UCG-AIA Memo Shows Concern Over Difficulties

The following memo has been circulated among numerous UCG ministers and finally made it to the Internet. Its author, John Anderson, has worked continuously in "Church of God" Church Administration Departments for 30 years. (He worked for WCG as a student, then full-time from 1969 to 1995, then UCG-AIA from 1995 to the present.) He has never been "in charge" of the department, but he has had many years to observe what happens in these departments. We reprint his memo with our comments interspersed as SN Comment:

 

InterOffice Memo

Date: September 19, 1997

To: Regional Pastors—confidential

From: John C. Anderson, Home Office

Subject: Ministerial/Church Morale

 

Following the teleconference of the Regional Pastors on September 16, 1997 to discuss concerns about ministerial morale, I tried to synthesize the comments made during the meeting and consider if there were any underlying factors that contribute to the overall malaise and to see if any solutions might present themselves.

All of you expressed serious concerns about the current state of the morale of the ministry and the membership. Though the meeting was specifically called to address ministerial morale, it was impossible to separate the concerns being faced by the ministry from the concerns of the membership since they are interconnected and in many cases the same.

Below is a summary of concerns I heard expressed in the meeting:

1. Conflict between the President and the Council of Elders, Council is divided, lack of cooperation, party spirit, unwillingness to yield to each other, factions

2. Rumor mill that one faction of the Council is out to get David Hulme and Steve Andrews and already has names waiting in the wings to take their places

3. A lack of leadership, inability to inspire everyone to work together

4. A lack of definition in regard to fundamental issues

5. Disagreements about preaching the gospel locally verses centrally

6. The inability of the Council to agree on key issues (no consensus, 7 to 5 votes on issues reported in the Council reports, etc.)

7. An uneasiness about what may happen including the possibility of a split in the Church

8. Ron Weinland and others divulging confidential matters from the Council, pointing out the division and disunity (The unexpressed concern was how did Ron hear these things.)

9. The difficulty of dealing with rumors and negative reports coming from various sources such as the Journal

10. Discouragement about the lack of progress in preaching the gospel

11. Lack of a media policy to guide local and central efforts

12. Lack of a focus issue around which the Church could rally

13. A lack of growth in membership, the Work in a holding pattern, stuck in neutral

14. Attrition in membership

15. A sense that the Church is floundering

16. Concerns about finances

17. Criticism has become a part of our Church culture

18. The formation of various splinter groups

19. Lack of loyalty to United (doesnít matter which church group you attend with)

20. Concerns about the Elders Forum with its negative comments, contention, and debate

Mr. Pinelli mentioned at the end of the meeting that the Regional Pastors, who are not Council members, would be meeting to draft a recommendation to the Council about how to deal with the problems and concerns. Though I didnít comment in the meeting, I would like to pass along to you my thoughts on this subject for your consideration in preparing a proposal for the Council.

SN Comment: John Anderson did well in producing this concise summary of members and ministerís concerns. He did not blame anyone, nor did he shy away from telling the truth—even though it may have been unpopular. He could have taken the easy road, and just ignored the whole thing.

Anderson: The problems and concerns listed above are very real and are on many peoples minds; however, they fail to address the underlying reason for the problems. From my perspective the major underlying problem is that there are within the Church two fundamentally opposed and irreconcilably different approaches to administration. One approach is to have a centrally structured Church and Work and the other is to have a locally structured Church and Work. The one represents our historical roots in the Worldwide Church of God, and the example and teaching of Mr. Armstrong. The other approach is similar to that taken by the 7th Day Church of God with local congregations being essentially autonomous but organized by means of a general conference.

In coming out of the Worldwide Church of God, we were essentially unified on doctrinal issues; however, there were and are two different views on why the problem existed and how to deal with it. One group came out solely because of heresy and didnít have a problem with the hierarchical form of government in the WCG. They viewed the problem in the WCG as being the result of unconverted people who abused their positions of authority. Under this view the problem arose from the fact that the WCG leaders stopped submitting to Christís leadership over them. The solution was to separate and reconstitute the Church and go on doing the Work in a unified, centrally organized manner.

SN Comment: John Andersonís analysis is good. Many of the people in the UCG-AIA (and the GCG and PCG) really do believe the only major problem in the WCG was the person in charge. Now, we would like to point out the problem with this thinking:

The theory of hierarchical government is that each person can know he is doing Godís will by obeying the person "above" him in the hierarchy, and the person "at the top" will be doing Godís will because he obeys God. That way, the whole organization will be doing Godís will. But they just said that the problem with the WCG was that the leaders were not obeying God! And, it is obvious to all that God did not quickly correct them.

If our own WCG experience shows us that God does not always correct the man at the top of that hierarchy, how can we be sure that the man at the top of our hierarchies is following God? If the Eternal left it up to individuals to read their Bibles, pray and decide which organization to attend, does not He also hold them responsible for what they do in that organization?

Anderson: The other group viewed the problem in the WCG as being its hierarchical form of government. Their solution was to separate and organize the Church with a totally different form of government, a democracy with power vested in the local congregations and flowing up to a conference of elders and eventually to a Council.

In Indianapolis a compromise was created that encompassed parts of both systems. A central administrative office was established under the authority of a Council to handle such matters as ministerial salaries and to care for the day to day operational duties. However, local congregations were encouraged to collect funds locally and incorporate locally with local boards or set up local councils without taking the step of local incorporation. Some went away from Indianapolis thinking there would be an essentially centrally-organized Church and Work and others went away thinking there would be an essentially locally organized Church and Work. This all sounded fine in theory, but when the practicalities of actually carrying out the functioning of the Church and Work began to be implemented there was immediate conflict.

SN Comment: Everyone wanted to cooperate at this conference, so they were more than willing to agree with ideas that seemed close to what they thought was necessary—hoping that changes could be made later. We also believe that a certain amount of deception may have occurred—individuals pretending to agree to ideas that they later planned to change. Our Savior will judge it all in the end. The important issue is that many of the people who attended Indianapolis together are now no longer in agreement.

Anderson: The Home Office sought to establish uniform policies and a centrally organized media Work. Others in local congregations began to develop local programs such as cable access TV, local evangelistic efforts and local church buildings. These approaches produced immediate conflict. The advantages of a central structure are uniformity in content and approach, efficiency in production and maximizing the use of skills and facilities. All of these advantages are undermined when local groups are free to develop their own programs. In addition, the funding needed to make a central organization work is not available when local congregations are free to make independent decisions because the funds end up being retained locally for various local projects. Those who favor local initiatives feel the central organization is stifling and too restrictive. On the other hand those who favor the central approach see the local programs as an inefficient and conflicting effort that will detract from and hinder what could be accomplished centrally.

The inherent conflict that exists between the local and the central approaches pervades the entire organization. It affects the collection and receipting of donations, the accounting of funds, the establishing of salaries, the ownership of church buildings, the approach to preaching the gospel, the number of the field ministers needed, who is in charge of a local congregation, the transfer of paid ministers, and so forth. By setting up things in the way it was done, the organization was preprogrammed to fight with itself.

The attempt to forge a workable compromise between the local and central approaches isnít working. It is only leading to greater and greater conflict and bitterness. Until this fundamental issue is resolved the United Church of God will not have the peace, harmony and unity that we all so desperately desire to see. Therefore, it needs to be clearly decided whether the Church will be centrally or locally organized. The sooner the better for all concerned.

SN Comment: We agree that the combined central and local organization in the UCG-AIA is not working. A central hierarchy and a local board cannot both have authority over the same local congregation. We believe it is possible to have both local and central operations, but the central operation must either be clearly in charge of the local operations or it must exist to serve them. Many business and other church organizations have a central site to serve local organizations. For example, a local congregation can be responsible for collecting its own money, taking care of its local buildings and expenses, preaching the gospel locally, and helping the local needy—yet it pledges a certain amount of money to central organizations that produce literature and sponsor gospel preaching in other countries. Local organizations that are not satisfied with the service of the central organization will simply stop supporting it.

We do not believe that the conflict in the UCG-AIA is as much over the issue of Ďlocal vs. central" as much as it is, "Who will be in charge?" If people believe that the Eternal works through each one of His people by His spirit, they would be content to use the resources that He sends to them. Those who believe that the Eternal is showing them they should get involved with local projects, should carry them forward as time, talent, and funds permit. Those who believe the Eternal wants them to work through a central organization should contribute there. Those at the head of the central organization should make the best use of what the Eternal sends them. Everyone needs to be concerned about using their "talents" effectively (Matt 25:14-46), not about acquiring someone elseís talents (money and members).

Anderson: Should we not consider working out a peaceful and amicable separation between the two groups? Rather than beat each other over the head, shouldnít we accept the fact that these two views are irreconcilable and look for a way to disengage those who hold opposing views from each other? There is a clear Biblical precedent for this in Acts 15:37-39 where Paul and Barnabas could not agree about using John Mark. "And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other..." Mr. Armstrongís separation from the 7th Day Church of God is another example of this.

As it is, we are faced with a number of smaller groups and individuals splitting off in a piecemeal fashion. Rather than see the Church fragment into little pieces and individuals, wouldnít it be better to make a clean separation in a decent and orderly fashion showing love and respect to one another. Wouldnít it be better to avoid all the bitterness and nasty recriminations that go along with trying to justify one position or the other and just accept the fact that the two groups donít agree on how to best administer the Church and the Work. God wants us to have love, joy and peace. None of these are being promoted under the current circumstances. Wouldnít it be better to separate so that each group can wholeheartedly do what they believe God has called them to do in the way they believe will best serve Him?

Though a separation will bring its own difficulties (especially if it turns out to be a nearly 50/50 split), still it would seem to be better than continuing to fight with each other as is now the case. As it is, neither group can truly get on with the Work they see as being possible. Two smaller groups that are truly unified internally will surely accomplish more than continuing in the way things are now going. If it turns out that only a small fraction of the Church desires one or the other of the two approaches, then the smaller group will have a choice to either accept the approach of the larger group or leave and form their own organization. In either case it should once, and for all, resolve the ongoing conflict.

SN Comment: We must commend Anderson again on his use of Acts 15:37-39 and Armstrongís separation to show that the Church of God has not always been under one human authority. (Our paper How Does The Eternal Govern Through Humans? shows many Biblical cases of the Eternal working through different men at the same time.) We agree that separating would be better than more years of disunity and continual infighting.

But we also must ask the question, is the offer of a peaceable separation an admission that the Eternal does not work through hierarchies. Think about it. If the Eternal doe really work primarily through one organization—if people in all other organization s are either unconverted or lukewarm ĎLaodiceans," then how can a hierarchical church knowingly let a large number of brethren depart into such a condition? Does not the hierarchy kick them out in disgrace, rather than offer a peaceful separation? Obviously, we in Servantsí News do not believe that any of the above things should be done, because we do not believe that the Bible teaches that the Eternal governs His church through a one human hierarchy. But if someone really believes in hierarchy, how can they also justify letting their congregation leave to follow "false teachers."?

Is it possible that the hierarchicalists would like to see the "local control" people leave, before too many members begin to realize how the Eternal really does govern his people? In our experience dealing with may different church groups, we find it very common for hierarchical congregation to try to prevent their members from having contact with other brethren that can explain a different concept of church government for the Bible. We do not want to judge anyoneís motives, but we hope everyone in the UCG will think about this. Are the hierarchicalists driven to separate so they can do a work, or do they want to separate now before their financial base is eroded?

Anderson: Other thoughts:

ē I Corinthians 14:33 "God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints." The United Church of God is a confusing organization. We collect tithes locally and we collect tithes centrally. We account for expenses centrally and we account for expenses locally. Trying to develop a unified audit is going to be a very expensive and complicated job if it is even possible. Some are using a calendar year for their accounting which is different from the Home Offices fiscal year. Some congregations have and are setting aside funds for a church building while their pastorís salaries and expenses are being paid by the Home Office. Some congregations are being very frugal so there will be more available to preach the gospel, but others are not being frugal at all so they are using up what others were trying to dedicate to preaching the gospel. We are incorporated centrally and we also have congregations that are incorporated separately on a local basis. Some are looking for a central direction for a media plan. Others are looking for the freedom to do whatever they chose to do locally. Some are calling for acceptance of diversity and others are looking at the Biblical instruction to strive for unity.

ē I Corinthians 1:10 "...that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment." When it comes to administrative and organizational matters the United Church of God is far from being of the same mind and same judgment. There are horrible divisions among us starting at the Council of Elders and proceeding throughout the Church. At the Council of Elders meetings in Arcadia in May of 1997 in the discussion about local church buildings, it was stated that some local congregations are going to build or purchase a building no matter what the Council says. That hardly sounds like being of the same mind. Comments to the effect that we gain strength from diversity run counter to the admonition to be perfectly joined together in the same mind.

ē The history of the 7th Day Church of God clearly demonstrates that little can be done when the Church is divided into locally autonomous congregations. No one congregation has enough resources to do much. Without a strong central organization there is no way to bring the Church's resources together to accomplish a major work. Their history also demonstrates that little can be accomplished when the Church is divided into warring factions.

cc: D. Hulme, R. Pinelli, J. Franks, and D. Horchak

SN Comment: On a worldwide basis, the various branches of the church of God 7th day have over 100,000 people—some say over 200,000. No one knows how many more groups have split off from them that maintain similar doctrines. No one knows how many people in any congregation are really converted and how many are just "acting religious." The Church of God 7th Day has probably baptized more people than the WCG—without breaking up families and friends due to "disfellowshipment."

The seven churches in Revelation were obviously divided on doctrine. It would be good if they would have "all spoken the same thing"—especially if they all spoke the truth. But Christ did not set a man or a council over them to unify them—he told them all to repent and said he would individually judge them. The only authority that the UCG-AIAcouncil has is that given to it by the elders. There was no great sign or voice from heaven indicating that this council was the Eternalís governing body on Earth. None of those elders promised to remain in the UCG-AIA or send their money to it for he rest of their lives. If a local congregation believes that it is the Eternalís will for them to have a building, why should a group of men hundreds of miles away decide for them that it is not the Eternalís will?

Those leaders in the UCG-AIA that are trying to unify the organization under their own control really need to think about how they will answer for themselves in a day of judgement. Do they really believe that the Eternal specifically selected them for this job? Or do they believe that menís votes (largely on the basis of name-recognition) give them authority to do what they want until they are replaced? They do not need to answer these questions to you or I, but they do need to answer them to themselves and to the Eternal.

The problems John Anderson described are very real. Everyone needs to ask themselves: am I going to help make it better or help make it worse?

—Norman S. Edwards


Servants News November 1997 index