All General Assemblies are important for the life and health of the Church of the Nazarene (CotN), but the 30th General Assembly convening in June will be the most significant in decades. The 2023 vote for General Superintendent (GS) will have long lasting consequences.
The re-election of the four-current, eligible GS’s is a fairly safe assumption. The last GS to not get reelected was Orval Neese in 1944. There were accusations of improprieties relating to nepotism that kept him from being reelected. Apparently, all was forgiven by 1948 when Dr. Neese was elected GS once more. Not the silence of the Board of General Superintendents (BGS) over social issues; nor the recent controversy regarding the BGS statement on what defines doctrine will be consequential enough for any of the four GSs to not get reelected. GSs are always reelected. They will be again this time.
Moreover, all four of the GSs who are to be reelected in 2023 are under the age of 64 meaning all will be eligible for reelection in the 2027 General Assembly (GA2027) too. Assuming the two newly elected GSs are also under the age of 64, they also will be eligible for reelection at the next GA. In other words, barring unforeseen circumstances, GA2027 will not be electing a new GS. Not since 1956, has a General Assembly not elected a new GS.
No GS election will make GA2027 a little less dramatic, but it also makes GA2023 that much more important. For all practical purposes, this eight-year-termed BGS will oversee what could possibly be the most tumultuous period in the CotN’s history. There are numerous challenges awaiting:
1) The CotN in USA/Canada is in massive decline.
I wrote about this reality here and here. The denomination will look very different in 2031 than it does today. The attendance drop will not only impact delegate counts for GA2031, but more crucially it will affect the economics of the church. The exodus of people and the closing/merging USA/Canada churches ultimately will affect the World Evangelism Fund and thereby the funding of the church’s worldwide mission. (Between 94-96% of WEF comes from USA/Canada churches). The BGS will have tough decisions regarding sending of missionaries, funding projects, and doing the basic work of the church with far less dollars at their disposal in the next eight years.
2) Factions are real.
The fundamentalists inside the church are making noise. The CotN has never been a fundamentalist church and the “standard” the fundamentalists are defending and the means by which they often defended it—void of the Fruit of the Spirit– is at odds with the church regarding scripture, holiness and polity. Similarly, the progressives within the church are pushing the church towards a United Methodist-like schism over human sexuality. The BGS must tightrope-like walk through increasingly loud factions on all sides. This delicate walk will only increase between now and 2031.
3) The world is changing…fast.
The rule-by-committee approach of the BGS may have served the church well in the past, but it slows decision making when strong leadership is needed. Again, in the next eight years the church will need leaders who boldly and courageously lead, not hunker down in the Global Ministry Center hoping the storm passes them by.
The newly elected (in all reality, eight year termed), BGS must navigate the coming economic tsunami; noisy factions, and give strong unwavering leadership in our ever-changing world. There will be tough decisions between now and 2031. That’s why the GA2023 election of the BGS is the most important vote in nearly 70 years, possibly making GA2023 the most important General Assembly ever convened.