Monday, January 25, 2010

El Viaje

We now have dozens of churches who are engaging in some groundbreaking ministry with Spanish speaking persons in North Alabama. After school programs, English as a Second Language instruction, Sunday School, Sunday worship, not to mention the ten or so new congregations that we are forming. Recently I preached at Iglesia de la Communidad in Huntsville, one of thriving Spanish speaking congregations that is celebrated its first anniversary. This was my first attempt to preach in Spanish!

El Viaje

Obispo Will Willimon
Iglesia de la Comunidad

Es un gran placer para mí estar aquí con ustedes en este día de fiesta. Yo vine desde Birmingham hoy para reunirme con ustedes, y se que hay unos de ustedes que han venido de lugares mucho mas lejos. Han hecho un viaje largo para estar aquí.

Se darán cuenta que en todo el Evangelio Jesús se muestra como en un viaje. Jesús siempre está en movimiento, moviéndose rápido desde Galilea, a través de Judea, todo el camino hacia la cruz en Jerusalén. Y cuándo Jesús invita un grupo de hombres a ser sus discípulos, él los invita a unirlo en un viaje. “Síganme,” les dice. Y lo siguen. Siguen a Jesús en el viaje.

A ser un cristiano, un seguidor de Jesús, es estar en un viaje. Cada uno de nosotros aquí hoy estamos en un viaje con Jesús. Estamos aquí porque Jesús nos invitó a caminar con él. Y como con cualquier viaje, no siempre sabemos la destinación final. No sabemos lo que Dios quiere que hagamos o donde es que Dios quiere que nos vayamos. Por lo tanto, debemos viajar con la fe que, aunque no sepamos el fin de nuestro viaje, caminemos en la dirección derecha porque caminamos con Dios.

Con cualquier viaje, hay tiempos buenos y malos. A veces el camino es difícil. Y eso nos pasa en nuestro viaje con Jesús. Jesús no nos promete que la caminata será fácil, él sólo nos promete que él caminará con nosotros, en particular cuando es difícil.

Una de las mejor maneras para hacer amigos es viajar con ellos. Es verdad con nuestro viaje con Jesús. Cuando él nos dice, como les dijo a sus primeros discípulos, “Síganme”, no sabemos mucho acerca de él. Por lo tanto, tenemos que aprender quien es por caminar con él. Yo no los conocería y ustedes no me conocerían si nosotros no andábamos de esta manera con Jesús. En la iglesia (piensen en la iglesia como nuestro viaje con Jesús) tenemos la oportunidad de conseguir amigos nuevos porque estamos viajando con Jesús.

¿Verdad que es interesante que Jesús no dijo, “hablen de mí?” Sino, dijo, “Caminen con mí.” No dijo, “piensen en mí,” pero dijo “síganme.”

Dios le bendiga en su caminata con Jesús. Espero que su iglesia y su pastor le de lo que necesita para que camine fielmente con Jesús.

Señor, te doy gracias por cada uno de estos estimados discípulos quien tú has invitado a caminar con ti. Refuerza cada uno de ellos en su viaje. Dalos lo que ellos necesitan para caminar con ti cada día de sus vidas para que caminen con ti por toda eternidad. Amen.

It is a great joy for me to be with you on this day of Fiesta. I have driven up from Birmingham to be with you but many of you have come even farther than that to be here. You have made a long journey to be here. I thank God that your journey has led you to the United Methodist Church.

You will notice that in all the gospels Jesus is depicted as being on a journey. Jesus began his life, as a baby, as a refugee, a stranger with his family in Egypt. And when he grew up, Jesus is always on the move, moving quickly from Galilee, through Judea, all the way to his cross in Jerusalem. And when Jesus invites a group of people to be his disciples, he invites them to join him on a journey. “Follow me!” he says to them. And they do. They follow Jesus on a journey.

To be a Christian, a follower of Jesus, is to be on a journey. Each one of us is here this afternoon on a Journey with Jesus. We are all here because Jesus invited us to walk with him. And on any journey, you don’t always know the final destination. We do not know what God wants us to do, where God wants us to go next. Therefore we must travel in faith that, though we don’t know the end of the journey, we are walking in the right direction because we are walking with God.

In any journey, there are good times and bad. Sometimes there is rough going. And that’s true of our Journey with Jesus. Jesus doesn’t promise us that the walk will be easy, he just promises us that he will walk with us, particularly when the walk is difficult.

You all know that one of the best ways to make new friends is to go on a trip with them, to journey with them. And that’s true of our Journey with Jesus. When he says to us, as he said to his first disciples, “Follow me!” we do not know much about Jesus. We must therefore learn who he is by walking with him. And I wouldn’t know you and you wouldn’t know me if we were not walking this way with Jesus. In the church (think of the church as our Journey with Jesus) we get to meet new friends because we are journeying with Jesus.

Isn’t it interesting that Jesus did not say, “talk about me,” he said, “walk with me.” He didn’t say “think about me” he said “follow me”?

God bless you in your walk with Jesus. I hope your church and your pastor give you what you need to faithfully walk with Jesus. Let me pray for you:

Lord, I thank you for these dear disciples whom you have invited to walk with you. Strengthen each one of them in their journey. Give them what they need to walk with you every day of their lives so that they may walk with you in eternity. Amen.

William H. Willimon

Last year our church experienced our largest growth in our ethnic congregations. Would YOUR congregation like to get into ministry with Spanish speaking persons? Call or write Thomas Muhomba at to learn how your church can get involved in mission. Some of our dynamic congregations have expanded their ministries to begin Spanish-speaking congregations in their churches. Among some of the most exciting are Bart Thau’s new congregation at Pleasant Hill UMC, of course. the booming congregation at Riverchase, also Albertville First and St.Mark- Tuscaloosa are sites of exciting new work among Spanish speaking Methodists.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Six Percent Solution

When I was at my first church, I was complaining to a wise, experienced pastor that I had “too few talented lay persons” in my little church to change the downward course of the congregation. (Even forty years ago I was trying to change the church!) “I have no more than five or six folks who show any ability to move forward,” I whined.

“Well consider yourself fortunate,” replied the wise pastor. “My congregation is twice the size of yours and I can count no more than five or six Spirit-filled, innovative leaders. Fortunately, God rarely needs more than that to get the ball rolling.”

What? Jesus changed the whole world with twelve (only eleven of whom panned out) disciples. Malcolm Gladwell’s, The Tipping Point is a study of how human organizations change. How does a system reach the “tipping point” whereby an organizational culture is transformed? Gladwell documents that it takes no more than six children in a school to begin wearing a certain brand of sport shoe to reach the tipping point whereby in just a few days a hundred children will begin wearing that same brand of shoe.

I believe Gladwell is right. In all of the churches I have served as a pastor only six percent of the members gave nearly two-thirds of all the financial gifts to the church. I’ve served some wonderful churches but I’ve never served a church that wasn’t being led by six percent of the members. Only six percent of the congregation are people to whom God has given the passion and the position to lead the whole church.

There is a word of grace here for church leaders. If you want to give the church a brighter future, you only have to convince six percent of the people in the church. As a bishop, if I want to reverse the decline of my Conference, I only have to identify a mere six percent who know how to make that turnaround happen.

When Gil Rendel was advising us on the transformation of our Conference, as we were thinking about how to convince the Conference to move toward eight rather than twelve districts, Rendle put before us the proverbial Bell Curve. He noted that in any significant change 15% of the people are against the change and will remain against the change no matter how that change is presented to them. On the other end of the curve, 15% will say “let’s go for it” no matter how risky the change may be.

“That leaves a full 70% of your people who show a good possibility of conversion into support for this change,” said Gil. “Too many pastors wait in the vain hope that they were good enough to get everybody on board, don’t move until they are sure that they can take everyone along with them. As a result, they never go anywhere.”

Christianity tends to be a minority movement. Jesus occasionally attracted multitudes, but his transformative work tended to be through a small group of disciples. Thanks be to God we don’t have to wait to follow the Spirit until 99% of everyone thinks this direction is a good idea. God can work through something as seemingly small and insignificant as a mustard seed to grow the Kingdom.

Thanks be to God, on our way to “make disciples of all nations,” we only need six percent to get the job done.

Will Willimon

Rick Owen of our Stewardship Resources is sponsoring a "Core Strategy" summit for pastors and church leaders on January 26, 2010, at Vestavia Hills UMC with me and Reggie McNeal. You can register at

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Four Questions for Pastors

In a recent conversation with my friend Lloyd John Ogilvie, he said that in his fifty years of ministry he has learned to ask himself four pastoral questions:

  1. What sort of people does Christ want to deploy in the world?
  2. What sort of church do we need to produce those people?
  3. What sort of leaders do we need to produce that sort of church?
  4. What sort of pastor do I need to be to produce that sort of leaders in that sort of church?

What wonderful questions I like the emphasis here on disciple-making as the point of pastoral work. Paul would probably call it “edification” of believers, but I like Lloyd’s stress on performance, enactment, and witness to the gospel as the purpose of it all. Ministry is known by its fruit and the test of my ministry is not only my fidelity to the gospel but also the production of saints. Truth to tell, fidelity to the gospel requires the calling and equipping of disciples, church turned inside out.

In our churches today I sense a new spirit of accountability, evaluating ourselves by holding ourselves accountable to the mission of Christ and his church. Too often we have spent our energy planning and organizing without regard to results. Our Dashboard, along with NCD and other means is really helping us to focus on results, on the fruit of our work. Ogilvie’s questions seem to be in the spirit of our determination to focus on results.

In my own ministry, as we enter another new year, I am going to try to do a better job of holding myself accountable to ask these four questions.

William H. Willimon

Rick Owen of our Stewardship Resources is sponsoring a “Core Strategy” summit for pastors and church leaders on January 26, 2010 at Vestavia Hills UMC with me and Reggie McNeal. You can register at

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Ambiguous Good News at Christmas

The old church calendar, in its wisdom places immediately after the joyful feast of the Nativity, the day of St. Stephen (December 26), first martyr of the Church in Acts and the gospel text as Matthew 2:13-18, story of the bloody massacre of the boy babies. New birth and nativity, the cross and sacrifice get all mixed up in the gospel. When will we ever learn that nothing truly new, no large move of God occurs without some pain. Blood and birth go together.

At Christmas we read from Isaiah 61:10, "I will rejoice in the LORD." The white upon the altar proclaim Christmas and its Sundays as season of unrestrained joy, fitting response to this the "fullness of time" (Gal. 4:4). But then the Christmas gospel (Luke 2:25-40) introduces us to two old people who have been waiting a long time for time's fullness, Simeon and Anna. These two marginalized, fringe characters, "little people" who emerge from out of nowhere, have their say, then recede again into the darkness, are apparently the only people up at the Temple who know what is going on. To them is given the eyes to see and voices to say what God is doing in the world in this little baby. So much for the biblical scholars, priests, theologians, and government planners, Luke seems to say. If you really want to know what's really going on, ask the people on the bottom or out on the fringe.

We who live in a society which has ways of maginalizing our very old and our very young ought to sit up and take note.

Simeon's words expand our notions of "blessings." Whatever "salvation" (Luke 2:30) is at work for Israel, whatever joy there is to be had at the Nativity, it is no simple joy, no cheap salvation. Simeon's talk of falling and rising, of opposition and piercing swords (2:34-35) invites some sober reflection upon the depth and complexity of God's ways among us. Simeon offers a helpful corrective against the yuletide tendency to float off into superficial sentimentalities, to reduce our testimony to a Christmas card slogan or our salvation songs to advertizing jingles. The Nativity, as Simeon says, is about social dislocation, about confused parents, and dark forebodings. Caesar has an answer for old Jews who get too uppity with their singing -- his answer is a sword. On the hill beyond the Bethlehem manger, there is a cross awaiting a suitable victim.

Now that the yuletide commercial buying and selling and getting and giving is at last spent, now that the surrounding world has at last tired of Christmas and is gearing up for New Year`s parties, the church is left to ponder the true significance of what has been born among us. Our salvation is coming to us, but it won’t be cheap. We are not only given joy in the birth of the Christchild, but also a risky assignment. This is what the church means when it says, “rejoice.” Soberly, reflectively, joyously, thankfully we gather in our churches during Christmastide to ponder the deep, costly nature of our salvation.

William H. Willimon