We’re in the first few months of a new “quadrennium” in the United Methodist Church, when conference leaders and newly- formed teams begin their work. In about 3 1⁄2 years they will be finishing, and I wonder – how will the church be different then? How will our communities be dif- ferent because of the church?
In Missouri we’ve made tre- mendous strides over the last few years. We’ve got a sense of purpose and hope in our work – primarily focused upon congrega- tions. We’ve even seen a bit of an uptick in total worship attendance. Pastors and laity alike are leading in new ways, becoming more out- wardly focused, making a greater impact upon people and their communities.
Hopefully, we’ll continue toward a whole new level of fruitfulness in more vital congre- gations, with more people who actively follow Jesus Christ. That will require a lot of spirit-inspired leadership by our pastors. It also will require a great deal of spiritu- ally engaged laity.
“Spiritually Engaged Laity” – where have we heard that term before?
Well, last year the “Call to Action” report for our denomina- tion identified several “drivers of vital congregations”. These are characteristics and practices identified as common to the 15% of congregations that were grow- ing, fruitful, vital. One of those “drivers” was “a high percentage of spiritually engaged laity in leadership”. Most people have interpreted this simply as active laity involved in some leadership activity. But I’d like to focus upon that term “Spiritually Engaged”. In fact, as your conference lay leader, I’d like to focus a lot of attention on it in the 3 1⁄2 years ahead: encouraging a high level of “Spiritual Engagement” among laity – particularly laity leaders.
OK, so just what is Spiritual Engagement, anyway?
Is it loving God with all our hearts through acts of piety like passionate worship, fervent prayer, focused study of scripture, and extravagant generosity?
Is it intentionally growing in faith with other followers through sharing in classes and holding each other accountable?
Is it loving others through acts of mercy like risk-taking mis- sion and service with the poor in our communities, working to eliminate killer diseases, witness- ing in deeds as well as words, and (again) extravagant generosity?
Yes! Yes! And Yes!
I believe that Spiritual Engagement is all these things – engaging our hearts, minds, and actions with God’s Holy Spirit so that we cultivate and reflect a close relationship with Jesus Christ. That’s the center of our faith. That empowers true trans- formation of lives and the world – our mission.
What does Spiritual Engagement mean to you as a leader? Are you a Spiritually Engaged leader yourself ? Many, many of you are, I know, and I’m thankful for your continuing example and encouragement.
Now, dream with me: what would it be like if your entire congregation was filled with Spiritually Engaged laity? What would our Missouri conference be like if several hundred of our con- gregations, in big cities and small towns, were filled with Spiritually Engaged laity? Would God’s Spirit be even more vibrant and active, making an even greater difference through those congregations? How could we get there?
Yes, maybe it’s a dream; but so was the idea of “transforming a continent and spreading scriptural holiness throughout the land” – the vision of the early American Methodists.
It starts with leaders. Local leaders. And laity, it really is up to us – not just our pastors – to become more Spiritually Engaged. That’s my vision: Spiritually Engaged laity leaders – part- nering with pastors in leading congregations to fruitfulness in our mission: making disciples of Jesus Christ!
Right now, I’m excited to see the “new thing” that God is doing in Missouri through the United Methodist Church, as you respond to God’s spiritual call. After all, it’s God’s “power at work within us” that is “able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine” (Eph. 3:20).
Thanks again for your leadership! Brian Hammons, Lay Leader MO Conference of the UMC