By Carl Stagner
A historic gathering came to end on Thursday, September 29, after three days of renewal in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was the last of three Regional Conventions, but the experience inspired and directed by the Holy Spirit was no afterthought. What some expected to be an “off year” of less significant smaller-scale meetings on the heels of two major conventions in Oklahoma City proved to be anything but that. Those who came together on the beautiful and expansive campus of New Covenant Church were not only blessed by the convention coming to their own backyard, but also enthusiastically supportive of the new day in the Church of God that dawned only a couple of years ago. The result: pastors and lay leaders committed to return to their local churches and communities eager to reclaim their neighborhoods in Jesus’ name.
God is on the move in the Church of God, already renewing life and purpose among congregations. The Philadelphia Regional seemed to be a culmination of what God is already up to. Michael Guzman came all the way from California to attend the event. The lead pastor of the Church of God of Exeter is just one example of the many who were encouraged and challenged by the convention in Philadelphia. “It’s been a great time being here,” Michael said. “I think the key thing that has impacted me is, from all the speakers, all the musicians, and all the times of discussion, I’m just noticing that there’s almost a vacuum of leadership that’s being filled. I so appreciate all the effort, energy, heart, perspective, and leadership that’s gone into putting this event on. I can almost feel a roar of applause of appreciation and thanks for the strong direction and leadership. I think that’s the big takeaway for me—I don’t feel alone.”
He’s not alone. You’re not alone. The Regional Convention in Philadelphia served as a reminder that the fight to reclaim what hell has stolen in our communities, our churches, and our own lives is real, whether you’re from California, Canada, India, Pennsylvania, or New Jersey. One pastor and his wife from New Jersey, where there isn’t a large Church of God presence, indicated he was very blessed to connect with other co-laborers in the kingdom. In fact, an impressive number of pastors and lay leaders reported this Regional Convention as either the first Church of God gathering they’d attended in a long time, or the first one they’d ever attended. They were thankful for the traveling nature of this year’s convention experience.
Young pastors, ministers who’ve acquired great educational debt, pastors in transition, and the pastor who has ever tried to navigate the complexities of ministerial finances also discovered they weren’t alone. Reclaim 2016 Philadelphia began with the first-ever CARE Initiative event, which attracted pastors and church board members alike. The Clergy Advocacy and Resource Effort seeks to address economic issues facing pastoral leaders and to advocate for pastors and church boards in pastor financial planning and compensation. Those who attended scheduled follow-up meetings and plotted out their initial paths to improved financial health.
During the convention, we once again celebrated the commissioning of CarolAnn North, Jason and Abby Torgeson, and Alejandro and Carmen De Francisco as missionaries to southeast Asia, Costa Rica, and Spain, respectively. Moments of inspirational worship led by Alanna Story throughout the Regional Convention once again directed the hearts of those in attendance toward the Lord. Special worship teams from New Covenant Church also opened hearts to the message of God for his people. Milton Grannum, Ben Hardman, Arnetta McNeese Bailey, Steve Arterburn, and Reggie McNeal brought both encouraging and challenging messages that clearly communicated our common mission. The essentials of the reclamation business—as Jim Lyon has called it—are investing in others, as Grannum experienced it; training others in the way of Jesus, as Hardman described it; inviting others to Jesus before inviting them to church, as Bailey clarified it; taking back what hell has stolen from our own lives, as Arterburn explained it; and seeking the kingdom—not the church—first, as McNeal defined it. Summarized by Ben Hardman, “Jesus said, ‘You make disciples. I will build My church.’
Part of the reclamation business requires us to take back what hell has stolen in our culture, including the truth about tough topics. As Jim Lyon said at the CHOG Table in Philadelphia, “The greatest tool in hell’s hand to thwart heaven’s ends is division in the body of Christ!” All day Thursday was spent discussing in love how the church must respond to the challenge of racial reconciliation. A commission of leaders from across the country will compile conclusions from this CHOG Table and, like the previous two Tables, resources will be produced for the Church of God in 2017.
Renewal is happening among us. The Regional Convention in Philadelphia gave us just a glimpse of all he is doing in this bright new day for the movement.