October 31, 2014

By Fred Koenig

The annual Converge event returned to one of its churches of origin this year, and was hosted by Saint Paul’s UMC in Joplin September 8 - 10. 
    
Missouri Bishop Robert Schnase opened the event, talking about current issues that face the United Methodist general church, and issues the Missouri Conference are addressing. But after going through the news of the day, and fielding several questions, he spoke to the pastors about mindfulness. He recounted how when he first became interested in bird watching, he found that there are many fascinating birds around him all the time, and he was just never aware that they were there. 
    
“We go through life self-blinded, seeing only a small portion of what’s before us,” he said.  
    
He encouraged people to consider who they are when they aren’t being a pastor, and what their lives are about outside of their work within the church.
    
In addition to having a more fulfilling life, connecting with the community at large can also have a positive effect for the church. 
    
“Tell me about the relationships you have with people in your community who are not part of your church?” Bishop Schnase asked. “What is the hope of evangelism to live an invitational life without being around non-churched people?”
    
Bishop Schnase was followed by four Missouri Conference pastors who had short presentations called “Upwords.”
    
Melissa Dodd has been pastor at Asbury UMC in Springfield since July. She spoke about the ups and downs of changing appointments. 
    
“Transition gives us the opportunity to lose habits that haven’t been working,” she said. “It is important during transition to fill times with peace and a sense 
of calmness.” 
    
Dodd advocated to the clergy that they become part of a group of their peers, noting that even Jesus had his 12. “My accountability group has given me perspective, and reminded me that I’m not alone in my calling,” she said. “We hold each other up and ask, ‘How is your soul today?’” 
    
In addition to accountability groups, Dodd encouraged people to spend quiet time with God, and to remember that God has their souls. 
    
“We are called to what we do each and every day, but we’re not called alone,” she said. “You have to remember that.” 
    
Shawn Franssens, pastor of North Cross UMC, told the Convergers about his summer trip to Florida. On the way back he reluctantly accompanied his family to the World of Coca-Cola. He generally wasn’t interested in what Coke might have to say about Coke, and had already experienced his fill of crowds and standing in line at other stops on the trip. But by the end of the introductory video at the beginning of the tour, he had tears in his eyes. He had gone from not wanting to be there to being smitten with Coca-Cola. The stop was the highlight of his vacation. 
    
“Coca-cola believes they have something exciting to share. Do we?” Franssens said. “If you ask God to surprise you, he will.”
    
Franssens related the story from John 3, verses 8, in which Jesus schools Nicodemus on being open to the spirit. 
    
“Have you been surprised in worship time lately? In devotion time? When you read scripture? When you pray?” he asked. “If you allow the spirit to do the spirit’s work you might be surprised.”
    
Tina Harris, pastor of Grand Avenue Temple in Kansas City, asked the crowd to question where they are with their goals. 
    
“Can you pinpoint the moment when the change took place – when did you stop dreaming big dreams, when did you start making manageable goals rather than drop to your knees and say only God can make this happen?” she asked.             “Sometimes you can get a little leery on the battle field. You took a dream that wouldn’t fit in this room, and you made it more manageable to put it in your pocket.” 
    
She cautioned against cynicism, and against criticizing others, specifically through social media. 
    
“Joel Osteen – if you don’t like him, just pray and keep on moving,” she said.
    
Harris implored people to dream big dreams, even though success is never guaranteed. One time when she was working at Saint James UMC, she acquired big screen TVs and got enough chicken wings for 200 people to show a sporting event. Six people showed up. 
    
“I was focused on the low number, but I should have been excited about how people were willing to donate 
to that night to make it happen,” 
she said.    
    
Harris lifted up Ephesians chapter 3, verse 20: “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.” She advised people to put the verse on every meeting agenda for the next 30 days. 
    
“If your dream sounds impossible, I would say it’s about right,” Harris said. “There’s no dream that is too big for God.” 
    
Jared Wheeler from Keystone and Revolution in Kansas City began his talk with a presentation about 16th and 17th century art. The church was using art to communicate to a largely illiterate society. He showed contrasting examples of images that ranged from idealizing to raw. 
   
“Artist can see things as they are, or as they should be,” he said.
    
He likened art to pastor’s work among uncertainty, questions and doubt. He told of an artist who would take a 6 x 10 canvas and paint a foot by foot square, and the rest of the canvas would be dark. 
    
“When you say I don’t know, and I doubt as much as you do, maybe that’s art,” he said.  
    
The keynote speaker the following day was author Erwin McManus. 
   
For more information visit http://www.theconverge.com