Our denomination, the United Methodist Church, just completed a study on the church, “A Call to Action.” In this, after extensive research, it was discovered that there were four major keys to a vital church:
- Lots of small groups and programs, adults, children and youth;
- Strong lay leadership, effective, full of faith and extensive;
- Worship, a mix of traditional and contemporary worship services with multi media;
- Pastor (in our case, pastors), long-term tenure, inspirational through preaching, visionary, leads in change, coaches and mentors.
There is little new here, and for successful churches, churches that succeed in the work that God calls the church to do, we have typically already focused on these areas. But I want to add a couple other goals (goals that might not have been considered in this particular survey format):
- A deep seated urge and commitment to bring people to faith in Christ;
- A love for people that calls the church to reach out to the community;
- A sense of mission that expands consistently beyond the church walls;
- A biblical focus that has the church family on a first name basis with Jesus.
I have long thought that if I want God’s blessings in my life, I have to live a life that God can bless. I also think that for a church to experience God’s blessings, that church, too, must live a life together that God can bless!
What is God’s will?
What is God’s purpose?
What does God want?
What is God doing?
These are all the questions that a vital church must ask, and those churches that are vital are continually asking.
I have one more day of an already amazing few days as I meet with the pastors of the largest attended Methodist churches and 33 bishops, as well as several seminary presidents. Our purpose is to pray and talk about ways we can renew the Methodist Church. One of the things that has been discovered is that the same systems, ideas and passion that leads large Methodist churches to success is what the entire denomination needs.
Some of the topics we have discussed and concerns we have addressed so far:
- How to reach young adults for Christ as well as bring young adults into ministry;
- The ways we can expand mission beyond our walls and into the world;
- Improving preaching in worship;
- Changes that need to be made by the Methodist Church as a whole;
- Starting new faith communities;
- How the bishops and large church pastors and congregations can work together to renew the United Methodist Church;
- An examination of the issues that have led to our denomination’s decline and how we might help address those issues.
The sense here is how we as large church pastors and our congregations can influence other churches, pastors and our denomination as a whole in the list of tasks that I just named. The idea is that since we typically do these things well, it is our responsibility to share what we know, to influence, model and inspire other churches, districts and conferences to expand their ability to do mission and ministry and serve Christ well as every church inherently wants to do.
For me in this process, I constantly think of you, of First United Methodist Church of Mansfield. You have gone against the odds and expanded in growth, evangelism, mission and outreach in amazing ways, going against the grain of what is happening in our own denomination year after year. I have been thinking why.
- First Methodist Church is a church with a deep spiritual core. Our Church family is on a first-name basis with Jesus Christ.
- First Methodist Church has amazing leaders — in every cadre of our church and in every area — staff, laity, young people, long-term members, new members. You are outstanding here. Churches can’t do anything without great leaders. We have great leaders that daily I am honored to serve God with.
- Biblical faith is where we find our direction and the challenge that drives us.
- You are extremely generous with your financial gifts, your service, your heart, yourself.
- The volunteer spirit at First Methodist is crazy great. I could think of no other words — hundreds who serve in mission and outreach, 400 volunteers for VBC this year, we just recruited enough parking lot greeters for all our services, ushers, greeters, music, class rooms, Bible studies, etc, etc, etc. You are amazing.
- You are willing, willing to step out, step up, make changes, do new things, adjust, adapt, expand, whatever it takes to be a great church, to reach people for Christ, to open your door to new people, to reach the least, the last, and the lost.
- First Methodist is full of people serious about following Jesus Christ. I seldom feel that I have to inspire you to do better; you constantly inspire me to do better.
We have already stepped up to be a part of renewing our denomination. I believe we have just taken the beginning steps to impact the church I love. May God help us in that impact.
It is 9:00 a.m., and I am heading to the hotel lobby to meet with other pastors as we discuss the issues of our church and what we can do to transform it. Our bishop, Mike Lowry, Bishop Will Wilimon, Pastor Mark Beeson, Pastor Adam Hamilton, Pastor Mike Slaughter, all will be there as we pray and look for the answers that First Methodist Mansfield is already living out.
Beginning on Tuesday I will be blogging from Utah where I will be representing our Church at The Leading Edge, a gathering of Sr Pastors of the top 100 attended Methodist Churches. There will also be 33 Bishops with us, an unprecidented gathering of large church pastors and our Bishops. Our purpose is: To harness the influence, leadership and resources of the senior pastors of United Methodism’s largest congregations to work for the revitalization of the denomination; to practice Christian conferencing and fellowship among leading pastors in our denomination who because of the size of their churches are often isolated; As a part of Christian conference to share our “best practices” with one another; and to address issues that may be unique to large churches within our denomination, and where helpful to speak with one voice. This sounds like a big deal and I guess it is. But the high-points of my week have already happened. I got to baptize a little baby whose mother’s mother interpreted for her in sign languate. I got to baptize baby Ross this morning the new grandson of Ross Miller who we lost to cancer a few months ago. I also got to baptize a young man who professed his faith in Jesus Christ, stood up with a tear in his eye after His baptism, and is preparing to begin a new life in Christ. I had the privilege 5 times in services to talk about God’s love and our call to love God, to share the simplicty of what prayer really is. Gathering with the 100 largest Methodist Church pastors and 33 bishops is a big deal, but not nearly as big a deal as these special moments. May God bless little Ross, the young 37 year old man who made such an important decision, the baby girl whose mother and Dad speak in a spoken and a silent faith language, all our Church family who gathered for such a meaningful weeked of worship, and yes, The United Methodist Church as we seek to turn a 40 year downturn into a new birth of effectiveness for Christ in this new Century for such a great Denomination, a Church on the edge of turning the corner.