Keeping Our Focus on the Local Church

April 24, 2012

Just days before the beginning of the 2012 General Conference of The United Methodist Church, Bishop Lowry and the other members of the United Methodist Council of Bishops gathered together. As part of their meeting, the council voted to reform its organization and reduce its meetings as a full council to only once a year. The reorganization is in response to the Call to Action, which challenges the global denomination to redirect its attention and resources to increase the number of vital congregations and make more disciples for the transformation of the world. To read much more detail about this decision, read the United Methodist News Service report available here.
 
Even as the Council of Bishop met to discuss and vote on reforming the council, Bishop Lowry found himself reflecting on how to keep the main thing the main thing within the Central Texas Conference.
 
In his most recent blog post Bishop Lowry writes, “…we [the bishops] by necessity operate at a 30,000 foot level (leading a worldwide church), and yet I find my mind and heart going back to the hands on sharing of the gospel of Christ. On the ground, through faithful and fruitful local churches, in tangible ways, the witness of God’s love is being shared.  It is critical not to lose the focus on local churches.”
 
Our local churches are, as Bishop Lowry likes to call them, “the mission posts of the advancing Kingdom of God.” So while the larger world-wide church – spanning more than 35,000 congregations and 11.5 million members – convenes in Holy Conferencing and works to make the vital decisions that they must make, let’s remember that the “mission posts” of the Central Texas Conference will also be hard at work.
 
One such mission post was recently recognized with $2000 grant from a fund set up by the Texas Methodist Foundation and designed to be distributed at the discretion of the Bishop. (Read more about this grant aimed at supporting the Ministries with the Poor in rural/small towns on Bishop Lowry’s “This Focused Center” blog.)  In a letter back to the Bishop, the pastor of a two-point charge whose ministry received one of the grants expressed their excitement over being recognized for their ministry.
 
The pastor wrote, “Last night after our Wednesday night service I went into my office to catch up on reading my mail. I opened the letter from Bishop Lowry first about the $2000 donation for our food pantry. I bolted out of my office to interrupt and tell the Bible Study group about it. They all cheered and were excited – we said a prayer of gratitude right then and there. I went back into my office and sat down to go through the rest of the mail, and I found the check. Again, I bolted out of my office and showed everyone. There were lots of ‘praise God’ and ‘Glory Be’ statements made. I should have read my mail earlier. I appreciate the Bishop recognizing the works of our food pantry and recommending us for the grant. It is truly a tremendous blessing.”
 
While that’s a nice and appropriate response, the real tremendous blessing is that this charge would have gone right on supporting their food pantry without the recognition or the grant, because caring for God’s children is just what they (and so many of our local churches) do.
 

There will be myriad stories and articles coming from Tampa in the next ten days (you can follow them all on www.umc.org and the General Conference page on ctcumc.org) as the delegations from the Annual Conferences around the world go about the awe inspiring and somewhat daunting task of setting policy and being the only official voice of The United Methodist Church. Some of those stories will set our spirits soaring and some will cause folks to shake their heads in bewilderment. There will be tough decisions made and tough decisions not made. All of it vital to the future of the United Methodist connection, yet none of it is so significant that it should distract us, even for a moment, from working to complete our mission of making disciples for Jesus Christ –from keeping the main thing the main thing.