By: Bishop Scott Jones On 2/28/2011
Topics: Bishop's Columns & Blogs
On Jan. 29, we celebrated the sesquicentennial of Kansas as the 34th state in the union. As part of that weekend, I attended the meeting of the Native Sons and Daughters of Kansas, where my sister-in-law, Judge Deanell Tacha, was honored as Kansan of the Year. In her acceptance speech, she talked about some of the core values that have shaped our state and its people: freedom, education, families and leadership.
Her speech referred to these as legacies—values and behaviors bequeathed to us by our ancestors. They are ours to use or to lose. That is the value of celebrating major anniversaries; we remember the past as inspiration for the future.
We United Methodists are in a season of change. For six years, I have been asking hard questions and prodding leaders to give the best answers we can give. The Council of Bishops has published a document entitled “A Call to Action.” Based on a great deal of research, we have concluded that the United Methodist Church faces a very large, adaptive challenge.
It is “to redirect the flow of attention, energy, and resources to an intense concentration on fostering and sustaining an increase in the number of vital congregations effective in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” (www.umc.org/calltoaction, Steering Team Report p. 26)
I am taking this adaptive challenge very seriously. The word “redirect” means that we must quit doing some things in order to do more of the things that create vital congregations. We have to focus on starting more new churches as a way of increasing the number of vital congregations. We have to take concrete steps so that our existing congregations can become more vital. All of this will take “an intense concentration,” which means we must spend our time, our energy and our money in places that will have the greatest impact on effectiveness in our mission.
This requires clarity about our mission and knowledge of our mission field. With regard to the latter, I pray that all of the pastors and laity of United Methodist churches in Kansas are building relationships with the people in their communities. My prayer is that they might, as the Walk to Emmaus puts it, “make a friend, be a friend and bring a friend to Christ.” The more we know and love the people around us in Christ’s name, the more Christ will be able to use us to transform their lives.
That is where clarity about our mission comes in and where going back is helpful in moving toward our future.
The Methodist, Evangelical and United Brethren circuit riders and laity were very clear about their mission. They believed in evangelizing unbelievers. They believed in nurturing the faith of new believers through Sunday school and small groups. They believed in both personal and social holiness. They founded new churches wherever there was a sufficient number of people to bring together for worship and study. They gave money for foreign missions and to found institutions like our colleges, United Methodist Youthville and United Methodist Open Door.
Why did they do all these things? They were driven by a strong faith in the Triune God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—and were convinced that God was in the business of saving souls, changing lives and transforming the world. They wanted their communities, their states and the whole world to be more like God’s intention for humanity. They were prepared to give and sacrifice so God’s will might be done on earth as it is in heaven.
So, how do we live faithfully as United Methodists in the 21st century? We embrace the legacy received from the past, we study and learn to understand and love the people in our mission field, and we do whatever it takes to follow the Holy Spirit today. We must change in ways that go back to our basic values for the sake of fruitful mission in the future.