General Assembly is a busy time. There are people everywhere and so many things to do. Workshops are scheduled on top of meetings and dinners and reunions. The exhibit hall is packed with people, and the convention center itself is the size of a small town. We like to talk about this week being a family reunion for the Church of the Nazarene. It is that, but it’s also a place to have important conversations and to vote on issues that affect the life of the denomination around the world. At times it feels like these happenings—the party and the business—work at cross purposes. In 2013, there was a real struggle to maintain a quorum on the last day of assembly; there were still so many important things to discuss, but flights had been booked, and people needed to get back home.
There are certainly potential solutions to the problem. We could cut out the party and stick to business, which would require less time, space, and money; we could take advantage of the technology available to us and keep everyone a bit closer to home—regional voting locations have worked pretty well for Nazarene Youth International (NYI). On the other hand, people are loath to give up the family reunion—and with good reason. The core of what keeps such a diverse body of global believers together is the relational bond we share with one another. Despite nearly 2.5 million members, the Church of the Nazarene still feels like a family. Indeed, if you travel to Thailand or Kenya, Chile or Denmark—even to Kansas City—you can still find some connecting point between yourself and the local Nazarenes. We are a family, and we’ll cease to be a family if we stop spending time together.
One of the major current struggles in the Church of the Nazarene is keeping the mission fresh in the midst of the necessary institutionalism. An organization of our age and size has immense administrative needs, especially if we’re committed to continuing our truly global composition. At recent General Assemblies, we’ve done the hard work of removing much of the North American over-representation in our polity; in this 2017 assembly, the Board of General Superintendents recommends we postpone talk of more regional autonomy in favor of continuing to make this truly unique, global arrangement work.
We recognize the need for trust, flexibility, and freedom. For those privileged enough to be in Indianapolis this week, be intentional about having a conversation with someone from another region. Use this opportunity to better understand how life and ministry are different in Africa, in Asia, in South America, in Central America, in the Caribbean, and in North America. We come from many different places. We speak many different languages. Our lives look and feel very different from one another. Yet we share a common cause to go into the lost corners of our nations and our neighborhoods to live out the beautiful truth of God’s good news with and for those who desperately need God’s love, peace, and joy.
When it comes to business, it’s easy to be blinded by what we need in our own locations. Our individual contexts are naturally our top priorities. We struggle to craft a Manual that will best prepare us for ministry in every context. General Assembly gives us a window into just how different our contexts are from those of our Nazarene brothers and sisters around the world. The challenges and struggles we face in spreading scriptural holiness throughout the world are so vastly different that, if it were just on paper, we’d never understand.
This will be the fifth General Assembly I have attended in person, and I appreciate GA for giving me the opportunity to look into the eyes and, more importantly, the hearts of people I would most likely never meet otherwise. I cannot understand the many and varied contexts in which the Church of the Nazarene ministers, but I can understand the common Spirit by whom we do it. General Assembly gives us an opportunity to experience just how much bigger than ourselves and our individual contexts is the global work of God in the world. This massive gathering of Nazarenes is but a tiny fraction of faithful disciples, both in our denomination and in the church at large.
There is probably more we can do to make General Assembly better, more responsible, and more applicable to those of us who do gather, but we have to remember just how important the gathering itself is for the mission of the Church of the Nazarene. “Making Christlike disciples in the nations” might sound a little hokey as a slogan, but it’s a vitally important mission. My prayer this week is that I (and the rest of us) keep this mission at the forefront of our minds while we enjoy the fellowship, celebration, and business of the 29th General Assembly of the Church of the Nazarene.