One of the things that most people like about the beginning of a new year is that it seems like in many ways we have the opportunity to start over. It is a new year, with a new calendar, and it gives us the impression that we have a reboot and get to begin afresh. The diet has a new start. The exercise regime has a new start. The Bible reading plan has a new start. All the resolutions we failed to keep last year have a new start. Instead of being hopelessly behind or an abject failure, we get to start over. And we tell ourselves that this year, things will be different.
Of course we don’t really get to start over just because a new year has begun. If we gained twenty pounds last year, we can start a new diet, but we will be starting it twenty pounds heavier than we did the year before. If we are in debt because of poor discipline in our spending habits, we can begin to live on a budget, but the debt does not immediately disappear. In some ways, the idea of starting over with the beginning of a new year is something we just tell ourselves to make ourselves feel better. But on the other hand, we can actually begin to make different choices, and live differently, not just every January first, but at any point in time. We can’t undo the past, but we can begin to approach any and all aspects of life differently, and a new year is a great opportunity to do just that.
If we are to be successful in changing past behaviors though, we need to not disregard the past. It is important for us to take a good look at how things were, and why they were like they were. If we need to make a change, we need to know what went wrong, and why. Why did I fail at last year’s diet? Why am I still not in good physical shape? What caused me to buy things I couldn’t afford? Why was I not resolved enough to keep my resolutions? In starting over, we don’t need to pretend that things will be automatically different. We must look at the failures of the past and learn from them. Those failures can be the building blocks for success this time, if we will take advantage of them by learning how and why we failed previously, so we will not do the same things again.
There is one other thing about starting over, and it applies to every day, not just January first. God does truly let us start over. When we give our lives to Jesus Christ, we are made to be new creations. We truly have a new heart, a new life, a new beginning. Furthermore, whenever we confess our sin to Him and turn away from our sin, God forgives us in such a complete way that it is as if we had never sinned. He separates our sin from us as far as the east is from the west. He cleanses us from all sin. God allows us to truly start over with Him. Our past actions may adversely impact our relationships with others, our health, our financial situation, and many other aspects of our lives, but not our relationship with God. He forgives so completely and perfectly that we truly start over. And because He is willing and able to help us change, or even change us, we can begin now to live differently. We can be more disciplined, wiser in our decisions, more loving, more giving…… we can be different, redeemed, transformed. Through Christ, God enables us to start over and be different. And that can begin NOW.
History begins with an explosion of Divine creativity. Eden is birthed and man lives in communion with God, in harmony with creation, and in the gift of God’s shalom. And yet, even in this glorious state, God declares one thing is not good. What is this one thing? God declares, “It is not good for man to be alone.”
God declares isolation is not good. God’s intent for creation, and more specifically, God’s intent for people, is not independence and aloneness. Rather, it is to experience life-giving connectedness with God and with the imago Dei. Inter-dependence is one of God’s sacred gifts.
Behavioral research reinforces our awareness of the negative impact of isolation, characterized by high levels of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, insomnia, and stress. Both biblical revelation, as well as clinical research, reinforces our understandings of isolation’s dark effects.
Professional counselors have a bird’s eye view of COVID19’s isolating effects on individuals and families. Over the last 8 months, the isolation associated with COVID19 has created a significant surge in persons seeking help as “shelter in place” orders were issued in the spring, lay-offs and furloughs were implemented late in the summer as PPP funds were depleted, and struggles with addictions and mental health among the masses intensified. For those active in Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon, Narcotics Anonymous, and many other twelve-step programs, being with other people is essential to experience recovery. In 12-step communities, COVID’s isolating effects have been devastating for individuals and families. Missy and I couldn’t help but notice how busy the liquor store became at the entrance to Costco at the outbreak of the pandemic. This would be confirmed in due time, along with its tragic effects, through well-written articles.
Christian Pastors have a dual-lens in this era of history; one that observes the negative effects of a pandemic on mental health, as well as one that beholds the negative effect COVID has had on the purposes of the Church and the spiritual health of her people (When you see the word, “church” try to think “people” and not an institution).
Think and reflect prayerfully on the following, with the realization of God’s intent for the good of His people wed with His glory:
The New Testament blazes with the white-hot admonition for Christians not to neglect our regular rhythms of coming together:
“And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do;” Hebrews 10:25 (NLT)
The New Testament burns with intensity regarding the importance of what we practice in our coming together:
We are to “spur one another on to good works,” “love one another,” “bear one another’s burdens,” “forgive one another,” “forebear with one another.” In fact, the “one-anothers” are used 100 times in 94 verses in the
New Testament to instruct us in how we are to be intentional in caring for one another and “building each other up” as we come together.
The New Testament boils with passionate language in how we are to channel our devotion:
“They devoted themselves to . . . fellowship.” Acts 2:42 (NLT)
In the Greek text, the word translated devoted (proskartereo) means “hold fast to something, continue or persevere in something.” In other words, we are to hold fast and persevere in being intentional about being with one another. (You can watch and listen to teaching on this topic HERE).
John Wesley, when speaking of one of the purposes of the church regarding Christians growing in sanctification, affirmed the following conviction, “There is no holiness but social holiness.” Wesley’s context for this statement is not related to social justice as some have falsely claimed. Rather, he is referring to Christians needing to experience social connectedness with other Christians to develop in Christ-likeness. This matter was so convictional for Wesley he developed the methods of Methodism through the gathering of societies, bands, and class meetings. To be a Methodist Christian was to be disciplined in regular discipleship rhythms taking place through deep connections with other believers.
As we live in a pandemic, we will continue to see upticks in COVID cases in the Winter months to come. And even after the COVID19 vaccine is distributed, we will still be living with COVID in our midst for a while. There is no perfect, completely safe time to come back together for social connectedness in worship and discipleship in the near future. And in light of occasional surges of COVID, I honor the difficult decisions our Council on Servant Ministries has had to make over these many months. When we do return, which I hope will be sooner than later, we will continue to wear masks and social distance. And if you are elderly or immuno-compromised, one needs to be mindful of making choices that are best for you as it relates to being in crowds.
United Methodist theologian, Dr. Kevin Watson, appealed to the church back in August to not let fear govern decisions regarding gathering for in-person worship. Watson’s urging was based on encouraging the church not to forsake the purposes for which she was created, which is all the more important in the lives of people living in the context of a pandemic. He stated,
“Study Gnosticism, why it is a heresy, and why the body is an essential part of the Christian life and part of what needs to be saved. Corporate worship with bodies present matters. There are going to be seasons in the midst of a pandemic when it is impossible to responsibly gather corporately in the flesh. But we must not pretend that what we do in the midst of those times is as good as the physically gathered body. It just isn’t.”
As we navigate through a unique time, it is essential that we do not fall into default thinking that believes I can both give myself to God and not give myself to His Body. We are designed for both. The vertical is the priority, and the horizontal is the result. For some of you reading this, you were not active with the body of Christ before the pandemic. This is a good time to ask yourself what God would want to teach you. Perhaps corporate worship and discipleship with others is something you did not see or appreciate before; but COVID, and the isolation it has created, serves to awaken your spiritual senses. Being in-person with your church family is not a matter of personal preference; it is a matter of God’s design.
This is a good hour in history to ask ourselves: Are these matters convictional or optional for me as a Christian? Is my participation in the gathering of the body of Christ to magnify God through worship, and participating in discipleship gatherings merely a part of routines I had grown accustomed to before COVID, or are they seen as essential purposes for my life?
A.W. Tozer, in his classic work, “Man, The Dwelling Place of God,” writes,
“The important thing about man is not where he goes when he is compelled to go, but where he goes when he is free to go where he will. The apostles went to jail, and that is not too revealing because they went there against their will; but when they got out of jail and could go where they would they immediately went to the praying company. From this we learn a great deal about them. The choices of life, not the compulsions, reveal character.
A man is absent from church on Sunday morning. Where is he? If he is in a hospital having his appendix removed his absence tells us nothing about him except he is ill; but if he is out on the golf course, that tells us a lot. To go to the hospital is compulsory; to go to the golf course, voluntary. The man is free to choose and he chooses to play instead of to pray. His choice reveals what kind of man he is. Choices always do.”
For many of God’s people, there is a longing to press into the purposes for which we were created; not because gathering with other believers is familiar or it’s our normal routine, but because gathering with other believers is the kind of people we are. For many, gathering with fellow believers for worship and discipleship is not optional, it’s convictional.
To gather with other believers to glorify God, treasure Jesus Christ, love others, and make disciples of all peoples, is to step into the very purposes for which we were created. It is also a sign of faithfulness to the vows most of us made before a Holy God when we committed to being in membership with a local body of believers through our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.
The late Tom Wood, one of the saints of Christ Church, used to say, “The one thing we learn from history is that we don’t learn from history.” The following is certain, we will come out of this pandemic at some point. We have had multiple pandemics in history. We have come out of all of them.
What is uncertain is this; will you come out of this pandemic the same? Will you come out of this pandemic with a fresh resolve for Christ? Will you come out of this pandemic with a fresh commitment to worship and discipleship in person, present with His body, and expressing mission together to a dying world? Will you waste your wilderness, or will you allow God to do a new work in you for His glory?
If you can answer rightly in God’s eyes, Eden awaits you.
Paul Lawler is the Lead-Pastor of Christ Church UMC. He and his wife, MJ, have four children and one daughter-in-law. In addition to serving as a pastor, Paul and his brother, Dallas area businessman Patrick Lawler, founded two Patricia B. Hammonds Homes of Hope for orphans at high risk for human trafficking in Thailand. The homes are operated through the international ministry of the Compassionate Hope Foundation. Paul also serves on the boards of The Wellhouse, The Compassionate Hope Foundation, and the East Lake Initiative. He often tweets Kingdom thoughts at @plawler111.
The Book of Philippians is a wonderful testament of the power of joy in one’s heart, no matter what the circumstance is. The Apostle Paul wrote Philippians (from prison mind you) while he was experiencing a joy that comes only through a relationship with Jesus Christ. It is a joy that I believe the world desires, but as you and I know, a joy they cannot obtain on their own.
One of my favorite passages from Scripture is Philippians 4:4-7, and it begins with Paul proclaiming “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say again: Rejoice!” I think we can all agree that there is added significance when the same idea (joy, in this case) is repeated within the same verse. I can just hear Paul passionately explaining this verse to those around him, “Have this God given joy in your heart right now, there is plenty of it, and it is free!”
I share this with you because after almost seven months we have now been able to come on Sunday mornings in person to worship together – masks and all! And I know I have – and I sense others have too, experienced this wonderful joy that Paul all but commands us to have as we have come close in worship once again. It has been a true Joy to see you again, to greet you again, and to worship with you again. So let me repeat, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say again Rejoice!”
First Impressions Minister
Last month I wrote an article on “How To Worship Online.” Today I want to continue that thought with some ideas regarding how we express worship in our daily living. It is one thing to come into the Sanctuary or the Worship Center or even connect with our phone or computer each Sunday and be a part of corporate worship; expressing praise and adoration to the creator of the universe, singing of our love for our Savior, reading scripture together, praying, hearing the word of God spoken. It is quite another thing, however, to carry these expressions into the outside world, a world where such expressions are quite often eschewed. Here are a few tips on taking your love for God into the world.
- Don’t be timid, love God to the fullest in everything you do. We have all heard the expression “What would Jesus do.” Take this expression to heart. Think about your actions in every circumstance: at home interacting with family, at work interacting with co-workers, shopping, driving… Remember how Jesus interacted with others in His life.
- Love your neighbor as yourself. Remember that your neighbor is not necessarily the person who lives in the house next to yours but everyone you encounter during your daily routine. This command of Jesus reminds us that we should treat others in a way that we would want to be treated – with gentleness, with love and kindness.
- Look for opportunities to express the love of Jesus. Opportunities abound in which you can invoke your love for Jesus. Be proactive in seeking out these opportunities. A word of peace to a troubled soul, A prayer with someone you may not know who is suffering. Helping those who are poor. Visiting the sick. Even making a phone call to someone who is lonely. Do something to brighten the day for someone who is going through a rough time.
- Express the joy of your salvation. Approach life with a positive attitude. It is easy sometimes especially when we let our guard down to lose our joy. Just remember you are a child of God and God wants nothing but the best for you.
- Lead others to follow Christ. By word and by deed your faith will be expressed to those around you. Live your life in such a way that others would want to find that spark of joy they see in you. Don’t hesitate to give witness to the saving knowledge you have found in Christ.
There is a familiar statement that is often etched into the stone header over the doors of many churches that reads like this: Enter to Worship – Depart to Serve The real question for us today is: what will we do when we leave our place of worship. Let us depart to serve.
Traditional Worship Leader & Pastoral Care Minister
Really? Is that the wisdom of the day? To minimize the desires of the heart so that the sting of disappointment is bearable! I had hoped that this Covid stuff would have been over by now, but I’m told to not get my hopes up. I was hoping that we would be having Sunday morning worship together by now, but I guess I had my hopes too high. I had even hoped that my Texas Longhorns were going to be able to play their rematch with the LSU Tigers, but once again, I am reminded that I shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up.
Well, I don’t know about you, but I am tired of hearing about hopelessness. In fact, I am sick of it! One of my favorite Scriptures on hope comes from Proverbs 13:12 “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” Imagine that, having hope but waiting for a future day to be fulfilled by it. I can understand the world falling into a rut like that, but for those of us who have faith in the Almighty, we don’t have an excuse. For God’s word in Hebrews tells us that “faith is the confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see (11:1).” So just because I can’t see hope, doesn’t mean it is not there.
In chapter 5 of the book of Romans, Paul tells us that “hope does not disappoint us,” so why wait, come on, go ahead and get your hopes up! Dallas Willard tells us that “hope is the confident anticipation of good.” What a great attitude to have to start your day. You have probably heard it said that there are only two ways to wake up in the morning, “good morning Lord,” or “oh Lord, it’s morning!” Likewise, you can choose to hope and anticipate good, or default to fear which is “the anticipation of evil.” So, I don’t know about you, but I want to get my hopes up!
You know, even if we think our hopes have been dashed, the good Lord might have a different plan for us. Even when we think hope is gone it just might be that we can’t see it yet. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus on that day of resurrection show us that the greatest of hopes can sometimes be veiled! You see Luke tells us in his 24th chapter that the two on the road talking to an unrecognizable Jesus confessed “we had hoped that he (Jesus) would be the one who was going to set Israel free!” Little did they know at the time that hope was looking at them square in the eyes.
So, I acknowledge to you that I have listened to the world proclaim, “don’t get your hopes up,” one time too many. I choose not to defer hope. How, you might ask? By meditating on God’s word, that’s how. You see, the two on the road to Emmaus, received hope and initially didn’t even know it. “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he (Jesus) explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself (Luke 24:27).” That revelation gave them the hope that they thought they had lost. In Jesus Christ there is always hope!
So even though we continue to have Covid in our lives today, we still have hope. And even though we are not gathering Sunday mornings yet, we have hope for the day we will. And you know, it’s not a big deal Texas and LSU won’t be playing their game together, Texas would have won anyway!
Grace and Peace,
“Hello, this is the Stricklin residence.”
I will never forget where I was when the phone rang. It was a typical Saturday in October. Dad had gone to pick-up take-out from our favorite Chinese restaurant, and mom was cleaning the house while I sat in the coveted pink recliner – dad’s chair – and watched TV.
Like a good daughter, I quickly emerged from my television-induced stupor and answered the phone.
The very brief conversation that followed is a bit of a blur. I re
member someone with a very authoritative voice telling me he was trying to contact my father. He had a rank and title that sounded military, but I can honestly say I was too shocked to understand the details. I quickly ran the phone to my mom and thrust it into her explaining that SHE needed to talk to this man.
It wasn’t long after that I was back in my chair trying to eavesdrop on the conversation in the other room. Soon after, my very strong mother came speed walking into the living room looking f
or her cell phone. With tears in her eyes she said these words, “It’s Adam. He’s dead. I need your father.”
Adam Quinn was a member of our church. He was the eldest son of one of the sweetest couples that I’ve ever met and the older brother of the coolest kid in the youth group. I never had the chance to know Adam in the way others did, but I have been honored to call his mother, Sherri, one of my adopted moms.
You see, Adam was serving in Kabul, Afghanistan, with the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division. His pregnant wife, Faye, was also in the military and anxiously awaited Adam’s return from the war so they could begin their life as a family of three. Unfortunately, Adam never returned home. He noticed a friend of his had not been able to rest after driving caravans for multiple days – so Adam said he would take his place. It was during that last drive that they encountered a car bomb outside Kabul, and it was there that Adam left this world.
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13 ESV
Memorial Day is a time where we gather to remember those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for this country. We remember people like Adam who lived out John 15:13.
For a long time I found great sadness in this day. I focused on the loss that my friends had experienced. I focused on the missed school plays, graduations, and life events. I thought about everything that could have been.
That is not what Memorial Day is about.
In that same chapter we read the following:
12 “This is my commandment, that you love
one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.
Jesus does not stop after verse thirteen. He has chosen us, appointed us to more. We are not called to remember the sacrifice of others so that we mourn their loss. We remember their sacrifice as the greatest example of God’s love. The love that God then calls us to share and demonstrate to one another (17).
Yes, healing comes through grief. And as Christians we grieve the loss of life. But this Memorial Day I urge you to remember those who have sacrificed and remember God’s love and be grateful. Remember that we worship a God who understands loss. A God who understands sacrifice. He knows the brokenness of the World and He redeems it! Praise God!
We do not celebrate war. We do not celebrate death. What we celebrate is the visible reminder of God’s love. Greater love has no one than this. We remember, and we take that love with us into the world.
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]https://www.christchurchbham.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/G_M38-1.jpeg[/author_image] [author_info]Mary Lytle is the Minister of Communications at Christ Church United Methodist. She holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from Asbury University and a Master of Arts in Ministry from Asbury Theological Seminary. Mary grew up as a preacher’s kid in Deland, Florida. Now, Mary lives in Helena, Alabama with her husband George. She has a passion for discipleship and young adult ministry. George and Mary hope to positively impact the University of Montevallo campus where George is the newest Mathematics professor. [/author_info] [/author]
It seems awkward to think about what Sunday morning hospitality at Christ Church will be like after we finally get through all this Covid-19 stuff. So much of my Sunday morning ministry is displayed by a heart felt “good morning” (usually 2-3 feet away from the recipient), a firm welcoming handshake, and a smile. But recently, I have heard from at least one of our country’s top disease specialist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, that we “may never shake hands again.” How can that be I ask myself?
For centuries the handshake and others forms of touching have been the foundation of cultural and professional hospitality between individuals. According to Manners & Customs of Bible Times (Gower, 2000 p.189), the traditional greeting “involved the laying on of hands on each other’s shoulders then a pulling together and the giving of a kiss, first on the right cheek and then on the left.” Samuel kissed Saul when he anointed him (1 Samuel 10:1), Simon the Pharisee failed to greet Jesus in such a way when he came as a guest to his home (Luke 7:45), and Paul wrote “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (Romans 16:16).
Years ago, I remember leading First Methodist Opelika Alabama’s Prison Ministry away from simply putting items (candy, books, paper and pens) on a table for the inmates to grab and take as they please. Instead I encouraged volunteers to hold the items in their hands and then give them to the inmates who desire them (and to do so with a smile looking them in the eyes). I called it the giving of God’s Grace, and it became a form of greeting that was transformative to many of those inmates. They didn’t just take something, they received something!
So, what will the good people of Christ Church be able to do when we are finally invited back together? How will we greet, and fellowship, and worship together? Unfortunately, I do not have an answer for you at this time. But I believe God has an answer. I have faith that God will show us how to lovingly greet one another, how to have a cup of coffee and joyful fellowship with each other, and how we will stand together and praise His Holy Name. I believe that so strongly that I am willing To Shake On it!
Grace and Peace,
First Impressions Minister
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By Michael Bowman
If man had his way, the plan of redemption would be an endless and bloody conflict. In reality, salvation was bought not by Jesus’ fist, but by His nail-pierced hands; not by muscle but by love; not by vengeance but by forgiveness; not by force but by sacrifice. Jesus Christ our Lord surrendered in order that He might win; He destroyed His enemies by dying for them and conquered death by allowing death to conquer Him.”― A.W. Tozer
The next day, Holy Saturday is a time of solitude and sabbath. It is a chance for us to meditate on the time that Jesus was dead and buried. This Saturday is one of anticipation because we know the end of the story.
We know that death is not the end. We know that, soon, Jesus is walking out of that tomb. Yet, we wait with anticipation and longing. We await the coming of the third day, where our true hope is found.
Because of Easter, you and I are new people living in a new world.
We fell away from what we were intended to be, as beloved daughters and sons created to bear the image God. Yet, on Easter, our image was restored. We have been mended back together, and our broken relationship with God has been made right again. This does not mean that evil no longer exists, for it does. However, its power is no longer final. We are living in the already but not yet, where all is now new, and yet God is continuing to restore all things. And this is what we come together to celebrate on Easter Sunday: the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
[author] [author_info]Michael is the grateful husband to Sara. They are the lucky parents of their son, Grady.
Michael has earned a B.A. in Religious Studies from UT-Chattanooga, and a Master of Divinity with an emphasis in Church Planting from Asbury Theological Seminary.
Michael enjoys spending time with Sara, running, good coffee, reading, and playing with their son. Being from Memphis, he is an avid Memphis Grizzlies fan.[/author_info] [/author]
A Word from Pastor Paul on the Methodist Protocol
By Paul Lawler
Grace to you, Christ Church family.
Last Friday, many of you read the news of leaders in The United Methodist Church entering into an agreement for a protocol of an amicable separation of the denomination. You can read the actual document here. I trust the news of the United Methodist denomination splitting did not catch you off guard since I have kept you informed on these developments through blog posts, “Word(s) from Pastor Paul” delivered to your email inbox, Fireside Chats in worship gatherings, meetings with Sunday school classes, small groups, and numerous meetings with church members over meals and cups of coffee.
As I have shared before, the United Methodist denomination is in a constitutional crisis. The United Methodist Book of Discipline, which every ordained minister has vowed to uphold, is blatantly being disobeyed by bishops and ministers in several Annual Conferences throughout the United States. Because of the ongoing violation of by-laws, new legislation was passed by a simple majority vote at last year’s called General Conference to seek to restore good order to the denomination. Regardless, bishops and clergy in multiple regions of the United States have continued to defy the order of the church, which is the very covenant they vowed to uphold upon their ordination. In the words of one pastor, “the anarchy has been excruciating.”
The United Methodist denomination is also in theological crisis. Contrary to what you hear in the news media, the divide in U.S. United Methodism is not just about the theological view of the body and human sexuality. Human sexuality, and the attempts to redefine marriage for the church, is merely the presenting issue that is a symptom of much deeper issues. Dr. Timothy Tennent, President of Asbury Theological Seminary, which educates more future United Methodist clergy for pastoral ministry than any seminary in the world, unpacks this issue in another way through his article titled, Orthodoxy vs. Heterodoxy: The Fundamental Divide in the United Methodist Church. David French refers to this in his post, The Sad, Necessary Division of the United Methodist Church. Here’s a brief quote from his article:
The secular media will cast the divide primarily in the terms it understands—as focused on “LGBT issues”—but that’s incomplete. The true fracturing point between Mainline and Evangelical churches is over the authority and interpretation of scripture. The debate over LGBT issues is a consequence of the underlying dispute, not its primary cause…there is a strain of Protestant Christianity that views the Bible as valuable but not infallible or inerrant. Evangelical Christians, by contrast, strongly dissent from that view.
The reason the most recent plan for dividing the United Methodist Church received so much media attention last week is rooted in its broad support from eight Bishops, including a Bishop from Africa (where over five million United Methodist Christians reside), and a diverse set of leaders of constituencies within United Methodism in the U.S. Even though there were already nine plans on the table for dividing the United Methodist denomination, this latest proposal (which now brings us to ten) may have the greatest chance of passing at the 2020 General Conference.
What would this mean for the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church?
Following the adjournment of the 2020 General Conference, annual conferences may vote to align with any such new Methodist denominations formed pursuant to the Protocol.
An annual conference could vote to disaffiliate with the expression of Methodism that wishes to redefine Christian marriage as being between two men or two women; and could then vote to affiliate with a new traditional, orthodox, Methodist denomination. A vote of 20 percent or more at an annual conference session would be needed to have the disaffiliation vote, and a disaffiliation vote would have to pass by 57 percent. The disaffiliation vote deadline is July 1, 2021.
Do you believe it is likely for the North Alabama Conference to disaffiliate with the present United Methodist Church, and affiliate with a new, traditionally orthodox, Methodist denomination?
While not conclusive, I do believe this is likely. Clergy, Local Pastors and Lay-delegates will have a vote on this matter. Our Annual Conference has voted in a traditional, orthodox direction, by a 2/3rds majority for many years.
What would this mean for Christ Church and her future?
If our Annual Conference votes to disaffiliate with the present expression of United Methodism, and then decides to join the new traditionally orthodox Methodist denomination, we are not required to have a vote. Christ Church would be a part of the new Methodist denomination by virtue of the vote of the majority of the Annual Conference.
If our Annual Conference did not vote to join the new Methodist denomination, then the Council on Servant Ministries (our leadership body) would determine a threshold of a simple majority or two-thirds for the vote of the membership on whether to separate and join the new Methodist expression. Decisions about disaffiliation must be made by December 31, 2024. A local church affiliating with another Methodist denomination “pursuant to the protocol” would keep its assets and liabilities.
Local churches which desire a different affiliation than its Annual Conference may conduct an affiliation vote to consider a different affiliation. If such a vote occurs, the church council (e.g., its Administrative Board or Council or its Leadership Board) shall determine a voting threshold of either a simple majority or two-thirds of those present and voting at a duly called church conference in order for the motion to opt for a different affiliation to be adopted. The vote on a motion to opt for a different affiliation shall occur in a church conference held not more than 7 60 days after the request is made by the church council. The church conference must be held in consultation with the District Superintendent who shall authorize such a church conference to be conducted. Decisions about affiliation by a local church must be made by December 31, 2024. If a local church does not vote, it remains a part of the Methodist denomination selected by its Annual Conference.
If Christ Church were to affiliate with the new Methodist denomination, are there benefits?
Yes. There are many.
We would no longer be a part of the ongoing constitutional and theological crises that has cost the church millions of dollars, and untold hours of human capacity. We would be a part of a denomination whose primary focus becomes making disciples for the transformation of the world.
Our apportionments paid to the denomination, which are in the tens of thousands of dollars and fund an outdated form of church hierarchy, would no longer exist. This would free up large sums of cash flow for local and global mission, paying down debt, and general ministry.
The assets and property (the buildings and land Christ Church sits on) would no longer be owned by the denomination, but by Christ Church United Methodist. The trust clause, found in the United Methodist Book of Discipline, would no longer exist. The trust clause, which was established with good intent over a hundred years ago, would no longer be misused as a modern tool of control.
We would join other like-minded Methodist Christians, and would thus experience a greater synergy in our task of making disciples. “Best practices;” rooted in Wesleyan theology; are currently under development in six key areas for a future, new Methodist denomination:
- Accountable Discipleship – identifying, developing and deploying effective models for disciple- making as an integral part of the ministry of local churches, and communicating the necessity of every Christ-follower embracing the call to be disciples and to be makers of disciples.
- Church Multiplication – the establishment of new local churches or the launching of additional sites of existing churches particularly in communities where there is no witness to the historic Christian faith in the Wesleyan tradition and where existing churches are not reaching significant communities in a geographic area.
- Church Revitalization – empowering existing churches to embrace ministries that will renew and restore the mission of the church for new generations and in communities experiencing significant changes.
- Global Missional Partnerships – developing and deploying effective partnerships for local churches to be in ministry with one another globally across geographic boundaries to advance the Kingdom of God and reach people of diverse cultures with the love of Jesus.
- Missional Ministry in the Margins – identifying and deploying effective models for local churches to be in ministry with the poor, marginalized, addicted, and recovering.
- Ministry with Young People and Young Adults – addressing the challenge for local churches in reaching teens, shepherding them through the transition to adulthood, and engaging those who are navigating further education or entering the workforce so that they continue as committed Christ-followers.
If we chose to affiliate with a new Methodist denomination, would we still support United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and the United Methodist Children’s Home (UMCH)?
Yes! Both of these entities are worthwhile ministries that are making a great impact!
What happens to the pension plans of The United Methodist Church and the pension benefits of its clergy?
The pension plans of The United Methodist Church will remain in place for all current clergy and lay employees affiliated with The United Methodist Church, regardless of the Methodist denomination under this Protocol with which they affiliate. The liability of Annual Conferences and local churches for pension benefits shall transfer with such entities to the Methodist denomination pursuant to the Protocol with which they affiliate.
What advice do you have in regard to next steps?
- Pray (James 5:16). Pray for your pastors, the church staff, our church family, our Annual Conference, and the entire denomination. Pray for the “will of God to be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
- Don’t believe everything you hear or read (1 John 4:1). There are many writing and saying things through news and social media that are fabrications and not facts; some of which conflicts with Scripture or are mischaracterizations. As a Christian, it is an imperative to be biblically discerning.
- Do not move in fear (See 2 Timothy 1:7). Realize that the Methodist Church has expressed multiple iterations throughout the course of her history (Methodist, Methodist Episcopal, United Methodist, Free Methodist, Nazarene, etc.) As recent as 1968, we were simply The Methodist Church before merging with the Evangelical United Brethren. In hindsight, history will demonstrate this merger was an experiment that, when blended with other factors, did not work. Regardless, the church has demonstrated over time that she will continue to exist, even if the name changes. We, as a people called Methodists, will have a future, no matter what.
- Move in truth wed with grace (John 1:17). While we hold to biblical truth, let us move in grace and compassion for all people. We welcome people into our small groups and worship gatherings who are battling all types of struggles. We have alcoholics, co-dependents, persons struggling with heterosexual temptations, and recovering Pharisees. We also have same-sex attracted persons who are active in the life of Christ Church. Let us remember, in the midst of standing for biblical fidelity, to always operate in a spirit of love wed with the transforming power of the gospel offered to all persons. Let’s move in truth wed with grace. That is what Jesus does. This is Who Jesus is.
- Attend the January 25th Southeast Regional Gathering of United Methodist at Clearbranch United Methodist Church from 9:00 a.m. till 12:00 p.m. The theme of this gathering is, Why the Best Days of Methodism are Ahead of Us, and will feature Dr. Chris Ritter as speaker. The day will also feature Annual Conference delegation members from around the southeast sharing in an informative panel discussion.
- Be mindful that God is up to something life-giving and new!!! This phase of Methodist church history will serve to birth something that will touch the world in a powerful way. I will be sharing more with you around all of this soon.
Remember, in all you do, you represent Christ and His church. We do not want the church to be the focus of satire; but to be truly known as a people who glorify God, treasure Jesus Christ, love others, and make disciples of all peoples. May God give us His grace to love well. May God give us His grace to stand on His truth. May God give us His grace to wed love and truth together in a manner that Christ is reflected well.
See you this Sunday as we gather to worship at 8:15, 9:30 or 11:00 a.m.
For His renown,
Paul Lawler is the Lead-Pastor of Christ Church UMC. He and his wife, MJ, have four children and one daughter-in-law. In addition to serving as a pastor, Paul and his brother, Dallas area businessman Patrick Lawler, founded two Patricia B. Hammonds Homes for orphans at high risk for human trafficking in Thailand. The homes are operated through the international ministry of the Compassionate Hope Foundation. Paul also serves on the boards of The Wellhouse, New Water Farms, and the East Lake Initiative. He often tweets Kingdom thoughts at @plawler111.
Don’t Miss Christmas
By Michael Bowman
So, pause. Do not miss it.
The Birth, According to…
But who were these “wise men?”
We Three… Dudes?
These “wise men” or “magi” as most scholars agree are better referred to as astrologers. They were not kings, and there is no evidence that there were only three of them (don’t believe the Christmas carol.)
It can’t be more clear: they all missed it.
The Free Gift of Christmas
Michael Bowman is the Student Minister at Christ Church UMC. He is the grateful husband of Sara and dad to Grady. Michael earned his B.A. in Religious Studies from UT-Chattanooga, where he met Sara. He also holds a Master of Divinity with an emphasis in Church Planting from Asbury Theological Seminary. Michael enjoys spending time with Sara, running, good coffee, reading, playing basketball, and playing with their two dogs, Gus and Lily. As a good Memphis native, Michael is an avid Memphis Grizzlies fan.
Follow him on Twitter: @bichaelmowman