given on Sunday, June 14, 2015
Annual Conference is over. In many churches, the pastor will be absent because in two weeks, they have to have their homes packed, move to a new spot in Missouri, and unpack into a new house. On top of that, they have to prepare that first, all-so-important sermon for the new church.
Fortunately, many are continuing in their current assignment, so they have planning in order to continue their ministry. Each pastor steps into an assignment with goals, and the outcome(s) is/are reflected in the church’s legacy. Ultimately the legacy should align to the Great Commission, which is to make believers in Christ for the transformation of the world.
So here I am. I did quite a bit of thinking during annual conference. I kept thinking about what we have done, what we have not done; what goals did I have and whether they were well communicated. I even wondered if I should review all seven years of notes and sermons. What I found was one conclusion that echoed in my head—I have gone soft!
When I introduced the Matthew West song, Do Something, I felt I had found a key to trigger an action. And action in the form of serving or in intentional faith development or working together in a ministry is how churches create their legacy.
Of course, a legacy is not the goal. Legacy is often a term used when something comes to an end, but legacy is also a record of what has been done. The concern at this point is just what way does the church see the term legacy. Is the church’s ministry over or is it ongoing?
If we see no forward movement, then are we serving God? If we see promise and are working to do more, then we are doing something. The legacy we are creating is either an epitaph or a catalog of on-going ministries that demonstrates God in action.
Annual conference’s theme for 2015-16 is “Discipleship: Growing in Grace.” The call, or maybe cry, is that churches focus on outward ministry rather than inward. Churches that see ways to serve outside the church are the churches currently seeing the most growth.
Methods are presented, examples shared, and suggestions are made for how churches can develop discipleship. Intentional faith development is so important for the individual discipleship; but church discipleship grows when the local church becomes engaged in ministries within the local area, in an outreach mission, or work on a global initiative.
God called each and every one of us to discipleship. He wants us to see the world through God’s eyes. He does not want us to hand over the responsibility to someone else; he needs us to remember that our discipleship is needed right here, right now. It takes personal discipleship to move the local church into discipleship.
The lectionary reading from Mark includes two proverbs that provide guidance with this practice. The first parable is the growing seed,
26 Jesus also said, “The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, while he’s asleep or awake, the seed sprouts and grows, but he does not understand how it happens. 28 The earth produces the crops on its own. First a leaf blade pushes through, then the heads of wheat are formed, and finally the grain ripens. 29 And as soon as the grain is ready, the farmer comes and harvests it with a sickle, for the harvest time has come.”
Understanding the parable is developing personal discipleship. Read, study, pray and discuss with others the meaning of the parable is the same way that Jesus taught the earliest disciples. For those of us in a rural area, the seed analogy is much easier to understand than many other ones.
Moving the lesson into outward action within the community or as the reason to involve the local church in other mission fields shows how personal discipleship turns into action for the benefit of others.
Just imagine if the Clean Water for Haiti initiative is felt to be so personal that giving a dollar a week to that fund can turn into four individuals with clean water for a full year. Multiply that amount by four more families, and the size of the initiative begins to grow exponentially—more funds, better buying power, more lives affected.
That is what happened with the mosquito net initiative. The overwhelming response has led now to preventive measures and research funding. The Missouri Methodists demonstrated discipleship at a conference level, but it took personal discipleship that pushed local churches to turn to outward ministry an ocean away.
Did I go soft over the past few years in the effort to improve personal and local discipleship? I think I did, and I apologize. The truth is that I have not taken pastoral authority as full time pastors tend to do. I wanted to honor your church, your ownership of the church; but the church that is focused on Sunday worship only, will find its legacy is an epitaph.
Taking pastoral authority means being honest. Over the past seven years, a variety of ideas were offered, but few could survive the trial run partly due to a lack of honest communication or commitment. The first stumbling block was scheduling, the second was vocational, the third was location, and finally low involvement.
During conference one presenter was from the conference office in Ohio. Rev. Sue Nilson Kibbey authored the book Ultimately Responsible that introduces the “breakthrough prayer initiative.” Her presentation was compelling, and I found myself wanting to race back to church and begin implementing the techniques immediately. But, I cannot do it alone.
Taking pastoral authority, I could use the book as a sermon series; but that does not allow members to become involved in the initiative. Also, jumping into the process without proper training could lead to failure.
Using the book as a study to intentionally develop one’s faith is the goal. Are you committed enough to join such a study? Are you willing to make the time investment? Are you flexible enough to work with others to find the right time and place to meet because the breakthrough prayer initiative is worth it?
The small rural churches are struggling in a world that has changed dramatically since they opened their doors. No one thinks a thing about driving an hour to the city for shopping or entertainment. The rural church was established because the distance had to be short enough for the different modes of transportation. The rural church often became the family church. Now the family is spread throughout the county, the state, the country, why even around the globe. The reason to maintain a small rural church depends on whether or not it is actively ministering to its community.
The small rural church must provide for the needs of those in the near vinicity, but it can also reach out to others who find that the Holy Spirit is alive in the church and meets their spiritual needs. Prayer and outward-focused ministries will fill the church with the Holy Spirit and a church on fire with the Holy Spirit will continue to create a catalog of its legacy and not an epitaph.
I went soft as a pastor, and now I must implement pastoral authority in an effort to improve personal discipleship, to develop more outwardly active ministries. The Holy Spirit is within each and every believer, but we must listen for God, we must talk with God, and we must act to grow in discipleship. Are you willing to grow with me? Let’s do something!
Oh, Father, Son & Holy Spirit,
Thank you for opportunities to be in worship together.
Thank you for listening to us even when we complain.
Thank you for speaking to us through your Spirit.
As we look around our church, outside of the doors,
Show us what you want us to do here and beyond.
As we consider discipleship as a believer and as a church,
Teach us all the ways we can grow in grace.
Open our hearts and our minds to ministries
You call us to do with the gifts you have given us.
We know we must do something now
To assure family, friends, neighbors and more
Life everlasting through Christ, our savior. –Amen