In a recent conversation with Tom Locke, the President of the Texas Methodist Foundation, he made a comment to the effect that he had sold out on purpose. By that he meant that he placed great emphasis on the organization (in this case TMF) living up to its stated mission and purpose. Furthermore, as I followed our conversation, it reflected a deeper conviction that a key issue facing both churches and the United Methodist Church is living in deep commitment and alignment with our stated purpose (my words not his).
The TMF mission and purpose is: “The Foundation helps the United Methodist community we serve – individuals, churches, institutions, and agencies – to fulfill their God-appointed mission to the larger community to ‘make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.’” Here in the Central Texas Conference we take with deep seriousness and high conviction this notion of purpose and/or mission. The Conference exists to energize and equip local churches to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Indeed, making “disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” is the stated mission of the United Methodist Church! (The Discipline of the United Methodist Church 2008, Paragraph 120)
It is easy to assent to such a conviction. It is much harder to live it. Among the various points of friction lie the conflicting values of mission and relationships. Both are clearly valued, but we have lifted up the importance of relationship over mission and purpose. Sorting out issues like accountability, call to action, vital congregations and the like push us on how the two values relate (pun intended!) to the stated purpose. There are no pain free solutions.
Not long ago Dr. Vaughn Baker, Sr. Pastor of Silver Creek UMC, passed on an article written by Dr. Frederick Schmidt of Perkins School of Theology on “What Kodak [which recently went bankrupt!] Can Teach the Church.” It sheds valuable insight on the notion of being sold out on purpose. In part, Dr. Schmidt writes:
The church never asks itself often enough why it exists. The conversations among clergy are all too often about managing the bureaucracy, nonsense, and dysfunction that are a part of its life. The programming in churches is far too often focused on therapeutic and political topics.
Issues of “ecclesiology” – that dimension of theology that is meant to answer the question, “What is the church and why does it exist?” – have been relegated to the backwater of our conversations. As a result, we have confused what we do with how we’ve done it.
There is nothing more difficult than letting go of the past. And there is nothing more likely to ground us in letting go of it, than grounding in our God-given purpose. There are a lot of good things that a church can do, but if it is not focused on making it possible to encounter the living Christ, there is little about the way we do things that deserves to endure – or needs to, really.
(From The Progressive Christian; January 9, 2012; “What Kodak Can Teach the Church” by Frederick Schmidt)