jonathan stone's blog

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internationalization must happen

If you have not read through the comments on the post entitled, “our approach to missions has to change” I highly recommend that you check it out. Some great stuff has been shared! Again, this issue of world missions is very complex, and will take a lot of talking. So, I’m just throwing out things one at a time here. I want to briefly mention the idea of internationalization.

Last year at the Western European minister’s conference the following comment was made about internationalization: “We have to decide if we are going to truly become an international church or if we are going to stay an American church with a big international outreach.” I found this comment to be extremely helpful. Currently membership outside of the USA represents somewhere around 85% of our constituency. Everyone of those nearly 6 million persons not only falls under the structure of the American church, but under one department within the American church. It’s amazing that these members, ministers, and churches are willing to continue in such a structure. In many cases that is a real testimony to their humility and “Kingdom” focus. Perhaps it’s also a testimony that COGWM has managed, for the most part, to avoid being too “heavy handed” in its administration.

Still, some are getting tired of certain restrictions. There are three things that I heard mentioned most among European ministers when asked about what they would like to change. (1) Let us select our own Field Director (these are appointed by COGWM and are most often Americans). (2) Let us have a truly international assembly somewhere other than the USA. (3) Let us have more input into the structure of our regional office, including where our tithes go and how they’re used.

Some fields want this more than others. Some fields are more prepared to take some of these steps than others. However, I suspect that we are going to have to get serious about showing that we want to move towards a structure that reflects a truly international church if we want to find ourselves relevant and meaningful in our own future. I will say that we have made a few small strides in certain areas. For example, the Council of Eighteen has become more diverse and international once we put our current parameters in place. But much more needs to be done.

In many ways this is similar to some of the decentralization that so many are calling for in the USA as well. For example, many ministers desire to allow individual states to select their own administrative leadership. I think this makes a lot of sense. It does not fix everything. It will not eliminate the good ol’ boy system, for example. At least not in many states. It will only take that system from a national scale to a state level. Yet, it is likely that some states would manage to escape the political system that currently pervades our structure. Likewise, some international regions are simply not prepared to run themselves. I am not sure how we will internationalize in a measured way. It would certainly need to happen in increments in many contexts. But a church domineered by Americans has no future in the 21st century global context.

10 comments on “internationalization must happen

  1. Steve
    March 20, 2008

    I had a conversation years ago with a former Presiding Bishop in his office about this issue for a few hours and it was very eye opening. I’ve always wanted to see our church change to truly be international. The first thing I would like to say is that I have always been amazed that we will not even hold a GA pass the Mississippi. LOL

    I know that many say it’s a money thing for the headquarters and the ministers across the USA but come on I’m not sure I buy that. With all the waste of money at the top we could find away to move the GA.

    I feel there is more to moving the GA than a money issue. MOVE MEANS CHANGE! (Sorry to preach)

    Anyway, back to the conversation with the PB. I suggested we hold a GA outside the USA and of course it was a money thing. I think to hold it outside the USA would change the structure over night and it would forever change the body. (Painful but needed on many levels)

    Another thing I suggested to him was that we use the age of the internet to allow live casting to the world and allow the OB to log in securely and cast their vote on the issues and vote for our leaders. LOL….to long to go into that conversation.

    Finally he did say to me we should maybe hold GA in multiple locations outside the USA. Those outside could set their structure in the context of their homeland. They would fall under our Statement of Faith but the government structure could be fitted to meet their needs.

    Anyway, there is a lot more but it is just way to long to go into.

    Hey big Jon send me by e-mail your new cell number I don’t have the new one.

  2. m.d. mcmullin
    March 20, 2008

    I think we know why the Gen Assembly will not be outside of the southeast USA (although technically San Antonio is west of the Mississippi). The GA is for American COG ministers. The majority of American COG minsters live in the Southeast USA. If it was in a foreign country or on the West Coast it would cut down on the attendance of those ministers. The GA is vacation time for many of those American families.

    I think allowing ministers from all over the world the ability to watch the meetings and cast their vote online would be a huge step in the right direction.

    I would love to see a General Assembly in Latin America or Europe or hey even California. I’m not holding my breath.

  3. Steve Wright
    March 21, 2008

    Thanks for the correction on the location of the GA. Give a brother a break. I went to Bessemer City High School in NC. LOL LOL LOL

  4. Dennis J Adams
    March 21, 2008


    Great post on a incredibly buried subject. So buried that it comes up in meetings such as Steve had or over at Starbuck’s during a coffee rap!

    The point that I simply want to make is to what you said…It will only take that system from a national scale to a state level… Man, that would be a step in the right direction! This could be a avenue that we could collaborate on for the decentralization that so many of us desire! An avenue to the “grassroots”. Wow! Does that make sense?

    We here in California have always wanted to have GA in Los Angeles or San Francisco. But, as I stated it becomes a “mute” point!


  5. Tom Rosson
    March 21, 2008

    Well, change is happening, sorta…

    I have heard that at this coming General Assembly, there will be a “national” assembly and an “international” assembly with different agenda items for each meeting. I’m not sure what the schedule during the week will look like — or how it will function. But this is a step in the right direction.

    Until now, we have held “international” general assemblies to deal with a predominantly “American” agenda (insurance policies, tenure of overseers, changing our titles to ‘bishop’ (which doesn’t translate across cultures)). How would you like to spend a couple of grand from aboard just to hear “domestic” issues of the host country?

    This was never the intention of the church, it just developed this way slowly over the years. But we are just now beginning to distinguish between an American national assembly(agenda) from an international assembly. Most of our countries in which the COG is represented already have their own national assemblies.

    The next step could be to chronologically and geographically separate the “international” from the “national” assembly. Furthermore, there would have to be some clear guidelines for the rights of these assemblies. (Who can make what decisions.)

    And in order to make an international assembly truly representative of the entire denomination, we would need to adopt a delegate system. For example, each country can send one delegate for each 5,000 members.

    But just to play devil’s advocate…. Let’s just say that the new International Assembly makes a decision that is not popular with the American church. (E.g., women can’t wear pants or local churches must pay 20% ToT). There is great diversity in the COG – not just in the States, but also around the world. In some countries, the COG is much more conservative than the American church.

    So how would we handle these issues?

  6. Don
    March 21, 2008

    What’s driving the imperative of internationalisation isn’t unique to the Church of God. It is the simple fact that Christianity is no longer a Western religion, which I discussed back in 2006 in my own blog piece Learning it the Hard Way.

    It’s very simple–if we don’t deal with this trend effectively, then your blog title will come very, very quickly.

  7. Jonathan Stone
    March 21, 2008

    Tom, I think your “devil’s advocate” scenario is quite helpful. Actually, what it does is put us in the place that many internationals are currently in. Some would be what we would call more “liberal” on certain issues. Some would be what we would call more “conservative” on certain issues.

    My response is that we should create more room for diversity on certain issues. For example, if you go by the minutes any elder, church board member, and church clerk has to have spoken in tongues. How does that limit an international pastor or an American church planter? I think greatly, at least in certain circumstances and contexts.

    How do we go about creating such flexibility? I’m not sure about that. But I would say certain “hardline” restrictions like our current stance on alcohol, women in the ministry, and tongues as the initial evidence would potentially have to change.

  8. Jonathan Stone
    March 21, 2008

    Dennis, yes, that definitely makes sense!

    Mike and Steve, I too have given up on the G.A. going to any city that’s not one of the “usual suspects.” I think we are more likely to move straight to online participation (including voting) than we are to see a G.A. held outside of the USA.

  9. Jonathan Stone
    March 21, 2008

    Don, I couldn’t agree more. I only had the chance to skim your article. I will go back for a full read. Thanks for posting it. But if we do not internationalize I think it will lead to some very significant and unnecessary loss of international membership.

  10. m.d. mcmullin
    March 21, 2008

    No offense meant to the brother from Bessemer City. 😉

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This entry was posted on March 20, 2008 by in globalization, issues, missional.
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