KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Bishop James Swanson lunched with the United Methodist Men of Holston Conference – before preaching about recognizing the work God is doing here and urging them to attend a men's conference in August.
"I want you to know that just because it's not happening where you are, doesn't mean it's not happening," Swanson said to 85 participants at Trinity United Methodist Church on March 8. "Man, please ... I know there is a lot to bemoan about the church, but I wish you could walk with me one day, to see what I see."
Swanson spoke of Holston's work in Sudan as an example:
"It's bad over there," he said of the southern Sudan region where Holston began mission work in 2006. "They were drinking water and washing clothes in a little bore hole they had."
In the last two years, the number of United Methodist congregations in south Sudan has grown from five to 21, Swanson said. Funds from Holston have provided two new wells, "and we have money to build three more wells. We're getting ready to build a compound. When you get down, stop to think about what God is doing in a lot of places because we stripped together a few pennies and sent if off to Sudan.
"Come on, let's give God a hand of praise," he said to applause.
Swanson caused worshippers to chuckle when he spoke of parishioners who reject their pastors rather than trying to work with them and help them grow.
"What do you think you're doing to my poor preachers, when you tell them they're the most shiftless, sorriest, laziest thing you've ever had ... that when they go up to preach, you have to have an alarm clock just to wake up?"
He told the story of a clergy member who had experienced trouble with previous congregations, yet is now leading a church that is "on fire" – evidence of how God is working in Holston and through individuals, he said.
"Something is going on inside of you," he said to the worshippers representing 12 churches and five districts. "Something is blessing you. Two years ago you wouldn't have believed you would come out to sing on a snowy Saturday, in a church that is not even your church ...
"God is working on you ... You try to go to sleep at night, and he comes into your dreams. You wake up, and he's sitting on the side of the bed next to you, handing you your slippers, saying, 'Go on now and brush your teeth, because I've got something to tell you.'"
Swanson urged his listeners to invite others to the "Calling All Men" Conference at Sevierville Events Center on Aug. 15-16. He referred to the 11 disciples who "turned the world upside down" after the resurrection.
"Now we have more than that in this building right now," he said. "And my prayer is that we'll have 700 to 800 in the civic center in August. All I'm asking is for you to bring 10 percent of the men who show up for worship at your church."
He discouraged invitations from the pulpit, but said that pastors should issue personal, verbal invitations to the men in their congregations, for a better response.
"The only thing the church needs ... we've made it so complicated ... all the church needs is a bunch of pep rallies to remind people of what the Bible says and for them to know God. That's the only thing that's going to get us through," he said.
"I don't want to beat you up. I want to pump you up. I don't want to beat you down. I want to lift you up, because I know that if I lift you up, I am lifting high the cross. And I know that when the cross is lifted up, people come to Jesus."
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