Randy Barton - Thomas Trask

Springfield, Missouri

Gospel Publishing House - Chapel 10/8/02


If ever we need to be praying as a people, as a church, it's today, church. Please set aside time, if you can't come to the early morning prayer meeting, and I understand that there are some that can't, find time in your lunch hour, go down to the prayer center, and join together in prayer. We must pray. It is not an option. And you have to help us carry that burden. It's not for just a few. It's for everyone. So join in prayer. Set aside this day to fast. The Scripture admonishes us to be faithful in these matters. Coming to minister to us today is Randy Barton. I could stand here literally for some time and tell you what God has accomplished through the leadership of Dr. Barton. The AGFSG (Assemblies of God Financial Services Group) now $1.3 billion strong and growing at such a rapid pace that is difficult in this environment of investment today, it is difficult to find a place to invest the monies that it doesn't belong to the assemblies of God, it doesn't belong to the general counsel, it belongs to those who are participants, many of you and we need the help of the Lord, we need wisdom. We have a client that sold his business out east and put $30 million of that sale into equities this is before the downturn and has lost it all. Well, that happens and he said to Dr. Barton and some others that he wished he had put it all in the hands of AGFSG and then he wouldn't have lost it. Well, the challenge is for all and we need to pray for those who are responsible but he, Dr. Barton is also serving as co-chairman of the Vision of Transformation that we are working through here at headquarters. I know that his staff, I see several of his staff here. Would those of you that work for AGFSG please stand.

We want to welcome you.

Brother Barton come please. We love you and are thankful for you.


I was hoping Brother Trask wasn't going to say he put $30 million with us and lost it all. Actually, the reality is he set up two trusts, one charitable trust and one donor advised fund. He had about $30 million and he committed $2 irrevocably to the kingdom and those funds are still in tact. He lost 100% of the rest in the downturn. He came back to us and said he really felt like he should have done more at that time and boy I sure wish I would have. Well that's the way it is with the riches of this world. They're always illusive, and yet what this is all about today is eternal things, and an eternal perspective of where we are going as a fellowship.

First of all, I just want to give some introductory comments about what the Vision for Transformation is all about. I think fist of all it is a recognition that the USAGA is a very large ship. Its a big ship. If you look at it from a distance it looks pretty good. In fact there are a lot of denominations around the country that look at us and would like to be like us. Would like to see the things happening in their denomination that are happening in our ship. And although its impressive, the reality is its the ship has started to slow down. It's gathered a few barnacles along the way. Its lost some of its sheen. Its probably fair to say its coasting a little bit. Well, coasting, still moving forward but coasting the momentum of years past. In fact if you look at it statistically, although we grew 15.5% during the decade of the 90's, if you subtract our Hispanic growth and look at the hard figures we have plateaued as a fellowship in the US. Not around the world, of course, but in the US. As Brother Trask has so clearly articulated in many meetings of the Transformation committee, that is not acceptable for a Pentecostal fellowship to have plateaued.

So I think that is the first thing we recognize that what this is about is the fact that God, we believe, has a lot more in store for the Assemblies of God. It is also a recognition that to be relevant in a rapidly changing, diverse, globalizing culture, it is not enough to appoint another committee. Its not enough to restructure a few departments. Its not enough to change the color of our building. Now all those might be good and needed, but we truly need deep change, not exterior change as a fellowship. I think finally it is a recognition that our A command and control hierarchical structures that we inherited from the 60's, while it may have been an efficient way to do business back then, the reality is that those structures are as frustrating for the people that work on the third floor as they are for all of you.

Those three points encompass the reason for the Vision for Transformation. For some of you this may sound like something sudden, but the reality is it started quite frankly in the early 90's in certain aspects. I think when Brother Trask was first elected Superintendent, one of the first things he did was call a priority analysis committee together to begin to focus on certain targeted issues, and out of that came a number of recommendations, came the first Mission Statement that the general counsel as an organization ever had.

A lot of changes took place back then, but they were more organizational changes as opposed to systemic changes. Coming into the late 90s there was a call to appeal to the grass roots of our fellowship. The leadership recognized that we had to hear from the grass roots if we were ever going to start down the path of change. As a number of you are aware, vision kits were sent out to every church and we asked churches and church leaders to seek God and find out what God was saying to them for their Jerusalem.

Out of that process and through the districts, there basically developed a national vision statement that really contained a lot of the feeling and hopes and vision of the grass roots of this fellowship and that was communicated and articulated through a national vision statement presented by our general superintendent at general council and so as we started this new century in 2001. Not only did we have a new vision statement from the grass roots, but in Kansas City we also elected really had a substantial change at the executive presbyter level. I think it was 5 of the 8 executive regional presbyters were changed and along with that came a desire from the elected leadership to set aside some time and ask the question, "What is God saying to us as a fellowship?" What change of course do we need to make for this big ship, recognizing the bigger the ship, the longer it takes to turn it.

As a result of that, at the beginning of 2002, the executive presbytery appointed a blue ribbon committee. I think we got tired of that name so we changed it to AG Vision for Transformation Committee. What we have been asked to do as a fellowship is look at some things. What are we look at? Well, this is our directive. We are to look at everything but our doctrine. In other words, everything is on the table. There should be no sacred cows.

Now that is a big statement for elected officials to make. And in fact, as we've started this process and we've gone around the country and we started sharing with groups and superintendents and we scheduled 8 regional meetings where every presbyter from every section of the United States will be brought together and we'll begin to discuss a Vision for Transformation. The normal reaction we get is "Are they really serious?" And some of you today are asking that same question. "Are they really serious?"

Well, I'm here to tell you that I believe the elected spiritual leaders are very serious about change. The purpose of our committee for transformation is not to somehow come up with some magic vision for the future. Our role is to facilitate a process where everyone in our fellowship will be able to give input to the process. So it is not some top-down pronouncement that this is what we think we should do, but rather its a grass-roots transformation to do what God has already placed on the hearts of those across this country to do for Him. So, that is where we are today. Last August, the general presbytery adopted, if I can term it this, kind of an outline of the major themes of a Vision for Transformation and I'm going to share that with you today.

First of all, in order for our AG fellowship to thrive in the 21st century its critical that we embrace deep change and consider a vision for transformation that will help us fulfill our mission consistent with our core values. In other words, its not just about change, its not just about as some of said of rearranging the chairs on the Titanic to continue the ship metaphor. No we haven't struck an iceberg and we're not sinking. It's clear we need to change course, and its about deep change. And really its in three major areas.

First, create church planting, church revitalization, and church affiliation, and networking strategies that will recognize the diverse opportunities in our church today. It will be all about removing obstacles and it will be about releasing those called to ministry while leveraging our local and district resources. Well that's a mouthful and I'd like to just briefly address several of those points. Fist of all, church planting. Church planting cannot be relegated to a department of home missions. In all deference to the great job that has been taking place in the church planting area. Church planting must be at the heart of what we do as a fellowship, and it involves 3 factors. It involves a vision for church planting, and you know what, for the decade of harvest we had a wonderful vision of church planting, but it involves two other factors: leadership for church planting and resources for church planting. You can have a vision for church planting and if you don't have the leadership you are not going to be successful. You can have a vision for church planting and you can even have a leader, but you have not appropriately counted the cost of providing the resources for church planting you are not going to be the steward God wants you to be and you're not going to be successful in church planting. So it involves all three factors and that means we must all be involved at a national level, at a district level, and at a local church level. Church planting must become a priority for our fellowship in this century. Its not just about church planting though, church affiliation. What do we mean by church affiliation? Some of you go back far enough to remember back in the 60s we use to have a category called Affiliate Assemblies. It was called different names in different districts. It was basically a way by which churches, often independent churches, new churches, who wanted to kind of test the waters of the Assemblies of God could affiliate with us and get an opportunity to see if our fellowship was one that would match what they were doing, what God was calling them to do. Some of our greatest churches today, in the Assembly of God, came in through an affiliate relationship. There were challenges with that kind of designation and because of that we threw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. There is a real feeling that we need to examine that opportunity for churches to connect with the Assemblies of God in maybe some non-traditional ways like we use to encourage back years ago, so church affiliation is something that will be a priority. Church revitalization--it's great to talk about church planting and new churches affiliating, but what about those churches that are stagnate. What about those churches that haven't shown growth for years? Should that be happening? We have to ask ourselves an honest question. How much in the way of resources and leadership have we put in to revitalizing dead churches? If we were honest, we would say it has been woefully inadequate, and I'm not talking about just from general council level. I'm talking about from every level in our fellowship. Church revitalization must become a priority. Church networking--we live in a culture that does not run itself based on governance structures. We live in a culture built on networks. If we are going to truly be successful, we must recognize the reality of networking structures as the predominate method of connecting. It is no longer general council, district council, sectional so forth and so on. It's all based on relationship and networking and we must develop networking strategies, not just for the Assemblies of God but for the Kingdom of God. There are scores of fellowships, scores of smaller denominations and groups that want to and are networking with our fellowship. We haven't even become to seize, I believe, the opportunities that God has for this fellowship to bless the kingdom of God. We got a call about a month ago from a group of churches that are just leaving the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) because of their stand on ordaining homosexuals. About 100 churches have left to form their own fellowship. They called us wanting to connect. Their not going to become Assemblies of God churches doctrinally. I can promise you that. Their not going to move away from some of their Lutheran doctrine. But you know what they're looking for? Their looking for a networking opportunity. Yes, we'll never agree on the fine points of our doctrine, but they are charismatic Christian churches that want to network with the Assemblies of God. I believe as we look to this century those opportunities are going to be multiplied. Gospel Publishing House. What a great example of networking across this country with other churches. Again, I believe we have just barely started to scratch the surface on networking opportunities. Of course, leveraging resources--we are blessed in this fellowship to have some of the most generous lay people of any organization in the United States. In fact, statistics will show you that perhaps other than the LDS church, ours is by far the most generous fellowship from a giving standpoint. I believe those resources, the resources we have been blessed with, are not there so that we can just build bigger barns for business. They're not there so we can just inflate our retirement accounts. They're there for Kingdom purposes, so these resources can be put to use for the Kingdom. I think whether it's church planting or church networking or church revitalization, God has already given this fellowship the resources to do what God has called it to do. All that we need to do is join hands together and network those resources and leverage those resources. It might mean a church in Springfield, Missouri might put up the funds to plant a church in Colorado. It might mean a church in California, because land is so expensive, may receive funding from the general council or the financial services group in order to buy land and plant a church in Southern California. But the resources are there to do what God has called to do. It's up to us to partner those resources to fulfill the vision that God is giving to this fellowship.

Secondly, we need to develop strategies to identify, train, equip, and mentor ministers, both credentialed and lay. We need to consider releasing our credentialing process to give emphasis and priority to the call of God and effective ministry. We must be about the business of promoting dynamic ministries to reach all segments and cultures of our society. We've got an interesting tension when it comes to credentialing and Brother Wood is here so cover your ears, George, we've got interesting tension because of legal concerns, because of a desire for excellence, we create a credentialing process that hopefully gives us a better minister. We design a process that seems to be right for us, but the reality in the diverse culture we live in today you have a very difficult time attracting certain levels of ministers who might be called out of a different type of background, a different type of culture. They don't fit in the neat little boxes we have tried to draw for our credentialing process. As a result, it appears at times, that its more of an obstacle course to get credentialing. Does that mean we want to do away with quality, do away with standards? No, but the reality is the further away credentialing moves from the grass roots, the more the pool begins to dry up. That is a given truth in any denomination in the United States. So, we've got to examine our credentialing process. It must become a facilitation process. So, as people feel the call to ministry in the local church, it's not a matter of an obstacle course. It's a matter of an integrated process where we draw and encourage people to come into ministry and do what God has called them to do. Now what does that mean? We don't know at this point. These are a lot of questions not a lot of answers. That's why we are embarking on this process. We believe that its critical that we take a hard look at our credentialing process so that it truly becomes a facilitation process. Another point on credentialing is that credentialing must have standards, but it cannot be homogenous if we are to reach a diverse culture. Again, our credentialing process, sometimes its because of legal restrictions, sometimes its because just the desire for standardization, it creates a process, creates a standard, that while we might consider excellent, someone from a different culture, a Samoan culture, someone coming from Mexico, someone coming out of a totally different background look at our process and they say it doesn't fit. It's not relevant. As a result, we are not able to put pastors into the areas where we need to have pastors growing churches and raising up churches. We've got to begin to address our entire credentialing process. We must also release and empower the untapped potential of an army of lay people for ministry. I was doing this presentation, or a form of this presentation, to all the superintendents, and it was interesting that the night before my presentation, the superintendents were just sharing from their hearts what is happening in their districts. A superintendent from Wyoming, a very rural district, shared how in the last years they had a number of churches that hadn't grown for decades in Wyoming. They had the revolving door of the pastor. You know someone comes out of Bible school and they try to work part-time and pastor part-time and they'd experienced this revolving door for literally 20 years for a couple churches. He said we tried something different, we put a layman in one church in the pastorate, boy that's revolutionary, and a laywoman in another. And he said something amazing happened. Churches that were dead for two decades are growing for the first time. These aren't in growth areas. These are in dead, rural areas of Wyoming. But that's just symbolic of the opportunity that we have. We have a committed army of lay people in this fellowship that need to be brought in to the process. We need to release the army of lay people that we have in this fellowship and our structures must encourage, facilitate, and accommodate that. That requires us to take a hard look at ourselves as it relates to the whole credentialing process.

The third area is to align our government and organizational structures at every level, local churches, district, supporting ministries, and the general council to facilitate accomplishing the mission that God has called the Assemblies of God to. What does that mean? It means we must be open to different models of church organizational structures, again, to respond to a diverse culture. Rich isn't here is he? Good... You know Rich, in terms of knowing appropriate legal structures and issues for churches there's no one better in the nation than Rich Hammer. But the reality is we create boxes because these are good models that work (if I can be blunt) in a white Anglo-Saxon middle America model. So, we present that as the model of church structures, when in reality there are a lot of structures out there that are working a lot better today especially in different cultures, that we have not readily accepted with open arms. As a result, young pastors will say they want to have this model of governance for my church and we say well that doesn't fit. But I'm Assemblies of God and we say we really don't care. So, again, we create obstacles rather than facilitating because of government structure. Why do the lawyers do all this work to have good government structures. Well, a lot of it is so we can have order and to keep us from getting sued and all of those good things. But all of those things ultimately begin to bind us. All the rules that the lawyers want to put in place begin to restrict us from doing what God wants us to do. While again, we can't throw all that off, we've got to bring that back into balance and recognize that we've got to be open to different types of structures. I think the other thing is that command and control structures are definitely antiquated and irrelevant. You see it throughout almost every major denomination in the US have gone into decline and one of the primary reasons has been their structure. Was it a change in doctrine? No. Was it a change in vision. NO. For many of these organizations they became strangled by their own structures, and we have to recognize that. The general council, district councils, and everything we do in this fellowship must be focused on serving the needs of the local church, to help fulfill the Great Commission. Well, that's the Vision for Transformation. What does it mean for us here in Springfield, Missouri? Let me suggest three things that I think it means for us. First of all, as it relates to our leaders. We must present a clear and compelling, spiritual, strategic identify that seeks to transform the world. If our leadership presents that, both spiritual and strategic, our churches pastors and laymen will get excited about that and they will want to connect and church growth will be the eventual outcome as our leaders do that. Quite frankly, our leaders are more involved today in, if I can say it appropriately, in .....SIDE 2 .... spent on putting forth a direction for our fellowship from a spiritual standpoint is not adequately addressed throughout our entire fellowship. A district superintendent that was elected a year and a half ago just said to me recently, AWell, I've been in the office a little over a year now. I've had one theological question in a year that was of a spiritual nature and the rest of my time has been arbitrating disputes and answering legal problems for churches.@ Instead of providing spiritual strategic leadership, the superintendent has been painted in the corner of waiting tables, of course I suggested that maybe we should just have a lawyer run the office and have a superintendent who is a pastor, with the time to provide spiritual leadership. I don't know if they appreciated that comment. I think spiritual strategic leadership is a natural outcome of what we are talking about today. Secondly, what does this mean for all of our ministry departments and commissions and divisions. Well, we must acknowledge that bureaucratic denominationalism that expects loyalty is dead and it must be replaced with relationships built around solutions as we provide pastors, churches, and our laity with innovative strategies that empower and resource them to reach their potential. To put it another way, don't expect loyalty. They don't owe it to us. We need to be in the business of doing what the church needs, resourcing and empowering the local church. Everything we do out of this building needs to be directed that way. That requires a shift in our thinking. Does that mean we don't have quality products now? We have some of the best products available in the marketplace today. But I think it does begin to require us to examine how we do business and how we think and how we are going to position ourselves in the marketplace and how we are going to serve. Eventually it should affect everything we do in every ministry department and every division within the general council of the Assemblies of God. Finally, what does this mean for our organizational structures? It means we must realign ourselves around mission and ministry, not around programs and personalities. Every department, every division must be strategically led by teams who have been gifted in that ministry. We have, Brother Trask, in our various ministry areas, we have some of the most gifted people that a fellowship could ever have, but these divisions and departments must be strategic led by teams that are fully empowered and accountable to produce measurable results, because ultimately we are called to be a good steward of every resource, every product, everything God has called us to do.

Let me close with this scripture Matthew 9:16-17. No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out, and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins and both are preserved. Well, the wineskin called the general council of the Assemblies of God was formed almost 90 years ago now as men and women discovered that the old wineskin of 19th century denominations could not contain what God was doing as the Holy Spirit was poured out at the beginning of the 20th century. And its incumbent upon us, each of us, not to settle for trying to patch the old garments rather, we must transform ourselves as a fellowship into what God has called us to be.

Trask: Thank you very, very much, Brother Barton. This gives you a picture, a snapshot of the process. Now over 100 meetings, committee meetings, and focus groups have already met with the purpose again to bring up from the grass roots, from the laity, from you, what you see, so that we can look through your eyes, and together God will help us to see the very best for the church. Aren't you glad you're a part of the church? I'm glad that God has allowed us to have a part in something that's eternal, something that's going to produce dividends for a time and eternity. Thank you Dr. Barton for your presentation this morning. I'm going to ask our assistant general superintendent, Brother Crabtree to come and pray. I'm going to ask you to do something with us, to bathe this process in prayer. That's why we need you to gather with us Tuesday morning. We're not in the business of building cars, or building anything else, we're in the business of doing the work of the Kingdom of God, and we need the blessing of the Lord, we need the hand of the lord, we need the wisdom of the Lord to rest upon this whole matter. You only get that by asking God and committing to the Lord. Lord we acknowledge the need for your help and your wisdom, your insight. He sees what we don't see. He knows what we don't know. He knows what lies ahead. We don't know that, but He does. I believe that with the help of the Lord, together, God can release his church to become a powerful, powerful endtime force for the Kingdom of God's sake.