—including racism—in the most comprehensive context there is. That context, that reality, is the history of humanity’s need for our Triune God’s redemption through Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit. That history reaches back to the beginning of created time and out to the future of eternity. In contemporary terms, the whole of biblical revelation provides us a complete story of humanity’s individual and collective brokenness—from its founding to its redeemed culmination. It is a history of all peoples, of all the families of the nations. By God’s grace, we have been given a metanarrative that includes the histories of all particular individuals, peoples, and nations. It is a story of our Creator and Redeemer’s redemption and, as such, is a story of true hope.
  2. Biblical revelation centered in Christ tells us what is wrong with our world and so with racism. It does not offer a superficial, biased, or naive view of any evil, including racism. It does not merely expose the symptoms of evil, but the root, the source of any evil including that of racism. Evil is rooted in our distrust and alienation from God. After being tempted by the evil one, humanity rejected a personal relationship with God. Evil is rooted in the lie that we don’t need God and we don’t need to be in relationship with God. The true seriousness of any and every evil is uncovered in biblical revelation. It identifies the root of all sin operating in this “present evil age.” It tells us that our real enemy is not other persons (“flesh and blood”), but the powers of evil that tempt us all and take advantage of our weaknesses. It tells us that every human being needs to be freed by the grace of our Triune God from the power of evil at the deepest level of who we have become.
  3. Biblical revelation, which has its center in Jesus Christ, makes known the final end goal of our Triune God’s own eradication of all evil, including racism. It ends upon Jesus’ return as Lord of all. It does not stop short by pointing us to false hopes, misguided compromises, partial results, or hopelessness. Rather, it supports the true hope for all—ultimate redemption and reconciliation between all. Going to the root, Jesus has—through his shed blood on the cross and resurrection from the dead—achieved victory over the source of all evil. At his return, he will eradicate sin as everything is placed under his total rule and reign. Nothing less can bring to a complete end all evil, including the sin of racism.
  4. Biblical revelation informs and forms those who are members incorporated into the Body of Christ as to how to participate in our Triune God’s own work of reconciliation and redemption in this present evil age—even as we wait in hope for our ultimate reconciliation, redemption, and the renewal of all things in heaven and earth upon Jesus’ personal and bodily return. We have been given a mission and message of reconciliation to actively share (2 Cor. 5).

My synopsis from Dr. Deddo’s helpful points are:

  • I am thrilled that our shared theological foundation—in what is called “Incarnational Trinitarian Theology” (ITT)—is for all people groups, for all ages, in all cultures. We rest and hope in the God revealed through Jesus. He is our solid rock!
  • Racism is evil. Treating any people group with prejudice, discrimination, and judging them as inferior is against the nature and intent of the Triune God. We are not to view any person from a “worldly view.” Rather, we are to see all people under the spilled blood of Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:16). Jesus died for people of all races; he values people of all races, and no race is to look down on or feel superior to any other race; the same is true for all ethnicities. In Christ, there is no slave, no barbarian, no Scythian, no Gentile, and no Jew. We are all equal in him.
  • Racism will not fully be eradicated until Jesus returns and makes all things new. However, as the church of Jesus Christ we participate with him by the power of the Spirit to demonstrate love and respect to all peoples, and to be peacemakers advocating for equal treatment for all in the systems around us. As a church, we are called to be a light on the hill.

As part of our effort toward greater corporate health, we are forming an Advisory Council of minority leaders who will work with North American Superintendent Mike Rasmussen to inform him and the other Regional Directors as to ways we can more faithfully demonstrate our true unity in Jesus Christ.

As we move forward in our journey toward healthy church, we must make certain that our interracial relationships are healthy. Black lives and Black voices matter in GCI because our denominational story is incomplete without them. Hispanic lives and voices matter. All minority voices must continue to have a greater contribution within our denominational journey with Jesus. We will have more to share once the council is formed.

Please pray for the Lord’s leading in this new initiative and that wonderful fruit will be produced.

In Christ,
Greg Williams

 

100 Year Church

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

More than 100 years ago my great-grandparents on my mother’s side of the family were founding members in Hendersonville First Baptist Church. Hendersonville is a touristy-type town with mom and pop shops and a strong population of retired people. Agriculture sits atop the economic sector, with apple production leading the way. (The Apple Festival over Labor Day weekend celebrates all that is Hendersonville.)

Not only was this a great place to grow up, it is also a great place to return to for periodic visits. Earlier this year I had the pleasure of attending a service at Hendersonville First Baptist. My mother attends this church, along with my younger brother and his family. My brother Mark is a deacon and his wife Penny is on the church staff.

What is the current state of the century-old Baptist church of my great-grandparents? The day Susan and I attended with my mom, we accompanied her to the 9:30 am service. (They have three services on Sunday morning – 8:00, 9:30 and 11:00.) First off, it was difficult to find a nearby parking space. Once we parked, we passed a steady stream of churchgoers coming out and going in. There were lots of smiling faces of young and old, and an astonishing number of families.

My mother struggles with aching knees, and to make life simpler, she sits in the back row of the sanctuary. She has a usual group of friends who sit with her. When Susan and I joined the merry band, I was sitting on the end seat next to the aisle. I knew who Pastor Steve was, but to my surprise, he was circulating through the sanctuary and he made a point to come over to me and shake my hand. My brother told me later that he has a keen eye for spotting new people and intentionally introducing himself. Instead of sitting on the front row and waiting to be called to the pulpit, Pastor Steve joins in with the ushers and makes himself available (what a novel approach).

I was wondering what the worship and preaching would look like. Traditionally, Baptist churches sing mostly hymns, and they are known for their fiery sermons warning about the perils of hell. To my surprise there was a mix of contemporary songs and some people were even raising their hands in worship. The sermon was outstanding. Pastor Steve preached grace with a posture of humility, and there was no bait and switch (grace for salvation, but now on to the requirements to live the Christian life).

What were the signs of Healthy Church at Hendersonville First Baptist?

  • Offering multiple services and having a pastor who is dedicated to preaching three times each Sunday is remarkable.
  • The blend of young and old, and the core group of multiple generational families is a sign of endurance. My mother and brother’s involvement marks four generations of membership.
  • Providing a service that is worshipful—especially when it is done week in and out. This is a defining factor of Healthy Church.
  • A pastor who is outgoing and welcoming, and who consistently preaches the grace of a loving, personal God. Our GCI ministry model is defined as “Team-Based, Pastor-Led,” and while this expresses the need for the pastor to engage, equip and empower others to join Jesus in ministry, the role of the pastor still sets the tone for the congregation. Pastor Steve is a wonderful example.

In our quest to be the best expression of church that we can be, we need to be attentive to establishing stronger roots within a neighborhood/community. We also need to practice patience, because establishing those roots takes time, but will never happen unless we first identify the neighborhood where we fit, and we then roll up our sleeves and begin loving and serving that neighborhood. As we continue to give attention to the Hope Avenue of ministry, we need to constantly evaluate how welcoming we are, how worshipful our services are, and how clear is our grace-based preaching and posture. What will a new person experience when they visit our church service?

What will the story of our church be in 100 years when our great-grandchildren assemble to worship? I say thank you to my great-grandparents, Walter and Essie Garrett, for being part of a church that is still vibrant today.

Keeping the Faith!

Greg Williams

Key Component of Healthy Church – You & Me

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

The church has existed since its inception on the Day of Pentecost in the first half of the 1st century. It has remained and we have assurance from its founder that it will remain until his return. Isn’t it encouraging and comforting to know that we never have concerns about the health and intent of the Head of the church? Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. And when we experience him, he truly saves you and me and we discover that he is better than we could ever imagine or expect.

When we examine the condition of the church in our time and in our setting, what markers do we consider? I hope that we can filter through the Faith, Hope, and Love avenues. This is our GCI mindset and how we see Jesus expressing himself through his body – the church. For the sake of this letter I want us to move back a step and consider: At the ground level the church is made up of individual Christians. By definition, a Healthy Church is made up of healthy church members.

Let’s recall the admonition by the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 13:5-6

5 Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless, indeed, you fail to pass the test!

Paul wasn’t necessarily calling them out and questioning their conversion. He was challenging them to a higher awareness that Jesus was indeed alive in them. The challenge involved the depth of coming to terms with their weakness and powerlessness, then accepting Christ’s transforming power that comes in relationship and total reliance on him. Christianity is about our dying to self and then coming to new life in Jesus.

Dying to self and life in Jesus is radical and there is no middle ground. None of us like to die to who we think we are. We easily identify with externals – our family of origin, our achievements, our life experiences, our possessions, our titles, our jobs and our money; or lack thereof. Jesus knows that we struggle with letting go and surrendering to his will. This is why Jesus always lifts the heavy end of the sofa (so to speak). In fact, he does all of the lifting and simply allows us to play along (see the photo of my son Glenn to see a similar analogy).

Paul encouraged the first-century church in Philippi by writing,

12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:11-13).

Father, Son and Spirit must be active in our lives getting us to the starting place, “the will,” and then the means to walk the Christian walk, “the power.” It is a full and complete dependence on Father, Son and Spirit. In our process of letting go and surrendering, we all come to accept more deeply that we live and move and have our being in God. Our very existence is about coming to know, love and worship this personal triune God who invites us into relationship and participation. Can there be anything greater?

Beloved GCI brothers and sisters, please hear when I say that yours and my greatest pursuit has to be our relationship and identity in Jesus, and if we allow any other thing to come in front of this then it is an idol. It thrills me all the way down to my toes to think about a collective group of mature believers who are completely centered in Jesus and alive in him. I am also a realist knowing that surrender of self is an extended journey that will be traveled for as long as we live on this earth. It is a lifetime of discovering where we are still holding on, and then surrendering to Jesus all over again. What a privilege it is to be on this journey together.

Alive in Christ!
Greg Williams

Spirit-led

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

Back in April I was on a group email provisionally planning for a future event. My good friend Pastor Dishon Mills was on the same message. He ended his communication with the statement “This pandemic is making me more deeply appreciate being Spirit-led.”

I have heard others use the phrase Spirit-led, and I think I know what they mean. In this instance, I felt bold, so I wrote back to Dishon and asked, “What does the phrase Spirit-led mean to you”? He was kind enough to take the time to respond.

Hey Greg. I hope you are doing well. Sure, I can share what I believe I understand about “Spirit-led” so far, as I pray for God to continue to bring me clarity. One of our small groups has been studying the book of Acts, and one of the threads we have been following is the ways in which the emerging church discerned the will of God in a dangerous, confusing time. From Acts 15, we gleaned some thoughts about Spirit-led discernment:

        1. Discernment does not happen in isolation, but through Christ-centered conversations amongst a diverse group (diverse with regard to perspectives, backgrounds, gender, etc.) within the church.
        2. When we discuss an issue, we need to give priority to God’s present activity—what God is saying and doing in the church and in the intersection of the church and its community.
        3. Then, we need to look to Scripture for confirmation of what we hear from God and to temper our approach (this may require a shift in perspective).
        4. We establish doctrine, rules, and/or protocols based on what we discern.
        5. (Point added by Greg) Then make the understanding known throughout the church. Acts 15:30 says they were sent out carrying the letter (news) with them.

So, for me, Spirit-led is a communal or relational term because it is through the life of the church that revelation comes. I believe this is true of Christians both individually and collectively. Yes, God does speak to us directly. He brings affirmation, conviction, and guidance to those willing to listen. While this may appear to be Spirit-led in an individual sense, this too is communal and relational. I believe the Bible teaches us that we should not concretize anything we believe we have heard from God until we have the opportunity to run it by trusted Jesus-loving counselors. The Holy Spirit always leads us into relationship. Practically every time I am “spontaneously” sent to minister to someone (i.e. call a member to check-in), I find that my efforts were an answer to prayer. His leading is confirmed in my conversations with brothers and sisters about what I heard God say. Or my bias is exposed in the conversation when I mistake my voice for God’s.

Nicely stated, Dishon. I feel strongly about the Spirit working with us within the community of the church. We are no longer Moses going to the mountain alone —we are the church participating with Jesus and joining in community and relationship. This means lots of discussion and sharing, lots of processing and discerning, and lots of prayers leading to the decision that “It seems good to the Holy Spirit and us.”

May we be the Christ-centered, Spirit-led church that brings glory to the Father!

Greg Williams

Apology

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Due to the heightened racial tension in the US a question has come up “Is GCI considering additional plans/actions for multi-racial outreach and inclusion?” It is without a doubt a matter that deserves proper attention, and in fact, it is not an issue that has been ignored. Please allow me to explain.

Historically, the roots of Grace Communion International come from the Worldwide Church of God. Racial bias in the WCG was primarily based on Herbert Armstrong’s misguided doctrine of British-Israelism that kept non-Israelite peoples (Gentiles—which included all people of color) as second class and therefore inferior.

This heretical and false teaching created division and mistreatment of people of color. Noticeable limitations were placed on Black members and leaders and many suffered from racial slurs and prejudice that were simply wrong.

Under the leadership of Joseph Tkach Sr. and his son Joseph Tkach Jr. there was major doctrinal reform leading to a greater understanding of the New Testament teaching that there is neither Jew nor Gentile, but we are all one in Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:28).

The Tkaches commissioned and sanctioned Pastor Curtis May and Greg Albrecht to oversee the Office of Reconciliation Ministries. These men, along with other key pastors, worked tirelessly traveling the country and holding weekend conferences that did much good in acknowledging past wrongs and providing healing for a more positive future.

More recently Regional Director Jeff Broadnax, along with several pastors, interns and members, helped organize gatherings called “Together in Christ.” The idea was birthed out of conversations with our community of GCI interns. Though space for participants was somewhat limited, these weekends allowed for honest discussion and were conducted from the platform that Jesus is the unifying factor for all broken relationships and lives. True human togetherness and unity can be found only in surrendered relationship to Jesus.

“Together in Christ” was intentionally hosted by local GCI churches because this is the space where we should be able to come together with our hurts and differences and find forgiveness and restoration in the presence and power of Jesus. It is my hope that our GCI churches are maturing in Christ and are healthy enough to weather any social challenges or obstacles that come our way, and we can continue to hold “Together in Christ” events to address difficult social matters.

If you are a person of color and never had the opportunity to participate in any of these GCI sponsored events, my prayer is you will have an opportunity in the future. For those of you who have never heard a public apology for any racial slurs or mistreatments you have suffered within our church, let me say on behalf of our denomination: Please accept our heartfelt apology for the individual and systemic discriminatory and racist actions, teachings and culture we openly or ignorantly embraced and allowed. Please forgive us. May we never repeat the sins of the past, and through the power of the Spirit may we value all people as beloved children of God treating everybody with genuine love and respect.”

Together in Christ we can and will go forward!

Greg Williams

P.S. If you have not yet read the cover letter for the July Equipper, I encourage you to do so. My long-time friend and fellow pastor, Charles Taylor does a marvelous job in his article “Know Justice, Know Peace – Know Jesus, Know Peace.”

Empathy

In this Update, GCI President Greg Williams talks about stepping outside of our own experiences to empathize with others, considering the needs of those around us, and the ways in which we can help them. He also offers a glimpse into 2021 with exciting news regarding our newly rescheduled Denominational Celebration.

Corporate Prayer

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

In our monthly GCI Prayer Guide for June 2020, we begin with these thoughts – “Togetherness is a theme throughout Jesus’ teachings. Through corporate prayer, we draw closer to one another, reconciling differences, focusing on the same events and opportunities…”

The US has once again been rocked by the horrific incident of excessive force by police that led to the tragic death of George Floyd and resulting in protests turned destructive in more than 30 US cities.

The US is not the only nation where injustice and outrage are a cyclical pattern. It is emblematic of human history and human nature. It is regrettable that we face this unrelenting pattern time and time again as humans treat fellow humans in unspeakable ways.

Considering the recent events, I am asking our church family to lament together for the tragic loss of George Floyd’s life and the deep-felt pain by his family and the African-American community.

Please pray for our cities even as government officials make reasonable appeals and attempts to restore peace for safe assemblies. And may restored peace bring about meaningful dialogue to properly address grievances and bring about positive change.

It is through these opportunities of corporate prayer that we as the GCI family draw closer together, and our hearts are broken for our broken world. I am proud that our fellowship is multi-racial, and we are empowered by the unifying Holy Spirit to display Christian brotherhood and sisterhood in ways that glorify Jesus. In our united prayers we seek reconciliation for our cities and citizens that can be accomplished only by the work of the Great Reconciler.

“Lord may the hate and rage of our world be replaced by the love and goodwill that comes by the power of the Holy Spirit. And as we journey together through this fallen world, make us instruments of your peace. Amen.”

Greg Williams
President Grace Communion International

 

P.S. As members of the National Association of Evangelicals we stand in solidarity of their statement:

Recent events surrounding the wrongful deaths of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, and George Floyd in Minnesota illustrate severe racial injustices in the United States. The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) laments the recurring trauma experienced by African Americans. We condemn racism and the violent abuse of power, call for justice for victims and their families, and exhort churches to combat attitudes and systems that perpetuate racism. We are grateful for law enforcement officers who honorably serve and protect our communities and urge our members to uphold them in prayer. (NAE)