By: Christa Meland
“What is our Jesus story and are we bold enough to blurt it out?”
Bishop Bruce R. Ough asked that question in a sermon delivered to about 50 Minnesota United Methodists at a Friday gathering of congregational and ministry team leaders from across the conference.
Preaching on Matthew 16:13-20—and exploring Jesus’ question “Who do you say that I am?”—Ough recounted an experience in high school in which he was overwhelmed by the Spirit of God and declared his faith in Jesus while on his knees on a farmhouse floor.
“My personal mission statement is, ‘I am in the business—the Jesus business, the family business—of raising the dead,’” he said. “It is in experiencing, knowing, declaring, and telling our Jesus story that we come to learn our own true identity.”
Ough’s sermon set the scene for the rest of the day, which focused on changing the culture in the Minnesota Conference and becoming equipped to share our Jesus stories with the world.
A team that’s been exploring ways for members of the conference to embrace our evangelistic task urged local United Methodists to “#GetMoving” and presented a model for living into God’s vision for the world. The model was designed to engage churches in their current cultural context and help them increase their evangelistic impact through a series of “movements” based on the parables and teachings of Jesus.
“We hope to reclaim and reimagine what evangelism looks like in our churches,” said Rev. Shawna Horn. “We are already engaged in great kingdom work. We want to give tools to reach new people in the process.”
The Journey Toward Vitality is a roadmap that outlines the Minnesota Conference’s vision and the strategic pathways that will get us there. A Journey Toward Vitality Lead team has been outlining some possible strategies based on recommendations from a denominational Financial Advisory Consulting Team (FACT), which did a thorough review of conference finances, strengths, and challenges and made suggestions for future strength and vitality. That group’s key suggestion was to create a common understanding as to how reaching new people connects us with the evangelistic task that’s part of our United Methodist DNA.
The Journey Toward Vitality Lead Team’s #GetMoving model incorporates a variety of “movements”—a feeding movement, a fishing movement, a water movement, a planting movement, a walking movement, a justice movement, and many more. The idea is that churches would select a movement that aligns with their identity and use a variety of resources—like Bible verses, ideas for related ministries, and topical story starters—to help them transform the world and share the good news of Jesus. Clergy would be able to access additional resources around personal holiness (Bible studies, breakthrough prayer, etc.), social holiness (Clergy Leadership Academy, Soul Leaders, covenant groups, etc.), and knowing their own God and Jesus stories.
The team outlined a number of possible measurable outcomes related to the movements that would indicate progress being made: service hours, people engaged, people progressing to discipleship ministries, faith professions, and others.
“We might actually see the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven,” said Horn.
Participants gathered in small groups to discuss the model and offered both affirmation and suggestions so that the Journey Toward Vitality Lead Team can continue to tweak and build upon it.
Changing the culture
Author and speaker Reggie McNeal, the keynote speaker at Friday’s event, affirmed the #GetMoving concept. The information revolution has changed the way people learn, he said. Whereas learning used to follow a head-heart-hands model (you give people information, they form beliefs based on that information, then they claim and live out those beliefs), that model has shifted over time to hands-heart-head. In today’s world, you experience Jesus, that impacts what you think about God, and then you’re able to articulate and live out your beliefs. Providing experiences, McNeal said, is key for discipleship and evangelism—and that’s just what the #GetMoving model aims to do.
“I want to stomp on the accelerator today,” he said.
McNeal emphasized the importance of churches making intentional culture shifts in order to reach new people and form disciples. Too often, our narrative is church-centric rather than focused on the kingdom of God. (See McNeal's eight characteristics of kingdom leaders.)
“The kingdom is about life and not just any life but the life God intends,” he said. “We often convert people to the church more than we do to Jesus. The relationship people have is with the church, and that is such an insipid option compared to what they could have, which is life in Christ...every time we help people discover a passion for helping other people live, we’re co-conspirators for God in praying and answering ‘your kingdom come.’”
In addition to changing the narrative in our churches, McNeal said, we need to change our scorecards. When we track and celebrate activities happening at our churches, it should be no surprise that people misunderstand what the big story is. He illustrated his point by making an analogy to halftime in a college football game: You don’t play the game during halftime; you have halftime so that you can play the game. “Sunday is halftime, and the game is life,” he said. “We weren’t created just so we can have a Sunday experience. The Sunday experience is supposed to remind us of the big story so we can play the game better.” We must look beyond church activities and instead measure how we’re being church in the world.
Bishop Ough echoed McNeal’s sentiments and said the emerging #GetMoving model is an important next step within the conference. He also pointed out that although the movements are a great way for churches to customize their offerings, “Jesus didn’t start dozens of movements—he started an abundant life movement.”
Changing the scoreboard is critical, Ough said. He asked how many people in the room had an annual ham or turkey dinner to raise money for their church—and many hands shot up.
“Is that the kingdom—to put on dinners to raise money to pay apportionments?” he asked. “I don’t think so.” What if instead, he asked, you host an appreciation dinner for firefighters, police, and other leaders making a difference in your community?
McNeal concluded by saying that the lack of urgency around evangelism stems from the fact that our current reality is so preference-driven that we’re reluctant to leave it even if we see the kingdom reality.
“Urgency comes from people feeling tension between current reality and kingdom reality,” he said. “We’ve got to paint such a compelling picture that people want to choose the kingdom reality.”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church