Letter to Ministry from Chairman/President
April 23, 2010
[The following letter was sent to the United Church of God ministry by Roy Holladay yesterday, April 22.]
Dear Fellow Ministers,
Are we today properly prioritizing the work that God has directed His Church to do? If not, how can we refocus our efforts to better achieve this?
Since the Council of Elders effected a change in the Church’s administration a few weeks ago, I and other Council members have received numerous letters, e-mails and phone calls. Most of them are civil with honest questions, but some are hostile, containing false allegations. Further, many of our young people and others have taken to online resources to put forth their views, some helpful, some destructive. A considerable amount of time has been taken to review these.
Most of these communications, to one degree or another, essentially reflect these two questions—how are we prioritizing the work to be done and how can we best focus our efforts? These are fair questions, and ones that certainly deserve answers.
As the Council of Elders moves to achieve the dual objectives of the Church—preaching the gospel and preparing a people—the answers to those questions are paramount. In providing those answers, I’ll touch on a number of points here, both past and present.
Some people and administrators in the past have thought that we ought to essentially reverse the order of our dual stated purposes. Clearly there is a growing need for younger ministers as our current pastors continue to age and move into a time when they should be considering retirement. One thought is that if we have more ministers, then we will have the capacity to serve more people as God calls them into the Church. If we have to train more new ministers, then some have thought that we need a formal physical facility like what we had in our former fellowship.
But what’s most important? Preaching the gospel to all nations or constructing buildings to train new ministers and young people? Toward what objectives should the Church devote its physical resources now in order to quickly achieve results?
These are complex questions. Over the past 15 years the Council has tried to balance the means to advance on both fronts, all with a fraction of the physical and financial resources that we had in our former fellowship. It’s a classic dilemma, and one that Council members since 1995 have sought answers to urgently.
If we use the New Testament and the first-century Church as a guide, we quickly see that the preaching of the gospel is first and foremost. There is virtually no mention of building programs or physical church construction in any of the activities recorded about the early Church. There is considerable mention of supporting members, particularly, for example, as Paul canvassed congregations in several areas to raise funds for Church members and believers suffering from a famine in Judea.
After we began our current fellowship some 15 years ago, we had to rebuild key assets. We set about codifying our precious spiritual beliefs and setting in place firm standards that would prevent them from being hijacked in the future. We had to rebuild and recreate our literature portfolio. We had to recreate the means to serve our members at the Feast of Tabernacles. In addition, we set a priority on educating our youth in God’s way and established United Youth Camps in our very first year. It was all a mammoth undertaking.
Through God’s mighty and merciful power, we have done all of that.
As we were in the process of recreating all of these necessary standards and materials, some major changes took place. The Internet—completely unknown and unanticipated in past generations of the Church—took a global hold and dramatically changed how people of all nations communicate and receive information. Further, the widespread fragmentation of traditional electronic and print media rendered previously used means of preaching the gospel less effective than in decades past. The rules of effective communication changed. We as a Church had to thus change many of our previous ways of distributing God’s truth to match how people prefer to receive information.
And so, to complement traditional print and electronic media (which are still the preferred platforms for multiple millions of people), the Church has now invested much in the way of human and financial resources toward a growing and increasingly strategic Internet presence.
Now, in a related realm of the Internet, advances in broadband speed and capacity have led many universities and training programs to create and offer sophisticated distance learning options. For example, the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) now offers many of its highly regarded college courses for free on its wiki: MIT OpenCourseWare (see http://ocw.mit.edu). Could the Church also use the Internet to achieve both of its objectives?
While all of these developments were taking place, the United Church of God had to wrestle with numerous key decisions. When we started, we didn’t have a permanent facility to conduct the operations of the Church. Many were divided even then as to where the Church’s main operations should be located. Since we were starting with a clean slate, the Church commissioned a formal independent study, which ultimately recommended that the physical home office of the Church be located either in the Cincinnati or Los Angeles areas. Among other benefits, Cincinnati is located near to the median center of the U.S. population, and it was ultimately chosen.
That decision was not held in favor by many, even though a small numerical majority wanted it. The decision led to division and high emotions. A similar issue came up in 2007 and 2008 (although this time a site in Texas was proposed), and some remain agitated over the way it was either proposed or dealt with. As you well know, movement was actually started toward that objective a few years ago, even though our current facilities in Cincinnati (which are debt free) are presently more than adequate to serve the needs of the Church.
Based on the letters and e-mails we’ve received, some obviously think that a multi-million dollar building program and a move of the home office to Denton, Texas, is still what the Church should do. To that specific topic, I would like to remind you of a few important points.
A full-scale relocation is a very expensive proposition. The limited financial resources that God has presently blessed the Church with are not well-suited to undertake and sustain the kind of financial commitment required for such a move. Very optimistic formal forecasts of income and debt service projections were made a few years ago that appeared to demonstrate how the United Church of God might do this. These optimistic projections tried to show how the Church would service the debt required to embark on a full-scale, multi-million dollar building project.
Let me speak plainly here. Based on what has happened to the global economy over the last 18 months, it is basically nothing short of a God-given miracle that we did not have to service the magnitude of debt that such a building project would have required. We have not come close to achieving the income projections that were forecast back then. Certainly they were well-meaning, but as recent history confirms, they were inaccurate. That’s not conjecture or speculation. That’s real data.
Now today some might say that the recession is ending and better times are ahead—and that from a spiritual perspective, “the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save” (Isaiah 59:1)—and so we should move forward in faith with a building plan. These are well-intentioned thoughts, but do they answer the two questions that were posed at the beginning of this message? Are we truly doing the work that God has directed us to do and, if not, how can we refocus our efforts to better achieve this?
When we left our prior fellowship, we took only two things with us. Those two things are priceless: the precious truth and understanding of God’s purpose for us today, and the experience we collectively gained. We must use that experience to avoid the mistakes of the past. We know what God allowed with the destruction of the ancient first and second temples in Jerusalem, and in recent times the sale to others of the contemporary facilities of our former fellowship across the globe.
As we contemplate those first two questions, here’s an important consideration: When we go about fulfilling what we understand as the dual mission given to the Church, summarized in the statement of preaching the gospel and preparing a people, we are largely dealing with things invisible and physically unseen in this present age. Indeed, after the resurrected Jesus appeared to the disciples, He said to a future apostle: “Thomas, because you have seen Me [physically], you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).
That underscores our main challenge and presents the answer to our two questions. The Church preaches a message that concerns things that are invisible. It preaches this message in an environment that is cluttered and full of disinformation about the real truth of the gospel. As we on the Council and the home office staff—and indeed all of you—look at this challenge, we all wonder how can we even make a start toward achieving this. Compared to Fortune 500 media companies, our entire financial resources—much less our current media budget—are less than a drop in the proverbial bucket.
Fortunately, we have the unbreakable promise that “God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). We rely on this promise that God will grant us wisdom to discern what direction He desires us to take in using the resources that He gives us. We also have the priceless resource of the living examples of Church members. In the course of being a part of the Church of God, what Church member has not been asked, “Why do you do that?” In addition to supporting the Church physically, Church members have the far more important role of preaching the gospel through their example. As He says directly to all of us: “You are the light of the world… Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14, 16).
That vision and focus is what guides the leadership of the Church. When we made the recent administrative change, we wanted to advance the Church according to what we understand to be the direction Christ wants us to take—as the loving and living Head of the Church. We endeavored to treat the former administrators with great respect—despite allegations to the contrary—and our conscience is clear.
Fellow ministers, the examples and directions given by Jesus, Paul and others all state that we are to be wise stewards of the resources God has given us. I think that I can speak for the entire Council that we are perfectly willing to both live by faith and step out on faith, but that faith must be grounded in wisdom and accompanied by a sincere willingness to yield and be led by God.
The leadership of the Church is committed to seeking the best balance in which to apply our resources, both physical and—most importantly—spiritual. To achieve this, we daily seek a multitude of counselors. We lay our plans before God that we may be in alignment with His divine will. Even as God told the Jewish captives in Babylon, the same holds true for us today: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29:11, New International Version).
Fellow ministers, let us not frustrate those plans. We are doing the work of the living God! Let us now go forward, actively seeking His will and the plans that He has in store for us.
May God and Jesus Christ—the living Head of this Church—continue to inspire and lead you as you serve our precious members.
All the best for a memorable and profitable Sabbath.
In deepest Christian love,
Interim President, Chairman, Council of Elders