Why We Should Be Worried about General Assembly 2023

In June Nazarenes from around the world will gather for the 30th General Assembly. The meetings should have taken place in 2021, but our microscopic “friend,” covid, delayed our gathering.  Because of this interruption, General Superintendent David Graves will need to retire because of his age. Had the assembly taken place as scheduled, he would not have been able to serve two additional years. Covid cheated us of Dr. David Graves, which is disappointing, because he has served the church so very well. But that’s not the biggest problem with the upcoming General Assembly.

Many of our elected delegates will not be able to obtain visas. This happens every year, but this year will be especially challenging. Less international delegates mean, a more USA/Canada influenced General Assembly. The numbers are usually skewed in favor of USA/Canada anyway (because of the preponderance of North American leadership that is included in the delegate count), but this year’s assembly will be even more laden with a USA/Canada tilt. As big of a problem as this is, it’s not my biggest worry.

I am apprehensive because it seems that the church is fracturing into various camps to express their perspective upon the Church of the Nazarene. There have always been factions (not a particularly healthy admission), but in our social media age splinter groups form quicker, gather supporters more rapidly, and take on a strength that was difficult to accomplish in the non-digital age. I’m worried that the 1908ers, Holiness Partnershippers, Progressives, fundamentalists disguised as Wesleyans, the “Signs and Wonders” charismatic-ish crowd and who knows who else will come with an agenda to “change” the Church of the Nazarene. 

Change isn’t bad. The Church of the Nazarene changes every four years. We don’t believe the Manual is divinely inspired and every General Assembly, corrections are made; new paragraphs added, wording is made more understandable. Agreement and unity is a beautiful thing as together we take steps forward.

The difference is that in years past, maybe a few delegates from a district or region would get together to discuss resolutions submitted or their preferred candidate for General Superintendent. Talk among friends always happens. But in a social media age, this chatter is raised exponentially. Splinter groups with their preferred agenda are more tempted to strategically plan to “purify” the church to their liking. In essence, it moves the Church of the Nazarene away from a “big tent” family to multiple “little tents” pushing various agendas. It hinders unity and augments division. We need only to look at the United Methodists to see the results of a church that lacks unity.

People are more and more influenced by the social media vacuum in which they live. This phenomenon is true as it relates to politics, sports loyalties, and even the church. Listening and reading only those who agree with one’s pre-determined ideas, hinders diversity and unity. In Post-Christian America and Europe, the church faces enough challenges without having splinter groups disrupting unity. The General Assembly emphasis on “Jesus is Lord” should be unifying as we “Go, Follow, Worship, Share and Love.” “Jesus is Lord” is a message that must be heard by all who gather no matter the faction of which they most closely align. 

Let’s return to P.F. Bresee’s charge (and several others before him): “In essentials unity; in non-essentials liberty; in all things charity.”  A church that is not united will not survive.