After a full day of presiding over charge conferences yesterday and a previous six weeks of the same, I am both heartened and dismayed. There have been wonderful stories of great ministries, but there have also been not-so-hopeful admissions of less than stellar stats. Most churches are doing well with the vital church numbers for small groups, people involved in mission, and dollars given to mission, but the two glaring deficiencies are in average worship attendance and professions of faith. It seems that we as United Methodists are great at “almost” making disciples.
In light of this and in honor of MLB Baseball’s playoffs I am reminded of a particular “Peanuts” cartoon where Linus the team “statistician” brings Charlie Brown, the manager, his report. “I’ve compiled the statistics on our baseball team for last season,” Linus says. “In 12 games we ALMOST scored a run and in 9 games the other team ALMOST didn’t score before the first out. In right field, Lucy ALMOST caught 3 balls and once ALMOST made the right play.” “We led the league,” Linus concludes, “in ‘ALMOSTS.’”
This cartoon reminds me of a sermon John Wesley preached called, “The Almost Christian,” on July 25, 1741. It spoke volumes about the Church of England, but it indicts us today, too. Gosh, we do great things, but we’re so darn shy about Jesus being the reason we do them. “That’s too Baptist!” we say, but if we think we’ve found the best restaurant around and don’t tell people the name of the place, we must either be so selfish as to keep the parking lot to ourselves, or we’re unconvinced!
Of course, the source of John Wesley’s text and sermon “The Almost Christian” comes from the episode with Paul in Acts 26, where as a prisoner he is brought before King Agrippa answering charges of insurrection. He tells the King that he is innocent and is being judged based on the “hope of the promise made by God to our ancestors.” Paul tells about his prior life and conversion to Christ. His defense is an appeal for Agrippa to accept Jesus. He asked, “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” Agrippa’s response is, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian.”
Almost isn’t good enough. It should, therefore, be no great surprise that the most common Natural Church Development “minimum factor” in South Carolina United Methodism is “Passionate Spirituality.” Passionless Christianity is not even close to almost being Christian, hence our survival mode mentality. I dare you to review the movie, “The Passion of the Christ,” and sense the depth of God’s earnest desperation for us.
On this Monday morning with 6 more weeks of charge conferences to go I am shocked by our apathy in leading others to Christ. “Almost” isn’t Christian enough unless you think Jesus’ death and resurrection are meaningless, and the eternal state of your neighbor’s soul isn’t important. Many of us are more concerned about whether or not their yards have the “right” candidate’s sign stuck in them than the state of their spiritual lives. “That’s their business,” we say as an excuse.
My prayer at this halfway mark of Charge Conference season is that we won’t be halfway Christians. The world is hurting and Jesus wants to use us to reach them. We have all heard or thought of every reason to simply rock along in our faith and preserve the status quo in our churches. The problem is that the status quo is already gone. We’re in steep decline that only a revival will reverse. Let us resolve to pray hard and do something about it!