What the word “unite” meant to the membership of Global United Fellowship (GUF) eight years ago, means something almost completely different now with the world in the midst of a pandemic. And while people can hold onto the foundational aspect of what God said to them when the organization was formed, GUF Presiding Bishop Neil C. Ellis said God has a progressive word for the changing times.
“We know everything around us for the most part has changed in the last 19 months. The way we live, the way we fellowship, the way we travel, the way we do church – all of that has changed. But what we’ve got to do as a fellowship is change with the times. In order to embrace our call and to really impact and enhance our culture, we’ve got to address what’s going on around us. Where we are now in the Body of Christ demands that if we’re going to be impactful agents for the kingdom of God, we cannot function in isolation,” said Ellis.
The GUF presiding bishop engaged in a conversation with Bishop Harold Calvin Ray, founder and senior pastor of Redemptive Life Fellowship Church, West Palm Beach, Florida, and executive vice presiding bishop GUF; and Dr. Jamal Harrison Bryant, senior pastor New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in DeKalb County, Georgia, on the fact that the church and the world as it was previously known no longer exists.
The chat took place on Wednesday, day one of the three-day event known as The Gathering under the theme “Embracing Our Call … Engaging Our Culture”, and touched on a number of issues facing the church – unification, building relationship and truth, women in ministry, and restoring the discipline of prayer.
“We’ve been shut down, many of us have been locked down in our homes for months and weeks over the past 19 months and we’ve had this time for all of us in the Body of Christ to step aside for a minute and analyze what it is God is doing, or wants to do, with us and through us in this season,” said Ellis. “And I’m convinced more than ever before that God is calling for the Body of Christ to unite,” he said in response to Ray questioning him on the future of the church, and what the Holy Ghost was saying to him about uniting.
Ellis said no one person, or group, can get unification done, but that he is convinced God is raising up strategic leaders in strategic areas of the GUF body. He told Ray and Bryant that the organization has to be careful to not become judgmental.
“I believe some of whom God is raising up now, do not look like what we expected them to look like in the last season. And we’ve got to be very careful, because if we don’t embrace these people that do not have the look, we could miss an opportunity in tapping into a segment of whom God is raising up to unite the entire body. And so, as we come together, I believe in the adage that we are stronger together.”
The Gathering is taking place through Friday in Atlanta, Georgia.
Ellis said the GUF has to change with the times, and in order to embrace its call and really impact and enhance culture, address what is going on around them.
“Where we are now in the Body of Christ, demands that if we’re going to be impactful agents for the kingdom of God, we cannot function in isolation. I’m convinced more than ever before, that God is calling for the Body of Christ to unite.”
Bryant questioned Ellis on the fact that many people are so beholden to their denomination that they don’t understand the unity of fellowship. And that GUF has brought people from all different backgrounds – whether they are Pentecostal, Apostolic, Word of Faith, Methodist, Baptist – under one umbrella. He asked Ellis about the church’s role in equipping the “saints” and fellowship, which he said he believes is critical.
“We’re getting a lot of inspiration, but very little information,” said Bryant.
In an era of information, Ellis said if the church is going to “rise from the ashes of the pandemic”, that its people has to be enlightened and equipped.
“This fellowship has been mandated by God eight years ago to equip the ‘saints’. Now – what that meant eight years ago is not what it means today. We’ve got to understand where we are as a church – as the Body of Christ. This is a technologically-driven age.”
Ellis said that he, Ray, and Bryant preach to more people on Sunday mornings who are outside the walls of their respective churches than those who are on the inside. And that he does not foresee that changing in the near future. But that they all have to understand that to keep those people, they have to be relevant in the message they deliver.
“We’ve got to be able not only to attract them, but to maintain them, which means then that a fellowship like ours has the responsibility in this season to look among us. We are all convinced that God has raised up so many people among us, around us – people who we know in the Body of Christ; you can be convinced they’re anointed, the hand of God is upon them, but they’re not as equipped as they need to be to be as effective as they could be.”
Ellis told Ray and Bryant that it is not time to point fingers or criticize but to walk alongside people and better equip them for the task for which they have been anointed. As well as equip the church for how it is done in this technologically-driven age, which he said is a totally different ball game than they were familiar with 19 months ago.
BUILDING RELATIONSHIP AND TRUTH
Ellis was further questioned on building relationship, and from a common ground of what was termed “truth-iness” by Ray.
The GUF presiding bishop said that people have to be about the process of building up one another.
“We’ve all been a part of groups and fellowships and denominations, etc., where we’ve seen people tear down one another, and sometimes they use you and then they abuse you – that’s not the mark of this fellowship. We are supposed to be about the business of building up our brothers, and building up our sisters, and really, you can only do that if the lens you are looking through points you back to the word of God.”
Ellis reminded Ray and Bryant that they are leading the way. He said while he had the vision for GUF and The Gathering, they put it together with their team.
“While I had the vision, you put this together with your team, that’s because you are gifted to do it. My gift is to dream and to visualize, and I don’t envy y’all. And so, until we have leaders who are free to release their people, to do what they’ve been anointed to do, we will continue to do things to suppress people and keep them down – and that’s not God’s way. We are supposed to build up for the edification of the body.”
WOMEN IN MINISTRY
That brought Ellis to the topic of women in ministry, which he said should be a dead issue by now.
“If you still there, you missed the boat big time, and you probably got wiped out by the pandemic, because in this season of life, in this season of ministry, we have to look at those who God is using – and there’s no space for gender. I could foresee the day, probably in my lifetime, where a woman could be the presiding bishop of this fellowship. Why dismiss it if that’s the person who God is using at the time? Diversity is so significant in this process and the church gatta get to the place where we move away from judging people from the outside in, to going from the inside out.”
RESTORING THE DISCIPLINE OF PRAYER
Bryant raised the issue of restoring the discipline of prayer even while virtual, which he said is needed and necessary.
“For these eight years, bishop, you have been intentional to pull us back to the altar. We haven’t been in 16 to 18 months … a lot of churches have not been to the physical altar, but have had to make their own Ebenezer at home,” said Bryant.
Ellis said unless and until the Body of Christ goes back to the basic fundamental, biblical, Jesus-instructed principle of prayer, that the church is going to be powerless.
“When God was pulling together the prongs of this fellowship, I remember him saying, ‘If you continue to keep this as a fellowship, undergirded in prayer, it will always be a fellowship for which I make provision.’”
During lockdown, while praying and dissecting the Lord’s Prayer one day, Ellis said God reminded him that while the world was standing still and the church in a shutdown state, that he was transferring wealth.
“He said those churches, those ministries, those fellowships, those conventions that follow the plan and are undergirded by prayer, I will make incredible provision in this season that is coming. For us, if we ever get rid of prayer time, the whole face of Global will change. I believe God has done what He’s done in the last eight years with our fellowship, because we have sought to become undergirded, and help to resurrect this dying discipline,” he said.
“While churches have not been going to the physical altar in their own sanctuaries, what God has downloaded in my spirit is that more people have been praying in the last 18 months, than in the last 18 years. People are coming back. While they were isolated, while they were away from their churches, and away from their sanctuaries, and had to stay by themselves for the most part, their relationship with God was enhanced. I’m not bold enough to say God sent the pandemic, but I’m prophetic enough to say, He’s using it for His good and His glory.”