Archive - October, 2013

The Vital Connection of Vision and Obedience

Friday (October 25, 2013) I wrote a blog on Vision.  In that blog I quoted Proverbs 29:18 in both the KJV translation and the CEB (Common English Bible) translation.  Respectively the verse is rendered:  “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he” (KJV.  And, “When there’s no vision, the people get out of control, but whoever obeys instruction is happy” (CEB).  I shared how I was intrigued by how rarely the entire passage was quoted and promised (or threatened depending on the reader’s point of view) to pick up that connection in this blog.

The writer of Proverbs clearly ties vision to obedience.  The two go together.  It is almost as if Proverbs previews the Great Commission of Christ.  “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus told them to go. When they saw him, they worshipped him, but some doubted. Jesus came near and spoke to them, “I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age” (Matthew 28:16-20, CEB).  Obedience without vision is aimless and Vision without obedience is empty.

The vision points us, directs us, and leads us into a preferred future of obedient faithfulness to the Lord Jesus Christ – God with us in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Christ as Lord is the essence of our confession as Christians.  In the most basic way we understand that Lord means the ruler, the Master, the One to whom our ultimate allegiance is given.  All of this and yet more resides in the heart of our confession.  There can be little dispute of this essential truth.  This is why the martyrs died.  Their obedience was given to the Lord first and foremost.

Theoretically this all sounds so nice and neat.  It is in the messiness of real living that such a vital connection is put to the test.  Recently I visited a church which is facing critical change, including a decision to relocate (which it has already voted in favor of doing).  The problem is obedience means that power and privilege will flow away from the long-time leaders of the church as they live into this new vision.  Levels of rationalization and resistance can rise to new heights. We tend to seek the grandeur of the vision without the hard living of obedience.

So, too, this is a reality in the area of appointments.  It is easy to sing “all to Jesus I surrender” or “take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to thee” or “wonderful merciful savior.”  It is hard to go to an appointment you didn’t want or respond to a move you didn’t seek.  Our modern sense of upwardly moving career clashes with our profession of obedience to Christ and allegiance to the Lord’s greater vision.  I do not make this as a light assertion.  I have twice been moved against my desires.  One of the moves proved to be a great blessing.  The other was not and even there I learned, grew in faithfulness, and was blessed (reluctantly I will admit).

John Calvin says, “The only true knowledge of God is born of obedience.”  It is to this truth that I confess.  Despite his strong anti-Calvinist convictions, on this much John Wesley would agree.  It is not by accident that obedience in submission to the Conference, Class Meeting and community of faith was for Wesley an extension of his commitment to Christ. The Wesleyan Covenant prayer is prime example of such conviction. (“Let me be employed for thee or set aside by thee; let me be exalted by thee or brought low by thee; …”)  Vision and obedience go together under the Lordship of Christ.  They go together even when it is against my natural inclinations or personal desires. I have discovered a love and joy to the prayer which Bishop Cho has taught me.  “Dear God, Your will.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.  Nothing else.”


Proverbs 29:18 for the Central Texas Conference

It is the old King James translation of Proverbs 29:18 that stays with me. Perhaps you recall it as well. “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” The new CEB (Common English Bible) translation renders the passage, “When there’s no vision, the people get out of control, but whoever obeys instruction is happy.” (Proverbs 29:18) Either way the importance of vision towers over our spiritual landscape. [Note: I am intrigued by how rarely the entire passage is quoted. The writer of Proverbs clearly ties vision to obedience and yet rarely do we make such a connection. This will be the subject of next Tuesday blog but for now I choose to focus on vision.]

This passage in its great phrasing from the KJV sticks both in our heads and hearts because it captures an essential truth. Our Lord offers us a great vision of a renewed world – “on earth as it is in heaven.” This is truly gospel – good news! The Wesleyan Movement came with this great vision to “reform the nation, especially the church, and spread scriptural holiness across the land.” The vision points us, directs us, and leads us into a preferred future of obedient faithfulness to the Lord Jesus Christ – God with us in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. It is from that larger vision that visions (plural) naturally spring forth for every faithful Christian body – a local church, a Conference, a Denomination, etc.

Since coming to the Central Texas Conference as the residential bishop in 2008 I have wrestled with how best to convey the deep overpowering vision I feel called to offers us as a conference. I’ve shared it in a host of different phrasing but always with the same essence. It is akin to the famous phrase from the first election of President Clinton. In that election his strategy team post on the way for to see one phrase, “it’s the economy stupid!” My phrase is equally simple. “It is the local church!”

My vision is to build powerhouse local churches all across the Central Texas Conference. What is a powerhouse church? It is not based on size. It can be large or small, rural or urban, dominantly ethnic or wildly diverse. Powerhouse local churches are churches that live the mission of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” They are launching pads of faithfulness and fruition; robust and vibrant in both personal and social holiness (holiness of heart and life!). Powerhouse churches are missionally engaged. The five practices are intermixed in their being and everywhere evident in the life together and outreach to others – radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith development, risk-taking mission service, and extravagant generosity. They are growth enabling, growth enhancing places of faithfulness and fruitfulness!

What does this vision look like? Images flood through my mind. President George H.W. Bush’s “1,000 points of light” come to mind. The great missionary emphasis of the Irish Abbeys re-Christianizing Europe in the Dark Ages spring out of the past as a picture of the future. (Thomas Cahill’s marvelous book How the Irish Saved Civilization is still a great read!) The Methodist chapels and class meetings of 18th century England dance before my eyes. Wonderful congregations of the current (yes! That is correct! The current!) Central Texas Conference parade before me.

It is not a mistake that every Annual Conference meeting in my episcopacy has one crowing central theme – Energizing and Equipping local churches. Local churches are the locus of disciple making. It is their great blessing and enthralling mission to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

Powerhouse local churches aren’t perfect. They are places real people, warts and all, come to worship, learn and follow God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They are places from which we leave to serve and love others – all others, every accessible human being we may reach.

We can’t do this stuff of being faithful Christians alone. It takes not just village but a real community of faith, fellowship and the fullness of the gospel. It takes a powerhouse church.  It takes a Lord ruling and Spirit empowering and creator God guiding. It is this glorious adventure that thrills my soul and gets me out of bed in the morning.

On the Road Again

Fall is my traveling season.  (Well, actually all times are traveling times for a bishop in the United Methodist Church).  In the past three weeks, I’ve been to Nashville (for Rev. Karen Greenwaldt’s retirement celebration), Chicago (for a Vital Congregations conference, with a delegation from the Central Texas Conference), Austin (for a TMF – Texas Methodist Foundation – Executive Committee meeting); next week I’ll be back in Nashville for the fall meeting of the United Methodist Publishing House.  I’ve had the joy of sharing in worship all over the Central Texas Conference (CTC):  September 8th at Lakeside UMC (Central District), Grandview UMC (North District) on September 15th, Blooming Grove UMC on October 13th (Central District), Lifepoint UMC (North District) on October 20th; I’ll be at Thompson Chapel on the 27th of October and share in the East District Charge Conference Celebration on November 3rd at Trinity in Arlington.  (Admittedly I took September 29th off to be at our son’s wedding in Massachusetts.)  I am looking forward to the Clergy Time Apart retreat on November 5th and 6th as a respite prior to heading to Lake Junaluska for the fall Council of Bishops the week of November 10th.

On my plane trips I confess to not being very sociable.  One of my joys is settling in with my head phones, listening to music (Taize is a current favorite) and reading.  As I look forward to the Clergy Day Apart, I am reading Professor Stephen Seamands’ Give Them Christ: Preaching His Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension and Return.  It is a pleasure to soak in a deep and thoughtful Christology.

In the second chapter, Dr. Seamands called to mind E. Stanley Jones’ writing on the “Indian Road.”  The quote from Jones comes in a chapter entitled “Preaching the Incarnation.”  It struck my heart as I travel my own episcopal road.  I offer a quote from this work in the hopes that it might strike heart with you, the readers of this blog.  The incarnation is a central tenant (you could argue it is THE central tenant of the Christian faith.  It is what this coming season of Advent and the following time of Christmastide is all about.  Christmas is the incarnation!

With Professor Seamands, I invite you to drink deep from the wisdom and faith of a great Christian leader.

In his missionary classic The Christ of the Indian Road, published in 1925, E. Stanley Jones eloquently portrays the powerful difference Christ’s show-and-tell, personal revelation made:

He did not discourse on the sacredness of motherhood – he suckled as a babe at his mother’s breast and that scene has forever consecrated motherhood….

He did not discourse on the dignity of labor – he worked at a carpenter’s bench and his hands were hard with toil of making yokes and plows, and this forever makes the toil of the hands honorable….

He did not teach in a didactic way about the worth of children – he put his hands upon them and blessed them and setting one in their midst tersely said, “Of such is the kingdom of God.”…

He did not paint in lowing colors the beauties of friendship and the need for human sympathy – he wept at the grave of a friend.

He did not argue the worth of womanhood and the necessity of giving them equal rights – he treated them with infinite respect, gave to them his most sublime teaching, and when he arose from the dead he appeared first to a woman.

He did not teach in the schoolroom manner the necessity of humility – he “girded himself with a towel and kneeled down and washed his disciples’ feet.”  (Taken from Give Them Christ by Stephen Seamands, pg. 46).


Walter’s Membership and the Meaning of Discipleship

This year at the Central Texas Annual Conference we passed a motion to clean church membership.  Entitled “Jubilee Membership Year” (page 271 in the Central Texas Conference Journal 2013) the motion reflects deeper theological commitments.  In part it reads:  “Faithful membership in the local church is essential for personal growth and for developing a deeper commitment to the will and grace of God.”  Both biblically and in The Discipline of the United Methodist Church, church membership is intended to be a reflection of a practicing disciple.  (Actually there is no such thing as a non-practicing disciple but that discussion is for another day.)  Back in the 1980s Bishop Wayne Clymer wrote a marvelous little book entitled Membership Means Discipleship.  Our discipleship as members is lived out in the vows of prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.  The “Jubilee” motion notes that churches are to follow the process laid out in The Book of Discipline in paragraph 228.

As hoped, a large number of churches are cleaning their rolls as a sign of integrity and faithfulness.  Recently a story was passed on to me via a District Superintendent about the experience of one church in cleaning its rolls.  (Names are changed to protect the innocent.)

It seems that when this church first got a computer, the Treasurer in experimenting with the system put in a family Walter Schroder (the first name is real, the second I made up) to test the system.  Due to the good work of the Treasurer, the system worked.  Unfortunately they failed to take Walter’s name out of the rolls.  So … well, here’s what the pastor wrote:

“While taking part in the CTC Year of Jubilee, my office administrator and I sent out letters to families and individuals who have not been active at Halleluiah UMC for more than a year. A few days after the mail-out, we began to receive responses. Some told us they were attending other churches. Others wanted to remain on the rolls. One family notified us of their mother’s death. But then came the story of Walter.

Walter’s family had moved their membership to another CTC church several years ago. Only Walter and the family’s daughter had left their membership at Halleluiah. But neither was active, and neither had left a forwarding address. My office administrator thought that maybe Walter was the family’s grandfather, so she sent his letter to the former members who now attend another church.

Like others who had responded, we heard back from the family right away – only to find out that Walter is a cat! There has been a cat on the rolls at Halleluiah UMC for years!”cat

I admit to being a dog lover and not a cat person; however, membership really is intended to be about discipleship.  Integrity and faithfulness are routed in following Christ.  This isn’t about nickels and noises (mere counting); it is about lives transformed through the Lordship of Jesus Christ and engaged in the transformation of our bruised and battered world.  Discipleship is a holy vocation for both lay and clergy.  In the great words of Abbot Aelred of Rievaulx Abbey in England (1147-1167 A.D.) and borrowed by the musical Godspell, “may we know Christ more clearly; love Christ more dearly; and follow Christ more nearly.”  We are to be day by day more like Jesus.

Celebration and Reflection

Last Friday I flew to Nashville, Tennessee for a special retirement celebration.  With many (including a large passel of bishops and General Secretaries), we honored Rev. Karen Greenwaldt for 32 years of service to the general church at the General Board of Discipleship (GBOD).  This celebration included special recognition of her last 13 years at GBOD as the General Secretary.  I had the privilege of formally representing the Central Texas Conference and the South Central Jurisdiction College of Bishops.  More personally, as a seminary classmate and as her bishop, I had the joy of expressing my personal thanksgiving for her lifelong ministry.

Greenwaldt_web1Karen was the first women ordained an elder in the Central Texas Conference.  As such, she pioneered the way for many.  Today, we are engaged in a major challenge to build the next generation of lay and clergy leadership.  We need both men and women who will step forward for the high call of God in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit to bring the good news of the Lord’s healing love – grace – to a battered and bruised world.  Biblically speaking disciples are made, not born.  Discipleship – disciplined, committed following of Christ – comes through the whole of one’s life including dynamic holiness on both (!) a personal and social level.

As I sat through the celebration dinner in Nashville listening to a variety of speakers give thanks for Karen’s ministry, I could not help but reflect on this wider task.  The night before I flew out to Nashville, I taught a class to the Missional Academy of the TCU and UTA Wesley Foundations.  We are examining Alan Hirsch’s The Forgotten Ways Handbook.  Hirsch writes about disciple-making that it is “perhaps the most critical element in the mDNA [missional DNA] mix, because it involves the critical task of becoming more like our Founder, Jesus – of actually embodying what he was about” (Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways Handbook, p. 63).

In the celebration we were offered an invitation, or maybe it was a challenge, to build the next generation of women clergy leadership.  Instead of gifts for her, in the invitation she noted “the gift of your presence is all that’s needed.  Should you wish, please donate to the Karen A. Greenwaldt Endowment.  The endowment will provide scholarships for women clergy candidates from the Central Texas Conference attending Perkins School of Theology at SMU in recognition of Karen who was the first woman ordained by the CTC.”  Wow!  The next generation is built by the generosity of friends and the grace of God.

Jolynn and I have already made a contribution.  If the Holy Spirit so moves you, I invite you to join us in doing so.  You may do this by sending checks payable to the Texas Methodist Foundation Karen A. Greenwaldt Endowment, 11709 Boulder Lane, Austin, TX 78726.  If you wish to apply, hang on a bit.  Karen shared with me the following:  “The agreement with the Texas Methodist Foundation includes the language that they will provide to the Board of Ordained Ministry [of the Central Texas Conference] by January 31st each year the amount of funds that can be distributed. The agreement says that the Conference BOOM will manage the process for how the funds will be distributed. The funds will be distributed to Perkins by TMF once the recipient(s) is named.”

I celebrate her faithful ministry and look forward with anticipation to next generation of great women clergy leaders!

karen g_group

CORE STRATEGIES: Extravagant Generosity

The incident stands clear in my mind.  It was mid-December of my first year at University United Methodist Church in San Antonio.  Jim (I’ve changed the name and some parts of this story but NOT the essence of the tale to protect anonymity) called and asked for an appointment.  Later that day he sat across the desk from me and slid a piece of paper over to me.  It was a five figure amount of money (the sum $23,000 and change sticks in my mind but I’m not exactly sure).  Puzzled I looked at him.  “That’s one tenth of our share of the business profit for this year,” he said.  “Sue and I always tithe on our profit.  What would you like the money put to?”

I knew their giving pattern.  They already gave over a tithe (10%) on their combined salaries.  While far from the wealthiest in the congregation, they were among the largest givers year in and year out.  “I don’t understand,” I stammered.  “You already tithe.”

Politely he responded as if stating the obvious.  “Of course, but we also tithe on our bonuses.”  Such is a picture of our last but far from least Conference core strategy – extravagant generosity.

Most readers will recognize extravagant generosity as one of the five practices of fruitful congregations.  Others will note its reflection of the original core practices of the Methodist Movement under John Wesley. (“Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can.”)  Still others will make the biblical connection to the earliest church found in the book of the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 4:32-37).

Bishop Robert Schnase writes in The Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, “First-century Christina communities, the Methodists of the 1700s, faith mentors, and models of Christian living today – all have discovered a truth as sure as gravity, that generosity enlarges the soul, realigns priorities, connects people to the Body of Christ, and strengthens congregations to fulfill Christ’s ministries. Giving reflects the nature of God. Growing in the grace of giving is part of the Christian journey of faith, a response Christian disciples offer to God’s call to make a difference in the world …. People who give generously to the church do so because they genuinely desire to make a positive difference for the purposes of Christ and because they want to align their lives with higher purposes” (pp. 106-107).

To this high and holy purpose we will seek to work as a Conference.  Two immediate practical examples of this strategy come to mind.  First: recently we brought Dr. Clif Christopher to the Central Texas Conference to lead a workshop on stewardship for both clergy and lay leaders.  (I commend his writing including most recently Rich Church Poor Church: Keys to Effective Financial Ministry and commend Joe Park as well as other members of the Horizons Stewardship team.)

Second: we are actively looking for a part-time development officer for the Central Texas Conference.  This position has already been approved by the Core Leadership Team and was reported at the last gathering of the Central Texas Conference.

Standing strong behind this activity is a Conference that is committed to extravagant generosity.  This is demonstrated in our mission response to those who are hungry, hurting and homeless (whether it be physically, spiritually, or psychologically – or some combination of the three!).  It is demonstrated by a long – decades long! – Conference culture that expects from both churches and clergy full faithfulness in paying apportionments.

Together we are living the biblical dream of Acts 4!  I am proud to be the bishop of the Central Texas Conference.

CORE STRATEGIES: Accountability

I was fascinated by the leadership advice offered in comment about his own organization, The Pittsburg Steelers of the National Football League. Head Coach Mike Tomlin commented, “We seek to have a no excuse culture.” The comment came back in 2009 when, under Tomlin’s leadership, the Steelers won the Super Bowl (making him the youngest coach ever to win the Super Bowl and earing him the NFL’s 2008 Coach of the Year award). Today the Steelers are 0-4. However with such a commitment to excellence in accountability, they will get better. (For the record, I am not a Steeler fan!)

I am a fan of excellence in ministry. I believe this is a way we honor Christ and fulfill our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Bishop Robert Schnase writes about the importance of excellence in his book The Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations. Greg Jones (former Dean of Duke Divinity School) and Kevin Armstong wrote a provocative book entitled Resurrecting Excellence: Shaping Faithful Christian Ministry. The very concept of excellence when attached to faithfulness in ministry harkens back to honoring Christ with our best. The more excellent way of which Scripture speaks is anchored in love (I Corinthians 12:31). A straight line runs from excellence to fruitfulness to faithfulness.

The notion of disciplined accountability was built into the original equation of early Methodists’ understanding of faithfulness and fruitfulness. Richard Heitzenrater in his marvelous history Wesley and the People Called Methodists reflects on the growing Methodist movement and its penchant for accountability (see especially chapter 4 “Consolidation of the Movement”). It is no mistake that the title for our book of Church law is The Discipline.

Most of us can readily agree with the concept of accountability as a reflection of the excellent way of faithfulness and fruitfulness in ministry. It when we come to the particulars that we choke. We know that metrics (measurement) is needed and yet we also know that any standard of measurement by itself is incomplete. Thus it is important to ask “how many people attend worship” yet this alone is not a faithful determiner of the biblical fruitfulness of a congregations’ (or pastors’) ministry.

Furthermore a part of our struggle in adopting accountability as a core strategy lies not just with the question of metrics but also with our tendency to use measurement to apply blame rather than seeking to learn and develop. Put different, we tend to (falsely!) use the concept of accountability as a punishment first and only later ask, “What is the ‘learning’ we might gain from this outcome (fruitfulness) or lack thereof?” Our defensiveness in learning is a crippling form of sin. So, too, is our tendency to blame and look for a scapegoat (a biblical concept – read the story of Abraham and Isaac – Christ came to put an end too!).

I am convinced that accountability is a key strategy we must employ if we are to be faithful. But we must engage in accountability as a strategy aimed at learning and not blaming! Accountability is about faithfulness and fruitfulness. The two biblically go together. We need to be a no excuse culture that is committed to faithfulness and fruitfulness in learning and application.

[For in-depth learning about the issues related to applying “metrics,” I commend to the reader a series of monographs that Dr. Gil Rendle is publishing online through the Texas Methodist Foundation. You may find them at]


A remarkable event took place at the 2013 meeting of the Central Texas Conference.  During the Center for Evangelism and Church Growth report, four specific initiatives related to our core strategy of new church development were launched.

  • 1. Lance Marshall was appointed to 7th Street, Fort Worth for a new church start parented by First United Methodist Church of Fort Worth.  (To the best of my recollection this is the first time someone has been appointed to a street!)
  • 2. Shea Reyenga was appointed a Path 1 Intern at White’s Chapel.  Path 1 is the core strategy of the larger United Methodist Church in the United States on new church development.  (The title “Path 1” comes from the original seven vision pathways laid out by the Council of Bishops for the recovery/transformation of the United Methodist Church.  New church development was designated the first of those seven pathways.)  White’s Chapel, through the mentoring of Dr. John McKellar, is working in coordination with our Center for Evangelism and Church Growth and the Path1 team headed by Rev. Candace Lewis of the General Board of Discipleship. Each of those three entities is contributing expertise, time, and financial resources to this internship.  It is our intent that this would lead to a new church start with Rev. Reyenga and partnered by White’s Chapel UMC sometime in the fall of 2014.
  • 3. Rev. Louis Carr, Jr. was appointed to Thompson Chapel with the intention to relocate and re-launch Thompson Chapel.  This action was taken in conjunction with work done by the congregation (and voted on by them) to take this historic risk-taking mission with the expertise and involvement from both the Center for Evangelism and Church Growth and the Cabinet leadership from the Dr. Luther Henry and District Superintendent Dr. Ginger Bassford.  Pastor Carr tells me that they have already surpassed 100 in worship and are looking to close a deal on new land!
  • 4. A second site start with Rev. Daniel Hawkins serving as the pastor as a part of the staff of First United Methodist Church Keller.  Again the courageous and visionary leadership of the parent church for this second site (1st UMC Keller) is yoked with resources from the Center for Evangelism and Church Growth.

Each of these four ministry initiatives are concrete examples of how we are living out our core strategy of new churches.  No church, no Christian community, no denomination has ever grown in the two thousand year history of Christianity without a deeply committed emphasis on new church development.  None!  Check it out for yourself.  Read Kenneth Scott Latourette’s multi-volume History of the Expansion of Christianity.

Notice further how the core strategy of new churches is yoked with the first core strategy of a focus on the local church; that is, the transformation of existing congregations.  (See my blog entitled “The Transformation of the Local Church” posted September 18, 2013.)  For me, hopefully for us, the need for new places for new people is a conviction – no, more than that – a call that God has laid upon us as a people of faith.  It is one that comes out of the heart of the Christian gospel.  Matthew 28:16-20 and Acts 13:1-3 are two of many passages that provide a biblical anchor.

These are exciting times for the United Methodist Church in Central Texas and around the nation and world!  We are re-engaging and embracing the forgotten ways of Christianity and Methodism.  Praise God!  While writing this blog I received the following note from Dr. Tim Bruster, the Senior Pastor at First United Methodist Church of Fort Worth:  “I want to let you know that we have exceeded our goal of $100,000 from First Church to name the Evangelism and Church Growth Center after Lamar Smith.  We are at nearly $108,000 and the money is still coming in.”

What a great testimony to name the center of Evangelism and Church Growth in honor of truly outstanding leader of Methodism in our Conference (and the Texas Conference) as well as a former President of Texas Wesleyan University – Dr. Lamar Smith.  A double praise God for such faithfulness and vision!

CORE STRATEGIES: Ministry With The Poor

A critical central core strategy of the Central Texas Conference comes straight from the Four Focus Areas of the United Methodist Church – ministry with the poor.  Two quotes come to mind.  The first grows from the soil of Methodism in its original form:

1.  “It is to these Samaritans, those who live outside the palladium of property and privilege, that the Methodist mission is directed. Life is already in the condition of the “spiritual.” Life is the arena of the Spirit. To go deeper into life is to go deeper into the life of the Spirit. Miss J.C. March wrote to John Wesley and asked how best to mature her faith. John answered with an elaboration of prevenient grace: ‘Go see the poor and sick in their own poor little hovels. Take up your cross, woman!.… Jesus went before you, and will go with you. Put off the gentlewoman; you bear a higher character. You are an heir of God!’ When Jesus is Lord, our lords become the poor, the sick, the hungry, the hurting” (The Greatest Story Never Told by Leonard Sweet, pg. 86).

Reflect deeply on the truth that Wesley teaches.  To go deeper into a mature faith involves us going to and being with the poor.  Wesley harkens back to the great teaching of Christ in Matthew 25 (“to the least of these my brothers and sisters”) in his phrase, “Jesus went before you.”

The second quote comes from a young millennial Christian leader named Shane Claiborne passed on to me by Dr. Elaine Heath (Professor of Evangelism at Perkins School of Theology):

 2.  “The problem with most American middle class Christians, according to Claiborne, is not ignorance of poverty, but absence of relationships with the poor. ‘I had come to see that the great tragedy in the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor but that rich Christians do not know the poor’”  (From Longing for Spring: A New Vision for Wesleyan Community, by Elaine A. Heath and Scott T. Kisker, pg. 74).

Ponder fully the phrase “the great tragedy in the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor but that rich Christians do not know the poor.”  Claiborne’s insight fits nicely with the profound and profoundly disturbing work of a secular sociologist Charles Murray (see his book Coming Apart).  Murray notes that often those making policy for the poor really have very little contact with those they seek to help.  This is the flaw in well intended ministry for the poor.  The transforming element of relationship is missing.

The operative word for this strategy both for the Central Texas Conference and the larger United Methodist Church is “with” as in ministry with the poor.  Part of what makes mission trips (whether they are across the street or across the world) so powerfully life changing for the missioner (the one missionally offering) is the personal hands on engagement.  The work of mission teams and local service ministry is literally life transforming for all involved.  This was a cardinal insight of Wesley and the early Methodist.  Today, our mission trips are re-appropriating this great insight.  Thus we together in ministry with the poor live out our core value of being missional – that is, engaged in ministries of love, justice and mercy.