The response of the disciples, the church, us?
With one voice we responded that the women preached "an idle tale" (Luke 24:11).
What is there about us that tends to disbelieve the possibility of resurrection, to be cynical and hopeless? Let's be honest. Something there is in us that has a stake in hopelessness. Those who would protect the status quo, these who profit from the present system, tend to be threatened by hope.
In one of my previous churches I had a member who was negative about everything. When anything new was proposed, he could be counted on to produce a doleful litany: It won't work. We tried that a few years ago and it failed. We just don't have a really committed congregation.
There's no money.
On and on it went. He managed to kill every new initiative with his hopelessness.
I complained to an older, wiser pastor who said to me, "The only way to defeat such defeatism is by having one honest to goodness success. Nothing disempowers cynicism like success."
He was right. For the first time in recent memory, we had a very successful Stewardship campaign. That was the last we heard from Mr. Defeat.
I've got this on my mind because this year's Annual Conference theme is simply "hope." Scripture tells us that we Christians are always "to be prepared to give an account for the hope that is within you."
As I prepare for this year's Annual Conference, here are some specific gifts of God that fill me with hope:
- This past year we raised nearly a million more dollars for mission and ministry, the highest rate of giving in our history.
- Nearly a dozen new communities of faith were formed, making our Conference one of the leaders in New Church Development in the United Methodist Church.
- Our churches brought over four thousand people of faith in Christ this year.
- We created the Residency in Ministry program to equip and mentor our newest clergy, a model for the rest of the church in the development of new leaders.
- This July we will institute an extensive on-line system (created by our Conference Connectional Ministries Staff) for weekly measurement of discipleship – accountability for all of our congregations. Every congregation will report, every week, on its fidelity to Christ. This is a groundbreaking effort to recover Wesleyan accountability.
- Natural Church Development has transformed and energized over two dozen of our congregations that were previously in decline.
- Our Cabinet has greatly streamlined, personalized, and made more results-sensitive our methods for clergy appointments. Through our triad interview process, the First Ninety Days program, and other means we are greatly improving our success rate for clergy appointments, giving churches the clergy leadership they need to be faithful to our Priorities.
Signs of hope! Easter continues! The women were right! He is risen indeed! Defeatism is being defeated by the Risen Christ.
William H. Willimon