banner

 

A Key Sign of Spiritual Health and Disciple-making Vitality ©


I returned home from a month of renewal leave last Monday (Aug. 19), and quickly found myself re-immersed in the regular routine of the episcopal office. There were predictable emails awaiting me about this initiative or that problem. A slew of articles and emails about the future of the church clamored for my attention. Various mission projects and training events made presentation for my support and/or active involvement as a bishop.
 
One very different email caught my attention. It told a story of discipleship transformation. Entitled “Glory Be,” the email told the following story. 

“Jessica and Quinton first began visiting with her teenage son, Seth, about 6 months ago. They sat on the very back row for a while. (A favorite spot for visitors!) Jessica’s mother, Peggy, soon joined them and they moved up to the balcony. They have since added Jessica’s other son, Tyler, and his girlfriend, Corina. Along the way, they have brought different family members or guests to worship with them. They have spent the last six months taking it all in...learning as much as they could and seeking to find their place. On July 4th, after much prayer, they did just that. Before I married Jessica and Quinton the morning of July 4th, Jessica, Quinton, Peggy, Seth, and Corina all professed their faith in Jesus Christ and joined our church family. Then, on July 9th, Corina gave birth to a healthy baby girl, Faith Lee. Her first official outing was coming to church just five days later. They could not wait for her to meet her church family. During our “howdy doody time," they came and asked if I would baptize Faith the following week. I, of course, said YES! On Tuesday, I received a message from Jessica that, again- after much prayer, Tyler (the baby’s daddy) would be professing his faith Sunday, joining the church, and the entire family of six wants to be baptized before we baptize baby Faith. They felt it very important that they do this themselves before standing before God and all of you to baptize Faith.” 

Pastor Amy Anderson (First UMC Mart) closed with the following words, “Brothers and Sisters...THIS is God at work in our midst. THIS is transformation. THIS is the work of the Kingdom.”  To this I add my own personal heartfelt “Amen!”  Professions of faith (and baptism) are a key sign of spiritual health and disciple-making vitality.
 
Recently, as we (the Cabinet) reviewed the WIG data from the end of July (year-to-date), the Central Texas conference is currently at 63 percent of our professions of faith goal with 58 percent of the year completed (at the end of the measuring period). This is both reason to celebrate and motivation to redouble our efforts to share the good news of the gospel. God knows(!!), along with most us, that in a time of rancor, killings and chaos, we all desperately need the new life which Christ alone fully offers.

The very next day, another email caught my attention. It was on the same critical disciple-making path. The article came from Mike Ramsdell’s consistently outstanding Smith Center for Evangelism, Mission and Church Growth blog. Mike shares the following story: 

“While on vacation a couple of years ago, my wife and I went to a Sunday morning church service. The building was nice, people were friendly and the attendance was good. The pastor was on vacation and the young associate pastor preached in his place.
 
He shared that he did some research on how many professions of faith and baptisms the church had in the previous few years and he wanted to preach on the importance of this and celebrate those who had professed faith and been baptized (he also included confirmation and infant baptism in the conversation).
 
He openly broke down in tears as he told his church that there had been no professions of faith and no baptisms for more than a decade. He then said, "I hope I have a job when the senior pastor gets back”, as he challenged the church with “this is unacceptable, we are not a real church if we don’t have professions of faith and baptisms!” 

After reading I sat quietly for a few minutes and prayed. The un-named associate pastor is absolutely right. “WE are not a real church if we don’t have professions of faith and baptisms.”  I can’t help but wonder how it might transform our Administrative Council/Board meetings if we spent time focusing on how we have more professions of faith and baptisms?
 
Mike went on to comment on how integrating professions of faith and baptisms into our goals, strategy and culture as a church, as a mission post for the advancing kingdom of God, is central to who we are and what we are about.  He went on to add: 

“It’s much easier to celebrate vitality around the number of backpacks given out, how the community garden is working, and how many people the food bank serves each week (I believe in and celebrate these ministries). We do this part of church life amazingly well. . . . As a conference the number of professions of faith most churches have is strikingly few. This is often the case because the church does not place a high value on professions of faith and has little strategy or focus on connecting with the unchurched much less bringing the unchurched into a life in Christ. They might serve the unchurched, but the unchurched are seldom invited into the relationship with Christ that undergirds the very service the church is giving.
 
When churches don’t define professions of faith and baptisms as a core to vitality, they will decline, lose effectiveness, and eventually become irrelevant. Even though mission is a key part of being a church, if churches don’t focus as well on professions of faith, they won’t have anyone to do mission. . . . Few things will change a church more quickly than visible, celebrated professions of faith and baptisms becoming a central focus of a Church.” 

Mike finished off with a quote from John Wesley: 

Unless one begins on the inward principle of personal faith, all good works are not more than a foundation of sand. However, to claim faith but not be zealous of good works was equally erroneous. - John Wesley 

Once again I add my own hearty Amen! Professions of faith are a key sign of spiritual health and disciple-making vitality. But you need to remain well established and rooted in faith and not shift away from the hope given in the good news that you heard. This message has been preached throughout all creation under heaven. And I, Paul, became a servant of this good news.” (Colossians 1:23, CEB)

 

Previous Posts

el+paso+crossses.jpg
A Still More Excellent Way ©

The recent spate of mass shooting leaves me (and I believe most of us) reeling. Texas has been my home for virtually all of my adult life. I have lived and pastored a church in the Rio Grande Valley (Wesley UMC in Harlingen). Our daughter was born ...

Spiritual Warfare, the Crisis on the Border and the Wrestling of My Heart ©

John Wimber There is an urban legend about John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard Church movement and professor at Fuller Theological Seminary. The story goes that after his conversion to Christ, he started to attend a local church in his area. ...

New Faith Communities, Missions and CTCYM ©

While I am on renewal leave, I have invited Rev. Mike Ramsdell, Executive Director of the Smith Center for Evangelism, Missions and Church Growth to share a guest blog.  This report was originally published June 19, 2019.  Bishop Mike Lowry At ...

Calling for Swift, Non-Partisans Solutions ©

Today, I joined my fellow active bishops of Texas, as well as several retired bishops living in the state in calling on our state and federal officials to set aside party politics and deliver a solution for the ongoing humanitarian crisis unfolding ...

Summer Reading and the WIG ©

As a part of my summer reading, I have enjoyed 8 Virtues of Rapidly Growing Churches. With our focus on the WIG – the Wildly Important Goal of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world – the words leaped off the page: ...

The Importance of Time Off ©

I returned to work the first of July after a week off in Northern Virginia with our daughter, son-in-law, and two grandchildren. While the grandchildren (6 and 3-years-old respectively) left me exhausted, it was a good kind of exhaustion. For a ...

As the Storm Rages: Part III ©

This Blog is part three of a three-part blog series pulled from my 2019 Episcopal Address delivered on June 11 to the lay and clergy members of the 109th Annual Meeting the Central Texas Conference of The United Methodist Church. To view the video ...

As the Storm Rages: Part II ©

This Blog is part two of a three-part blog series pulled from my 2019 Episcopal Address delivered on June 11 to the lay and clergy members of the 109th Annual Meeting the Central Texas Conference of The United Methodist Church. To view the video of ...

As the Storm Rages: Part I ©

This Blog is part one of a three-part blog series pulled from my 2019 Episcopal Address delivered on June 11 to the lay and clergy members of the 109th Annual Meeting the Central Texas Conference of The United Methodist Church. To view the video of ...

Living with the Bible ©

Dean David Watson of United Theological Seminary will serve as the Guest Teacher for the 2019 Central Texas Annual Conference meeting. At the 109th annual gathering of the Central Texas Conference, we have the special privilege of having one of ...

The Centrality of Worship ©

This coming Sunday night we will open the 109th gathering of the Central Texas Conference at First United Methodist Church in Hurst. Worship is central to who we are and what we are about. The Psalmist writes... 1 Shout triumphantly to the Lord, ...

Amid the Fluid Chaos ©

For those following larger issues in the United Methodist Church in America, it is an understatement to assert that this is a time of fluid chaos. Conversations, and even threatened action for or against the recently concluded General Conference, ...

Q&A from Reflections and Response to GC19 Meeting ©

On May 1, Bishop Lowry and the CTC Cabinet met with the Central Texas Conference clergy and lay leadership to reflect on and respond to the decisions made at General Conference 2019 and the subsequent Judicial Council rulings on those decisions. ...

Vital CTC Laity Event ©

I want to emphatically encourage every church in the Central Texas Conference to send at least two people to the Laity Summit planned for 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. Sunday June 9 (just before the start of Annual Conference 2019). Mike Ford, our outstanding ...

On the Road Again ©

Tomorrow (Saturday, May 4th) opens a period of activity that comes around with all the regularity of blooming, perennial spring flowers. I will fly to Chicago to participate in the regularly scheduled spring meeting of the Council of Bishops of ...

Easter Reflections ©

The fire rages. The steeple consumed in a reddish-orange blaze topples. Unrehearsed, a collective gasp erupts from the watching crowd. A great symbol of the Christian faith, Notre Dame Cathedral is gutted. On Easter morning itself, seven ...

The Cross ©

It is sign and symbol. It towers over the religious landscape of our day even in a post-Christendom world. It remains both an offense and a glory. The cross of Christ looms before us on Good Friday. Before we arrive at Easter, we must first stop ...

The Entry ©

'How do you imagine the Savior enters the Holy City? Images abound. Some are famous and others merely prosaic. We have an artist's rendering hanging in our front hall at home. I like to stop at it periodically and ponder. The Lord's entry into the ...

A New Thing ©

After the called General Conference in St. Louis, I (along with others) was asked to write a brief article for Circuit Rider, an online magazine put out by The United Methodist Publishing House. The writers were asked specifically to not re-argue or...

The Question Lingers ©

The question lingers from a sermon delivered by Dean David Watson. “When people look at your Facebook page or your Twitter profile, do they know you are a Christian? Okay, you say, I have repeatedly posted Bible verses with colorful, flowery ...

Iglesia Jeme or Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing ©

We now have a house church in Italy, Texas worshipping 8-10 regularly in Spanish. This narrative, which was shared during our latest Cabinet meeting, slipped in almost softly behind the continuing upheaval caused by the recently concluded General ...

Lessons from a Christian Hero ©

It is the morning after St. Patrick’s Day and I find myself musing about what this great Christian hero would teach us. I invite us to get past green rivers, green beer and the wearing of the green for there is a towering Christian who stands both ...

Anchored to the Cross ©

“Every sailor knows you set the anchor before the storm hits.” Those words spoken to me by my spiritual guide (a long time Navy Chaplain) in Tuesday morning’s prayer time brought me back to a profound truth. It is a truth I know well but find easy ...

Breathe Deep, Jesus is Still Lord ©

Dear Friends in Christ, I write to laity and clergy of the Central Texas Conference in the aftermath of the recently concluded Called General Conference held in St. Louis. In the wake of a bruising struggle over the United Methodist Church’s ...

Wrapping Up General Conference 2019 ©

At the end of a very long and trying final day of General Conference 2019, Bishop Lowry and Dr. Tim Bruster come together and share their impressions of GC19 as well as their hopes for the church and the Central Texas Conference going forward. ht...

Reflections of Day 2 of General Conference 2019 ©

Before heading to dinner and some rest following a long day General Conference 2019 Legislative Committee Session, Bishop Lowry stopped and summarized the days events. This was a day that saw WESPATH and dissolution resolutions and the Traditional ...

A Report from Day 1 of General Conference 2019 ©

Bishop Lowry stops on his way out of the Dome in St. Louis to summarize the events of the first full day of the special called General Conference - a day of "surprise to some" delegates, a day of disappointment for some and "cautious approval" by ...

Reflections on General Conference 2019 Day of Prayer ©

Bishop Lowry shares his thoughts following a powerful day of prayer and preparation at General Conference 2019, as well as reiterates his call for a 30 day period of prayerful discernment following GC19. https://vimeo.com/319249501

A Call for Calm, Peace & Discernment during & after GC19 ©

As a long day wound to its end on the eve of the Special Called General Conference 2019, Bishop Lowry stepped away from his busy episcopal schedule of meetings and trainings to record a quick video message to the people of the Central Texas ...

Intended Consequences of a WIG Focus ©

Later this week, Bishops and delegates to the Special Called session of General Conference 2019 will gather in St. Louis. It is not an understatement to assert that this General Conference will have a crucial role in determining the future of the ...

The Holy Spirit at Work ©

As I write, it is a Sunday afternoon and I have just returned to my office from sharing with Mooreville United Methodist Church in worship. While with those good and faithful people, I saw the Holy Spirit at work. But I am ahead of myself. Though ...

No Mercy, No Justice, and Faithful and Fractured ©

Two books have come across my desk recently which I believe are worth sharing. I must confess at the outset that I have only read a small part of the first - No Mercy, No Justice. The second book Faithful and Fractured: Responding to the Clergy ...

Stay Focused ©

When I began writing my blog back in 2010, I entitled it This Focused Center based on a version of 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 from The Message (a paraphrased translation of the Bible by Eugene Peterson) “Our firm decision is to work from this focused ...

God in Action ©

Gil Rendle in his newest book, Quietly Courageous, poses the question of whether many of us operate from a stance of functional atheism. That is, do we believe in God in some vague intellectual sense but engage in ministry as if God does not ...

Important Wespath Pensions Information on the Way Forward

Late last week , the Bishops across the United Methodist Church received an important communication from the General Secretary of Wespath (previously known as the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits) Barbara Boigegrain. General Secretary ...

Living the Christian Difference ©

As we watched the evening news together (as is our custom), Jolynn and I were sitting together on the couch holding hands. Halfway through the broadcast, Jolynn shook her hand loose and asked, “Are you upset?” Her question was spot on. I was ...

New Supervisory Plan for the East District ©

It was with sadness that I released the following announcement to the clergy and lay leaders of the Central Texas Conference on Dec. 28, 2018. I have received a complaint against Rev.  Ben Disney, East District Superintendent based on ¶2702. 1 of...

A Message of Joy for Christmas ©

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people (Luke 2:10 KJV) In his annual Christmas message to the Central Texas Conference, Bishop Lowry reminds all to set aside the hustle...

District Sharing’s on the Way Forward ©

Over the fall season, I made a total of 10 presentations (two in each geographic district of the CTC) on the upcoming called Special General Conference 2019 to be held Feb. 23-26. This General Conference will receive and act upon the report of the ...

Trust the Greater Vision ©

I confess that I am stuck. I come to Advent (the time of preparation for the Savior’s coming) with a deep awareness of the chaos around us. The darkness feels like it is closing in across the world. Conflict rages in the Baltic Sea and the Middle ...

A Peaceable Kingdom in a Divided World ©

As we move into the season of Advent in preparation for the birth of our Savior, I offer the Council of Bishops Christmas letter as a guests blog. The letter is written by Bishop Ken Carter (The Florida Episcopal Area) President of the Council of ...

Advent and Doctrine ©

I confess that I have been unreasonably impatient to get Thanksgiving over and get on to Advent and Christmas. (I readily admit that one of my ongoing sins is a lack of patience.) The ancient words from the close of the Holy Scriptures have settled ...

Keeping Focus ©

The title of my blog site is This Focused Center. It is taken from The Message translation/paraphrase of 2 Corinthians 5:14-15. “Our firm decision is to work from this focused center: One man died for everyone. That puts everyone in the same boat. He...

Report from the Council of Bishops ©

I’ve just returned home to Fort Worth after spending a week with my fellow bishops of the United Methodist Church at the twice-yearly Council of Bishops meeting. The meeting, which began with a memorial worship service on Sunday, Nov. 4, was held at ...

Unashamed of the Gospel ©

On Saturday, Nov. 3, I preached the opening sermon at the 2018 Global Gathering of the Wesleyan Covenant Association held at Mt. Bethel United Methodist Church in Marietta, Georgia. Below is the text of the sermon. It was entitled “Unashamed!” and ...

Knowing Who We Are ©

  Thursday morning, November 1st – All Saints Day, Jolynn and I will leave Fort Worth for ten days. Two of those days are taken up with travel. The first event is a day spent in Georgia attending the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) Global ...

"We Need More Water"& Pie With the Pastor ©

Our Wildly Important Goal as a Conference (what we call the - WIG) is the very mission of the church – “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. It leaps off the page of Holy Scripture as the closing paragraph of the ...

LIFE AT A GATHERING © I am about a month into what is usually one of my busiest times of the year. Despite have worked assiduously to get off various boards and committees, I feel like I am constantly on the road traveling to another meeting, ...