"The Universal Church"
Don’t remember the prior things; don’t ponder ancient history. Look! I’m doing a new thing; now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it? I’m making a way in the desert, paths in the wilderness. (Isaiah 43:18 CEB)
Although I’m free from all people, I make myself a slave to all people, to recruit more of them... I act like I’m under the Law to those under the Law, so I can recruit those who are under the Law ... I act like I’m outside the Law to those who are outside the Law, so I can recruit those outside the Law ... I act weak to the weak, so I can recruit the weak. I have become all things to all people, so I could save some by all possible means. (1 Corinthians 9:19-22 CEB)
Sometimes, when you’re a pastor, it can be awkward to explain what you do. Folks have preconceived notions. Bit of a conversation killer.
British evangelist J. John described how he handles this in a TV interview. He acts and sounds a bit like Mr. Bean, so if you’ve got two minutes and need a chuckle check out the video… https://youtu.be/L6TGxKvSqH8
Rev. John said a woman on a plane asked what he did for a living. He answered, “I work for a global enterprise. We’ve got outlets in nearly every country of the world. We’ve got hospitals, and hospices, and homeless shelters. We’ve got marriage programs, we’ve got orphanages, feeding programs, educational programs. We do all sorts of justice work and reconciliation things. Basically, we look after people from birth to death, and we deal in the area of behavioral alteration.”
“WOW!” the woman said, “What’s it called?” John answered, “It’s called the church.”
For the TV audience, he elaborated, “If we are a follower of Jesus Christ, we’re part of a global enterprise. But not only is it global, it’s intergalactic, because it includes everyone who’s gone before us!”
(I liked that so much, I once suggested to my church trustees that we change the sign out front to read “Intergalactic United Methodist Church.” For some reason, they didn’t go for it.)
Nonetheless, it is exciting to think about what we – The United Methodist Church – do. We really are a global enterprise, involved in all the things John describes. Through our connection and our apportionment giving, every local congregation member participates in outstanding mission and outreach around the world.
Moreover, every local church is part of our global mission. I love our UMC mission statement, especially the rarely-read second sentence. Paragraph 120 of The Book of Discipline says, “The mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Local churches and extension ministries of the Church provide the most significant arenas through which disciple-making occurs.”
Read that again. Your local church is where our mission happens!
I hear a lot of angst and worry about what our churches can do in the new post-pandemic world. Attendance is down. It’s hard to get young families back. People wonder, “When will it go back to normal?” Meaning – the pre-pandemic normal. Which if we’re honest, wasn’t that great. We need to hear God’s words through the prophet Isaiah once again: “Don’t remember the former things, don’t ponder ancient history. See, I am doing a new thing!”
As I travel around the North East District to visit churches and pastors, I am deeply encouraged to see all the new things God is doing through the people called United Methodists in our local Wisconsin churches.
I’ve seen a jazz worship service, and Pentecostal African praise team, and a classical concert that packed the church with community folks. I’ve listened to sermons in four languages. I’ve worshipped online with a church that continues to expand their disciple-making both in-person and on the internet. I’ve seen baptisms and new pastor installations. I’ve been present at the launch of a new Hispanic congregation. I’ve visited a church that serves a free meal every day of the week and is planning to turn extra space into affordable housing. One little country congregation of twelve people told me they packed over 200 backpacks for local school kids!
All that in just eight weeks. New things are happening all over Wisconsin among United Methodists. Our congregations are truly seeking to follow the Apostle Paul’s example – to be all things to all people, so that by all means we might save some.
This may feel like a wilderness time, but God works most powerfully in challenging times. Our Holy-Spirit-powered people are doing some great disciple-making and world-transforming in local churches and around the world. What an exciting time to #BeUMC… an intergalactic enterprise!
Prayer: Lord, send your Holy Spirit upon our United Methodist Church. Give us fresh eyes to see the new things you would have us do, the new people you would have us reach, the new compassion you have placed upon our hearts for our communities, right here and right now, in order to share your Good News. May we be encouraged and empowered to serve our part in your great Church. Amen