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After his election to the post of General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God of the United States in 2017, Doug E. Clay has enjoyed fairly fluid navigation for almost 2.5 years.
Then COVID-19 hit.
The past 19 months have served rough waters. But Clay – who began his second four-year term last week 60 days after his re-election – is convinced the future of the Movement is bright.
âI have never received a manual on how to lead a church during a pandemic, or how to respond to certain cultural issues involving race and politics,â says the affable Clay. âBut I am proud of the way our churches have responded by accepting things out of their control and have remained successful missionaries. “
Clay says that due to some of the government-imposed restrictions associated with the novel coronavirus, congregations have had to move from an attractive model to a roll-out model, which often involved holding services and other ministries online.
âWhile I am deeply grateful for the way churches have responded, at the same time, COVID has had a physical, emotional and mental impact on the well-being of our pastors,â Clay said. “It was exhausting, and we didn’t get out of it.”
Some denominations have responded to the crisis by reducing the ministry’s goals. But Clay thinks the time has come for the Assemblies of God to flourish.
âWhile a lot of people talk about the disappearance of the Church, I don’t believe it,â says Clay, 58. âHistorically, we have seen the Spirit move and strategic growth take place in some of the darkest times. “
Earlier this year, Clay announced goals for the fellowship to grow to 15,000 congregations and 40,000 accredited ministers. Currently there are 12,938 AG churches and 37,713 ministers.
Clay is encouraged that the number of women ministers has reached an all-time high.
âWe are a stronger fellowship because the Assemblies of God made room for women in ministry and women in leadership,â says Clay.
The GA is more ethnically diverse than ever, with 44% of all members. Clay says he looks forward to the day when no ethnic group will constitute a majority in the denomination.
There remains a shortage of non-white pastors and district leaders in some geographic areas, and Clay recognizes that this will require deliberate efforts to promote local leaders and make the leadership more representative of lay numbers.
In addition, the general superintendent wants to ensure that young people who feel a ministerial vocation – or adults in other careers who feel called to ministry – are nurtured at the district / ministry network level. The median age of active ordained GA ministers is 55.
âWe seek to be very intentional in identifying, equipping, releasing and deploying the called leaders in our ministerial family,â said Clay.
The 21-member executive presbytery, which serves as the denomination’s board of directors, for the first time this month in the GA’s 107-year history, has a majority of women and ethnic minorities.
A priority for the GA is the planting of churches.
âWe need a new blessing, centered on our mission of evangelism, worship, discipleship and compassion,â says Clay. âMy prayer is that over the next four years we will see evidence of the proliferation of churches that are empowered by the Spirit, engaged in the Bible, and participating in missions. Accelerating the multiplication of new churches is the most effective strategy for the growth of the body of Christ.
Biblical engagement has been another of Clay’s goals, especially when a growing number of people in the country seem to place more importance on cultural or political signals than on the prescriptions of Scripture. Clay offers an anecdote that many pastors today feel like Noah once he embarked on the ark: The greatest threat was not from the storm raging outside, but rather peaks inside.
âSome of the tensions felt by pastors are due to the lack of Bible knowledge among church members,â says Clay. âIt is important for pastoralists to manage cultural tensions, especially when the people on the benches are poles apart. “
In January, amid the closures related to the pandemic, Clay suffered a minor stroke, from which he quickly fully recovered. Even more than before, he says the forced six weeks off work has bolstered his appreciation for the other five elected members of the leadership team who are based at AG’s national office in Springfield, Missouri.
âThis is a group of spiritually mature leaders who have embraced the vision of a healthy church in every community,â Clay said. âThey fully embrace this desire for the Assemblies of God to grow and prosper. ”
Like most organizations, COVID-19 has wreaked havoc in the Assemblies of God across the United States, with dozens of district leaders, ministers, and missionaries dying of the disease. Clay says his heart is saddened by these losses.
âBut these types of tragedies don’t take the Lord by surprise,â says Clay. “I have hope in my mind that we will overcome this.”
GA has already survived a long and severe pandemic. Only four years after the formation of the Fellowship, an influenza pandemic struck that would ultimately claim 50 million lives worldwide.
âOur times are not without precedent,â says Clay. âJust as God was able to pass them through, he will be faithful to do the same for us today. “
Changing demands, driven in part by society’s responses to the pandemic, have resulted in budget cuts and some reduction in staff at the GA’s national office.
âWe need to assess what programs and strategies have run their course, and what needs to be resuscitated and reworked,â says Clay.
During the pandemic, AG’s national office closed for a while, forcing employees to work remotely. Clay says he appreciates those who have continued their work in less than ideal conditions.
âWe are blessed by some of the Lord’s greatest servants who see their role in the national office as a ministry, even though they are not accredited,â says Clay. âOur workforce is diverse, but we are united in our mission to serve ministers, churches, and districts.â