The Blog of Gordon Pruitt the Pastor of St. Matthew's United Methodist Church in Richmond Virginia

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Hope at General Conference?

Below is a portion of an article from the United Methodist News Service that actually excites me about our church. I will have a few comments afterwards.

A new agenda

Weary of decades of the church's top legislative meeting being consumed by debate over homosexuality and other hot-button issues, the Council of Bishops and other denominational leaders have shaped a new churchwide agenda with the overarching purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The agenda includes four areas of focus: developing principled Christian leaders for the church and the world; creating "new places for new generations" by starting new churches and renewing existing ones; engaging in ministry with the poor; and fighting the killer diseases of poverty such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.

Church leaders believe this approach will help United Methodists unite to address the world's core needs, reclaim the church's Wesleyan heritage, start a movement and, as a bonus, reverse decades of declining membership trends.

It also is hoped that, when the nearly 1,000 delegates leave General Conference to return to their home districts and churches, they will know the four areas of focus by heart and, with a new clarity about "what my church is doing," spread that vision and sense of identity to the people in the pews.

Delegates at the briefing said it's time for Jesus Christ to "do a new thing with our church."

"I'm not hearing as much about the more controversial issues so far," said the Rev. Henry Frueh, a second-time delegate from the Troy Annual (regional) Conference in New York. "There's more talk about the church positioning itself to be more effective in the world. I think there's a sense that if we don't change the way we do church, we're going to lose the opportunity," he told United Methodist New Service.

The Rev. Tom Berlin, a delegate from Herndon, Va., said many people in his generation (ages 30 to 45) are disenchanted by past General Conferences that have focused on discordant social issues that "are so predictable in their outcome"--and not enough on substantive issues of need in the world. The result, he said, is that ordained and lay leaders are tempted to cocoon themselves in their local churches "because it's just not worth the emotional energy."

"Friends, we're going to have to lay down our arms on these other issues if we want to deal with the (new) ones," Berlin told one panel group.

My thoughts/ questions:

1. I love the 4 areas of focus that deal with the true mission statement of the UMC "make disciples of Jesus Christ": engaging in ministry with the poor, fighting the killer diseases, creating and building leaders, and starting and renewing churches for new generations. It would be like actually doing what Jesus called us to do. What a crazy thing to do? If the general conference was to get behind this agenda i believe the church could change course. I know it would chance my perception and attitude. Rev. Tom Berlin hit the nail on the head when he said "that ordained and lay leaders are tempted to cocoon themselves in their local churches because it's just not worth the emotional energy."

2. Can this happen? I think so. I've talked with a few others and they don't share my optimism. I am an eternal optimist so i think this can work. Will the very conservative and the very liberal be able to give up ground i think is the real question. Can we "lay down arms?" Are there enough people/delegates in the extreme center where i believe i am? I believe that is more and more the case and more and more people are getting frustrated with the current system. Say amen if you can.

3. Tom Berlin, is not only the skinniest pastor in America (I'm not mocking, I'm jealous) he is a great leader who is going to help the future of our church and i am pumped that he is co leading the VA conference delegation. This is what can happen when great church pastors/leaders and given the opportunity to work with the broader church. Of the 15 clergy
elected to general conference only 4 were serving churches at the time of election.

4. What do you think and what can we do to help make this vision/focus a reality?

1 comment:

Justin said...

only 4 were serving churches? crazy. any younger than 40?
we only elect 3 in the memphis conference and i was not one of them. the average age for clergy was probably 60.
also happy about the decision to focus on the message of the gospel rather than homosexuality (which isn't mentioned even once by Christ or in the gospels at all).