Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Reaching a New Generation

One of our Conference priorities is empowering and reaching a new generation of United Methodist Christians. A rising median age of our church indicates that we have much to do to position ourselves to reach our youth.
A huge step forward has been our appointment of Clay Farrington, a Deacon, to oversee our Conference work with youth. Clay is leading us in some exciting ways.

Clay says that Conference Youth Ministry exists for two reasons:

1.     To develop youth ministry leadership – both students and adults
2.     To host excellent student events that strengthen the local church

To those ends, we're doing a few things…

August 25: Bread & Butter: Youth Ministry Training

A jam packed one-day youth ministry training event. $20 registration fee!. Last year Duffy Robbins was our featured speaker with around 20 breakout sessions covering the gamut of student ministry. This year our featured speaker is Jason Gant from the Church of the Resurrection. The event will be at Trinity UMC in Homewood. This event is perfect for our smaller congregations who want to get back into youth ministry.


The cherished event in Gatlinburg has been reborn. This winter we had more than 500 students and leaders from throughout the North Alabama Conference present. We gleaned a huge number of names of young persons who feel called into ministry. Dr. Thomas Muhomba and the office of Ethnic Ministries partnered with Conference Youth Ministry to help reach a number of ethnic United Methodist youth.

Battle of the Bands

In an ongoing effort to develop student leadership for ministry, this year we will host a youth battle of the bands in Munger Auditorium during Annual Conference. The winning band will lead worship for Bread & Butter and a set during Encounter 2013. Clay says, “If Annual Conference gets a little boring, come on over to Munger and see the future of the North Alabama Conference.”


Clay is doing a remarkable job drawing upon the youth ministry leadership talent we already have in many of our churches. By this Annual Conference each district will have a Youth Leadership Team (DYLT) made up of 2-3 of the best youth workers in the district and 8-12 stand out student leaders (some of whom responded to the call to ministry at Encounter). The DYLT's will be given a budget from Conference. Districts have been asked to match funds. And the DYLT's will be charged with planning and implementing a youth ministry event for their district – student led as much as possible.

How well is your congregation doing in reaching and retaining youth? If you want to do more, write Clay!

Will Willimon

P.S. Join me in praying that we will have a productive and invigorating Annual Conference this week. The North Alabama Annual Conference will meet on the campus of Birmingham-Southern College May 31-June 2. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Fear of God

When Jesus rose from the dead the disciples were told, “Don’t be afraid.” Those who knew Jesus best, and were in turn known best by him, knew that, while friendship with Jesus is sweet, it is also demanding, difficult, and, at times, even fearsome.

As the Bible says, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Presumably, it’s not fearful to fall into the hands of a dead god, an idol who never shocks or demands anything of you, who is no more than a fake, a godlet, a mere projection of your fondest desires and silliest wishes. Out in Galilee—a dusty, drab, out-of-the-way sort of place, just like where most of us live—the disciples of Jesus were encountered by the living God. That Jesus could not only give death the slip but also be in Galilee suggests that the risen Christ could show up anywhere, anytime. And that’s scary.

Here is God, not as a high-sounding principle, a noble ideal, or a set of rock-solid beliefs. Here is God on the move, moving toward us; God defined by God, God ordering us to be on the move into the world with God. And that’s a joyful thing—but more than a little scary too. When it dawns on you that the living God is none other than Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah we didn’t expect, the Savior we didn’t want, God in motion—well, fear is a reasonable reaction.

The modern world has many ways of turning us in on ourselves, eventually to worship the dear little god within. Christianity, the religion evoked by Jesus, is a decidedly fierce means of wrenching us outward. We are not left alone peacefully to console ourselves with our sweet bromides, or to snuggle with allegedly beautiful Mother Nature, or even to close our eyes and hug humanity in general. A God whom we couldn’t have thought up on our own has turned to us, reached to us, is revealed to be someone quite other than the God we would have if God were merely a figment of our imagination—God is a Jew from Nazareth who lived briefly, died violently, and rose unexpectedly. This God scared us to death but also thrilled us to life.

- From The Best of Will Willimon, Abingdon, 2012

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Jesus’ Family Values

On the cross, Jesus gets into it with his mother. “Woman, behold thy son,” he says to her. Mary, look at the child you are losing, the son that you are giving over for the sins of the world. Maternal love is that love that loves in order to give away. In Mary’s case, it was particularly so. When Jesus was born, old Simeon had predicted, “A sword will also pierce your heart.” From the first, it was not easy to be the mother of the Son of God. And now, even from the cross, Jesus is busy ripping apart families and breaking the hearts of mothers. Because he was obedient to the will of God, because Jesus did not waver from his God-ordained mission, he is a great pain to his family. “Woman, behold thy son.”

In that day, in that part of the world, there were no social attachments as rigid or determinative as that of the family. Family origin determined your whole life, your complete identity, your entire future. So one of the most countercultural, revolutionary acts of Jesus was his sustained attack upon the family.

In a culture like our own, dominated by “family values,” where we have nothing better to command our allegiance to than our own blood relatives, this is one of the good things the church does for many of us. In baptism, we are rescued from our family. Our families, as good as they are, are too narrow, too restricted. So in baptism we are adopted into a family large enough to make our lives more interesting.

“A new commandment I give to you that you love one another as I have loved you,” he said elsewhere (John 13:34). Watch closely. Jesus is forming the first church, commanding us to live as if these foreigners were our relatives. Church is where we are thrown together with a bunch of strangers and are forced to call these people with whom we have no natural affinity, nothing in common, “brother,” “sister.”

So after this moment, never again could the world say family without Jesus’ people thinking church.

On campus one evening, debating the future of our fraternities and sororities, this student says, “One reason why I love my fraternity is that it has forced me to be with a group of guys, many of whom I don’t like—guys of a different race and culture from my own—and call these losers ‘brother.’ That’s made me a better person than if I had been forced to stay with my own kind.”

“I’ve never thought of a frat as a church,” I said.

That day when they came to Jesus saying, “Your mother and your brothers are looking for you,” Jesus responded saying, “Whoever does the will of my Father, he is my brother.” In other words, Jesus is naming and claiming a new family for himself, that family made up of disciples. Now anybody who attempts to follow Jesus is one of the Family.

- From The Best of Will Willimon, Abingdon, 2012

Monday, May 07, 2012

Lost and Found Loving the Lost

I am sometimes asked why so many of our Methodists have actively opposed Alabama’s controversial Immigration Law. Many of our leading educators, law enforcement personnel, and business persons have criticized Senator Beason’s law. From what I’ve seen, the motivation of many Christians in opposing the law arise from our own experience with Christ; we were aliens from the love of God, lost, then we were found.

One reason that Christians tend to move toward those on the boundaries, tend to feel responsibility for the hungry and the dispossessed is because we worship the sort of God who has moved toward us while we were famished and out on the boundaries. God looks upon us all, even us fortunate ones, as the hungry and dispossessed who need saving. This is just the sort of God who commands, “when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed” (Luke 14:13-14). Here is a God who, for some reason known only to the Trinity, loves to work the margins inhabited by the poor, the orphaned, and the widowed; the alien and sojourner; the dead and the good as dead in the ditch. It is of the nature of this God not only to invite the poor and dispossessed but also to be poor and dispossessed, to come to the margins, thus making the marginalized the center of his realm. “Truly I tell you, just as you did it unto the least of these . . . you did it unto me” (Matt 25:40).

The story “I once was lost but now am found” is the narrative that gives us a peculiar account of lost and found, a special responsibility to seek and to save the lost. If we want to be close to Jesus—and that’s a good definition of a Christian, someone who wants to go where Jesus is—then we’ve got to go where he goes. Christians go to church in order never to forget that we were strangers and aliens out on the margins (Eph 2:19).

“You know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt” (Exod 23:9). We were lost and then found. That continuing memory of the dynamic of our salvation—lost then found—gives us a special relationship to the lost, the poor, and anybody who does not know the story of a God who, at great cost, reaches far out in order to bring to close embrace.

- Adapted from The Best of Will Willimon, Abingdon, 2012.