Saturday, April 26, 2008

Heed Their Words. Follow Their Actions

Saul said to David, "You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him;
for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth."

1 Samuel 17:33, NRSV

Why has it taken The United Methodist Church so long to recognize the strength of its young people and afford them a voice from the platform of General Conference? For a denomination that regularly strives to embrace diversity and express inclusion of all persons, the General Conference has never, until now, publically affirmed the prophetic voice of young people in an address to the General Conference. And while they were given center stage, most spoke from among the people gathered in the plenary hall—a powerful demonstration of their being a part of the church and deeply connected to one another and to God.

It would seem that the church and the Conference have been hesitant—if not afraid—to give such power and privilege to the young people of the church for fear they could not rise to the occasion or even embarrass the denomination. Not unlike David as he stepped forward to slay the giant, the adults of the denomination have chided its young people for lacking experience and being foolish. Even with a powerful biblical precedent set by David in his youth, the church has failed to heed the power and authority of young people to speak and to act in the name of God.

And so finally, the first-ever Young People’s Address to the General Conference was delivered, and it knocked the giant bureaucratic institution on its collective @$$. The six young people offering the Address represented the five jurisdictions of the church in the United States and one central conference, from various ethnic and racial backgrounds. Each spoke elegantly, forcefully and passionately from personal experience and prophetic vision as members of the church. The Address provided a profound example of the church of today through the eyes of young people who have their hearts tuned to the pulse of life in the 21st century. The United Methodist Church would do well to heed their words, step aside and empower them to be its leaders today. If General Conference could be conducted by these six young people, it would truly achieve holy conferencing and avoid the ills of its self-serving agendas.

The young people of The United Methodist Church are ready, willing and able to lead. Let them begin!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Mixed Messages

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me
through their message, that all of them may be one.”
John 17:20-21a, NRSV

The United Methodist Church is divided, segmented, segregated and dismembered. And this torn, rent denomination suffers from the lack of a unifying understanding of what it means to be the body of Christ. When the messaging of General Conference took center stage yesterday, this multiplicity of agenda was painfully obvious: 7 vision pathways, 5 fruitful practices, 4 areas of focus, 3 simple rules.

What is the message of The United Methodist Church to its members and the world when there are at least 19 different ways to express ministry and mission? It seems impossible to expect the delegates of General Conference to settle on just one message that all United Methodists could agree upon, embrace and proclaim to the world. In fact, the church appears to thrive on multiple and mixed messages precisely to water down and dilute any power or effect.

The messages are not only mixed but contrary. Consider these from yesterday’s addresses,

  • Young people are the church of tomorrow; we need younger leaders today.
  • Poverty is rampant; we are a church of abundance.
  • Membership is in decline; the church is growing in Africa.

It’s time to embrace one message. That message must reveal Christ to the world so “that all may be one.”

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Future with Hope

“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord,
plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”

Jeremiah 29:11, NRSV

The 2008 General Conference of The United Methodist Church has opened officially. Its theme is “A Future with Hope” based upon Jeremiah 29:11. The question the delegates must answer is “What is the future of The United Methodist Church”? No doubt, they will hope for the best and leave the rest to God. But is that enough to right the course of an institution that is prone to elitism, selfishness, egotism, turf wars and complacency that engenders dis-ease, impoverishes the denomination, lacks principled leaders and hinders church growth? It is the institution itself—namely the cumbersome 13 general boards and agencies—that stands in the way of any hope of a vital future.

Jeremiah 29:11 is as much a promise as a warning to those wishing to return to business as usual. Just like the Israelites who longed for life before exile but could have no hope of returning, the people of The United Methodist Church—through its representative delegates to General Conference—must make plain the vision of tomorrow instead of fanning the flames of yesterday. If there is to be a future with hope for the people of The United Methodist Church, it must start with dismantling the unwieldy craziness of a church structure that has long outlived its usefulness.

That’s a future worth hoping for.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Blow the Horn!

“Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people.”
Joel 2:15–16a, NRSV

The Longhorns of Texas are calling the people of The United Methodist Church to gather in Ft. Worth for the most important quadrennial event in the life of the church just as the shofar of old called the children Israel to celebrate high holy days and rush into battle in the name of the Lord. But will this gathering call United Methodists to action that will crumble the walls of institutional bureaucracy as the blast of the shofar tumbled Jericho? Can it cause the church to examine deeply its divisive, sinful ways like those who respond to the call for repentence at Rosh Hashanah and later celebrate the day of atonement (Yom Kippur) with renewed zeal to love and serve Yahweh.

Over the next ten days nearly 1,000 lay and clergy delegates of the global United Methodist Church will consider more than 1,500 petitions to alter church law and take a stand on a variety of issues. These delegates are the official voice of The United Methodist Church. They are the shofar blowers who can sound a wake-up call to the 11.5 million member church. Will they rise to the challenge and set a direct course for the future or merely exchange so much hot air with nothing more than sore feet, aching backs and blood-shot eyes to show for it?

The horn has sounded. It's time to take action. Let's not blow it!