Pre-General Conference Hope

John 11:25-26

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

For at least the last decade in the UMC, we’ve been beating to death the idea that, according to the numbers, the church in the U.S. is taking a beating and declining toward death. Two of my children who are young United Methodist clergy are quick to point out that this message has dominated their entire ministry, from seminary to the present, and it still swells larger without offering enough fruitful direction or hope. We continue to receive data that confirms the impending “death tsunami.” We also continue to be inundated by articles, workshops and seminars in response, with a repetition of familiar themes: How we got into this mess; How we can still avert catastrophe; How we must change everything (or change nothing); and the ever-popular, How death always precedes resurrection.

Like my children and perhaps so many of you, I am weary of the rhetoric. Not because the trends aren’t real. Not because I haven’t sometimes shared in these anxieties, and responses. Not because we shouldn’t think critically and strategically. Rather, because conversation must ultimately give way to necessary action, and I think now is the time to simply get back to being and doing as Christ calls us.

And the deepest truth of all — the best possible news for us — is that authentic disciples always outlast death, and they lead others in the same.

We have a straightforward call, summed up well by the UMC as: “Making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” This mission is not conditional. We didn’t choose to carry it forward because it carries a wholesale guarantee of success, or an assurance of longevity, or institutional security. At least I hope not. Regardless of the circumstances, and even if the UMC one day ceases to exist, the Lord still calls us today to simply make disciples for him. And the deepest truth of all — the best possible news for us — is that authentic disciples always outlast death, and they lead others in the same.

With this in mind, like the first Christians, the first Methodists, and certainly like those United Methodists at the forefront of missional growth around the world, let’s have both a discerning faithfulness today and also a holy disregard for worry over tomorrow. Let’s refocus on the present task, which is for each of us to continue to be in the making as the Lord’s disciples, and to participate in the making of more, new disciples. It will require a healthy level of humility: to be “in the making” is to admit that we’re unfinished. It also means holding ourselves to an expectation of real-world fruitfulness, since being “in the making” implies that Christ is intentionally forming us into some new future something as a people. It doesn’t sound easy but we can do it. We are uniquely equipped as United Methodists for it because, like John Wesley, we proclaim that any and every person can actually change, in behavior and attitude, heart and action, through God’s prevenient, saving, and sanctifying grace.

In other words, we must not define ourselves as an institution that is “in the declining,” “in the grieving,” or “in the dying.” Instead, we are “in the making,” a people and movement that can be grounded in the ongoing creative action of God. My passion for the church, and my vision for General Conference 2016, is for a return to this kind of disciple-making. Not merely to try to slow the impending death tsunami or to gain back statistical ground. Not merely out of a sense of self-perpetuation. But out of a desire to live the very hope of Christ.

As we hear on the way to Lazarus’ tomb in John 11:25-26 — and as we proclaim in every United Methodist “Service of Death and Resurrection” — the plain truth is that Jesus is the Lord of Life. Even more, he promises to share his Life with his followers, so that a true disciple of Christ never dies. If that’s so, then Jesus goes on to pose the one question that could possibly remain: “Do we believe it?”

I believe it. I think most of us do! I believe this promise should drastically alter everything, especially this upcoming General Conference. It should empower the ministry of our church to shape disciples. And it should invite us, above all, to pursue a life in the making with Christ Jesus and with one another. The theme of GC2016 is “Therefore go” from Matthew 28:19. Will we be in the making, or will we lament our divisions and prepare for schism at this General Conference. It depends on what or Whom you believe!

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4 thoughts on “Pre-General Conference Hope

  1. Tim, I’m with you. I’m weary of the rhetoric too. By the numbers, I serve a dying congregation that averages 32 on a typical Sunday… a dying congregation that is currently serving 1500+ unique individuals per month through the ecumenical food pantry that is headquartered here. The bottom line is that Jesus called us to “go and make” and we’re trying to be faithful to that bottom line. We may die in the process, but, damnit, we’ll go out doing what we were called to do.

    1. You da man, Wayne! tim

      Sent from my iPhone

      On May 3, 2016, at 1:03 PM, A Potter's View wrote:

  2. Tim I agree with you emphatically. However, what are the issues you are so concerned about and also your two children?

    Homosexuality and ordaining them? Marrying them? Transgender bathrooms, Removal of “in God We trust”, Arlington Cemetery WWII Memorial, too expensive to chisel out, an impossibility, what else is at issue?

    A schism as the episcopal church experienced is not valid, I walked through the period of time when we back when Episcopalians were turned upside down with the formation of the Anglicans over the 1928 Book off Common Prayer?. I was asked to identify with them as an anglican, in as much I was looked upon as a leader having served vestries, senior warden, etc. but the fact I had a reputation as a lay Reader and in as much the Anglicans needed lay readers, I was approached. I turned them down.

    Another big issue integration, the slavery issue all over again.

    I am reminded of yesterday having visited two friends both have stopped going to church. He is 82 she 81. Known them since 2000. She loves my Shirley, close friends up until Shirley’s onslaught of Alzheimer disease. Never been to see Shirley. They are Baptist, membership years ago was around 300. Last Sunday 51 attended, week before 40 thereabouts attended. Problem, for them the Pastor: retired, controls, violates their by-laws, because he empowered himself with self proclaimed authority, violating budget. Retired in his 7’s no Bishop to help remove him. Congregation is split. Indecisive. Decline absolutely that church is going like UMC Wesley did where Jim Bennett served, shrinking congregation,and now he is serving a church inWagner on a serious decline, moreover thought is by a close friend of mine at st John;s disillusioned at last meeting last Thursday in as much cannot be a deciple as you indicated and reach out. I’ve in the caccoon and not come out. A Methodist his entire life. You identified a local problem. His, I will not change. I don’t wish to be like John Wesley they and dedicate myself. Moreover commit myself. Will not attend another MM meeting but one and that is it. Do I confront him? He shut me out by saying no comment necessary. Ray iutt causes us a problem as he describes Methodist Men group as a dying group. Unfounded? I don’t know. He should know. Puzzle my friend will not stick around to help growth or bring about men he knows to attend.

    Today’s Aiken Standard wrote about a student USCAiken. Serous problem? Indeed so. A transgender, this girl is now a boy today however, uses girls bathrooms out of fear, however, publicly expresses her openness and desires. That’s our world. Her comment as such applies to you and to me, get with it this the 21st century. The year is 2016 not 1960.

    We must get with it. Right?

    So what problems do we have to do battle over?

    Bottom line, would identifying each known area of discussion bring about harm?

    Solution: enter into a national day/week/month of prayer for the entire balance of May to pray over and for the issues spilling over into June. We cannot discard prayer. Is provides as your title says Conference HOPE. Just conference ir life?

    Are we Methodist to follow the route of the two major political parties and be at each others throats? Slamming one an another, criticizing, using every despicable means of slander going beyond the law of God Love one another. Do we have too much freedom, guns?

    Well Dr Tim I have written much and it probably is trite, and I am speaking tomparphrasing the Choir, I know. The best in you efforts come May10 as you travel to Conference.

    Will they issue reports daily? Are they available to read, can they be seen on the internet?

    Safe travel, God Bless, Lord: “place your arms all around and about Dr Tim and all others who attend the May conference. Protect them, keep them safe, disallow any harshness to be expressed, let this be a conference where you prevail, not man or by we finite beings who cause hardship and hurt.

    Andrew Parlantieri

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