given on Sunday, April 29, 2012
Special introduction: This blog entry is more of a reflection and sharing of Missouri’s UMC Bishop testimony and the Call to Action which is currently under review at the denomination’s General Conference. This is not a comfortable discussion, but probably necessary in view of the state of the United Methodist church today. These thoughts are based on several readings done this week from the Bishop’s blog, from the UM Reporter, the Call to Action website, etc. Hopefully this will keep readers in prayer for the structure of our church.
Bishop Schnase’s Fruitful Practices guide clergy and laity to understand the elements of a vital congregation. They are foundational pieces. The Call to Action is a ‘polity’ issue that is hard to understand. The UMC has several layers of leadership and most members are unaware of the roles and responsibilities of the leadership. The Bishop references all arguments directly to the Bible. Today’s reading is one related to the Call to Action. Hear the words and pray for our church:
[The verses are related to the Bible Study over the Call to Action. Connect them while reading through the scriptures.]
1. A call to make disciples for the transformation of the world
- I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. –Philippians 3:12
2. A call for spiritual renewal
- I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God. –Romans 12:1-2
3. A call for more turnaround spiritual leaders
- Perhaps you have come to [this position] for just such a time as this. –Esther 4:14
4. A call to grow more vital congregations
- That day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done . . . All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, the broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts; praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. –Acts 2:41-47
5. A call for transformative change
- The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free. –Luke 4:18
6. A call for bold leadership to transform the world
- The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.
7. A call to the General Conference for transformational changes
- As [God] has sent me, so I send you. –John 20:21
For the past four years, I have become very aware of the “polity” of the United Methodist Church. This topic is not an easy one and certainly does not lend itself to casual conversation or motivation to do what the latest mailing encourages us to do. I can only wonder what John Wesley would think about the many levels of administration the church currently has.
How can the polity of our denomination have anything to do with the commission! Remember, we are called to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world. The polity is the organizational structure of the denomination. Everything is covered in the Book of Discipline. This is not what Wesley envisioned for the church. He was believed doing was ministry, and having all this organizational structure would be seen as a handicap in doing the Lord’s work.
Frustrations over the organization do not help us move forward in our own ministry either. The Call to Action resulted from a thorough evaluation of the entire denomination done by an outside group (can’t find the name). After reading through the blog, 30 Days of Preparation by Bishop Schnase, I realized that the Call to Action is about carrying out the Great Commission.
The Bishop is passionate about his faith and how important that his commission is. In the blog, on Day 16, the Bishop shares his personal testimony. It is so key to understanding his passion for God, but also for the passion he has for the denomination. Therefore, I invite you to listen to his testimony and ask yourself what Wesley would say.
I would not be a Christian today if it were not for The United Methodist Church.
That’s a rather bold statement. I’ve only recently come to realize this as I reflect on the formative events of my early discipleship. If not for the particular approach to theology and practice expressed in The United Methodist Church, I would likely have followed a path of rejecting faith.
I remember an experience that followed the 1972 earthquake in Nicaragua that killed more than 5,000. I was 15 years old, and several of my friends were active in a charismatic Christian house group. They were reading The Late Great Planet Earth about signs of the end times. I saw an adult leader clap her hands and praise God for the earthquake because it was a sign that we were one step closer to the end! I was outraged. I was so furious about “Christianity” that I told my pastor I could no longer be a Christian if that’s what Christians believe. He patiently listened and offered alternative views of those obscure apocalyptic passages. He spoke of God’s grace and talked about what our church was doing for the people of Nicaragua and how I could help. If the only expression of Christianity open to me at that age had been that group of friends, I would not be a Christian today.
That was one of several experiences that opened the door to the spiritual life when other doors closed to me. My girlfriend was active in a fundamentalist Baptist church. The role of women and the attitude toward women that she accepted offended my common sense even before it contradicted my biblical understanding. At our United Methodist church, women chaired committees and taught from the pulpit, and I could not imagine belonging to a community that excluded women. Later, a classmate committed suicide. Hundreds of students attended the funeral in a fundamentalist church where the pastor spoke about how we should all feel happy because Martin was in a better place. He told us not to cry, because God has a reason for everything he does. He suggested that Martin had done things that caused God to do this. The image of a punitive God that causes suffering and the inability of the pastor to address the real grief in the room made me cringe. The experience sent me back to my pastor. If this was Christianity, I wanted no part of it. A month later, Martin’s father killed himself.
There were branches of the Christian family that surrounded me as a teenager that were militantly anti-science and anti-intellectual, and that forced people to choose between the Bible and evolution as if these were fundamentally incompatible. I could not have followed Christ if it meant giving up my intellectual curiosity.
There were branches that were perfunctory in their liturgy, void of music and song, and entirely intellectual in their approaches, and the emptiness left me cold. Some of my friends were strict Nazarenes, and they could not go to movies, watch TV, or attend plays. Their isolation from society would not reach me.
There were denominational families that prohibited birth control, and these made no sense to me. And there were churches that railed against gays and lesbians in hateful and hurtful ways, and I could not belong to a community like that.
There are many theological disagreements and clashing perspectives in The United Methodist Church about homosexuality, but I’m glad to belong to a church that does not avoid the hard conversations and the complex issues. Sincere people of faith strongly disagree, but I’m glad we say that homosexuals are people of sacred worth, loved by God like every person on earth.
United Methodism’s theology of grace, varieties of worship, emphasis on inner holiness and social witness, global vision, hymnody, our ability to hold together head and heart, our respect for women and men, our openness to people of all nations and ethnicities, our vision to transform the world through audacious projects like Imagine No Malaria—these form an expression of Christianity, a way of following Jesus, that can reach people that no other faith expression is able to reach. I’m not saying our approach is better than all the others; I’m merely suggesting that people respond to the truth of Christ through our expression of faith who cannot respond to other expressions. This form of faith and practice reached me, and without The United Methodist Church I suspect I would never have become a Christian.
The goal of the Call to Action is not to save the denomination or the institutions of the church. I’m offended by people who accuse me and others involved in this work of merely working for institutional survival. I have poured thirty years into the work of ministry in Christ’s name, and I have not done this to maintain an institution.
The reason I pour myself into the ministry and into leading the church comes from a deep-rooted place inside. It is grounded in the grace I have experienced, an initiating love that sought and found me through countless people who brought me God’s unconditional love. This desire to share God’s grace is God-given and sacred.
From the depths of my soul, I desire for people to love and be loved, to experience a sense of purpose from serving others, and to believe that their lives matter. I want people to feel immersed in community, surrounded and sustained. I genuinely desire for them to discover the inner life, and to learn to ease the suffering that comes with empty strivings. I want them to discover that love is the better way, and that the ultimate expression of love can be discovered in Christ. The spiritual life changes us, and through us God’s Spirit changes the lives of those around us. Patterns of violence and injustice can be interrupted, loneliness can be overcome and suffering relieved, and there is a depth to life that is sacred and worthy of cultivation.
Methodism began as a way of life, and this way of life, deep-rooted in our theology and practice, is worthy of fostering, not for our sake, but for the love of God in Christ. There are people who can receive this love in the form we offer it who otherwise would never be able to do so.
As members we all are the United Methodist Church. As those attending the services each week, we are reminded by the Bishop’s personal story that our faith is meant to be shared, that the denomination is a tool to carry out the Great Commission, and the frustrations we have with the polity of the church can be challenged and a change can be made.
We do not know the outcome of the votes from General Conference yet as there is still one more week of the meeting. We must wait for news, but in the meantime consider what Wesley would tell us to do. We are to pray. Pray as you do, but for this week and again as we prepare for Annual Conference in June, pray for our denomination itself. Pray that God leads us to the best solution possible. Pray that our church moves forward accepting the changes needed to complete the commission we have been given. And, do what Wesley would do—remain with his small group, read the Bible, pray, and do all that you can do for all those you can in any way that you can.
Dear Holy Father, Son and the Holy Spirit,
Our church is facing tough decisions.
Please be with our leaders as they struggle to reach common ground.
Keep first and foremost in their mind Christ’s final words to his disciples.
As the General Conference closes, keep all delegates safe as they return.
As the delegates return, let them come home united in the mission.
Keep the delegates focused on making disciples and the ministries.
When Annual Conferences begin their meetings around this globe,
guide the leaders in sharing the news and explaining any decisions.
Equip the leaders and the Annual Conference delegates with grace
so that the faithful can truly bring disciples to Christ
and transform the world. –Amen