CORE STRATEGIES: The Transformation of the Local Church

Tuesday morning I shared in my weekly time my spiritual guide. He lives in Lakewood, Colorado not far from the site of both the recent fires and current flooding. As we visited he shared some of their trials. I offered our prayers and so ask you to join with me in praying for all those who are affected by the flooding (and fires) in Colorado. I also ask you to join with me in praying for all those involved, especially the victims and their families, in the Washington Navy Yard shootings. May God’s healing love pour over all who are hurting this day! As we lift our prayers, I invite us to turn our attention the second of our Conferences’ (The Central Texas Conference of the UMC) core strategies. “I tell you that you are Peter. And I’ll build my church on this rock. The gates of the underworld won’t be able to stand against it.” (Matthew 16:18) Those words ringing out from the mouth of Jesus come on the heels of the apostles confession of who Jesus is; “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16) The second core strategy which we hold to in the Central Texas Conference is anchored to this great biblical conviction. Numerous other passages uphold the church as chosen instrument of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I Corinthians 12:27 labels the church the body of Christ. The Discipline of the United Methodist Church states: “The local church provides the most significant arena through which disciple-making occurs. It is a community of true believers under the Lordship of Christ. It is the redemptive fellowship in which the Word of God is preached … the local church is a strategic base from which Christians move out to the structures of society. The function of the local church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, is to help people to accept and confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and to live their daily lives in light of their relationship with God.” (Paragraphs #201-2) There is more, much more, that can be said and quoted both for the Holy Scriptures and from The Discipline of the United Methodist Church to cement the importance of the local church. Truly, in the ancient words, “the church is of God and will be preserved until the end of time.” This high and holy conviction is to be framed by a deep understanding that the church exists for the redemption of the world (and not for the institutional maintenance or survival, nor still the cozy comfort of the club). The mission of the Church, given by Christ and recorded in the Bible is both simply and profoundly “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” (See Matthew 28:16-20) In a larger sense we know all this but we need to remind ourselves of its truth periodically. It is easy to fall off the rails in one of two ways; either by thinking the local church is unimportant and can be dispensed with or, by believing that institutionally the church is an end unto itself. Both are false heresies which lead to biblical, theological and practical ship wreck. This theological, biblical and practical backdrop leads to the intense conviction and committed core strategy of the transformation of the local church. This is central to the being and purpose, the mission, of the Conference – “to energize and equip local churches to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The basic (but not only) tactic for carrying out this core strategy is the Healthy Church Initiative (HCI) and the Small Church Initiative (SCI). As I have often said to lay leaders and pastors, both individually and in groups, you don’t need to engage in HCI/SCI. Feel free to adopt another tactic for implementing this core strategy. What is unacceptable is not implementing the strategy. (Put differently: A core strategy for carrying out the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world is “the transformation of the local church.” One tactic for accomplishing this strategy is HCI/SCI. There are other acceptable tactics – Holy Conversations, the use of a targeted outside consultant, etc.) The local church and its transformation into a mission post of the advancing kingdom of God is nonnegotiable. Reflecting on our post Christendom age, Professor Jason Vickers appropriately comments: “If this reading of the culture is even half right, then the time has come for the church to regain her confidence that she really does have a gift of inestimable value to offer to the world – something that the world cannot readily acquire elsewhere, namely, incorporation into the Trinitarian life of God…. But even if we are wrong about the intellectual and moral sensibilities of the wider culture, the fact remains that this is the only gift that the church has to offer. And even this she does not really have. Rather, she receives it anew and afresh each day from the Holy Spirit. Therein is the source of our hope for the future. (Minding the Good Ground by Jason E. Vickers, pg. 106-107) To which I add, Amen and Thanks be to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!