Mr. Swenson, 51, and Mr. Jacobs, 58, decided to take a step that was not necessarily the norm among many of the COGs: the sponsoring of an independent conference while resolving to remain members in good standing of an established COG denomination.
The step (which, in view of their recent resignations, did not work out as they had planned) is not entirely without precedent among the UCG membership and even its hierarchy. Victor Kubik, a UCG elder and member of the 12-man governing council of elders who lives in Indianapolis, operates an independent good-works ministry called LifeNets International separately from his activities as a UCG pastor and council member.
Ready, aim, focus
The Journal spoke by telephone with Mr. Swenson about his and Mr. Jacobs' conference, to take place Saturday and Sunday, July 31 and Aug. 1.
"Real simply, Bill and I both feel that the need for us to focus on evangelism has never been greater, and the opportunities have never been more abundant," Mr. Swenson told The Journal.
Mr. Swenson defines "evangelism" by citing Matthew 28, which in verse 19 speaks of making disciples of all nations and baptizing them, teaching them to observe everything Jesus commanded.
"That's evangelism," concluded Mr. Swenson, who then spoke of a "larger frustration" that has sprung from a feeling of not enough direct participation in activities that help fulfill the Matthew 28 directive.
"I think the larger frustration is that after nine years Bill and I could no longer justify not engaging in a more direct role in evangelism," Mr. Swenson said.
That role, he continued, is not just for people who have been ordained as "elders."
Work of ministry
"The role of elders as Christian leaders is to equip the members for the work of ministry, which centers on the commission in Matthew 28, or evangelism," he said. "It is our responsibility as elders to do what we're doing" in actions such as organizing and sponsoring the conference.
Mr. Swenson said his conference does not specifically target "elders" more than the unordained who feel the need to do more when it comes to getting the Word out.
"The bulk of all evangelism that's been done in the last hundred years has come from [unordained] member efforts," he said.
Bill Jacobs |
Mr. Jacobs and Mr. Swenson, on their Web site, cite as good examples 15 Sabbath-keepers who in 1999 formed a congregation in Tulsa, Okla., that by 2003 could boast of an attendance of 400.
They also referred to a Sabbath observers' congregation in Richardson, Texas, that "changed how it approached making disciples."
The Journal asked Mr. Swenson for details about the congregations in Tulsa and Richardson, including their names and affiliations. He declined to divulge that information for this article but said he and Mr. Jacobs will reveal the details during the conference.
The Journal asked Mr. Swenson how the religious landscape would differ should his conference fulfill every dream he has for it.
"No one is going to radically change the landscape," he said. "This is a step toward engaging the people whom Jesus intended to participate in evangelism and help equip them to be more effective."
He acknowledges that some Church of God members don't believe evangelism is proper--because, for example, some say the preaching of the gospel ceased with a church leader's death, or the preaching of the gospel will be accomplished in the future by an angel or by the two witnesses.
Other Church of God members believe in evangelism but think the proper role of church members is to support the formal gospel-preaching efforts of a church's headquarters and administration in publishing magazines, producing television programs and, more recently, constructing Web sites.
"I think that a lot of people have been taught that evangelism is a bad word and it's improper for people to do it," Mr. Swenson said. But "I've spent 10 years studying this, and the Scriptures are fully supportive of what we will be teaching [at the conference]. Both members and ministers have responsibilities to make a contribution toward evangelism."
Mr. Swenson doesn't mean to say, he says, that everybody is an evangelist in the usual biblical sense of the word.
"Evangelism really is the work of the church, and when properly done many people make contributions in different areas."
Hold your horses
Mr. Swenson acknowledges that even fellow elders and other church members who support personal responsibility in evangelizing the world would still counsel him to make haste deliberately, unprecipitously and slowly.
Since all things must be done decently and in order, and since one of the favorite scriptures of COG members proclaims that God is not the author of confusion, it behooves individual elders and other members not to make decisions in haste. So say a multitude of COG counselors.
It is best, many Church of God individual members and groups frequently declare, to wait until a COG denomination can decide what to do--either by fiat of the acknowledged church leader or through committees, task forces and councils--so everyone will utter precisely the same words (Amos 3:3), so evangelistic efforts can be carried out with no indecency or disorderliness (1 Corinthians 14:40) and so no confusion can creep in (1 Corinthians 14:33).
Those scriptures notwithstanding, Mr. Swenson says he perceives no problems with individual initiative.
"I don't know on what authority we would say that we should stop evangelizing or performing the basic mission of the church while some people become comfortable with that mission," he told The Journal.
"What we are supportive of is what the church did in the New Testament and what Jesus commanded all His disciples to do and what is fundamental to being a faithful Christian."
Even though Mr. Swenson acknowledged some fierce opposition within his own erstwhile COG denomination, he likes to look on the bright side.
"Those who contacted me, whether by E-mail or telephone, expressed a great deal of enthusiasm," he said. "We've heard comments that now is the time for us to engage more fully in this type of activity. They appreciate someone hosting this kind of conference, and Bill and I are just having a ball putting it together."
Registration and accommodations
The conference Web site gives specifics of the meetings, which will take place near the Indianapolis airport at Holiday Inn Select, 2501 S. High School Rd.
Conference registration is $35 per person and needs to be in by July 20. (See the site, www.ntevangelism.org, for information on registration-fee discounts.)
Meals and lodging are not included in the fees. For hotel reservations call (317) 244-6861 and ask for the Evangelism Conference room rate of $89 per night.
Objectives and methods
The conference's Web site lists conference and workshop objectives that include:
- Examination of biblical principles that define healthy congregations "into which God places His newly called disciples."
- Outlines of practical steps a congregation can take to rethink and revitalize how it makes disciples.
- Answers to common objections to efforts to "evangelize."
- Ways to help teens, children and other young people grow spiritually.
- Tips to help network with like-minded Christians.
The following people, says the site, should attend:
- "Motivated" unordained people who "want to better understand how to fulfill their calling and jump-start evangelism in their congregations."
- Ordained ministers eager for a summary of information that would take one person months to develop.
- Young people who want to understand how better to "share their faith and share in the real work of the congregation."
The names of some of the planned sessions are as follows:
- "God Gives the Growth."
- "What the Bible Really Says About Evangelism."
- "The Missing Dimension in a Sense of Mission" (which includes what Jesus expects a Christian to do).
- "Why Some Evangelism Fails and What Really Works."
- "Helping Young People Find a Sense of Belonging at Church."
- "Helping Young People Develop a Relationship With God."
- "Waking the Dead" (rousing a somnambulant congregation).
- "Building a Healthy Congregation" (helping people act on principles after convincing them they will work).
Resumes on request
Mr. Jacobs, an Ambassador College graduate, began his formal ministry in the WCG in 1968. He has pastored churches in Arkansas, Pennsylvania, California and New Mexico and for three years served as the WCG's coordinator of Youth Opportunities United (YOU). He has a master's degree in counseling and is a licensed professional clinical counselor.
Until July 12 he pastored two congregations for the UCG and is a school counselor for Albuquerque public schools.
Mr. Swenson, also an AC graduate, was ordained into the ministry while a WCG member in 1976. He worked for the WCG for nine years in pastoral and church-administration roles.
Apart from his WCG work history, he has 18 years' experience in sales, marketing and executive management for privately owned and publicly traded companies.
Katie Swenson |
He is president of Management and Technology Consultants, which provides marketing research and customer-service improvements for 2,000 physicians.
Hands-on coordinator of the conference is Katie Swenson, 19-year-old daughter of Guy and Jennifer.
"I am thrilled with the positive response this seminar has been met with," Miss Swenson said, "especially from the youth. We already have received a large number of reservations from youth in the 16- to 25-year age range."
For more information visit the Web site or contact Miss Swenson at firstname.lastname@example.org , (800) 295-9681, extension 6, or (317) 272-0068, extension 6.