Reflections on An Honor, Some Insights, & A Hope ©

An Honor
The following announcement was recently shared by Bishop Bob Farr, President of the South Central Jurisdictional (SCJ) College of Bishops, and Brian Hammonds, SCJ Episcopacy Committee Chair: 

“The Council of Bishops has affirmed the actions of the Jurisdictional Colleges regarding coverage in each episcopal area considering the anticipated retirements.
1. The following SCJ bishops who plan to retire will continue to serve in their current episcopal area until the postponed SCJ Conference in November 2021:

  • Bishop Bledsoe – New Mexico & Northwest Texas Conferences
  • Bishop McKee – North Texas Conference
  • Bishop Lowry – Central Texas Conference

2. All other residential bishops will remain in their assigned area locations through the jurisdictional conference, until the conference makes new assignments (based upon the recommendation of the SCJ Episcopacy Committee).
3. Election of any new bishops will only occur at the jurisdictional conference.”

I am honored to remain the Resident Bishop of the Central Texas Conference - The Fort Worth Episcopal Area - through the postponed 2020 Jurisdictional Conference.  I share with my fellow bishops scheduled to retire after Jurisdictional Conference that it is important to continue episcopal supervision during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as well as the upcoming General Conference vote on the “Protocol for Separation.” Together, I believe the Lord is leading us through this time of crisis to a new spring season in the life of the Central Texas Conference.  Jolynn and I have been deeply blessed by our shared ministry together! We give thanks to God and thanks to you for your faithfulness. 
Some Insights
I have lifted up some insights on moving through is time of radical change in previous blog, such as . Insights from Leading Beyond the Blizzard, Emerging Ministry in the Little Ice Age, Emerging from COVID-19 as Healthy, Vital Churches, and Ten Critical Mistakes to Avoid (a Guest Blog by Rev. Mike Ramsdell). A statement which has stayed with me is a quote from Carey Nieuwhof, “Crisis is an accelerator.”  I believe this to be profoundly true and it has strong implications for every type and size of church.
Carey, an author and founding pastor of Connexus Church, has written a new article entitled 7 New Disruptive Trends Every Church Leader Should Watch.” I strongly recommend reading the entire article.  Here is a quick summary of the 7 trends he sees:
1. “The Church will further consolidate as it expands.” This is difficult to grasp, and it is counterintuitive, but the research is fairly clear. He reports that 48% of church goers have “not watched any church online in the last 4 weeks.” He goes on to write, “Only 40% of churchgoers report watching their regular home church online. A rather surprising 23% said they streamed a different church (either in place of their regular church or in addition to their regular church).”  Ouch!
2. The return to church might not be the rush leaders hope for.”  He notes that a recent poll showed that “people have little consensus around when they feel ‘safe’ to gather again in public. 25% either aren’t sure or aren’t coming back for a long time. An additional 30% of respondents said they’d rather worship at home and only return when they can be mask-free at church.
3. Churches will become digital organizations with physical locations.”  This is the opposite of how we are currently structured and will entail permanent change.
4. Agility will become one of your most valuable leadership qualities.”  This is not a common quality in the church. We will be stretched and need to remember that it is the Lord guiding us into a new future. The author reminds us of the well-known quote, “if you don’t like change, you’ll like irrelevance even less.”
5. “Virtual and flexible staff teams will be the new normal.”
6. “Spiritual formation will shift from facility-based to home-based.”  Please read that sentence again. “Spiritual formation will shift from facility-based to home-based.” This will necessitate a massive shift in how we engage in spiritual formation ministry.  Nieuwhof goes on to add, “In the future, churches will shift their focus from Sunday to every day, because people need to find faith and live out their faith every day.”
7. “On-demand access will eclipse live events.” The following comment caught my attention. “Just because your content isn’t brand new doesn’t mean it won’t be new to your audience. Especially a new audience. (And don’t flatter yourself…most of your church has no idea what you said last year, or last month. Neither does mine.)” Gulp! That seems strange to me, but I think it is extremely accurate. He goes on to add, “People don’t care if a message is new nearly as much as they care if its great.” The importance of biblically anchored high-quality preaching will increase!
There is more both here and elsewhere. We are all learners and in this together. 
A Hope
I have repeatedly stated that we are encountering three big incoming waves.
  1. the COVID-19 Pandemic;
  2. the rebound wave of the Coronavirus as we open too early. (No blame, just a reflection of medical reality … I’m restless and want to get out just as much as you do.);
  3. Ihe General Conference Protocol vote in the fall of 2021 with the concomitant separation occurring in the United Methodist Church. 
Add to this a fourth tsunami which has been steadily taking place – the aging of the denomination. We are in a period of great historic shifts in the life of the Christian church and more specifically in the United Methodist branch of the church universal.
Here is the hope. Wesley said, “The best of all is, God is with us.”
Many like to quote the famous passage from Jeremiah 29:11, “ 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.” What many of us forget is that this passage comes in a time exile, struggle and crisis. To be fully understood it can’t be taken out of context. Our hope lies in the 12th, 13th and 14th verses.  
“When you call me and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. When you search for me, yes, search for me with all your heart, you will find me. I will be present for you, declares the Lord, and I will end your captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have scattered you, and I will bring you home after your long exile, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 29:12-14)
Hope is based on the Lord, the creator of heaven and earth. It is not simple optimism. It understands that even something as strong as COVID-19 cannot defeat the Lord. A new spring is coming for the church. As Archbishop Charles Chaput put it: “When we hope, therefore, we align our wants and our wills as God intended. We’re able to love the things of the world rightly instead of clinging to them selfishly. We’re able to work for the kingdom of God and not our own glory, because we’re confident that our final happiness lies in union with God, and that this union will come about through the power of the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ, the conqueror of death.” (from Strangers in a Strange Land by Charles J. Chaput, pg. 149)

The Word of the Lord in Holy Scripture states it even better! 
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
    don’t rely on your own intelligence.
 Know him in all your paths,
    and he will keep your ways straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)