Thank you for a great welcoming and installation service at Missouri UMC in Columbia! It was an exciting and holy day. The morning’s Conference leadership training was well received, and the spirit in the room echoed enthusiasm for the future.
I referenced Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance on the beach in John 21 and excerpts from St. Augustine’s sermon on the anniversary of his ordination as bishop in the installation service (see story on pages 6). Both are great guides for a bishop’s first year in office. If you’re unfamiliar with the full story in John’s Gospel, you probably remember the fishing story from your VBS days. Or, you may remember an Easter teaching about the instructions Jesus gave to Peter, the first Bishop of the Church.
I like the story because Jesus is on a beach, fishing is involved and he’s cooking a meal of fresh fish. More significantly, Jesus asks Peter (and us) one of the three most important questions in the Bible, “Do you love me?”
We all need to be able to answer that question if we want to be a disciple. And, like any good question, it’s followed with a directive, “so that…”. In this case, “so that” we “feed Jesus’ sheep,” “tend Jesus’ sheep,” and “feed Jesus’ sheep.”
Within Jesus’ questions, I find some instructions for my role and our conference.
1. Ministry of Presence: Of all the things Jesus could have been doing after his trial, death and resurrection we find him standing on the lake shore listening to the conversation, visiting with the crowd and the disciples; without them even recognizing who he is! (A lingering problem for us humans, seeing God in our ordinary days and places.)
Jesus demonstrates a ministry of presence. In my first six months as your new Bishop, we are implementing 40 listening sessions throughout the conference for conversation about where we are in our ministries and communities. I will be listening for what’s next in God’s will for the Missouri people called “Methodist.” Contact your District Superintendent if you would like to be a part of a session. (See sidebar on the Listening Tour)
2. Ministry of Accountability: Jesus counted! He asked right off the bat, how many fish have you caught?
It’s important as we start a new term together to know the data, and ask how are we doing by hitting the pause button and reassessing. In addition to the listening sessions, we will interview 100 leaders in-depth over the next six months asking, “How are we doing?” “What are the facts?” We will review our numbers and ask the Jesus question; “How’s the fishin’ going?”
3. Ministry of Experimentation (or ministry of outward focus): Jesus asked, “Have you ever thought about throwing your nets on the other side of the boat?” In other words, have you looked outward or have you thought about practicing your fishing in new ways? We, in Missouri, will continue to try new things to reach people, all people, and people who are younger, more diverse and outside our walls.
4. Ministry of Discipleship: Jesus asked, “Do you love me?” Not once, but three times! We must deepen our love of God through Jesus Christ. We need more than members, more than worshipers. We need disciples, people who are deeply in love with God, even more so than their individual church. I was shaped by my local church and that is a very good thing. But, falling in love with God and staying in love with God is a Wesleyan essential. John Wesley emphasized staying in love with God. We must do everything we can to help our people stay in love with God and become disciples of Jesus.
So here we go! Let’s see where God takes us. I’m excited about our future together, even as we struggle to figure out how to function, though we may not be of one mind or theology about the issues facing our 21st century church and world.
Join me also in prayer for the victims of Hurricane Matthew. Join me in prayer for the deaths related to this disaster and for the continuous tensions in our urban communities. My Bishop’s letter calling for action on both of these fronts is available on the Conference website at www.moumethodist.org. Let’s move from prayer to action, remembering that God loves you desperately and loves the world desperately and needs us to help be the bridge.
Bishop Robert D. Farr
Missouri Conference of the United Methodist Church