“There is power in the connection….”
¶ 121 Rational for Our Mission—The mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world by proclaiming the good news of God’s grace and by exemplifying Jesus’ command to love God and neighbor, thus seeking the fulfillment of God’s reign and realm in the world. The fulfillment of God’s reign and realm in the world is the vision Scripture holds before us. The United Methodist Church affirms that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Savior of the world, and the Lord of all. As we make disciples, we respect persons of all religious faiths and defend religious freedom for all persons.
It’s that time of the year again—you know, the statistical report time of year. It comes in the middle of false spring and mud season. I used to dread filling out those reports, but I have come to realize that those reports are really about the local church's connection to its community and congregation. The information in those reports on membership, finance, and assets tells a story. Sometimes that story is good, and other times it is lacking.
What we do in our ministerial office throughout the year matters to God. Helping people find a relationship with God through his Son Jesus Christ matters. It matters because when the power of the gospel meets someone in the pew, there is no telling what can happen. Revival in the church occurs when prayer meets action. Prayer needs an active and willing participant to carry the gospel from their knees into their community. Yes, we need to make disciples of Jesus Christ, but we must also be aware that if disciples aren’t directed by faith and the power of the Holy Spirit, they will revert to what they knew before.
Disciple-making for Jesus Christ is a risky proposition. It isn’t something that anyone should take for granted.
It takes time to learn a person’s story, listen to their heart’s desires,
and an active ability to know when it is time to speak.
The role of the pastor is to be both an active and passive participant in the salvific process of faith. On the one hand, we must offer Christ, but also be patient for an individual to express a desire for God’s grace.
I was eighteen years old, and I had come home from college. Things were a mess at my family’s house around Christmas. I picked my Aunt Kari up for midnight mass on Christmas Eve at St. Peters Episcopal Church on Third Street in Niagara Falls, NY, and on the way to mass, I got into a massive argument with my Aunt Kari. I wish I could tell you about that argument, but I don’t honestly remember. I remember this; I cursed God with everything in my adolescent heart. My Aunt Kari cried, and we went to mass. I sat cross through the whole service. I have no idea what the preacher said that evening. The music was madness to my insanity. I started to cry and think, “Should I be here? I just cursed God? Should I be in church?” When it came time for Holy Communion a few minutes before midnight, I went up and knelt at the brass altar rail. The priest brought me the eucharist, and the cup followed. The priest saw my tears and said, “It is finished; go in peace.” I stayed at the altar for a little while, trying to compose myself. The sleeves of my grey denim jacket covered in snot and tears made it clear that I was going through some tough stuff. Finally, I got up and sat with my Aunt Kari and hugged her. I told her what the priest had said to me. She said, “the priest didn’t say that; God said it.” I never looked at Holy Communion the same way again. In one fell swoop, my heart was restored through my poor act of contrition and an Episcopal priest that I will never know.
Imagine what would have happened had the priest tried to pull me aside and find out what was going on with me before offering the Eucharist. There’s a good chance I may never have made my peace with God that night. Sometimes it doesn’t take words but divine action and intervention to change the life of a human being.
God is the primary actor in the sacraments of Holy Communion and Baptism. It is God, not us. In the same way, those statistical reports should be poured over and bathed in prayer. We should look for the work of God in everything we do. How many people come to church on Christmas Eve as a last-ditch effort for faith? How many people come to a baptism or wedding looking for Jesus? How we approach our ministry as a vocational-calling matter to God and countless others like me, who have cursed God and are still willing to drive through a snowstorm to church on December 24th.
This spring should be the time of year when all hands should be on deck preparing to receive people in need of grace and God. We must be ready to give hope, grace, faith, and the unconditional love of Jesus Christ. Because if we don’t, we are just another “dead sect,” as John Wesley once feared. Fling open the doors of the church-wide, bring out your best preaching, bible teaching, and stories of faith moving mountains. Preach and proclaim from the highest points in your sanctuary the goodness of God and the love of Jesus. YES, dear friend—you are called, commissioned, and sent out. God is the primary actor in the sacraments, but you are responsible for carrying the message forward. Stop grumbling and complaining about the statistical reports. Do them in grace, knowing they tell your church's story, and celebrate God in growth and decline. Give God all the praise and glory for what has been done. You never know when a crying first-year college student will enter your doors on Christmas eve looking for grace, not knowing it; finds it in the body and blood of Jesus.
The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church Edited by Brian K. Milford. Nashville, Tennesee The United Methodist Publishing House 2016