Offer Them ChristPosted: February 23, 2013 Filed under: Bishop's Blog 23 Comments
These words, from Father John Wesley, came to mind last week as the Area Strategic Mapping Team continued its work with Gil Rendle, our consultant with the Texas Methodist Foundation.
We continue to seek God’s wisdom regarding our vision and our mission for the Nashville Area and specifically the Tennessee and Memphis Conferences.
We have a rich heritage across the two conferences. For over 200 years now, the people called Methodist have been offering Christ to those who live among us. At times we have seen our churches soar and at other times we have struggled. Yet, God continues to give us opportunity to bear witness to the love of Christ in the world. When we remember our Story of who and whose we are, our faithfulness grows deeper.
What we know:
We are not sustainable – Since 1965 we have been losing members. It is my understanding that our era is the first time in history when we have substantial numbers of 5 different generations alive at the same time. A truly healthy church would have all five generations active in some way in its life, but in most of our churches we have only the oldest two or three generations involved. Reaching out to as many as three generations at one time is very challenging.
We are living on a changed mission field and deep change is our only choice.
The task that the Strategic Mapping Team is attempting to articulate and lead us toward is to a new Missional future. The question we are asking and ask of others is this:
Who is our client?
Our client is the mission field.
Our call is to offer Christ to those in our midst—which means coming to an understanding of both mission and evangelism, which are intricately bound together. We are called to Love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and love our neighbor as ourselves. (Luke 10:27)
According to the Call to Action research that was conducted in 2011, there are 33,614 congregations in the United Methodist Church. Of those, 15% are vital (5,042). Applying that ratio to the Tennessee and Memphis Conferences, out of 1,100 congregations, only 165 would be vital. I believe that in our area the percentage is higher. Nonetheless, there is work to be done.
The harsh reality is this: If we do not come to understand in a very profound and deep way that the Mission Field is our client, and we fail to shift our focus, 300-350 congregations in the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences will disappear.
In our work together last week, we affirmed two important truths:
- Nothing sacred but the mission itself.
2. Mission is not a program but a lifestyle – a way of life – a way of living.
The four days the Area Strategic Mapping Team worked together have been productive and clarifying. We raise these questions and ask for your prayerful reflection over the next few months.
1. What do you believe is the primary mission of church?
2. What does your congregation care deeply about?
3. If your congregation disappeared, who would notice?
As we near Annual Conference in June (Memphis, 6/3-5; TN UMC, 6/10-12), we will be inviting you to participate in the conversation. We anticipate that Gil Rendle will be with us for some time of teaching at Annual Conference with regard to the Mission of Church. We do not anticipate any action items to be approved from our Strategic Mapping Team. We do anticipate that we will hear a progress report at annual conference and be informed about next steps.
And may, in this Lenten season, we consider what it means to Offer Christ to a hurting world.
I have to agree with Bill Herndon’s reply that what our beloved Methodist Churches need is prayer and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Jesus gave the disciples a divine promise that has never been rescinded: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses…” (Acts 1:8a). Frankly I’m tired of hearing about your strategic meetings when we have the supernatural power within each of us to be Christ’s witnesses.
Why is prayer, Bible Study and the indwelling Holy Spirit so hard for Methodist to grasp.
Maybe its what we are not hearing from the pulpits. Yes, God is a God of love, but with love comes justice and God must judge our sins. Wake up Church, we have become the luke warm church and must return to our first love.
[…] Offer Them Christ […]
I have been a Methodist for a long, long time (going back to the 50’s in Newlirk, OK). My auditing ministry for churches takes me to a number of different churches – Methodist as well as other denominations. In addition, Kathy and I visit different churches each year. It seems to me that when people leave the Methodist church, they are not turning away from God and the Word – they go to another church. It also seems that most of the time they go to a non-denominational church. The biggest difference I notice is the structure and the emphasis – most UM churches have a 20 minute sermon and 40 minutes of other stuff (announcements, singing, solo performances, choir performances, collection, etc). The format at non-denominationals seems to be the opposite – 20 minutes of congregational singing and 40 minute messages. Are we missing the boat? Are folks wanting more message and less fluff? I think it might be worth thinking about.
Cumberland City is a unique mission field. Two years ago, I noticed the place looked like a “ghost town”. A lot of empty houses, workers from the steam plant coming and going, and some young people who would just “hang out” with no agenda.
The church had a huge gap between the “old faithfuls” and the youth who would come at night. We set aside a night to meet and do nothing but pray. The Holy Spirit began giving us direction about reaching out more to the youth, then their parents, etc. We began seeing people’s lives changed, miraculous healings, and people coming in from nowhere. People started getting excited about opportunities to minister to others, give, and even a food outreach ministry (shared by all the local churches) began. We ask each person that receives food if they would like to have prayer. We haven’t been refused yet, and many opportunities to share Jesus open up. Our attendance has almost tripled… because we “offered them Christ”.
Many people say, “how do you offer Christ to people in our community?” The answer won’t come from a seminar. Start with group prayer and go from there. The Holy Spirit will give direction that is “taylor-made” for the community you live in.
Then remember, “offer” is a verb; we have to go to them.
Thanks, Bob for your witness!
Thank you for sharing the update. I believe you have outlined the exact problem. At what point do churches shift from trying to reach new and younger members? I think the minute they do, they begin the process of being a statistic. The United Methodist message is more relevant today than ever before. In our growingly diverse culture, GRACE and the love of Christ should be the focus. I am encouraged by the work which has already been done and look forward to the discussion continuing with a renewed since of purpose…and a reminder – programming doesn’t save people…Christ does. Offer them Christ!
It is lovely to be challenged! I often think we, the laity, will rise to expectations! I pray we define “mission” to become the real faces of all of God’s children….with a face, a name, a smile…a relationship that embraces the gifts, talents, joys and sufferings each brings to the table. I pray the mission brings inter generational sharing that fosters learning from each generation….the wisdom of older members and the fresh, new outlook from our youth…a personal invitation and relationship that affirms the importance of youth among us and affirms their contributions now…not what they will be when older. What better way to invite them to stay with us for the whole journey! So many “vital” relationships that aren’t easily quantifiable with the metrics of “vital congregations.”
Thank you, indeed!
Brother Mcalilly! I am a fellow Tupeloian, and I graduated with your daughter. I am currently serving in a United Methodist Church in Birmingham. It is great to hear you embracing missional living, which I believe is absent in much of the current teaching in the Methodist Church. I feel like a lot of the denominational leaders are oblivious to the future that awaits the denomination apart from a renewal. The 3 questions you ask are extremely vital! I agree, that at this rate the church can not be sustained. However I do believe that Christ can renew his bride! The current state of the church reminds me of this Wesley quote: “I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist, but I am afraid lest they should exist only as a dead sect having the form of religion without the power. And this will be the case unless they hold fast both to the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.” We must return to the doctrine, spirit, and discipline of true Wesleyan theology! Things like evangelism, discipleship, and mission have to be central. Ultimately its not Methodist congregations that are at stake. Its something far greater…. God’s Glory
Thanks, Ben, for your response!
Thank you Bishop for returning us to the “God” questions! While questions of function and logistics need not be ignored, it is our primary and unique mission as the church and followers of Jesus to raise the “God” questions. Dr. Jim Logan of Wesley Theological Seminary once said, “The best theology is always a dialogue – never a monologue.” Asking the “God” questions invites us into a conversation – a dialogue around faith and life. It enables us to begin to view life, even world events, through biblical and theological spectacles; leading us to the deeper questions and revelations of how God is intimately engaged in the world and in our lives. This, I believe, is what people are hungering for; to know that God exists and an assurance that God chooses to be engaged in our lives in intimate ways. If our desire is to have vital and growing congregations, we as pastors and as followers of Jesus must be willing to invite one another and others into conversations around the “God” questions. It is there where faith is formed and a moral rudder is provided, helping people navigate the waters of a turbulent world. It’s always a good thing when we as pastors and our people are thinking theologically and inviting others not only to join the conversation, but to put our beliefs into action!
Thank you Bishop for returning us to the “God” questions! While questions of function and logistics need not be ignored, it is our primary and unique mission as the church and followers of Jesus to raise the “God” questions. Dr. Jim Logan of Wesley Theological Seminary once said, “The best theology is always a dialogue – never a monologue.” Asking the “God” questions invites us into a conversation – a dialogue around faith and life. It enables us to begin to view life, even world events, through scriptural and theological spectacles; leading us to the deeper questions and revelations of how God is intimately engaged in the world and in our lives. That is what people are hungering for; to know that God exists and an assurance that God chooses to be engaged in our lives in intimate ways. If our desire is to have vital and growing congregations, we as pastors and as followers of Jesus must be willing to invite one another and others into conversations around the “God” questions. It is there where faith is formed and a moral rudder is provided, helping people navigate the waters of a turbulent world. It’s always a good thing when we as pastors and our people are thinking theologically and inviting others not only to join the conversation, but to put our beliefs into action!
During Disciple III class the other night, a class member said that her teenaged daughter had stated recently that she wanted her parents to talk more about God in the home and to her directly. This child was raised in a Christian home. The daughter had developed a friendship with another teen who expressed similar sentiments. Perhaps,instead of filling our children with activities to make them well-rounded individuals, we need to provided them our testimony and time to hear the “still small voice” of The Lord.
We are losing third and fourth generations because we are not stirring the pot, the church has come a long ways from what its orginial intent we’ve gotten away from His namesake. John Wesley posits many have the “right belief, right practice, but not the right experience” we forget about the experience it is the biggest part of the journey, and that is the part that will pull generations in.
Good evening Bishop!
I enjoy reading all of your challenges to us as United Methodists. I am a member of the Congregation of Wesley Chapel United Methodist in Jackson TN; but I am an ordained minister but not a member of the Conference. I am a “transplant.” Thanks for all your thought-provoking comments to us as Christians.
Thank you for sharing the Strategic Mapping Team’s plans. Our minister, Rev. Tim Atkins, has emphasized the addition of witness to our vows. In a Sunday School discussion, I was concerned that the consensus was that we should simply live our lives so that others could see Jesus in us. While I agree, I believe that this is not enough and does not full fill The Great Commission. Would it not be wonderful if we could get to the point that “I love to tell the story of Jesus and His love” would be our theme song? Few in the class had ever witnessed to anyone and seemed not to recognize that witness was their assignment by Jesus..I pray that we can begin to tell the story with enthusiasm and bring others to Jesus.
Indeed. It is a powerful story that we are invited into!
These are not new questions. But they are the hard questions which we have had the luxury to ignore for a long time, but we ignore them no longer if we seek to be the church. Salvation is free–but the cost of discipleship is great. As a matter of fact it has always cost everything.
Thank you for continuing to call us to the hard questions.