This Blog is part three of a three-part blog series pulled from my 2019 Episcopal Address delivered on June 11 to the lay and clergy members of the 109th Annual Meeting the Central Texas Conference of The United Methodist Church. To view the video of the entire address, please visit our AC19 video archive webpage at ctcumc.org/AC19-videos. To view or download the slides used in the address, go to ctcumc.org/AC19-slides. - Bishop Mike Lowry
Worship, properly understood, is central to discipleship. Worship is at once both an “input” to discipleship formation and an “output” (or outcome) of discipleship. This is why the “metric” of average worship attendance is so critical to the WIG (the Wildly Important Goal) of making “disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” The central role of worship as discipleship formation represents a significant change over the lifetime of my ministry (45 years ago; I was ordained a Deacon in 1974). Back in the day of Christendom (whose sunset was in the 1980s), worship attendance was an almost taken-for-granted element of American culture. In fact, talk among clergy about putting “butts in the seats” was spoken of dismissively. In a Christendom culture, worship attendance was seen as being about cultural acceptability. In a post-Christendom era (which we have been in for at least the last 30 years!), worship is just the opposite. Regular attendance in worship is a sacrifice. It is a witness and declaration of allegiance and identity. Worship is a fundamental act of discipleship!
I cannot help but remember the 7th grader at University UMC in San Antonio (where I was a pastor) who gave up a starring role on her soccer team voluntarily because she refused to practice on Sunday morning. The witness of Gold Medal Olympian Eric Liddell, as chronicled in the movie Chariots of Fire, offers profound insight into faithfulness. In our own Fort Worth neighborhood, on the way to worship on Sunday mornings, we are greeted by a virtual peloton of bikers speeding by headed in the opposite direction.
However, we understand the Christian faith, let there be no mistake. Worship is central to discipleship. Let the Word of the Lord speak into our lives and times. “All who call on the Lord’s name will be saved". [Joel 2:32] So how can they call on someone they don’t have faith in? And how can they have faith in someone they haven’t heard of? And how can they hear without a preacher? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of those who announce the good news. [Isaiah 53:7].”
Professions of faith are a metric that complete the narrative of life transformation. Every number represents a person for who Christ died. When I first started out as a United Methodist pastor, I had DS who used to say, that new persons joining, especially those who joined on a profession of faith, were like the reinforcements coming over the hill in an old western. I know that this image is politically incorrect, but it is suggestive. A profession of faith is so much more. It really does represent a life submitted to Jesus Christ as both Lord and Savior. It is an embrace of grace that gives people back their future as children of God.
Stay focused on the mission, the WIG, of “making disciples of Jesus Christ.” From the depth of my being I wish to convey my profoundest appreciation for your faithfulness. As the storm rages, the Lord is with us! Let the old song be our prayer.
I thank God for you and for the privilege of being your Bishop and sharing with you in ministry. “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.”