By Carl Stagner
Incredible things happen when God’s people come together. The presence of God is powerful when God’s people come together. When God’s people come together, regardless of ethnicity or culture, differences diminish and Jesus Christ is magnified. Hope shines bright, the body of Christ is strong, and the kingdom advances when God’s people come together. In a world so strongly divided by race and politics, Jesus Christ was the clearly the unifying subject on Wednesday at the Regional Convention of the Church of God at New Covenant Church in Philadelphia. In a culture exemplified by competing aspirations and agendas, Church of God pastors and lay leaders came together Wednesday to embrace a common mission: to reclaim our neighborhoods in Jesus’ name.
It has been oft repeated that the local church is the hope of the world. Of course it is Jesus working through the local church that makes neighborhood reclamation possible. Ben Hardman challenged listeners on Wednesday morning to think about community transformation and disciple-making in a different light. A disciple-maker is not like an engineer, but more accurately like a gardener. For too long, we’ve thought our goal was to fill church buildings. “Jesus said, ‘You make disciples. I will build My church.’ Sometimes I think we try to do that backwards,” Ben explained. In order to truly reclaim our neighborhoods, we have to move from pragmatism to presence, from teaching to training. Arnetta McNeese Bailey built on that theme next.
“I’ve stopped praying for people to come to church,” Arnetta explained. “I’m praying for people to come to Jesus. Jesus will take care of the rest.” Through personal anecdotes and a passion all her own, Arnetta Bailey challenged the church to live out the gospel, not just talk about it. To reclaim our neighborhoods, we rally around the Jesus we proclaim and then introduce others to him. The problems in our communities are not going to be solved by elected officials, she insisted. We must address the problems because we’re the ones who possess the real solution. “We have indeed been called to the reclamation business,” she exclaimed. “So are we willing to take the roof off to get people to him?”
Following a break for lunch, at which he led a conference for men, Steve Arterburn geared his message to the entire church. Before we can reclaim our neighborhoods, we have to take back what hell has stolen from our own lives. We will not be effective otherwise, and we could even do more harm than good. In two afternoon sessions, this author of the bestselling Every Man’s Battle series pulled no punches, offering frank truths intertwined with stories that tugged on our heartstrings. He made it clear that “when we love, we’re not racist. When we love, we’re not angry…When we love, we take back our lives, our churches, our neighborhoods.”
Reggie McNeal continued to challenge the habits we’ve unwittingly fallen into as the church in North America. Using a sports analogy, he insisted that Sunday was never meant to be the game, but instead the halftime that prepares us for the game the rest of the week. If we shift our perspective of Sundays to an opportunity for recharging our batteries for ministry the rest of the week, we also begin to shift our priorities. When once we as pastors spent most of our time and energy on a thirty-minute Sunday sermon, now we put our time and energy in the mission field of life. And when we shift our priorities, the scorecard also changes. Instead of attendance and giving level indicating ministry success, the number of community service hours or a decreasing crime rate in the neighborhood serve as markers. Radical, yes, but as Ben Hardman explained Wednesday morning, it’s the way of Jesus.
And isn’t that why we’ve come together this week? Jesus brings us together, not only as our common Savior, but also as our common mission.
Creating an atmosphere of worship conducive to accepting the mission was Alanna Story, as well as a special worship team which included Church of God Ministries’ chief domestic officer, Handel Smith, tickling the ivories. Wednesday also offered Global Strategy the opportunity to celebrate the commissioning of Alejandro and Carmen De Francisco to Spain, and Jason and Abby Torgeson to Costa Rica.