Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Monday, May 12, 2008
Just as the North Alabama Conference has four priorities which help to guide our ministry as an Annual Conference (new congregations, natural church development, effective leadership for the 21st century and empowering a new generation of Christians) the Council of Bishops and the staff of the church's general agencies called upon United Methodists to adopt four "areas of focus."
- Developing principled Christian leaders for the church and the world
- Creating new places for new people and renewing existing congregations
- Engaging in ministry with the poor
- Stamping out killer diseases by improving health globally
Two of these foci match with two of ours. We have also been active in the "Nothing But Nets" campaign to stamp out Malaria (which will be our Annual Conference Offering this year).
Our delegation was committed to containing costs in the General Church. A budget of almost $642 million was developed. The budget was aligned with the 4 ministry foci (just as the North Alabama Conference has been aligning our Conference budget with our Four Priorities). This new budget keeps more resources at the local church and Annual Conference level rather than having large increases in the General Church budget. Our North Alabama Delegation helped keep the budget to less than a 2% increase per year, the smallest increase in decades. Our Treasurer Scott Selman, a lay delegate to General Conference, served on the Finance and Administration legislative committee and led in this area (just as Scott has enabled our Conference to have two years in a row with the smallest budget increases in years.).
Another action that parallels some of our work here was when the General Conference revised the mission statement of the United Methodist Church. It was revised from "the mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ" to "the mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world." A couple of years ago we in North Alabama changed our Conference vision statement to "Every church challenged and equipped to make more disciples of Jesus Christ by taking risks and changing lives." This addition of "more" has helped us focus on our mission of making disciples.
In North Alabama we have a priority of empowering a new generation of Christians. This year's General Conference had the highest participate of people under 30 than any other General Conference in history. We had several young adult delegates and reserve delegates from North Alabama. Again, this is an area in which our Conference has been changing our ways of working (see this year's Nominations Committee report) in order to reach more young adults and empower them for church leadership.
General Conference added "your witness" to the church membership vows of supporting a congregation with "your prayers, your presence, your gifts and your service." All United Methodists are witnesses of Jesus Christ. It is gratifying to see General Conference take up this passion for disciple-making that has characterized our Conference in recent years.
Another piece of legislation that will have a big impact is the new eligibility of local pastors, probationary members and associate members to vote for clergy delegates to General Conference. They still cannot serve as delegates, but their voices will be heard. Our Conference has more local pastors working in ministry than any other Conference in the Connection.
The worldwide nature of our church was apparent throughout the Conference. One of our delegates, Robert Sparkman, worked at legislation ensuring equal representation on general boards and agencies. This means those areas where the church is growing (such as Africa and Korea) will also have voices on General Boards and agencies to help guide our denomination in our disciple making mission.
We heard a memorable speech from Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the president of Liberia. She shared that the influence of the United Methodist Church helped shape her. She was educated in a school United Methodists started. Now she is a proud United Methodist serving as the first democratically elected woman head-of-state on the continent of Africa. One of our District Superintendents, Richard Stryker is a native of Liberia and Oliver and Elaine Clark served there as missionaries.
During General Conference we heard a report of the recovery from Hurricane Katrina. Scores of North Alabama VIM workers continue to play a big role in this effort.
One sign of hope that was present throughout the Conference was that the altar and podium were both made from wood that came from the property of Gulfside Assembly. Though Gulfside was destroyed in Katrina, we are rebuilding this historic center. North Alabama's own Mollie Stewart is serving as interim executive director for Gulfside Assembly.
So, in a number of ways, the direction of the North Alabama Conference -- as we work toward our priorities, as we attempt to focus our efforts - is having an influence beyond our Conference. It is a sure sign of hope to find our United Methodist Church, in it recent General Conference, moving in much the same hopeful direction.
Monday, May 05, 2008
I have received over fifty wonderful responses. They represent over two millennia of wisdom! Here are some recurring themes in their responses.
- Successful pastoral ministry requires not only theological ability, biblical fidelity, and a good personality; it requires hard work! Pastors must be "self-starters" who proactively engage their parishioners and their communities by knocking on doors, engaging in conversation, making contacts and other efforts to reach people. Disciplined, determined work is required.
- Faithful pastors must have a vivid sense of vocation, a sense of being summoned by God to do this work. The work that pastors do is too demanding to do it for any other reason than the conviction that one is called to do this work, that God wants you to do it.
- The only enduring reasons for being in ministry are theological. Pastors must constantly refurbish their sense that this is a "God thing," that ministry is more than a mere "helping profession." Pastoral ministry arises out of theological commitments and is dependent upon what God is doing in the church and the world.
- Though some seem to believe that pastoral visitation is outmoded, there is no substitute for meeting people where they live, from offering yourself to them through visiting in their homes and businesses.
- Pastoral ministry is relational. Your people must believe that you care about them, that you know them individually, and that you are trying to love them.
I find these to be enduring insights about ministry, gleaned from many years of collective wisdom. I share these with you in the hope that you will be inspired as I have been by our retired pastors.
Sunday, May 04, 2008
Who Will Be Saved? is the central question of my newest book, from Abingdon Press.
In the last few years, teaching and preaching in our churches, I've found a good deal of interest, and some confusion, in regard to what Christians believe about salvation in Jesus Christ. We Wesleyans have always taken an orthodox view of how and whom Jesus Christ saves. But we have also stressed salvation as part of the active, seeking, relentlessness of God into all corners of creation, all types of humanity.
This book deals with issues of the scope of God's salvation in Jesus Christ, the place of other faiths in Christian views of salvation, heaven, forgiveness, eternal damnation, universal salvation and many other matters related to the main theme of salvation. It is available now from Cokesbury.