Monday, February 27, 2012

A Call to Prayer (and then Action)

(Post from young clergy and member of the  Holston conference delegation to general conference Rev. Wil Cantrell)

            Some of you are very familiar already with the United Methodist Call to Action.  If you are not yet familiar with it and you attend a United Methodist Church, you will be soon. 

            The United Methodist Call To Action was developed by the leadership of our denomination in response to the 45-year decline of United Methodism in the United States.  (United Methodism is growing rapidly across the world.)  The mission of the United Methodist Church is “to make disciples for the transformation of the world.”  Since it seemed we were struggling to make the disciples and help disciples grow in their faith, our leaders decided to look at local congregation who went against the grain.  These churches (designated as “vital congregations” in the terminology of the report) have grown through helping people come to faith and grow in faith at a time when most United Methodist churches were declining. 

            The Call to Action pinpoints what is different between these “vital congregations” and congregations that are struggling to live out their mission.  The resulting findings are in essence a set of best practices for United Methodist Churches (and perhaps for any church anywhere).  These 16 best practices that the Call to Action urges us to adopt are perhaps the most hopeful initiative I have seen during my lifetime in our denomination.  For the first time I can remember, we have actually defined the meaning of our mission and what it takes to accomplish it.

            The Call to Action asks every local congregation to consider how our practices line up with the best practices and what our participation and giving statistics tell us about the direction of our church.  The Call to Action then asks us to seek God’s vision for the future of our church. 

            Last fall I gathered with our church’s Discernment team, a team of 7 others in our church who have been meeting together since the beginning of 2011 to study the specifics of how people come to faith and grow in faith.  It’s a tremendous team of people with great personal love for Christ and His Church.  Our task was how to begin implementing the Call to Action at our church, since the leadership of our conference asked us to begin its implementation within two months time.

            Though I am excited about what God is doing through the Call to Action and though I thoroughly enjoy meeting with our Discernment team to explore the deep mysteries of faith, I found myself rather discouraged at the outset of our meeting.  The timeline we had been given just seemed too unrealistic.  The resources we would need to implement even a few of these best practices seemed too out of reach. 

            Thankfully, the collective spiritual wisdom of our Discernment Team far surpassed my own.  “It’s pretty obvious what we should do.”  The team members said.  “We need to pray about this for a while and then decide what God wants us to do with it.”  Though the clock was ticking and our District Superintendent and Bishop wanted to see cold hard numbers and clearly articulated visions in two months time, the team understood that if we don’t begin by seeking God even our best attempts to be faithful will lead us and our church down a terribly unfaithful path.  The group concluded its meeting by covenanting to each pray daily for four things: 1) that we desire God more than anything else, 2) for help listening to the still small voice of the Holy Spirit, 3) that the Spirit will lead us to the people through whom God will share God’s vision for our church, 4) that God will give us a clear vision for our lives and our church in God’s time.  We then spent 15 minutes praying together for these things at the chapel altar before adjourning.

            Our time of prayer around the altar and focused personal prayer moved me from discouraged to hopeful about the difference God could make through the Call to Action.  Through our 4-tiered prayer emphasis I learned more than a few lessons about my personal faith and identified roadblocks in my soul that could have prevented me from hearing God’s vision for our church.  Now, five months later, we still are not even close to having all the questions asked by the Call to Action answered.  But we are beginning to see a vision for our church that is greater than anything we could have schemed up on our own. 

            At a time when I could not see the road ahead of us very clearly, God placed around me a group of people who could see exactly where we needed to go.  (In this instance: to our knees in prayer.)  Perhaps God is desiring to use the Call To Action to provide a similar gift of vision to our church and our denomination if we allow ourselves to first be called to prayer and then to the action of following God’s guidance rather than blindly attempting to implement even the most helpful set of best practices.   This is my prayer for our church and denomination.  Will you make it yours as well?         

-Wil Cantrell
Lebanon Memorial UMC
Lebanon, VA USA     

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Official response for the Division on Ministries with Young People about the Call to Action

Here is the response to the CTA offered by the Division on Ministries with Young People...I'm also working to create a flow chart of all the proposals AS WRITTEN, not the incorrect one on I hope that will be helpful.

Dear Friends,

Greetings from the Division on Ministries with Young People! As we prepare for General Conference, we are praying for the Church and its people everywhere.

There have been many responses about the proposals being offered to restructure. We want to affirm the work of the Council of Bishops, the Connectional Table, and all the leaders who have worked on the Call to Action and Interim Operations Team. Change is needed in The United Methodist Church if we are really going to help “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

As we have had a chance to prayerfully reflect on all that is recommended, we believe further conversation is needed throughout the Church. We, too, are concerned but hopeful about the future of The United Methodist Church. However, as a Division we are worried that in our haste to make changes, we have not been able to fully engage the width and depth of our connection.

Life prevails over death, and even in the midst of decline, God creates possibilities for new life. As we seek God’s will for our future, this belief gives us opportunities to ask tough questions and seek transformation—not just of our boards and agencies but also of our churches, annual conferences, jurisdictions, central conferences, and leaders throughout the Church.

Ultimately, any changes must focus not solely on the structure but equipping the people called United Methodists for intentional, transformative relationships with one another and with God. The future of our church and its organization should include the witness and input from people of all walks of this tradition.

Change is necessary. The work that has been done, both by the Interim Operations Team and the General Agencies, is a beginning; but we believe the church needs more time to discern and dialogue before a new structure can be implemented. Rather than restructuring this year, we hope the work begun in the Call to Action will move us into a quadrennium and future of deep, Christ-centered, and Spirit-led conversation.

We are here—ready and expecting to engage in that conversation. May it be so.

Members of the Division on Ministries with Young People

Friday, February 24, 2012

Leaders of Africa's United Methodist Student Movement issue statement

Two days ago the student leadership of the Africa United Methodist Student Movement issued a statement about their opinions about the Connectional Table's proposal for restructure of the church.

Paragraph four makes two points I find to be thought provoking:
!) "The restructuring of the church will cut down wide range of programs and ministry work carried out by the agencies across the world and that has significant impact onto the African continent."
2) " The restructuring proposal undermines the role of youths and alienates youths from the governance and administration of the church which is a threat to total inclusion. At this critical time, the church needs to rather expand its leadership development and ministry to the communities where growth is being experienced than cut down these important programs."

What do other people think?