we get more of what we focus on
There is another way forward and that is to transition into our leadership roles, to refocus on our places of mission and ministry, and to reconnect with the actual human need in the communities where we live. When we shift our attention, I am convinced, we are actually positioned to make a difference in a world awaiting transformation. The following seem possible areas of fruitful engagement:
1. An intervention with young adults. With a major allocation of resources for lay and clergy young adult leadership development over the next four years, we have the opportunity to create a significant initiative that will bear fruit for decades to come. I am hopeful that young adults will help to create this, and that the pool of young adults will represent the theological and political diversity of our churches across the U.S. I am also grateful for pastors like Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter, who have already done significant work with young clergy, newer general secretaries like Kim Cape and Thomas Kemper who are ready to move in a fresh direction, college presidents like Cam West, who has turned an institution back toward the church, academics like Jason Vickers and Phil Amerson, who have reflected deeply on the renewal of our tradition, and bishops like Grant Hagiya, who have tremendous gifts in the study and practice of leadership. Our denomination is blessed with a network of excellent colleges and universities and we can access resources from them to help us engage an emerging generation. The focus must not be on intramural fighting about denominational polity or representation; it must be shaped by an external focus that connects the gospel of Jesus Christ with the human hurts and hopes that exist outside our ecclesial structures, and leads to an integrated grasp of vocation or calling to serve wherever we are.
2. Mission/Evangelism is local. The strength of the Call to Action was its core idea: to redirect resources toward the creation of healthy and vital congregations. This was not our focus in Tampa but it can be our priority going forward, and annual conferences are actually better positioned to work on this than the general church. The more local our focus, the more we are in touch with the rich diversity of people who live in our communities. We are blessed with a number of models, from within United Methodism (here I am thinking of Elaine Heath and Robert Schnase, for example) and beyond (the missional, emergent and new monastic movements), and the basic idea--that we are called to create new places for new people----is simple enough to implement and flexible enough to call forth the gifts of very different leaders. And so leaders (bishops, activists, structural strategists, lay leaders, young adults, pastors) can return to the places where we really live and begin to do work in our spheres of influence around the matters that are compelling to us. Actions in Tampa would not have made us more inclusive, at the local level, or more vital, at the congregational level. If the mission is going to happen, it will take place "on the ground".
3. Theology matters. As I noted in an earlier post, we can and must rediscover a robust theology of grace. This is much more than an academic exercise. Prevenient grace grounds our conviction that all people are created in the image of God and matter to God. Repentance calls us to confession and humility. Justifying grace calls us again and again to the truth that salvation is a gift, not our work, given to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Sanctifying grace is a life devoted to the love of God and neighbor, working itself out in personal (and not impersonal) and social (and not anti-social) holiness. Our gift to the individual seeker and to a jaded and degraded society is the fullness of God's grace and holiness. Without the fullness of this way of salvation we degenerate into political interest groups obsessed with issues; without a posture of grace we do not have the resources to discuss with civility, to discern our positions with humility, to see our neighbor or our enemy with dignity, or to be patient in the long journey toward the beloved community. Without the fullness of grace, our actions, no matter how well intentioned, do not glorify God. Every local church would benefit from a serious engagement with the meaning of grace in our everyday, ordinary lives.
The performances at General Conference revealed that we are a broken church, and that in "plundering the Egyptians" we have mastered the political tactics of a broken world. But now I am reflecting on an insight from appreciative inquiry: "we get more of what we focus on" (see Philippians 4. 8-9). As United Methodists we have gifts that we can offer to the world, gifts embedded in our congregations, in our structures, in our institutions, but mostly in our people. A revival of mission begins when we focus on the world that is our parish, and share the gift of Jesus Christ. As we move into the future, this will be the way that leads to life.