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Christ-centered Traditions

In this month’s Update, Dr. Greg Williams encourages us to establish more deliberate Christ-centered traditions that focus on Jesus for all seasons, impacting individuals, families, and church communities.

When Greg mentions that his primary voice is pioneer, he is referring to the leadership tool, The Five Voices

For more information, see The Church’s Worship Calendar

Program Transcript

GCI President Update | April 2023
Greg Williams

In February, the US managers had a two-day retreat to share work-related items for the year ahead. This, and other similar retreats, have become valuable for the teams of people who make up our church leadership. Not only did we cover work-related items, we also shared in the meal preparation and the fellowship of breaking bread together. We have conversations around the evening firepit, and we deepen our bonds of friendship. And all of this serves to make the overall work environment better. These retreats are becoming an annual tradition and a strong part of our GCI culture.

A couple of things that happened during the US manager retreat made me pause and think about the value of traditions.   

Most of you know that my primary voice is pioneer, hence I am a future thinker. The ears of my closest work colleagues perk up when they hear the words “what if?” coming out of my mouth. Something futuristic is coming.

Back to the retreat. In the first session we participated in an exercise called “Worthy of a Toast.” We begin our time together by reflecting on the good works God has done in us and through us over the past year. We need to stop and remember, then celebrate and praise the goodness and faithfulness of our triune God. This will continue to be our starting place as we come together to plan. We must have meaningful pauses and reflection before we seek God and his direction for the next steps.

We begin our retreat by remembering and then we bookend the retreat with communion – remembering Jesus. This year North American Superintendent Mike Rasmussen led the group in celebration of the Lord’s table. Through the scriptures, he walked us alongside the two disciples and Jesus on the road to Emmaus. As the travelers took the seven-mile walk, they hashed out the events of the past week, including who Jesus was and what he allowed to happen to him. The remarkable piece of this story is how the grief-stricken disciples were not recognizing this stranger who had joined them. It wasn’t until Jesus enacted the newly instituted service of communion with them that their eyes were opened. When the bread was broken and the wine poured out, the recognition of Jesus happened.

Isn’t it fascinating to consider that this is only the second Biblical recording of the Lord’s Table being observed, and it is on its way to becoming a tradition that will stand the test of time for the life of the church? When I took the symbols with my dear co-workers, I was somehow translated to the communion table of Emmaus and the revealed Jesus.

The tradition of communion that we call a church sacrament is critical. It establishes our foundation for all other structures, all other expressions of ministry, and everything that the church is about. It speaks to the resolute comment of the Apostle Paul when he said, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” Jesus for who he is, and Jesus for what he has done. Period.

The sacrifice of Jesus and the completion of his work on behalf of humankind achieves the deep human needs of belonging, believing, and being. I think about the sense of comfort and centeredness that comes over me as I approach the table and then ingest the bread and wine that demonstrates my secure union with Jesus, and the additional blessing of connection to the believers around me. It’s a place where you want to linger.

I am seeing the church, across all 69 countries where we exist, starting to more fully embrace the Christian calendar and to establish traditions around the annual seasons that keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.

One activity I took note of was a group retreat in Tasmania, Australia during the Advent season to better understand and be immersed in how these days lead to Christmas and the Incarnation. I’ve heard it said that you get out of Christmas what you have put into Advent.

The same is true for this season of Holy Week and Easter. What have the weeks of Easter Preparation looked like? I’ve observed a movement, especially in some of our younger members. They embrace this season with spiritual practices that demonstrate creative ways of attending more to Jesus in their daily lives. In many instances, that may mean skipping some routine activities to read Scripture, dedicating more focused time to prayer, and even experiencing Christ-centered periods of fasting.

I am pleased to see more corporate services being offered on Good Friday to remember that dark day when Jesus willingly took up the cross and went to Calvary. And for Holy Saturday as we anticipate his resurrection.

As your president, I am asking you to please be more considerate and deliberate about how we are establishing Christ-centered traditions. This is more than turkey at Thanksgiving or figgy pudding at Christmas. It is about Jesus for all seasons. This will impact our individual lives. It will impact our families and hopefully impact our children for generations to come.

A traditional expression for this coming Easter is, “He is risen!” You respond by saying, “He is risen indeed.” He is risen – now you.

Susan and I, along with your friends at the Home Office, wish each of you an inspiring Easter!

I’m Greg Williams speaking about the life of the church.

Register for our Denominational Celebration while there’s still time. Registration ends April 30. Reserve your place, in person or online, today!

And video submissions for our Healthy Church Challenge for GCI youth will be accepted through May 1. Enter today!

Empowering and Encouraging

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

So that they may become part of our GCI leadership DNA, in 2023 we will continue to focus on the 4 Es of leadership development and ministry actions – Engage, Equip, Empower and Encourage. This letter will be focused on Empowering and Encouraging.

To empower simply means to give power or authority. I’m reminded of Matthew 28:18 where Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.” Just as Jesus is fully enabled to act, he wraps us into his mission. We, too, are permitted to go and make disciples, baptizing and teaching all things about Jesus. There is confidence in going when we know we are backed by Jesus, and when we realize that as we go, he is always present with us. That’s empowerment with real power.

In the February 22 Update, I wrote about the practical ways Jesus included the original disciples in the feeding of the 5,000. This was a wonderful example of how he equipped and prepared them for what was to come in the commissioning of Matthew 28, when he sent them out into the world to make more disciples and to establish the community of the church. Both accounts display doing ministry with Jesus – one was directed by the earthly Jesus, the second from the heavenly Jesus by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.

We then see that empowerment comes after an appropriate training period. Empowerment includes an endorsement, a sending, and a backing. (For further study, explore the times when Paul sent his son in the faith, Timothy, as his representative.)

True-life stories help to better paint the picture. See the story below of an important lesson learned by Rick Shallenberger as he took advice from his mentor on adapting his approach with an intern.

Read More


P.S. Are you looking for a fun way to empower your members aged 8-17? Encourage their involvement in the Healthy Church Challenge! Videos selected in the first round will be shown at the Denominational Celebration. Final winners will receive a prize. Here’s more information.

Equipping the Saints

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

Let’s begin this Update letter with a scriptural passage.

Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13 NLT)

The various church offices are a gift that Jesus himself, through the work of the Spirit, gave to the church. Note what the Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible says about church leadership:

As the apostles, prophets, and evangelists were special and extraordinary ministers, so “pastors and teachers” are the ordinary stated ministers of a particular flock, including, probably, the bishops, presbyters, and deacons. Evangelists were itinerant preachers like our missionaries, as Philip the deacon (Acts 21:8); as contrasted with stationary “pastors and teachers” (2 Timothy 4:5). [Typically] The evangelist founded the Church; the teacher built it up in the faith already received. The “pastor” had the outward rule and guidance of the Church. The bishop had regional oversight with a group of churches.

This is a general explanation of church polity, an overview of the offices and operations of the church. (GCI uses the title regional director rather than bishop.) Our specific purpose for this article is found in verse 12. The primary responsibility of all church leadership is “to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.” This equipping is careful preparation for the followers of Christ to recognize and understand how they fit and how they participate with Jesus through the community of the church.

Read More

Jesus—the True Disciple Maker

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

As we find ourselves in the season where we rehearse the earthly life and ministry of Jesus, it turns my mind toward the way Jesus equipped and developed the disciples. He used a dynamic combination of teaching and modeling to pour into their lives, and all the while wrapped into a relationship of interaction and friendship.

Jesus did not allow ministry to be a spectator sport. He used everyday opportunities to train his disciples to see and serve (“see” because people have value and worth). The feeding of the 5,000 is a marvelous narrative of how Jesus equipped his followers.

In John chapter 5, Jesus spent a lengthy session of teaching about his authority and how he is doing the work of the Father. These works testify to who he is, the Messiah. Then we read in chapter 6:

Sometime after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. The Jewish Passover Festival was near.

When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.

Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”

Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself. John 6:1-15 NIV

Read More


Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

A few months back, Communications Director Michelle Fleming shared an assessment tool that Replicate Ministries uses in helping to debunk several myths about ministry. Replicate Ministries encourages all the churches and leaders they serve to come on board to what they call, “All Play, Everyday Disciple-Making Movement.” I really like this catchy phrase. It points to the biblical posture of a priesthood of all believers. It also reminds me of a slogan we sometimes use in GCI, “making disciples who make disciples.”

In the spirit of an “all-play” mentality, I am writing a short series on the 4 Es of pastoral ministry – engage, equip, empower, encourage. (Keep in mind that our Avenue champions need to think and operate out of the 4 Es too.) My first entry is on engagement.

To engage, in the purest sense, is to recognize and recruit. Everywhere we look, we see people who need Jesus. When I say need, the needs can run the gamut from forgiveness, to healing, to meaning and purpose in life. Maybe the person you see is simply looking for acceptance or true friendship.

Several years back, Christian researcher and author George Barna informed the church that the greatest need in Christianity was for Christian believers to be engaged in relationships with non-believers. This engagement runs deeper than just hanging out and being friendly. It means befriending another, taking the time to listen and hear the good and the bad, and everything in between. It means sharing life experiences and making lasting memories. It means being there in tough situations and in times of celebration. It means talking to God about your friend as well as talking to your friend about God. It is life-on-life; it is place-sharing.
Read More

Lent AND Easter Preparation

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

As I travel around the world visiting our various GCI regions I hear and learn many new things. I become informed about cultural nuances, and I am asked to clarify various aspects of what we believe in GCI, and how our theology informs our practices.

In my recent trip to France, I engaged in a lively discussion with our leaders. They shared that many of the GCI members are former Catholics, and their view of Lent is based in traditional Catholicism. Based on their past experiences, they view Lent as a works-based practice that is intended for a Christian to establish their personal worthiness. It feels like a backward step into legalism, and a move away from the vicarious atonement of Jesus that alone makes us worthy.

The French leaders went on to express that the phraseology that we have used, “Easter Preparation” is acceptable, and our members can embrace it. For former Catholics, it aligns with our grace-based Christ-centered focus.

In the greater Christian community, Lent is celebrated by Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Eastern Orthodox, Lutherans, Methodists and Presbyterians. The practices in observing Lent and the importance placed on it vary. The conundrum for GCI is that in primarily Protestant-based regions, using Lent as terminology to describe what we call Easter Preparation is acceptable and interchangeable, and therefore it has appeared in some of our GCI publications. Please understand that this is not intended to create confusion, nor is meant to be offensive to any of our former Catholic members (be they in France or any other country with strong Catholic influence).

It is extremely important to know that the GCI worship calendar is informed by GCI theology. The pure intention is to rehearse and celebrate the salvific events of Jesus Christ. In no way are our celebrations designed to throw us back on ourselves and place our eternal salvation on human works. Our goals are to point to Jesus, be focused on Jesus and to worship him only. This alone is why we promote and support the GCI worship calendar.

For our members who have had challenging experiences and carry painful memories associated with Lent, please use the terminology “Easter Preparation.” We have openly asked our leaders across the international churches to contextualize the tools that we provide from the Home Office. We have often experienced that clear communication is difficult, especially when translating from one language to another.

In France and several other countries, I have been asked why I only carry the title of President and why the title of “Pastor” is not included? Most understand why Pastor General was dropped because General is a military title. The sentiment that members convey is that they see me as the Pastor of the denomination, and I embrace this role.

This letter is written out of my pastoral heart to extend the care and love for our members who may have experienced misunderstanding and hurt. Written out of my pastoral mindset, I desire that all of us in GCI relentlessly pursue Jesus and see that he is central in every season, year in and year out.

Everything begins and ends with Jesus. This is the focus of a healthy church. This is the focus of GCI. May God continue to bless us as we keep Jesus the center of the center.

Greg Williams

P.S. Are you interested in a fuller explanation of the primary worship days and seasons? Check out this list.

Faith, Hope, and Love in Action

Dear Family and Friends,

Happy 2023! We are beginning an exciting new year with new hopes and new possibilities. In 2022, we promoted the theme of “Compelled by Love.” As we look ahead to what 2023 holds, we ask, how does this mission play out? I hope you will watch this first video update of the new year. In this update, I describe our focus and theme for 2023.

I also have some exciting news from the Home Office. Allow me to introduce our new Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Rose Hamrick. To learn more, visit her bio here.

Mat Morgan, who has served as GCI and GCS CFO since November 2005, will be retiring next month. Stay tuned to read more about Mat’s faithful and competent service to our fellowship in a future Update issue.

Grateful for healthy transitions,

Reflecting on Important 2022 Themes

Since this entire issue of Update is dedicated to looking back at 2022, we gave our hardworking president a break from writing. In place of a letter, I combined all of Greg’s letters from the entire year and generated a word cloud. A word cloud is an image composed of words in a particular text, in which the size of each word indicates its frequency or importance. You will see by this image, that the word “Jesus” occurred more than any other word in the president’s letters. As it should be! Amen?

Allow me to point out another word. Greg mentioned his wife, Susan, so often that she showed up in our word cloud. How appropriate! We’re grateful for Susan and her tireless devotion to our denomination. I am sure our members around the globe who received a visit from our president in 2022 were equally blessed by Susan’s presence. Thank you, Susan.

Have a meaningful and merry Christmas,
Elizabeth Mullins
Update Editor


Team Based—Chair Led

Dear GCI Friends and Family,

From time to time, I invite a guest writer to share with our church audience. It is my pleasure to have GCI Board Chair, Randy Bloom, as our guest writer this issue. Check out our interview here.

In Him,
Greg Williams

Grace Communion International exists as a beloved part of the universal church of Jesus. It exists to preach the Gospel of Jesus, and to make disciples as it participates in his ministry. GCI also exists as an organization recognized by and functioning under the laws of the US government. As such, it has a necessary structure for fulfilling its mission, as it is led and directed by the Holy Spirit. Under the direction and support of the Board, this structure is headed by the GCI President, Dr. Greg Williams, along with the Home Office staff and regional superintendents around the globe.

As Chair of the GCI board, I have been asked to explain the purpose of the board and how it functions.

The board provides high-level direction and support for the work of the church, mostly from behind the scenes, leaving the more visible aspects (the administrative aspects) of church ministry and mission to the President and his team. But the “behind the scenes” work of the board provides a solid foundation and pathway for the work of the church. The board also provides an extra layer of accountability within GCI – the President is accountable to the board. The primary responsibilities of the board include serving as a governing body (not involved in day-to-day administration or management) to:

      • Ensure the integrity of GCI’s theological framework and doctrine
      • Establish and maintain the vision and mission of GCI
      • Set basic policies (regarding personnel, finances, risk management, etc.)
      • Maintain financial health
      • Hire and support the President.

GCI theology and doctrine.

The “heavy lifting” of developing and establishing the foundational theological framework and doctrine for GCI has been accomplished by the prior work of the board. Today the board maintains the ongoing integrity of our theology and doctrine and is responsible for any future adjustments or clarifications as revealed by the Holy Spirit. The board has a doctrinal committee that reviews and decides doctrinal issues that arise from time to time.

GCI vision and mission

The mission of the church has been clearly set by Jesus: to preach the gospel and make disciples. This is the purpose of GCI (and any church). How that mission is lived out—what it “looks like” in various locations and cultures—needs to be worked out by the President, superintendents, regional directors, and pastors within the 69 countries in which GCI has a presence. With the Spirit leading, Greg and his team have developed missional plans and strategies for pursuing our GCI vision of “Healthy Church.” Greg keeps the board updated regularly on the development and progress of these plans.

Financial health and accountability

Through various committees, the board works to ensure GCI’s financial health. It reviews and approves the annual budget. The Chief Financial Officer (CFO) provides quarterly financial updates to the board. Several committees are involved in managing the annual audit and providing oversight of investments. The CFO is also accountable to the board for all financial management systems, ensuring GCI operates according to established legal requirements. We are happy to say that every year GCI receives an “Unqualified Opinion,” the highest audit rating possible.

Support the President

While the President is accountable to the board, the board is also accountable to support the President. The board does this through its review and support of the President’s initiatives. More specifically, the board chair provides more focused support. I do this by maintaining regular contact with Greg. We talk regularly by Zoom. He shares his plans and ideas with me on a consistent basis, and he is open to suggestions and ideas from me. We have been friends and colleagues for many years, so our working relationship is professional and relational. We get along well, and communication is easy between us. He has often described our working relationship as one of coach and coachee.

I think it is important for people to realize that no one person “has the reigns of authority” within GCI. The President is accountable to the board and while the board has a Chair, the Chair is accountable to the board. Responsibility and accountability are shared. The board is, I hope, a good working example of “team based—chair led.”

Board composition

You may be wondering, “Who comprises the board? What kind of people are they?” I am honored to serve alongside a group of men and women who are experienced and competent in a variety of fields essential to the effective work of the board. Some are highly accomplished in various aspects of finances, management, and legal work. Some are experienced pastors. The board directors are as diverse as they are competent. What they all share in common is love for Jesus, for people, for GCI, and a respect for their fiduciary duties. To learn more about GCI board directors, click here.

Grace Communion Seminary board

An additional blessing, I encountered when I accepted the nomination as GCI board chair was that the GCI board chair also serves as the chair for Grace Communion Seminary. I enjoy serving alongside GCS President, Dr. Michael Morrison and other GCS board members. The GCS board fulfills the same purposes for the seminary as the GCI board serves for the church – to ensure the seminary mission, vision and finances are upheld and managed with integrity. The GCS board is comprised of directors who are experienced, competent, and committed to GCI and GCS. To learn more, visit GCS board.

As I was preparing to retire, I spent a great deal of time pondering and praying about “what was next,” what Jesus may have had in store for me in his ministry. Being asked to serve on the GCI board came as an unexpected surprise, and it has been a great joy to serve alongside GCI and GCS board members. The work is challenging in a good way and fits well into a very fluid retirement schedule. Serving on the board provides an opportunity to continue to work with dear friends and colleagues and serve GCI pastors and congregations in the U.S. and around the globe.

Randy Bloom
GCI Board Chair