Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Good Work!

Okay, I admit it. I have been one of those people who has complained that the UMC does not close enough of its dying churches. I have often said that tiny, 6-in-worship churches should move on, should let their churches and cemeteries go, should not be using the resources of the greater UMC to keep them going, that they should give up and die.

But then, this year at annual conference when we voted on the discontinuance of 9 churches, it was so sad to hear that I cried! What is wrong with me? I felt quite wishy-washy.

Yet God gave good news too. I saw and heard of the good work of the Church Legacy Initiative of the WNCC. This group of ministers has been given the role of assisting churches that are nearing their end of life. Their unique ministry helps churches in making “faithful decisions about their future and providing a legacy which will help to make disciples in this and future generations.”[1]  

It is estimated that nearly 500 churches in the Western NC Conference have fewer than 50 people in weekly worship. Many churches have been declining over the last 10-15 years. The sad but serious consequence is that maintaining enough missional momentum to make disciples is often very difficult. With many churches in this situation so much of the efforts extended by these faithful congregations is focused on maintaining the pastor, the cemetery and the now-too-big structures built in better years.

I heard that what the Church Legacy Initiative does is come along side these churches. They guide churches through seeking discernment, and allow the congregations to have those hard conversations that everybody dreads. I read that churches decide for themselves if they have the resources for revitalization, whether they can once again develop and grow, or if they will become a Legacy church.

I am thankful that we are facing the future with this kind of direct and deliberate approach for struggling churches. I am thankful that this kind of loving and discerning work is being offered through the Church Legacy Initiative. Being vital in ministry, and making disciples should guide our future. Our focus can’t always be on whether or not we will be able to pay the preacher, the apportionments, the housing, and the power bill this month.  God has many places and many ways for us to be used in ministry. The church is made up of the saints of God at work in the Kingdom no matter where they meet.

I am thankful for the small rural church that showed me Jesus, and for those whose doors may close, but whose impact has been great in the Kingdom! I am thankful for The Church Legacy Initiative and their supporting partners, the Duke Endowment, and the UM Foundation of WNC. Good work!

I like to remember too that God's way is to always bring life from death!

[1] The Church Legacy Initiative.

Monday, May 01, 2017

I Retreated

I have neglected blogging for quite a while...but I wanted to share today.🔋

This week-end I was inspired, refreshed and blessed to be at WNC Local Pastor Retreat . Being a mentor to a group of these folks gave me the opportunity to hang out with some really dedicated preachers for the week-end.

Ed and I made the trek up the Old Fort Mtn. to Ridgecrest. We checked in and quickly realized that to go anywhere was up. (I discovered how very out of shape I am.)

The retreat was good for my soul because I was surrounded for two days by a portion of God’s beauty that can only be exhibited by the lush, green mountains of North Carolina in the spring time. I was also blessed to have a chance to be in worship when I was not the leader. I miss that sometimes. Being simply a worshiper allows me to rest in the presence of God in a totally different way.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the privilege and opportunity to bring the Word on any given occasion, but it is also good to hear and soak up the words of other great preachers. We had one of those. Rev. Dr. Winston Worrell, brought a soul-stimulating message that presented the provoking statement, “I thought he (Jesus) was the one.” Dr. Worrell said that many people today are disillusioned with church just like the men on the road to Emmaus. 

The “Dones,” as he called them, are people who are burned-out on ministry, fed up with organized religion and who have become spiritual refugees. They not only present a challenge to the church, but without them the church is much the poorer. 

Rev. Greg Moore took us further into renewal by encouraging us to form a more intentional time of being with God. He showed us the The Trinity, an icon created by Russian painter Andrei Rublyov in the 15th century, “reading” it with us, and noting that we (all of God’s creation) are what is missing from the table. He posed the question that God is continually asking of us…of humanity. “Where are you?”

Then Rev. Moore offered us the good Wesleyan method for answering that question through more intentional times of prayer. What really intrigued me with the talk he gave was when someone asked the question: If this Wesleyan Way was so great at keeping the Dones from becoming the Dones...why did we ever leave it. Rev. Moore said this: It was too hard.

Bingo! The Christian life of faithful discipleship is hard. Not only is it hard, it is risky. Not only is it hard and risky, it is not popular. Because it will not make you rich, or keep you from having a health problem, or make all your dreams come true. Sorry. No. 

What a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ is promised is inclusion in the life of God, which is peaceful, powerful, and eternal. When we mistake discipleship for easy, fun and with the promise of the good life, we to move it from the divine to the secular. We become consumers. Discipleship is not what we have, it is the incarnation of Jesus in us...Jesus, who gave his life for the world.

The Holy Spirit used Rev. Moore to convict me. I don’t spend nearly enough of my time with God in prayer. That is hard to admit…I am a pastor, and I lead a community of faith. 

I retreated, and I remembered that I am convinced that the more time I spend with God, the more peace and power as a disciple I will have; more time at God's table, and the better I will be able to discern God's heart, both for my life and for the life of the church I serve.

Pray with me...Lord, I will try to be at the table me keep my word. Amen.