SIGNS OF HOPE after General Conference 2012

Every four years delegates from the worldwide United Methodist movement meet to celebrate mission, set policies for the church and the orders of ministry, vision for future growth and determine a budget for our connection’s agencies, missionaries and leadership. This gathering was held the last two weeks in Tampa, Florida and included 984 delegates. 41% of the delegates were from outside the USA due to the dramatic growth of Methodism in Africa and Asia and the decline of our movement in this country and western Europe. There are mixed reviews on the outcome of the conference, yet I see major SIGNS OF HOPE for our movement.

The growth and maturing of the church in Africa and Asia is bringing new life and hope to all the church. For 200 years we invested in making disciples overseas. Now we are seeing the fruit of that mission and these regions are bringing a fresh, new perspective into the church. They come from area of persecution, poverty, challenge and despair. Yet they are faithful, in love with God and zealous for the kingdom. I pray their influence leads to renewal in the USA and across Europe. We desperately need to emulate their passion to reach people with the good news of Jesus and their sacrificial attitude to meet the needs of the poor, the sick and the hopeless. They are unashamed to declare and live out the Christian story.

The vision and mission at our Global Ministry board is also a reason to rejoice. The board is now headed by a former missionary from South America. There is a renewed sense of sending and receiving missionaries committed to word and deed for Christ. The board is working for the first time with other Methodist mission-sending groups like the Mission Society, instead of seeing them as competition or a problem. Our movement’s commitment to ending malaria is making a huge difference and now we can send the potential end in sight to malaria in our lifetime!

Restructuring fell short of our hopes and dreams. Yet I applaud the many ways that the delegates and agencies came together to reduce the size of the agencies and build accountability into our structures. Let this be a strong beginning on where we can go. Our movement’s strength is in our connection and shared resources of people, prayer, vision and materials. Let’s use all of these blessings for the MAIN THING: to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Only the future will reveal the wisdom of eliminating guaranteed appointments. Due to many factors the time has come for this move. Our lay people want to see more accountability and more effective leadership. We have to admit that many of our leaders stay behind the curve when it comes to creative change and fruitful leadership. Our bishops and cabinets have cried out for this change. Now let’s work with them to match gifts and graces of pastors with local church need and protect the authority of our pulpits. We live in a much different age than 50 years old and our leadership must rise to lead this movement into a new day!

The United Methodist movement remains a diverse, international and theologically rich church. If you were disappointed in any way with the conference, you can now focus on the place where real ministry truly happens: YOUR LOCAL CHURCH. Everyday your local church can touch people with the love of Christ, deliver real hope and enable precious children of God to fulfill their life purpose. We  see this everyday here at Sugar Hill and in places like the churches of downtown Atlanta, the rural fields of Iowa and the dry plains of Africa. May the Holy Spirit continue to breath new life into our movement and this denomination that God calls to be servants of the Kingdom!

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