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Recovering the Methodist Movement ©

A while back a friend called my attention to a March 2013 article by David Brooks entitled “How Movements Recover.”   A part of what grabbed my interest is the often repeated comment about the “Methodist” movement.  Movemental growth in the church for a justice cause or evangelism or mission impact or spiritual growth etc. is an indwelling and outreaching of the Holy Spirit.

In brief summation, Christian movements are periods of revival or reawakening to the original mission of the faith.  Commonly, “Methodism” is referred to as a movement in the Christian faith (a great element of spiritual revival and vitality).  By way of contrast, movements are different from institutional advancement.  They focus on the primary mission and contain strong elements of growth reaching out to new groups. [Allow me to emphasize that both!! institutional advancement and movemental engagement are needed.  If movements are not ultimately institutionally shaped, they dissipate and ultimately amount to little beside a passing fad.  If, on the other hand, movements are choked out by institutional rigidity, desperately needed renewal is lost.]

At any rate what intrigued me about David Brooks Op Ed piece in the New York Times was the way he connected the recovery of the Christian faith as a movement (not just an institution) to reaching out to embrace the world in all its messiness- rather than seeing the church as an ark closed off from the rest of the world, riding out the storms.  St. Augustine “reacted against any effort to divide people between those within the church and those permanently outside.”  Brooks continues, “His ideal church was firmly rooted in doctrine, but yearning for discovery.”

Brooks writes from a predominantly Roman Catholic perspective but there are deep insights for us Methodists in his work.  He points to the witness of Pope Francis commenting, “It’s hard not to be impressed by someone who says he prefers a church that suffers ‘accidents on the streets’ to a church that is sick because it self-referentially closes in on itself.”

We do well to listen and wrestle at this juncture.  How do we hold tight to core doctrine and yet remain open and engaged, yearning for discovery?  Rigid self-righteous boundaries are not only unfaithful; they will surely kill us.  Conversely, a lack of boundaries leads to meaninglessness and ultimately will also just as surely kill us.  Many of my colleague bishops speak of the need to be an outwardly focused church.  The four focus areas of the United Methodist Church (new places for new people/new faith communities, ministry with the poor, leadership development, and Global health – Imagine No Malaria) are vibrant expressions of an outward focus which seeks to recapture a movemental character.  So too are attempts to recapture a holistic holiness – holiness of heart and life that is both social and personal.

And yet, our cultural and denominational obsession with immanence as both the locus and focus of ministry suffers from a lack of transcendence.  A full blown doctrine of the Trinity with God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit active in our world as subject (not just object) is desperately needed. The theologian David Bosch (as Alan Hirsch reminds us) has rightly written, “discipleship is determined by the relation to Christ himself not by mere conformity to impersonal commands” (D. Bosch, Transforming Mission, p. 67; taken from Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways, p. 113).  Hirsch himself goes on to comment, “Apostolic movements make this a core task, because when we really think about it, this is perhaps the most strategic of all the church’s various activities”  (Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways, p. 113).  He [Hirsch] goes on to reference Mother Teresa, “We must become holy not because we want to feel holy but because Christ must be able to live his life fully in us.”

As much as I resonate with David Brooks’ correct insistence on an outward focus in to the world in love-induced mission, by itself it is not enough.  There must be an upward dimension as well for the enterprise to be sustained.  The work of Kenda Creasy Dean and others on “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” warns us of the desperate need for both immanence and transcendence, for both parts of the cross.  The apostolic genius of the original Methodist movement reached out to the world in love and reached up to God in holiness.

A Great Work of Justice ©

One of great ministries taking place in the Central Texas Conference is Methodist Justice Ministry (MJM) under the leadership of Rev. Brooks Harrington.  MJM is an outgrowth of First United Methodist Church of Fort Worth, Texas.  Their website (http://methodistjusticeministry.org/) offers the essentials:

“The Methodist Justice Ministry was founded in 2006, first to protect indigent women and children from domestic violence, neglect and abuse; and second, to help them to new lives free of violence, abuse, fear and self-loathing.

The MJM is thoroughly faith driven. Its legal director, Brooks Harrington, is an ordained United Methodist minister as well as a licensed attorney. Our scriptural motto is: “Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and the needy.” (Proverbs 31: 8-9)

Since the MJM began, we have represented in court the interests of hundreds of women and children from low income households. We have not only obtained but also enforced court orders for protection, for custody, for denial or restriction of visitation by the abusers, and for child support and medical support. And we have counseled with more than 1,000 individuals desperate for help.”

Recently an illustrative story of MJM’s ministry highlighted this great work of justice. A young woman, 30 years old, named “Bella” (not her real name) with children aged 14, 11, 8 and 7 came to MJM for help getting out of an abusive marriage. Bella could neither read nor write. Her abusive husband had left her for a younger woman and threatened her if she disputed custody of the 4 children.

Traumatized and depressed, she found love and support from the staff at MJM. They agreed to not only “take the case” but also to provide support and a future of hope. MJM won the case helping her to retain custody, but there is more to the story. They are arranging and paying for adult education classes so that Bella can learn to read and write. They set up two licensed professional counselors plus a case manager to work with her in putting life back together. They are helping her develop skills to earn a living for her family.

This is a great work of justice. In sharing the story Rev. Harrington adds: “I would like to tell you that Bella’s story is unusual. But it isn’t. We have handled dozens of cases like Bella’s over the ten plus years the MJM has been in ministry.  Even so, people like Bella are deep in the shadows. They are too scared and alone to ask for help, or to know whom to ask, or to believe that help exists or that they deserve help. We’d very much like to see and help more Bella’s. We’re praying for that. Lord, send us more Bella’s.”

Vital congregations are engaged in ministry with the “Bellas” of this world.  They are reaching out in ministry with the poor – offering the love of God in help and hope.  Their ongoing ministry includes something in the neighborhood of 20 to 30 calls every week from people seeking help.  The caseload is growing.  It takes special technical expertise to work in MJM.  This is ministry with the poor, one of the four focus areas of the United Methodist Church.

There are many other examples of ministry with the poor spread across the churches of the Central Texas Conference.  My challenge for every congregation and Christian is to get involved.  In the words of the Apostle James, “faith without action has no value at all” (James 2:20).  Pray to be led as individuals and as a congregation, and the Lord will guide you into a great ministry of justice!

PHILIPPINES BRIGHT SPOTS

When the first George Bush (that is George Herbert Walker Bush) was President, he lifted up what he called for “1,000 Points of Lght.” President Bush urged us to focus on the better side of our nature by lifting up organizations (ministries) that shape human society in healthy, hopeful ways. I thought then and think now that there is something to this emphasis on the points of light or bright spots around us. I believe this is especially true for the Church. There are “bright spots” – “points of light” – all around us.

Sunday night I arrived in the Philippines with Bishop John Schol from the Greater New Jersey Conference. We are working with representatives from the Philippines Central Conference (three Episcopal Areas) on the Council of Bishops Bright Spots Project. The Bright Spots project is an outgrowth of the United Methodist Church’s worldwide emphasis on building vital congregations. The areas of congregational vitality are the same in the Philippines as they are in the United States (and around the rest of the world). We look for evidence of congregational vitality through transformation life stores, fruitfulness in ministry, and life changing ministries which reflection the Wesleyan way of being a Christ follower (holiness of heart and life). The five markers of vitality correspond to the witness of the Holy Spirit through the earliest Christian church as found immediately after Pentecost in Acts 2:42-47. Vitality is measured by the “five markers of disciples involved/engaged in “1) making new disciples (evangelism, a part of radical hospitality); 2) worship; 3) small groups (intentional faith development); 4) hands on mission (risk-taking mission and service); and 5) giving to missions (extravagant generosity).” The connection to the Bright Spots Project comes out of the work of the Council of Bishops Congregational Vitality Leadership Team, Discipleship Ministries and Vital Congregations project through the Connectional Table.

The “Bright Spots” project builds on the notion and understanding of a research method called Positive Deviance. (PD) PD is a strength-based approach around core principles which involve communities possessing the expertise to address their own problems. In brief form the community (read church) discovers existing uncommon, successful behaviors and strategies. Put differently, it looks at the bright spots among the various congregations in an Annual Conference. PD is built on the notion that “someone just like me is succeeding against all odds with the same resources that are available to me.” PD focuses on practice instead of knowledge. (“You are more likely to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting.”) For those of you interested in reading more, I strongly commend The Power of Positive Deviance: How Unlikely Innovators Solve the World’s Toughest Problems by Richard Pascale, Jerry Sternin and Monique Sternin.

All this sounds dry but it ends up exciting. Drawing lay and clergy together we learn how to focus on what is working (fruitful and faithful ministry) and learn from such ministry in ways that are naturally transferable to other congregations. Practical insights are welded to the best biblical and theological insights. The beauty of this approach is the way people are turned into their own researchers and own the results in a concrete way. Instead of a top-down “program,” “bright spots” provides a bottom up approach to ministry in the post-Christendom twenty-first century.

In the Central Texas Conference our focus remains firmly on what I call the Big 3.
1. Christ at the Center
2. Focus on the Local Church
3. Development of Lay and Clergy Leadership

As I keep insisting, no one needs to ask what the focus of the next Annual Conference is. The theme is on “energizing and equipping local congregations to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

We are blessed with many bright spots. We can learn much by asking simple questions of each other, laying aside our preconceived convictions and listening again as if for the 1st time what leads to excellence in faithful and fruitful ministry. What can we learn from our “bright spots?” How is it some churches engage in risk-taking ministry above and beyond what is normally expected? How come some congregations have professions of faith in situations where other churches are closing? How is it that passionate worship breaks out in the oddest places?

The Holy Spirit is loose in our world and our churches. We have much to learn from others. As we share, God works on us in our hearts leading us to exciting faithfulness.

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.

The Prisoner’s Prayer

In May of 2008 Jolynn took a trip to Ethiopia with the group from the University of the Incarnate Word (UIW) in San Antonio (where she was serving as a faculty member).  The trip was led by a retired Lutheran Missionary whose place on the UIW faculty she had taken.  This missionary (Jim Sorensen) had served in hospital work in Ethiopia prior to the Marxist revolution in 1974.  The Marxist regimen known as the Derg (a short name of the Coordinating Committee of the Armed Forces, Police, and Territorial Army that ruled Ethiopia from 1974 to 1987) literally wrecked this great historic nation.  Hundreds of thousands of political enemies of the regime were kill or tortured in a period known as the “red terror.”  Later in 1984, over 1 million died in a serve famine.  Finally that evil regime was booted out and the country has engaged in a long slow climb back to economic and political health.  As the UIW group toured the country, they encountered a great Christian history and witness that reached back to story of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8.  The rock churches of Lalibela (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) are witness of great faith.  But this small band of pilgrims from San Antonio encountered an even greater witness of faithfulness.  They discovered an Ethiopian Orthodox Church that is alive and well despite “toils and tribulations.”

The above long paragraph serves as backdrop for the following story which I recently read in John Ortberg’s marvelous book Who is This Man?: The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus.  Pastor Ortberg writes:

“Years ago I was in Ethiopia when it was under a Marxist regime and the church was mostly underground. One or another of the leaders of the Christian group would frequently be arrested and put into prison, which was horribly over-crowded and unspeakably foul. Other prisoners used to long for a Christian to get put in prison, because if a Christian was jailed, his Christian friends would bring him food – actually, far more food than that one person could eat, and there would be leftovers for everybody. It became the ‘prisoner’s prayer’: ‘God, send a Christian to prison.’”  (From Who Is This Man? The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus by John Ortberg, p. 43)

I find myself inspired in reading this story.  We speak of radical hospitality, as well we should.  Here radical hospitality was lived at a level I find almost unimaginable.  It is tempting in the blessed security of a North America to view ourselves as the center of the Christian universe.  This is not so.  There is a line from the great hymn “The Voice of God is Calling” (No. 436, The United Methodist Hymnal, verse 4) which reads:

“From ease and plenty save us; from pride of place absolve;
Purge us of low desire; lift us to high resolve;
Take us, and make us holy; teach us Your will and way;
Speak, and behold! we answer; command, and we obey!”

I am struck by the connections of courage and faith, hospitality and witness, conviction and obedience.  I cannot help but wonder.  I need to be saved from ease and plenty and lifted to high resolve.  I must ask myself, am I the kind of Christian who is an answer to such a prayer?  Am I the kind of Christian who visit those in jail with such bounty?

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.

Saint Aldates, A Vision Alive

It was Sunday morning, August 18th, and as we dressed to go to church the music floated in the open window at Pembroke College, Oxford University.  The night before we had been debating whether to go to Wesley Memorial Methodist Church (think First Methodist Oxford) or Christ Church Cathedral (the church where both John and Charles Wesley had been ordained).  We had decided on Christ Church Cathedral located in Christ Church College across the street from where we were staying.

As we left our rooms and walked over, we passed a plain looking old English Church nestled between Pembroke College and Christ Church College.  The music we had been listening to poured out of this plain church – “How Great Thou Art” sung to drums, guitars and a fast paced beat.  I peered in an open door.  “Look Jolynn, that place is full of young people!”

We turned in front of the church, which was named St. Aldates, intending to stop at a nearby coffee shop.  (St. Aldate, the person not the church, was Bishop of Gloucester and died a martyr’s death resisting pagan invasion forces in 577 A. D.)  The music and self-evident joy was intoxicating.  We paused to read the sign board outside the church.  One of the greeters came outside to the edge of the street and invited us in.  Now that is really radical hospitality!  At first we demurred.  Weren’t we late?  No, he assured us, they were just finishing the first hymn.  The Holy Spirit spoke, and we slipped inside.

The church was reasonably full. (Something we were told was never the case in England.  We had been assured that except for special occasions all churches were mostly empty with just a scattering of older people.).  All ages were present in abundance with a fairly even mixture (though tending to the young side) age-wise.  There was an ethnic diversity that we dream of accomplishing on our best days.  Worship had a passionate intensity, depth and biblical integrity.  The sermon was faithful, thoughtful, and well delivered.  People were friendly and genuinely glad we had come without being clingy.

In the service they spoke of opportunities for service.  It turns out that St. Aldates is active in a large Christian ministry to the homeless in Oxford.  They offered opportunities for continuing spiritual development in prayer and Bible study.  While my conference was talking about a post missionary age, they prayed for a young couple who was leaving on an evangelistic and social (love, justice & mercy) mission to a predominately Muslim country.  Evangelism wasn’t something debated and defined.  It was something engaged in with sensitivity and love both right there in Oxford and around the world.  All of this was wrapped in faithful denominationally obedient Church of England cloak.

Afterwards, we learned that even though it seemed full to us (and even though they had multiple services) the members thought attendance was down because students weren’t present (school was out for the summer at Oxford).  They have a major, as in mega-major, student ministry.  “Usually” one couple told us, “it’s standing room only.”  As I mentally ticked off the five practices of healthy fruitful congregations – radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith development, risk-taking mission and service, extravagant generosity – I realize that all the elements were there.

As we walked away, Jolynn and I reflected on how we thought the Holy Spirit had led us to St. Aldates.  Out of my personal desert, I came to the well of living water.  As a couple, we came to church and God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit spoke to us that day.  Struggling in parched land of a dry and at times contentious gathering of Wesley scholars, I recalled the original Methodist movement.  Here it was at St. Aldates, in an Anglican church no less.  Go figure.  Only God could pull something like this off.   We saw a vision of what the church is to be and be about.  I saw again the vision I have for Central Texas.

This is the vision I have and have had since I came here for the Central Texas Conference.  I see vibrant, spiritually healthy, fruitful and faithful local churches spread all over the area; churches in cities and suburbs; churches in towns and fields; new churches and old churches and even in-between churches.  I can name a host of churches in the Central Texas Conference that are our versions of St. Aldates.  We have a goodly number of healthy fruitful congregations that are vibrantly serving the Lord.  Once again I thank God for the privilege of serving in the Central Texas Conference.  On deep reflection of our St. Aldates experience, this is my vision for the churches both here and all over the world.

aldates

Is That All There is to It?

The night before the recent CTC Conference on Stewardship, the Cabinet met with Clif Christopher and Joe Park (the Conference teachers).  Those of you who know stewardship and know Clif are aware that the subject is really spiritual formation, mission and vision for Christ. Near the end of the evening he shared the following story which I paraphrase from memory.

Clif was sitting in a church on Sunday morning as they waited for the service to start.  As they passed the registration pad on, he noticed that the woman next to him checked the box “wish to join the church.”  When they came to the greeting time, he greeted her by name and commented about her desire to join the church.  “Yes,” she said.  “I’ve checked that box for three weeks in a row.  How do you join this church?”

Just about then the pastor came up the aisle greeting people.  Clif stepped out of his pew and guided the pastor to the woman and said, “Mary wants to join the church.”

The pastor warmly greeted her.  She asked again, “How do I go about joining this church?”  With a big smile the Pastor replied, “You just did!”

As the Pastor returned to the front to continue the service, she leaned over to Clif and whispered, “Is that all there is to it?”

Membership used to mean discipleship.  It still should. Disciples are disciplined, committed followers of Jesus Christ.  Our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  The mission is not for the casual; it is for the committed.  Clif spoke a great deal about the need to raise expectations.  There is a deep theology of commitment and faith under the leadership of the Lord Jesus Christ.  The early Methodist movement was built on high commitment.  You had to be a member of a class meeting for spiritual growth, nurture and maturation.  It was expected that members were engaged in hands-on ministry with the poor.  Giving, yes tithing! — 10%, was an expectation.  Witnessing and faith sharing (evangelism) was common.  Membership in a Methodist Church was far from casual!

The reader can trace this out.  In the early Christian movement and the early Methodist movement, the five practices of fruitful congregations and fruitful living (or some biblical version thereof) were expectations.  Here is fodder for a serious theological and spiritual conversation in an Administrative Board or Council meeting.  How do we raise the conversation about expectations under The Lordship of Jesus Christ?  How do we move from membership back to discipleship?

We have to begin with a conversation between lay and clergy leadership.  This cannot be accomplished by “fiat.”  But, the lingering question of the woman in the pew hangs in the air.  “Is that all there is to it?”  Surely there is more to joining the church than a casual relationship.  May the conversation take place.

 

Prayer, Justice, Teaching and Evangelism

The last part of this week has been fascinating.  It is include much of the key elements of the Wesleyan way of being Christian in my life.

Thursday morning opened with a breakfast with my prayer and accountability partner.  It is a way I stay grounded personally and spiritually.  I have to tell 1 person how I’ve done that week.  There’s no coercion for either of us; just honest sharing.  I have also added a new spiritual director for my life.  Walking with Christ is a not a sidelight to the Christian life but it is the Way. When I get distracted and miss the time of prayer and spiritual formation, I mess up.

I left my prayer time to go over 1st UMC Grapevine and spend time working as a volunteer at JFON (Justice For Our Neighbors).  JFON is a joint ministry of the North and Central Texas Conferences of the United Methodist Church working on immigration issues.  A great team of volunteers under the leadership of a wonderful director (Mary Beth Garcia) coached me through an intake interview.  Working through immigration in a manner that is living with our neighbors/immigrants, respectful of the legal system, and Christ honoring is really complex! (In my intake situation part of the family are US citizens and part are not.  They want to be together in a way that is legal.)  This is a living of our focus area “Ministry with the Poor” in a concrete way that exemplifies Matthew 25:40 – “in as much as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters you did it to me.”

Thursday night I shared in the Mission Academy jointly sponsored by the UT Arlington and TCU Wesley Foundations.  We are studying Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers by Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.  I love learning from the insightful dialog the college students offer.

Friday noon will find me meeting with some workers at the “Stewart Tank” (oil storage tanks) in Strawn.  Rev. Tom Beaty (with West DS Rev. Carol Woods’ support) is engaged in a great evangelistic outreach ministry to some seekers in the community who might never darken the door of a church.  The dialog reminds me of the original Wesleyan movement going to the mines.  I am looking forward to breaking bread with them (lunch) and sharing in our mutual learning as we try to faithfully and respectfully offer Christ.

Next Monday we begin our Fall Cabinet Retreat.  Dr. Ted Campbell from Perkins School of Theology will lead us in an exploration of the Wesleyan movement for today.

Keeping Focus

As we go through the work of the Council of Bishops, we (the bishops) by necessity operate at a 30,000 foot level (leading a worldwide church).  And yet I find my mind and heart going back to the hands on sharing of the gospel of Christ.  On the ground, through faithful and fruitful local churches, in tangible ways the witness of God’s love is being shared.

Recently through the wonderful ministry of the Texas Methodist Foundation (TMF), we received a grant of money to be used at the Bishop’s discretion to outreach ministries focused on providing critical needs, such as food, shelter, emergency assistance, care and support.  I went to our Center for Mission Support staff for recommendations.  Focusing on the Focus Area of Ministry with the Poor, we decided to use a significant portion of the grant in rural/small town ministries of food and emergency aid.  We identified key ministries in rural/small town churches (one in each District) engaged in such work and gave them a $2,000 grant from the larger TMF grant.

The Pastor of a two point charge whose ministry received the grant wrote me the following in response:  “Last night after our Wednesday night service I went into my office to catch up on reading my mail.  I opened the letter from Bishop Lowry first about the $2000 donation for our food pantry.  I bolted out of my office to interrupt and tell the Bible Study group about it.  They all cheered and were excited – we said a prayer of gratitude right then and there. I went back into my office and sat down to go through the rest of the mail, and I found the check. Again, I bolted out of my office and showed everyone.  There were lots of ‘praise God’ and ‘Glory Be’ statements made. This will  make for a great Emmaus Road story for this weeks sermon.   I should have read my mail earlier.   I appreciate the Bishop recognizing the works of our food pantry and recommending us for the grant.   It is truly a tremendous blessing.”

In the larger world wide church – spanning  35,000 + congregations & 11.5 million members – leadership and decision making is important, vitally so!  But, the story of God’s reign is played out in the particulars; on the ground through local congregations.  It is critical not to lose the focus on local churches.  They are mission posts of the advancing Kingdom of God.  Transformation into true disciples of Christ is taking place!  The Lord’s Spirit is moving in our midst!  The Holy Spirit is leading us on a local level from …

Preference to Purpose

Maintenance to Mission

Meetings to Ministry

 

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