Weâ€™re in the midst of some big changes. As of June 1 weâ€™ll be part of the North District of the Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church. The old Texarkana District will be history. Conference wide weâ€™re seeing a huge shift in accountability structures. The Annual Conference will exist to equip local congregations (like ours) to fulfill our mission to reach people for Jesus. Thatâ€™s a huge change from the ethos of the local church existing to support the general church.
At the closing worship service for the Texarkana District we heard one way this will work itself out. In her first year in the Texas Conference Bishop Huie visited all the churches, inquiring into their strengths and challenges. Can you guess what the most commonly reported strength was? â€œWeâ€™re a friendly loving church.â€ It sounds better than, â€œWeâ€™re an unfriendly hateful church,â€ doesnâ€™t it? But the dirty little secret of our â€œfriendly lovingâ€ churches is that theyâ€™re not fulfilling their God-given mission. Some are so self-absorbed in their friendly love that they want nothing to do with outsiders (Iâ€™ve pastored one of those churches before). Some settle for being loving by just being nice to people. When it comes to evangelism we either reduce it to â€œbeing niceâ€ or we add the thought, â€œWhen people see that Iâ€™m a nice person theyâ€™ll come to believe good things about Jesus.â€
I donâ€™t know if outsiders think of our churches as â€œfriendly and lovingâ€ or not, but the statistics have been consistent over many years: weâ€™re not winning people to Christ. Many churches arenâ€™t even maintaining their membership levels. Attendance is dropping. â€œFriendly and lovingâ€ may be nice, but itâ€™s not fulfilling our primary mission (Remember â€“ Jesus said, â€œGo make disciples of all nations. Baptize them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.â€ â€“ Thatâ€™s our mission).
Bishop Huie has noticed how many churches are happy to be friendly and loving while the people around them miss Jesus. Our preacher Sunday night, retiring Texarkana District Superintendent Howdy Dawson, reported that she told the cabinet, â€œIf I hear one more church say, â€˜Weâ€™re friendly and lovingâ€™ I think Iâ€™m going to puke.â€ Mighty strong language from a bishop. And just what we need to hear.
Howdy recognized the seriousness of the issue. He spoke of being a friendly loving pastor to friendly loving churches throughout his whole ministry. Everyone who knows Howdy knows he has a big heart. We like friendly and loving. But Howdy said that after listening to the bishop over the past couple of years heâ€™s wondering if he hasnâ€™t missed something â€“ that by settling for being friendly and loving heâ€™s missed out on leading his churches to reach people for Jesus.
Instead of being held accountable for being friendly and loving, weâ€™re now going to have to give account for winning people to Christ. Thatâ€™s going to cause some discomfort and conflict. Weâ€™re going to be roused from our sentimental apathy, complacency and comfort. Nice just wonâ€™t cut it anymore.
The bible says, â€œWe love, because he [Jesus] first loved us.â€ That same book said that that same Jesus is the standard for our love. If we really love people we will tell them about Jesus. Though itâ€™ll cost us, we wonâ€™t settle for having them think, â€œThose Methodists sure are nice.â€ Instead itâ€™ll be, â€œThat Jesus those Methodists exhibit sure looks interesting. I think Iâ€™d like to follow him too.â€
May I quote you on Sunday? You post fits in with my “We are Family” 1 John 4 message.
Go for it.
The thought of a bishop saying she might puke is much more enticing than the thought of a bishop puking.
Good stuff, Richard.
Great post. And the fact that a parish considers itself “friendly and loving” most certainly doesn’t make it so.
My present appointment, by almost all standards, is quite friendly and loving. I invite people to follow Jesus, and they (by the grace of God calling them into communion with himself) respond by doing so amid a friendly and loving people. I have issued similar invitations in congregations that were not so friendly and loving, with less response. While I most certainly agree that niceness alone isn’t enough, it doesn’t hurt.
This post goes hand in hand with something I remember hearing the bishop say (I think) last year at Annual Conference. She lamented how similar people’s descriptions of their churches were with any civic club/organization in the community. She didn’t say it this way, but it seems indicative of American cultural Christianity instead of the NT concept of the church.
Churches that have a “civic club” self-understanding and don’t recognize the difference are a pretty significant challenge to pastor. I’m hoping that our emphasis on revitalizing existing congregations will put key theological and missional questions to the local congregations to have to come to grips with.
Yep. I was at a Rotary Club meeting recently when our program was on membership. I could have closed my eyes and been at any old school evangelism talk. Oh BTW I am blogging again after being down for a couple of weeks.