Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Reporting from 2013 WNC Annual Conference

             It’s that time of year again, when I get to bring news of the Western North Carolina Annual Conference which took place last week.  I want to report on this year’s focus which was: Becoming the “Missional Church.” As you may be aware, last year the annual conference made the decision to shift from 15 districts down to 8. The changes we have experienced over the last year have been both tedious and helpful.        
              Our district superintendents are now referred to as District Missional Strategists. Missional Networks have been formed so that churches can work together to extend the mission of the church into our local geographical areas. The way forward is fully about missions…of all kinds, local, national and international.
              We were encouraged last year to focus on change and innovation in our local churches in order to reach those people outside our churches who do not (and marginally) have a relationship with God.        
              The focus this year at annual conference centered on motivating churches to be intentional about moving beyond the walls of the church to serve Jesus in our communities.  We are no longer to be about maintaining our organizations, but rather we are to focus all our resources in mission.
              Bishop Goodpaster summed up the theme with his words to the conference in our last worship together. “Get outta here. Get busy. Go. Go. Go. Get outta here!” The Bishop hopes that we will develop and play-out a “missional faith.” A missional faith is one that “stays focused on the heart of God in order to serve Christ in the present age.”

Bishop Goodpaster
(Photo captured from WNCC Facebook photos)
              Serving Christ in the present age certainly presents us with a great many challenges. However, Bishop Goodpaster explained that faith is not something we have and hold, but rather “faith is a verb.” Faith as a verb means that we live it out, love it out, give it out, send it out, serve it out. Having faith is like having a new pair of dancing shoes, unless we go dancing…what good are they? We are to go out fearlessly. In the clergy session, Bishop Goodpaster told all pastors, “Be brave, be bold and be reasonable. Take the authority that you are given by the church to make a difference. Don’t worry…I’ve got your back.”
              We were also blessed and inspired by great worship and messages. Bishop Peter Weaver brought us a word about who Jesus really is from Matthew 25. He said that Jesus is the person “out there,” in those to whom we are sent. He said that many people are facing the “midnight” of their lives, grieving, oppressed, broken, hurting, hungry, ready to give up. Bishop Weaver said that we are called to serve them…to serve Jesus in them…to go into those dark midnights with love, help, service, and friendship. We are to stand on God and God’s promises, so that our courage will overcome any fears or threats that are pelted at us by naysayers, friends, families, committees or councils.
              We were excited and encouraged by reports of the varied missions and ministries that have developed during the last year in the “just-outside-our-door” mission fields. For example in Stanley, the First UMC developed a mission called Common Ground by making available a 90 acre plot of ground where people can come and connect with the out of doors; where they can worship, play, be with their families, and experience God in a non-traditional setting. This is just one of the exciting new missional endeavors happening in our conference.
               I could go on and on about the encouraging words we received, but what I am encouraged by the most is that I know that God knows exactly what we are supposed to be doing. Both in our individual lives and in our community life at Pisgah UMC, seeking God for the way forward is thrilling prospect. This year is the year to let go of the fears that hold us and “get outta the church into our communities.” This year let’s commit to meeting Jesus in the people we are yet to know…He’s out there. If you don’t believe me…read Matthew 25.

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