Anam Cara

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

World Friendship Day, also known as International Day of Friendship, takes place on July 30th.

The original idea for a day of friendship came from Hallmark cards in the 1930s and was originally celebrated on August 2. The cynical public largely viewed the day as a money-making scheme by Hallmark. Sales of friendship day cards did not take off in Europe and by the mid-1940s the day had faded into obscurity in the USA. However, the idea of a day to honor friendship was adopted by a number of countries in Asia, where it remained a popular custom to reserve a day for celebrating friendships and the exchange of gifts between friends. I’d suggest this speaks to the understanding of the importance of relationships in the Asian culture, which is a strong biblical theme.

The Bible says a lot about the importance of friendship. Here are a few choice verses in Proverbs ESV

  • Proverbs 17:17 A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.
  • Proverbs 18:24 A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
  • Proverbs 27:9 Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel.
  • Proverbs 27:5-6 Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.

The overall theme is that a friend is a companion who can tell you the truth, and who shows up especially in the difficulties of life. The question, “Who can you call at 2:00 am when you are in dire straits?” is quite telling. How long is your personal list?

Having a relationship where you are accepted, understood and well cared for is the most valuable treasure. Anam Cara is a concept that I was introduced to when I participated in an experiential graduate class called Celtic Spirituality. Anam Cara is a Celtic phrase meaning “soul friend.”

Dr. William P. Ryan describes Anam Cara as “compassionate presence,” a person who knows your heart and intent. In the companionship of a soul friend, you are recognized and known providing a deep sense of trust and belonging. Every one of us needs true, genuine friendship for our spiritual development and growth, and especially for our personal sense of worth and belonging.

Personally, I am blessed with spiritual brothers and sisters who “stick closer” than biological siblings. These friendships are like anchors that keep me grounded and stable. The greatest friendship, however, is the shared relationship with my Lord Jesus who calls me his friend. It is he alone who truly knows me to the depths of my being and loves me in spite of my warts and my moods. It is he alone who will never leave me or forsake me. This same promise is true for you.

Proud to be your friend,

Greg

P.S. The upcoming Denominational Celebration will certainly have the fabric and feel of an International Day of Friendship. It will be a time that we can see our GCI friends around the world and hear marvelous stories of what our friend Jesus has been doing in us and through us. I hope to see you July 23-25!

 

Role of Seniors in the Church

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

Some people are late bloomers, making their greatest accomplishments in the later years in life. Age does not have to be a barrier to success. Allow me to share a few inspiring success stories of great accomplishment achieved by those well beyond 60 years of age.

Although Judi Dench, of 007 fame, had been a stand-out in her work for theatre and TV over her lifetime, she really hit her stride and became a household name in her 60s. To date, Judi has received seven Oscar nominations, all of them past the age of 60. She won the Oscar for “Best Actress in Supporting Role” in 1999 for Shakespeare in Love. She leads all actors for Academy Award nominees older than 60.

Harland Sanders did not start developing Kentucky Fried Chicken until he was in his 60s. Once the Colonel’s brand was developed and growing, he sold it and franchised it in his 70s and lived comfortably for the rest of his years. His chicken is still “finger-licking good.”

Anna Mary Robertson Moses, better known as Grandma Moses, didn’t start painting until she was 76 years old. When she could no longer hold an embroidery needle due to her arthritis, she decided to give painting a try. Her works were discovered by an art collector who bought her entire collection of paintings and displayed them at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Her popularity and skill are on display in museums all over the world.

What about “Grandpa Moses?” Yes, the Moses of Israel. He was 80 years young when God spoke to him from the burning bush in the desert. Then for the next 40 years he led the children from the clutches of Egypt through the Red Sea and into the desert for an entire generation before turning the reins over to Joshua to complete the mission of taking the people of God into the promised land.

I will be turning 60 in July and can officially get senior discounts. I expect that my body will begin slowing down some, but just like these late bloomers I have shared with you, my work is not over. My good friend Joseph Tkach, who still serves on our GCI Board and offers his wisdom with me as needed, has shared some commonsense wisdom for maturing adults. Here are some highlights of his list.

    • Never go up on the roof of your house
    • Be strategic with your daily steps, and don’t be bullied into thinking you have to do 10,000
    • Unless you were a national contender, NO skateboarding or surfing
    • Don’t go past two steps up on your ladder (use a spotter)
    • Forget about getting a gorgeous suntan (and rethink the beach body)

I hope this gave you a chuckle.

When it comes to the role our senior adults play in the life of our church, we can look at Paul’s instruction in his letter to Titus.

Tell the older men to be temperate, serious, prudent, and sound in faith, in love, and in endurance. (Titus 2:2 NRSVA)

Titus was to teach older men about these six qualities that are marks of maturity. In other words, older men are to be wise, loving and balanced; they are to be fully grounded in doctrine and belief. Finally, they are to be a calming, stable factor to their church family.

Likewise, tell the older women to be reverent in behaviour, not to be slanderers or slaves to drink; they are to teach what is good. (Titus 2:3 NRSVA)

The presence of older, saintly grandmothers can be a real inspiration to the church community and can add credibility and dignity to the testimony of the local church.

The book of Titus reminds older adults to resist the temptations of letting free time become idle, or to de-escalate into the realm of activities of gossip or alcohol abuse. In other words, they are to fight the proclivity to become grumpy, irritable and cynical. (This may be my biggest challenge in my older years.) My goal, however, is with all the other seniors in GCI, that we are known for being patient, gentle and gracious. These traits will win the day as we continue to contribute to the life of our church family.

Please hear me when I say as a senior adult, your work is not finished. You are to be a mentor, a counselor, and instructor for the younger women and men in your church. Use your kindness and wisdom to build these meaningful relationships that allow you to make deposits in the younger generations coming behind. Please also consider how you might use your financial resources to build the church and support the next generation as they continue sharing the good news about Jesus. You can and will make a significant difference!

Joining the Seniors soon,
Greg Williams

Focused On Hope

Listen in as Dr. Greg Williams, President of GCI, invites us to participate in the 2021 Virtual Denominational Celebration this coming July 23-25. He talks about coming together as a global family to celebrate how the Spirit is moving in our fellowship.

To register and for updates on the 2021 Virtual Denominational Celebration visit gci.org/events/2021


Invite a Friend!

We are now offering a special deal for new registrants. When you register, enter your information, then click Add Another Registrant, add your friend’s information, and at the bottom enter coupon code “BOGO”. This 2-week offer ends June 30.

Video Transcript

So how do you know that GCI is going to have an international event? Well, one good sign is that I am wearing a barong today. So, a shoutout to all my friends in the Philippines. On Tuesday, March 2nd the GCI Managers held our monthly meeting. The top agenda item was to discuss whether we would go forward with the Denominational Celebration in Charlotte. Pam Morgan had met with the hotel managers and they expressed what they could do. We initially were thinking that even if we were limited to 500 attendees that it could work. The longer we talked about details, like “How do you keep GCI members from hugging and shaking hands? Is cutting the conference from 1,000 participants to 500 a good idea? And so on. It became clear and evident that we must go virtual. The Holy Spirit led us to a unanimous decision, and instead of despair, there was a fresh wave of energy and excitement.  In reality, we at the Home Office are getting a taste of what our field pastors experienced over the past year – the challenge to go digital.   So, the “behind the scenes” work began.  Tech research. Do we have the right equipment? Enough of it? Who has participated in a virtual conference and knows what quality we can achieve? What portions will be pre-recorded and what portions will be live? How do you schedule such a weekend with 24 time zones around the world? There have been multiple trips to Best Buy, and packages showing up daily. My office has been staged to be a studio and we have experienced pilot tests of the equipment. Then there will be a dress rehearsal before the actual event. More details than planning a wedding (and we have one of those coming up in the Williams family on Oct 3). We expect to have four different studio sets throughout the Home Office, so this is gonna be an epic production no doubt.   What are the benefits, or value-added? 

  • Our Media Team is developing new skills that will be utilized in the future. I envision live and live-stream gatherings in the future.
  • Our budget for “on-site” has been repurposed to assemble needed equipment and staging.
  • This will be a tremendous test for doing online webinars, and we expect to do many more webinars in the future like this.
  • The greatest value-added is that instead of 500 participants we are hoping to connect with thousands of members from around the world. Praise God!
How can you participate?
  1. YOU NEED TO REGISTER TO GET ACCESS (https://www.gci.org/events/2021)
  2. Make plans to watch as a congregation or a group. Having a retreat planning team of 4-5 people to plan and host your church’s watch party.
  3. Especially create spaces for Hope Avenue Leaders. This includes Hope Avenue champions, Children’s Ministry teams, and Worship Ministry teams to utilize the workshops.
  4. Use this as an opportunity to engage and immerse your congregation in the Hope aspect of ministry. This can be an amazing re-launch event to bring you out of the throes of COVID.
  5. Check out many more ideas on the Make it A Church Retreat link on the event page (https://www.gci.org/events/2021)
If you cannot be with a group there is certainly value in Individual participation. The Celebration is created for engagement: 
    • Q&As in the workshops and the main sessions 
    • Breakouts in the workshops 
    • Join the Facebook Group to connect with members from around the world. Use the hashtag on your screen to share your Celebration experience and check out takeaways from others. 
Here is the “fine print” portion: Your registration entitles you to the two components of the Denominational Celebration: the live broadcast on July 23-25 and the recording of it. The live broadcast is happening in real-time; this means attendees will not be able to stop and start the broadcast at their own pace on July 23-25. The event is happening in US Eastern Time. Once the broadcast has completed on July 25, been edited, and uploaded then you will have access to the full conference to watch at your own pace and preference. We will get it out as soon as our small but valiant group can manage! So please do not panic if you log in at your own time zone and the conference is already underway from that Eastern Time start - simply join in from where we are and know you will have access to the full conference recording a short time after the conclusion of our gathering.  Keep in mind that these are privileges for those who have paid registration. The overall greatest aspect of the Virtual Celebration is that we shall Worship & take Holy Communion together. To get the most out of this denominational event think of these three stages:
  1. Intentional Local Preparation 
  2. Make the weekend experience special and revel in the celebration.
  3. After the event, review the learning and let the shared experience soak into the fabric of your church as you participate in the ministry of Jesus!
May the Lord bless our global event and I will see you July 23rd!

Faith Forward

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

I have started traveling again within the US. In a recent trip, I was dumbstruck when my bag was the first up on the luggage carousel. Only the second time in my years of travel. Was the Lord shining favor on me?

My neighbor is an avid wild turkey hunter. For the past three years, he hasn’t “bagged a bird.” Fast forward to this year, and he has already bagged two turkeys. He shared with me about being out in the field at Sandy Mush, NC, and sitting, waiting and praying. While he was talking to God, the turkey appeared and he successfully took it. When this happened again a few weeks later, he was even more enthusiastic. He believes the Lord favored him, and who am I to say otherwise?

What is faith in God all about? As believers, do we go through life expecting all phases of travel to go well, and for turkeys to magically appear when we hunt them? Is God our genie in a bottle or good luck charm?

Notice how, in the Mirror Study Bible by Commentator Francois du Toit, he translates a passage in Hebrews:

Persuasion confirms confident expectation and proves the unseen world to be more real than the seen. Faith celebrates as certain what hope visualizes as future. (Hebrews 11:1)

Faith celebrates what hope visualizes as future – Wow! So much more than luggage being the first on the belt or a turkey presenting itself to an expectant hunter.

Francois adds this comment,

The shadow no longer substitutes the substance. Jesus is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of everything the prophets foretold. The unveiling of Christ in human life completes man’s every expectation. (Colossians 1:27)

Faith is about the reality of Jesus, the Redeemer who redeems wholly and the Savior who saves completely. He is the one who draws all humanity to himself and is preparing the splendid, perfect, eternal Kingdom that we will inhabit with him.

He (Jesus) will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4 RSV). This perfect world with perfect relationships is for you, for me and for all of God’s children. Hallelujah!

This faith is a sure faith because of who Jesus is. If you continue reading through Hebrews 11 you will resonate with the biblical characters, their struggles, their triumphs and their expectations even when circumstances are dire. Many of these men and women lost their lives but did not lose their faith.

I pray for our churches and members scattered across the 66 countries where we have people who meet in the name of Jesus under the banner of GCI. I know a lot of your names and even more of your faces. I think of you as characters the Lord is adding to his biblical “Hall of Fame” in Hebrews 11.

Many of you have suffered greatly through the COVID-19 pandemic. Loss of health, loss of jobs and loss of loved ones. My prayer for you is that through this global struggle your faith in Jesus has been strengthened, that your hope and vision for the fullness of the kingdom has been reinforced and that your unrelenting faith in Jesus will boldly go forward as we emerge from the pandemic!

Onward in Jesus!
Greg Williams

P.S. Please join me over the weekend of July 23-25 for the GCI Virtual Celebration. I shall be speaking more about the fullness of the kingdom of God and how our hope is built on Jesus.

The “R” Word

From time to time, I invite a guest writer to share meaningful experiences and information with our church audience. This issue is a contribution from my good friend John McLean. In February 2020 John handed over his mantle of leadership of Superintendent of Australasia to Daphne Sidney. However, John’s stepping down has not meant stepping away. John remains active on the Australian Church Board and he faithfully oversees Ambassador College of Christian Ministry, and I am deeply grateful for his leadership of the many cohort learning groups around the world that he facilitates.
– Dr. Greg Williams, GCI President


Let me introduce you to Randall. Randall officially retired from his role as pastor of a large capital city church. This gave an opportunity for a younger minister to pastor the congregation. Randall continues to serve and contribute in many ways – in worship, teaching, fellowshipping, mentoring and continuing with his connections and service into the local community. He does this without the same office, or title (or pressure), and remains a highly valued elder within the church community.

Many of our pastors are sharing this same journey.

Yet, “Many think that approaching Retirement is like approaching death”, writes a well-known management expert. Retirement is often one of those words we often don’t like to hear, let alone talk about. For some, the word conjures up loss of identity, meaning, purpose, respect—something to be devoutly resisted!

We never retire from being a Christian. Yet it is normal and healthy that we do retire in a timely fashion from roles, offices, ministries and functions within the church. And, yes, sometimes this can be challenging, even daunting. There can be a tendency to want to hold on, even a feeling that it is not responsible to “let go” or step down. And sometimes there is the accompanying notion that Retirement means the end – the end of being useful, engaged, productive. The erroneous notion that stepping down means stepping away.

This approach to retirement is not a recipe for healthy church cultures and healthy, vital congregations. Healthy church cultures of faith, hope and love understand, affirm and support the reality that there are seasons in life, as Ecclesiastes so eloquently tells us. And retirement, rotation, renewal is a healthy and desirable part of church life.

Leader as Steward: Making Room

The church belongs to Jesus. The congregations are not ours. Our identity is in Jesus, not in our roles. While we take any role, ministry or responsibility seriously, we hold such responsibilities as stewards in trust for others. That is, servant leaders do not think in terms of personal position or power, but always hold their leadership on behalf of, and for the serving of, others. We are given gifts from God, including sometimes ministry responsibilities and functions. These are from God, not of ourselves.

What we do is important. Who we are, in Christ, is foundational. The reality is that it is Jesus’ church, and he takes care of it. We participate in the ministry of Jesus through our union with him in the Spirit. We don’t run our own ministry. It’s not about us, but about Jesus.

The church emerges from the deep Trinitarian relationship of Father, Son and Spirit – a communion of mutual love and caring. Indeed, it’s a beautiful, rich fellowship of mutual indwelling, of continuous self-giving and self-emptying one into the other. This relationship is often described by a theological term which translates as “making room” for one another.

Servant leaders don’t just hold on to their positions. They actively seek to make room for others. They intentionally seek to engage, equip, empower and encourage others. And there’s not much point empowering others if we also don’t “make room” for them.

That means prayerfully, professionally, and responsibly developing succession plans and preparing for stepping down and stepping aside for others. This means training and giving others experience and opportunities for development in advance – opportunities for leading. This is really about translating the theology into good, healthy practice!

Have you heard something like this: you will know when it is time to retire, because you will wake up one morning and not want to do what you are doing any more. While understandable, that is not a recipe for a healthy congregational life! It’s a very individual-centered approach, rather than congregationally-centered approach. It’s not the approach of servant, stewarding leadership.

Of course, there are many factors to consider. Context is always important. Health, age, family, and financial circumstances may impact how we do all of this. And we all understand the challenge of finding the right person at the right times. So, this whole process is a vital part of our collective prayerful walk of faith, involving the pastor, the leadership teams and the whole congregation.

Healthy congregations need to value, appreciate and affirm those who currently serve, and give due honor and respect to those who have gone before and served over many years, and who may be stepping into different roles and functions. Because many individuals, and congregations, may not like change, it’s often easier to go with the status quo than to risk what might appear to be loss or discomfort. Yet we are engaged in this journey of faith, looking for the lead of the Holy Spirit. And looking to Jesus to shape his church as he wills. We are not just talking about change for change’s sake, but prayerful involvement and inclusion of people God has called into ministry. Healthy churches really want to see members grow in faith and service.

Stepping Down, not Stepping Away

Stepping down doesn’t mean stepping away. What healthy congregation wouldn’t want to utilize the gifts and wisdom of someone who has accumulated much ministry experience?

Stepping down means making room for others and creates new opportunities and challenges for those who take the initiative to step down. Opportunity to creatively explore things you have not had time or energy to pursue. Being able to focus on a particular area of ministry that resonates with you and your personal gifting. Acting as a mentor rather than doing all the things you once did. (As long as you recognize that others will not do what you did the way you did it!) It means “giving room” – including the room for people to make mistakes. (And who hasn’t made mistakes?) It means helping to equip and develop and grow other leaders enveloped in an atmosphere of encouragement. It means opening up new avenues of service and contribution, in faith.

This season of Easter, right up to Pentecost, we celebrate the new era of the new covenant – the new life we share in Christ through the Spirit. We celebrate the church as the creation of Jesus himself. We often reflect on good analogies of renewal, refreshing, revitalizing, and regeneration.

We never retire from being a Christian. And the “R” word doesn’t have to mean Retirement from Christian ministry, from making significant contributions to our congregations, our denomination and the world. Stepping down from one role, moving into other areas of service, can mean Renewal and Regeneration – for the congregation, and for the individuals involved.

May God bless our congregational and individual renewal.

John McLean Portrait

 

By John McLean
Brisbane, Australia

 

Ascension Day

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

What’s so special about Thursday, May 13, 2021? It is certainly special for Susan and me—it commemorates 37 years of married life. Allow me to thank her for being such a wonderful life partner. Not only has she been a treasure to me, but she has also been a terrific mother, and her greatest joy is being “Gigi” (grandmother) to four precious grandchildren. Happy anniversary sweetheart!

Now what is even greater about Thursday, May 13, 2021 is that we celebrate along with the Christian community the ascension of our Lord and Savior. Forty days after his resurrection on Easter morning, Jesus appeared to his disciples on the Mount of Olives. Knowing this was the day he would leave the earth, he gave parting words to the men who were to become the Apostolic Fathers who would launch the church.

    1. The coming of the Spirit

Acts 1:8a But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you…

These men would recall the words from the upper room when Jesus told them that it was good for him to go away so the Spirit of truth would come (which was evident in a powerful way on the Day of Pentecost) (See John 16:7-16.) It was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that not only inspired the Pentecost sermon of Peter, but the Spirit also transformed and empowered the person we know as Peter from disciple to Apostle (consider that less than 50 days earlier, he was denying Jesus).

What would the 3,000 men and women who showed up in Jerusalem 10 days after Christ’s ascension to celebrate Pentecost have expected? I submit that none of them would in their wildest dreams guessed that their hearts would be pricked by the Holy Spirit, leading them to accept Jesus and commit in the waters of baptism. These Jewish pilgrims had no expectation or clue that they would become the founding members of the Christian church.

    1. The sending of Jesus

Acts 1:8b …and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

It is almost stupefying to hear the looming question the disciples posed to Jesus, “Lord is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” It is quite revealing to see the response of Jesus when he made it clear this stage of God’s plan is secure with his heavenly Father, and then to express to them the stage they are to be a part of. Their calling is to testify about Jesus in their city, their region, their country and their world.

Jesus re-centered their focus with his answer, and I bet if the disciples could receive a “Mulligan” (a do-over), their question to Jesus would have been totally different.

    1. Physically gone yet present by the Spirit

Acts 1:9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.

The book of “Acts” includes the stories of Jesus through the Spirit acting through his people the church. The section of Acts 2:42-47 is a wonderful list of the actions of those people who were transformed by the indwelling of the Spirit on Pentecost. It shows us an ideal picture of what community in the church can be when a group of people are yielded to the Spirit.

Going back to my marriage 37 years ago in Del Mar gardens in Pasadena, CA (the gardens have been replaced with high-end condominiums), Susan and I exchanged wedding vows and began our lives together. At the stage in the wedding where I was granted permission to kiss my bride, there were several mylar, helium-filled balloons released. One balloon was a giant heart.

Seeing the balloons wafting up into the sky and clouds and eventually out of sight was a very small similarity to what the disciples experienced as they watched Jesus ascend. He went up and up until he was out of sight. As they were gazing upward, an angel encouraged them by saying that as Jesus has ascended, he will one day descend and return to us.

This is the hope we hold on to. This promise enables us to conclude the thoughts of Ascension Day with the hope-filled words “Come, Lord Jesus.”

Anxious for the day,
Greg Williams

 

A Trip to the Past gives Vision for the Future

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends, during a recent trip to Southern California, I was staying at the Pasadena Hilton as my central point of operation. I woke up by my internal clock, which is finely tuned to east coast time. Being that Since I had four hours before my first meeting, I set out on what turned out to be a five-mile hike.

After getting my morning caffeine at a Starbucks on Lake Avenue, I trekked westward, crossing the 210 Freeway and onto the property that used to be Ambassador College and Home Office of GCI. I worked as a campus tour guide while in college, which gave me a broader understanding and appreciation for the property. One tidbit of information concerned the footprints of Herbert Armstrong and the original four Ambassador students dating back to 1948. These sets of footprints were cemented into a square of concrete at the stairway entry to the lower gardens, or at least they used to be. The footprints are no longer there.

As I walked and talked with God, more perspective came to my mind. Not only had the footprints vanished, at a greater level the institution of Ambassador College had disappeared too. This institution with its extraordinary campus, inviting people and attractive programs had lured me as a high school graduate to journey across the country to engage in the Ambassador experience.

Like it or not, we dubbed Ambassador College the “West Point” of our church, linking it to the famous military academy. Through a liberal arts education and intentionally creating opportunities to develop social skills with a heavy dose of speech training, we annually churned out candidates for pastoral leadership. This institution did its job quite well over four decades.

If my math is correct, the last batch of graduates to come through Ambassador would be nearly 50 years old. The bulk of Ambassador graduates are retired or rapidly headed in that direction. What to do?

My early morning walk across the campus was heightening my awareness to the reality of our challenge. And before you get ahead of me, no, we aren’t looking to rebuild a brick-and-mortar college. However, we do need to create environments where younger men and women are attracted to well-designed programs and the opportunity to learn good ministry skills that can help the denomination create a healthy pool of pastoral candidates for our desired future.

On the heels of my California trip, I was on a zoom conference call with GCI Development Coordinator Cara Garrity and Superintendents Mike Rasmussen and Heber Ticas. Our topic of discussion was evaluating where are we in the process with this strategy of our GCI Ministry Training Centers (MTCs). We concluded that we are just getting started with the MTC strategy, and before we can pinpoint MTC sites around the globe we must first see churches with pastors applying “Team-Based Pastor-Led” leadership, see all three ministry avenues operating and functioning well, and witness a core group of younger people demonstrating a hunger for deeper involvement in ministry. In other words, we want to see the overall expression of Healthy Church on display.

The good news is that we are seeing a few sites across our global network of six regions, and progress is happening. The more difficult news is that it is going to take time. Realistically, it will take the next 2-5 years to build the initial network, and it will take the discipline of our leaders to build it one step at a time, carefully avoiding the temptation to take shortcuts along the way.

Another good news detail is that we have the combined effort of Grace Communion Seminary that can allow us to have the best-educated ministry we have ever had. Do you realize that GCI is too small of a denomination to own and operate a seminary? And yet here we are. Thank you, Jesus.

My walk across the old Ambassador grounds was a moving experience. My mind was filled with recollections of many happy events and relational activities that took place on just about every corner of that property, and yet my heart was stirred and lifted to the future and the possibilities ahead for GCI.

I am convinced that the Risen Lord has us where he wants us, and he knows with certainty where he is taking us.

In and through him,
Greg Williams

 

 

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!