December 1, 2010 - The Journey Continues
By Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton
Artwork for "The Journey Continues...", Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton's column that appears in the WPAUMC "InterLink."
In his book, You Can't Do Everything, So Do Something, Shane Stanford tells the story of his friend who was fired as the head football coach of a very successful Division I-A school. The coach was still producing winning teams, but the school's administration questioned whether the program was making the right improvements in order to "go to the next level". Shane admits that the firing of his friend did not sit well with him: "I knew the kind of man my friend was, how much he loved the kids, and how very much he did for the community."
A few weeks after the firing, Shane was talking with another friend who suggested that it was possibly time for the transition to take place because the coach had "lost the fire" and the team felt it. Shane then writes, "For my friend to take himself and his teams to the next level, it would require more than dotting the i's and crossing the t's". It would require unbelievable effort and intensity against the resistance of our lives, such that it could "move mountains" if necessary.
These thoughts pose some interesting questions about us and the church we love. They are questions which relate to all of us, whether we are clergy or laity. Are you simply "dotting the i's and crossing the t's" as a church or in your leadership? Are you strong enough spiritually to put forth unbelievable effort - the kind of which will do nothing less than "move mountains?" Are you working to stay fresh and move your church and your leadership to "the next level" of excellence and faithfulness?
In early November, I attended the Council of Bishops meeting in Panama. At our meeting we heard the final report of the Call to Action Project, an assessment of widespread structural, governance, financial, and leadership issues that must be addressed in order for the United Methodist Church to be effective in its mission.
At first blush the report appears to be a study in the obvious. There are no earth- shattering findings in this report -- only confirmations of what we have felt for years. But, as I read this report further, it seems to me that it is a study with deep relevance and importance for us all.
In general, this study is an attempt to get our whole church on the same page of what we need to do to find a vital and exciting life together as God's people. In particular, this report confirms that our Western PA Conference has been on the right track in terms of our recent areas of emphasis.
This report coincides with much of what we have been doing through our Board of Ordained Ministry and with our Faithful, Effective, and Fruitful emphasis on pastoral evaluation and effectiveness. The leadership of our Annual Conference has been busy developing a meaningful mission, vision, and core value out of which we do all of our work. We have been making serious attempts to align ourselves around that mission, vision, and core value and to structure our various ministries around the Five Areas of Focus (leadership development, creating new places for new people, eliminating poverty, eradicating diseases that are killing people, and dismantling racism). We are training clergy and lay leaders in evangelism, church finances, preaching, and fruitful practices. Our Annual Conference is not sitting still, simply content to "dot an “I” and cross a t," and we’re expecting the same from every local church and every pastor who serves those congregations. All of this is being done in an attempt to address decades of membership and attendance decline, drops in baptisms and professions of faith, less ministry fruitfulness, an aging demographic of members and leaders, and financial stress.
To do this work there has to be a serious attempt to flesh out the meaning of the word "accountability". The "Call to Action" report does just that, suggesting that intentional benchmarks of accountability be established for all segments and levels of the church's life. The "Call to Action" report says that our whole church must foster and sustain an increase in the number of vital congregations effective in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world."
Do you know what this means? It means that our team is not content to just win a game here or there. It means that we are striving to reach "the next level" of our calling as disciples of Christ and, by faith, we aim to reach that level. It means that we will not be content to be a part of a dying denomination and that we will do all in our power to renew our souls for the journey that lies ahead.
Don't you root for that kind of team? I do every Sunday. Don't you long to convert a loser into a winner? I sit at PNC Park and hope for the day when a winner will once again take the field.
Shouldn't we expect the same from the church that we love?
The Journey Continues . . .
Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton
Not that I have already obtained this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers (and sisters), I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. (Philippians 3:12-15a)