Conference Reflections, with Hope

It’s been several weeks since my last column, written dur- ing General Conference. Since then, we’ve completed three major Conferences for our church: General, Annual, and Jurisdictional.

Of the three, my favorite was our own Missouri Annual Conference in June. It was an uplifting gathering, focused upon local congregations reaching out to younger generations more effectively. What a joy it was to see friends who love the church and, most importantly, love God and the mission God has given us together as followers of Jesus Christ. Along with almost every- one there, I came away from Annual Conference uplifted. Hopeful in God and the United Methodist Church – at least here in Missouri!

The other two conferences didn’t provide such a hopeful feel- ing. I wasn’t really surprised, but a little disappointed in the results.

General Conference met in May for the quadrennial (once every four years) gathering of United Methodism’s leaders from around the world. It was a much-anticipated conference with hope for real change. However, while some good was done, most everyone agrees that it came up short. A lot has been written, but basically General Conference failed to adequately address real areas of concern identified in the “Call to Action” report. And after a lot of talk, it failed to redirect our denomination’s focus toward making disciples of Jesus Christ through more fruitful, vibrant congregations (our “adaptive chal- lenge”). I came away from Tampa with a sense of frustration, seeing how lack of trust can really slow down any process – in contrast to the “Speed of Trust” outlined in a book of that title by Stephen M.R. Covey. Hope in God? Absolutely! Hope in our United Methodist Church? Well, not so much at the general level this year, as it’s going to take a lot more time and adap- tive learning – but I was thankful to return to hope in God’s work here in Missouri.

Jurisdictional Conference in July was much less frustrating, as our South-Central Jurisdiction is one of the best in the denomina- tion – our conferences, college of bishops, clergy and lay leaders are more focused upon making real changes that can lead to growth. But the process of electing bishops felt more political than discern- ing, and I was disappointed that our own Bob Farr, an exceptional visionary leader, was not elected. Plus, the decision process regard- ing involuntary retirement of an existing bishop was difficult for everyone involved. Still, we did see a lot of positive things that churches are doing, we got to participate in a mission project to feed people, and we got to see a lot of really good leaders -- friends -- who love God and the church. And our Missouri delegation became closer, more united and cohesive in the shared experience. Thanks to a great group lead by my prayer partner Cody Collier. Hope in God? Absolutely! Hope in our United Methodist Church? Yes, but again I was thankful to return to hope in Missouri – espe- cially since we returned knowing that Bishop Schnase is continuing as our Episcopal leader.

Now, I’m generally a positive person. Trying to see the good in situations. The hope. But I must admit that these 3 confer- ences – General, Annual, and Jurisdictional – have left me with mixed feelings. A little tired, maybe. But more convinced than ever that the work we’re doing through the United Methodist Church in Missouri – the work YOU are doing with your pastor in your congregation – is pointed in the right direction to revitalize the influence of Jesus Christ and his followers in our communities. That’s right – the LOCAL church is where disciples are made, grow, and bear fruit. That gives me greater hope. Because of God’s work in YOU.

So, as we move forward to end our summer and prepare for the fall season, hope is new once again. My prayer for us all is one that Paul gave to those in Rome so many years ago:

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13).

Let’s be the leaders who over- flow with Hope that is contagious and transforming – God’s hope. THANKS again for your leader- ship!