jonathan stone's blog

. . . posts on faith and life

travis johnson comes out of the closet…

…and confesses to being ‘that guy’ who was advocating that local churches be able to own their property. And while the conversation on the issue of homosexuality has been EXTREMELY engaging I thought I would bring his killer comments to light. I am sure there is much more to come on the other discussion. So, here is Travis’ response to property ownership:

Man, I’m late to the party here. I guess I might be “the guy” that Jon was originally talking about. Here are my thoughts why it would be good for a local church to own their property:

-it forces us to lead relationally. If we don’t, we are in jeopardy of losing churches. Unfortunately, we diminish the relational aspects of leadership and instead lead by control. Our house can be more like a prison instead of a home. That’s unfortunate.

-it opens the door to more churches that would like to only affiliate with us for the purposes of mission and networking. Obviously, accountability may suffer since, if someone didn’t like a disciplinary decision, they potentially could walk from the denomination and still lead their church.

WOULD THERE BE ABUSES?

Yes. On the day, that churches are given back their properties, unless there is some sort of controlling element, some churches would run/not walk out the door.

WOULD THERE BE BENEFITS?

Absolutely. It would be a clarifying moment for us. It would help us to refocus on mission instead of the ledger and total denominational assets.

It would end the business of state offices liquidating property. This is a massive massive issue…bigger than you may realize.

I’ve seen two churches negatively impacted by denominational real estate decisions:

1. a viable church (West Miami COG) being sold out from under the church without their knowledge because a low ball offer came into the state office and they needed the money. In the end, promises were made by state denominational leaders and those promises were subsequently broken. I was personally in those meetings and was lied to.

What happened? The church was devastated, closed (with no building and no heart to go on), and irreparable damage was done to trust.

2. a church in Homestead mismanaged a property and was going to lose it altogether. I offered to purchase the indebtedness to keep the property in Homestead but was told the state “wanted to make something off of it.” (1.3 million in profits to be exact). Our offer fell flat and did not receive a counter offer or any comments further.

A property purchased by people in my town whom I know wil lnow disappear and the money will likely go into the denominational abyss like dozens and dozens of previous properties.

DENOMINATIONAL PROPERTY OWNERSHIP IS A CONTROL ISSUE NOT AN ACCOUNTABILITY ISSUE

I personally trust a local church to handle their business more than I do a state entity that has little to no local investment or history, a leadership structure that will be here this year and gone next.

I think we need to get rid of as many of our controls as possible. They’re are helpful. But, they are also destructive. I think I’d like to get in the business of trusting our people to do the right thing. And, if they can’t handle it, its their own fault and we move on denominationally poorer but with more relational leadership capital in our pockets, more credible for the future, and less dependent on controlling intimidation tactics.

Travis Johnson

56 comments on “travis johnson comes out of the closet…

  1. Don
    March 28, 2008

    Jon, I’m glad you “outed” Travis on this one.

    The issues of property ownership and homosexuality are related in a lighthearted way (for now) in the Church of God, but for the Episcopalians, it’s been deadly, serious, and not pretty to watch.

  2. Jonathan Stone
    March 28, 2008

    Don, I’m glad you mention the property issue as it relates to Episcopalians. I saw that on your blog as well. I was not aware of it. One of my hesitancies about Travis’ idea is this type of division. Travis seems to think that if churches want to leave in order to pursue something ‘very different,’ doctrinally or whatever, they should be allowed to go. That ‘controlling’ the property costs us more spiritually than it brings monetarily. Perhaps he’s right. I’m not sure yet.

    Anyway, I’m wondering if you have any thoughts to how this has played out in the Anglican/Episcopalian world?

  3. Steve Wright
    March 28, 2008

    Jon,
    I would agree with Travis. He has already covered most of my reasons and so enough said. Well, one more thing…they sure are good at selling churches to beef up their money but why could they not buy one when they sell one. After 14 years in San Francisco and hearing all the, “we love our inner cities and need more ministry there,” speeches from the GA I think it would have been great of them to buy a building in a city where we only have 1 COG right in the middle of the city. I mean after all 850,000 people live there. On a State level we were blessed. In particular by your father. He did his part and believed in the work. The top dogs on the other hand remained inactive but applauded from a distance.

    Sorry to go off.

  4. Robb
    March 28, 2008

    I concur that there myriad abuses as far as asset management, but I think it is unfair to play this as one-sided. When the turnover rate in our denomination is so fast, it doesn’t take a denominational leader to mess up the books/assets of local churches for someone else to clean up after. It only takes a person looking to make a splash and then move on to the next post/position/promotion to do irrivocable damage to the local church. And even less ambitious, sincere people whose tenure is brief leave roads to nowhere in the physical and spiritual structures of the churches in their wake.

  5. Don
    March 28, 2008

    I could go on at length on this subject but I’ll try to give the “executive version.”

    Basically, when things went bananas in the Episcopal Church in the wake of Gene Robinson’s consecration as Bishop of New Hampshire, a good number of Episcopal parishes wanted out to join other provinces in the Anglican Communion (such as Nigeria, Uganda, Rwanda, Southern Cone, etc.) But, because of a 1979 action of their Convention, all of the property is held in trust by TEC. This has forced parishes to either sue to try to break this or lose their property (one FL parish meets in an AoG church!)

    There’s ongoing litigation about this in a number of places, notably Virginia (which has statuatory coverage, according to the seceders) and California (which applies neutral legal principles to the issue, noting that the 1979 “Dennis Canon” is ex post facto.) Some parishes have actually gotten out with their property, and now an entire California diocese (San Joaquin) is trying the same thing. How this relates to CoG on a legal basis is complicated, but it certainly does.

    The upshot? The central holding of the property has added legal conflict (with the acrimony and expense that goes with it) to the issues of doctrine and Christian life, and that is tragic.

    BTW, you can read my explanation to the Anglicans on how I, in the Church of God, became interested in their woes.

    Steve Wright cleared up one more thing for me, i.e., where in the family tree you belong. I work around the corner from your mother, although I’m sure she would be surprised at my position on women in ministry.

  6. Steve Wright
    March 28, 2008

    Don,
    Are you saying you know my mother? Not sure I understand. Clear that up for my brother.

  7. Steve Wright
    March 28, 2008

    Sorry about the typo on ‘my’ it should be ‘me.’

  8. m.d. mcmullin
    March 28, 2008

    I agree with Travis that this issue is largely one of “control” not “accountability”.

    I think it is a justified fear (not just a perceived one) that many churches would pull out if their titles were given to them. I know of one church personally that actually looked into what it would take to legally make it happen. They decided against it.

    I also agree with Robb that many of the financial problems and assest mismanagement is not simply the fault of the administration. The “Field of Dreams” church growth model (if you build it they will come) has resulted in many unwise building/expansion programs that placed enormous debt on a church. Some of these actually killed churches because people got tired of always begging for money.

    I don’t think that giving churches their property titles is going to fix anything. I think it is an issue of trust that can not be fixed by changing policy.

    I’m sure Travis disagrees with me as he seems to be a zealous supporter of this and the TOT reduction. I think it runs deeper than these policy issues can hope to change. Perhaps it would be a first step in restoring trust, but to be honest, i think those who feel the most hurt and betrayed would be the first to leave.

    I’m not really sure why a new church would want property or a building. The burdens seem to outweigh the benefits.

  9. Jonathan Stone
    March 28, 2008

    Steve, I think that Don was referring to ‘my mother’ and not yours. (Wait a second, does that mean someone’s talking about my momma?!) I’m glad that you feel that way about my father. I honestly believe that he was the best AB I have personally ever had. Obviously I can’t be completely objective in that, but I still think it’s the truth. I’m afraid that the ‘top dogs’ mostly applaud b/c benevolence ministries make the institution look good. Their lack of involvement reveals that their interest does not run real deep.

    Don, thanks for the links, and that clears up a couple of questions in mind, including what ‘your appointment’ which I’ve read you reference, is exactly. I only had a chance to scan the women in ministry article. Looks good. And top notch writing, as I am beginning to always expect from you! But what about it do you think would ‘surprise’ my mother? Just curious.

    Robb, well said. I think it’s fair to say more pastors have ‘wrecked’ churches than administrators (though I think you stopped short of saying that). Also, a lot of good administrators have ‘saved’ a lot of terrible situations. So, I’m glad (as the proud son of a couple of administrators) to join with you in keeping some balance in the perspective.

    Mike, I agree that ‘giving churches their titles will not fix anything.’ However, I don’t tend to see these types of issues with ‘all or nothing’ eyes. I think that the conversation itself could go along way in ‘fixing’ some of the mistrust between pastors and administrators, even if the administrators never budged on their position. If administrators clearly demonstrated a willingness to listen and consider what some pastors (like Travis) are saying about this issue then that would be a HUGE encouraging sign in my mind that there was reason to hope that one day we might ‘fix’ things. But if they continue to answer the request with ‘won’t ever happen,’ ‘wouldn’t do any good,’ or by ignoring the question all together I think that the mistrust will only continue to worsen. On another note, I agree with you about the burden of ‘owning a building.’ We have a bit of building-olatry going in our movement. And a lot of it stems from what I consider to be a misplaced emphasis on ‘worship services,’ predominantly the traditional Sunday morning service. Beyond these few ‘hours of operation’ many of our buildings sit relatively dormant the rest of the week. It’s kind of a sign to me of how out of touch we are with ministering to the world, that we would place such an emphasis (by undertaking such a huge financial commitment) on something that we use so little.

  10. travis johnson
    March 28, 2008

    Robb,

    I believe I fairly owned up to the fact that there would be financial mismanagement. But, face it…there already is (example: the other church in Homestead whose property we tried to acquire).

    I fear that we are faced with two choices on issues such as this:

    1. The choice to LEAD or
    2. The choice to MANAGE.

    So far, we manage.

    In Florida, our management means that in order to protect the denominational ASSet, we mandate that each FL Church must insure each building with the state provided Replacement Cost Insurance, a cadillac plan that ensures zero loss of asset.

    It’s beautiful for the plantation owner (denomination). It’s devastating for the share cropper (local church).

    If you look at our church growth rate in FL, one of the fastest growing populations in America over the past 10 years, we’ve been experiencing significant decline.

    We’re also selling churches and properties faster than parachute pants in 1984. Sadly, the assets disappear into the denominational abyss.

  11. travis johnson
    March 28, 2008

    Local Church Property Ownership and the Methodists and Episcopalians:

    Jon,

    If you’ll remember in our conversation, I actually cited the Methodists and Episcopalians and the doctrinal battles against liberal theology. Conservative local churches bought and paid for properties and a liberal network of American church leaders wrestle those assets away to tear out the heart of the mission of Jesus from the denomination and especially these local churches.

    Our dilemma is a hair different. Our battle is not a doctrinal battle, at least not now. Who knows, maybe a hundred years from now we’ll find ourselves battling over some ridiculous issue. But, I doubt it.

    MISSPENT MISSION

    Our issue is an issue of mission-focus and organizational integrity. Currently, we have a broken denomination who has failed to honor our guiding documents and our highest governing body in the use of its funds.

    A local church should have recourse…should have the ability to withhold financial participation as a protest. However, if a local church was to do that, the pastor would be booted and the protestor dismantled.

    LOCAL CHURCH AS PATRONAGE TOOL

    The local church is also used as a tool to reward favored sons who assist in advancing political agendas. With more control in the hands of the local church, this issue would be lessened and the local church would be forced to stand and fall on its own.

    A rogue pastor who uses a local church to blow-in, blow-up, and blow-out would be significantly challenged to pull that off since a local leadership structure would have to develop as opposed to relying on some guru from across the state.

  12. Don
    March 28, 2008

    Jon is right–I was referring to Jon’s mother.

    I think the surprise may come because, up until now, I have kept a fairly low profile. My blog has had little readership in the CoG. But now, with the emergence of a CoG blogosphere, I think the time has come.

    Travis: you might find this of interest on how the Episcopalians got into the mess they’re in.

  13. Jonathan Stone
    March 29, 2008

    Don, you’re right, it’s time. Bring it!

  14. Jonathan Stone
    March 29, 2008

    Travis, your ideas are intriguing and your presentation forceful (I mean that in a good way). It’s still a huge transition to make, because in the end you are asking to more-or-less completely shift from an ecclesiastical/centralized government to a congregational model. My hopes are not very high for this happening. Nonetheless, I think it’s the better model, and so I feel an almost ‘moral obligation’ to do everything I can to see it happen. And besides, if I’m going to hold out hope for a Queer/Pentecostal Dialogue someday why would I not get behind something like this! 😉

    You already have plenty of great practical talking points for pushing this. If you want to thicken the argument a little bit more I have two recommendations. (1) Check out Spurling’s writings, and research done on his writings. His plan was for a very decentralized model. Tomlinson is the one who took us into this current model. So, you’re actually wanting to get back to the original vision. And that will be a meaningful insight for some. (2) Get in touch with Louis Morgan and stick on him like a Remora on a shark until you’ve sucked his brain dry. The dude is a walking history book for the CoG, and can tell you anything you need to know about Spurling, Tomlinson, changes, etc.

  15. Jonathan Stone
    March 31, 2008

    Don, thanks, that’s a great article, and obviously very pertinent.

    I have another question for you. You always seem able to pull up these old articles. My question is (notwithstanding the fact that you’ve already written on so much), how do you remember where to find these posts? Do you have a cataloguing system? Or do you just go digging back through your archives?

  16. Don
    March 31, 2008

    That is what the Google search feature is for. You’re right, I can’t remember everything I’ve bloviated on!

  17. K E Alexander
    April 1, 2008

    Okay…I’m going to weigh in on this one because I have strong opinions on it. My problem is that I RARELY (not never, but rarely) hear these discussions done in a theologically consistent way. The arguements tend to be episodic and situational and thereby emotional.

    Before everyone gets upset with me, let me validate my response. First, I (or we, Corky and I) know what it is like to plant churches and have to deal with the “tithe of tithes” issue as well as renting, owning, etc. issues. We planted 2 churches (Greater Atlanta area, Rhode Island) in 2 very different contexts, with 2 very different Administrative models at the State Office. So, I can get situational and can probably top all of the stories.

    This issue, and many other hotly debated ones in our denomination, is a theological one, an ecclesiological one. And ecclesiology has to do with relationship and covenant. Our denomination, for all its idiosyncrasies (and believe me, I know them all…I work in Cleveland) has an ecclesiology which is primarily (though not totally) Methodist-Episcopal. That means that we believe the Church, and our commitment to it, is larger than our local expression of the Body of Christ. I am connected to the COG congregation in Bolivia, the UK and Alabama, for all their differences. Therefore, I am both accountable to them and responsible for them.

    Besides the obvious “safety features” built in to the system (which admittedly don’t always work) the property ownership polity of our church is a theological statement: it means that each local church property is a part of a greater and larger “property”.

    This also goes toward the “reduction of tithe of tithes” issue. The arguments are usually about “me and mine” rather than my responsibility to the larger Body of Christ and the weaker sister church. And by the way, why don’t we demand real financial accountability, rather than being bought off by creative re-drawings of the organizational flow chart (the Dilbert approach)? The issue is not so much how much we send to Cleveland…the issue is how it is spent/wasted there. But some are apparently content to let them keep spending it however they want, as long as I get to keep my share.

    What Travis, et al are calling for is a completely different ecclesiology, a Congregational one, like the Baptist, or Independent churches follow or even a Presbyterian one, like the AG. And what it is fueled by, in many, not necessarily Travis, is a kind of American Rugged Individualism-Capitalism, or Adam Smith Economics which trust in the “invisible hand” to take care of the others. Unfortunately, that is not a biblical model of Covenant in my estimation and practically, it doesn’t work.

    No matter how much I need the money or property ownership in my local church, I’m not willing to sell the farm…and worse yet…sell out my brothers and sisters who are the “have nots”. I AM my brother’s keeper and I don’t want their blood crying out to me from the ground.

  18. m.d. mcmullin
    April 1, 2008

    I think you are right that the congregational church government is a form of democratic function and perhaps fueled by American economic theory.

    I also agree that what many are calling for is not a couple of policy changes but a complete shift in ecclesiology. One is knocking out a wall to expand a room, the other is leveling the house and starting over.

    I think the root of this problem is a lack of trust that goes both ways. One group doesn’t trust others to make decisions for them, the other group doesn’t trust them to make decisions for themselves.

  19. Jonathan Stone
    April 1, 2008

    Kim, thanks for chiming in on this. You bring some points that are very helpful for me personally as I process this whole question. My opinion is still very fluid, so I’m just going to sort of ‘type out loud’ here. I don’t know where it will end up, but I know I won’t challenge you to an ecclesiological debate. I’d have to bust out my McKim text to try to sound like I was keeping up!

    First, I would echo Mike’s comments about the deeper issue being one of trust and that this idea is radical, even dangerous. I too recognized the very significant change in ‘church government’ model that this would be, and I think I briefly alluded to it before. However, I was not sure about ‘the vision’ behind the episcopal model that we hold, and you brought a lot of clarity in that regards!

    It seems that there is the most consensus about the issue of the root issue about relationships and trust within those relationships. On the one hand, the vision of us all sticking together, being covenanted with one another, belonging to one another, and considering the ‘have nots’ is the kind of stuff I could get excited about. On the other hand, what concerns me is that our structure actually, and ironically, inhibits us from doing that. I worry that we take comfort in what is, for many people and churches, a ‘pseudo-belonging,’ and fail to ever recognize that we are not actually living out this covenanted relationship that we proclaim to have with one another.

    I agree with Mike and Johnny Taylor that giving churches the titles to their property will probably do nothing in repairing the breakdown in relationships that we are now experiencing. However, I would also say that holding onto our current model is just as bankrupt in that same endeavor. I am inclined to think that a shift in church government is too risky, with too little upswing. (And I don’t think it will ever happen anyway–too much like ‘starting over’ as Mike said.) So, you’re helping me to pull back towards the middle in mind, a place where I would be reluctant to consider such a radical shift. But I would do so with more of the practical questions in mind.

    Back to the idea of an episcopal structure being a ‘stumbling block’ to genuine relationship. When I hear the inspiring vision behind our model that you shared I think of those in my life who have a genuine vision and value for institutions. “We belong together b/c we belong to this thing that is bigger than anyone of us, and bigger than any one of our churches.” I have a great appreciation for that perspective, however, the room looks different from where I stand. You mentioned the have nots, and this reminds me of what we might call “No Church Left Behind.” I work in a middle school, and I would not even know where to begin on sharing my experience on how NCLB has created some real nightmare situations in our public school system. I honestly do not know if a fair analogy could be made between the two, but my intuition tells me that there might be something there to consider. But sorry, I am digressing.

    So, the room looks different from where I am standing. I tend to think more in terms of generative relationships that are birthed out of chosen commitment, or more biblically/theologically, covenant. Relationships are allowed to reach their deepest levels of authenticity when this ‘freedom of volition’ is honored. I see this as a more biblically/theologically sound vision, as it grows out of the human/divine relationship established from the very beginning. Also, it more closely reflects the pattern of ministry found in the life of Christ, who did not leave his disciples with much, save their ‘remaining’ with and in Him, which of course is everything. The explosion that would soon happen left a church that was connected through mutual belonging and ‘governed’ by apolostolic leaders who visited, trained, planted, interceded for, and resourced, the various bandings of believers. I’m not saying I want us to become a house church movement, however, I am saying that from the beginning the emphasis has been on healthy, holy relationships. I worry that our current structure of centralization hinders our ability to produce such relationships.

    So, I do not think either holding on or letting go (or becoming AG!) will fix the problem. I do, however, suspect that the conversation itself, holds the potential for bringing in some new capital into an account that has been in the red for some time now. That is, social and spiritual capital that might help us to pay off some of our indebtedness of mistrust. Or, even greater, the potential to find ourselves get to a place where after all the debating, analyzing, listening, and yelling we have the opportunity to recovenant ourselves to one another, no matter what model we choose. So, I say all of that to say that I think that administration would be wise to consider making room for this conversation. There are certainly risks involved, but I don’t think those are nearly as dangerous as doing nothing at all.

    Just a final question on the ecclesiological ‘debate.’ Which church government models would be the closest to being a ‘blended model’ model between these two that we have mentioned? And do you think that or those has/have any potential for us?

  20. Don
    April 1, 2008

    Kimberly, in an earlier post, I referenced an article I wrote last year on this subject. I’ll reproduce the link here.

    One of the points of that article–and Jon picked up on this–is that it’s not a clean “either/or” situation. Having been at one time in my life in the Episcopal, Roman Catholic, and Baptist churches and now the Church of God, I know there are a good number of options.

    For instance: the Episcopalians have more diocesan autonomy than we do, even though Church of God states and regions can be very independent in action. TEC dioceses call their own bishops (subject to enough consents of the others, as SC found out the hard way recently,) can exclude or allow certain practices relative to the rest of the church (such as the ordination of women,) and one is now trying to secede altogether.

    Roman Catholicism, on the other hand, does everything from the top down, including episcopal appointments, although Catholics can have a very anarchic spirit about them when it comes to the dictates of their church.

    In respect to centralisation, we are closer to Roman Catholicism, although the main decisions are made in and around the instrument known as the General Assembly.

    One thing that should be brought to bear on this (but Evangelicals generally don’t dare to) is to bring in Patristic and evidence from Roman Empire Christianity after the New Testament. There we see varying degrees of centralisation and autonomy at work, all generally in an episcopal structure.

    So how much centralisation do we really need? Or how much autonomy can we afford? Is it possible to have an episcopal form of government with local ownership of the property? (I think the new Anglican entities do it that way, but don’t hold me to that.) What’s your idea of the best way to move forward with this?

  21. K E Alexander
    April 1, 2008

    Wow. This is scary. I’m NOT an expert on ecclesiology and remember, we don’t actually have a statement on that in the DOF. I do know some things about Wesleyan-Holiness-Pentecostal Historical Theology.

    Jon makes me sound like more of a “company (wo)man” than I dreamed I could [but maybe that’s good for my job security].

    Remember, I said the system has the potential for connection, accountability, etc. And that is actually the system “on paper”. We don’t see that reality because it doesn’t operate with any real congruity or consistency. And it has evolved into a….well, I’d better be careful.

    Let me talk about what works in the system as it is. And I’ll have to speak situationally to do so. I, my husband and my children are members of a huge network and I have a real covenant relationship with people from all over the world (many of whom I see every 2 years or so at the GA, a mechanism in the church which has its own faults but does serve to bring a lot of us together). I am a part of a church with a very productive missionary arm and which has five times the amount of members outside the US than in. This gives me and my children a relationship, sometimes a supportive one, but most often a receptive one, with people from all over the world. My 20 year old daughter has been able to learn from the COG at Poza Rica, Mexico, inner-city Chicago and Atlanta, rural and poverty-stricken WV, from Portuguese-Americans who left the Roman Catholic Church to become members of the COG in Rhode Island and in about six weeks she will be working with COG medical doctors in Uraguay and Argentina. My husband and I received much of our education and ministerial training from educational institutions supported by the centralized gov’t of the COG. And that’s just this generation’s benefits.

    When we started churches, we were not financially supported by the COG International Offices nor by the state offices, though we were commissioned by them. But we were given moral support (which is nothing to sneeze at when you are doing that kind of work). When Bob Crick and Steve Land came to teach at the Chaplain’s School in Newport, they came to preach at our church, a benefit of being a part of a larger body. We found and rented our own buildings (storefronts, hotel conference rooms, office buildings) and a lot of that money came out of our pocket. There was no salary or benefits from a church during 6 of the 8.5 years we were church planters. So, as I said, I know the struggle of all of that. BUT, we did have an organization to fall back upon when there was a need in the church. [and believe me I’ve known lots of churches that got gifts or loans from State or General Offices to build, repair or enlarge buildings]

    So, I an in debt to the centralized structure for much of who I am and what I (we) have been able to accomplish.

    I’m not going to fill up this blog with the ways that I’ve seen it all fail (me or others).

    I don’t think that Scripture necessarily supports one model or the other, though there is certainly accountability between the churches and between leaders in Acts. I do think structure should be flexible and I am open to the idea that it has to be dismantled sometimes and rebuilt.

    I do believe that the real problem in the church is a spiritual one and we really can’t judge the structure by what we see in it right now. Nehemiah’s reforms had nothing to do with new structures or flow charts, or with budgets and cash flow, or buildings and deeds. The reforms had to do with repentance, prayer, hearing the Word of God, etc. (I’m thankful to Dr. Gause for pointing that out in an Evangel article a few years ago when these arguments began surfacing).

    Our system, as I said, is a kind of amalgam, and probably does owe a lot to the American Gov’t but it does bear the marks of a Methodist-Episcopal structure: preachers (Wesley’s term) are members of a the Conference, itinerant bishops connect people through travel and preaching, there is accountability from one to the other). Districts, for instance, in the COG are supposed to fill a kind of void between the local congregation and the larger Church. What is unique, and often forgotten (until something you wanted to pass gets voted down!) is that the General Assembly, all members present, is the highest ruling body in the church. This means that the Leaders are accountable to the people.

    On paper, the pastor or Overseer in Kenya or Bolivia or France has the same rank as the American pastor.

    I think we need change, but I believe our changes need to be ones which accommodate the above reality rather than militate against it. Moving to a congregational government will not do that.
    [I know the Southern Baptist have a great world missions program BUT do they really have a relationship with each other or is it all colonial and/or paternalistic?]

    I’ll continue to think this through. I’m glad this discussion is happening. Thanks, Jon!

  22. Don
    April 2, 2008

    I have one comment on Kimberly’s last post.

    It is, IMHO, impossible to understand the Wesleyan tradition and its progeny without understanding Anglicanism. I explain why here. If you look at the top of my page which hosts the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, you will find at the top John Wesley’s own opinion of the liturgy.

    Your comment that “it (our government) does bear the marks of a Methodist-Episcopal structure” is something of an understatement. Our government is in theory the same as Anglican and Catholic churches have; what’s different is that a) we do not claim the apostolic succession the way they do and b) we administer and live in it in an American Pentecostal dynamic. That’s what makes our situation so unique, which is a large part of the reason why we’re having such a hard time figuring our way through it.

    But comments such as this are what you get when you give lay people a forum!

  23. Jonathan Stone
    April 2, 2008

    Don, you know about the most random things! I love it!

  24. Jonathan Stone
    April 2, 2008

    Kim, we could form a team and you could be the company (wo)man and I could be the company woe man! Ha!

    I think your last post does a great job at illustrating this point: that there is plenty to ‘draw out’ of the current system (and perhaps any system, as they all have their flaws).

    For the majority of people I think that is exactly right. Honestly, if there is something that we want to get out of our denomination, there really is not that much holding us back. Certainly this is true for me. I have not been held back in any way. And I suspect that the things that I long for could be had in the current system if I would step up and pursue them. I will add this qualifier though, I am also sure that there are some out there who have truly been held back by the system, despite their efforts. Still, those are probably in the minority.

    Also, I completely agree that there is no clear ‘model’ lifted up by Scripture. The principles that hold primacy in the biblical ‘models’ are attainable in most or all of the common ecclesiastical options.

    Perhaps what we are dealing with here is not so much a problem of ecclesiastical structure, as a convergence of multiple shifts (cultural and historical), a clash of values (generational and theological), and most importantly, a sequence of events/decisions that has fostered deep mistrust between administrators, ministers, and laity.

    Here is a situational explanation of my own current perspective, as well as a cathartic confession, and perhaps a bit of a meditation.

    When we moved back to Cleveland last August I was put in an unique situation of being ‘dislocated’ from the system. The system did not dislocate me, it’s just that we ‘followed the Lord’ to Cleveland and the only thing available for me vocationally was public school. I think that simultaneously my ‘vision’ was dislocated, and I found myself seeing things that I had not seen so clearly beforehand. At the same time, I was privy to a lot of ‘insider information’ to various happenings among our central offices. What I saw was a very disturbing level of fear that seemed to almost paralyze individuals in administrative positions. It seemed like many had resigned to ‘waiting it out,’ whatever ‘it’ is. More specifically, there seemed to be a fear of ‘repercussions’ for ‘speaking out’ about problems and/or discussing the possibilities for some serious change. What seemed clear to me was that this ‘spiritual atmosphere’ that had somehow developed was extremely unhealthy. So, I felt like I needed to do something, yet recognized that I was not necessarily in a very strong position to do much.

    That became the genesis for this blog (which has a larger story of its own that I hope to share another time). I felt very compelled to demonstrate to a few people that one could launch out with some very bold and honest dialogue without these repercussions that were feared. I guess time will tell if I was right in my estimation that there was really nothing to fear. But for now, all seems to be quite well. Furthermore, it was, and is, my hope that such dialogue can actually prove to be constructive. I do not blindly call for drastic structural change, but I have a very deep concern for the current ethos and atmosphere of our system overall.

    Since launching this blog I have found myself texting, emailing, calling, and sitting down with more people that I had previously never found the time to hang out with than I could have anticipated. Perhaps the real issue lied within me. Perhaps I needed to decide that ‘things need to change with the church’ so that I could find the courage to change the things within myself.

    Ultimately what is lacking is a depth of relationship, including genuine care and regard for one another, as well as the type of commitment that grows out of true covenant. I would guess that most of us have contributed in our own way to this fracture (sin=corruption=tearing apart), and I would suspect that each of us has our own responsibility in pursuing the restoration of wholeness (atonement leads to holiness–Lev. 16). So, I suspect that each of us needs to challenge ourselves in this way. And, at the same time, I suspect that each of us needs to make room for the various ways in which each individual needs to process these things, and his/her own personal contribution (sin).

    So, I’m glad to hear the thoughtful responses. And I’m glad to hear the appreciation for the ‘small space’ created here. Perhaps we will only manage to ‘bleed the wounds.’ I suspect that that could hold infinitely more value than reforming structures (as you said a la Dr. Gause). But I guess that thought gives me hope that the CoG has a future. After all, as a Christian, what could be more healing than bleeding wounds?

  25. travis johnson
    April 2, 2008

    Kim,

    In your first post on this thread, you said:

    ——
    “Okay…I’m going to weigh in on this one because I have strong opinions on it. My problem is that I RARELY (not never, but rarely) hear these discussions done in a theologically consistent way. The arguements tend to be episodic and situational and thereby emotional.”
    ——

    This may very well be the challenge. In fact, there is not a single Scriptural reference in this entire thread prior to your post or following. I think that may be no fault of ours at all.

    I simply fail to see much Scriptural basis for our denominational structure or any denominational structure whatsoever. Perhaps, that was recognized early on as avoidance to creeds and other denominational constructs were our articulated value.

    So, we’re left without a significant amount of Scriptural direction. As Jon pointed out, we are left with some shifting cultural realities that are leaving our hind-parts a bit too exposed.

    Is this an organizational/flow chart issue? A spiritual issue? An integrity issue? “Yes”to all of the above. I would propose that they are interconnected on every level.

    We can avoid the unspoken nastiness that happens across our denomination at the hands of administrators, pastors, and systems. Or, we can talk about them along with the many good things the COG has offered. I think we have to do both.

    If at the end of the trust/mistrust/organizational conversation, we find ourselves with more questions than answers, it would seem wise to me that we organize in such a way that would honor the uniqueness of our individual churches so they can actually position themselves to make a more significant global impact.

    Further, if we require a uniform deed to herd our pastoral and ecclesiastic cats, it would further seem to me that the power of the Gospel isn’t what its cracked up to be.

  26. K E Alexander
    April 2, 2008

    Thanks, Travis for a thoughtful response to my comments.

    I want to make sure I am understood. I agree that organizational models, polity, etc are vitally connected to our theology as well as our integrity. I just don’t think we should get the cart before the horse. We can fix the polity issues but if the foundation is flawed (or even corrupt), the new structure will be just as precarious.

    In spite of our early “anti-creedal” stance, we are a part of a historical trajectory, and that trajectory is a Wesleyan-Holiness one. Therefore, it seems most fitting that a polity for a Wesleyan-Holiness-Pentecostal church would follow a Wesleyan model. And, come to think of it, maybe that is a part of where the variations come from: the Pentecostal dynamic added to the Holiness one brings about a somewhat different ecclesiastical structure. But Holiness (and Pentecost!) in Scripture is communal holiness, it is holiness in covenant. Pentecost fell on a corporate body, in one mind and one accord…and in one place. And the others who received Pentecost in Acts, received it through those “sent ones” from the church (Jerusalem or Antioch). So those who received the Pentecostal experience did so in community and in communal worship settings. In some way, Paul is accountable to Jerusalem and there does seem to be a leader there (James). The decisions reached in Acts 15 are reached in conference (“it seemed good to us and the Holy Ghost”).

    Actually, both Spurling and Tomlinson did an inordinate amount of thinking, writing, even preaching about ecclesiology and church structure (see Dale Coulter’s article in Pneuma). And Seymour basically followed a Methodist (probably A.M.E.) model. The P.H. Church is set up in a nearly identical way to the Methodist Church, even using the term Conferences, as opposed to States or Regions. The COGIC also follows an Episcopal structure, with a huge amount of authority resting in the Bishop. The AG moved to a different model when their leaders departed from the COGIC and called for a “General Council”. Because many of the churches associated with them were independent congregations, and many came from Baptist backgrounds, they opted for a Presbyterian form of gov’t, which allows for a looser assocation outside the US and where Districts in the US are the strongest expression. Ironically, the AG are the absolutely LESS FLEXIBLE when it comes to issues of doctrine to the point that there can be little or no critical reflection on those issues. Most of my friends in AG academies tell me that it is quite fundamentalist at the Center.

    We are NOT Catholic in our gov’t, as has been pointed out. That means that we don’t have a kind of canon law, which is infallible nor is the GO the “Vicar of Christ on Earth”. He (and proleptically SHE) can be voted out, even removed. And we decided to limit tenure after a not so good experience with unlimited tenure (as did the PH Church). Not everything that comes out of Cleveland is sacrosanct. That is not what our system is about. And I think it is that critical reflection on what we have become which will get me (and Jon) in trouble ultimately! But critical reflection is actually built into the system.

    I have a HUGE concern for where we are going and for where there will be space for a younger generation and for other ethnicities and the other gender. I really appreciate Jon’s commentary on Hezekiah. That is an appropriate analogy, I think. We are now satisfied with these days we’ve been given and are guarding the turf, which is different than guarding the faith.

    I’m just disturbed when pastors/leaders/administrators/church clerks/etc. make new law based on economics, the market, corporate business practices, etc. I’m always disturbed when governments of any kind make law which takes food out of babies’ mouths or that gives tax breaks to the wealthiest in society.

  27. travis johnson
    April 2, 2008

    Kim,

    Thanks for the comments…absolutely excellent!

    Now, wouldn’t you say that economies are realities and our church must be able to function within those realities? We simply cannot remove ourselves from those realities. We have to deal with them.

    And, since the economic reality of the majority of our awareness sits in highly affordable, overly churched southeastern USA, the whole is forced to deal with a structure that is developed around another economic reality.

    As long as the finances are good in Cleveland, the structure will remain unchanged.

    And, when global economies shift, there is no rushing to the aid of the pressurized church in Moscow, Germany, and (selfishly) Miami. We continue to sail on untouched because the unfeeling whole is working at the expense of the fringes crushed under the weight of an inflexible, centralized organizational structure.

    So, do James and Paul in conference over what Jews and Gentiles are permitted to eat have weight for us today? Yes…they better. But, notice that later Paul flips the decision and tells the Gentiles to follow Jesus like Gentiles do…not like a good Jewish boy should.

    And, that’s what I hope can happen. I hope that we can take the decision making and pass it down to those who are most effected by the decisions. We must trust our pastors and churches. If we don’t, we’ll have hell to pay by way of decreased Kingdom effectiveness.

    For instance, in Florida every local church is required to carry a massive insurance policy which does little more than nothing for the local church while protecting the global real estate assets of corporate COG.

    The result? Pastors and churches of 50-70 people who don’t want to participate in the astronomical $50,000 per year premiums are threatened, sold, and removed. A neighboring church pays $17,000 per month to this mandatory program! Insane.

    So, we can consider the theological ramifications of chipping away at a slow, one-size-fits-all, man-made construct prior to changing. Or, we can recognize that because we are lacking significant Scriptural direction regarding denominational structuring, we need to get some stuff fixed so that the very mission that is spoken of so highly in Scripture isn’t impinged, marginalized, and liquidated.

  28. Don
    April 2, 2008

    Kimberly’s response leads me in several directions.

    Centralised, episcopal forms of government have common characteristics, and just because we are Pentecostal/Evangelical doesn’t mean that me just might learn something from the experience of others.

    The biggest difference between ourselves and Roman Catholicism is that our church does not claim to have magisterium, i.e., the authority to make pronouncements on matters of faith and morals with divine authority. I discuss this at length in my article Authority and Evangelical Churches, and I would be pleased to continue that discussion further there.

    Having said that, any episcopal/centralised church government implies the existence of some kind of authority flowing down from the top. We don’t claim magisterium, but in the case of both the Church of God and the Roman Catholic church, decisions and deliberations made in the upper levels on everyday, practical issues of church operation are implemented by direction down the line. I think that Travis’ concern is with this kind of thing, and that’s certainly important for the life and mission of the church. In that context, the actions of the church are as authoritative on a practical level as magisterium would be on a doctrinal/theological one.

    Travis’ statement that “I simply fail to see much Scriptural basis for our denominational structure or any denominational structure whatsoever” is correct. The New Testament did not give definite proscription about this one way or another. Those who came immediately after the NT wrestled with this too. For example, Ignatius (a generation after the NT) was very insistent on a strong episcopacy, while the fourth century Biblical scholar Jerome took a more casual view of their role. But the trend from the NT to the end of the Roman Empire was the progressive centralisation of the church, which paralelled that of the state. This process teaches us that how much a church centralises depends on historical circumstance as much as anything else.

    I think it’s fair to say that the NT teaches that the integrity of the church hinges on the integrity of its leadership, and that’s more important in a centralised church than in a congregational one. In a church where its ordained bishops effectively choose its leadership, that rests with those bishops, and that’s something to think about as we approach another GA.

    Kimberly also touched on two other issues that Jonathan knows I have definite opinions on: women in ministry and social justice. But the connection between our church structure and “I’m always disturbed when governments of any kind make law which takes food out of babies’ mouths or that gives tax breaks to the wealthiest in society” is not clear to me.

    Aren’t converts a hoot?

  29. Don
    April 2, 2008

    Correction in last post: “me just might” should read “we can’t”.

  30. travis johnson
    April 3, 2008

    “Aren’t converts a hoot?” I love it.

  31. Don
    April 3, 2008

    There are a couple of other points I thought of since my last post.

    First, another important difference between churches such as ours and the Roman Catholic church is the whole concept of church, as I explained a long time ago in We May Not Be a Church After All.

    Second, an interesting confluence of Catholicism’s claims to dispense grace and practical considerations took place at the beginning of the Reformation. Most people know that Martin Luther’s original protest centred around the sale of indulgences. What most people don’t remember is the reason why the church was selling these indulgences to start with: to pay for the vast construction and decoration taking place at the time at the Vatican.

    Then again, stuff like that may explain why Evangelical seminaries don’t like to teach Catholic history…

  32. K E Alexander
    April 3, 2008

    Don…tax cuts for the haves, inevitably, directly effects programs for the have nots (free lunch/breakfast programs, ESL programs, healthcare for children, aid for the disabled, etc). Sure there is gov’t waste, but it’s not the perks and salaries of the legislators, governors, et al aren’t what gets cut when the incoming funds are reduced. The same happens in the church, whether on the local level or on the general church level. Reducing funds, etc going to Cleveland, or reducing their financial stability (property loss, for instance) will have a direct effect, and in a short time, on the have nots: widows, orphans, schools, the less financially solvent outside of the US. The programs we all benefit from: the ones we testify about and feel good about, those which reach/help/nurture our kids and support our most effective evangelism efforts will suffer. It will not guarantee that there is not waste.

    Travis, yes, the Economy is a reality we must contend with. But if the church is to be counter-cultural, a contrast society, then we cannot acquiesce and be shaped by it. For instance, it is never really financially feasible much less profitable to care for the poor, to feed the hungry, the widow or orphan. And even if we go broke doing it, we must do it.

  33. Keith Whitt
    April 3, 2008

    Wow, you all apparently have more time to reflect (or are better stewards/thinkers!) than I do, so I will keep my comments brief — or try!

    1. Excellent discussion that needs a wider audience and participation, but we have to start somewhere.

    2. A few years ago the PH church released their grip on church properties. A friend of mine, who holds PH credentials, but pastors an independent work, personally asked Bishop Leggett how many churches were lost from the organization when the property was released. Leggett stated that not one church left the denomination, but several joined when property ownership was not an issue.

    3. If we really want to go to a NT model (our only “rule”…), the church at Jerusalem was funded by voluntary offerings, not an OT TOT system. Further, it was some of the leaders of the early church who had the influence in the Diaspora, not necessarily Jerusalem itself, or even the leaders in Jerusalem. Look at Paul’s account of Peter in Galatians — not exactly one of submission to his leadership. Initially, Antioch and the Pauline congregations were influenced more by those outside of Jerusalem than in — at least from the extant records. Further, I’m not so sure that Jerusalem really served as an organizational power base (and certainly not a denominational prototype)as much as it was a convenient centralized place with historical significance.

    4. While I agree with Kim that we need to take care of the disenfranchised, I don’t believe anyone can argue persuasively that it is happening now in the US — as Kim’s own church planting experiences reveal!

    5. Institutions exist to perpetuate the institution, not to fulfill the vision of the constituents. And make no mistake, we are an institution. It will require drastic measures to bring positive change. I believe we will need a paradigm shift to effect that change.

    6. Lamar Vest often stated that our polity is a reflection of our theology. IF that is theoretically true, what is our present polity –as practiced — stating about our theology? Incidentially, I asked him that question while he was GO/PB and never received a substantive answer….

    7. Sorry Kim, but I can’t let the tax break thing pass without a fair and balanced discussion 🙂 The last two years I have paid 5 times more in federal, state, and local taxes than I have received in salary from my companies (with the best CPA in town). Personally, I would love a little more relief 🙂 And I’m certainly NOT among the wealthiest in town. I guess it is a matter of relativity 😉

    Just my O,

    Keith

  34. darrellbjr
    April 3, 2008

    WOW! This has got to be one of the deepest threads I’ve ever read.

    I love all the insight.

    Coming from a slightly different perspective I have mixed feelings on the subject of property ownership.

    Having pastored a church which was not “in compliance with the minutes” and having had a group of trustees threaten to take the church independent on Monday should we vote to merge with a Hispanic congregation on Sunday, I really am thankful to be in a church which is “in compliance” now.

    Being a District Overseer (AKA an AB’s lackey) I have to deal with “non compliance” issues both current and past, and absolutely cringe whenever I come across a church is not “in compliance” not because I think ill of those who are in that mode, but because the amount of time and money we spend in trying to get property back is never really recouped. Add to that the bad press and you’ve got a situation where everyone loses.

    Yet at the same time I see the benefits of local church ownership especially among congregations who are devoted to the vision of their local leadership providing the leadership is committed to longevity in that ministry. In other words, if a COG pastor is committed to the COG and is also committed to the local pastorate for the long haul, then the congregation should emulate that commitment regardless of who owns the property. As a result, the congregation would not go independent unless the vision ends up being in contrast with the doctrines of the COG. This is just my opinion.

    Having said that, I tend to feel, like Jon, that this probably won’t change anytime soon. The reason I feel this way is because of the perception on a denominational level that if churches are allowed to maintain their deeds they will not follow local church polity…this may only be an excuse but that is the way it has been explained to me. Just for the record, there are already many churches as it is which do not completely follow the local polity as outlined in the minutes.

    I would say we need to begin by dismantling the current local church related polity issues, gradually giving each of the local churches more and more autonomy, and rebuilding the bylaws in a way that will favor the local church while reinforce the doctrines and core values which make us who we are.

    Darrell B.

  35. Don
    April 3, 2008

    Kimberly:

    I have been a part of the great Church of God for nearly a quarter century, and I have never heard the TOT explained in wealth transfer, social justice terms.

    Guess I’ll have to wear my Mao Zedong hat when I visit the Seminary. (And I do own one…)

    I have more fun than I should with this, but it’s probably asking a lot to go back and for with two South Floridians like Travis Johnson and myself at once. But one never understands just how counter-cultural New Testament Christianity really is until you’ve lived (and in Travis’ case ministered) in a place like South Florida.

    Keith:

    The issue of the tithe is a serious one; I’ve dealt with in on my own blog.

  36. Jonathan Stone
    April 3, 2008

    Well, I’m trying to keep up with several of these types of conversations (both here and elsewhere), and struggling to find the time to do so. But I will figure it out, because the dialogue has been awesome!

  37. K E Alexander
    April 3, 2008

    I only use the Tax reference because that’s the language used by those who want cuts (“taxation without representation”).

    Keith…you’re the NT scholar so I defer to you in matters of NT interpretation. But…one thing that must be considered when making comparisons with the church of Acts (I’m referencing your freewill offerings statement, with which I concur) is that the NT church leaders were FULL of the Holy Ghost. Enough said.

    And no…I don’t have time on my hands. This discussion has taken a lot of my time and energy but since I’m paid to think (among other things) it isn’t all wasted! 🙂

    Don…I’m not advocating communism. (Though Acts 2:42 ff. looks a little like that) but I am advocating being our brothers’ and sisters’ keeper. The Church is different.

    For the record, I’m the first to see the constriction of structure on charisma (though I don’t think those are the only two choices). Just ask my students. I just want us to examine motive. I am Wesleyan after, all. (Wesley did collect dues, by the way)

  38. travis johnson
    April 3, 2008

    Kim,

    In reference to the Acts 2:42-47 experiment, wouldn’t you say that our attempt to duplicate that failed miserably? Charles Conn records our collection of 100% of the tithe and its redistribution a total disaster. I would say that much of the upheaval and angst that we experience now is in response to the same dynamic that existed under that system. And, while the percentage continues to historically be reduced with the bureaucracy being dragged kicking and screaming, the resistance is only temporarily placated.

    I see attempts at living like in the Acts 2 heart through Craig Groeschel’s ONE PRAYER (http://www.lifechurch.tv/one-prayer) more reflective of the heart of Acts 2 than our governmentally imposed taxation on monies given to fund the Mission of Jesus for the sake of the expansion of a MASSIVE BUREAUCRACY.

    On one hand, we see Craig’s relational calling to be one, teach as one, give us one, and pray as one. Churches are flocking to that call. On the other hand, we see our mandatory, sometimes prison-like construct met with resistance and cynicism.

    So, in order to maintain the institution, as Keith speaks to so well, we force conformity or the pretension of unity at best. Our mandatory participation in the institution is a cheap rip-off/replica of a Spirit Empowered Acts 2 church.

    Let’s not fool ourselves into believing that’s what we have or are even striving for.

  39. Don
    April 3, 2008

    Kimberly: Let me give you (at least) one more reason not to advocate communism.

    At one time Karl Marx got into a conversation with the wife of the publisher of Das Kapital in Germany about who would do the chores in Marx’s “new world.” It started light heartedly but turned serious, at which point the woman said, “I cannot picture you in an egalitarian period since your inclinations and habits are thoroughly aristocratic.”

    “Neither can I,” Marx replied, “those times must come but we must be gone by then.”

    That being the case, I will be glad to discuss economics–socialist and otherwise–with anyone at the Seminary.

    Keith and Travis: I would have never dreamed of connecting the Acts 2 church with our system of funding, past or present. I got into this at length in my back and forth with Russell Earl Kelly and won’t reproduce it here.

    Jon: your dad had a nice article in the April Evangel on apostles and prophets. He said that “no biblical basis exists for saying that any other man or woman has been chosen by God to serve as an apostle in the same sense as the Twelve…” If you want to prove it, just turn one of these “apostles” loose to replicate the Jerusalem church!

  40. Jonathan Stone
    April 3, 2008

    Don, thanks for bringing the Evangel article to my attention. I was unaware of it. I will check it out.

    While I’m glad that no one has replicated the Jerusalem church from nearly 2000 years ago, I suspect that my father and I may not see ‘eye-to-eye’ on the coming apostolic ministries.

  41. K E Alexander
    April 4, 2008

    This is amazing. Normally, people understand my writing better than some of you seem to. Let me be clear:

    I am NOT advocating communism! I certainly know about the pitfalls and erroneous ideals and workings of a Communist system.

    I am an advocate of community.

    I am NOT saying that our system duplicates Acts 2, 15 or any other scenario. Yes, the Tomlinson Money System was disastrous (it was a unified budget and he had unlimited tenure, by the way). I AM saying that it is not clear to me that individual congregations, out of the goodness of their hearts, will give sacrificially to those loosely associated with them in a network. Out of sight, out of mind. The roof will need to be fixed, the parking lot paved…. At best, most churches will contribute to some individual missionaries but those same missionaries will not be able to attend Seminary, etc. because there is no funding for that.

    Our churches will become isolated from the rest of the church and, again, at best, they will have fellowship with and/or support ministries and churches just like them (Traditional with traditional, Evangelical with other Evangelicals, Emergents with Emergents, Charismatics with Charismatics). So much for unity…

    More stories:
    The firt church we planted, in Smyrna, GA,(Bethesda) may have been the first Emergent church in the COG. And that was 1986-1992! I’m serious. Ask those who visited. The majority of the congregation were rock muscians, graphic artists, actors and English Gypsies. We were good for the COG and the COG organization was good for us.

    In Newport, RI, we planted a congregation with ex-Roman Catholics (of Portuguese descent), Navy families, and several families who had been a part of an independent Charismatic congregation where the pastor and his wife (who owned the building) had gone off the deep end and couldn’t be removed. Believe me, they were thankful for the accountability of the denomination. And it was great fun taking them all to Southern New England Camp Mtg. which was dominated by Jamaican and Haitian Americans.

    I’ve known lots of folk from churches that were independent or from the AG or Baptist Churches. I’ve known very few of them who had any real relationships with others outside of their small world. Even in the PH Church there is little conversation beyond the Conference.

    As frustrated as I am with a LOT of what we’ve become (and we aren’t even touching on those issues here) I think I’ll take the pitfalls of our Episcopal-hybrid model.

  42. Jonathan Stone
    April 4, 2008

    LOL! This is great. Kim, thanks for continuing to stick it out, despite being misunderstood, having words put in your mouth, etc., etc.! I’m laughing because I’m picturing you yelling out to Corky, “Uggghhh! That’s not even what I said!!!” I think Don likes to have fun at our expense!

  43. Don
    April 4, 2008

    Thanks, Jon: I was trying to have a little fun in all of this. The story about Karl Marx is one of my favourites; I used it in my second blog entry in 2005. What kicked me from a static site to a blog was a debate on evolution and creation at UTC, where I was teaching Foundations. Not “Foundations of __________” (fill in the blank), building foundations!

  44. Don
    April 4, 2008

    Correction: when I wrote that post, I was teaching Soil Mechanics. I had taught Foundations earlier. When I tell people I taught foundations, I get blank stares. When I tell people I taught Soil Mechanics, I get really blank stares!

  45. Scott
    April 5, 2008

    I’m way late getting in to this. After a couple of hours, I feel somewhat caught up … but my eyes are tired!

    It would be virtually impossible to hand the deeds back to local churches without a radical transformation of the way the entire church relates. Imagine the realities of releasing ownership to the local church: local churches able to make their own decisions when it comes to property but not the pastor; the council being empowered because they own the church but their voices be squashed when they try to protest the pastor; cooperative ownership of regional residence/offices by the churches in the region but an AB shipped in from somewhere else; less worry about changes in the GA (by “the people”) adversely affecting the next building project but more fear of a denial on the loan because of the age, size, or fiscal ability of the congregation.

    I’m in a region (Rocky Mountain) that has had to rescue churches on several occasions. Being a “mission state” it’s advantageous to have the backing of the church in difficult situations. We don’t have many large churches here – and the region has had to help with several mortgage payments (but that’s often a spiritual health problem – or the southern pastor can’t connect with the mountain west culture).

    Another example, our church is currently refinancing $818,000 after a rate bump. Granted it wasn’t the smartest project for the church to go into at the time, but we’re here now. Without the denominational ownership it would probably be very difficult for us to get a new loan due to various factors (size, finances, etc.).

    In my former AG life, I was on staff at a church plant that could have gotten a loan if the district had co-signed for it … but they refused and now the church is still portable.

    For me it comes to this… the denominational ownership of the facilities can be a good thing. But I’m not really opposed to a change in that – IF the opportunity to maintain partnerships still exists. That’s part of covenant – having each other’s backs even when it’s not codified. But changing this one thing would require us to change everything… and that might not be so bad after all.

    By the way, I’ll try to keep this brief 🙂

  46. travis johnson
    April 5, 2008

    Scott,

    To quote the great philosophical tv show, MXC on Spike TV, I have to say “Right you are, Ken.”

    A change in this element would necessitate a change in every area. I think we are a short way from a platform of change that will be signed onto from an organized group of Ordained Bishops covering a number of interconnected issues. That’s probably just a matter of time.

  47. Jonathan Stone
    April 5, 2008

    Scott, your post highlights the fact that even when thinking in purely practical terms (as oppose to the visional/theological points that we have debated much here) a change like this does not solve all of the problems. (I have in mind the AG example you used, which points to frustrations not disappearing, but being shifted down from a state level to a district level–though we’re not talking about taking on an AG model, it still makes an important point).

    I would take it one more step and say this: every model has a set of problems that come with it; and often the ‘better choice’ between options is not actually a matter of one being ‘better’ than the other, but rather which set of obstacles the majority of people are most comfortable having to deal with. JET and I had a long debate at MCF/MCA about a fairly simple procedure. He kept telling me what we would run into with my idea, and I kept telling him what we would run into with his model. (You can imagine how technical and analytical the two of us can get over something otherwise very simple!) At the end of the wrestling I had realized that neither of us had ‘the better model,’ but rather it was a simple as the things we were personally more comfortable in dealing with. I think that many, and suspect it’s actually most, of the debates we have about things like this are exactly the same.

  48. travis johnson
    April 6, 2008

    Jon,

    With that said, when you have a group of leaders who circulate every 2-12 years and those same leaders have a temporary perspective on issues like FL does with insurance, it is easy to determine that there are a large number of pastors in FL who are not only ready for a new model but, who would also steadfastly believe that almost any new model would be better. How’s that for a run-on sentence.

    So, while I agree with you regarding workability, I would have to say that sometimes, things are broken and need to be fixed. I think we are in that place now.

  49. Jonathan Stone
    April 6, 2008

    Travis, I agree that there comes a point with some cases in which change itself seems to be ‘the better option,’ no matter what the change might be. However, even in those cases I think we should consider not only what the change might be, but also what it might bring.

    Take for example American politics and government (how’s that for an appropriate parallel!). Almost everyone agrees that we need change. Obama has made that his main talking point and whole political strategy. That, in combination with his powerful rhetoric, made me an early believer! However, his opponents asked him to start getting specific, and when he did, he came up with stuff like his brilliant idea about the sub-prime mortgage crisis, where we basically forgive every sub-prime loan and write it off. That’s the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard! So, I’m not so sure I’ll be voting for Obama after all. Anyway, my point is, we should count the cost at all times. And perhaps in the desperate times, we should be extra diligent in this, as we may be prone to over-reaction and quick decisions.

    Having said all of that, I would love to see us seriously consider this move!

  50. Don
    April 6, 2008

    One way to solve the problem Travis mentions about the 2-12 year leadership rotation problem is to allow states to choose their AB’s at the minister’s meeting, subject to approval from “somewhere else” in the church. This is the way the Episcopal church does it, albeit not on a term basis.

    I should also note that the RCC holds its property on a diocesan level.

  51. Scott Ammons
    April 6, 2008

    Travis,
    Speaking of run-on sentences: 156 words, 58 punctuation marks, and the words “Church of God, Cleveland, Tennessee, U.S.A.” 7 times. All that in an addendum (required by the minutes) to our Articles of Incorporation to say the COG owns us. This should be the first thing changed.

    Jon,
    To clarify COG state/region = AG district. With our situation, we could have purchased a building on our own but the bank denied us because of our age and size (2 yrs old but quickly growing). The district refused to co-sign because they didn’t want to mettle with our affairs.

    As much as we need to internationalize our leadership, we need to understand that we cross many cultures in this country. From the Haitians in So. NE to the NW to Georgia to segregated FL… there are differences in our body. Having AB’s from those areas that understand ministry there would be a great change.

    And Jon I agree with you … in essence, everything is flawed. But you have to look past the flaws for the common good.

  52. scott
    April 7, 2008

    Jon,
    In response to your comment about a hybrid solution to ownership… in the AG, churches are only self-governing once they 1) have a certain number of members (150 I think) and 2) have their own constitution and by-laws. Until that point, the district(COG region) owns all property. But once they go sovereign, they own their own property. Although in the AG the only members of the “denomination” are the ministers.

    In the COG, I could see this similarly: a church of a certain size could apply for a form of sovereignty that gets approved on the regional level. Perhaps with some checks and balances built in to the system.

  53. Jonathan Stone
    April 7, 2008

    Scott, thanks. That’s interesting. In the CoG there seems to be an unwritten rule about ‘sovereignty.’ And it seems to be somewhere in the 500+ range. At that point, it seems that churches begin to be given a greater amount of latitude in certain things (not property ownership though) and pastors typically begin to speak real boldly, as if they’re ‘coming out of the closet’ or something. I always enjoy being around these pastors. They seem liberated to say exactly what is on their mind. Unfortunately, size should not matter for this, as ‘where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty.’ Sorry, I have once again digressed. Anyway, I find this concept of sovereignty intriguing. It could be quite helpful in terms of a way forward.

  54. Pingback: Positive Infinity » Blog Archive » Dennis McGuire at Tennessee Campmeeting

  55. Pingback: Positive Infinity » Blog Archive » A Matter of Priority, and a Challenge to Eastern Orthodoxy

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