Thursday, September 03, 2009

"Re-Newing Our Minds"

This week, Pokey and I attended a gathering of Senior Pastors and Spouses of the 100 largest United Methodist Churches in the United States according to average worship attendance. GBUMC is ranked 23rd, in case you were wondering.

The meeting was informative, challenging and reassuring as we met new friends, shared with older ones, and learned that we have much in common with those at similar places of similar size.

One of our responsibilities at this gathering was to discuss how the 100 largest congregations can assist the denomination as a whole in the next century’s new reality of ministry. According to the data shared by Adam Hamilton, Pastor of Church of the Resurrection UMC (the largest UMC church in the country) and the convener of the meeting, if nothing is done to change the prevailing trends, the United Methodist Church will cease to exist in 44 years.

In the past six years, The United Methodist Church has lost 22% of our membership. During this same period, the number of Professions of Faith has declined by 18%. The number of children in confirmation declined by 21%. Membership in the United Methodist Women across the denomination has declined so rapidly that the organization will lose over 95% of its membership in the next 14 years.

Worship attendance in the United Methodist Church declined by over 70,000 last year alone. That is the same as all of the United Methodists who attend church in the Kansas East and West Annual Conferences combined.

The stats and conversation are difficult to assimilate.

But, as sobering as the data may be, the opportunities and potential discussed for how the local church remains as the "hope of the world" and the center for renewal in our denomination are even more significant.

Adam Hamilton reminded us that John Wesley faced a similar crisis in his own denomination, the Church of England. He would look out and see the empty churches, but even more important, empty spirits, and decided that something must be done. And, the “something” began with him--with his own mindset and thinking. He took to heart several of Paul's sermons where he said that we must become what God needs us to be by, first, "re-newing" our minds. In Wesley’s day, that was more than an intellectual exercise, but it symbolized the "way we saw the world, God, and God in the world."

Wesley took on a life philosophy that is well documented and that became his mantra for how he would conduct his ministry. His philosophy had two principles: 1) No matter how much you love something, if it doesn’t work, throw it out, and 2) No matter how much you hate something, if it works, use it.

Wesley believed that the two primary purposes of the Church were to 1) Save Souls, and 2) Build Up the Body. Wesley, himself, was an intellectual who loved preaching in his staid, safe parish church. But, no matter his personal feelings, he traveled 250,000 miles to preach 40,000 sermons in the countryside because that is where the people were and where God needed him to go. Even though he detested both (travel and open air preaching), he did them because that is where God sent him.

And, Wesley and his brother, Charles, took recognizable tunes from the local taverns, wrote religious words to them, and used those songs for preaching to those who would have been outside the bounds of the church. Many of those songs are considered some of our most sacred hymns today. He never really liked this process, but it worked, and that is what mattered to him, and he believed mattered also to God.

Wesley not only renewed his preaching techniques, his music, and his goals/objectives, but he first had to make new his thinking about why and how he carried out his ministry.

As I thought about the idea of Wesley "Re-Newing His Mind" to become all that Christ intends, I came to four conclusions.

1. Wesley believed we must STOP thinking about OURSELVES. There are numerous Biblical references to this principle. Too numerous, in fact, to mention. The Adversary wants and needs for us to think about ourselves—our wants, needs, desires, and goals—because it turns us away from God. It was the trick he used on Eve in the Garden and it has been successful ever since.

2. He concluded we must START thinking like CHRIST. More than a bracelet, this must be a real effort to take the principles, motives and intentions of Jesus into our hearts and to live them. It is not enough to simply say we Love Jesus… we must Love Like Jesus as well.

3. Wesley understood that we must START thinking about OTHERS. Again, the Biblical principles are too numerous to reference, but the gist is like this. If we want to be first—we must be last. If we want to win--- we must learn to lose. If we want to fulfill the full nature of our own lives and experience wholeness in Christ—we must be willing to give ourselves away for our brothers, in heart, soul, mind and body. Not very complicated but very difficult.

4. Finally, Wesley believed we must START thinking of TOMORROW like it is TODAY. Jesus says we only control what we do right now. So, we can’t wait until tomorrow to make things better in our relationships, to be better at our spiritual walks or to serve more. NO, tomorrow begins today. All that the Bible says we can and must become in Christ is within our grasps now. We must be willing to make it so, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us.

Adam Hamilton said that Wesley’s great contribution to the cause of evangelical Christianity was more practical than theological. I would agree. Certainly, he was a wonderful thinker—and the re-newing of his mind gave birth to a new way of doing church. But, more than anything Wesley reminds us that the best of who we are in Christ is found in our acts of charity, our proclamation of the Good News, and in our strength for justice and righteousness.

As the Scripture states, in giving our lives away in service to Christ…. We find real life, and it makes all the difference.

We love you all.

Be Salt and Light... You matter!


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