“This disciple-making venture is a very tough nut to crack,” Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton declared in his State of the Church address at a Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference focused on the theme Disciples Making Disciples.
“We have spent countless hours developing theories, statements and catch words that affirm our belief in this theme,” he said on the opening day of the June 13-16 gathering. Yet, he added, we continue to struggle.
“The drive to grow our churches with disciples seems to, at times, be an afterthought in our worship and yearly planning,” the Bishop said.
“On one extreme, we have churches that are so good at getting people to come to church that they downplay that true discipleship is about commitment, theology, stewardship, and clear expectations of what it takes to be a disciple," he noted. “On the other we have churches who state very clearly that they don’t want anyone coming to our church because we like it just the way it is.”
Citing examples of disciple-making throughout scripture, the Bishop noted that biblically speaking, “Disciple-making is about offering someone the possibility of a better life, a way to move beyond our sin into a fresh start. It’s about offering people a relationship with God through the Holy Spirit and a way to understand that conversion is a possibility for even the worst of offenders.”
Although United Methodist theology puts us in a unique position to do this in the 21st Century, the Bishop said, there are “quiet, subtle ways that evil has lulled us to sleep. That presence of evil sitting on the back pews of our churches and lurking quietly in our minds and heart causes us to put more priority on a meeting or piece of legislation than on how we create a posture that will cause us to make disciple-making THE priority of every church meeting and motion we make.”
Bishop Bickerton offered some ways to reposition our congregations to prioritize disciple-making:
“We can’t be leaders who tell our people to ‘do what I say.’ We have to be leaders who invite people in a journey of ‘doing what I do.’… The disciple-making ministry must be driven by clergy who make it a part of every conversation that takes place in the local church you are serving… The disciple-making ministry begins with those who are set apart, ordained & licensed to serve. There is a higher standard set for you – this is what you do – this is who you are.”
"Laity are the best disciple-makers in the world. You are the ones who interact with the people of the world. They are your co-workers, your neighbors, your friends. It is our calling as Christians.” The Bishop cautioned, though, that Sunday piety must be demonstrated throughout the week. He quoted from the old hymn, “They will know we are Christians by our love.”
“I do not believe that we are doing what Jesus Christ and John Wesley intended for us to do: communicate the gospel! And, as a result, we have gotten back what we have communicated that we expect….High expectation churches state clearly what it means to be a disciple and, as a result, they grow. We need to raise the level of accountability.”
“We don’t win converts by telling people how bad they are. And, we don’t make disciples by asking little of them. We make disciples when we tell the story: I was down and out and I found Amazing Grace. It becomes magnetic when the culture of your congregation moves from telling the story of how bad it is to embracing the story of how good Jesus is! It multiplies when we tell the story of how little I thought of myself and how much love lifted me!”
“Our struggle in disciple-making in Western Pa. might be summarized very simply: We are not asking anyone to take us up on the offer of Jesus Christ making a difference in their lives. Have you been asked by someone else what difference Jesus has made in your life?”
Potential disciples are hunting for hope, joy, peace, a place of acceptance and love. Churches that have a vision of their churches inviting people into the heart of God and work a plan to do it are churches that grow.
“You can be the best disciple-maker God has ever used if you have a willing heart to let God direct your path, not you.”
Often people are put in leadership positions simply because they are willing. “They may be well trained and have willing hearts. But are they disciples? Do they live a disciple-making life? Do they pray daily for their church to become more inviting? Friends, we need disciples in leadership.”
The Bishop urged pastors and church members to engage people in conversation wherever they go and to “pray with me that somehow something will be said or done that will cause us to go home better able to see the need, sense the call, discern the vision and work the plan of disciples making disciples in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Further, he urged conference members to:
Every day, an estimated 25,000 people die from hunger and related illnesses. United Methodists gathered at Grove City College for their Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference from June 13-16 took time to help do something about it.
Many of the 1800 members and youth volunteered time packing meals for Stop Hunger Now, an international relief organization that coordinates the distribution of food and other lifesaving aid to countries in need around the world. As of 2 p.m. on Friday, June 14, the goal of 25,000 meals from was reached!
The meals consist of a combination of rice, soy, dehydrated vegetables and flavoring mix that contains 21 vitamins and minerals. The food is reconstituted with water and can be supplemented with flavorings used in the country receiving them.
The meals are used in developing countries in schools, orphanages and in crisis situations. Each meal costs 25 cents. It sometimes may be the only meal a child or adult receives in a day.
2012 statistics show that there are 66 million primary school-age children who attend classes hungry across the developing world, with 23 million in Africa alone. In addition, there are 67 million school-age children who do not attend school. Poor households must often choose between sending their children to school or to work the fields, according to the World Food Program.
Research reported by the World Bank shows that providing in-school meals, mid-morning snacks, and take-home rations through school feeding programs can alleviate short-term hunger, increase children’s abilities to concentrate, learn, perform specific tasks, and has been linked to an increase in the enrolment of girls.
"We do most of our distribution through schools because we can get children into school for the food and education will help them get food for the future," Andrew Sullivan of Stop Hunger Now told members of the annual conference.
The meals are put together in a sort of assembly line, weighed, sealed in bags, then packed in cartons for shipping.
Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton urged members to volunteer 15 to 20 minutes during the conference, even giving permission for members to miss a portion of the business. "It's worthwhile and important and it's fun," he said. "And one of the ways we make disciples is to provide for bodily needs."
Among the first to volunteer Thursday were a group of clergy spouses and youth who were serving as pages for the conference.
When a panicked member of Keystone United Methodist Federal Credit Union rushed into the credit union’s office on a recent Tuesday afternoon, staff members were quick to react.
The member told them he had received a call from his grandson who needed money immediately as bail to get out of jail on drug charges in Haiti. His grandson also told him not to tell anyone else in the family about this incident, but to wire the money to him right away.
The story immediately set off a warning for Darlene Jewett, KUMFCU customer service representative, who was the first person to talk to the member when he entered the credit union’s offices in the United Methodist Conference Center in Cranberry Township.
“He told me he had been praying and praying for guidance about what to do while he was driving to our office,” said Jewett. Suspecting that there was something fishy about the call, Jewett immediately consulted with other staff members.
“We asked him if he was sure that the voice on the phone was his grandson,” said Patti Columbe, CEO. “He thought it was, but wasn’t 100 percent sure.”
Armed with the knowledge that this is a common and increasingly popular form of telephone fraud, officially referred to as the “grandparent scam,” staff members promptly notified local FBI sources who verified that the call was an attempt to steal money from the member.
According to the FBI, the grandparent scam has been around since 2008, but with the increase in popularity of social networking sites and the availability of personal information on the internet, scam artists have become more sophisticated in their ruse.
“As a loving grandparent, this credit union member wanted to do everything in his power to help his grandson, and he panicked,” said Columbe. “I’m just so glad that our staff recognized a scam when they heard the story and reacted quickly to help him.”
For more information about this type of scam, visit http://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2012/april/grandparent_040212.
The Western PA Conference welcomed 13 leaders from the Zimbabwe East and Zimbabwe West conferences to Western Pennsylvania on May 29 for a 20-day visit that will include visits to Western PA ministry sites, churches and landmarks.
After a two days for rest and orientation and touring the Pittsburgh area,each Zimbabwean visitor will be paired with a Western PA counterpart who will act as host for a week. The group includes lay leaders, district superintendents and pastors. All will attend the Western PA annual conference session at Grove City College from June 13-16, then travel to regional sites of interest. Each district will host at least one visitor, usually someone from a partner district in Zimbabwe.
This is the first visit to Western PA for a delegation from Zimbabwe. Western PA leaders participated in a mini-immersion in Zimbabwe in December of 2010, and last summer seven laity and clergy spent six weeks with host families there.
The guests and their host districts include:
Mr. Tinashe Felix Makarau- Harare East-Johnstown
Rev. Joseph Bonga- Chimanimani-Chipinge DS-Greensburg
Mrs. Alice Matiza- Episcopacy Chair, Harare West - Pittsburgh
Mr. Singiyaphumula Doitwell Mlambo- MUMC Chair, Harare West - Connellsville
Rev. Daniel Mutidzawanda- Mutasa Nyanga DS -Washington
Rev. Farirayi Margaret Nyabote – Bulawayo Midlands DS –Erie-Meadville
Mrs. Molly Hlekani Mwayera – ZEAC Lay Leader -Butler
Rev. Musafare Mususa – Masvingo DS -Kane
Rev. Zebediah Tendayi Marewangepo – Assistant to the Bishop- Butler
Mr. Shadreck Mataruka – ZWAC Lay Leader-Indiana
Rev. Pathias Hlahla – Makoni-Buhera DS -Franklin
Mrs. Dianah Chideya – ZWAC Associate Lay Leader- Pittsburgh
Following the conference, Gordon said GBOD will offer ongoing training through webinars and group sharing via multiple media outlets.