Once the Dust Settles…

Now that the dust has settled on #gc2019, I thought I’d make one last post as a means of processing my reflections on the whole debacle in St. Louis. Honestly, the dust hasn’t settled on #gc2019. If you follow any social media at all, or anything remotely connected to the United Methodist Church, you are well aware that emotions are still high–I’m wondering if the dust will ever settle. Additionally, the Judicial Council will review the “Traditional Plan” in April and I suspect many of these same emotions will show up again…assuming, of course, that the dust has settled.

Here are my ruminations on #gc2019:

I can’t imagine the people who gathered in 1968 could ever envision a General Conference like the one in St. Louis. Surely they could never forsee a denomination birthed in the unifying of two parts of the body of Christ which produced a “big tent theology” could devolve into what the world witnessed in St. Louis. It was not a show of unity in the body of Christ. If anything, the gathering showed just how broken is this denomination called United Methodist.

Notice that I did not say “congregations.” I intentionally wrote “denomination.” Our denomination is broken. I’m grateful to David F. Watson for admitting that here. In spite of the denomination’s brokenness, there are many, many local congregations that are healthy and even growing. For that I am also grateful. It just proves the point that all church is local church. The local congregation is where disciples are made. The local congregation must be the focus of energy for the people called United Methodist now that the dust has settled.

The Traditionalist Plan prevailed at #gc2019. Notice I did not say it won. Nobody won. The Traditionalist Plan received the most votes by roughly a 6% margin. It didn’t matter which plan prevailed in voting there would be an emotional response by the other side. It wasn’t a matter of “if” someone was going to be upset, it was only a question of “who” was going to be upset. We should have seen that fact before we ever got to St. Louis. Our first clue should have been when the Commission on “a” Way Forward finished its work with “three” ways forward. If a group of 32 couldn’t agree on a single proposal, it was fairly certain a group of 864 wouldn’t find one either.

The results of #gc2019 sets up the denomination for more of the same once the dust settles. Some of our leaders have said as much–you can view that here. Some of our bishops will continue to enforce the Discipline. Others will not. Some of our clergy will continue to uphold the Discipline. Others will not. Some of our congregations will continue to welcome and celebrate same-sex marriages. Others will not. And, everyone will feel justified in the actions they take. Perhaps this fact indicates the obsolete nature of our polity in the United Methodist Church. Perhaps it is an indication that restructuring our polity needs to be the topic of conversation when the General Conference next meets in May of 2020 in Minneapolis, MN. It won’t be, but perhaps it should.

I believe that #gc2019 lost the one chance it had to provide a legitimate way forward. The Connectional Conference Plan was perhaps that vehicle. It would have provided space for all of us to stand firm in our convictions while maintaining some sense of missional unity. It is abundantly clear that we United Methodists are not functioning practically as one denomination. Very few (including myself) gave it much consideration. On legislative day, only 12.44% of the delegates voting gave it “high priority” status. The potential of passing all the constitutional amendments necessary to enact the plan was just too daunting for many to give it serious consideration. We may wish we would have reconsidered once the dust settles.

After witnessing #gc2019, I wonder who in their right mind would offer themselves to serve as a delegate in 2020? I know some Annual Conferences sent newly elected delegations to St. Louis, but most will return to their Annual Conference gatherings this spring and summer to elect new delegates for GC 2020.  Will there be any who offer themselves? Sure there will be. Will I be one of them? Probably.

Perhaps desiring to return to GC 2020 is like watching a train wreck. You want to look away, but you just can’t. My prayer is that those delegation elections don’t become a reflection of what happened at #gc2019. Hopefully, the relationships we’ve built with one another through years of ministry together will prevail once the dust settles, and we’ll elect strong, faithful leaders who will listen to one another, pray with one another and trust one another enough to move the United Methodist ship forward.

These ruminations notwithstanding, it’s time for me to refocus my energy on the local congregation I serve. There is enough mission and ministry right here to occupy my time. This is where we’ll make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. I’m going to engage my passion for seeing the world connect to Jesus Christ. I’m going to engage my passion for growing with one another in Jesus Christ, and I’m going to engage my passion for being a local congregation positioned to serve the world for Jesus Christ. Once the dust settles, isn’t that what life in the church is all about?

I’m moving on now from #gc2019. I’ll not write anymore blogs about it (which only means there won’t be as many people reading it). I’ve committed to one more conversation in our congregation concerning it, but that won’t happen until after Easter. Otherwise, I’m moving on.

It’s time to observe a holy Lent. It’s time for me to repent of my own sin, not only as it regards the brokenness of our church, but also as it regards the brokenness of my own life. It’s time to ask God to forgive me, and it’s probably time to ask a few others to forgive me, too. It’s time to focus on the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and it’s time to focus on how I can be more like him and less like myself.

So, I’m moving on now. General Conference has spoken (for better or worse). Who’ll join me?

Until next time, keep looking up…

Conversation Starters…

Five conversations…

That’s how many I had last week simply because I attached a little red and white sticker with the number 78 emblazoned on it to my lapel. That little red and white sticker opened the door for me to invite five people to worship with me last week. Actually, the little sticker prompted more conversations than five, but five were legitimate opportunities to say, “Would you like to join me at First United Methodist Church in Monroe on Sunday?”

The practice of wearing a little red and white sticker originated in a staff meeting when the conversation turned to evangelism. The statement was made that “78% of people who attend a church for the first time do so because someone invites them.” Depending upon which survey you read the numbers run between 75 and 90%, but you get the picture–first time guests come to worship the first time because someone invited them…overwhelmingly.

I believe one reason church attendance is declining in America is because we’ve stopped inviting others to join us in worship. I’m smart enough to know it’s not the only reason, but it is ONE of the reasons. There are a number of reasons we don’t invite others:

  • We’ve already invited all our friends
  • We believe church is for Christians
  • We don’t know any non-Christians
  • We don’t think our friends would like it
  • We don’t really like our church (or pastor, or music, or…)
  • We don’t know how to ask

Shame on us pastors for that last one (but, none of us are perfect). If we do nothing else, we should be helping people know how to invite others to worship. It’s such an easy thing. So, a little red and white sticker with the number 78 on it becomes a conversation starter. That little sticker becomes the open door to invite someone to worship.

Here’s how a typical conversation goes: I walk up to a counter in a store or the coffee shop. The attendant looks at my 78% sticker and asks, “Mind if I ask what 78% represents?”

I reply, “It’s represents the number of people who attend a church the first time because someone invited them. May I invite you to worship with me at First United Methodist Church Monroe?”

I’ll get responses like:

  • “I attend __________ church” (to which I reply, “Great! Have you invited someone to attend with you?”).
  • “Where is that at?”
  • “I can’t this Sunday, but I might another time.”
  • “Oh, that’s cool!”

It’s not really the response that matters. What matters is that I’ve had an opportunity to have a conversation I would otherwise never have had, and I can’t tell you about a couple of responses because they were private in nature (it’s surprising what people tell you when they know you’re open to a conversation about faith).

Evangelism is central to growing the Kingdom of God, and evangelism is central to seeing lives transformed by the power of God. Yes, I know that inviting someone to church is not technically evangelism, but it is a first step in introducing someone to the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ. Evangelism is foundational to becoming people of Christ (#becomingpeopleofChrist).

Many of the reasons we don’t evangelize are the same reasons we don’t invite others to worship, but another reason is fear. Certainly, there is fear of rejection. None of us like rejection (I certainly don’t!), so rather than face the rejection we simply don’t share the gospel.

Another reason is we fear not having all the answers. Guess what? I don’t have all the answers, either! And, I’m a pastor! I can’t anticipate every question a person has ahead of time, and neither can you. Here’s the thing, though: Jesus never said, “Go into all the world and have your answers ready.” The Bible never suggests we should have all the answers prepared before we share the gospel.

I might also add that it’s not our answers that draw anyone to Jesus. That’s the Holy Spirit’s work. All we need to know is the story of Jesus, and the story of what Jesus is doing in our life. The Gospel is power enough (Romans 1: 16).

Besides, if you’re a believer, let me ask you, “Did you have all your questions answered before you believed?” No, I didn’t think so! Others won’t either. We should not let the fear of not having all the answers keep us from inviting others to experience Jesus.

So, a little sticker can be a great conversation starter. All the Holy Spirit needs to change a life is a conversation. You never know…the life that gets changed might be your own.

Until next time, keep looking up…

Just Answer the Phone…

Perhaps you’ve heard of the book Diffusion of Innovations that describes how new ideas and technologies spread in different cultures. The model describes the adoption or acceptance of a new product or innovation by grouping how different people come to accept the innovation or technology. The first persons to use a new product or technology are called “innovators,” followed by those who are referred to as “early adopters.” Next come the early and late majority, and the last group to eventually adopt a product are called “laggards.” I must admit, when text messaging first came onto the scene, I was a laggard. When it comes to technology, I generally considered myself an early adopter or at least an early majority kind of person, but texting was different. Seriously! Just pick up the phone and call me.

txtSomething changed my mind, though. Want to know what it was? It was my desire to communicate with my daughters. My daughter’s preferred method of communication…their preferred method of staying connected is via text messaging. I would call them and they wouldn’t answer their phones. That was quite irritating, especially when I was paying the bill. Yet, they were constantly on their phones. I soon learned that if I texted them, they’d respond almost immediately. I could call…no answer. Text…boom! Answer right away. It’s how they communicated. Really, though…you’ve got the phone in your hand. Why can’t you just answer the silly thing? That was my reasoning. The only problem is my reasoning didn’t work with them. If I wanted to communicate with my daughters, I was going to have to communicate by their chosen means. I had to become part of the majority, even though I wanted desperately to be a laggard.

Sometimes the church can be a laggard when it comes to the diffusion of innovations. Actually, it doesn’t even have to be an innovation. It may have nothing to do with technology. It may simply be the method in which we communicate the message of salvation in Jesus Christ. Jesus gave the church a fairly specific command to connect with people. He called us to connect with people so that they would become his disciples. It’s called the Great Commission, and we find it in Matthew 28: 18 – 20:

18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

You’re aware of the seismic shifts that are occurring in culture. Certainly with technology and our attempts at staying connected. The entire Christian faith is about being connected. To be disciples of Jesus Christ we must be connected—first, to Jesus Christ, but then, to his body, the church. We need the fellowship of believers, yet in this culture where connection seems to be so easy, the church lags behind in making disciples.

It might first be helpful to understand discipleship a little better. The word Jesus uses in issuing the Great Commission means “a follower.” It doesn’t simply mean being a student. Someone said a student learns what the teacher knows, but a disciple (a follower) becomes what the teacher is. I wonder (and it’s only wondering) if we’re having such a hard time making disciples because we haven’t become disciples ourselves? We’ve spent a lot of time learning what the Bible has to say, but how much time do we actually spend becoming what Jesus is? I’m preaching to myself, people. Jesus give us a directive to follow. It’s what he did while he was here. It’s pretty simple: go, baptize, teach. There’s an appropriate order, too. It begins with going.

I believe going is the most significant part of the Great Commission. “Go and make disciples…” “Going” to tell others the Good News is not simply shouting “turn or burn” to one outside a relationship with Jesus Christ. It is living life in such a way that others see something different in us. It is to live a life of grace…a life of compassion…a life of hope…a life of forgiveness…a life of reconciliation.

The old cliché is never truer than in matters of faith: People don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care. When we show concern and compassion for others it opens the door for a relationship. Relationship is where transformation takes place. We can never underestimate the power of relationship in the making of disciples. The relationships begin “out there” in the world…in the work place…in the marketplace…on the golf course…in the places where we encounter the people we know.

Each of us has a story to share of what God has done, and is doing in our lives. We must be ready to tell our story…even when we feel our story is insignificant. There is no insignificant story in the Kingdom of God. Not one.

I think I’ve shared with you before why I call Starbucks my satellite office. It’s because I can encounter more unchurched people in an hour at Starbucks than I can by spending forty hours a week in the office. I don’t have many unchurched people stopping by the office to chit-chat. We must go where the people are, and believe you me, there are people at Starbucks. I can’t believe so many people pay so much for coffee! I have my own Starbucks Gold Card, by the way!

If we would connect with people, we must connect with them where they are. We’ve spent far too long expecting people to come to church. Come check us out. Come see what we have going on. Come to worship. The first part of the Great Commission was “go.” Go where they are! This is one place the church plays the part of the laggard. We still want people to come, when all the Lord ever asked us to do was go. I might add that in the future there will be more church happening “out there” where people are than “in here” where we gather each week.

One other place the church plays the laggard, if I may? We lag behind the world in the way we communicate the message. Hear me clearly: the message never changes. The method in which the message is delivered is constantly changing, and unless we change our delivery method, we’ll fail to be effective and fruitful in connecting to others.

Remember, the message I wanted to communicate with my daughters didn’t change. I still told them the same things I was always telling them. I simply had to adopt the method of communication to which they became accustomed. Message the same. Method different.

One of the ways I’ve had to adapt in the church? Shorter sermons. I know! There are some Sundays it doesn’t feel that way, but truly, attention spans have decreased with the innovation of technology. People need a shorter sermon. That means for me to be effective, I have to preach shorter messages.

The message Christ has entrusted to us is a message of forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus Christ. It is a message of hope and life. It is a message of repentance and reconciliation. It is a message of encouragement and grace. That hasn’t changed in over 2,000 years. With technology rising, and church attendance sagging, the method of communicating that message must change, too.

Let us commit to connect with God, with each other, and with others who are searching for meaning and purpose. Let us commit to be open to connecting with them whenever and wherever they are. Let us commit to connect with them in whatever means is necessary, even if it means sending them a text.

Until next time, keep looking up…