One of the more perceptive thinkers on the United Methodist Church in our time is Dr. Lovett Weems. He is a former President of St. Paul’s School of Theology and currently serves as Director of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership of Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC. In September Dr. Weems was the featured presenter of a leadership retreat for the Cabinets of the Texas Conferences (Central Texas, North Texas, Northwest Texas/New Mexico, Rio Grande, Southwest Texas, and Texas).
By now most of us know and have bought into the core mission statement of the United Methodist Church (and the Central Texas Conference): “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” We have taken this mission statement a step further in regards to the Central Texas Conference. Our emphasis is on local churches as the place where disciples are made. Properly understood, the Conference exists to “energize and equip local churches to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
Dr. Weems posited a slightly different and intriguing mission for any given annual conference: “To enhance and extend the witness of the United Methodist Church within their geographical boundary.” His vision was not an enhancement of the institutional vitality but rather built on a deep conviction that God in Christ through Holy Spirit has called into mission a people called Methodist to witness to our broken world the grace of Jesus Christ. Put in my language, there are people who will be reached for Christ and His gospel by us or not at all. Furthermore, the great Wesleyan union of personal and social holiness as a part of the larger Christian witness is needed now more than ever.
The concern about local churches being the conference’s focus lies in the danger of thinking that conferences exist as mere service providers for local congregations. Providing services is a needed first step but not complete. Left out of the equation are often the hungry, homeless and hopeless (physically and spiritually speaking)! Our mission must be larger. We must extend the witness of Christ and in so doing share the Methodist union of knowledge and vital piety, social and personal holiness.
All of which brings me back again to the Christmas imperative. Christmas Eve is a time, literally a God-given time, to extend the saving witness of life in Christ! Do whatever you can to get the word out and invite people in to share in the singing, praise and offering of adoration to the newborn king! “O come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord!” — enhance and extend the witness!