The Main Thing Is Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing

That’s my prayer for the 2000+ clergy and lay members of our United Methodist General Conference that convenes April 24 in Tampa, Florida. “God, keep these brothers and sisters focused on the MainThing. Remind them daily that 1) other United Methodists (or variously-labeled Christians) are not the enemy;  2) one definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results ; and 3) how they do their business (as those who know and follow Jesus) matters to the watching church and world at least as much  as what they do.”

The Main Thing is not institutional survival. We’ve invested huge amounts of time, energy, study, prayer, dialog, money, and paper in analyzing the denomination’s decline and seeking ways to reverse that decline. (This decline, of course, affects many churches besides the United Methodist Church. Decisions about restructuring, revitalizing (and giving up buzzwords for Lent?) must not become desperate efforts to hang on by our fingernails. Survival-driven decisions are doomed from the outset: “[Jesus said]…those who want to save their life  will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” (Mark 8:35 NRSV)

I certainly don’t expect survival anxiety to overwhelm this General Conference. Too many of the members have strong and vital faith, deep commitment, and a burning vision of a stronger-than-ever UMC. I’m rooting–and praying–for them. The greatest obstacle to claiming the future God has for us may turn out to be a deeper anxiety. Call it “relevance” anxiety; “Does anybody care?” anxiety; “Is anybody listening?” anxiety; “Do we matter any more?” anxiety. Large segments of society get along quite well without Christian underpinnings, thank you. Irrelevance, indifference, and apathy might well be a fate worse than “losing our life”.

It’s happening in Europe. In a recent Huffington Post article George Courtauld writes, “There is no question that Britain is becoming a more secular society…the establishment, many politicians and much of the media…dismiss all religions as equally nonsensical, embarrassing and irrelevant…In modern Britain and much of Europe now the religious are regarded as insane or silly.” Sadly, Courtauld’s solution is a book aimed at acquainting us with the Christian customs and traditions that underlie English-speaking civilization. It’s an interesting, helpful book. But a book’s not enough. “When the fullness of time had come,” God didn’t send a book. “God sent his son…”(Galatians 4:4 NRSV)–The Main Thing! A person is relevant in ways a book can never be.

Our UMC’s official language says our Main Thing is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” This General Conference will succeed–or fail–to the extent it equips and empowers that mission throughout our wondrously diverse denomiation. Dear GC (and other beyond-local-church folk), please give us some tools, some wisely-focused funding, and some inspiration. Clear away the bureaucratic clutter that distracts us from The Main Thing. And please let the Holy Spirit help you become our cheering section and earn to give us just the right kind and amount of help, which is usually almost as much as we think we need. (Thanks to Kennon Callahan for that wisdom.)

Lest you think this is an exercise in bashing bureaucrats and denominational power players–Whatever happens in Tampa, the future of the church is not in the hands of those folks. It’s in our hands–you and me and folks like us in thousands of local churches. It’s in the way we love and serve our neighbors in the spirit of Jesus. It’s in the way we step boldly into the future believing that our best days are ahead of us, not behind us. It’s in the way we dare to pray not only for our brothers and sisters in Tampa but for ourselves and our congregations: Keep us focused on The Main Thing–making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Make us willing to lose our lives for your sake and the sake of the gospel. Free us from the insanity of doing the same old things and expecting different results. Give us holy boldness to follow you in new ways and places. Let the fullness of time come wherever we serve you. Let people see Jesus convincingly and unmistakably through our lives and our life together.”

That embodied (incarnational) love of Jesus will look very different in our different circumstances. How will it look where you live your life and follow Jesus?

 

6 Responses to “The Main Thing Is Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing”


  1. 1 linda April 20, 2012 at 3:24 PM

    The main thing is the Main thing. Gopod words to by. But much of that has been forgotten in todays. Day and age when other things get in the way.

  2. 3 Betsy April 25, 2012 at 6:55 AM

    I’ve been collecting “voices” that keep saying ultimately it is up to us in the local congregation to create change! Thank you for being one more.

    • 4 soulmanlv April 25, 2012 at 7:18 AM

      Thanks, Betsy. Don’t know how it can be any other way. What other voices are you hearing along this line?

      • 5 Betsy April 30, 2012 at 7:29 AM

        Besides my own instinct, most recently,this by Rev. Andrew C. Thompson:.
        “As necessary as certain legislation might be from the “top down,” it can only serve in a secondary capacity to the calling upon Christians in their local situations—where life happens, and where salvation is received.
        So the future of the church is still largely what it has always been. We—the pastors and laity of the United Methodist Church—must repent, recommit ourselves, and so reinvigorate the life of the church in our day. We should remember this fact whatever the outcome of the proceedings at the General Conference in Tampa. Local congregations still hold key to the future” April 28, 2012 Posted by Rev. Andrew Thompson, Special Contributor, UM Reporter

        Rev. Thompson has a blog but I don’t have the name of it handy. He also had a post dealing with true transformation of the UMC will happen only when individuals decide to make the “means of grace” a priority in their lives

        There is this blog from a DS and candidate for Bishop:

        “I am convinced we cannot solve a spiritual problem with a structural solution. I don’t care if it’s the CT/IOT plan, Plan B, MFSA or whatever “new” thing we attempt to come up with in the General Administrative Legislative Committee. Certainly, structure can impede or facilitate making disciples, but in my little corner of the world our deficit in evangelism is not due to bloated agencies or whether or not the pastor has a guaranteed appointment. Our problems are on the personal want-to level. We do what we want to and most around here would rather talk about sports than Jesus”. Rev. WT McClendon, DS, candidate for Bishop, A Potter’s View Blog, April 19, 2012

        And then there is this one that initially confirmed my own thoughts:

        “Denominations, if not kept in their proper perspective, can demand so much of the pastor’s time and the church’s attention that they actually prevent us from accomplishing its and our stated mission—to make disciples of Jesus Christ.
        The local church must be the primary location of ministry and transformation of the denomination must take place by the overflow of the local church. This is not only the most effective way of transformation; it is also the most congruent with the call of the Gospel. We are called first and foremost to be builders of Christ’s Kingdom, not our denominations.
        In John chapter fifteen, verse sixteen, Jesus makes very clear the mission of the disciples. They were to go and bear fruit that would last. No one would argue that Jesus meant that the disciples would add people to the Kingdom (see John 4). Somewhere along the way Jesus disciples began grouping and in grouping became more concerned with adding to their group than in fulfilling Jesus’ mandate.” from “Denominations as a starting place”, by Bryan Collier and I think his blog is The View from Here”

        After monitoring General Conference and the restructuring attempt, I am more convinced than ever! I wish the leadership had inspired the attendees with the thought–they talk around it, but they are caught up in salvaging the institution. Which, after monitoring General Conference, I no longer visualize as an ocean liner, but rather a wide flat raft with umpteen paddles in the water each paddling in their own way. I am glad that “unofficial” voices are now starting to acknowledge the diversity of beliefs/understanding/values present that produce very little consensus within the denomination. As Rev. Dan Dick put it, we can all agree on certain words, but there is very little agreement as to definition and action those words require

      • 6 soulmanlv May 1, 2012 at 10:57 AM

        Thanks, Betsy. I’d seen some of this. Found this recently–“A prayer for General Conference”, from someone who’s watching. Stunning, and clearloy pours out his frustration.

        http://agentorangerecords.blogspot.com/2012/05/counting-our-bones-prayer-for-general.html


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