Letter from Robin Webber, Chairman - "December Council Meeting Update" - December 18, 2012
Dear Fellow Elders and Members,
God's Holy Word tells us: "We can gather our thoughts, but the Lord gives the right answer. People may be pure in their own eyes, but the Lord examines their motives. Commit your work to the Lord, and then your plans will succeed" (Proverbs:16:1-3, New Living Translation).
It is in the spirit and understanding of this godly admonition that letters from the administration and Council of Elders requested your prayers and consideration to fast before our December 10-13 meetings. Now, I share with you what I call a "good report" and a frank assessment of the past, present and future of the United Church of God. We are now prepared to move forward in what I describe as "faithful realism"—understanding how great our God is, how small we are as a people and yet how important and precious the spiritual work is that lies ahead of the entire membership to fulfill this "whole-Church" effort. Please allow me to explain.
I believe all of us understand that we have faced multiple challenges since our beginning in 1995. The United Church of God came into existence in the throes of doctrinal upheaval regarding God's precious revelation. We started with three key goals in mind and heart:
1) Establish and maintain congregations for the people of God to meet on His holy Sabbath day.
2) Establish festival sites for the people of God to be taught and learn about His plan regarding salvation as revealed through His annual festivals found in the Bible.
3) Preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God to all as God might allow.
For the last 17 years we have maintained these goals as best we could with the personnel and financial means that God has provided.
Along with staying true to God's biblical revelation, we also developed a unique system of collaborative governance based on the biblical principal of Proverbs:11:14: "Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety." This is easy to read but difficult to put into practice when the crunch times of life come our way. It requires faith, trust and utter humility towards God and mutual submission towards one another.
Two years ago we were affected by a departure of elders and members. This initially left the United Church of God in a precarious position to further the work of God granted to us. You all rallied marvelously at that time and continue to do so to this day. I trust that you believe, as I do, that something special and meaningful is being experienced here and is worthy of your continued commitment.
At that time the Council of Elders was faced with decisions as to how to maintain the forward momentum of the initial goals we set in 1995. Numerically and financially we had taken a blow. Yet we stepped out in faith! You rose to the occasion in heartfelt prayer for God's intervention and in your personal service to others, and you gave generously in tithes and offerings because you desired to put your treasure where your heart is.
At that time of two years ago and the subsequent budget of last year, the Council proposed moving forward using a combination of donation income, set-aside reserves and stepping out in faith that God might grant additional financial blessings to make up the difference— and all so we could maintain our efforts at then current levels of strategic initiatives and programs. The General Conference of Elders approved this approach for the past two years.
Circumstances have now led us to see a different pathway forward, starting now. The time of emergency transition is over and it is time to "reboot" and redesign our efforts to match our actual size and income. In the clarity of hindsight, this should have been done a year ago in the budget we presented to the General Conference to approve last May.
It is now time to face our new reality. That new reality states that we are a Church with approximately 13,000 people—and thousands more coworkers and donors—spread around the world, and we must hold our expenses to our new reduced income. I want to assure you in my role as chairman of the Council of Elders that this has been fully confronted and realistically dealt with over the last couple of months and finalized during this past week of meetings.
On behalf of the Council of Elders and the administration, I would like to express our gratitude for the generous offerings that are pouring in to the home office over the last couple of weeks in response to the recent letter from Dennis Luker and myself. Your faith-filled generosity allows us to take the necessary steps forward to establish and maintain a balanced budget—now and in the future. This we will do.
Currently our income for the year is running several percent above our projections. This is wonderful, and we thank you! Your prayers regarding the sale of the Church's property in Denton, Texas, would be most appreciated. This would be a considerable boost to move the mission of the Church forward. Additionally, the administration has taken practical steps to widen its team of professional financial advisors (volunteers, not new employees) to assist the Council of Elders and the administration.
So where do we go from here? Well, let me back up a moment. This "re-booting" process, or redesigning of our efforts, actually began in December a year ago as the Council carefully reviewed and redesigned the Church's Strategic and Operation plan by incorporating a new vision statement—which along with our mission statement guides everything we do towards a preferred biblical outcome. They accurately portray how we understood the purpose of our Church in the 21st century as we grow in grace and knowledge (2 Peter:3:18).
Their words affect all that we do as administrators, pastors, teachers, writers and employees. These words are a guide to how we effectively use the financial resources granted by God through you. They provide a compass, a direction forward, to make sure we begin with the right end and goals in mind. Now, one year later in the re-booting process for the United Church of God after the division of 2010, we realistically combine what we are to perform on His behalf with the financial means He has granted us.
As a result, we have had to do some pruning over the last several weeks. Pruning is never easy, and yes, it can get thorny. But to grow and bear much fruit (John:15:5), pruning is a necessity of life for individuals and organizations. Rose bushes will often produce more blooms than they can rightfully sustain, so a careful gardener systematically, knowingly and carefully prunes the plant for maximum yield of the bloom desired.
And so the Council of Elders and administration has carefully and systematically pruned our efforts towards realistic ends—with responsible expectations of God's additional blessings as He so chooses and not how we plan on our own. We have reviewed all areas of our expenditures regarding gospel proclamation, congregational care and employee care. We have pruned each area so that no one area might go un-nurtured to fulfill its goals.
Our media presence has been pruned, but in ways that we hope will not lessen impact. We will continue with The Good News magazine, the Beyond Today telecast and a continually developing and growing Internet presence. But, we have ceased home-office-sponsored online advertising of our literature in all areas outside of the United States. Over time this will reduce GN and booklet circulation costs to those areas. We will remain on WGN America and the Word Network, while pruning the recently acquired World Harvest Network. We will continue to offer printed Good News magazines to those subscribers who renew, but astutely monitor its effectiveness and renew subscriptions more often. Our website is increasingly one of the major "go-to places" on the Internet for people searching for biblical truth and answers about religion. United News will be published every other month. Our youth publication, Vertical Thought, will become a solely online production for the time being, as most of its audience receives information in this manner. The camp brochure will be incorporated within this coming year's United News issues.
We maintain our earnest founding desire to provide pastor-led congregational homes for the people of God around the world. At the same time, we have asked congregations to be prudent in examining local costs. We have asked our pastors to be judicious in planning their visits with congregations and members towards maximum benefit to both, while at the same time considering travel costs that affect our budget.
We also have completely reviewed the needs of our pastors and other employees. Since most employees have not had a raise in years, we have avoided direct salary cuts. However, in dealing with the issue of rising healthcare costs in a responsible manner we have come to a reasonable solution that provides employees with security, and yet requires additional contributions on their part. We value our brethren and our employees. Maintaining relationships with people and offering a future to folks is vital to the wellbeing of an organization.
We believe we are now poised to serve God more effectively and believe His Word when it says, "Let Your hand become my help, because I have chosen Your precepts" (Psalm:119:173). We are now realistically accepting our size and means of faithful support while worshipping and serving a great God. Humility is the first step towards service to God. We have been humbled but rise in His strength, patience and continuing love. As we do our part God says He will offer His perfection and do His part.
As I conclude, allow me to share a few more exciting developments regarding the forward movement of our efforts to serve God. We will once again be presenting the Kingdom of God Bible Seminars in the coming year in two sessions—one in June and one in November. We have evaluated this year's seminars and move forward with proposed seminars titled: "The Sabbath, Eternity and the Kingdom of God" and "God's Festivals: Your Roadmap to the Kingdom."
We were very pleased with the nearly 5,700 guests who attended the first four seminars and look forward to seeing more visitors join us this coming year. We ask that pastors please begin listing their June dates on our Kingdom of God Bible Seminars website now (kogbibleseminars.org). Christ called His followers to be "fishermen of men." It is our privilege and responsibility to "spread the net," while it is God's prerogative to call whom He will (John:6:44).
Of special interest to our elders will be the theme of the 2013 General Conference of Elders: Edifying the Body Through Spiritual Gifts. Ultimately, God willing, it will be of benefit to all in the Church. The underlying scriptural principles derive from 1 Corinthians 12, Romans:12:6 and Ephesians:4:7. This topic will enhance our individual and collectively abilities to develop towards our Vision Statement, which is that the United Church of God be "A Church led by God's Holy Spirit, joined and knit together by what every member supplies, with all doing their share and growing in love to fulfill God's great purpose for humanity to bring many children to glory" (Ephesians:4:16, Hebrews:2:10).
Finally, I would like to share two important observations. Number one: The brethren of the United Church of God are a credit to His name. Your faith, devotion, love and patience speak volumes of His presence in your lives. Secondly: The Council of Elders and administration are working to ensure the mission of the Church continues to move forward. Together we are taking on challenging issues that have been passed down for years to our time for us to confront. Perhaps it is "for such a time as this" that all of us serve and work together to create a better tomorrow.
Let us be about our Heavenly Father's business,
Chairman, Council of Elders