Thursday, June 14, 2012

Reporting from the United Methodist Conference

Derek Maul
LAKELAND - Wednesday I spent the afternoon at The Lakeland Center, where I had been asked to do some “reporting” at the 2012 Florida Annual Conference Event for the United Methodist Church.
I put the word reporting in “quotes” because reporting is not anywhere near my writing comfort zone and it’s always a stretch for me to accomplish.
I’m into the long-term, like writing books that take sometimes a year or more to create. What I enjoy is the process, interviewing people, getting to know them, letting the conversations sit and percolate for a few days, adding some background research, and then bringing it all together for an in-depth portrait.
Methodists Gathered at The Lakeland Center
But yesterday I attended a series of workshops, took rapid notes, wrote while listening, fished for audience responses. Then I tried to find a common theme, crafted a “lead” that pulled it all together, and immediately wrote a 1,000 word article. I actually went to the “press room” and crunched out my copy like an actual reporter before going home. The article was finished and filed less than two hours after I left the final workshop session.
WHAT I LEARNED: If you’re interested, here’s the article (Workshops Emphasize Transformational Faith Communities). But now I get to write from a “commentary” frame of reference.
Callie MacLeod, Rinaldo Hernandez and Annette Styles Pendergrass talk about leadership
The United Methodist Church – much the same as the Presbyterians, the Lutherans, the Disciples of Christ, the Episcopalians, the Baptists, and all “mainline” denominations – is deep into a several decades slump and the demise has reached the point where pretty-much everyone is willing to acknowledge the critical need for across-the-board change.
There are pockets (15-20% of congregations) that are defined by life and growth. Again, it’s the same as The Presbyterian Church, where First Presbyterian Church of Brandon is considered an outlier, an anomaly where vibrant spiritual life is obvious and our witness to the community flows out of a spirit of unity and love.
The workshops I attended took square aim at some of the challenges, and offered practical interventions that, if taken seriously and implemented faithfully, offer tremendous hope – both to struggling congregations and the communities where they meet.
Workshop participants at the Florida Annual Conference Event in Lakeland
LEADERSHIP, DISCIPLESHIP, CONNECTIVITY: The bottom line, presented with belief and enthusiasm by a variety of Methodist leaders, was – essentially – the same idea as the fundamental purpose of this blog; namely, a more thoroughly engaged discipleship. What was being talked about (only using different language) was living The life-charged Life! And, if my blog is “a journal of living like we mean it“, then the church needs to become a more confident witness to the idea of:
  • “Being the Church like we mean it.”
  • “Living our Methodism/Presbyterianism/Christianity like we mean it.”
  • “Following Jesus like it actually means something.”
Much of the conversation came back to leadership. Across the board, presenters made this point very clear, “Leadership begins with discipleship.” If our church leaders are not all-in as Followers of the Way of Jesus, then the church is wasting its time. Lastly, following Jesus leads us out into the community, because the Gospel of Love cannot be contained.
TENTATIVE HOPE: Here’s what I still struggle to understand after I attend such events: There’s nothing complex or difficult to understand about what it means to be a vibrant community of faith. Being The Church is simply about being a group of believers who are committed to following Jesus, and who are intentional when it comes to growing as disciples.
Image found on the Internet…
But… if I was to go by the number of workshop participants who still looked confused, or asked questions like, “Well that’s easy for you bigger churches to say…” or “We can’t afford to pick and chose; at our church it’s, ‘if you’re willing, then you’re a leader’…” or “The Conference needs to understand that we don’t have enough leaders to run all these programs….”, then I’d have to say that we’re going to see a lot more church closings over the next few years.
  • Don’t cling on to the past like nostalgia is a spiritual value!
  • Stop trying so hard to make Jesus look and sound like a late mid-20th Century American!
  • Become a sold-out Follower of the Way of Jesus!
  • Live the Gospel of Love “out loud” – at home, at church, and in your community!
Great! Now your church won’t have to close.

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