Learnings and Sharings ©

This has been a great week of learnings and sharings around the Conference. On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of last week, we held our annual Fall Cabinet Retreat at Stillwater Lodge. As a part of our work together, we focused on team building, caught up on a myriad of details and calendar items that need to be coordinated, and engaged in an exercise designed to surface potential new DSs or Executive Center Directors. (Dr. Georgia Adamson, Dr. Bob Holloway and Rev. Gary Lindley all retire at Annual Conference in 2017.) It is always my hope that the incoming members of the Cabinet are selected by mid-January so they may participate in the Cabinet Inventory Retreat in February.  Friday night, the Core Team shared dinner with the Cabinet and met all day Saturday to look at strategic directions we will focus on in the upcoming year. Those strategic directions will continue to center around “The Big Three.” 1. Christ at the Center in Radical Discipleship; 2. Focus on the Local Church; 3. Lay and Clergy Leadership Development. It was not only a fascinating time of sharing but also a time of reviewing where we are as a Conference in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  Sunday I had the great pleasure and honor of preaching at Polytechnic United Methodist Church on the campus of Texas Wesleyan University. Together with a large crowd, we celebrated the end of the 125 year anniversary of Texas Wesleyan and the beginning of the 125th year of Polytechnic Church. In the early annals of the Christian faith, Tertullian asked “What has Jerusalem [meaning the center of religious life] got to do with Athens [meaning the center of philosophy and learning]?” Then and now, the answer is “Everything!” To quote Wesley, “Let us [continue] the two so long disjoined: knowledge and vital piety.”  Monday morning was a time of fabulous learning. The Evangelism Summit was held at White’s Chapel United Methodist Church with its usual stellar hospitality and phenomenal worship leadership. Those great events alone blessed us all immeasurably. Addresses by Dr. William Abraham and Dr. George Hunter on the foundation of evangelism shaped a theology built around the kingdom of God and allegiance to Christ.  Dr. Abraham reminded us at the heart of the gospel is the arrival of God in Jesus Christ. In particular he emphasized three crucial practices: preaching; catechesis (or Christian formation); and church planting. His focus was on our need to make or build disciples of Christ through a combination of teaching & preaching around the kingdom of God.  I could not help but to recall the sharing of a friend recently who commented that Jesus Christ didn’t come to give good advice but to bring good news.  Dr. George Hunter followed Dr. Abraham with a deeply thoughtful lesson outlining the strategy for evangelism and giving concrete ways we move forward in the sharing of the faith and its connection with our greater work. Dr. Hunter built his lecture around the Old Testament story of Ruth and Naomi and how people become new Christians, noting that it takes place around a process with a chain of experiences. His witness moves us far beyond any mythical one shot conversion story but rather, in practical applicable terms, shared the holiness of conversations (many conversations!) and relationship in leading people to the faith.  Rev. Olu Brown, lead pastor of Impact Church - one of the fastest growing new church starts in all of Methodism – built on Dr. Hunter’s insights with an intensely practical emphasis on building relationships through things like radical hospitality and witness of bringing the church to where people are. It was fascinating to hear him talk about holding various meetings, including Finance Committee, in a local restaurant and bar as a point of Christian witness and faith sharing. Our own Leah Hidde-Gregory brought a great day to a close with her talk on evangelistic Covenant Group formation, in particular the impact on clergy in sacramental groups on the local church. I believe this is a fundamental and primary way we recover an understanding of building ourselves as disciples even as we share the faith with others. The early Methodist movement emphasized the class meeting, and Rev. Hidde-Gregory’s work with sacramental groups calls us back in a profound way to the heart of the Methodist movement.  Today finds me heading to Franklin, TN for a three day continuing education conference at the New Room. I was blessed in going last year to a place that was free of political talk about the future of the United Methodist Church and focused instead on missional outreach in love, justice and mercy combined with deep spirituality and evangelistic faith sharing. It should be a joy to attend this year as well. After all these activities, I have saved a week of vacation, centered around my wife’s birthday (the number shall remain sacrosanct!), and designed to spend my time chasing Simon, who knows me not as “bishop” but as “Papa.” He is the middle of three precious grandchildren Jolynn and I have been blessed with.  Also today I am announcing today that Rev. Allen Goss has graciously agreed to fill in as Interim Executive Director for the Smith Center for Evangelism and Church Growth as Gary Lindley heals from injuries sustained in a terrible car accident. We give thanks to Allen for his willingness to step into this crucial leadership role on a part-time basis. His experience as a previous Director for Church Growth and Development for the Central Texas Conference make him the ideal person to lead in the interim. We also continue to pray for and look forward to the day Gary can return to the job full-time. He is dearly missed!