At the recent 75th International General Assembly of the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, General Overseer Mark Williams delivered a powerful “State of the Church” report to members of the General Council. The following is a presentation of the report as printed in the Assembly publication, GAToday on Wednesday, July 30, 2014:
As we meet together in this session of the International General Council on this 29th day of July, in the year of our Lord, 2014, I am pleased to report that the Church of God continues to hear and heed the call of Jesus, “Go … make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19 ESV). Hour by hour, day by day, in 179 countries of the world, pastors, church planters, evangelists, missionaries, chaplains, educators, adults, student and children’s ministry leaders, discipleship teachers, caregivers in homes for orphans, caregivers in centers for widows, skilled laborers who volunteer their time for disaster relief, and ministers of mercy to the poor, the disenfranchised, the sick, and the dying—all of them, each of them, one by one, continue to communicate the full gospel of Jesus Christ in the Spirit and power of Pentecost.
Statistically, the Church of God ministers through the hearts and hands of 39,816 credentialed ministers and 36,590 congregations. Membership now exceeds 7 million (7,038,875 as of May 2014), with an estimated 15 million total constituents that attend Church of God congregations every week. With some 620 missionaries, a new church is planted somewhere in the world every six hours. One hundred and twenty-eight educational institutions are training 33,356 students for life and calling. During the last two years, 1,858,971 people have accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. Some 284,793 individuals have been baptized in the Holy Spirit.
The Church continues to demonstrate its core values of prayer, Pentecostal worship, world evangelization, church planting, leadership development, interdependence, and care. These core values and our mission are guiding us toward fulfilling our vision. In compliance with the Great Commission and Great Commandment, the Church of God is to be:
1. A movement committed to the authority of Holy Scripture for faith and direction.
2. A fellowship whose worship brings God’s power into the life of the church and extends that power through the lives of believers into the marketplace of life.
3. A body that is directed by the Spirit, fully understanding that the baptism in the Holy Spirit is both a personal blessing and an endowment of power for witness and service in fulfilling the Great Commission.
4. A people who hunger for God, experience the presence of God, and stand in awe of His holiness as He changes believers into conformity with Christ.
5. A New Testament church which focuses on the local congregation where the pastor nurtures and leads all members to exercise spiritual gifts in ministry.
6. A church that loves all peoples and stands opposed to any action or policy that discriminates against any group or individual because of race, color, or nationality.
7. A movement that exercises love and concern for the hurts and loneliness of the unsaved through aggressive evangelistic, discipling, and nurturing ministries.
8. A church that is Christ-centered, people-oriented, and need-sensitive in all its programs and ministries.
9. A movement that promotes policies and ministries that reflects an open, sincere effort to remain relevant to each generation.
Since assuming office, the questions I have been consumed by are these: What decisions need to be made to position this Church, the Church of God, to effectively and faithfully fulfill its call? What priorities must be embraced to see that the Church attracts the hopes and dreams of a new generation of believers? What will it take to implement a push into the final frontiers of soulwinning and discipleship? What are the nonnegotiables? What are we willing to die for? What about the poor? What about the disenfranchised? What about those who are being abused and sold into slavery? In short, Can our kind of Church reach our kind of World?
The kind of world we live in today is drastically different from the world of our parents and grandparents. The population of today’s world has exploded to more than 7 billion people. Those 7 billion people are found in 4,300 metropolises, 23 mega cities, towns, and villages all over the planet. One out of seven people in the world goes to bed hungry every night. Of that number, one out of three is starving. Many have limited or no access to clean drinking water. Much of the world lives with a sense of emptiness and meaninglessness.
Globally, the world lives under a tyranny of terror. Threats of nuclear and biological terrorism are a real and frightening possibility. The global economy has reached such a level of interdependence that a severe downturn in one country can affect economic security in another overnight. The digitalized nature of this century has created increasing expectations among people we are called upon to lead, making this unrelenting advance of communication technology both a blessing and a curse. While the Information Age has given leaders many new tools with which to lead, it has also placed heavy demands on leaders—demands previous generations of leaders never faced.
Globalism and globalization are the trends of our day. Worldviews, products, ideas, and other aspects of culture are all being integrated internationally. One of the features of globalization is the movement of people. One can witness the diaspora from the Islands of the Caribbean, from Latin America, from Asia, from Europe, and from North America to all parts of the world. The good that comes from globalization is the freedom of travel, the dissemination of knowledge, trade, transactions, and capital investment. But with all the good globalization brings, it has still not found a way to address the issues of crime, poverty, hunger, and undernourishment.
Infant mortality and deaths of babies before their first birthday, is still a serious problem for many parts of the world. HIV, AIDS, and sexually transmitted diseases continue to threaten not only their victims but also families of victims, especially children. The evil of pornography is spreading throughout the world destroying people and families, and I believe, rising to become a chief contributor to the blight of sex trafficking.
It is now believed that every 30 seconds someone in the world is enslaved by human traffickers. Twenty-one million people are believed to be held in some form of human slavery today.
To be sure, in many places of the world, there is great spiritual awakening. This is true particularly in Latin America, parts of Africa, parts of Asia, especially Indonesia, and the Philippines. However, true to prophetic prediction, paralleling the Spirit’s work there is also persecution, apostasy, and increased secularization.
According to a news report in Reuters, Christian martyrdom doubled in 2013 alone. North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan remain among the most dangerous countries where Christians live. Violence against Christians is increasing in Nigeria and Egypt. Globally, Christians face moderate to severe restrictions and, in some cases, hostility in an estimated 111 countries. The Vatican recently reported that credible research indicates that more than 100,000 Christians are violently killed every year because of their faith.
In the United States, we face a culture that embraces secular humanism, moral relativism, and denies the existence of absolute truth. It is a culture where truth has been relegated to technology and beauty has been subjected to the eye of the beholder. It is a culture where feelings have become synonymous with being. It is a culture where philosophy has shifted to the existential, education has shifted to the skeptical, the arts have shifted to the sensual, and people have shifted to the transcendental, believing that they are their own god and have no need of redemption.
Yet, it is for times such as these and to a world such as ours that you and I—the Church of God—have been called to lead, to stand and to proclaim, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for He hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4: 18,19 KJV).
I refuse to believe for one moment that God is finished with the Church of God. But, sometimes I wonder if we are more concerned about the next International General Assembly than we are the next generation. Sometimes, I wonder if we are more concerned about the wording of our Minutes than the fate of the millions who are lost, without hope, and without God in the world. Sometimes, I wonder if we have taken our identity as a movement to advance Christ’s mission and exchanged it for an institution to take care of all of us.
Do not think for a moment that I am unaware of or am attempting to minimize the good that is taking place through the ministries and agencies of the Church of God. You will be seeing and hearing amazing testimonies of never before envisioned frontiers of true, authentic ministry that is bringing hope, healing, and salvation to hundreds even thousands of unreached people. There are pastors sitting on this International General Council floor who are laboring faithfully in the Lord’s vineyard, before whom never-imagined opened doors for ministry and outreach are occurring. I see that. I hear that. I am so grateful for every effort being made in the Lord’s name.
But I feel such a stirring, such a sense of desperation in my heart for a spiritual awakening, a spiritual renewal, and a spiritual reformation in the Church of God. When only 25 percent of registered ordained bishops attending this International General Council are under the age of 50, I have to ask: Are we missing a whole new generation? When more of our time at an International General Assembly is spent on legislation rather than mission, I am left to assume that perhaps we think that restructuring or retasking will bring about renewal? I am aware of no evidence that suggests that restructuring alone will lead to spiritual renewal.
For these, and more reasons than these, I have shared with the International Executive Committee, International Executive Council, national and international leaders, and wherever I have been invited, five urgent priorities that we must give attention to as a movement.
We Must Engage Scripture
In these days of relativism, religious pluralism, consumerism, and individualism, Jesus dares to assert, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4 NKJV). Never before has it been more important to hear and heed those words of Jesus.
Carl F.H. Henry, a leading theologian from the last century, said: “Without an authoritative Scripture, the church is powerless to overcome not only human unregeneracy but also satanic deception. Where the church no longer lives by the Word of God it is left to its own devices and soon is overtaken by the temptations of Satan and the misery of sin and death.”
The first principle adopted by our foremothers and forefathers was that the Church of God stands for the whole Bible, rightly divided, and the New Testament as our only rule for faith and practice. I call upon the Church of God to continue to reaffirm that principle by learning the Word, living the Word, and loving the Word. I call upon the Church to read the Word and let the Word of God read you.
During the first days of 2013 and 2014, Church of God leaders, ministers, and laity alike, met at the International Offices to read the Word God verse by verse aloud. From the studio of our Leadership and Communications building, leader after leader, employee after employee, students, and children, in languages of English, Spanish, and Chinese, read the Word of God into the atmosphere. Broadcasted through our intercom systems down every hall and into every office were voices reading Scripture. Thousands more from 122 countries of the world joined us by web-stream to watch and listen to those reading God’s Word. Concurrently, 252 congregations transformed their sanctuaries into Bible reading stations as people, one by one, read the Word of God.
Throughout these two years, almost 200,000 people joined my family and me in daily Bible reading. Thanks to the leadership of Gary Lewis and David Blair 30,000 students this year are receiving God’s Word via text message.
Church of God, let’s keep reading the Scripture:
• This book contains: the mind of God, the state of man, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners, and the happiness of believers.
• Its doctrine is holy, its precepts are binding, its histories are true, and its decisions are immutable.
• Read it to be wise, believe it to be saved, and practice it to be holy.
• It contains light to direct you, food to support you, and comfort to cheer you.
• It is the traveler’s map, the pilgrim’s staff, the pilot’s compass, the soldier’s sword, and the Christian’s charter.
• Here heaven is opened, and the gates of hell disclosed.
• Christ is its grand subject, our good its design, and the glory of God its end.
• It should fill the memory, rule the heart, and guide the feet.
• Read it slowly, frequently, and prayerfully.
• It is a mine of wealth, health to the soul, and a river of pleasure.
• It is given to you here in this life, will be opened at the Judgment, and is established forever.
• It involves the highest responsibility, will reward the greatest labor, and condemn all who trifle with its contents.
But we must not only read God’s Word, but we must also pray God’s Word. Between the covers of this book are Scriptures that the Church of God needs to be praying. Passages such as Psalm 2:8, “Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance. And the very ends of the earth as Your possession” (NASB). We need to pray the words of Zechariah, who said in chapter 10, verse 1, “Ask ye of the Lord rain in the time of the latter rain” (KJV). We need to pray the words of Habakkuk, who said in chapter 3, verse 2, “LORD, I have heard the report about You and I fear. O LORD, revive Your work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy” (NASB). We need the words of Psalm 71: 14-18:
But as for me, I will hope continually, and will praise You yet more and more.
My mouth shall tell of Your righteousness and of Your salvation all day long; for I do not know the sum of them.
I will come with the mighty deeds of the Lord GOD; I will make mention of Your righteousness, Yours alone.
O God, You have taught me from my youth, and I still declare Your wondrous deeds.
And even when I am old and gray, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to all who are to come (NASB).
Read God’s Word. Pray God’s Word. Preach God’s Word. Teach God’s Word. And let’s believe God to confirm His Word with signs and wonders! That was the pattern of the New Testament Church. “And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them, and confirmed the word by the signs that followed” (Mark 16:20 NASB).
We Must Evangelize Souls
You cannot read the Scripture very long without coming to realize God’s purpose for sending His Son. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge [condemn] the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3: 16-17 NASB). Jesus Christ came to seek and to save that which was lost. Jesus Christ came, not to call the righteous, but to call sinners to repentance. Jesus Christ came, not to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”, writes the apostle Paul, adding, “I was the worst” (1 Timothy 1:15 NIV). Lost people matter to Jesus, and lost people must again matter to the Church of God.
Where is our burden for the lost?
I often read the words of the apostle Paul and they never cease to convict my heart. I read his words from Romans 9:1: “I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (NASB). I read his words in Romans 10:1: “Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation” (NASB). He was debtor to the Greek and to the barbarian, to the wise and to the unwise. He said in 1 Corinthians 9:22, “To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some” (NASB).
I ask again, where is our burden for the lost? To what extent would the Church of God be willing to go in order to place souls as a top priority? What security, what creature comforts are we willing to forsake so that men and women might be saved?
How thrilled I was to see USA Missions lead our efforts to recruit Church of God congregations throughout the United States to partner with the Billy Graham association in the My Hope project. From church sanctuaries to high school baseball fields, lives were transformed after hearing Billy Graham’s message of Christ’s love. On Billy Graham’s 95th birthday, through the efforts of 26,000 churches, My Hope was also shown in thousands of living rooms, shelters, prisons, and more via DVD and web streaming. To date, more than 110,000 people indicated they accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. USA missions, through Leonard Albert, have developed a resource called Take 5 to enable families to reach other families through the gospel of Christ.
Internationally, through World Missions more than 1.3 million people have come to accept Jesus Christ as personal Savior during the last two years, but there are so many more yet unreached. Missiologists believe there are some 11,342 people groups in the world. Of these, 6,422 are classified as unreached; 571 people groups within the United States have been classified as unreached; and 3,133 of the unreached people groups are further classified as unengaged, that is, with no identifiable witness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The harvest is plenteous, but the laborers are few. We need to pray the Lord of the harvest to call and send forth laborers into the harvest. Additionally, we must turn our attention to the cities of our world. One hundred, thirty people every 60 seconds are moving from rural areas to cities. We need a strategy for urban evangelism. We need a strategy for reaching cities with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
One strategy is being implemented in the Kingdom of Cambodia. Cambodia is located in the southern portion of the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia and is bordered by Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam. The Cambodian Kingdom is home to more than 15 million people, of whom 95 percent practice Buddhism. The Vietnam War and the departure of U.S. troops in the mid-1970s gave way to the rise of the Khmer Rouge who sought to rid the nation of its professionals—business owners, physicians, lawyers, the educated, and transform the nation to an agrarian society. The Khmer Rouge committed acts of unspeakable atrocity and inflicted a horrible, savage genocide that claimed the lives of more than 3 million people in a period of only four years. Most everyone alive in Cambodia today had someone in their family who died in the killing fields. With strong anti-conversion laws the Kingdom of Cambodia has been all but closed to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
But in the late 1990s, Church of God leaders began to strategize how to reach nations whose doors are closed to the gospel. Through the efforts of Bob Pace and others, People for Care and Learning was born. People for Care and Learning, a 501 (C) 3, was organized as a humanitarian organization to provide care and learning opportunities around the world. The organization became dedicated to serving the poor by helping children, widows, and their communities reach their full potential. Education, housing, feeding programs, business developments, water and health initiatives—all are efforts to relieve suffering and pave the way for the gospel of Jesus Christ.
People for Care and Learning, now under the leadership of Dr. Fred Garmon, moved into Cambodia. They established orphanages. They established learning centers. They opened up a coffee shop in Seim Reap in the shadows of Anchor Watt, which attracts thousands of Buddhist and Hindu pilgrims every year. They began to strategize on how best to serve the 1,000,000 refugees who live in floating villages on Tonley Sap Lake. All of these efforts caught the attention of government officials who for the first time saw an NGO demonstrate care and ask for nothing in return. Now, the greatest vision yet is unfolding—the building of a city. Andong is a strategic partnership with the government of Cambodia—a $2.5 million project—to build a city for the poor complete with paved roads, sewer systems, a medical center, a school, and even a church.
Now, as a result of care—demonstrating the heart and hands of Jesus—the government has given the Church of God the approval to build and establish churches.
The spiritually blind are receiving sight; the lame are beginning to walk; the spiritually defiled are being cleansed; the deaf are hearing; those dead in trespasses and sins are being raised up; and the gospel is being preached to the poor.
The Church of God must awaken to the harvest at our doorstep and spare no efforts to reach the least, the last, and the lost with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
We Must Embrace Students
I call the Church of God to not only prioritize Scripture and souls, but students, including our sons and daughters. When speaking of students, I am talking about those in the world—college age and younger. Twenty-six percent of the world’s population is under the age of 15. In places like Uganda, Mozambique, Kenya, Malawi, Iraq, Ethiopia, and Afghanistan, the percentage rises to over 40 percent. The Church of God must allow the Holy Spirit to turn our hearts to the children and young people of the world.
Eighty-five percent of people who accept Jesus Christ as Savior do so between the ages of 4 and 14. One George Barna study suggested that what you believe by the time you are 13 is what you will die believing.
If you are a parent or grandparent, I will not have to take a lot of time to convince you that there is a strategic spiritual war being waged to capture the hearts, minds, and souls of this next generation. The headlines scream it: “12-Year- Old Boy Beats Toddler to Death, Police Say”; “Teacher Arrested After Offering Good Grades for Oral Sex”; “Pregnant High School Students in Denver Ask for Maternity Leave.”
The statistics reveal it. The target age for the movie industry is 12–24. By the time the average young person reaches the age of 17, he or she will have spent 63,000 hours engaging mass media, 11,000 hours in school, 2,000 hours with parents, and only 800 hours in church. Ninety percent of children abandon the values of their parents. One study from the Southern Baptist Convention reported that some 88 percent of teens leave church after graduation, some of them never to return.
One of the largest generational mission fields is right at our door steps—the Millennial Generation, those born between 1980 and 2000, numbering some 80 million in the United States alone. Already this generation is on track to be the most educated generation in history. This generation is racially and ethnically diverse and digitally connected. They value learning and are open to mentors in their lives. However, they are also the least religious. According to some studies, only 15 percent express a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It is not so much they are hostile to Jesus or to church; they just feel that the church is no longer relevant.
But there is another story to tell. God has made a promise to those who would live in perilous times: “And it shall be in the last days,’ God says, ‘that I will pour forth of My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on My bondslaves, both men and women, I will in those days pour forth of My Spirit and they shall prophesy” (Acts 2: 17-18 NASB). God is not giving up on this generation and neither am I. I am praying for a revival that will sweep hundreds and thousands of students into the kingdom of God. We have not prayed for our children in vain.
The Lord says to us, “Get ready! Sons and daughters are coming home!”
Enlarge the place of your tent; stretch out the curtains of your dwellings, spare not; lengthen your cords and strengthen your pegs.
For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left. And your descendants will possess nations and will resettle the desolate cities.
Fear not, for you will not be put to shame; and do not feel humiliated, for you will not be disgraced; but you will forget the shame of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more (Isaiah 54: 2-4).
Over the past two years, Church of God Youth and Discipleship has seen more than 150,000 students discipled and filled with the Holy Spirit through WinterFest, KidFest, and youth camps. More than 10,000 men and women have been trained in conference to reach this last-days harvest. LEAD INstitute is now training adult men and women for ministry.
Church of God, I want to see the passion of youth intersect with the mission of God. God is calling us to discover, develop, and deploy a whole new generation. We have an opportunity to ground them in a Christ-centered relational worldview, empower them in a transforming Christlike faith, and unleash them to live out Christ’s life in the world.
We Must Equip Shepherds
One of the most important gifts that Christ left the church is that of a pastor. Pastors are shepherds and form one of the most vital forces for God and His kingdom in the world today. As the pastor goes, so goes the Church of God.
Today, shepherds are called upon to carry out the mission of God in an age of religious pluralism and materialistic worldviews. It is a day when the church and its message are being marginalized. Those coming to Jesus today have little or no exposure to Christianity and will face increasing pressure from family and even persecution from coworkers for making a decision to follow Christ. Families are being redefined. People are historically dislocated. It is an age of addiction, and pastors face intense spiritual warfare almost as never before. For this reason, the Church of God must give priority to affirming, resourcing, training, and caring for its shepherds.
I carry a burden for pastors. The Vital Initiative was launched through Pastor Michael Nations to say in an intentional way that every pastor and every church is vital. Small churches are not failed large churches. God has strategically placed each and every church in towns and communities to be a light that shines in the darkness. Bivocational pastors may well be the most important mission force in our world today.
With 800 million users of Facebook, 40 million instagrams posted each day, and 140 million users of twitter tweeting out 340 million tweets each day, I believe social media is one way pastors can be connected and resourced today. Faith Matters was launched with the desire to bring matters of faith to the table in a conversational way.
Today, the International Executive Committee and I are thrilled to announce the debut of Ministry Source. Ministry Source is a one-stop website that will offer a robust, easy-to-search collection of useful content that will provide every pastor with inspiration, training, and continuing education. This site is designed to equip everyone and anyone in ministry, through live webinars, archived church services, worship music, children’s resources, sermon outlines, even PowerPoint slides. New content will be added regularly from our network of partners, including exclusive content provided by Lee University’s Division of Adult Learning. Currently, Ministry Source is in beta test, so give us your feedback. Let us know what you think of the site and the kinds of content that could be the most beneficial. The site is free to use, but you must register to access it. You can register right now by going to MinistrySource.com.
We Must Employ Social Action
For some time now, I have felt that the Church of God corporately needed to regain its prophetic voice. There are issues such as abortion on demand, human trafficking, the exploitation of children, redefining of marriage, religious freedom, poverty, global hunger, and many more that call for action and a Word from the Lord.
In this regard, I am so proud of Women’s Discipleship. More than $400,000 has been raised for Operation Freedom: Rescuing Servant Children in Haiti. These funds will be used to build a transitional safe house for children rescued from slavery in Port Salut, Haiti.
World Missions, Men and Women of Action, and YWEA are combining their efforts to build a firewall in Africa by establishing seven training centers in Senegal, Niger, Chad, Ethiopia, Horn of Africa, Mozambique, and Zambia. The strategy also includes planting new churches, strengthening existing churches, equipping laity for service and developing young leaders.
Speaking of Men and Women of Action, volunteers just recently completed their building project number 1500. MWOA has built and/or remodeled churches, schools, orphanages, clinics and parsonages in 76 countries and 48 states.
The day has come when the International General Council of the International General Assembly must concern itself with more than just nominations, elections, and housekeeping. We must do more than just come together and perfect our Minute Book. Souls are crying. Men and women are dying. Our sons and daughters are under attack. Pastors are hurting. Jesus is coming.