Many have lost track of the proposal. Here’s my take on the last 24 months. Mike Taliaferro — San Antonio, Texas
It was two years ago that nine brothers were asked in Seattle to pen a Unity Proposal. At the time, confusion was rife among our churches and there was no viable way that churches could cooperate internationally to accomplish mutually shared goals. We were in the midst of many changes, many good and some bad. Many began to ask, “What do we believe?” “How can we cooperate?” “What’s happening out there?” International churches wondered how the US churches were faring, and whether the mission support money would continue. The Unity Proposal, which is now called the Unified Plan for Cooperation (now called the Plan for United Cooperation), has been helpful over the last two years for several reasons. First of all, it presented a simple statement of beliefs. Many disciples were wondering if we had changed our beliefs about core doctrines like discipleship, baptism, and repentance. While the cooperation plan did not attempt to be a creed for the ages, it did address the issues that were important to us at the time. Beyond that, the UPC gave individual churches a chance to raise their hands and confirm that, yes indeed, we still hold to these core doctrines that have united us for the last several decades. We were happy in San Antonio, for example, to review the document and notify the other churches of our affirmation (no one actually “signed” anything). To date over 360 churches have affirmed the proposal, or roughly 70% of our churches. Disciples were encouraged that we were still holding to our core beliefs around the world.
Another aspect of the proposal was that it asked churches to draw close to other nearby churches. These “circles of churches,” or “church families,” were already in existence for the most part. Approximately 30 circles of churches formed around the world, each with anywhere from 10 to 20 churches. Texas is a circle of about ten churches. The US has several circles. For the most part, families of churches were already up and functioning in Mexico and Central America, Russia, Europe, India, China, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Africa and other areas of the world. These 30 circles of churches help, cooperate, and encourage one another in their regions. The UPC recognizes and encourages this.
We are not a movement of autonomous churches. We interact, encourage, correct, and love one another. While it was obviously time to put aside the structure of the 1990’s where one man was in charge world-wide, most of us did not want to revert to total separation and autonomy. We have functioned for years as circles of churches. The current arrangement of a brotherhood of churches looks promising.
A third aspect of the UPC is that it asked these “circles of churches” to choose and send delegates once a year to our World Leadership Conference. There are roughly 70 delegates who attend (two or more from each family of churches world wide). These 70 delegates meet to decide pertinent matters of cooperation on a world scale. Topics include our International Conferences, benevolence, mission coordination, our presence on the web, etc. In the past, it was the World Sector Leaders who addressed these kinds of issues. Today, delegates from around the world meet and make these decisions. Personally I am very glad for this kind of inclusive format. Instead of decisions being made in back rooms, issues are brought out into the open for broad discussion and action. In Virginia Beach last year, the discussions were mature and respectful. Virtually every vote became unanimous after a period of discussion. It was a joy to see brothers from around the world participating in the process of cooperation.
An example of this inclusive spirit is the choice of venue for our international conferences. Instead of a small group of people, the current structure in place allows the 70 delegates from all over the world to decide on conference venues. This collective process has brought Christians from around the world into the decision making process. Two years ago in San Antonio, the attendance at the first conference was just 400. This year we had 1500 people attend our campus and teen leadership conferences. We are excited to see greater numbers of people involved every year. I wish to commend the Planning committees for the Campus and Teen conferences. Working behind the scenes and without fanfare, they have put on some first class conferences.
The UPC also called for the creation of a steering committee of nine disciples, elected from among the 70 delegates. The nine are first and foremost servants of the delegates. This committee of nine builds the agenda and moves the discussion forward. It has been a joy to serve with these brothers for the last two years.
Each year, half of the steering committee stands down. Last year we elected four new steering committee members. This year we will elect five new members. (I myself will leave the steering committee in October). These term limits help to insure that the will of one individual does not dominate the agenda. While it has been a lot of work, it has been a great experience. Still, we have made our mistakes. We all wish that there had been more communication between the nine and the 70 delegates during the year. I am sure that this (and other things) will be improved in the coming months. I wish to thank the San Antonio church for allowing me to take away a bit of time from my duties in San Antonio to serve the greater good. I also want to thank the steering committee who served tirelessly.
It has been a great two years of progress on many fronts. The Cooperation Plan has played a small but meaningful part in helping our churches to move ahead through stormy times. It is a document that has reassured, confirmed, and encouraged. It has been a platform to launch cooperative efforts. Let us continue to pray for unity and growth among our churches.
San Antonio, Texas