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Evangelism conference presenters talk about who's in charge
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Evangelism conference presenters talk about who's in charge
By Bill Stough

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.--Immediately after Bill Jacobs' and Guy Swenson's Conference on Evangelism in Indianapolis July 31 and Aug. 1, The Journal interviewed the two men to try to determine what makes them tick.

What, this writer also asked, is their approach to the United Church of God after their recent decision to resign from it after UCG leaders announced their opposition to the conference?

Other questions for Mr. Swenson, of Plainfield, Ind., and Mr. Jacobs, of Albuquerque, N.M.:

Should people who apparently do not have the "gift of evangelism" evangelize? Is God stirring up some people in the Churches of God to break out of their status quo? What is the significance of the enthusiastic response to the Indianapolis conference?

Following are excerpts of the interview, which took place in Indianapolis Aug. 1.

Surprising response?

Question: Were you surprised by the response and turnout for your evangelism conference? Can you point to demographics to show who showed up?

Guy Swenson: We were surprised by the number of people who came but not by their enthusiasm. I don't have the final count, but about 145 people came. A lot of United Church of God members and some Worldwide [Church of God] members were here. But probably the larger number were from nonaligned people [church members aligned with smaller rather than with larger COG organizations].

Q: You've advocated evangelizing as individuals. Most Church of God policies don't allow for that. In fact, some people question whether Church of God Sabbath services are appropriate for new converts. Do people have to quit their church or congregation to apply the evangelizing techniques you have advocated at this conference?


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.

Guy Swenson (left) and Bill Jacobs
THE WAY IT IS -Guy Swenson (left)
and Bill Jacobs lead a session at their recent Conference on Evangelism in Indianapolis, Ind.

(Photo by Bill Stough)

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 you advocate.

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 evangelism?

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]

Who's better?

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 anyway?

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 issue.]

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 move forward.

Crowd Shot at Evangelism Conference
CROWD SHOT - Audience members smile about something said during one of the Conference on Evangelism sessions.
(Photo by Bill Stough)

Moving on

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.

Living-room decision

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.

Governance problem

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 this time.

Growing congregations

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 culture.

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 their children.

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 Knowles.]

Elaine/Bill Jacobs and Guy/Jennifer Swenson
FAMILY AFFAIR - The two conference presenters stand with their wives between sessions.  From left: Elaine and Bill Jacobs and Guy and Jennifer Swenson.
(Photo by Bill Stough)
Katie Swenson
Katie Swenson, 18-year-old daughter of Guy and Jennifer, serves as conference coordinator.
(Photo by Bill Stough)

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 might benefit.

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 [], and we hope to add forums for discussion.

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 anything.

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 Write Mr. Swenson at 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.]

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