Anniversaries of Joy, Discipleship and Sacrifice

During the past 2 months I have had the joy and privilege of participating in the anniversary celebrations at four difference Central Texas Conference Churches. Alvarado UMC celebrated its 150th anniversary; Morgan Mill UMC and Cranfills Gap UMC had their 125th anniversary; First UMC, Temple celebrated the 100th anniversary of its magnificent historic sanctuary (the first sanctuary burned to the ground in 1911 and they rebuilt completing the new/current sanctuary in 1914). I will have the joy of sharing in the 100th anniversary celebration of Saginaw UMC.

As I have done my research for each of the five churches listed above, I have been deeply struck by the discipleship (committed, disciplined following of Christ) and sacrifice that each anniversary represents. Consider the times these various churches launched out as a new church. In every case they went ahead and started the church or built the sanctuary in the face of internal trials going on in America that would make a reasonable person pause.

Alvarado UMC began in the midst of a raging Civil War. Morgan Mill UMC and Cranfills Gap UMC both began in the midst of great national debate and division. In 1889 President Grover Cleveland was succeeded by President Benjamin Harrison in a contentious election that would be reversed four years later. (Sounds familiar doesn’t it?) War between America and Germany over an incident in Samoa was barely averted. Racism in all its virulent evil stalked the land. 125 years ago a religious crimes code was passed by Congress “to deny Indians their 1st amendment right: freedom of religion. It was designed to drive away the Indian religious ceremonies and only allow those made and created by white men.”

In Temple, the great First Methodist Episcopal Church sanctuary burned to the ground in 1911 and they went ahead and rebuilt in the face of really tough times. Under President Woodrow Wilson, the peace President, an international misunderstanding with Mexico (then undergoing a revolution) erupted into armed conflict and the occupation of Veracruz. In the initial fighting “19 Americans were killed; 72 wounded. Mexican losses were around between 150 and 170 soldiers killed, between 195 and 250 wounded, and an unknown number of civilians killed.” Meanwhile back at home labor unrest was rampant. The Colorado National Guard attacked a tent colony of 1,200 striking coal miners killing 24 people in what became known as the Ludlow Massacre.

This tumult paled in comparison with the start of World War I in August and the closure of the New York Stock Exchange because of the war. While the stock market reopened about 3 ½ months later, eventually World War I resulted in over 37 million military and civilian deaths. Comparatively the United States got off light because of when we entered the war and it was fought on foreign soil. With respect and honor to those who so nobly sacrificed, 117,465 deaths are recorded as silent witness to how bleak the times were. You would have thought that the good people of Alvarado, Morgan Mills, Temple, Cranfills Gap, and Saginaw could have picked better safer more congenial times to begin a church.

You would have thought they would have better economic sense than to sail forward into the headwinds of a closed stock market, or contentious national election, or a Civil War. But no, they moved forward in discipleship as committed, disciplined followers of Jesus Christ. In their discipleship they were full of joy. It is easy to be a fan of Jesus; to sit in the stadium and cheer when things are good. It is a whole other thing to live in a deep-seated joy that is committed, disciplined, loyal even – no especially – when times are tough.

This brings me to the second cardinal, biblically-grounded, insight I found in my research. They got to the joy of their anniversaries through sacrifice. Consider the biblical and theological truth that Jesus doesn’t need advice. He is the one giving advice. The Master does not covet fans. He seek followers, friends, who will go beyond being advisors to being sacrificial followers. Reflect on the teaching of Jesus as reflected in John’s gospel. “I have said these things to you so that my joy will be in you and your joy will be complete. This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I don’t call you servants any longer, because servants don’t know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends” (John 1511-15a). This is the example the people of these churches set a hundred plus years ago.

Our ancestors thought it was worth the price to sacrifice so that these churches could come into being. I like to remind every congregation that there was a time in their life when this congregation was a new church. This is part and parcel of the biblical reason new church development is so critical. It is not about whether we will have faith. It is about whether our children and grandchildren will have faith. It is a pearl of great price. “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure that somebody hid in a field, which someone else found and covered up. Full of joy, the finder sold everything and bought that field” (Matthew 13:44).

Anniversary joy comes in deep sacrificial discipleship! It knows sadness and grief. It lives in times of tumult whether it be 1864, 1889, 1914 or 2014. It ascends the hill of personal prejudice and plants the flag of Christ atop the peaks of violence and rancor. Joy comes in the committed disciplined living as a disciple precisely because it is sacrificial. It is built on our relationship with the Lord and not on our personal preferences. I thank God and those five churches for the joy of sharing with them!

Take My Baby

Our second day at Maua Methodist Hospital in Maua, Kenya, we split  to various  tasks.  A part of our group went with the hospital chaplain on her rounds.  As they moved from ward to ward, they came to the maternity unit.  The ward did not have private rooms (or semi-private) as we are used to.  Instead about 8 beds were spread out in a large rectangle ward offering some limited privacy.  Newborn mothers with their babies were mixed in with some mothers whose babies had not survived.

The reader can imagine the sensitivity and prayers that were needed as members of the team visited with various mothers.  One person would be in great joy because of the birth of their new child and the next bed over a mother would be in deep grief over the loss of a still-born child.

As our team shared individually with the mothers, one of the team members visited with a mother who had a beautiful newborn.  However, instead of great joy, she too was in grief.  As our team member listened, shared and prayed, the new mother offered the team member her new baby.  “Would you take my child?”

As you can imagine the team member was shocked by the offer.  Who would willingly give up their beautiful baby?  I literally could not imagine doing so!  As a father, being a parent is near the top of my list of the truly great things that have happened to me.  (Converting to Christ and marrying Jolynn come first and second.  Our children, Nathan and Sarah, along with our granddaughter, Grace Jean, are all tied for 3rd!)  When I think of giving away a baby, scenes from TV crime dramas come to mind.  You know the kind – Some bad guys cook up a scheme to sell babies for profit and the great detectives of Law & Order or NCIS save the day.

The woman’s offer — “Take my baby” — didn’t fit any of those manufactured dramas.  Instead the offer was made by a mother’s love.  Impoverished with too many children already to feed, the mother out of love for her newborn child hoped that someone would be able to take care of her child better.  She was willing to give the child away as an act of love.  (One member of our Team who has worked with the poor as a nurse commented, “I can take you places where this is happening in Fort Worth too.”)

As our Kenyan Mission Trip team member shared the story, I was blown away.  How could a loving parent ever willingly give up a child?!  Yet the more I reflected on the offer (which by the way was rejected) and the more I discussed it with others, the more I came to see the deep love involved in the grieving mother’s actions.  In love, she was offering her baby to another.

I have been thinking and praying about this incident on our Mission Trip for the last 3 + weeks.  Slowly it has dawned me that this is exactly what God has done with His “only begotten Son.”  The Lord God, the ultimate loving parent, has given His/Her son in love to a spiritually impoverished, morally bankrupt, and physically damaged world.  In love God has said to us, “Here, take my baby.”  This is the greatness, the awesome greatness of God’s love.

As we move into the fall, I invite and challenge us to prepare for the Advent and Christmas season focusing on the great parental love of The Lord.  Doctrinally this is called the incarnation.  It is the awe-inspiring story of the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us (John 1:14).  It is  one of three truly great distinctives of the Christian faith (along with the doctrine of the Trinity and the Resurrection.  There is an argument that can be made for others, but that discussion is for a later day.)

For those of you engaging in Advent planning, I urge you to go to Cokesbury.com and investigate the excellent new resources for teaching the meaning of Advent and Christmas (the doctrine of the incarnation).  Let this great love of God dominate our preaching and worship this Advent and Christmas!

Re-Learning from John the Evangelist

In an earlier blog (September 26, 2014 – Medical Camp & the Ongoing Ministry of Ken Diehm), I wrote about the incredible experience of participating in a Medical Mission Camp near Maua, Kenya. We were among the poorest of the poor and engaged in a great ongoing mission venture. While engaged in the medical mission camp, a host of unusual things took place. One of them was meeting John the Evangelist.

As we were handing out malaria bed nets and directing the flow of a long, long line of people seeking medical care, a nicely dressed (suit and tie in the midst of an incredibly dusty, rugged situation) young man appeared on the scene. People (both from the village area and the hospital) started happy exclaiming “John the Evangelist is here!” Rev. Jim Monroe, the CEO of Maua Methodist Hospital, commented, “I knew he would show up.”

Jim made a point of introducing us. It was exciting to meet and visit with John the Evangelist (as the people called him). John shared with me and Randy Wild that he had planted 8 churches. Joking, Randy asked when he was going to start #9. Not getting the joke, John replied in full seriousness, “Soon.”

I know that many of those churches are quite small and effectively are what we would term “house churches.” Yet as we visited, John shared that one of them had grown from 17 members to 300 members (worship attendance if I understood him averages more than 300).

I get it that the Kenyan climate for new church development is radically different from ours. I’ve been a part of starting a new church and fully realize the difference in context and environment. Still, the zealous commitment to evangelism, witness, and new church development is awe- inspiring work of the Lord to which they (the Methodists of Kenya) are highly, incredibly highly, committed. I cannot help but wonder what it would be like if we held to a similar high commitment.

I am not sure that I correctly understand the various steps and their order for ordination in the Methodist Church of Kenya. As John the Evangelist explained to me, he hopes soon to be ordained. Carefully he shared that one is an evangelist first and then becomes a pastor. To him the connection seemed obvious. It was as if he was telling Randy and me, “Of course you can’t be a pastor until you have proven yourself as an evangelist.”

As I listened to John the Evangelist, our Cabinet Retreat of 2011 came back to me. Dr. Ted Campbell, (Associate Professor of Church History at Perkins School of Theology and a specialist in Wesley studies) led the Cabinet through a learning experience from early Methodism in American. Ted had us read the autobiography of Rev. William Stevenson, who was a pioneer itinerant in the southwestern part of the United States. In 1815 Rev. Stevenson was the “first Protestant of any denomination to preach within the bounds of what is today Texas. He was also among the first Methodists or Protestants to preach in Oklahoma as well” (The Autobiography of Rev. William Stevenson, Edited by Ted Campbell).

John the Evangelist operated much like Stevenson. They were both courageous frontier evangelists (witnessers) for Christ and the Wesleyan way of salvation. They both risked physical hardship. They both put together in a marvelously faithful way public evangelism and a concomitant call of commitment to Christ with an active ministry of social aid and justice. In ways that were obvious and seemed instinctive, they both got the combination of evangelism and missions (the deeds of love, justice and mercy).

After visiting for a while, I watched as John the Evangelist moved among the people waiting patiently in line. Their mutual affection and relationship to each other was obvious. In a pleasant and grace-filled manner, he listened, counseled, and helped to connect them to the needed care. He did so explicitly lifting the name of Jesus Christ and, where appropriate, pausing to pray with them.

I cannot help but think we have much to learn, or more properly re-learn, from John the Evangelist.

Kenya and Habitat

Over the past three weeks much (though not all) of the focus of my work has been on missions and missional issues facing the church. By missional, I broadly mean engaging in deeds of love, justice and mercy. This falls under the broad theological rubric of sanctification and is what John Wesley would refer to as holiness of heart and life.

For almost two weeks, I was a participant in the Conference Mission Trip to Kenya. Over the years many of our churches have been engaged in great ministry in Kenya. I have been writing a series of reflective blogs on my learnings from the Kenyan trip, and I will be writing more in the next few weeks. One of the deeply moving experiences for me was visiting the Methodist Church of Kenya’s Guest House in Meru. There on the wall was a plaque noting that Dr. Ken Diehm laid the foundation stone and another dedicating the conference hall in his name. The partnership between the Central Texas Conference and the Methodist Church of Kenya is deep and strong, stretching over a number of years. (We will be having a wonderful day of sharing and learning on October 25 through a Global Mission 101 Event held at First UMC, Fort Worth.)

Monday, October 6th, I had the joy of offering the prayer at the great Habitat Carter Build Work Project taking place this week in Fort Habitat Carter buildWorth. It was a tremendous act of the greater community coming together for the common good. Gage Yager, the director of Habitat in this area (and a member of Arlington Heights UMC) commented to me that the United Methodist church is the largest participating group they have. Habitat is truly a godly, missional (“love, justice and mercy”) activity!

Periodically people ask me whether I believe we should be engaged in mission work at home or overseas. My answer is always YES! It is a both/and and not an either/or. The two activities feed each other. Churches that engage in vibrant local ministry sooner or later are led by the Holy Spirit to engage in missional ministry to the larger world. Likewise, churches that engage in missional activity overseas are inevitability led by the Holy Spirit back into greater local missional effort. The two feed each other!

I’ve noticed that in the great plan of the Lord healthy churches are inevitably involved in both local and global missions and missional activities. Somehow the interconnection of the two – local and global – reflects an interconnection of the Holy Spirit and the heart of God in the life of the local church. We become more like Jesus and are in very truth “the body of Christ” (I Corinthians 12:27).

At lunch on Monday I offered the following prayer:

Great and gracious Lord God, we come before you this day about the ministry of Habitat for Humanity mindful always that you first came among us a homeless refugee. We confess, Lord God, to inhabit a world where our priorities are often upside down. Forgive we pray, the ways in which we by omission and commission have participated in the wreck of human life which you hold holy. Your words echo in our thoughts; you have told us what you require of us: “to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with y[our] God” (Micah 6:8).

Grant now in our actions and activities, regardless of creed or clan, nation or race, economic or educational status that we might be found faithful to this great ministry. Bless, we pray, those who lead us. We give you thanks this day especially for the ministry and example of President and Mrs. Carter. We ask that you guide and direct and multiply this ongoing activity to your Glory. Amen.

High Windows

A week ago Wednesday (September 24th) I stood outside the chapel at Maua Methodist Hospital in Kenya.  The hospital conducts daily chapel worship every morning with the expectation that all hospital staff will attend.  Graciously they had asked that our Central Texas Conference Mission Team lead worship on that day and that I preach.  The assigned text they gave (as a part of an ongoing series they were involved in) was 2 Timothy 1:1-4.

As I stood outside mentally going over my message, the words of the text flowed over me.  It was as if I could hear the author of 2 Timothy speaking to the staff of Maua Methodist Hospital.   “I’m grateful to God . . .  I’m reminded of your authentic faith … I’m sure that this faith is also inside you. … God didn’t give us a spirit that is timid but one that is powerful, loving, and self-controlled.”

The explicit vibrancy of the Christian faith in our north east Kenyan setting was everywhere present.  The words of 2 Timothy continued to echo: “So don’t be ashamed of the testimony about the Lord or of me, his prisoner. Instead, share the suffering for the good news, depending on God’s power. God is the one who saved and called us with a holy calling. This wasn’t based on what we have done, but it was based on his own purpose and grace that he gave us in Christ Jesus before time began.”

The Kenyan Christians are explicit about their faith.  Amidst a bewildering variety of denominations and expressions (some European and North American implants and other expressions homegrown denominations), they are not ashamed of their faith.  Nor do they take it for granted.  While Kenya is far more Christian as a whole than the United States, there is a still a freshness to their witness that inspires.  We have much to learn from them.

Earlier that week on Monday morning as we stood outside waiting to join the first of our weekly chapel services, Rev. James Monroe, CEO of Maua Methodist Hospital, had called our attention to the placement of the windows in the chapel.  They were not in the normal position but instead high up on the outside walls.  Rev. Monroe went on to explain that when Christianity first came to the area (only a few generations ago) people would throw stones through the windows at Christians worshipping together.  The stones would hit and injure people in the pews.  So, when the built the chapel, as a protective measure they put the widows high up on the outside walls.  In this way people worshipping were less likely to be struck by a thrown rock.

The rock throwing didn’t stop the worship; nor did it squelched their public witness.  They remained, in the words of 2 Timothy, “not ashamed” of the gospel.  Today, because of their public witness, explicit evangelistic sharing, monumental good works for all people (even – especially – those who were not Christian), and steadfast reliance on the Holy Spirit, something like 80% of the population of the Maua region of Kenya is Christian (active and practicing, not just on a role!).  The high windows are both testimony and legacy.  There provide a pointed lesson to us.

I wonder, are we – am I – willing to suffer for Christ in boldly offering our/my witness?  Are we unashamed of the gospel and willing with courage and utter reliance on Christ to say “This is also why I’m suffering the way I do, but I’m not ashamed. I know the one in whom I’ve placed my trust. I’m convinced that God is powerful enough to protect what he has placed in my trust until that day” (2 Timothy 1:12).  Do we “Hold on to the pattern of sound teaching that you heard from me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus [?]. Protect this good thing that has been placed in your trust through the Holy Spirit who lives in us.”

I return from Kenya thankful for the teaching and prodding they offer us.  We have much to learn.

KENYA_preaching

MEDICAL CAMP AND THE ONGOING MINISTRY OF KEN DIEHM

On Wednesday (and again today – Friday, September 26th), the Central Texas Conference Mission Team share with key personal in an incredible experience called “Medical Camp.”  Leaving after morning chapel at the Maua Methodist Hospital, we drove for about an hour out into what seemed like desolation.  Leaving the green foothills around Maua, we went out into a drought-stricken region that made our own West Texas drought area look verdant by comparison.  In a Methodist School out among the poorest of the poor, we set up a clinic providing basic medical care.

On the far side of the school yard was the area well.  It is an incredible scene of life-giving water being pumped into 10 gallon yellow plastic jugs all day long.  The water is then carried, sometimes miles, on the back or in a wheelbarrow back to a home with no electricity or running water.  The wells themselves (we saw two) were in part put in by various United Methodist congregations from the Central Texas Conference, the Oregon-Idaho Conference, some churches in the Western North Carolina Conference and some parts of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference.  The power of connection, the United Methodist Connection, and the connection we have with the Methodist Church of Kenya was incredibly evident in a life-giving Christ-honoring way.  Matthew 25:44 came alive before our eyes.

A group of us demonstrated the use of the malaria preventing bed nets.  It was my tremendous joy to present the first bed net ever given out in that area to a young mother holding a small child.  The gratitude was palpable. Malaria sickness was the most prevalent Kenya_bishopdiseaKenya_jolynnse we encountered on Medical Camp.  The nets are prized possessions that often a number of family members will sleep under together.  I made the presentation on behalf of the Central Texas Conference as we gave out 200 nets.  We ran out!  More were needed.  Tomorrow we will give out another 200 at the next Medical Camp.

 

These life saving Medical Camps could not happen without Mission teams from places like Texas, Oregon, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.  They provided two crucial ingredients that, as good and as dedicated as there wonderful staff are (and make no mistake there are tremendously committed!), cannot provide — personnel through critically needed person-power and financial resources enabling the hospital to get the necessary medical supplies.  It was an exhausting, incredibly gratifying, truly holy day.

Thursday, while most of the team prepared for Friday’s medial camp and made contact with Zoe Ministry at the hospital, Randy Wild, Jolynn Lowry and I traveled to a special project.  We went to Mari, Kenya and visited with the Synod Bishop of the Kaaga Synod (Synod = District; Synod Bishop = District Superintendent).  In 2006 the Rev. Dr. Ken Diehm through his attendance at the World Methodist Conference in Seoul, Korea made connections with the Presiding Bishop of the MCK (Methodist Church of Kenya) and thereby began this incredible ministry that a number of CTC churches have been involved in every since.  On the wall of the HIV/Aids office were page after page of papers listing the orphaned destitute children being supported by First UMC of Grapevine, First UMC of Salado and Foundation UMC.

Later, we went to lunch at a guest house and retreat center the Kaaga Synod is building in partnership with First UMC, Grapevine.  There at the entrance was plaque stating that the foundation stone was laid by Rev. Dr. Ken Diehm, July 4, 2008.  Across the corridor there was another plaque dedicating the meeting hall in Ken’s honor and memory.

As I reflected on the day’s events, I find myself profoundly moved.  God is a work here literally half way around the world.  And we as Christians and churches and as the Central Texas Conference are incredibly privileged, honored and blessed to be a part of that ministry.  The great Methodist doctrine of sanctification is unfolding before our eyes.  Bible passages like Luke 10:25-27 and Matthew 25:31-44 are taking place before us.  I thank you, the members of the Central Texas Conference, for this good and godly work so nobly begun through the visionary leadership of Ken Diehm.  If you are not following the blog on the Kenya Mission trip written by Rev. Katie Meek, I urge you to do so.

MAUA MISSION

The day opens with worship at 7:30 in the hospital chapel.  The simple but pleasant sanctuary fills with hospital staff and we stand to sing.  The music comes from an old British Methodist hymnal and is known to many of us.  As the voices lift in song, the day begins with the Lord.

We arrived in Maua, Kenya on our mission trip to the Maua Methodist Hospital (an “Advanced Special” offering site of the Methodist ministry in the north east of Kenya) a day late.  Mechanical delays at DFW meant that we missed our connection in Dubai.  As a result, we spent an unplanned night in Dubai.  Most of us took the time to tour the city.

Opulence was the descriptive word!  On our tour we went past one magnificent structure after another.  The lights, the glitz, the extravagant wealth all combined for the ethereal experience.  At first I was impressed and then gradually I became depressed.  It was all too much.  Whatever the religion, the reigning God appeared to be financial wealth.  I am rightly judged by my inclination to be initially impressed and even covetous.  I am liberated by Christ calling me back to my better self.

At Maua Hospital, a ministry of the Methodist Church of Kenya (an affiliated Methodist Church of the UMC), a work of God unfolds in a ministrykenya_kids that only begins in the hospital.  A part of our mission travels took us yesterday to a pre-school for children who have been orphaned by AIDS and other poorer children in the community.  The poorest of the poor are not abandoned by the church but embraced.  One of the truly great God moments happened as Rev. Katie Meek let us in a singing, handwaving, dancing interaction with children who are starved for love.  This outpost work of the hospital is a phenomenal sharing of the love of Christ with most often unloved.

The hospital’s vision is far greater than simply a call for physical health care to those in the hospital.  It sees itself as responding to a call and claim for the Lord to a wider ministry beyond the hospital grounds  - especially (but not limited to) the poor.

What stands out the most for me, however, is the manner in which they understand true health care as accompanying both the spiritual and the physical side of life.  The morning worship is only one component.  Here at Maua Methodist Hospital they are explicitly but not exclusively about the Christian.  By that I mean they are consciously clear about praying to Christ, lifting up Christ, and seeking to be faithful to HIM as Lord and Savior by both word and deed.  The intertwining of the two is natural and instinctive.

Theologically speaking, this mission work seeks at its best to combine our understanding of justification and sanctification.  It yokes being saved by Christ to living for Christ in love and service to all.

Wednesday morning I will be the chapel preacher.  The assigned text they have given me is 2 Timothy 1:1-14.  (I invite the reader of this blog to read the text in full.)  2 Timothy gives thanks to God for their life and ministry.  I shall do the same.  One of my seminary classmates is a former presiding bishop.  (They have term episcopacy and he now serves in a Methodist University in Nairobi.)  The writer of this marvelous passage goes on to admonish Timothy not to be ashamed of the gospel but rather to offer a bold witness.  Such is being faithfully done in Maua and the surrounding area of Kenya.

The church here is not perfect.  Challenges abound.  But, significantly I think, we have much to learn here.  We also have something to offer.  It is in the combination of the two that God is honored and the gospel of our Lord is lifted up.  I know myself blessed to be on this mission trip.

For those who would like to learn more, the Conference mission trip has established a regular blog site led by Rev. Katie Meek, a member of the team from First United Methodist Church in Round Rock.  I commend your reading of this ongoing blog about our mission trip

Math and Mission

One of the great gurus of church and conference vitality is Dr. Gil Rendle.  Gil serves as Senior Consultant for the Texas Methodist Foundation (TMF).  He is the convener and guide for the South Central Jurisdiction (SCJ) Bishops Conclave (a bishops’ learning group) as well as working with a group of Cabinet members from across the state.  He is the author of a number of significant works including Journey in the Wilderness: New Life for Mainline Churches (which I have highly recommended in the past) and his newest, Doing the Math of Mission: Fruits, Faithfulness and Metrics.

Last June I was invited by Dr. Rendle to write a brief recommendation of the book.  I wrote the following:

math of missionDoing the Math of Mission is a seminal work that merits a deep embrace by struggling mainline Protestants.  Rendle challenges us to move beyond counting to measuring purposeful outcomes related to the deep mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ.  Diamonds of insight are found on almost every page.  For instance, “Perhaps the most effective outcome is one that ‘offends’ in its clarity” (p. 30). The critical shift of focus from inputs to measurable outcomes, which reflect clarity of purpose, offers specific and concrete guidance to any congregational leader (lay and clergy alike) or any judicatory executive.  Framed in a sound theology, Doing the Math of Mission provides critical material to build a bridge to the future of God’s preference of the Church.

Currently we (as both a Conference and as the larger United Methodist Church) are wrestling with issues that swirl around accountability (for both churches and clergy), metrics, outcomes and fruitfulness.  These critical issues will not and should not go away.  I have repeatedly insisted that metrics must be yoked to what I like to call the narrative.  Narrative is the story of fruitfulness in its widest context.  At its root the issues of faithfulness and fruitfulness intersect at the junction of just-whose-church-is-this.

Biblically speaking, we must always insist that this is not our church – either Conference, laity or clergy – but in fact the Lord’s church.  It is, we are together, the body of Christ!  Math really goes with mission!  Thus, it is a joy to strongly recommend and urge the reading of Gil’s insightful book – Doing the Math of Mission: Fruits, Faithfulness, and Metrics.

While I am on the subject of mission, tomorrow Jolynn and I leave with a Central Texas Conference mission team to Kenya.  Many churches in the Central Texas Conference have had long-term mission relationships with the Methodist Church of Kenya.  It should be an insightful and exciting time of learning.  I hope to blog about the trip in the unfolding 2 week period.

This is truly a part of our purposeful outcomes related to the deep mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

For All the Saints: Bob, Blessing and Baptism

Today, Thursday, September 11, 2014, I went to the funeral service for one of saints of the Central Texas Conference, Robert H. Briles, Sr., “Bob.”  Such occasions always lead me to reflect on life; its meaning and fragility.  Bob went from being a young boy raised on a farm near Milford, Texas to being a soldier in combat in Korea to a committed pastor pouring his life out in service to Christ and His church. Those leading the service spoke with eloquence but the greater eloquence was Bob’s life and witness.

The great words of the hymn For All the Saints echoed through me:

For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
Who thee by faith before the world confess,
Thy name O Jesus, be forever blest.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Driving back from First UMC in Weatherford over to White’s Chapel for the continuation of the High Octane Preaching Class, I could not help but reflect on the juxtaposition of celebrating the resurrection life of a saint like Bob Briles and the rise of a new generation of preachers as represented in the High Octane Preaching Class.  In the realm of the Lord’s kingdom building rule, together we are all a part of the ongoing never-ending witness to Christ’s rule and reign.

This coming Sunday I will participate in another act of worship which extends that great cause of our Lord.  I will be out at Newcastle United Methodist Church and have the joy of sharing in the baptism of Josiah Ray.

The three actions connect in my mind à from the service of Death and Resurrection for Bob Briles, a saint of the church to à the blessing of teaching the High Octane Preaching Class with John McKellar to à the celebration of Christian baptism with the Ray’s and the faithful of Newcastle UMC.  Bob … blessing … baptism; all point to the truth that we are enlisted together in a great cause, the cause of Christ.

It is the words of a later verse of For All the Saints that lingers deep in my being:

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

As I drive along, I think I can hear the hymn and words echoing in my life.  They are still on my ear as a gift from God.  Bob, blessing, and baptism; they all connect with the work of God’s grace through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.  In the midst of all the activities that engage us, I celebrate being a part of the cause of Christ!

On another critical subject, we received a letter from Bishop Eduard Khegay of the Eurasia Episcopal Area which includes Russia and Ukraine.  He writes in part, “The United Methodist Church in Ukraine continues its ministry in the time of war, suffering and much uncertainty   in   the   country.   We   have   two   churches   in   the   Eastern   Ukraine   -­‐    in   Lugansk   and Krasnoarmeisk near Donetsk. The bombing of Lugansk was felt by many of our United Methodist people. One bomb fell in the garden of the neighboring house next to our church building. The neighbor suffered and the windows of our church was broken. The congregation in Lugansk which consists of 65 people became refugees and left the city. Only three elderly members of Lugansk UMC decided to stay in the city. 10 members of Lugansk UMC moved to Chelyabinsk region where they are given shelter and small job to survive. I am grateful to our UMC in Satka (Chelyabinsk region, Russia) who helps this group of 10 physically and spiritually. Especially I am grateful to this group of 10 who want  to  start  a  new  church  in  the  midst  of  difficult  situation.  They find comfort in God and in fellowship with our brothers and sisters from Satka.”

Bishop Khegay continued, “Our UMC in Eurasia is very grateful to UMCOR for providing help to Ukrainian refugees in Sochi region and to members of Lugansk UMC who became refugees (documented and undocumented) within Ukraine and Russia. Our members of UMC in Sochi minister to refugees from Ukraine who come to Sochi region in the Southern Russia. ….”

Bishop Khegay closes, “Rev. John Calhoon, GBGM missionary, and Rev. Vladimir Khabriko coordinate our ministries in Kiev, Ukraine helping refugees from Crimea. Again, we are grateful to UMCOR for providing help so quickly when so many people are now in need of food and shelter.  As people called Methodists we move as the Spirit moves us to be where suffering people are, to comfort those who need help, to bring food and water, and to start new churches as God leads us. Thank you for your prayers and support!”

I ask that we keep the people of Ukraine and Russian in our prayers and especially Bishop Khegay and the United Methodists of that embattle region of the world.

Six Critical Questions

For the past year and a half, the Cabinet of the Central Texas Conference has been working with the Lencioni organization (The Table Group) in assimilating and implementing lessons from Lencioni’s bestselling book The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business.  We have been seeking to do so in a manner that integrates such thinking with scriptural guidance and theological fidelity to the Wesleyan understanding of faithfulness.  (Many of you might be aware that Patrick Lencioni is a very active practicing Roman Catholic and engages in such work with the Roman Catholic Church in the United States.  Our consultant, David Simpson, is a very active Southern Baptist layman and is likewise committed to integrating the insights of organizational health with Christian theology and practice.)

In our recent Cabinet retreat we examined six critical questions.

1)      Why do we exist?  (Mission)
2)      How do we behave? (Core Values)
3)      What do we do?
4)      How will we succeed?
5)      What is most important right now?
6)      Who must do what?

Our focus was in particular on questions two and five.  In a spirit of transparency and an invitation to join in reflection, I offer the following notes of our work.

1)      Why do we exist?
To energize and equip local churches to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

2)      How do we behave? (Core Values)
i.  Missional (service)
ii.  Christ-like community (worship, lifting up Christ, inclusive)
iii. Engaging, grace-filled, witness [Evangelism] (new people new places, resurrection Jesus, reaching outside the walls)

3)      What do we do?

4)      How will we succeed? (Strategic Anchors; the anchors offer guidance for decision making. We are establishing a “word-smithing” team to refine wording and communication of our strategic anchors.)
- Christ at the Center
- Focus on the Local Church
- Leadership Development

5)      What is most important right now?
1
.      Increasing the number of vital congregations (the current Thematic goal) with five “Defining Objectives” (as follows):
i.     HCI (point guard = Gary Lindley)
ii.    Personal Evangelism & Witness (point guard = Carol Woods)
iii.    30 new church in Risking Taking Mission with the Poor (point guard = Randy Wild)
iv.    Maintain and grow the number of 126+ (average worship attendance) churches (point guard = Bob Holloway)
v.    Lay and clergy leadership development & recruitment (point guard = Georgia Adamson)

We committed to having at least a monthly check-in conversation where we are pointing to these five.  I named “point guards” (drivers or champions) for each of the five defining objectives.

Additionally we outlined some actions steps (some of which are already in process)

Action steps for #5 re Evangelism/Witness:
1.  Bob will visit with Board of Ministry with regard to candidates qualifying for ordination having the ability to tell their personal story of salvation.  Individual DS’s will convey this concern to District Committees on Ministry.
2.  Establish a “Task Force on Conference Evangelism” strategy – Bishop and Carol
3.  The Cabinet will share with each other who they are evangelizing.

Action steps for #5 re Leadership Development:
1.  Continued Recruitment (Georgia)
2.  Laity teaching module for local church (Kim Simpson and Kevin Walters are currently work on this project in conjunction with Georgia Adamson.)
3.  Rewriting HCI curriculum (Gary)
4.  Develop 10+ lay supply (part-time) preachers (Don)
5.  Improving acculturation of newly ordained clergy for the first five years
6.  Leadership succession planning (Bishop)

6)      Who must do what?
There is much thinking and praying that remains to be done to fully complete this work.  And, in a larger sense, it is ongoing work which is never really finished but always in various stages of beginning and refining.  Nonetheless, with Mr. Wesley we celebrate that the “best of all is that God is with us” (Matthew 28:16-20).

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