Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Making Disciples, Transforming Lives

In his book Five Practices of Fruitful Living, Bishop Robert Schnase tells the story of a woman named Helen who had lived her entire life in a Christian community of faith. He invites the reader to envision who this woman would be if you could take out the role the church has played in her life.

“Imagine if we could extract from Helen’s life all the formative worship experiences that impacted her,” he writes. He then lists in detail the many faith experiences and practices that composed her life. “We would not recognize her as the same person,” he concludes.

These words had a physical impact on me. In thinking over everything that takes place over the course of a Christian disciple’s life, and imagining it disappearing -- I felt as if I would shrivel up and blow away.

The Church has formed everything I am.

Holy Week begins for me with the reminder of my confirmation on Palm Sunday, the day that, at age 9, I claimed for myself the promises made at my baptism. Since that time, I have been blessed to be a member of 10 United Methodist congregations. I give thanks for each one of these faith communities, for all the many persons who have lived before me a life that becomes the Gospel.

Faithful Christians throughout the centuries have reached out to others with the good news of Jesus Christ in innovative ways, in order “to serve the present age.” The United Methodist Church, with its distinctly Wesleyan heritage, is now looking anew at this calling.

Since the Connectional Table and Council of Bishops adopted the Call to Action last fall, conversations across the church are increasingly focused on the adaptive challenge: “To redirect the flow of attention, energy, and resources to an intense concentration on fostering and sustaining an increase in the number of vital congregations effective in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

On April 6, the Council of Bishops, in collaboration with The Connectional Table, hosted a three-hour Leadership Summit via webcast. Bishops invited annual conference leaders to gather at different sites to view the summit together and respond to questions in small group settings. The event linked annual conferences from across the world together in worship and “holy conferencing “in an unprecedented endeavor. The Summit can be viewed at www.umcleadershipsummit.org.

To date, with 148 out of 243 sites reporting, 3,928 participants joined in the Summit at annual conference settings. Thirty of these sites were in Central Conferences (outside the U.S.); 16 of them have reported 756 participants.


Filipino United Methodists gather in the Davao Episcopal Area to participate in the UMC Leadership Summit on April 6. Photo courtesy of Bishop Leo Soriano.


Over 1,000 participants completed the survey following the Summit; results are available at www.umcleadershipsummit.org. Summit presenters received over 500 questions via email and answered many of them during the webcast; a list of frequently asked questions will be posted on the website by May 1.

Additionally, the information gathered at the sites was sent to episcopal leaders in each area, and will be shared at the spring meeting of the Council of Bishops and Connectional Table.

Since the Summit could be viewed on live stream, we know people viewed it individually and in other small group settings. Not only did they watch it, but they participated in dialogue through Twitter making it one of the top trends during the Summit time period. Those conversations can be found by searching #UMCLead on Twitter. Thanks also to the many United Methodists who have posted thoughts on blogs and through commentaries.

This outpouring of prayerful thought and reflection on the adaptive challenge is helping to shape next steps for our denomination. For me, all of this points to a movement within our church of concerned disciples who yearn for the United Methodist Church to truly live out its mission. While the Summit was an important venue for leaders to converse about future directions, the charge is to each one of us to live and lead as a disciple of Jesus Christ, wherever we may be.

“The local church provides the most significant arena through which disciple-making occurs.” (¶201, 2008 Book of Discipline.)

Vital congregations form disciples and transform lives.

What is the story of your discipleship? Who are the disciples and the faith communities who have helped shape your faith? How are you and the members of your congregation engaged in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world?

As the Body of Christ focuses this week on the passion of Our Lord and the true cost of discipleship, I pray that we would all be strengthened for greater service and devotion to His Church.

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