Mr. Swenson: I don't think what we've been advocating is simply
evangelizing as individuals. What we're advocating is that the mission of the church--especially the congregations--is
to make disciples.
Evangelism is preaching the gospel in such a way that it leads people with whom
God is working to be baptized and then be taught. Engaging members and congregations directly in evangelism works for
small and for very large organizations.
The Seventh-day Adventists use it, and they're 20 million strong. It works all
the way down to individuals.
Could there be some conflict with an organization--a denomination--that doesn't
accept making disciples as their mission? Certainly that could be the case. But a lot of people have found that when
they talk about their mission as a Christian and as a congregation it actually helps put the pieces in place, and a lot
of groups have decided this mission to make disciples is really what they should be doing and want to do.
Entire organizations, huge organizations, have adopted this mission.
THE WAY IT IS -Guy Swenson
and Bill Jacobs lead a session at their recent Conference on Evangelism in Indianapolis, Ind.
(Photo by Bill
Who's in charge?
Q: But can you practice evangelism as you two advocate it if
you're not the one in charge of your congregation or denomination? Look at what's just happened to you two. You came to
the conclusion that, to avoid violating a ministerial code of ethics, you had to resign from the UCG because of what
Bill Jacobs: We mentioned that leadership [the administrators of
a church] really needs to be on board with something like that. It doesn't mean that you can't start out by yourself
and be a change agent. You can help leadership understand things that they don't currently understand.
Why Seventh-day Adventists?
Q: You use the example of Seventh-day Adventist churches.
All churches have troubles, not just the COGs. What's the difference? Why use SDAs as an example of successful
Mr. Swenson: They have their share of problems, and they talk
about them in their conferences. In 1987 they settled on 27 doctrines that make you an SDA, and those are
nonnegotiable. And then they tolerate people with speculations and other ideas as long as they don't contradict or
violate those 27 basic teachings.
Q: Are you saying they have a statement of mandatory beliefs?
Mr. Swenson: Rather than making every doctrine a make-or-break
issue, the SDAs agreed on a core set of beliefs. Others have seen the wisdom of emphasizing core Christian doctrines
and values rather than trying to use every single doctrine as a means to prove that they are the one and only true
church. I think we can learn from the SDA experience.
[For another view of a Church of God congregation that concluded that a
statement of beliefs can be a problem, see " K.C. Church Marking Seven Years of Unaffiliation, Recounts Several Problems Faced by
'Independents,'" The Journal, July 31.]
[To read the 27 fundamental beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, go to www.adventist.org/beliefs/fundamental/index.html.]
Q: Do you think the independent Churches of God are better or
healthier places to be than the denominational or so-called corporate COGs? Or is it the other way around?
Mr. Swenson: It's not prudent to paint everybody with a
broad brush. People have painted the United Church of God with a broad brush for being a corporate, controlling
organization. Yet Bill and I were there, and we know that congregations within United vary. There are wonderful
congregations in United, and there are congregations going through problems.
I'm sure there are wonderful independent congregations, and I'm sure there are
some independent congregations that are very unhealthy. So I didn't like it when people paint churches with a broad
brush. The key is to take personal responsibility to improve the health of your congregation.
Eight areas of health
Q: You quoted Ephesians 4:11-16. This is an evangelism
conference, yet evangelism is a special spiritual gift, as interpreted by many people who read this scripture. It says
some are apostles, evangelists and so forth. What if you don't have the evangelism gift? Should you try to evangelize
Mr. Jacobs: We talked about the characteristics of a healthy
congregation, and we showed in one of our sessions that there are eight areas that describe a healthy congregation. If
a congregation is indeed healthy, then growth is going to happen all by itself.
I think that the people who are gifted in that area will come to the fore if
they're given an opportunity to do what they're good at and what they like to do, and I also think that there are
people who may be given that gift by God.
It's just natural for people to want to talk about the hope that lies within
them. Once people know that it's okay to do that, more growth will take place just naturally. Some people will probably
be better at it than others.
Mr. Swenson: I think we need to get rid of the idea that all
evangelism is done by an evangelist. The idea that only evangelists evangelize contradicts Scripture.
Evangelists often went through and created a new congregation where there
wasn't one, then they would move on to another area. But evangelism didn't stop because the evangelists left.
I think a lot of evangelism occurred very naturally with people who invited
friends to the church because they were excited about it. It's when people try forcing their will on others that people
become uncomfortable. That's contrary to what we are advocating. We're advocating a natural way to develop the
congregation into a truly healthy location for God to place His children.
[Mr. Swenson and Mr. Jacobs recently earned certification as "coaches" in
"natural church development" (NCD). NCD is taught by an organization based in Chicago, Ill., that has studied more than
20,000 congregations. The natural church-development program is said to be used by churches all over the world. For
more on this subject, see the article about Mr. Swenson's and Mr. Jacobs' conference beginning on page 1 of this
Q: I was talking to a person attending the conference. He said:
"Guy and Bill really turn people on. Now they plan to do these conferences in other locations. They are a great threat
to the United Church of God and the power UCG is trying to hold onto." Are you really a threat to United?
Mr. Jacobs: We plan to look over the surveys that we passed out
[during the conference]. If there's a need for us to do more of these conferences, we'll probably put more on.
But, as far as being a threat to United, we're just trying to teach people. The
fields are white for the harvest. We think there's more people that God wants to call than we'll ever get around to,
all of us together. So I don't know if we're really a threat to them. They may perceive us as a threat, but we're
certainly not trying to do anything threatening to anybody.
Mr. Swenson: It's human nature that when there's a fight
everybody wants to come around and see what's happening, and it gets people all excited. I had an honest disagreement
with UCG's leadership regarding the mandate every Christian has to evangelize and the role that elders have to equip
members for works of ministry or service.
I don't have a fight with United, the leadership or with the members. Many of
them agree with what Bill and I are doing. The focus that we have is really to move forward.
Jesus has given Christians everywhere the mandate to make disciples. As
ministers of Jesus Christ, we are responsible to equip the saints for acts of service and ministry. We're not singling
out any organization to promote or support or to attack or oppose. This is basic Christian teaching. I've taught a lot
of this in the United congregations at Lafayette and Terre Haute [Ind.].
Bill and I have written extensively on elders' forum [an E-mail network of UCG
elders] within United. This is something that we've talked about and discussed, and our focus really is moving ahead
with those people who are receptive to the mission of making disciples, and that's really our focus and orientation.
I know some people would love to see a good squabble, but our objective is to
CROWD SHOT - Audience
members smile about something said during one of the Conference on Evangelism sessions.
(Photo by Bill Stough)
Q: There were probably six UCG elders apparently here against the
will of the UCG. It seems there is a certain amount of unrest in the UCG, yet these men were willing to come here
regardless of what their organization preferred. What do you think lies ahead for United?
Mr. Swenson: You know, Bill and I are committed to looking
forward. We're committed to moving ahead, and we're committed to connecting with people that we can help. And we're
also committed to connecting with people who can help us because we don't know it all.
You know, we don't have all the answers, and it's not a requirement for us to
have all the answers. We teach what we know; we add to the work that's being done. It's like a heavy object that needs
lifting, and we want to grab a hand on a handle and do our part.
Q: You, Guy Swenson, were one of the chief founders of the UCG.
Why did you stay with it so long, and what was the biggest thing that moved you to do this conference regardless of
what the UCG leadership thought?
Mr. Swenson: The decision to start UCG was made in my living
room. Bill Jacobs and I were at the planning conference in Indianapolis before the actual conference that founded UCG
began [in 1995].
I believe very strongly in what we said at Indianapolis. Our vision was for a
church that was based on service, that was based on a flat hierarchy, that was based on ministers not seeking positions
but really seeking to serve. I felt that we were working together to promote those ideals.
Had it not come to the point where our actions in promoting this evangelism
conference were defined as being unethical, I would not have resigned. I'd still be a United elder.
Mr. Jacobs: The same is true for me. My home address in Pasadena
[Calif.] was the first official UCG address. I was hopeful that UCG could establish a system that would prevent a few
from controlling the many. As time passed, it became clear that a few were intent on controlling the many.
An effort was underway to return UCG to her founding ideals through internal
legislation. But then the conference issue came up. The rest is on record.
Q: You had definite ideas in mind that were probably
conceived in your own house, Mr. Jacobs, and the idea of United was different from that of any of the other churches
that are organizations in which the members support a one-man ministry. What did you originally have in mind?
Mr. Jacobs: I saw the main problem [that led to the breakup of
the WCG and founding of the UCG] as a governance problem driving the doctrinal problem. I saw the governance issue as
the cause of the doctrinal problem.
So the solution would be a different kind of government that would include a
lot more people in decision making. I believe that stakeholders should have a part in decision making. After all, the
decisions affect them.
I was hopeful that the hierarchy would be quite a bit flatter, that decisions
would be pushed out into the hierarchy as far as possible, so that more people at much lower levels would be making
decisions, as in the New Testament church.
I saw that approach as a part of the solution to the spiritual-growth issue.
Paul said that we become mature spiritually by exercising our senses to discern good from evil. Decision making forces
us to use our senses for that purpose.
I was hopeful that we could be a part of an organization that was completely
different from anything that had gone before in my lifetime. Of course, the New Testament church was a flat hierarchy,
so we would not be doing anything new, but we would be following the model set down by Jesus Christ Himself.
Such an organization would also be much more relevant to the way people think
today and the experience they have when they go to work. Most of America now functions on team principles because they
are so much more effective than the hierarchical model that we had in the '30s and '40s. Jesus was way ahead of His
time when it comes to managing.
Back and forth
Q: Could United have turned out that way?
Mr. Jacobs: I don't know that it could have been that way,
looking back. It didn't turn out that way. I was hopeful that it would be that way. That was the hope I took to the UCG
founding conference in Indianapolis. It turned out that that was all it was: a hope.
Q: Apparently a lot of people held onto that hope, though.
Wouldn't you agree? A lot of people have hung on in United, hoping for a United more in line with its founding ideals?
Mr. Swenson: I think so. People felt that the issue was only a
doctrinal difference, but Bill and I felt that the biggest issue was governance. That was a huge factor because, with
the form of governance that Worldwide Church of God had, new doctrines could be injected and we couldn't do anything
about it. So we wanted checks and balances.
But I think what United is today is a result of the votes and the choices made
by the general conference of elders.
Yet a majority of elders want United to be something different from what it was
in 1995, or at least what I hoped it would be. You know, when majority rules, the direction can change, and United has
shifted directions back and forth.
What Bill and I are advocating as far as the nature of the mission, the
commitment to the mission and the role of the members in participating in the mission is not acceptable for United at
Q:What stirred you to do this conference?
Mr. Jacobs: I know that Guy's been interested in evangelism for a
long time, and he got me thinking about it. The issue of children is also important to me. It never made sense to me to
spend energy bringing adults through the front door when we were losing our children out the back. I consider that
aspect of the church really critical. Churches that can't keep their kids don't really grow.
We saw that, if the congregation is healthy enough to keep children, it's also
healthy enough to draw new people, so this NCD approach goes hand in glove with what I have believed for years.
Besides that aspect, we knew that we made a good match from working together in
Pasadena [as employees at WCG headquarters]. So when Guy invited me to come to the Natural Church Development
Conference and then to put on an evangelism conference, it sounded like something that was really needed and a lot of
fun as well. It sounded like the right thing to do.
Q: When you first considered putting on an evangelism conference,
did you not expect to have to be forced to resign from the UCG and even lose part of your paycheck?
Mr. Jacobs: That was absolutely preposterous. We realized that we
were doing something that had never been done before, and when you get into that territory you never really know what's
going to happen. I realized we were taking a risk. But I'm still astounded that it happened. It underscores how far
back toward the control side that things have slipped.
I just didn't have any idea that we would be forced into resigning.
Not forced out
Q: You're saying it's preposterous for a minister to be forced
out of his church because he wants to teach people how to evangelize within the church?
Mr. Jacobs: I didn't say that I was forced out. I did resign. I
resigned because I realized that the complaints that they brought to me included an ethical violation of church policy.
I was told I was violating their rules.
There are people who need to rule like that, and there are others who need to
be ruled that way. I think that, if they get together and agree to function that way, so be it. But those rules
contradicted what I'm supposed to do, which is to make disciples and to teach others to do so. So I just couldn't be in
the organization any longer under those circumstances.
Rather than make a big flap about it and allow them to bring disciplinary
action against me, I felt that the gentlemanly thing to do was to resign.
Q: So you had no backup plan? Events just astonished you. So now
what are your plans personally?
Mr. Jacobs: I have a job working in an elementary school as a
counselor, and I have a small counseling practice. I'm also going to be starting Life Resource Ministries, a nonprofit
organization dedicated to providing information on Christian living, families and parenting for people of our faith
I think I can integrate the Bible and psychological principles that are
supported by the Bible into our culture and help people understand them and apply them in their everyday lives with
I've been told over and over and over again that such material was not being
disseminated and would be valued by people in the church. I think there's a good chance I can distribute some of that.
Personal matters of conscience
Q: Do you have any advice for other ministers in the churches who
are on church payrolls who want to do something worthwhile besides carry out their normal church policies but wonder if
they might lose their means of making a living?
Mr. Swenson: A long time ago in a city far away, when we were
faced with issues that dealt with a matter of conscience, a number of us planted a stake in the ground and said we
won't move; this is the right thing and we're going to do it.
At that time I resigned [from the Worldwide Church of God]; I had to change
careers as far as how I made money.
I think it's a matter of personal conscience as to what issues one feels very
strongly about and what one refuses to do. I think that's a personal thing.
It seems to me that a minister needs to count the cost and decide what's
important to him. Don't we all want to make decisions that are as close to what we think God wants us to do as we can?
Each person will have a different experience.
Q: Let me quote from a book called The Heart of a Great Pastor,
by H.B. London Jr. and Neil B. Wiseman:
"The contemporary church is experiencing a frightening emergency, caused by a
quiet but hopeless acquiescence to evil . . . All over North America you can meet pastors and spouses who have
abandoned Kingdom dreams . . . The quicksands of ministry have trapped them in a survival mode. They are desperately
trying to keep their faith, their dignity and their means of making a living . . . These pastors believe they have
valid reasons for giving up. They speak about church controllers who destroy a church's vision because they cannot see
beyond the next dollar. For others optimism has been dashed to bits by church superiors who urged dreamers to be
realistic--whatever that means."
The authors describe pastors who once had dreams but no longer care. They are
going through the motions of being a minister but are dead inside. We see this happening also in some of the Churches
of God. Do you think God is now stirring ministers to action?
[For more on this subject, see many articles in The Journal over the years; for
example, "Run Away From the Land of the Walking Wounded" by COG elder Ken Westby in The Journal of July 31, 2000. Mr.
Westby's article is a review of a book, Because There Was No Shepherd, by COG elder and Journal columnist Brian
Step out on faith?
Mr. Jacobs: I can't speak for everybody, but I know I've had a
good jolt. I'm enlivened, and I'm ready to go.
Mr. Swenson: I'm not a pastor, but I am a minister. I feel more
connected, more energized, more alive doing what we're doing right now than I have in ages. I think connecting with the
mission of Jesus Christ is a good antidote for anybody who is sleepy or is suffering from a premature spiritual death,
which is also called delayed burial.
Q: Do you think that if somebody feels stirred inside to do
something he should just step out and do it?
Mr. Swenson: I think that how the Holy Spirit works with people
is something that's a very personal thing and people need to use wisdom and judgment. I don't think that's a question
that can be answered with a yes or no.
Q: We've learned a lot lately about you two personally. In this
interview we see another side that didn't show up in your seminars here. Comment, from your personal perspectives, on
why people in the COGs are often fearful of spreading the Word, or proselytizing. It seems to be a COG-learned fear. In
fact, some COGs are doctrinally opposed to proselytizing. How does a person deal with that way of thinking?
Mr. Jacobs: Isn't it amazing what a few people so many years ago
did to influence so many in that direction? It's time to read the Bible with fresh eyes and see what it plainly says.
If we learn and apply what we learn, God will surely bless our efforts.
I think people will feel energized once they know that they're free to spread
their faith. People have to learn how to do it; they have to get equipped, and I think the equipping is what's going to
help remove the fear, because a lot of fears are based on the fact that we don't know how to do it.
Once we have a game plan, that makes us a lot more confident. What we've been
missing is permission and a game plan. God has put a game plan in the Scriptures. We just never saw it.
Just what do you mean permission?
Q: You say we've been missing permission and a game plan. First
tell us who gives us the permission?
Mr. Jacobs: That's a cogent issue for Guy and me right now. When
I was at Ambassador College years ago I was told not to talk about my faith; I might mess it up because I was just a
lowly lay member. Many people have followed that concept for many years.
It turns out God's permission--and command--was already present in the
Scriptures. His permission overrides the rules of men.
It is interesting to read the Gospels and see that Jesus used new people to
spread the word of His ministry. Think about all those He healed and of the woman at the well and of the 70 sent out to
spread the Word. New people are excited about the truth. Why stifle their natural inclination? Jesus did not.
Q: Next, what is the game plan?
Mr. Jacobs: Natural church development would be one tool. I fully
expect as a result of this conference people will go home and talk to other people about it and an awakening may start
to evolve among people in God's church.
I'm not going to say it's going to spread everywhere. But I've watched this
happen in my congregation in Durango [Colo.]. Once [members there] became aware of the fact that they could do this, it
took minutes for them to start talking about how they might go about doing this.
In a few more minutes they were talking about specific people that they thought
That doesn't sound too fearful to me. The experience reminded me of Jesus'
metaphor about the seed cast on the ground that grows all by itself. I suppose that game plan would be simply to follow
the lead of the Holy Spirit.
Mr. Swenson: I think the solution to fear is commitment to our
mission to evangelize and make disciples, and then God gives us a passion. Perfect love casts out fear, it says in
Scripture, and I think if people are afraid we need to look at what it is that one is afraid of.
We need to remember that He that is within us is greater than anything else.
I mean, God put His Holy Spirit within us and then gives us a great mission and
a wonderful opportunity. We need to ground people in what the Scriptures say about evangelism, what the Scriptures say
about the mission of the Church of God, what Scriptures say about the role of the members and role of the elders.
If people are afraid, I think they need to get their noses in the Bible. When
we know that God is behind it, then that gives us confidence. We should act confidently, because we should be doing
what we know is right. And that's the heart of what we're trying to teach.
Mr. Jacobs: We were hoping that we might have 25 people come to
this event, and we had nearly 150 people. We don't have an organization, but we do have a vision, and something has
been born here, though we're not quite sure what it is.
We need time to see what we should do next, what God wants us to do.
We passed out some surveys at this conference and asked people to tell us what
they felt the needs of the Church of God are, what people need and what their groups need. We're going to study those
very carefully, and if we think there's anything we can contribute we'll try to do what we can.
Access to information
Mr. Swenson: What we're going to try to do is facilitate access
to the information that we've presented. One of the purposes of having a conference was to focus time, effort and
energy and build a series of messages and contents that will help educate people to what their roles are.
We've audiotaped and videotaped this conference.
We've had a lot of people sign up to be on our mailing list to receive whatever
information we put together.
We're going to be expanding the Web site [ www.ntevangelism.org], and we hope to add forums for
We want to do what we can to help facilitate people who have an interest in
this to become better educated and better connected.
Our intent was to do what we thought was the right thing by putting on this
conference. But we also remember that Gamaliel advised the Sanhedrin to wait and see if this is truly of God.
If it is of God, then you don't want to oppose it. If it's not of God, then
it'll die out.
I can never be sure until we see proof as to how much God's hands is in
We prayed and sought to do what we felt was the right thing, but Bill and I are
both imperfect. We could miss the mark. So we will leave it in God's hands and see what becomes of it.
Contact the organizers
[Write Mr. Jacobs at email@example.com. Write Mr. Swenson at
firstname.lastname@example.org. Or write NTEvangelism, c/o MTC, 7105 U.S. Highway 36, Avon, Ind. 46168, U.S.A. Or phone
(800) 295-9681, extension 6, or (317) 272-0068 and ask for Katie or Guy.]