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Ministers listen to guidelines on setting up local churches

By Dixon Cartwright

INDIANAPOLIS--The setting up and organizing of local churches is a top priority of the United Church of God, an official of the new group told delegates to the UCG conference here May 2.

"It's lonely out there by yourself," said Ray Wooten, a member of the transitional board of directors and an elder from Birmingham, Ala. Church members need to meet on the Sabbath for worship and fellowship, therefore ministers who are a part of the new effort need immediately to get congregations going.

Even though Mr. Wooten received a "very lucrative and tempting career offer," and also had thoughts of retiring, since his career with the Worldwide Church of God was coming to an unsatisfactory end, he decided to stay in his area and "pastor those sheep in Birmingham."

Mr. Wooten's advice to the assembled elders and their wives was to delegate anything in a local area that can be handled by someone other than the pastor. Local church members "want involvement," he said. "The pay and pray is over. It is time for involvement in a much more integral way."

Mr. Wooten, who only weeks ago founded the United Church of God of Alabama and who is now a member of and board director of the "United Church of God, an International Association," passed out two printed information sheets, one titled "Local Church Start-Up" and the other "Financial Recommendations."

Based on his experience of beginning new congregations in Alabama, he presented several guidelines on whether congregations should incorporate or not (recommended but not necessary); tax-exempt status (tithes and offers are deductible from day one of a congregation's existence); owned buildings vs. hall rentals (better to rent for the first two to three years until the congregation is stabilized); equipment needed (such as sound systems, lectern, piano, computer, printer and copier); communication with the home office.

Regarding financial recommendations, Mr. Wooten says tithes and offerings are best collected locally by each congregation. Acknowledging that this is a drastic change from past practices, he said that tithes and offerings should be accepted and deposited into a local bank account. Then a board or committee will decide how any locally spent money is to be used and the remainder sent to the home office of the church.

He cautioned that "the pastor should never handle church funds, zilch, zero. Let someone else do it." He stressed that this is so ministers will always be considered to be above reproach in financial matters. The minister's name should not even be on the local bank account.

When lay members, local elders and deacons are involved in the decision-making processes of local services and activities, "it's amazing what they can do when you let them," he said.

Local control of funds is "the most efficient and practical way of doing it," he said. "It is putting trust in the local pastor, the local leadership and the entire congregation. It is trusting that they are converted and motivated by God's Holy Spirit. Safeguards, checks and balances, can be put in place to protect everyone."

Members will feel more involved in the work of God, he said. "It will empower and motivate the congregation to do more of the work locally" and "will eliminate the need for time-consuming, energy-consuming local fund-raising projects, such as selling candy or fruit."

The new system, he believes, is putting faith in God "that He will motivate His people to be faithful in supporting a home office so that a national and international work" can eventually be carried out.

Ministers will be paid from the home office, however, not directly from local funds. This is "so that standardization and fairness can be achieved for all ministers,"

The "Financial Recommendations" handout received by delegates states that "to help get the home office up and going, we recommend that local congregations begin sending tithes and offerings to the home office as soon as possible. They would send the surplus, after all local church expenses have been deducted."

The only exception noted was that "we recommend that the entire Pentecost offering [on June 4] from all congregations be sent to the home office to give it a kick start."

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