Central Texas Conference Episcopal Address given by Bishop Mike Lowry June 6, 2016 PART III – “The Sinews of Methodism and the Recovery of Evangelism” A second element in focusing on local congregations coincides with the importance of small group development. The key is that it is not just any old small group but much more specifically about small groups that develop spiritual depth and muscle.  The central element to the rise of early Methodism was class meetings (small groups) that watched “over one another in love.” I don’t care if we call them life groups or discovery groups or reunion groups or the original Methodist class meeting or the even more original initial Christian small group experience put together by Jesus the and 12 apostles. What we need to do is rediscover their essence and get intensely insistent on re-engaging this central component of the original Methodist movement.  The Christian church from bible times onward has never sustained discipleship growth without such an emphasis. Consider these two comments taken from Kevin Watson’s marvelous book The Class Meeting,
  • Never omit meeting your Class or Band … These are the very sinews of our Society; and whatever weakens, or tends to weaken, our regard for these, or our exactness in attending them, strikes at the very root of our community. - John Wesley[1]
  • We have no doubt, but meetings of Christian brethren for the exposition of scripture-texts, may be attended with their advantages. But the most profitable exercise of any is a free inquiry into the state of the heart … Through the grace of God our classes form the pillars of our work, and, as we have before observed, are in a considerable degree our universities for the ministry. - Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke, 1798 Doctrines and Discipline[2]
Dr. Watson goes on to comment, “I am worried that our approach to Christian discipleship is too often like a person who prepares to run a marathon by buying shoes without actually running in them. Please don’t misunderstand me; just as good running shoes are essential for long-distance running, the Bible and the church are essential for discipleship. Discipleship, however, is about a way of life, not only the life of the mind. Disciples follow Jesus. They are sent out in ministry by Jesus. They heal the sick. The feed the poor. They tell people about Jesus and what he has done.”[3]  We will hear more from him next year. The third element of our relentless focus on mission through a focus on the local church is the continuing nascent recovery of the evangelism impulse. We have to relearn how to engage in evangelism. This is not optional.  It is biblical and practical.  We won’t be here if don’t!  Obviously, I think the issue is tied to the reassertion of an orthodox theology.  Lovett Weems’ “more people, younger people, and more diverse people” is prophetically accurate.  If we evangelize, more people they will by definition be younger and more diverse. One of the issues is that generations of clergy were taught how to do pastoral care but not how to engage in evangelism. Gil Rendle’s comment sticks in my mind, “I was taught how to change people’s affiliation not how to change their lives.”  If we are honest, real evangelism is foreign to most clergy and often scary.  We tend to hide behind a theology that says the Holy Spirit does the converting, we don’t.  This is true as far as it goes but fails to recognize that the Holy Spirit often intends to use us as instruments for sharing the good news of Jesus Christ.  The word evangelism itself means “tactics for sharing the good news” of Jesus Christ.  Our failure to engage in evangelism is largely driven by fear, work avoidance and at times masks our theological poverty.  It is time, well past time, to learn again how to engage in a core work of the gospel. To that end, on September 19th of 2016 at Whites Chapel UMC we will be holding an evangelism summit.  The Evangelism Summit is intended to offer a short course on evangelism for clergy but all (laity emphatically included) are invited.  We have placed the Summit on a Monday in the 10 to 4 time period to enable clergy to attend.  We have some of the best thinkers and practitioners in the field coming to share with us including Dr. Olu Brown, Lead Pastor of Impact UMC in Atlanta and author of Zero to Eighty: Innovative Ideas for Planting and Accelerating Church Growth, Dr. Billy Abraham from Perkins School of Theology and author of The Logic of Evangelism, and Dr. George Hunter, the first McCreless Professor of Evangelism at Perkins School of Theology, retired Dean of the E. Stanley Jones School of World Mission and Evangelism at Asbury Theological Seminary and author of many books on evangelism notably including The Celtic Way of Evangelism. Clergy, only three times in the past eight years as your Bishop have I asked you to make attendance at an event a priority in your life. I am asking you now for a fourth time.  I ask you, I will go so far as to plead with you, do not miss this event.  Laity, especially those of you on Pastor-Parish Relations Committees, I ask that you help clear your pastor’s schedule so that she or he may attend.  I invite you to come along too! Pastor Roger Ross in his new Meet the Goodpeople: Wesley’s 7 Ways to Share the Faith reports the following 7 ways to share the faith from the original Methodist movement:
  1. Be Devoted to Prayer
  2. Go Where the People Are
  3. Speak Plain Truth
  4. Use the Music of the Culture
  5. Place Everyone in a Small Group for Spiritual Growth
  6. Give the Ministry to the Laity
  7. Use Mass Communication to Get the Word Out
 He adds:  Why Not Now?[4]   [1]               Kevin Watson, The Class Meeting: Reclaiming a Forgotten (and Essential) Small Group Experience, p. 19 [2]               Kevin Watson, The Class Meeting: Reclaiming a Forgotten (and Essential) Small Group Experience, p. 53 [3]               Watson, IBID, p. 60 [4]               Roger Ross, Meet the Goodpeople: Wesley’s 7 Ways to Share the Faith