By Carl Stagner
At a time in history when societal unrest seems out of control and division is pervasive across all sectors, pastors and ministry leaders from the Church of God movement have come together for a four-day experience full of of contrasts. The international travel hub of Tampa, Florida, served as the host city for the 2023 Congress and General Assembly, ensuring accessibility for approximately 100 guests from outside the United States and Canada . Whether they came from Paris, France, or Paris, Texas, whether they traveled from the Midwest or the Middle East, conventioneers descended on the Sunshine State with stories of God’s faithfulness to share and hearts open to hear the Lord. In sermons and seminars, in informal conversations and in the conduct of formal business, the underlying theme and the inescapable collective conclusion was that, surely, “He has the whole world in his hands.”
Despite the storms that have delayed travel and the spiritual storms that threaten the work of God’s kingdom globally, He has the whole world in His hands. Despite the discord and divisions that divide society at home and abroad, he has the whole world in his hands. Despite sectarian dilemmas and natural and man-made disasters, he holds the whole world in his hands. But he also has a role for God’s Church to play in the response.
Some eighty-five people rose early Saturday morning to participate in this year’s Global Strategy 5K, with proceeds from registrations going to disaster relief. Against the backdrop of divergent viewpoints and lively dialogue, the discussions and determinations committed the Church of God to continued actions for functional cooperation, biblical reconciliation and the defense of women in the ministry. Elective courses on a wide variety of pressing topics, combined with timely teaching from an array of talented speakers, have offered insights, inspiration, and strategies for pastors and lay leaders to weather the storms spiritual challenges of all types and intensity: managing conflict, avoiding burnout, turning around declining churches, strengthening marriages, embracing God-given identity and missions, preventing mission drift (remember , Jesus is the subject!), fostering cooperation and unity regardless of diversity, defending the faith and overcoming life’s difficulties. life in a good perspective.
Joe Saxtonauthor and podcaster of Nigerian and British descent, asked the provocative question: “Are we living according to the purpose God has given us, or are we appointed by the things around us?”
Mark Jackson challenged God’s Church “to be the Christ-centered Church that includes all people, that has Spirit-filled leadership, and that sees lives transformed.”
Walter Kim echoed Jackson’s emphasis on Jesus, urging God’s people not to move faster than the Lord. “If we follow the rhythm of society,” he said, “how can we hear its voice? How can we truly worship the Lord? (Jesus is the One for whom) we must slow down and savor.
Eugene Cho, CEO of Bread for the World, warned against the natural propensity to elevate one’s pre-converted past in one’s imagination – especially self-righteousness outside of Christ. Today’s disciples, like the original ragtag group of brothers and sisters, may yearn to “go back to fishing.” This is why the Gospel cannot be relegated to a product suited only to transactional evangelism, but must always be a personal experience. “If we stop preaching the gospel to ourselves (and to others),” Cho insisted, “we become mere salesmen, mere peddlers (of a message).”
Jeremy Patzer, Canadian MP, highlighted the power of personal and corporate evangelism and apologetics as a vital, but often overlooked, aspect of Church life today. “Are you praying for opportunities,” he asked in his address to the gathered saints, “to tell someone about the hope we have?” About Jesus?
The closing sermon of the Church of God Convention was delivered by Rod Stafford. His message struck a chord and sparked a generous dose of hope and determination. “Knowing the final score changes the way we approach darkness,” he explained of the spiritual experience. “But it also changes our perspective on the difficult things we are going through personally.” Including cancer. Thank God – praise God – he experienced the healing touch of the Great Physician.
On the final full day of the event, the Pastors’ and Spouses’ Banquet, made possible by a generous donor, provided nourishment not only for the body, but also for the soul. Nathan Leisure‘s message to ministers about the struggle through the wilderness en route to the Promised Land was theologically substantial and deeply practical. But Samuel Georges—pastor from Pakistan—also provided the 360 hungry guests with spiritual food that was particularly rich due to its priceless international origin. His brief exposition on Acts 17:6-9, combined with stories about the expansion of God’s Church in Pakistan, brought a magnificent ministry to the largely Western crowd.
Of course, the perspective of sisters and brothers in the Church of God around the world is indispensable. Therefore, the Church of God in the United States and Canada did not organize and lead the first World Alliance of the Church of God, which met from Sunday afternoon to Monday after the conclusion of the regular activities of Convention 2023. Those who have enjoyed the blessing of mission trips and international partnerships know what many new friends and supporters of global ministry have learned in close proximity to so many international guests in Tampa. For Marcus Archer, pastor of Crosspoint Church of God in Natchez, Mississippi, this notion really comes as no surprise. He commented on social networks during the 2023 Congress.
“It is only because of Jesus,” Marcus wrote, “that I was able to spend time last night at our church’s (inter)national convention with our national leader from Bangladesh (Tapan Borman) and West Bengal, India (Sanjay Murmu), and listen to their heart for Christ in the context of their ministry.
He then reflected on the relationship between the Western Church and the Church worldwide. “The American Church is often presumptuous enough to think that we have much to teach the rest of the world. But in reality, we have a lot to learn from people like Tapan and Sanjay, people who give their all to reach the unreached with the Gospel. Tapan is leading the charge and planting churches among Bangladeshi sex workers who have never heard the gospel, but are coming to Christ by loving their children and leading them to THE Rescuer. Sanjay is a dynamic leader who oversees rapidly growing churches and pastors in some of the poorest places in the world….”
How to forget about commissioning Global strategy missionaries Tim and Jenn Adams (to Southeast Asia – from the Church of God in Canada) and Brian and Melissa Richey (to Coast Rica)? It was a beautiful ceremony that reminded everyone of the universal application of the Great Commission. Surrounded by many moments of worship blending the old and the new – rich hymns and invigorating contemporary songs – were performed with near-perfect precision, under the direction of Sarah Scharbrough McLaughlin and a nationally diverse group that, before Tampa, had never associated itself with leadership. The singing of heritage hymns was a special experience on Saturday morning under the guidance of Joe Gregoryand the welcoming talent – and breathtaking illusions – of John Michael Hinton captured the interest and imagination of the congregation throughout.
As times of transition begin in God’s Church, the reminder to all remains: He has the whole world in His hands. Including our global family. Including our local churches and our national and regional offices. Including our partner schools and agencies. Including staff and leadership of Church of God ministries. Such foundational truth strengthened confidence in the Lord and His work through God’s Church at the 2023 Convention and General Assembly.
He has the whole world in his hands. This is now enough to revive our faith and restore our resolve!
Regional conference opportunities for 2024 are currently being planned. More information to come on the General Assembly and the World Alliance of the Church of God. Stay tuned for more updates from Church of God ministries. Learn more about the Church of God movement at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.
For more, check out our daily thoughts on the 2023 Church of God Convention and General Assembly:
- Wednesday June 21, 2023
- Thursday June 22, 2023
- Friday June 23, 2023
- Saturday June 24, 2023
- Sunday June 25, 2023
Featured photo (top): Missionary Commissioning Prayer during Convention 2023.