In Tampa, Florida, a thousand delegates and hundreds of visitors and observers will gather as The United Methodist Church General Conference seeks to celebrate and embrace necessary changes in order for the Church to be at its best. I believe the Church cannot be at its best, if we only focus on questions and challenges related to what we do and how we do things. Even the wording and structural language that we wrestle over (because it appears in our “Book of Discipline”) has little impact on our living below our kingdom potential. “Make Disciples of Jesus Christ to Transform the World,” our theme for General Conference and our mission statement point to what we intend to do. Our proposed changes and continued focus on leadership, global health, poverty and reaching new people point to how we intend to live our life as a denomination. The deeper and more sustaining question for the church to answer (and repeat to ourselves and a hurting world) is the question of WHY. John Wesley would say that God is the joy of the Methodist heart and the joy we have is not meant to be kept to ourselves, but to transform the world.
In his book, “Start with WHY”, author Simon Sinek argues that great leaders and organizations are inspiring and far more successful when they communicate clarity of why they do what they do. We can grow weary and discouraged by what we do, even if we are doing a good work. I see this in many of our pastors and churches. We make changes and chase models of perceived success as we change how we do things. A constant is the Good News Gospel that shouts the answer to the why for me. Christ is risen indeed! Because he lives, I can face tomorrow. At the right time, Christ died for us. I am the recipient of incredible grace. Grace has placed a stamp on my heart that says, “Loved by Jesus”. I am in love with the Church, because it is my community for sharing the love with the world. Yes, I get frustrated by the institution and the decline of membership, etc.
I am reminded that Jesus was concerned about all he encountered. So the number we should focus on is all. All our communities need a word of hope shared by people who love Jesus. I pray that we remember that early Christians, who were part of the early Methodist movement, were “organized to beat the devil.” How do we, who are part of The United Methodist Church in 2012, organize to beat the devil? I suggest, we start with WHY.
At the conclusion of a great Saturday with Laity on March 31st, a layman asked me, “What would my charge be for those who would return to their churches?” I said, “Start prayer ministries and help me revitalize prayer as a contagious spiritual discipline in Iowa”. I asked him to join me in stamping out Malaria in three years. What I failed to remind my friend was the “WHY”. We have been baptized to be followers of Jesus and signs of grace in the world until we die. We are baptized disciples of Jesus full of grace that is why we are sent into the world.
During the passing of the peace, Pastor Arnett shared a true story of a Kenyan nurse who said, “When you greet someone as a Christian, you say: my name is (Julius) and I love Jesus!”
Don’t spend too much time worrying about the church or the outcome of General Conference. Ask God to rekindle your love for Jesus and remember that the best way to start is to start with WHY.
“...But because God was so gracious,
so very generous, here I am.
And I’m not about to let his grace go to waste.”
I Corinthians 15:10
Bishop Julius C. Trimble