Later this week, Bishops and delegates to the Special Called session of General Conference 2019 will gather in St. Louis. It is not an understatement to assert that this General Conference will have a crucial role in determining the future of the United Methodist Church. I ask that we continue to pray together for the future of the church and for our greater collective mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ - a mission shared with all who seek to follow Jesus Christ as Lord. (Matthew 28:19-20) Praying Our Way Forward is not just a slogan. Praying Our Way Forward is act of faithfulness.
Meanwhile, critically important ministry continues throughout our conference and the connection. Last Sunday, I shared in the joy of worship at Glen Lake Camp. The Chapel was beyond full! Young people were sitting on the rug runners, filling the isles and standing in back. Our Mid-Winter Senior High Camp is living out the driving value of lay and clergy leadership development!
At our recent Cabinet Inventory retreat, we started not by jumping into appointments but by first worshipping God. Our second action was to spend significant time studying N. T. Wright’s marvelous new book on the Apostle Paul. (Paul: A Biography by N. T Wright). Our third action was to review where we stand on the WIG, our Wildly Important Goal of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
We shared some of the moving WIG narratives of transformation of both churches and individuals under the Lordship of Jesus. (The above report on the Youth Mid-Winter is another narrative.) We shared the data on average worship attendance. Prior to launching the WIG, average worship attendance in the Central Texas Conference was headed below 42,000. Today, as we close out 2018, we are knocking on the door of 45,000! The winds of the Holy Spirit are blowing over us!
As we looked more carefully both at the narratives and the metrics, we noticed several other significant insights. Our Professions of Faith are down for 2018. We are not sure why. The District Superintendents are going to check with churches (both lay and pastoral leadership) that recorded no Professions of Faith. The goal is not to scold but help.
The other significant insights we noticed involve what Dr. Clifton Howard calls “intended consequences.” As average worship attendance rises (4.2% in the Central Texas Conference in 2018!!!!), we are now able to document that mission engagement is on the rise with the hungry, hurting and homeless (physically and spiritually). This is an “intended consequence” of focusing on the WIG of making disciples of Jesus Christ. Another insight is similar. As average worship attendance rises, we are now able to document a rise in spiritual formation (prayer, Bible study, etc.) This is another tremendous “significant consequence! We think that there is or will be a rise in giving (gifts – extravagant generosity) but we are not yet able to document it.
A reasonable question is, why not make all five of the vows – Prayers, Presence, Gifts, Service, and Witness – a part of our WIG Goals? If missional engagement and spiritual formation (risk-taking mission and service and intentional faith development) are “intended consequences” of WIG focused ministry, why not focus on all five? It sounds reasonable until the results of a five-point focus are compared to the strength of a more lasered focus on just two metrics.
Stephen R. Covey comments, “You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage – pleasantly, smilingly, unapologetically – to say no to other things. And the way you do that is by having a bigger ‘yes’ burning inside.” (The 4 Disciplines of Execution by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey, and Jim Huling, p. 30) The research is overwhelming. If you are going to achieve your Wildly Important Goal, the “game changing” objectives, you must focus on only one or two items if you wish to achieve your goals. Add more to the list and the odds dramatically increase that all the goals will fall short! McChesney, Covey and Huling put it this way. “Discipline 1 is about applying more energy against fewer goals because, when it comes to setting goals, the law of diminishing returns is as real as the law of gravity.” (The 4 Disciplines of Execution, p.24) They go on to write, “We can’t overemphasize the importance of focusing on only one or two WIGs at once. It’s counterinitiative, but it must happen.” (The 4 Disciplines of Execution, p. 29)
The beauty of an intensive WIG focus on “making disciples” through worship attendance and professions of faith is that the by-product of such an intense laser focus is an increase in intentional faith development and risk-taking mission & service!
A more concrete appreciation of that by-product might be gained by examining the information which Katherine Hunter, the Missions Coordinator for the Central Texas Conference has put together. I encourage you to click on the following link and check out the data for yourself http://ctc-email.brtapp.com/files/fileshare/ministrywithctc.pdf. This is a marvelous, "Praise God!" demonstration of an intended consequence of focusing on the WIG. [We know the list is not complete and actively solicit help. Please don’t write the Bishop! Go directly to the source. If you have additional information that would help the Lamar Smith Center for Evangelism, Missions & Church Growth improve our missional engagement tracking, please contact Katherine Hunter, Missions Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org.]
While General Conference is wrestling with the future of the Church, don’t lose focus. Stay tied to the mission given us by pur risen Savior and Lord. “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.” (Matthew 28:19-20) Remember, “I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the Lord; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope. When you call me and come and pray to me, I will listen to you.” (Jeremiah 29:11-12)