October 5, 2010
(Bishop Paul L. Leeland)
The heart and passion of our Alabama-West Florida Conference was reflected recently during the Catapult Conference
in Mobile, Ala. For three days, participants engaged Reggie McNeal, Brian Russell, Alan & Deb Hirsch, and Mike Slaughter around the idea of a truly missional church. As one who was present, I was delighted to see the passion surrounding a call to mission and am grateful for the leadership team from the Mobile District
that made this time of learning together a reality. This conference clearly placed the emphasis on every congregation’s ability to be a missional, evangelistic church - regardless of church size or location.
I was so refreshed by hearing Mike Slaughter
, a faithful United Methodist minister, speak of his church’s tremendous work in Africa: they have sponsored the building of a number of wells for clean drinking water; opened schools in which over 23,000 students are being taught; and are feeding over 1,400 families on a regular basis. These are impressive numbers, indeed.
Yet, despite those outstanding “numbers,” participants at Catapult agreed with Slaughter when he remarked that our own United Methodist denomination appears to be obsessed with counting numbers. Is this a contradiction? Not in my opinion.
Everyone counts numbers. Slaughter simply reminds us that it is not counting numbers that is the problem; the issue is “what” we count. Are we simply counting the numbers of members of our own local church? Or do we count the persons being served and reached in the name of Jesus? Each number represents a life, someone who is important to God - and that IS worth counting!
My personal observation has been that too often we fail to prioritize the mission of the church. Our priority as Christians should be to claim every soul for God by making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Don’t hear me incorrectly: organizations and structure are important to this mission. However, an organization or institution is in itself a neutral entity. It is how we utilize and organize ourselves to fulfill the mission that makes the real difference – the one that counts!
Church leaders are certainly inviting disciples to fulfill the calling of their baptism in this mission. However, too often we have inverted our priorities by giving greater thought to how to protect leaders and current structures. Many lose the mission focus or, at best, relegate it to an after-thought. First, keep the leaders happy; Second, protect our system as it is; Last, give attention to the mission.
We are a people of mission and it is our calling to fulfill it first - adapting a nimble, flexible system to accomplish this. We can position and utilize our resources, both financial and human, to serve our primary mission.
Rather than sustaining an institution to protect the well-being of church leaders before all else, we must create a movement to claim every soul for Jesus Christ and return our mission to our primary focus. Our churches, at their best, are manifested in a wonderful web of relationships, linking together in ways that allow us to accomplish so much more for the Kingdom of God than we might by ourselves.
Charles Wesley’s great hymn, “A Charge to Keep I Have,” helps express our deepest calling when we unite our voices, singing:
“To serve the present age, my calling to fulfill;
O may it all my powers engage to do my Master’s will!” (Hymn 413 UMH).
I suspect it will indeed engage “all my powers” as we make this shift in this present age. I’m looking for leaders. I’m looking for the shinning eyes and passionate hearts of those leaders honestly entered into the Wesleyan Covenant:
I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
Exalted for thee or brought low by thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things
To thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.
May God give us grace to live into this covenant and remain faithful.