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WORSHIP AND THE WIG ©

John Wesley is purported to have said that “worship is the first and primary duty of the Christian.”  This crucial act of biblical discipleship is clear. In his decisive interchange with the woman at the well, Jesus says, “But the time is coming – and is here! – when true worshippers will worship in spirit and truth. The Father looks for those who worship him this way. God is spirit, and it is necessary to worship God in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-24). The great 100th Psalm is explicit: “Shout triumphantly to the LORD, all the earth!  Serve the LORD with celebration! Come before him with shouts of joy!” (Psalm 100:1-2). The writer of Hebrews admonishes us, “Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing. Instead, encourage each other, especially as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25).

In a recent sermon, I shared a classic definition of worship from Archbishop William Temple. As bombs dropped over London and night after night the Nazi bombers released their load of destruction, William Temple, then Archbishop of Canterbury, preaching from the mighty St. Paul’s Cathedral, gave his famous definition of worship. “To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, to devote the will to the purpose of God. All this is gathered up in that emotion which most cleanses us from selfishness because it is the most selfless of all emotions – adoration.”  The context is of great significance. In the midst of a great world war, worship was seen as central to the life of faith.

As we have moved through the Exodus Project (for 7 years now), we have asked ourselves “what is the one thing that would make the greatest difference in the life of faithful discipleship and in the life of our churches?”  The answer is simple and basic; the one foundational activity that makes a huge difference across the board is an increase in average worship attendance.

Consider the truth:

  • An increase in average worship attendance means more people engaged in outreach mission of justice and mercy for the hungry, hurting and homeless.
  • An increase in average worship attendance has a direct correlation to an increase in giving thus enabling both basic discipleship development and greater outreach for others.
  • An increase in average worship attendance usually means a church is reaching more people, younger people, and more diverse people with the gospel.
  • An increase in average worship attendance develops a greater commitment to the whole gospel.

The great centrality of holy worship in the life of discipleship has led us to the WIG. WIG means the Wildly Important Goal. At our last Annual Conference, we introduced the WIG as a percent of market share. United Methodists have roughly 1% of the populace in the geographical area composing the Central Texas Conference worshipping in our churches. The goal we adopted as a Conference was to increase our market share in worship attendance as a percent of the population to 1.25 percent by 2026. This is a huge increase, especially considering that we expect the population of our Conference area to grow 15% by 2026. Recently Lovett Weems (founding Director for the Lewis Center for Church Leadership at Wesley Theological Center and now Senior Consultant) shared with me that this is one of the most audacious and significant goals he has seen any Conference in the United States set in many years.

Figuring out the market share goal of any one local church is not a matter of simply calculating 1.25% of the population within a 5-mile drive radius. Figuring out market share (a way of thinking about worship mission share) involves first, knowing your market (mission) area. Is it 5 miles or a 15-minute drive or a geographical county or a few zip codes?  The local church (not the District or Conference) will establish its own best understanding of their mission field and market area.

Secondly figuring out market share necessitates knowing what your current market share is as a congregation. Again, the local church (not the District or Conference) will establish its own best understanding of their mission field and market area. Using Mission Insite (a detailed demographic analysis which may be accessed free of charge), a church can then calculate its current market share. The market share will differ wildly from church to church. For some churches the current market share of average worship attendance will be above the Conference average. (I looked at two recently that were at 3% and one at 6%.)  Others will be below 1%. (I looked at one that at .5% and another at less than .5 %). Typically market share will be higher in small towns and lower in cities.

Local church leadership together with the pastor (not by the pastor alone!!) will establish a measurable goal for the next year. Those goals should include an increase in worship attendance (whether market share or a simple numeric goal) as well as an increase in Professions of Faith. Together we are making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world!

 

How to set goals – by Jaime McGlothlin from Valley Mills / Cayote

 

 

 

Reflections on the Upcoming Judicial Council Decision ©

On Tuesday, April 25, Mike Ford, Central Texas Conference Lay Leader, and I sent the following letter (via email) to all the clergy in the Central Texas Conference currently under appointment as well as the Lay Leaders of our local churches. We’d like to thank Vance Morton, director of Communications & IT for the CTC, for his valuable assistance. – JML

“Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort in love, any sharing in the Spirit, any sympathy, complete my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, being united, and agreeing with each other. Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus””   Philippians 2: 1-5 (CEB)

Dear Friends,

Greetings in the name of Christ! We are writing to all Central Texas Conference clergy currently under appointment as well as those serving as Lay Leader for our local churches, in hopes of providing you the necessary information and context regarding the pending Judicial Council ruling on the validity of the election of Bishop Karen Oliveto.

As you may recall, Bishop Karen Oliveto was elected and consecrated a United Methodist bishop in July by delegates of the Western Jurisdictional Conference. Bishop Oliveto, an elder in good standing at the time of her election, is a partner in a same-sex marriage. At the time of the election, the South Central Jurisdictional Conference petitioned the Judicial Council for a declaratory decision about the validity of her election. The petition asks the Judicial Council whether “the nomination, election, consecration, and/or assignment as a bishop of The United Methodist Church of a person who claims to be a ‘self-avowed practicing homosexual’ or is a spouse in a same-sex marriage” is lawful under The Book of Discipline [Paragraphs 304.3, 310.2d, 341.6, and 2702.1 (a), (b), and (d)].

The Judicial Council is meeting today through Friday (April 25 – 28) in Newark, New Jersey. During this meeting, the Council will act on the request for a declaratory decision on Bishop Oliveto’s election. At this time, we have no indication as to when the ruling will be announced.

The entire Cabinet is quite conscious that there are deep and varied convictions about this issue across the conference and connection. We are also aware that there is great interest, discourse and anxiety about this decision. As such, we are in daily prayer for all United Methodists, but especially the lay and clergy leadership of our conference as they are being called upon to lead their congregations through this critical moment and keep their church’s focus squarely on our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We ask you to join us in these prayers.

We offer the following for your careful consideration, believing that it will help prepare you for the announcement of that ruling and assist in any questions or comments you might receive.

  • First and foremost, be a people of prayer. Pray for the Judicial Council, the Western Jurisdiction, Bishop Oliveto and all the bishops of the church, all local churches, clergy and laity and The United Methodist Church at large.
  • Slow down, relax, don’t over respond. Please remind all to breathe deep and recall that Jesus is still Lord and that God’s grace is at work here. Regardless of the ruling, the churches of the Central Texas Conference will continue in their worship and ministries.
  • No matter how the Judicial Council decides, the mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ stays the same. We will stay focused on 1) Keeping Christ at the center of everything we do; 2) Developing strong and effective clergy and lay leadership; 3) Growing vital congregations throughout the Central Texas Conference.
  • We are going to continue to uphold church law. Please do not make premature decisions based on this ruling. The Judicial Council determines the constitutionality and legality of actions taken by individuals or constituted entities of the church and will express its own perspective and give its own rationale for its decision. The Judicial Council’s actions are always specific to particular circumstances. Because their decision will be about a specific request from one jurisdiction regarding the action of another jurisdiction, their decision will not change The Book of Discipline.
  • We ask you to wait for the full report from the Commission on a Way Forward (CWF), which is expected to be released in about a year, and the actions that come out of the called General Conference, scheduled for Feb. 23-26, 2019 in St. Louis, before deciding on where you stand on this issue. Remember, this week’s ruling DOES NOT change church law, nor does it suggest how the CWF or the called General Conference might decide.
  • Please be wise and respectful leaders on social media. Discussions on a complex issue like this are best done face-to-face. Please resist the temptation to engage in heated conversations via social media. While Facebook, Twitter, etc. are important and vital tools of communication, posts and tweets can easily be taken out of context, especially when shared or retweeted. While you and the members of your church are certainly entitled to and encouraged to have your own opinions, we do want to remind you that there is a greater constituency beyond your personal social media network to which you are responsible. No matter how the Judicial Council rules, there will be some in your congregation/community/peer groups who are celebrating the ruling and others who will mourn the decision. As you engage via social media, please do so in a positive, uplifting manner and help redirect the conversation back to the mission of the church. We encourage you to be grace filled and positive on social media, and resist venting or sharing personal convictions, even on your personal sites. Remember, as a pastor or lay leader, to some degree, you no longer only represent yourself, you represent your church, and the larger shared ministry of The UMC.
  • It is important that we remain in conversation with each other. Clergy, if you have deep concerns following the decision, we urge you to visit with your DS and/or any other member of the Cabinet – including either one of us. Lay leaders are encouraged to reach out to the conference lay leader. Members of the 2016 delegation to General Conference are also an excellent resource of information and context.
  • At the request of the Council of Bishops, we will form a task force to help us design processes for working with and through the recommendations put forth by the Commission on a Way Forward. Dr. Bob Holloway, dean of the CTC Cabinet; Rev. Leah Hidde-Gregory, Central District Superintendent; Rev. Travis Franklin, North District Superintendent (effective July 1) and Rev. Casey Orr, member of the Commission on a Way Forward, have been named to this task force. They will be joined by four members of the 2016 CTC General and Jurisdictional Conference delegations. The delegation reps will be named by the delegation in the coming months.

Once again, we ask you to be a people of prayer, to breathe deep, remember that Jesus is still Lord, keep your church’s focus squarely on the mission and wait for the process – the Judicial Council, the CWF, the called General Conference, etc. – to work through this issue. We also urge you to live in the second chapter of Philippians – particularly verses 4-5. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus.“(CEB)

The Lord is at work here – whether we are aware, the Lord is at work here.

May the grace of the Lord guide your hearts and minds, today and forever.

Flood Relief for Our Neighbors ©

The pictures and news reports are graphic.  The flooding is historic in size and scope.  The impact has been described as “catastrophic” by The Central Texas Conference’s Coordinator of Disaster Response Rev. Laraine Waughtal.

Already the response by Central Texas Conference (CTC) churches has been tremendous!  Rev. Waughtal and a team of trained Early Responders have already delivered a 6×12 trailer full of supplies with more than 200 buckets of cleaning supplies plus many school kits and health kits. Well done you saints of the Lord!

LA flooding responseWhen I asked her what more was needed, Rev. Waughtal responded with a trinity of needs – Money, buckets and trained Early Response Teams.  The detailed instruction in the lead story of our conference website bears repeating by way of emphasis.

  1. Please cover everyone with prayer.  From emergency personnel, to churches, the people who have been directly affected, families who are still trying to reach loved ones and all those helping with the continued rescues and the start of recovery, etc.
  2. Please make more cleaning buckets!  Louisiana needs anything and everything you can make at this time. Flood buckets generally cost about $65 and contain basic supplies such as detergent, sponges and soap that allow flood survivors to begin the overwhelming job of cleaning up. You can click here to see a list of supplies and how to build “flood” buckets. Once they have been built, please take your cleaning buckets to First United Methodist Hillsboro (315 E. Elm St. Hillsboro, TX) as this is where we store our CTC Disaster response supplies. The CTC Disaster Response team will make another run to Louisiana as soon as the cleaning buckets are ready and take them to the appropriate location.
  3. Please do not go to Louisiana at this time. This is at the request of the Louisiana Conference as well as state officials. They need to be able to focus on what is happening right now and keep visitors, even those with the best of intentions, to a minimum at this time. [Trained early responders can be of big assistance and should coordinate going through Rev. Waughtal.]
  4. If you feel led to give financially, please give to the UMCOR advance # 901670.

It wasn’t long ago (this past June) when we were reaching out (with support for our neighbors in Louisiana!) to those suffering in the Central Texas Conference due to flooding. Once again we hear all call from the Lord to Christian service and generosity which echoes the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke10:25-37). The admonition of Christ lingers in our hearts and minds … “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:37).

 

Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey, One Week Later from Louisiana Annual Conference on Vimeo.

A Strong Witness from Lay Leaders ©

Friday, May 13th, the Laity Address was given at the General Conference of the United Methodist Church in Portland, Oregon.  Listening to Lay Leaders from Upper New York, Virginia, Missouri, Tennessee, Zimbabwe, and the Great Plains Conference, delegates and observers heard a strong call to engage in evangelistically sharing Christ and the Christian faith.  It was a remarkably clear challenge to re-engage in explicitly sharing salvation in Christ.

Consider a variety of notable quotes:

  • “Our ongoing challenge comes from the need to embrace all that discipleship entails.”
  • “Discipleship is not just about helping out when we have the time or energy, it is about offering Christ.”
  • “Hold true to the foundational commitments to Jesus.”
  • “Engaging others means being willing to step out of our comfort zones to make Christ known to others.”

I invite readers of this blog to take the time to listen to the Laity Address by clicking here.

Amid the continuing spiritually uplifting worship and the bright lights of witness like that offered Friday by the Laity, the various committees of General Conference continue to struggle with their work. There are great continued calls to love all!  Who can disagree with the great need to love and to reach out in love?  We are called by Christ himself to love God and love our neighbor.  Yet, there is much debated about what it properly means to love.  The call is to love people but not necessarily the practices they engage in.  This debate focuses around the issue of how to respond to issues around LGBTQ life expressions.

I continue to be struck by how wide the worldwide witness we have is. A subtheme behind our arguments about rules, practices and church law is perhaps the wider issue of how we live together as a worldwide church.  At times it feels like almost anything said or written is going to offend someone.  Prayers are needed as we struggle with the twined calls to love and holiness.

A Significant Denominational Report on Congregational Vitality

The United Methodist Church has been engaged in a committed emphasis on building vital congregations who “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Bishop John Schol from the Greater New Jersey Conference has been the lead bishop in this crucial venture along with the Connectional Table of the United Methodist Church and the Council of Bishops Congregational Vitality Leadership Team.  With Bishop Schol’s permission, I am sharing his 2014 Vitality Report as a “guest blog.”  In the next blog, I will write more specifically about the Central Texas Conference vitality measures and how they help us shape the narrative of ministry and mission in the name of the risen Christ.   Bishop Mike Lowry

[Note: Due to reporting procedures by various congregations and Annual Conferences, the statistical data for 2015 is not yet available.  As always, it is important to understand that “metrics” only tell half the story.  The crucial addition piece of information consists of the narrative of contextual ministry taking place in the name of Jesus Christ.]

 2014 Vitality Report

Highly vital congregations are focused on growing their vitality by making and maturing disciples, not achieving numbers. Highly vital congregations grow and support disciples and leaders through worship, small groups, lay and clergy leadership development and ministry and mission engagement. Highly vital congregations are in every geographic region of the U.S. and are of all sizes and ethnicity. Vital Congregations is a broad based movement within the church that is making disciples and transforming the world.

The UMC began to measure vitality in the U.S. in 2010 and the latest 2014 vitality indicators show we are ahead of 2010 by 8 percentage points. We have made important progress in growing congregational vitality. Ultimately Vital Congregations is about changed lives and transformed communities.

There are hopeful signs and we still have challenges maintaining congregational vitality. Between 2013 and 2014, the latest vitality indicators show a 5 percentage point decrease in the percentage of highly Vital Congregations. But in 2014, three of the five markers of vitality increased.

Increased the percentage of worshipers in small groups from 59% to 61%

  1. Increased the percentage of worshipers engaged in hands on mission from 38% to 48%
  2. Increased the average percentage of a congregation’s giving to mission from 15% to 18%
  3. Number of worshipers to make one profession of faith went from 22 to 23 (this is actually a decline because a lower number is preferable in this measure)
  4. Percentage of congregations growing in worship attendance decreased from 31% to 30%

While we can celebrate that we have made important progress between 2010 and 2014 in the percentage of Highly Vital Congregations and that three of the five markers of vitality increased during 2014, we also need to face into the challenge of the decrease in vitality between 2013 and 2014 largely driven by decreases in professions of faith and worship attendance.

Our largest gain in U.S. vitality was in 2012, the year every conference and most congregations set goals for the five markers of vitality – new disciples, worship attendance, mission giving, mission engagement and small groups.

We can also celebrate the progress we made in 2014 in three of the markers of vitality – small groups, mission engagement and mission giving. I believe that as we continue to grow in these areas, we will begin to experience healthier increases by more congregations in worship attendance and professions of faith.

Below is a conference by conference look at vitality and also how vitality is measured.

Thank you for all you are doing to lead congregations toward health and vitality. God is doing life changing ministry through The United Methodist Church and your leadership is making a difference.

Keep the faith!

John Schol, Bishop
The United Methodist Church
Greater New Jersey

 

US Conference Vital Signs 2010 Highly Vital Congregations 2014 Highly Vital Congregations Vitality increase/ decrease between 2010 and 2014 Vitality increase/decrease between 2013 and 2014 Number of worshipers to make 1 profession of faith or restored % of  worshippers who are in adult Christian formation groups % of worshipers involved in a mission experience % of local church spending going to mission % of congregations growing
US TOTAL 15% 23% 8 -5 23 61% 48% 18% 30%
                   
NORTH CENTRAL TOTAL 12% 20% 8 -5 26 54% 44% 18% 27%
DAKOTAS 9% 15% 6 -4 27 37% 20% 19% 42%
DETROIT 9% 22% 13 -9 21 48% 43% 16% 25%
EAST OHIO 10% 21% 11 -1 26 55% 32% 18% 25%
ILLINOIS GRT RIVERS 11% 17% 6 -5 29 46% 27% 19% 25%
INDIANA 15% 21% 6 -13 30 60% 37% 16% 23%
IOWA 13% 15% 2 -4 23 46% 42% 19% 30%
MINNESOTA 12% 15% 3 -7 22 48% 40% 18% 25%
NORTHERN ILLINOIS 15% 21% 6 -9 20 49% 50% 16% 25%
WEST MICHIGAN 12% 21% 9 -6 30 55% 33% 18% 25%
WEST OHIO 14% 28% 14 -2 26 57% 67% 20% 32%
WISCONSIN 8% 21% 13 -3 18 49% 33% 16% 23%
                 
NORTHEASTERN TOTAL 11% 21% 10 -5 23 49% 37% 17% 31%
BALTIMORE-WASH 22% 35% 13 -4 17 56% 96% 19% 33%
EASTERN PENN 7% 17% 10 -9 21 56% 34% 12% 30%
GREATER NEW JERSY 16% 32% 16 -3 18 61% 42% 18% 33%
NEW ENGLAND 9% 19% 10 -6 21 46% 32% 14% 26%
NEW YORK 7% 20% 13 -5 13 48% 24% 15% 27%
PENINSULA-DELAWARE 16% 23% 7 -3 23 46% 32% 17% 33%
SUSQUEHANNA 8% 21% 13 -7 27 49% 32% 17% 30%
UPPER NEW YORK 7% 17% 10 -3 24 40% 28% 14% 32%
WEST VIRGINIA 10% 16% 6 -6 37 48% 24% 26% 33%
WESTERN PENN 8% 16% 8 -8 26 47% 21% 16% 29%
                   
SOUTH CENTRAL TOTAL 17% 26% 9 -6 21 69% 60% 19% 32%
ARKANSAS 12% 24% 12 -4 24 61% 56% 19% 29%
CENTRAL TEXAS 22% 29% 7 -2 21 91% 63% 18% 34%
GREAT PLAINS 15% 21% 7 -7 20 59% 64% 14% 31%
LOUISIANA 24% 24% 10 -7 24 64% 67% 30% 37%
MISSOURI 16% 28% 12 -5 23 58% 68% 18% 33%
NEW MEXICO 15% 26% 11 -6 28 58% 45% 14% 24%
NORTH TEXAS 32% 35% 3 1 16 83% 88% 21% 30%
NORTHWEST TEXAS 10% 27% 17 -6 19 90% 55% 16% 30%
OKLAHOMA 24% 26% 2 -1 23 75% 50% 23% 28%
OKLAHOMA INDIAN MIS 27% 37% 10 -4 12 46% 12% 18% 45%
RIO GRANDE 10% 13% 3 -12 25 36% 4% 16% 32%
SOUTHWEST TEXAS 33% 26% -7 -14 19 71% 51% 20% 34%
TEXAS 27% 25% -2 -10 20 89% 49% 20% 34%
                   
SOUTHEASTERN TOTAL 15% 23% 8 -4 25 64% 50% 19% 31%
ALABAMA-W. FLORIDA 15% 19% 4 -1 24 73% 41% 17% 36%
FLORIDA 13% 27% 14 -5 20 56% 36% 17% 30%
HOLSTON 22% 23% 1 -2 32 64% 59% 19% 31%
KENTUCKY 16% 18% 2 -10 28 57% 26% 18% 32%
MEMPHIS 9% 25% 16 -5 29 64% 54% 19% 34%
MISSISSIPPI 9% 22% 13 -5 34 62% 24% 20% 32%
NORTH ALABAMA 22% 17% -5 -7 25 68% 48% 17% 30%
NORTH CAROLINA 16% 26% 10 7 25 63% 50% 24% 33%
NORTH GEORGIA 14% 29% 15 -4 20 69% 76% 18% 32%
RED BIRD MISSIONARY 19% 27% 8 -10 23 51% 37% 11% 27%
SOUTH CAROLINA 15% 23% 8 -8 29 67% 36% 18% 30%
SOUTH GEORGIA 14% 18% 4 -7 28 69% 22% 18% 32%
TENNESSEE 16% 24% 8 -5 25 67% 41% 22% 38%
VIRGINIA 16% 25% 9 1 24 58% 66% 25% 29%
WESTERN N CAROLINA 22% 24% 2 -1 26 67% 63% 14% 28%
                   
WESTERN TOTAL 20% 26% 6 -5 22 61% 45% 15% 30%
ALASKA 18% 30% 12 -3 20 48% 65% 19% 43%
CALIFORNIA-NEVADA 21% 25% 4 3 22 62% 51% 12% 24%
CALIFORNIA-PACIF 24% 28% 4 -9 21 55% 30% 15% 37%
DESERT SOUTHWEST 23% 36% 13 -1 19 52% 48% 20% 33%
OREGON-IDAHO 11% 18% 7 -4 31 57% 41% 17% 26%
PACIFIC NORTHWEST 20% 26% 6 -10 25 56% 41% 20% 27%
ROCKY MOUNTAIN 23% 32% 9 -7 19 84% 71% 14% 37%
YELLOWSTONE 21% 14% -7 -7 26 59% 47% 15% 26%

Highly Vital Congregation Measures

Below are the specific measures used to identify highly vital congregations. To be considered as a highly vital congregation, a church must be in the top 25% of all congregations in two of the four major areas and cannot be in the bottom 25% in any one of the areas. Each specific measure is important as a highly vital congregation may not be as fruitful in every area but is fruitful in most of the areas.

Growth

  • On average, US highly vital congregations increase worship attendance by 4% over five years. The average worship attendance change for all US churches is -7%.
  • On average, US highly vital congregations increase the number of professions of faith by 82% over five years. The average change in the number of professions of faith for all US churches is    -11%.

Involvement

  • On average, US highly vital congregations have 106% of their worship attendance involved in a small group or some ongoing study opportunity. This number may seem inaccurate but it is this high because the average worship attendance does not include some people who go to small groups like children in Sunday school or youth in youth group.  The average for all US churches in 71% of the worship attendance in small groups.
  • On average, US highly vital congregations have 9% of their worship attendance who are young adults involved in study groups that include Bible study, Sunday school and other groups for learning. The average for all US churches is 5%.
  • On average, US highly vital congregations have 56% of their total professing members in average worship attendance. The average for all US churches is 51%.

Engaged

  • On average, US highly vital congregations have 20% of their worship attendance engaged in a volunteer in mission ministry. The average for the US is 8%.
  • On average, US highly vital congregations have 6% of their worship attendance that join by profession of faith or are restored in a given year. This does not include confirmands. The average for US churches is 2%.

Giving

  • US highly vital congregations give 100% of their apportionments for the most current year.
  • On average, US highly vital congregations grow mission giving by 12% over five years. The average for all US churches is -15%.
  • On average, US highly vital congregations grow non capital spending by 22% over five years. The average for all US churches is 2% over five years.

 Growing Vitality

Congregations fruitful in these areas have transformational stories and are engaging in four key areas of ministry.

  1. Ministry – vital congregations offer effective and abundant opportunities for children and youth ministry, small groups, and missional outreach in the community and the world.
  2. Pastoral Leadership – Pastors who use their influence to help congregations set and achieve significant goals, inspire the congregation through preaching, serve in an appointment effectively and for a longer period of time, and coach and mentor laity to lead effectively.
  3. Lay Leadership – Laity who demonstrate a vital and active personal faith, develop and grow in their leadership effectiveness, and rotate out of leadership positions so that more people have the opportunity to serve.
  4. Worship – Vital churches offer a mix of worship services appropriate to their context, tend to use topical sermon series, for mid-large size congregations they use contemporary music in contemporary worship and use multimedia in contemporary worship.

Highly vital congregations are focused on growing their vitality by making and maturing disciples, not achieving numbers. Highly vital congregations grow and support disciples and leaders through worship, small groups, lay and clergy leadership development and ministry and mission engagement.

 

Whose Side Are You On?

The daily news of divisions assault us. I have been watching with many of you the nightly news of debate amongst the contenders for the Republican Party’s nomination for president. Are you for Trump or Cruz, Perry or Fiorina, Rubio or Kasich, Carson or Bush, or any of the other (what is it now –17?) candidates. Maybe instead your preference leans into the Democratic Party’s race for the nomination. Do you support Clinton or Sanders, Webb or Chafee? The rhetoric of division and demonization has already scaled the foothills of the absurd.   I cannot help but think of Donald Trump’s trip to Laredo and his claim that he had put his life in danger by going there. (The last time I went there I helped open a new United Methodist Church!)

Before we settle into the holy arrogance of the elite, we must pause and confess the divisions among us. For starters there is the obvious denominational division which is a scandal on the body of Christ. But the issue of whose side are you on strikes closer to home. Nowadays almost everywhere I go in the United Methodist Church there are debates and divisions about whether United Methodist pastors should be able to perform same gender marriages and about ordination of those who are a part of a same gender married couple. Whose side are you on?

Recently as a part of my daily devotional life, I perceived the Lord directing me to read the book of Joshua. I confess that I am more a New Testament guy (through I do regularly read and study both). Trying to be faithful, I have slowly been reading through Joshua and contemplating its lessons.

One day, I went through a series of experiences where the divisions impacted me directly. I watched (but did not take part in) a debate around various Republican candidates. People kept pushing each other to declare whose side they were on. The argument quickly became strident. Later in the day I was directly involved in a painful strife-laced tense argument about how the United Methodist Church should respond to the recent Supreme Court decision declaring marriage a constitutional right. I went to bed that night more than just a little disturbed by the divisions tearing at both our society and church.

The next morning as I went through my devotional time the fifth chapter of Joshua came up for reading in the regular rhythm of my devotions. Joshua 5:13-15 reads:

13 When Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up. He caught sight of a man standing in front of him with his sword drawn. Joshua went up and said to him, “Are you on our side or that of our enemies?”
14 He said, “Neither! I’m the commander of the Lord’s heavenly force. Now I have arrived!” Then Joshua fell flat on his face and worshipped. Joshua said to him, “What is my master saying to his servant?”
15 The commander of the Lord’s heavenly force said to Joshua, “Take your sandals off your feet because the place where you are standing is holy.” So Joshua did this.

I heard the Lord speaking to me and us as a people of faith. It is well past time in our debates and divisions that we embrace a godly humility. We do not have God on our side. Humbly we pray that we might faithfully align ourselves with the only one who can rightly be called Lord and Master.

This does not mean we should not have opinions, preferences and convictions. We can and should. It does not mean we should not debate issues, even passionately stating the case as best we understand it. Again, we can and should.

It does mean that we should sit lightly. However sure we are that we are right, the last word belongs to Lord God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. However convinced we are that our “side” is the Lord’s side, only the Lord Jesus Christ alone can truly make such a claim.

The Lord stands in our midst and speaks again to our challenge of whose side you are on. The answer is once again clear. “Neither! I’m the commander of the Lord’s heavenly force. Now I have arrived!” (Joshua 5:14a). We too, like Joshua, need to fall on our faces in worship asking only, “What is my master saying to his servant?” (Joshua 5:14b).

Flood Waters, Tornados and the Connection ©

Wednesday morning I arrived back in the Central Texas Conference offices from Montgomery, Alabama.  Jolynn and I had been gone for the previous three and a half days while I had the honor and joy of serving as the Conference Preacher for the Alabama- West Florida Annual Conference.

A few years ago, terrible tornados ripped through the Auburn, Alabama area (the northeastern part of Alabama-West Florida).  With other United Methodists all across the nation, Central Texas responded in offerings and prayers for those affected.  While in Montgomery, the prayers and concerns of the good people of the Alabama-West Florida for those affected by the flooding in Texas was a constant blessing.

As I settle back into my office, such a trip into another Conference reminds me again of just how powerful the United Methodist connection is!  We do far more together than we could ever do separately.  Already the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) has sent an immediate financial grant for help plus other support.

In coming back to the office, I checked in with the Center for Mission Support.  Rev. Laraine Waughtal, the Central Texas Conference Disaster Response Coordinator, reports that our response to the flooding and tornadoes has been immediate not only across our conference but also assisting the Texas and Rio Texas Conferences.

As the storms began a month ago in Stephenville, Rio Vista, Italy, Morgan Mill and Hillsboro, the Conference Task Force was on the ground working with city and state officials to make assessments in the communities and to see if our help was needed.  Some of ERTs deployed at that time, but most of our communities were fortunate that home flooding and damage was limited.

In the meantime our ERTs (Early Response Teams) traveled to Wimberley and Martindale to help in the tragedies that took place in those communities.  Those communities are in the Conference I served for over 30 years.  The pain of loss is real.  As a family we have “tubed” down the Blanco River.  I thank God for those who have reached out across the connection to help our brothers and sisters in another area!

As the storms progressed through the month our Task Force was continuously on the ground working with communities, local Methodist pastors and others to see what the needs were.  Again we were fortunate until recently.  Now, we are responding to flooding in Eastland, Cisco, Ranger and Grapevine.  We will continue to serve both in the Central Texas Conference and in others areas of Texas which are in need.  As the flood waters progress southward, we will be looking at opportunities to respond in DeLeon, Comanche, and Hutto with our ERTs to begin with in this disaster. Multiple trained teams are responding to these areas to help with the muck-outs.  When we needed flood buckets we asked FUMC Mansfield to supply us with those since they were already working to make some in the near future.  When we asked for 40 they made 110!  Health kits that were made and previously given by area churches were also distributed to the families.

Many of these homes that are flooding are homes which have never flooded before and are not in flood zones.  Therefore, they do not have flood insurance to lean on and especially need our assistance in rebuilding and recovery.  We are asking for a Conference-wide appeal to help raise funds in this recovery effort.  Money can be sent to the Conference office with the designation Disaster Fund.  In time, as the homes dry out, UMVIM teams will be invited to come and help with the rebuild effort.  With that in mind for future planning, be thinking about your mission teams organizing to respond!

You will be hearing and reading more about various disaster relief efforts from the flooding and tornados.  I ask that you follow along using the Central Texas Conference website.

I give thanks to God for your faithfulness as a people and your graciousness in response to these disasters.  The Lord is with us!

A Call for Prayer and Healing from the Council of Bishops

council of bishops logo 2014_medOnce a quadrennium, the United Methodist Council of Bishops meets intentionally outside the United States, which reminds us that we are truly a worldwide church. As we gather in Berlin, I ask for your prayers, especially for those Christians undergoing persecution, civil unrest and violence, as well as those dealing with the devastation brought about by natural disasters. I also request prayers for all the bishops as we gather together to discern the Holy Spirit’s guidance of this great church.

On the opening day of our meeting, Bishop Warner H. Brown, Jr., president of the Council of Bishops, sent an open letter to the people of The United Methodist Church requesting that we all join together in prayer for the church and the world. Bishop Brown, not only remembered those who are suffering around the world, he also commented on the recent eruption of violence in Baltimore and the need to no longer be in denial about the powerful impact of racism in the U.S. Bishop Brown currently serves as bishop for the San Francisco Episcopal Area, but he grew up in the very neighborhood of Baltimore that is ground zero for the rioting and unrest in the area.

I offer up to you his letter as a guest blog post.

“To the people of The United Methodist Church:

Grace and peace to the people called United Methodist and all people of good will. I greet you in the name of Jesus, the Christ who is risen. From May 1-7, the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church will hold its 2015 meeting in Berlin, Germany. During this week, we will be praying for the church and taking actions that we hope will help lead the church in a faithful response to the call of discipleship. Please pray with us, for the church and all those the church seeks to serve.

We are a church that practices ministry to the world in Jesus’ name. While United Methodist churches are primarily in Africa, Europe, the Philippines and the United States, our ministry partnerships connect us with every continent. So, we grieve when the news of the day reminds us of the many ways the people of our world are hurting and suffering under the weight of tragedy. We seek to respond readily with prayers and aid to the natural disasters such as we have just witnessed in Nepal. And the human inflicted pain also requires a prayerful response that declares that terrorism, human exploitation, bullying and abuses of power will not overcome us.

Please join me and the Council of Bishops in prayer, reflection and action toward overcoming the issues that sometimes divide our societies. Together we can find ways, appropriate to our social context, for healing the brokenness between us.

For those of us in the United States, our attention has been called to the powerful impact of racism on all of us. If we seek healing, we cannot continue to be in denial. Some of us have read the shocking Justice Department report on Ferguson and most have seen the violence that tragically erupted there against police officers. Since then other unarmed Black men have been killed in several cities and now Baltimore has also erupted in violence.

As a Black man who grew up in the very Baltimore neighborhood we have watched explode, this is personal. I grieve over what I see in my old neighborhood. The anger in the community is real because of decades of distrust.

Video documentation has raised expectations that claims of wrongdoing would be seriously considered; so distrust grows because very few police officers have been held accountable.

A just society cannot be built on violence. Violence and misconduct by either a misguided police officer or an angry citizen will not lead us to beloved community. Reconciliation can occur when we tell the truth and take responsibility for our actions.

Rev. Willis Johnson, pastor of Wellspring United Methodist Church which serves Ferguson, Missouri, said this: “Who is going to become a model for dealing with reconciling and truth? That is the role of the Church!”

In this season of resurrection, the Council of Bishops and I believe that we followers of Jesus are called to lead the way. Let us examine and repent of our own sins of racial bias and abuse of privilege. Let us proclaim and live the Gospel of love and justice for all. Let us become proactive in modeling that gospel in our churches and teaching it to young and old alike. Let us be disciples who are engaged with God in transforming our world, beginning in our own communities, working for justice, judicial reform and good police/community relations. Let us break down the walls that divide us and build relationships that vanquish our fears. When we work together for justice and peace, we will no longer be strangers.

Remember, all who would follow Jesus, he calls us again and again to “love your neighbor as yourself.”(Matt.22:39) Even out of the injustice and violence he experienced, Jesus leads us to hope and resurrection. Let us believe in and practice the power of prayer for our world, our church, our neighbors and our own lives.

And, the risen Christ said to his followers, “remember, I am with you always.”(Matt.28:20)

Your brother in Christ,

Warner H. Brown, Jr.”

Following the  release of the Bishop Brown’s letter, Bishop Gregory V. Palmer of the Ohio West Episcopal Area called for the Council to issue a pastoral letter on racism and asked the president to appoint a task force to work on this effort, to be completed by May 7.

A New Church Being Called Forth by the Holy Spirit #2

Aslan is on the Move! ©

Few Christian writers and thinkers have had such a profound influence on the life of the faith & the church as C. S. Lewis.  (Mere Christianity is basic foundational reading!)  In his classic Narnia series, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe shares a wonderful allegorical tale of children who go exploring in an old wardrobe and find themselves in a new land – Narnia.  The land is frozen in perpetual winter through the grip of an evil queen.  The children themselves are tempted and even caught in the Queen’s evil snare.

Aslan is this great lion and messiah/Christ figure in the allegorical tale.  As the children move towards Aslan and away from the evil Queen, the land, which had been previously caught in perpetual winter, begins to thaw.  Noticing the changing landscape one of the creatures’ comments to another, “Aslan is on move!”

A new church is being called into being by the Holy Spirit!  Aslan is on the move!  Things long frozen in tradition and habit are opening up.   By way of example consider the following elements both in the Central Texas Conference and in the larger United Methodist Church.

  • Risk-taking is on the rise
  • There is a noticeable rise in interest in spiritual formation and discernment
  • Hands-on mission engagement is the norm for a local churches in much greater ways than ever before (In fact, it is no longer acceptable for a local church to NOT be in ministry with the poor.)
  • The question has changed from “are you starting new faith communities?” to “where and how are you starting new faith communities?” (46% of our Path 1 new faith community starts are multi-ethnic.)
  • We are seeing bright-spots in evangelistic engagement
  • We are begging to grapple with the discipleship in a way that transcends membership
  • Multiple Conferences across the United States are experimenting with a variety of ministries and with innovative ways of structuring for ministry
  • Attempts at accountability are on the rise (albeit with some serious angst)
  • Across the board we are seeing longer appointments
  • The Cabinet is partnering with senior pastors in making appointments of associate pastors in new and experimental ways.

All this is not without resistance and painful change. The days of subsidy are over. The days of the guaranteed appointment are numbered. (More on this in a later blog.) Job security for clergy is shaky. We are being called into risk-taking ministry in ways that we are not trained for. As painful as this can be at times, I see the Holy Spirit’s hand in much of this.

Here in Central Texas we launched the Exodus Project with a special called session of the Central Texas Conference (CTC) in 2010 with a restructuring designed to bring about a cultural shift with a focus on Christ and on energizing and equipping local congregations as they engage the mission field in “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” In adopting that report, we committed to conducting a detailed evaluation of the results of the Exodus project after 2014. That report will be presented at the upcoming 2015 gathering of the Central Texas Conference. Conducted by an independent outside consultant who is an expert in the field (Mike Bonem), the preliminary draft suggests that we have made significant progress in a cultural change to deeper Christ-centered discipleship in the life of the CTC.

The report suggests a significant beginning, not an ending or completion. What I am suggesting is that behind the seemingly pragmatic tasks and issues of the Annual Conference and our common work together lies an even greater insight. The Holy Spirit is at work in the movement of faith that is calling forth a new church. Business as usual is no more (whether we like it or not) and this a work of the Spirit! Aslan is on the move!

Progress on Imagining No Malaria, Prayer Missionary & Captives ©

One of the great Focus Areas of the United Methodist Church during the last eight years has been combating killer diseases.  In particular, the United Methodist Church has focused on combating the killer disease of malaria through Nothing But Nets and the larger emphasis called Imagine No Malaria. The Central Texas Conference has been a part of this great mission emphasis contributing $539,458 to date.

It is a joy to share some wonderful good news passed on via Newscope (The United Methodist Publishing House’s weekly newsletter).  The World Health Organization reports that “the number of people dying from malaria has fallen dramatically since 2000 and malaria cases are steadily declining.”   In an article written by Joey Butler of United Methodist Communications, the use of insecticide-treated bed nets is given as one important reason for the drop.  He goes on to note that:

  • “Between 2000 and 2013, the report says, the malaria mortality rate decreased by 47% worldwide. In the WHO African Region-where about 90% of malaria deaths occur-the decrease is 54%. The Dec. 9 report estimates that, globally, 670 million fewer cases and 4.3 million fewer malaria deaths occurred between 2001 and 2013 than would have occurred had incidence and mortality rates remained unchanged since 2000.
  • In 2013, 49% of all people at risk of malaria in sub-Saharan Africa had access to an insecticide-treated net, a marked increase from just 3% in 2004. This trend is set to continue, with a record 214 million bed nets scheduled for delivery to endemic countries in Africa by year-end.
  • Since April 2010, The UMC’s Imagine No Malaria initiative has distributed more than 2.3 million bed nets and is less than $10 million shy of its goal to raise $75 million by 2015 to dramatically reduce deaths and suffering in Africa. Significantly the report closes with a challenge and a holy call to action. “Despite these victories, malaria remains a major threat and greater global commitment is necessary for success. In 2013, one-third of households in areas with malaria transmission in sub-Saharan Africa did not have a single insecticide-treated net, the report noted. Approximately $5.1 billion is needed annually to achieve malaria control and, eventually, elimination; but current annual funds remain around $2.7 billion” (Newscope, Editor Mary Catherine Dean, Vol. 43, Issue 08 / February 25, 2015, “WHO REPORTS ‘DRAMATIC’ DECREASE IN MALARIA DEATHS” by Joey Butler, UMCOM).

In other mission activity, I ask that the congregations of the Central Texas Conference to join in praying for Rev. Phyllis Sortor, a missionary for The Free Methodist Church who has been abducted and held for ransom by terrorists/criminals in Nigeria.  I also ask that we continue to join with Christians around the world in prayer for the Assyrian and Coptic Christians who have been persecuted by ISIS.  News reports indicate that a significant number of Coptic Christians, one of the most ancient branches of the Christian faith, are being executed by ISIS.

It is important that we do not react with hate and especially important that we do not ourselves persecute the many (majority) peaceful Muslims in our midst.  Let goodness be known to all as we keep all those who are persecuted in our prayers.  To this end I request each church in the Central Texas Conference to make a point of lifting up Rev. Sorter and the Assyrian & Coptic Christians in our prayers.

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