As your conference Lay Leader, I have the opportunity to work with a lot of committed leaders in the church, both within the conference and beyond. Everywhere, there is a real desire for the church to reach more people, to be more relevant and vital in peoples' lives. To make a difference. Also everywhere, despite many rays of light, there is a sense of frustration in the difficulties our denomination has in reaching more people and impacting lives more deeply. Our Missouri conference is working to improve this, and there is a real sense of excitement, even hope. But that's not the case everywhere in Methodism -- at least not yet.
The next official meetings of our denomination, General and Jurisdictional Conferences, will be in 2012. As we move toward these major conferences, I've wondered -- WHAT IF? What if these meetings can be differenct than prior ones? What if we as leaders in the United Methodist Church can focus clearly upon our common mission, coming away renewed and energized by God's Spirit? What if we can meet productively, discerning God's plans for reaching people and impacting lives?
What if Laity at the 2012 General and Jurisdictional Conferences can provide focused leadership, using a few key principles to guide in positioning the church to be effective in its mission? Here are five that come to mind:
1. Focus upon the Mission of the Church. What if our primary focus could be upon our Mission: Making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World? We could then align the church's programs, priorities, and resources to strengthen congregations in carrying out this mission;
2. Emphasize Congregations. What if the focus for ministry would be through congregations that are growing, fruitful, and vital in their communities? Planting new congregations and strengthening existing ones with potential would be a key priority at all levels of the church, especially its boards and agencies;
3. Develop Leadership. Since effective pastoral leadership is crucial, what if we worked to improve our processes for identifying, developing, supporting, and holding accountable pastoral leaders? We also would improve our proceses for equipping leaders among the Laity and promote effective, supportive clergy / lay partnerships in congregation ministry. What if we expected all leaders to be Christ-centered, fruitful, seekers of excellence, collaborative, and accountable to one another and to the church?
4. Reach Younger Generations. What if we would really work to reach youth and young adults with the timeless truth of the Gospel in ways that are culturally relevant and life-changing?
5. Recapture the Movement. Methodism began as a reform movement within the Church of England. What if now, as then, Laity would be at the forefront of a new movement based upon mission and purpose, using the many strengths of our connection while being willing to discard old habits to embrace Jesus Christ -- The Way, The Truth, and The Life -- for today?
What if God is doing a "New Thing" in and through the United Methodist Church -- something that will involve new ways of doing things, perhaps even a new paradigm for our church? What if God has a vital role for us as Laity in leading toward it? I believe that God can work through a renewed movement of Methodism, and we can help if we're open to it. As leaders in the Wesleyan tradition, we should draw upon the power of God's grace, embracing both vital piety and works of mercy. We should advocate our scripturally-based doctrine and encourage spiritual growth within communities of support, as well as actions that reach out beyond the walls -- practices that form Disciples of Jesus Christ who transform the world.
As you may know, General and Jurisdictional Conferences can permit issues to divide us and overshodow our common mission -- it has happened in the past. What if we did things differently this time? What if the hope, prayer, and commitment of all those attending the next conferences, particularly our Missouri Conference delegates, would be to: 1. Consider issues based upon their alignment with the mission (making disciples of Jesus Christ), keeping the mission primary; and 2. Move forward in those crucial areas that will lead our church toward life, growth, and fruitfulness? What if the principles listed above could help us keep our focus in a spirit of unity for the cause of Christ?
What if, at our 2011 Annual Conference next June, we could elect Lay Delegates to General and Jurisdictional Conferences who advocate these principles?
May God lead and inspire us all with wisdom and discernment as we begin thinking and praying about our denomination's 2012 conferences.
WHAT IF?? I look forward to your comments. . . .