Savior, the Redeemer, the Prince of Peace, Healer of our brokenness, and Hope
of the world!
overflowing with joy and thanksgiving for the exceptional opportunity of
serving God and God’s people called United Methodists of the Susquehanna
Conference. God has been faithful and God’s people have been gracious.
for your warming hospitality, that we were privileged to receive, when we
visited places throughout the conference. We love Pennsylvania and the
Susquehanna Conference! We continue to enjoy living in your midst. Indeed,
we’ve found a home here in the Harrisburg Area. Thanks be to God for you!
multiple plots, memorable lines, fascinating characters, intense suspense,
powerful moments, dramatic reversals, unlikely conclusion, and best of all, a
Mordecai’s plea on behalf of God’s time and Esther’s decision in response: He
says to Esther: “Who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a
time as this.” (Esther 4:14b) In other words, “Esther, this is God’s time for
you to act for the sake of the future of God’s people. This is the time and you
are the one.”
permission, Esther replies, “I will go to the king, even though it is against
the law. And if I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:16b)
well could cost her life, Esther claims that it is the time to approach the
king and she is the one.
challenging and painful conflict of our time over the issue of same-gender
marriage. Churches of our conference cannot be insulated from its effect. Recently same gender marriage has become legal
in the common wealth of Pennsylvania. Among
the people in our church, as well as in the general public, this change of law
certainly gives a reason for celebration for some, causes frustration for some,
and raises confusion for some.
marriages to be performed by clergy or on church property. However, the recent
developments within and outside of our church heighten the sense of growing
uneasiness and anxiety among us.
disciples of Jesus Christ, who love and serve God with passion, devotion, and
integrity, honestly have different biblical and theological beliefs and
understandings of the issue. People on both sides are hurting and are in pain
as brokenness and divisiveness over the issue continue to deepen and widen
among our people. The way to build a bridge and keep the unity becomes ever
more challenging. People in some circles have now begun to use words like
amicable separation. We see
a dark cloud forming over the horizon in the shape of an S word: “schism”.
conference in response to the emerging voices for schism. His plea was that
it’s time to talk. It resonated deeply with me. When such an explosive topic as
a schism in our connection over such a divisive issue as same gender marriage
is brewing and spilling all over the place, simply to remain silent is not an
talk. When the divisiveness threatens the unity and peace of the church, it’s a
time to talk.
jeopardy, it’s a time to talk. When the future path of our church is at stake,
it’s a time to talk.
where our people can come and open themselves to one another in trust and have
a holy conversation.
time of deep prayer and fasting. She
also asks her whole community to fast with her.
and pray together and talk together in the spirit of compassion, gentleness,
humility, openness, honesty and integrity, and with respect and love for one
another, God will take charge and God will show us the way. Let’s put our trust
in the God who called us to be a church for such a time as this.
current struggle: God’s people of the Susquehanna Conference, take heart! God
is faithful! God who gives us endurance and encouragement is with us. Though we
may go through the ordeal of disagreement, we do not lose a spirit of unity.
Though we may not think alike, we follow one Lord, Jesus Christ. Though we may
not believe exactly the same way, we glorify God with one heart and mouth.
Though we may have differences, we accept one another as Christ accepts you and
disciples, not by taking certain biblical, theological, and doctrinal
positions, but by our love for one another. Whatever position we may take, let
the love arise and reach to the other side.
such a time as this.
someday: “Look at those people called United Methodists. They have
disagreements with one another. They show differences among them. But see how
they still accept one another. Look, how they still love one another. They must
be disciples of Jesus Christ!” By God’s grace, together we will hasten the day.
of our time, let’s not lose perspective. The mission of the church remains the
same: “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
Knowing that the current conflict can drain the spirit, energy and resources that are
essential to keep the body of Christ healthy and strong for mission,
I refuse to be consumed by the conflict. The mission of the church is larger
than whatever causes the conflict. The mission of the church demands and
deserves our unsurpassing commitment with a sense of urgency, priority, and
focus more than any other.
under the theme of “Alive in Christ
together….Raising up Transformational Leaders”.
raise-up transformational leaders? Why transformation?
environment of our culture continues to grow to be unfavorable to us. Churches
are in a fierce competition with other attractions and activities. Sports have
become the dominant religion in America. The fastest growing segment of the current
religious landscape is called “ the nons”, who claim themselves spiritual but
not interested, if not hostile, to church or organized religion. The absence of
young adults and the dwindling presence of youth and children in our
congregations paint a bleak future for our church. This is no easy time for us
to be a church.
optional for such a time as this.
will not work. Indeed, for some churches, no change now means no future. We
still have sizable numbers of faithful people who have been with our church for
a long time and will continue to be with our church for some time. Thanks be to
God for them! However, more and more congregations are facing the
ever-increasing challenge of sustaining their current status of being and doing
the church. The channel of receiving new people to make up those who move away
or die away in a rapid pace is getting narrower. A demographic study suggests an
impending death tsunami among those who have been with our church so faithfully
for a long time.
slowly losing their presence in the community and its potency in ministry with
continuing loss of membership, worship attendance, ministry engagement, and
financial resources, what can be done before it is too late?
around and are turning around. Hear this: About one third of the churches of
the Susquehanna Conference experienced growth in membership and worship
attendance last year. We have churches of all sizes in all different places
that continue to be vital and vibrant as they keep producing the fruit of
ministry in abundance. They represent the presence of hope among us. Leaders in
such churches are transformational.
does not come with programs and resources. It comes with the transformational
leaders, who serve as catalysts for transformation by making some critical
shifts take place and take hold. Some shifts are essential to transformation. I
would like to suggest that we start with a culture shift, a shift from a
culture of low expectancy to a culture of high expectancy.
when much is expected, you get much.
Jesus expected to get from his disciples not just Jerusalem, not just
Judea, not just Samaria, but the whole world – and he got the world!
disciple of Jesus Christ, and received as a member of the United Methodist
Church, let’s not be apologetic for or shy away from making our expectations
emphatic and clear. People will never
fulfill their potential as disciples of Jesus Christ if they are not clear and
serious about what is expected from them.
place for those whom Wesley called the ‘almost Christians.’”
pastor or almost United Methodist. Every pastor is expected to be the best
pastor that he or she can be. Every
United Methodist is expected to be the best disciple that he or she can
be. Clergy and laity alike, all of us
are expected to be the best ministers of the gospel that we can be, who strive
to reach the expectation that God has for us.
expectations, I call upon our church to make a few critical transformational
shifts. Once again, they are not about programs. They are about the fundamental
reorientation of being and doing the church by challenging and changing our
priorities, values, and attitude. They are shifts:
It is about reclaiming the mission of the church, the purpose of our existence
as a church of Jesus Christ.
ministry: It is about making the intentional investment of ministry resources
for the community and its people; and
about connecting our people to a faith journey and a movement rather than to a
church as an institution.
can help them stay vital and viable, not just barely making it. There is no
simple or easy answer. However, one
thing is clear to me. Unless people are
excited, passionate, and enthused about the ministry of the church, motivating
existing people, attracting new people, and thus drawing more resources for
ministry will be unlikely. When people are preoccupied with keeping the doors
open to survive and with building maintenance as priority, they are hardly
excited and enthused for who they are and what they do as a church. Claiming mission as a priority by connecting
the congregation to life changing, soul saving, community redeeming, and world
transforming missions changes the tide.
his favorite music station. A one point, the disc jockey asked the audience,
“When was the last time you brought flowers to your wife?” The driver thought
that it would be a good idea, because he couldn’t remember the last time he
had. It must have been a long, long time ago. So he dropped by a florist and
bought a beautiful bouquet of flowers. He pulled his car in the garage and went
to the front door and rang the bell. As his wife opened the door, he offered
the bouquet, with big smile on his face. He said, “This is for you!” His wife, with a surprise look, said, “Oh no,
today I had such a rough day. Jimmy was sick so I had to take him to the
doctor. Tommy was in trouble in school, so I had to go school to see the
principal. The washing machine broke. And now you come home drunk!”
to know that, as far as making mission a priority is concerned, there are those
who may think this Bishop is coming to you drunk! I am willing to do something
more, something extra, something unusual, and even something extraordinary as
needed to keep our church alive in mission. Knowing that more mission would
mean more lives touched, transformed, and even saved in the name and love of
Jesus, I am willing to extend myself beyond the ordinary.
driven church and boldly claim to be a mission driven church for such a time as
depends on our capacity of making connections with the people in our
community. We know that. But where does a breakthrough come from? It comes from a radical shift of our ministry
focus from inward to outward!
and the one common but significant factor that those congregations have in
common is a decreasing engagement from their neighborhood. They become focused
more and more on themselves and their survival. This is a trap that we must
escape from. As long as we continue to look to our own needs first and exhaust
our resources for us we become more like a self-preserving institution and less
like a movement that reaches out and touches and transforms lives. This is a
downward spiral we must break.
those who are not yet with us in our church and our resources must be invested
to serve the needs of our community. Let’s be reminded that our pastors are
appointed to the community, as well as to a congregation. A vital connection
with the community makes a vital congregation.
It is the transformational movement that we cannot afford to lose.
membership without hesitation. People found our churches everywhere and came
through the doors for themselves by drove. No longer.
church membership doesn’t mean much. Sadly, membership is associated primarily
with one’s privileges with minimum obligation, instead of with one’s
commitments and responsibilities. The most disturbing thing about it is, for
some, church membership has little to do with a journey of faith as a disciple
of Jesus Christ.
a difference in membership and discipleship.
to regain its identity as a movement. Making members may make a church survive
as an institution for some time, but making disciples will keep a church alive
as a movement for the transformation of the world until the day of Christ.
instructing people to become good members, rather than nurturing, equipping and
having the expectation that people will become committed disciples. It’s time
to make a shift. The mission of the church is to make disciples for the
transformation of the world in the first place.
these transformational shifts?
every period in God’s time. God has never left us as orphans with no one to
guide and lead us in the journey. If we know anything about the character of
God, we know that God is faithful. God has always been and will always be
faces numbering some 1,500 people of God, I realize that the transformational
leaders are already here. They are within this room and within the churches of
the Susquehanna Conference. We do not have to wait until some people arrive or
until God provides someone else – for God has already provided. My brothers and
sisters in Christ, you and I are the ones God has called and sent to make a
difference for such a time as this!
district Laity Days this year: “The best way to make disciples of Jesus Christ
is to become one!” Likewise, the best way to raise-up transformational leaders
is to become one! The most compelling leadership is leading by example.
the Susquehanna Conference, to be a church alive in Christ together…. raising
up transformational leaders.
will meet the challenge of our time. I will keep prepared to give compelling
answers to those who ask the reasons for the hope that we have. The God who
raised Jesus from the dead is the reason for hope.
another reason for the hope that we have.
church and for the world for such a time as this.