What is the most pressing issue facing the church these days? People have been asking and attempting to address this question for the nearly 50 years my United Methodist Church has been in statistical decline. Some would say that church revitalization is the key. Or some say that getting it right on divisive issues like homosexuality is the main issue. Some say that recruiting the next generation of leaders is our most dire need. Some say we must focus on reaching and discipling young people. Others say that we need to restructure our 20th Century-modeled General Church to be a more effective organization for our 21st Century world.
I say it’s all of the above and at the same time none of the above. All those issues are indeed very important, and as a church we need to get it right on every one of them if we hope to continue on. But at the same time, if these are the only issues in our collective scope, we’ve missed the point and missed it badly.
Why is that? All those issues- church revitalization, social issues stances, leadership, our young people, structure- are all about us. They are largely church-centric. And because they are church-centric, they have little to do with the much larger picture beyond church and religion. That larger picture is the kingdom of God.
I’m writing this post in Baltimore. Over the weekend, the people of Baltimore suffered the worst three days of violent crime in years. 28 people were shot in gun violence, 9 fatally. I am so grateful that our Conference is present- praying, marching in the streets, giving out much needed supplies for Baltimore’s residents. But when our Conference is gone at the end of the week, God’s kingdom will still be coming. God will be working to bring redemption and life to Baltimore. Where will we be? Hopefully the answer to that question will not be snuggled away in our church buildings and homes.
This week the Baltimore-Washington Conference will be electing delegates for next year’s quadrennial General Conference and Jurisdictional Conference. Those delegates will go to Portland, Oregon and Lancaster, Pennsylvania next year to face, deliberate and vote on all the regular institutional church issues. And yes, they are vitally crucial issues to address to bring this part of the Body of Christ into better health and usefulness to God.
But we as the Body must have a focus. That focus is God’s redemptive work in the world, and how we as a church can partner with God in redeeming his world. Our discussion of that parternship with God in the world must center on local congregations as the main conduit through which we as a denomination operate. The very best of our prayers, holy conversations, and decision making must be about that. If that happens, then we’ll be talking real kingdom stuff. We’ll be deliberating the eternal stuff of God that really matters.
I wonder if we would all stop and pause long enough to say to ourselves, “It’s not about us. It’s not about me.” It’s not about the salvation of the United Methodist Church. It’s about the salvation of the world through the coming kingdom of Jesus Christ. His kingdom is restoring communities to life at its best, the way life should be, of true shalom, loving righteousness, true wholeness, and plenty for all. Will we have the faith to see it?
So for next year’s General Conference and Jurisdictional Conference, I’m praying for one thing: that we take seriously the part of Jesus’ prayer that the kingdom of God would come and that we would do God’s will here on earth as it is in heaven. Let’s seek out our role with God in the communities we serve. Then we’ll best know how to structure, organize, and galvanize our United Methodist part of the church for the greater work of answering the Lord’s Prayer by the power of the Holy Spirit within us.