For five blissful days I had the opportunity to outline and then begin writing on a possible book about the church as it moves to a new future. A rough draft (or part) of the introduction goes something like this:
As the waters of secularity recede, a chaotic wasteland lies around us. And yet, even as church after church closes, the label “wasteland” seems at once appropriate and wildly inappropriate. There are pockets left where churches can function within an old style Christendom mode. There are places of new exciting ministry emerging that open our eyes to a work of God unfolding among us and around us. Gil Rendle notes that our struggles of the past couple of decades have not been wasted. We have been learning. It is the contention of this book [hopefully this will become part of a book] is that at the heart of our struggle are issues of theology and missional purpose. We have forgotten the essence of what we are to be about. As good as our current emphasis on social engagement through deeds of love, justice and mercy (and it is a good! but seriously incomplete emphasis), we need to reclaim, recover and re-appropriate the essential good news of Jesus Christ if we are to complete our exodus journey to a new land. At its heart, our own reformation is a theological and spiritual pilgrimage of the first order. Back in November of 2006 General John Abizaid appeared before the Senate Arm Services Committee to defend the then failing strategy of turning the war in Iraq over to Iraqis. Then Senator Hillary Clinton sharply noted in an exchange while questioning General Abizaid on the strategy, “General, hope is not a strategy.” Senator Clinton was right. Shortly thereafter under the leadership of General Petraeus, a new strategy known as “the surge” was adopted. So too however was General Abizaid in his response to Senator Clinton. “With regard to hope not being a method, Senator, I agree with you, and I would also say that despair is not a method.” The General continued, “This has been a very hard and difficult process, and over the length of time, we have learned some hard lessons.” Today neither hope nor despair may count as faithful and sufficient strategies. Hope alone is not the implementation of the necessary theological, spiritual and practical journey that the post-Christian church must take. To be sure, any faithful strategy will involve hope, but it will also involve a deep embrace of core doctrines and practices of the Christian faith that have been too long forgotten or ignored. Despair is, on the face, unfaithful to the Christian gospel. We are people of the cross and the resurrection. History is His (Christ’s) story!Meanwhile, I am back on the road again. We drove in from Angel Fire on Sunday evening and went right over to First United Methodist Church in Fort Worth to hear Rev. Ray Simpson, the spiritual retreat director at Lindisfarne, England (Holy Isle). It was an engaging presentation of the spiritual hunger and renewal taking place currently all around us. After ½ a day’s work in the office, I flew out Monday night for Charlotte, North Carolina. Currently I am presiding over two days of meetings for the Path 1 Team of the Board of Discipleship. Path 1 is the name which refers to new church development as a key path to engaging a secular culture with the gospel. Those who attended the breakout session led by Rev. Candace Lewis at our Annual Conference will recall that she is the Director of Path 1, our denomination’s new church development efforts. It is outstanding, creative, engaging ministry which reaches deep into a post-Christian culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ. In my opinion Path 1 is one of the bright spots in The United Methodist Church. Thursday I will address the Network of New Church Developers - an informal group of Conference staff in charge of new church development. Currently, Rev. Gary Lindley from the Central Texas Conference is a part of the group. Before I was elected bishop I was a part of this informal but vital network from the Southwest Texas Conference. I’ve been asked to share what I have learned now that I have served as a bishop for 6 years. As a friend of mine put it, “what have you learned now that you’ve gone over to the dark side?” With apologies to Darth Vader, it should be a fun time! I fly home on Thursday afternoon and fly back out on Friday morning for a week vacation in Grand Lake, Colorado (the western end of Rocky Mountain National Park). While I love what I am doing right now, a week of rest in the Rockies with Jolynn and some dear friends sounds wonderful!