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     

1 comment:

  1. If we don't do this, then the Call to Action will become just like many other ideas before it. We had an initiative called Vision 2000 that we did on the annual conference level during the 90's. I changed churches during this time. At the first church I served, it served to break the church out of the morass of beuracracy and try some new ways of looking at the work of the church precisely because they began with prayer.
    At the second church, they approached it as just another requirement of the conference. They failed to look at the spiritual aspects of the idea and they failed to change.
    It is not that these types of initiatives are bad. They are opportunities for the people of our faith communities to listen to God and to evaluate where they are and where they need to be. I am thankful that Lebanon Memorial is taking this opportunity seriously. I will be praying for you too.