banner

BEHIND THE SCENES

After the talk of schism and arguments over same gender issues settles, there is an emerging consensus over the importance of building vital congregations.  This great consensus is built on the foundation of commitment to the stated mission of The United Methodist Church -- "making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world."  I believe there is a growing recognition that if our threatened unity as a church is to hold, it will do so around this great theme of vital congregations that make disciples of Christ. Such a great theme blossoms naturally from the fertile soil of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) of the risen Christ to make disciples.  It is nurtured in conversion events like Acts 2 and the Pentecost experience, the road to Damascus of the Apostle Paul, and the dramatic transformation of Rome from a place dedicated to stomping out Christianity to the center of a new emerging Christian faith. The current denominational emphasis on building vital congregations is a faithful attempt to re-appropriate the center of our faith. Behind the scenes of the vital congregation emphasis lies an only partially recognized need to rediscover evangelism and witnessing.  Missionary Bishop Lesslie Newbigin's famous admonition of witnessing and faith sharing echoes in the background.  "Words without deeds are empty.  And deeds without words are dumb." Lost in the noise of the 2012 General Conference was a thin publication by Abingdon Press written by Dr. George Hunrecv contagious meth mvmtter, III.  The Recovery of a Contagious Methodist Movement looks at the capacity of the Call to Action to build vital congregations, to move beyond institutionalism to the recovery of a vital movement of faith consistent with the original Wesleyan vision.  Hunter notes "the contagion of culturally relevant Christianity and emotionally relevant Christianity are experienced fairly directly" (p. 41). This involves a direct connection between conversations that might best be called witnessing. Recently with Carol Woods (West District Superintendent) we have gathered a small task group together to refocus us as a Conference on what is classically called evangelism.  This great word, "evangelism," has gone from Jerusalem to Jericho and fallen among thieves.  The word literally means "tactics for sharing the good news."  Regardless of where one stands on deeply divisive issues like same gender marriage, it is an irrefutable central fact that if we as a church are to survive we must recover an active ministry of evangelism.  This great task lies behind the scenes of much of our modern controversies, but its reality is irrefutable in a post-Christian America. Behind the scenes of recovering evangelism and witness lies the even deeper theological issues of a robust doctrine of sin and the need for salvation and thus a recovery of a vibrant Christology.  Those are common themes to which I have returned time and time again in my blogging.  It is at our theological heart that the real crisis of Methodism and mainline Christianity lies.  More on this later.  For today, we need to embrace the threatening world of evangelistic witness -- not for our sake, not for institutional self-preservation.  Such is a far too petty goal.  We need to recover evangelistic witness for the sake of a bruised and battered world, for the love of those lost in hopelessness, helplessness, and homelessness (both spiritually and physically)!