Council of Elders Meeting Report: December 10-13, 2012
United Church of God, an International Association
Council of Elders Meeting Report
December 10-13, 2012
Monday, December 10, 2012
The quarterly meeting of the Council of Elders was called to order by Council chairman Robin Webber, who asked Canadian Council member Bob Berendt to give the opening prayer for God's blessing on the meeting. Mr. Webber then read both the United Church of God (UCG) Vision Statement and Mission Statement from the Constitution and then read James:3:13-18 about divine wisdom vs. worldly wisdom. He described how it is the godly, peace-loving wisdom that focuses us on working together fulfill the mission that Jesus Christ has given us. He called for an approval of the minutes of the previous meeting, and they were approved. He then briefly reviewed the meeting agenda and asked for its approval, which was given to the Council.
Mr. Webber then introduced the members of the administration to give their reports.
President's Report—Dennis Luker
UCG president Dennis Luker began his report by referencing two of his favorite scriptures to read every day and especially during times of trial and test (Proverbs:3:5-6 and Philippians 4:6-7). He commented that reading these passages positively settles emotions and stabilizes the mind. Thus, he has looked forward to these Council meetings, especially in light of the need to balance the Church budget. He stressed looking to God for His Spirit and letting Him use it to guide us all.
He observed that we are still feeling the effects of the split in late 2010. Many predicted the demise of UCG at the time. How does that affect our financial situation now? He said that we decided to step out in faith to replace pastors in the field, continue the preaching of the gospel so as to maintain momentum. However, he added that the administration should have monitored our outgo more closely so as to have begun the budget constriction earlier, and that he as president accepts the responsibility for not having begun that process sooner.
He then introduced two elders (one of whom is a church circuit pastor in the field), Rick Shabi and Gordon Hannaway, who were recently chosen as members of our financial management team to advise and assist in oversight of the Church's finances. Mr. Shabi has years of extensive experience in business financial management. Mr. Hannaway is an insurance brokerage owner with particular expertise in healthcare.
Having appreciated that many fasted and prayed before these meetings, Mr. Luker expressed confidence that God will guide us as we balance the Church's budget and continue to do His work. He reflected on having been through many such crises, but by His grace and mercy He has inspired and guided us, and Jesus Christ is the Head of His Church.
Financial Report—Aaron Dean
The Church is currently receiving 5 percent more income than last year, which is a blessing, but it doesn't make up for our current allocated expenditures. The special offering has so far reached almost $400,000. He explained that we are not in a bind to pay our current bills and that the main concern is our cash flow. None of our spending has been for anything except caring for the Church and preaching the gospel—the business of the Church.
The reason for the special offering letter was due to the reduction in bank balances by the use of reserves to care for pastorates and to preach the gospel. In losing a third of our prior income ($7 to $9 million per year which is it), we knew that the planned use of reserves could not go on indefinitely and that we would have to cut back in due course. It did cost more than we initially anticipated to have ministers visit churches without pastors until workable solutions could be found. Extra travel and accrued mileage was necessary to allay unfounded rumors of doctrinal change.
We did not replace every pastor that left, and have reorganized several circuits to be more efficient. Our annual payroll was $8.1 million before the split, and last year it was only at $5.7 million—even though we were serving virtually the same number of congregations. Additionally, costs for international subsidies, international Good News (GN) subscriptions (plus booklets) were growing and all being funded by the Church in the U.S. We didn't try to expand, but we did spend a lot to maintain operations and our congregations in America and internationally. Current growth will allow a reasonable level of service even with the budget realignments.
We are now seeking to increase cash balances to avert projected cash-flow shortages before the annual Holy Days. We are cutting nearly $2 million to have a balanced budget. Since it was a special offering, it will be not be listed as regular income or used in projections for budgeting next year.
Ministerial and Member Services—Vic Kubik
Mr. Kubik encouraged any who had questions to ask them. He provided the Council with the latest Church attendance and ministerial statistics. Our average U.S. attendance on a weekly basis has been holding steady at 7,500 for many months. This does not include those that are homebound due to age, health restrictions or economy. We have a healthy number of new members attending.
The schedule of the U.S. area ministerial conferences has been postponed by some months to help with cash flow. The camp program is continuing to thrive as detailed at the camp directors' Web conference in November. The Women's Enrichment Weekends will be held in nine different locations across the U.S. this coming year.
The international areas overseen by MMS are also progressing well in the Philippines, East Africa, West Africa as well as Latin America and New Zealand. We are continuing to develop local ministry in the international areas to lessen the travel needs of senior pastors who also have their local congregations in the U.S. to pastor. We are encouraging the economically effective use of Web and video technology to help pastors speak directly to small and distant congregations.
Our online ministerial education and training program is going well. Two classes, fundamentals of theology and pastoral care, are currently underway. Further classes are under active development.
We do have concerns for the future. Our ministry is aging, and we need to prepare and train new ministers. We are concerned about the health of our ministers, as well as the proper training and one-mindedness ("in the same mind and in the same judgment," 1 Corinthians:1:10) of our ministers.
Media and Communications Report—Peter Eddington
Mr. Eddington provided a handout for the Council, which addresses trends in modern communications. Mobile-first (via smartphones and tablets) is the key trend in Internet traffic as it is growing considerably faster than desktop computing. Mobile use will grow dramatically in the coming year. Websites remain the main location for a brand, but high-traffic success requires app-powered mobile access.
Television is being watched more now than in the past, but the audience is dispersed far more widely across so many channels and on more and more computers and handheld devices. Tablets are driving the growth of the PC market. Smartphones are growing likewise. In developing countries, smartphone use is rapidly surpassing computers. Consequently, we are programming our websites for wide accessibility with the emphasis on mobile-first.
UCG.org responses are growing rapidly and competing vigorously with more than 315,000 unique visitors last month. Our goal is to become the largest provider of Christian content in the world, and we are making good progress to that end.
Beyond Today (BT) television has now reached 145,000 direct responses for literature since it began airing. This does not include those additional viewers who go to our website immediately upon viewing the program. Plus we have our own Beyond Today-branded YouTube channel that provides a seamless way for viewers to browse through all of our video material. Several prophetic programs are our most watched episodes, plus one on clean and unclean meats and another on going or not going to heaven.
We have about 5,000 donors and 3,000 coworkers who provide about 12 percent of our whole Church budget (about $2 million). This vital statistic has not significantly dropped off since the internal challenges of late 2010. Our hardcopy magazines and booklets are largely responsible for helping to develop our donors and coworkers. Of those who write back, 12 percent include a donation. The recently mailed coworker/donor letter included a copy of the newly designed, digest-sized This Is the United Church of God booklet. We are eager to see how that may encourage more involvement among our coworkers and donors.
Mr. Eddington also stressed that current marketing analysts indicate that a mix of three communications media (television, print and Internet) is essential for a successful marketing plan.
Next the committee heads made their reports.
Doctrine Committee—Robert Berendt (Chairman)
The Doctrine and Prophecy Advisory Committees will be soon reactivated to function as sub-committees of the Doctrine Committee to expedite review of doctrine and prophecy papers. The new process of submitting doctrinal papers that is being ratified at this Council meeting will be forwarded shortly to the eldership. The desire is for the advisory committees to have members with longer tenure to provide more continuity for the Doctrine Committee.
Strategic Planning and Finance Committee—Bill Bradford (Chairman)
The Committee is at the forefront in working on the current financial challenge facing the Church. It is taking on its full responsibilities as listed in the governing documents by working very closely with the administration on finances and planning. The Committee had a positive and productive meeting with the management team this past July to clarify the working relationship with the administration. The committee wishes to leave no doubt that it will provide effective oversight of its duties.
Media and Communications Committee—Darris McNeely (Chairman)
The committee met in August and will meet again before the February 2013 Council meeting with the department to work out strategic objectives. One of the main projects in the department is the Media Guide which will provide direction on our media efforts.
Roles and Rules Committee—Gary Antion (Chairman)
In their November Web conference the Committee discussed specific issues of the Expelled Elder Appeals Committee (EEAC) worked on updating the wording to reflect the details of the governing documents as pertaining to that committee. They also prepared a study on the roles of the President and Council so that no responsibility is duplicated or unaccomplished. The Committee updated its listing that tracks the various members of each Council committee to assist the Council Secretary in making sure that terms do not expire without replacements being in place. They also began preparing for the performance and review processes for the president in May and treasurer in August.
Education Committee—Donald Ward (Chairman)
The Committee held their first meeting since it was reinstated several years ago. They identified all the areas of education within the Church that they would be expected to oversee : ministerial online education, United Youth Camps, ABC, Education Task Force (for marriage seminars, focused education, Sabbath schools) and Vertical Thought, which is aimed at teens and young adults. The Committee is analyzing the process of oversight coordination and accountability.
Two big holes remain in our educational efforts. First is ministerial development of men who are coming along to be elders and pastors. But the largest gap is the education of our teens to increase their Bible knowledge. Peter Eddington pointed out that we do have the Teen Study Guides online, which has become one of our most-visited pages.
Ethics Committee—Mario Seiglie (Chairman)
The Committee has one agenda item for these meetings, which is to present the Ministerial Code of Ethics. They have held meetings to work on a new draft based on Council input.
After Mr. Seiglie was finished, Gary Antion requested that each Committee appoint a secretary to take minutes and file them with the Council secretary to provide continuity from one meeting to another.
Aaron Dean announced that the new chairs in the Council meeting room (as well as many additional office chairs in the building) were just recently donated (including the shipping) to the Church. All the Council members immediately asked him to please convey their appreciation for the generous and very comfortable donation!
The Council shifted to executive session for the remainder of the late-afternoon to early-evening meeting.
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
The Council began meeting in executive session at 9:00 a.m. and continued so until mid-afternoon.
Media Vision Guide Report—Peter Eddington
After reconvening in open session, chairman Robin Webber introduced Media and Communications Services operation manager Peter Eddington to present a report about consolidating the Church's online media approach to design an updated, mobile-compatible website with simplified menus, style and look.
Mr. Eddington began by pointing out that a key need is to make our products available on mobile devices in addition to the desktop computer. The trend toward mobile phone and tablet devices is overwhelming in the electronic communication industry, and we want to rapidly respond to that trend by making our presentation of the gospel constantly and highly accessible. It will of course also be just as accessible to regular PC users.
He gave a list of a dozen UCG members in the U.S. who work in various aspects of the media and Internet industries and are experts in their fields. He explained that he has had phone conversations with all of them to glean any advice that may help the Church's media efforts. The input has been very useful and he expressed his appreciation for their time and effort.
The media team has also been working on our vision guide to instruct our writers and videographers with a recognizable voice and look across all our media platforms. The guide is about one-third finished.
Mr. Eddington showed a survey the department recently took indicating that using "Beyond Today" as our television program name does not deter visitors to the website. One of the Church's media experts pointed out that Google rewards websites with coordinated brands. Mr. Eddington also explained that brands need to be periodically updated and gave as an example the restaurant chain Wendy's, which just updated its logo.
He stressed the importance of integration of media output—which will be facilitated by the vision guide and other coordinating processes—to help new readers and viewers want to continue with what we offer, which in our case is the gospel of the Kingdom.
Next he presented some media performance comparisons within Church of God community, which shows that UCG.org is very far ahead of all of the organizations in unique visitors and Web rankings. This shows that our decision to develop our Internet presence and constantly work to improve it is paying off very well.
He introduced seven media employees who were sitting in on the meeting and who work in our Web development, video editing and editorial aspects of Media and Communications Services. Several Council members asked questions and commented on the progress of the media effort. Mark Mickelson asked why the UCG logo is faded at the bottom of the UCG.org page. The reason is that it is a complex logo that can't be made legible on the small screens of tablets or phones. Therefore, a graphically simpler logo for use on the Internet will be developed in due course.
Bob Berendt commented on the difficulty that many older members have navigating on UCG.org. Mr. Eddington explained that the media team has and will do more with focus groups to identify problem areas of site navigation. He and Internet manager Aaron Booth explained that with some recent upgrades to the website, many of the problems are being resolved—and that the process of upgrading is ongoing.
Roc Corbett and other Council members expressed appreciation for the direction that the media department is going and that they are seeing results in their own congregations of new people whom God is calling through their contact with the truth via Beyond Today and/or UCG.org.
Ethics Committee Presentation—Mario Seiglie
Mr. Seiglie presented two copies of the Ministerial Code of Ethics. The General Conference had four months to review and provide suggestions. The committee incorporated some of the suggestions from the General Conference.
The Council reviewed the amended paragraphs, and they were either accepted or had some word changes as recommended by Council members.
Darris McNeely moved that the Council cast a ballot on the modified Code of Ethics, and Scott Ashley seconded. By a simple show of hands the Council unanimously approved the Ministerial Code of Ethics. The newly approved code will be available on the ministerial website.
Doctrine Committee Process—Bob Berendt
Mr. Berendt explained the doctrinal review process and how the Doctrine Advisory Committee and Prophecy Advisory Committee fit into the review process. He distributed to the Council a copy of the process for their review and comment.
After discussion and a number of edits by the full Council, the document detailing the refined process for review of submitted doctrinal or prophecy papers was left with Mr. Berendt to edit and bring back to the Council later.
The Council then entered a brief executive session pertaining to the subcommittees to the Doctrine Committee.
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Chairman Webber called the meeting to order at 9:00 a.m. and asked Council member Scott Ashley to open the day's session with prayer. He then introduced Peter Eddington, who serves on the GCE Planning Committee to review the initial plan.
General Conference of Elders (GCE) Annual Conference Planning Committee Update—Peter Eddington
A handout was distributed, which carried the proposed theme: "Using Your Measure of Christ's Gift." Several Council members expressed approval of the theme concept, adding that the Church has been long overdue in addressing the subject.
John Elliott and Bill Bradford expressed some caution in using Ephesians:4:7 as the theme scripture as it appears to emphasize primarily ministerial gifts as well as the overarching gift of God's grace. Don Ward recommended using 1 Corinthians 12 as the longest treatise in the Bible about God's many gifts that He gives us. Darris McNeely also suggested Romans:12:6. Mr. Eddington then revised the theme scripture to 1 Corinthians 12. Roc Corbett pointed out that these passages very much include the gifts that God has given to all the Church, both members and ministers.
The discussion then focused on selecting a title for the conference theme. Dr. Ward suggested, "Edifying the Body Through Spiritual Gifts." Mark Mickelson cautioned about the avoiding an often-used approach in some churches of encouraging everyone to find his or her gift and then in essence demanding the "right" to use their gift. Robin Webber encouraged that any discussion be focused more on what the Bible actually says about gifts so we can truly learn, rather than spending undue time in how others have misunderstood and misapplied the topic. Instead we need to look around and see who has various gifts and find ways to put them to good service. Vic Kubik recited our historical attempts (in UCG and before) to address the concept of gifts—and the continual problem of self-promotion. Over the years some have claimed self-appointed gifts. He said that Ministerial and Member Services will be happy to work with the GCE Planning Task Force to work out the details of the conference.
Mr. Eddington then began a straw poll on Dr. Ward's suggestion of a working title "Edifying the Body Through Spiritual Gifts." The poll was unanimous at 11 to 0 (Gary Antion was ill and unable to attend the morning's meeting).
John Elliott suggested providing some GCE Conference time for the elders of the GCE to have some time set aside for conferring on various topics—since our governing documents list 27 responsibilities for GCE members. Bob Berendt stressed the importance of emphasizing the personal involvement in spiritual gifts. Mr. Eddington answered that topic and speaker planning will be turned over to Gary Antion's education team and Ministerial and Member Services as we prepare for the GCE weekend. A final agenda and list of topics and speakers will be presented to the Council for approval at its February, 2013, meeting.
Mark Mickelson proposed the need for more elder discussion of sensitive issues—such as this current year's fiscal budget—at the GCE Conference. Various ones pointed out that such discussion can be done on the GCE forum, which will have a full month prior to the annual conference to discuss the upcoming budget and other items. Chairman Webber also pointed out that since most elders are unable to attend the GCE and send in their ballots ahead of time, extensive at-conference discussion could create "weighted" ballots.
Mr. Mickelson offered two points of need that he sees for the Church: First, we have not held each other accountable in a godly way. Second, we have managed disagreements poorly. He encouraged us to consider those points generally and in planning for the annual conference.
Council Review of Proposed Amendments for GCE Consideration—Roc Corbett
Mr. Corbett as the secretary of the Roles and Rules Committee of the Council presented two proposed amendments for the Council to discuss and decide whether they should go forward with Council recommendation to the GCE. The amendments were rewordings of the Constitution Article 1.0 Mission Statement and the other was the Constitution Article 3.1 about the purpose of the Church.
When Mr. Ashley pointed out a sentence structural deficiency in the proposed amendment to Article 1.0, Council member and amendment author John Elliott withdrew it from consideration. Dennis Luker added to the discussion generally that we ought to emphasize in the Mission Statement that we fully believe in Christ—that He is more than simply the Messenger, but is also fully a part of the gospel message of the Kingdom of God—and that there is only one true gospel. Several present expressed agreement with Mr. Luker's point. A number of Council members proceeded discussing the finer points of the Mission Statement from various perspectives, generally agreeing that it could be improved with better wording, but that would have to wait for another amendment.
The Council then shifted to the proposed amendment about the purpose statement for the Church (Article 3.1). Several Council members expressed the need for amending its wording. To advance the amendment to the annual conference ballot requires the support of at least four Council members, but it received only two. This amendment will now be sent to the GCE, where it will need at least 25 percent support to be placed on the annual conference ballot.
Doctrine Committee Process Business—Bob Berendt
Mr. Berendt brought the Doctrine Committee's unfinished business up for further discussion of the details for the process of review of doctrine and prophecy papers submitted by ministers and members. The details had mostly to do with how the sub-committees of the Doctrine Committee (Doctrine Advisory Committee and Prophecy Advisory Committee) would function in the process. Extensive discussion of how the process should take place generated additional edits to the already revised wording of the resolution presented earlier by Mr. Berendt. The session concluded with the plan for him to add the new edits and bring the resolution back to the Council for final review and ratification by the end of the quarterly meeting. The Council then adjourned for lunch.
Mr. Webber called the meeting to order at 2:05 p.m., just after the Council had spent lunch and a one-and-a-half hour meeting with the home office staff to address any questions they had about the budget challenges and future of the work. He introduced Peter Eddington to report on plans for the second round of Kingdom of God Bible Seminars.
Kingdom of God Bible Seminars—Peter Eddington
A handout was distributed that summarized the results of the first round of four Kingdom of God Bible Seminars. The results were very good with a total of 5,680 new attendees over the four seminars held around the world. A number of baptisms resulted from the seminars, and many others are now regularly attending church.
The administration now plans to sponsor two seminars per year rather than the three per year of the last round. The two proposed topics would be framed within the context of the Kingdom of God. The first is "The Sabbath: A Key to the Kingdom of God" and the second is "God's Festivals: Your Roadmap to the Kingdom."
A single 60-minute presentation is the initial recommendation for this round, which would allow the sponsoring congregation to have an abbreviated Sabbath service either before or after the seminar. There is flexibility in the scheduling—and even the dates, but we ask most to plan their congregation's seminars in the months of June and November.
Several of the administration team each commented on the seminar program, making various points. Flexibility for the pastors is important. Involvement of the membership in the program is vital. PowerPoint slides must never detract from audience attention on the speaker (few or no pictures and especially no captions unless the speaker specifically reads them). Primarily put the scripture on the screen as it is being read—and/or provide a handout with the passages to be read (which provide a good way to give the attendees the pastor's contact information).
Victor Kubik stressed the need for our pastors to present with good organization and a very energetic style. John Elliot suggested that we focus on the uniqueness of the Kingdom of God to show our attendees who have nothing like it in their belief system. Gerald Seelig suggested a more relevant topic than the Sabbath or Holy Days—a topic more immediately relevant to meaning for their lives.
Robin Webber suggested encouraging members to invite friends, family or fellow workers who they talk to about such things. The Good News letter of invitation proved to be the most effective advertising for the seminars.
Thursday, December 13, 2012
Chairman Webber called the meeting to order at 8:30 a.m., and the opening prayer was delivered by John Elliott. The Council then entered executive session to discuss budget issues. At 9:45 a.m. the Council exited executive session to ballot on the newly balanced budget and revised healthcare plan for Church employees. It was approved by unanimously with ballot of 11 to 0 (Council member Gary Antion was home sick).
At mid-morning the Council returned to executive session, which continued into the early afternoon after a break for lunch. At 2:00 p.m. the Council came out of executive session and balloted on the Doctrine Committee resolution to form and oversee the Doctrine Advisory Committee and Prophecy Advisory Committee to assist the Doctrine Committee in its work. One of the key elements within the proposal is to extend the review period for the GCE to examine study papers that are initially approved by the Council for further review by the GCE. The time period has been expanded to 90 days to grant the GCE adequate time for full input. The resolution passed unanimously with a ballot of 11 to 0.
After concluding comments by chairman Robin Webber and a closing prayer for God's blessing on the Church as the new budget is implemented as well as God's overall guidance brought the quarterly meeting of the Council to an end.
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