Tag Archives: ministry

Knowing who we are; Knowing what we can do; Knowing where we need to go.


Two articles came across the web this week that address the difficulties a small church faces in serving the surrounding community.

In the article, “What Is Your Signature Ministry?” the point was made that a small church should identify what its ministry is:

     “Often churches try to do too many things, being all things      to all people without doing any ministry with excellence. Churches are filled with good people who are full of the best intentions. It is through those good intentions that we sometimes trip ourselves up. Small churches try to do too many things for too many different people.”

Any decision about what the church does must be based on honestly knowing what the members are capable of doing and doing well.

The article makes a difference between a good idea and a godly idea:

“A good idea comes from someone’s brain, and there are a lot of good ideas out there. A godly idea always comes with a leader and servants attached. If there are no leaders or workers, the idea is not yet in God’s time.”

The definition of a godly idea can guide the decisions that need to be made. Katon and Schroeder, authors of the book Small Church Check Up, say:

     It is ironic that many of our new larger churches have   discovered the magic of doing one or two things really well. Many of our other churches (often, declining churches) are still trying to be everything to everybody. Vital, small churches do one or two things really well and are known for them in the community.

In our efforts to be the best small church we can, identifying our “signature” ministry is essential. That does not mean we give up what we try to do, it simply means trying to identify what we do best.

The second article that provides advice that is related was “This Lent, Don’t Give Up Your Neighborhood.” Rebekah Simon-Peter posted this article that was published through the UM News Digest.

Simon-Peter does not reference small rural churches, but she does make a point that should help identify a ministry the church can meet. She writes,

     “The church is nothing without neighbors. We don’t exist in a vacuum. We’re all about community. The community that is calling you now is right outside your door. Not across the world.”

     She goes on to explain how in the movie Sister Act, when the nuns stepped outside the door of their gated building, their focus changed.

Undoubtedly we are not in a large urban setting, but the church does sit in a community and whatever ministry the church does, needs to be connected to the community.

Any decision about the ministry of the church needs to include an open, honest discussion about who we are, what we can do, and what we need to do for our community.

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What happens when a church member is added to another church member?

given on Sunday, August 28, 2016


Scripture connection: Hebrews 13:1-3, NLT

Keep on loving each other as brothers and sisters.[a] Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it! Remember those in prison, as if you were there yourself. Remember also those being mistreated, as if you felt their pain in your own bodies.



One plus one makes two. Right? Certainly that is basic math. Even multiplying one by one is a basic rule that does not change. But then start adding more and more to the formula. What happens then? The results actually can become staggering because when numbers are added together, the outcome continues to grow.

With that fact proven, one can easily wonder what happens when one church member is added with another church member. Suddenly there are two church members standing there side by side. Two church members may not seem very notable, but remember what Jesus said:

For where two or three gather together as my followers,[h] I am there among them.” [Matthew 18:20, NLT]

Now caution, that verse is one small verse out of the entire Bible, but the context does help answer the question about what happens when one church member is added to other church member(s). The verse comes at the end of the parable about correcting another believer. Jesus explains the process of how to correct another within the church. He tells them on the second attempt to take two or three as witnesses adding:

17 If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector.

18 “I tell you the truth, whatever you forbid[f] on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit[g] on earth will be permitted in heaven.

19 “I also tell you this: If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. 20 For where two or three gather together as my followers,[h] I am there among them.”

Sometimes there is a need for one or more church members to be together, but the times two or more are ‘gathered together’ do not have to be for punitive purposes. When one church member is added to another one, the first step develops fellowship.

In today’s culture, finding those who have compatible values and beliefs is challenging. Stepping into a church that welcomes visitors whether strangers or not, is often the most crucial time to add one church member to another. Those first time visitors may be seeking others who believe the same as they do or they may be seeking to find answers they cannot find among those they work and/or play with in their community.

The value of creating a welcoming, hospitable environment in our churches provides those stepping inside the church door for the first time a sense of comfort. That same welcoming attitude can be carried outside the church doors, too, as invitations to family, friends, and neighbors, even strangers. What we find inside the church is so valuable that we want others to find it to.

Therefore, each time the doors to the church are open, others are invited inside. Church members know that God provides unconditional love and forgiveness for lives filled with challenges. When one church member joins other church members modeling those qualities, then others will come seeking that same sense of love and forgiveness–church members are the first evidence of what God provides. Christian fellowship among the believers can lead to even richer lives.

How does adding one church member to another church member go beyond fellowship? Curiosity or a desire to understand even more about God and living a Christ-centered life triggers church members to join in small groups for study or to seek practices more Christ-like behaviors.

When church members join together to learn more, their spiritual journey develops. The practice of meeting in small groups develops more strength in one’s faith. The small group becomes a covenant group that supports one another when life throws some unexpected obstacles or challenges into our lives. Certainly Bible study is an element of the small groups, but the design of the group can be as unique as the members who have developed a comfortable fellowship among themselves.

One church member who enjoys a personal hobby such as fly fishing or knitting can meet together to learn more or to share their experiences in a Christ-centered setting. Maybe standing in waders casting dry flies becomes a special prayer time when the group shares prayer concerns. Knitting groups often meet together to create prayer shawls or cancer caps while praying, studying, and sharing faith stories.

Fellowship may open the door to practices that enrich one’s life in a range of ways, but the small groups that develop within a church community also spearhead ministries that meet the needs of others beyond the immediate church congregation. The ministries that develop when church members join together can serve so many others in unexpected ways; God’s reach knows no boundaries.

This week alone, the Iowa and Missouri Methodist conferences have sent 1,400 flood buckets to Louisiana to aid in the cleanup of the record floods of the past month. These buckets were first provided by UMCOR when flooding hit these two states, but now they are needed in Louisiana, which is where the headquarters of UMCOR is located.

The Festival of Sharing is another example of how adding church members together, even other congregations and denominations, can provide ministry not only locally in our own state, but globally. The needs of people are evident nightly on the news. Yet one church member acting alone cannot possibly be as effective as when two or three or more add their efforts together.

When two or more are working together with the power of the Holy Spirit, the results grow exponentially. God is present when one church member is added to another developing fellowship that when enriched through study and growth in small groups leads to God’s ministry around this world.

Maybe one might not think it is possible for this to happen right here in our own community. It does happen and this past week we witnessed it once again. The process started a while back, but the outcome continues to be the same.

Tragedy hit one of our own members. The outpouring of love and concern has been tremendous. The fellowship of members reached out first in prayer and then in body to do whatever could be done. This week’s need was personal, but the power of church members working together is part of this community’s purpose to serve one another in unconditional love.

No special training is needed to serve one another, but one thing is needed—God. As we begin a new week filled with challenges, especially annual ones like the fair, we must add our efforts together with one purpose, one mind-set, and God will fill us with the Holy Spirit in ways we cannot plan ourselves. Add your Christ-like self to others and just see what exceptional results occur.

Closing prayer:

Dear all-knowing, all-loving and all-forgiving Father,

Each one of us has stood alone without Christian fellowship.

Thank you for inviting us to be part of your congregation.

As we discover the wonder of unconditional love and forgiveness,

Guide us to join with one another demonstrating those same qualities.

As we ban together in Christian fellowship here in our own community,

May we discover the blessings of serving others in love, too.

As we continue to learn and to grow in Christ-like ways,

Use us to help others in all the ways that you can.

May we reach out to others seeking Christian fellowship, too,

Guide us in finding ways to help develop one another’s faith,

And spark new ideas of ministry to others here and there. –Amen


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Lydia said yes; so, Mother, may I?

given on Sunday, May 8, 2016–7th Sunday of Easter and Mothers’ Day

 Scripture connection: Acts 16:13-15, NLT

On the Sabbath we went a little way outside the city to a riverbank, where we thought people would be meeting for prayer, and we sat down to speak with some women who had gathered there. 14 One of them was Lydia from Thyatira, a merchant of expensive purple cloth, who worshiped God. As she listened to us, the Lord opened her heart, and she accepted what Paul was saying. 15 She and her household were baptized, and she asked us to be her guests. “If you agree that I am a true believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my home.” And she urged us until we agreed.


Just three verses share the story of Lydia, so why is Lydia even mentioned? Well, Lydia said yes to God. Lydia defied the social and cultural norms, yet she extended hospitality to Paul and Silas as they boldly crossed a cultural boundary:

Next Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit had prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia at that time. Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed north for the province of Bithynia,[b] but again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there. So instead, they went on through Mysia to the seaport of Troas.

That night Paul had a vision: A man from Macedonia in northern Greece was standing there, pleading with him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” 10 So we[c] decided to leave for Macedonia at once, having concluded that God was calling us to preach the Good News there.

The communities listed in these verses are unfamiliar to us sitting here in west central Missouri, but remember that the ancient region is geographically about the size of Missouri. Traveling on foot, the two disciples depended on the hospitality of the local faithful. In the Jewish culture, the men typically made decisions; but Paul and Silas crossed the border into Macedonia, a Greek culture not a Jewish culture, and there was no Jewish temple and it was the Sabbath. What were they to do?

These two Jewish men had already accepted Jesus as their savior and were called to share the message with others. The trip to Macedonia was the second mission trip, but this trip crossed into Macedonia, a European country rather than Asian. This fact might not seem significant, but Luke did and included it.

Lydia said yes to God and demonstrated hospitality to the two weary missionaries. The importance of Lydia’s invitation is detailed in the study notes and accredits Lydia as the first European Christian. Lydia said yes to God. Do we?

How many times do we get an idea to do something that may seem a bit out of the norm? Maybe it is just something we want to do for ourselves, but we cannot let go of the idea. As kids, we often turned to our mothers with the question “Mother, may I. . . “

Mothers are our first teachers. We depend on them for the most basic needs of food, clothing and shelter. We turn to them when we fall and hurt ourselves. We learn right and wrong. Mothers guide us and test us preparing us for independent life. As we grow up and become independent, our mothers’ words echo through our minds as we make life decisions. Sometimes we call and reconnect, even asking, “Mother, may I . . .

Lydia is a mother of Christianity. She said yes to God’s call and continued life as a successful businessperson. She made her living manufacturing and selling purple cloth. Today that may not sound impressive, but during ancient times this was an elite product and catered to those with money. Lydia was atypical to the Jewish culture and made her decisions independently. Lydia was a leader in the community and she said yes to God.

Do you say yes to God? Does our church say yes to God? Successful businesses find ways to meet customer needs and tweak their advertising, their product, and their service in an effort to assure success. Lydia did this in her business and she did it as a Christian, too. Saying yes to God comes naturally even in unexpected settings and through unexpected experiences.

Paul and Silas did not expect to find Lydia when they crossed the border. Yet, they followed God’s call to share the message in ways that were new and unfamiliar. Like Lydia, Paul and Silas said yes to God. Do we say yes to God?

What called you to church this morning? Maybe attending church started because Mom made you go. Do you know your mom’s faith story? Maybe the key was your dad’s or a friend’s faith story? Something called you to church and you said yes.

When did God call you to church? Did God’s call to you begin simply because you went to your parents’ church, or did your faith journey begin differently? What invited you to open the church doors and step in? Something made you say yes to God.

There really is no difference in the story of Lydia and our very own story. God wants to be in our lives, we just have to say yes. Whether we were first brought to church by our moms and dads, the Holy Spirit has asked us to stay and we said yes. As a church, are we asking others to say yes to God?

Christians are called to service and summer is here. Let’s make this a “summer of service” in as many ways as possible. Of course there is Sunday’s worship service, but review the worship of our ancestors and how worship has changed over the centuries. What invites today’s generation to church?

Service has so many different faces. There is worship service, but there is the hands-on form of service. What is the history of the church’s service? Has it changed? Of course it has changed. One surprise I learned recently is how the church of my grandparents became the origin of the Women’s Temperance League. I had learned that my own grandmother was actively involved in this movement, but I did not know the purpose of the league until Rev. Jeremy Bassett explained it.

The temperance league began as a social movement against alcoholism. The mothers fought for prohibition because alcoholism in the household was leading to physical abuse of fathers toward their children. Included in the movement was the drive to establish kindergarten in an effort to get kids out of the house where the abuse was happening.

This new knowledge changed the paradigm of my own history. I talked to my aunt and asked her about this. She remembered when Grandma would host the temperance league in her house. I asked if alcoholism had been a problem within the family that was pure German. My aunt was not sure, but when I shared what I had learned and that I was always curious how a German family culturally never consumed beer or any alcohol. She mused and considered that there might be some rationale in that, but she was not sure.

The “summer of service” may not mean establishing a temperance league, but it means identifying a problem and looking for a solution. In our community, the children are asking, “Mother, may I . . .” and the answer needs to be “Sure you can go to church.”

Let’s keep the focus on the needs of our children and the community. When someone arrives at our door, lets invite them in much like Lydia invited Paul and Silas to join in worship. There was no Jewish temple, but Lydia was the mother of Christianity and she invited these two Jewish, Asian missionaries to join her in worship. She said yes to God and her hospitality opened the European borders to Christianity; and from there it has grown into the global religion it is today.

Mother Lydia, may we follow your example? It is time for us to serve one another in God’s name. It is summer time and we are called to serve. How we serve may be as simple as opening the door during the week and being present. Movie nights for the community youth are examples of hospitality and serving. The Chilhowee Fair concession is hospitality and serving, too.

God is calling us to serve one another in love. If God calls you to serve in one fashion or another, just say yes. The church is available. Just say yes if God asks you to serve. If you need a team, ask. If funding is a problem, ask. The money for a ministry may have to have the council’s approval; but if not, just say yes to God. Make this summer one of service.

Closing prayer:

Dear God,

Summer is approaching and school will be out.

People will be on the move day in and day out.

Sometimes it is difficult to see how to serve,

But you call us to serve.


Help us to hear your call as Paul and Silas did.

Help us to find ways to serve in today’s world.

Help us to follow Lydia’s example of hospitality.

Help us answer those cries, “Mother, may I?”


Guide us in learning how to serve.

Guide us in identifying issues needing us.

Guide us in working together in your name.

Guide us in sharing your love.


Thank you for Lydia serving with hospitality.

Thank you for moms faithfully teaching us.

Thank you for calling us into your service.

Thank you for a summer to serve others with love. –Amen


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I Feel Like Celebrating

given on Sunday, June 28

June is ending and July looms ahead and kicks off with a holiday—the Fourth of July. Summer is here, vacations are planned, and I feel like celebrating.

The question, though, is what would I be celebrating. And who has ever heard of celebrating as part of a worship service. Well, one thing I have long known is that in all our human experiences, there are times that we need to celebrate.

Therefore, today I am going to celebrate even though the reason may seem elusive. There is no birthday to celebrate, no major event, but in my experience I have passed a milestone that I want to celebrate.

This Sunday marks the end of seven years as a pastor. This same Sunday marks the beginning of the eighth year, right here in the same charge. I am not one who is moving from one appointment to another. I am blessed to be able to stay and continue in the work God has asked me to do.

There is more to this need to celebrate, because seven years has long been a goal for me. My history is no secret. I grew up as farmer’s daughter in a rural community living among my dad’s relatives. Mom was a faith leader, especially after I left for college, and she had insisted that we attend church in town rather than at the family church only about three miles away. The church in town was eight miles away.

Decisions like that were radical in the 1950s, but it is a decision I believe was instrumental in my faith development. In town, the church was active and offered more opportunities to be involved than the rural church. There were Sunday school classes with kids from town that I would not have known until high school. There were choirs for every age.

And as a high schooler, there were even more—camping trips and outreach activities. Maybe there were not as many opportunities as in metropolitan areas, but certainly more than most rural.

My faith journey could easily have gone the wrong way, but instead I grew up in a community of strong, faith-based Christians—Methodists, United Methodists after 1968. The models included a wide range of businessmen, professionals, farmers, workers, and ministers.

The turn over in ministers was something I never really could understand. Our family would connect with a pastor, and then after a few years, he would be re-assigned.

I became aware of a significant number and that number was seven. Seldom did a pastor every stay more than 3-5 years, and if they were in our pulpit for seven years, you knew he would be appointed elsewhere rather than stay for the eighth year.

Serving even years in one church developed in my thinking that no pastor could stay longer than seven years even if he was doing everything he was expected to do. This also lead me to believe that if a minister stayed seven years, he had to leave before he became too attached to the congregation.

Today ends seven years, and I feel like celebrating! Of course I know much more about the complex decision process of appointing pastors, but I do not care. I am continuing right here for the next year, number eight.

Beginning ministry so late in life may seem out of the ordinary and a bit surprising. I have had the opportunity to try two other careers—local journalism and education. Yet every year, I dealt with constant challenges either to my ethics or to my pull for something else I could not identify.

The pull, for lack of any better word, just would not let go. The days and years flew past me, but The Pull never seemed far away. Never did I think that God was calling me into ministry, but I knew there was something else God had in mind. I just figured that it was a different career.

How many times have you felt The Pull to do something but simply could not put it into words? I think this is common for many of us. There is always something else on the edge of our mind or a dream that seems to recur over and over again.

We get really good at ignoring God’s talking to us. We want to have a one-on-one conversation with him, and know that it is God right there with us. Unfortunately, there is no one-on-one conversation like that. God does not physically show himself to us, sit down in a chair, and say, “Susan, I want you to be a pastor.”

When God talks to us, he whispers. He sends an emissary like a best friend or an acquaintance who pushes you to think about something different. You can be driving the car or riding a bike, and a sudden thought interrupts you. God does talk to us.

Part of my celebration today is that I finally heard God’s call. I have a pastor to thank who simply asked why I had not gone into ministry. I have a family who has supported the decision to add this into our lives. And, I discovered that God has been waiting ever so patiently for me to hear him.

Yet, what does this mean today? That is tough. God’s work is never done—a cliché as we hear it so often. Yet it is not done. I could celebrate the acknowledgement that we have a grant to implement technology into Community UMC, but it will take planning, realigning some practices and work to get it done.

Another celebration could be for an endowment that came the same week that provides the matching funds. The receipt is a gift, but the truth is it came at a loss. Can we celebrate such a gift? Yes, especially if the gift goes toward improving the church’s ministry.

Our hymn today, This Is a Day for New Beginnings, was new to us a few years ago, but you risked learning it. The words provide us with the guidance we need as year eight begins:

This is a day of new beginnings,

Time to remember and move on,

Time to believe what love is bringing,

Laying to rest the pain that’s gone.

What history has recorded of this church is not necessarily what this church is now. Neither is history going to define the future of the church. One more hurrah for the past, but then we must move on.

The third verse of the hymn is our future:

Then let us, with the Spirit’s daring,

Step from the past and leave behind

Our disappointment, guilt, and grieving,

Seeking new paths, and sure to find.

Looking toward the future keeps hope alive. More importantly, as Christians we have a responsibility to keep God’s story alive. A hundred years ago, who would have thought we would use telephones. Fifty years ago, televisions entered into our living rooms. And in the last 25 years, the Internet has connected all communities so neighbors are as close the opposite side of the globe as they are next door.

The fourth verse provides the reasoning we celebrate today yet keep our Christian faith focused on ministry to all:

Christ is a live, and goes before us

To show and share what love can do.

This is a day of new beginnings,

Our God is making all things new.

Join in my celebration of ministry. Let’s look to the future and find the best ways we can to keep God’s message growing in our community. God is talking to us. Are we listening, and are we acting on what he tells us?

Let’s shut the door on seven years and look ahead. I am making a transition and we all need to be working together to see that the future is God-filled and our lives are God-centered.

Closing prayer

Dear loving God,

Thank you for the patience you have shown

as the years have moved quickly past.

Thank you for never giving up on us

to hear you guide us in ministry to your world.

Thank you, too, for the rich heritage of these churches

who have guided generations along faith journeys.

Now, Lord, guide us in decisions to minister

to the new generations in a changing community.

Whisper into our hearts the ways to tell the story,

to minister to the poor, the lonely, and the hurting.

Lead us in celebrating our own faith journeys

and those who are meeting you for the first time.

Keep the past in the past.

Open today’s hearts, minds and hand.

Welcome the future.

Let’s celebrate Christ in our lives.     –Amen

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Let’s do something: Let’s build a legacy

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!

Closing prayer

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

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Oktoberfest: Christians’ Global Grapevine

Sunday, October 5, 2014–a set of scriptures and thoughts concerning World Communion Sunday

The structure of this reflection is different as it was presented in sections while conducting the Service of the Word and Table I from the United Methodist Hymnal.

Isaiah 5:1-7 (NLT): A Song about the Lord’s Vineyard

5 Now I will sing for the one I love
a song about his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a rich and fertile hill.
He plowed the land, cleared its stones,
and planted it with the best vines.
In the middle he built a watchtower
and carved a winepress in the nearby rocks.
Then he waited for a harvest of sweet grapes,
but the grapes that grew were bitter.

Now, you people of Jerusalem and Judah,
you judge between me and my vineyard.
What more could I have done for my vineyard
that I have not already done?
When I expected sweet grapes,
why did my vineyard give me bitter grapes?

Now let me tell you
what I will do to my vineyard:
I will tear down its hedges
and let it be destroyed.
I will break down its walls
and let the animals trample it.
I will make it a wild place
where the vines are not pruned and the ground is not hoed,
a place overgrown with briers and thorns.
I will command the clouds
to drop no rain on it.

The nation of Israel is the vineyard of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
The people of Judah are his pleasant garden.
He expected a crop of justice,
but instead he found oppression.
He expected to find righteousness,
but instead he heard cries of violence.


[First thoughts to be read after Old Testament reading, Isaiah 5:1-7.]

Oktoberfest is here! Granted most of us are thinking Blue October since the Royals are in the battle for a World Series birth, but the other blue of October can be found in grape juices being pressed from the vines in wine country.

Growing up about 30 miles north of Herman, Missouri, and Oktoberfest was a huge event. No one could ignore the fact that the grapes were being harvested and it was time to celebrate. Still, only this weekend did my thoughts turn to how World Communion Sunday can be directly connected to Oktoberfest through the grapevine.

Consider these ideas:

  • Missouri’s connection to the wine industry is the German heritage of the immigrants who moved in along the Missouri River.
  • Grapes have been harvested forever and even the ancient tribes of Israel knew that grapes made wine.
  • Grapes are grown around the globe. Think of the labels we find in our own grocery stores of the grapes from Chile and Peru can outnumber those grown within the United States.
  • Grapes grow as native plants, but also can be a carefully cultivated, introducing stock from other regions with different flavor characteristics.


A more thorough study of the grape industry could add many more facts and figures to show how the grapevine is a common plant and food source familiar in households around the globe. The familiarity of people to the grapevine makes the scripture references a unifying symbol for explaining Christianity regardless of the cultural and language differences around this world.

[Break for mission moment and offering.]

Back to Oktoberfest! The first Sunday in October is the international, the world-wide day to celebrate communion everywhere the Christian community comes together. There may not be any rides or vendors or fireworks or concerts in our churches, but every church in every denomination in every location around this globe joins together for communion. The mental picture creates an image of people standing side-by-side though they were the fruit of a grapevine wrapping around the world.

God’s vision is a world filled with people in peace and in harmony standing side by side. The goal of worldwide peace may seem impossible, but we come close on World Communion Sunday. When you realize that each church regardless of denomination or location is participating in the very same practice of faith, you can sense the connectedness of fruit on a vine.

The Church, all denominations, follows Jesus’ teachings of caring for one another. The mission efforts of The Church does not see a division in people, it sees the face of God in all people. Today’s worldwide communion can remind us that we are to reach out to all who have needs. John Wesley’s efforts to go out into the community to minister to whatever need there was in any way that he could put God’s compassion into action. Faith is for everybody, everywhere. Faith is worldwide.

[After offering and before Thanksgiving & Communion.]

John 15:1-17 (NLT): Jesus, the True Vine

15 “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.

“I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. 10 When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. 11 I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! 12 This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. 13 There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. 16 You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. 17 This is my command: Love each other.

[After reading the Gospel scripture: John 15:1-17.]

Today’s scripture from John 15 is a follow-up explanation for the Old Testament scripture. Jesus is teaching the Apostles the significance of the grapevine as a symbol. For the agrarian culture, even the typical household where wine was used with the meals, the grapevine was real. The Apostles and others understood the methods of pruning the vine to maintain the strongest plant and the best production. The grapevine’s fruit production depends on how well it is maintained.

The message that Jesus was sharing is timeless. The symbol of the grapevine is so common that even today we understand the lesson’s meaning, too. Studying this passage, the obvious meanings stand out, but there are more complex meanings that begin to surface.

One of the more obvious explanations is that found in verses 2-3:

He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you.


The value of pruning is a key to this explanation, but a deeper reading of the symbolism points out that there are two forms of pruning—separating and cutting back branches. Study notes connect the physical action into the spiritual lesson:

Fruitful branches are cut back to promote growth. In other words, God must sometimes discipline us to strengthen our character and faith. But branches that don’t bear fruit are cut off at the trunk because not only are they worthless, but the often infect the rest of the tree. People who won’t bear fruit for God or who try to block the efforts of God’s followers will be cut off from his life-giving power. (Life Applications Study Bible)


Pruning the grapevine branches is much easier than cutting it completely back. The significance of the lesson is one most do not want to hear, but it is a truth anyone anywhere in the world can understand when they are familiar with sound agricultural practices.


[Continue with the hymn, “Be Present at Our Table,” Lord, UHM 621.]

Now Oktoberfest has expanded to mean much more than just a celebration of the grape harvest. October harvest includes apples, pumpkins, corn, beans, even turnips all filling pantries, grain bins, and cellars. The lesson Jesus bases on the grapevine is not limited to one type of fruit. Digging deeper into the scripture, another surprise appeared from verse 5 & 7:

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.

. . . . But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted!


A literal reading od the scripture keeps one thinking the discussion is centered on grapevines and the abundance of the grape harvest; yet reading and studying for a fuller understanding yields even more:

Fruit is not limited to soulwinning. In this chapter, answered prayer, joy, and love are mentioned as fruit (15:7, 11, 12). Galatians 5:22-24 and 2Peter 1:5-8 describe additional fruit: qualities of Christian character. (Life Application Study Bible).


Harvesting a deeper understanding from scripture takes commitment. The grapevine of Christianity is carefully cultivated, pruned, and cut back by reading the scripture. Maybe October is when we should re-commit ourselves to learning more, doing more, sharing more with each other so the harvest does continue to improve. And, yes, the harvest does mean the growth of Christianity not only here among our peers, but beyond our own comfortable fields.

Studying the scripture and prayer are methods of cultivating Christianity. As we join at the table with the bread and the cup, we remember the words Jesus taught us in the Lord’s Prayer. We remember the words he spoke to the masses along the roads and the hillsides of ancient Israel. We remember the practices of healing and teaching that he demonstrated so that his Apostles and the earliest disciples or followers could carry God’s grace and love forward.

As Christians gather at the table today, we use the same words of the Great Thanksgiving. We may not speak the same language, but the Holy Spirit fills us up as we hear the words and experience unity of the grapevine. So, welcome to Oktoberfest. We celebrate with fellow Christians using the ancient ritual of communion.

[Resume the liturgy of the Great Thanksgiving, the breaking of the bread and the giving of the bread and cup. Follow with the hymn, ”You Satisfy the Hungry Heart,” UMH 629]


With all the grace and love that God has given us, may we follow what he teaches us. Join in Oktoberfest and invite others too. May you experience just a portion of the excitement God feels when we celebrate harvesting for God.

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