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Final Voting for General Superintendent Extended a Day

A flurry of resolutions, votes and presentations kept pastors and delegates busy Thursday afternoon, but the biggest decision of all — election of a new general superintendent — remained unresolved.

A flurry of resolutions, votes and presentations kept pastors and delegates busy Thursday afternoon, but the biggest decision of all — election of a new general superintendent — remained unresolved.

That news could be announced at the beginning of today’s business session at 9 a.m. — if one of the three remaining candidates received enough votes.

General Secretary George O. Wood, U.S. Missions Executive Director L. Alton Garrison and Ohio District Superintendent Doug Clay emerged as the top vote-getters going into the fourth electoral ballot on Thursday. If no one received two-thirds of the vote, a fifth electoral ballot will be on the top of today’s agenda; only those three candidates remain eligible for election.

The winning candidate will serve the final two years of the term being vacated by General Superintendent Thomas E. Trask, who announced in July that he would step down from the post he has held since 1993.

Most voters probably expected to emerge from the first day of business with a new general superintendent and possibly a new assistant superintendent.

That optimism was fueled in part by the use of a new voting method this Council. In previous years, tellers distributed, collected and counted paper ballots for nominations, elections and key resolutions.

Not this year. Voters received electronic devices that are used to pick a particular candidate or cast a vote on a resolution.

But a large turnout forced hundreds of voters to share the devices, reducing some of the system’s time-sharing benefits. Still, the process and “learning curve” got faster as the afternoon continued, likely pointing the way to smoother and faster votes today.

Coming into this week’s General Council, the election of a new general superintendent was the top priority for most pastors and delegates. The initial nominating ballot Thursday yielded 28 candidates for the post, but seven men withdrew their names after the list was unveiled.

And a comment by one of those men helped spur debate on the Council floor over the idea of a general superintendent also serving as pastor of a local congregation.

Tommy Barnett, senior pastor of Phoenix First Assembly in Phoenix, Arizona, told the Council that he was unwilling to let his name stand for superintendent because he would not want to leave his pastorate.

His statement led to several people standing up to ask if the constitution and bylaws specifically prohibit a person from serving as both general superintendent and pastor of a congregation. The answer: No, it is not prohibited but it is not clearly permitted either.

The issue spilled over into the discussion of Resolution 16, which clarified the role of the general superintendent. One pastor offered an amendment stating the person serving in that post would not be required to resign a pastorate.

The author of the amendment argued that a capable leader could serve as superintendent while continuing to minister to a vibrant, growing congregation.

Another speaker cited the example of Brian Houston, pastor of Hillsong Church in Sydney, Australia, and national president of the Australian Christian Churches (formerly the Assemblies of God in Australia).

But opponents said Australia, a nation of 21 million people, isn’t comparable to the situation here in the United States, with more than 300 million people. Also, the Australia movement has 1,100 churches with more than 180,000 constituents; the AG here in the States has more than 12,300 churches and 2.8 million constituents.

And one speaker said he supports having a superintendent who is able to travel the nation and see what God is doing in a variety of settings.

The back-and-forth debate drew strong responses from the crowd, leading Trask to remind everyone that “we are not going to turn this building into an expression of applause.”

After the extended debate, the Council approved Resolution 16 — without any amendments.

In other business Thursday, the Council:

  • Approved Resolutions 1 and 1A, which clarified the nature and purpose of the Assemblies of God as a “fellowship of churches and credentialed ministers.”
  • Approved Resolution 2, which redefined the description and purpose of the top administrators at the Assemblies of God headquarters in Springfield, Missouri. Those officers now will be known as the Executive Leadership Team.
  • Approved Resolution 5, which revised the credential requirement for elected officers of the General Council. The bylaws now clearly state that each officer must be an ordained minister with the Fellowship.
  • Approved Resolution 18, which explains the duties of the Executive Leadership Team. Voters also approved a motion from the floor to make editorial changes in Headquarters publications regarding the Executive Leadership Team.
  • Approved Resolution 19, which clarified the role of the General Presbytery within the Assemblies of God structure.

Thursday afternoon’s session did feature some of the other standard elements of a General Council meeting, including a video presentation on the new Nothing’s Too Hard for God media campaign available to churches and special recognition for Fory and Cindy VandenEinde, who continue to work alongside hurricane victims on the Gulf Coast.

The morning session included reports from the executive officers and the biennial financial report and audit.

When pastors and delegates return this morning, they will learn if anyone was elected as general superintendent. If an election did occur, voters will immediately begin the process of choosing a new assistant superintendent to succeed Charles Crabtree, who was elected to that post in 1993.

If Wood or Garrison is chosen for either of the top two positions today, the General Presbytery will be required to nominate new candidates for their respective positions.

The general secretary post already was on the agenda for this year’s Council, along with the Assemblies of God World Missions executive director position and the 11 non-resident executive presbyters.

The Assemblies of God U.S. Missions executive director will only become an action item if Garrison is elected to another office.

Voters also still have to vote on 26 more resolutions, including one addressing the issue of divorce and remarriage, two adding female and younger ministers to the General Presbytery, and one that would create relational districts.

Ten of the remaining resolutions are either expressions of appreciation or the naming of an individual as an honorary general presbyter.

Today’s agenda also includes such special presentations as the General Superintendent’s Medal of Honor, Who’s Who Among Assemblies of God Educators and the State of Discipleship Report.