BRISTOL, Tenn. (July 9, 2019) -- In 1744, John Wesley was asked a series of questions on his expectations of preachers. His answers became known as the “12 Rules of a Helper.”
Rule number 11 would become his charge to the Church. In it he says, “You have nothing to do but to save souls. Therefore, spend and be spent in this work.”*
Those words become a reminder of why we exist as servants in Christ’s Church. No other business we conduct, no other agendas we might have or political battles we fight are important compared to the work of reaching people for Christ. In fact, our very existence depends on our faithfulness to this task.
All around us, in our cities and towns, schools, homes, communities, churches, everywhere there are people who are hurting, lonely, lost and searching for what we ourselves have discovered in Jesus Christ.
As United Methodists, we are a people of grace, mercy, healing and hope because of Jesus Christ. This is the great truth that we are responsible with and we are to share it with a broken and often hope-less world. It is also what Jesus commissioned and empowered all of us who choose to follow Him are to do the ends of the earth.
Our Book of Discipline states our mission statement:
¶ 120. The Mission -- The mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Local churches and extension ministries of the Church provide the most significant arenas through which disciple-making occurs.
¶ 121. Rationale for Our Mission -- The mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world by proclaiming the good news of God’s grace and by exemplifying Jesus’ command to love God and neighbor, thus seeking the fulfillment of God’s reign and realm in the world. The fulfillment of God’s reign and realm in the world is the vision Scripture holds before us. The United Methodist Church affirms that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Savior of the world, and the Lord of all. As we make disciples, we respect persons of all religious faiths and we defend religious freedom for all persons. Jesus’ words in Matthew provide the Church with our mission: “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you” (28:19-20), and “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. . . . You must love your neighbor as you love yourself” (22:37, 39).
No one can argue how much Jesus has invested in us to accomplish the mission that He sent us out to do. He has given us everything of Himself. He shed his blood for us, He gave us the power of the Holy Spirit and the promise that no matter where we go, He will be with us always. He gave us everything we need, so that nothing can stand in our way ... except our own selves.
The harsh reality is that we have drifted further and further from our mission. We are currently being consumed by our obsession of turning our faith into a religion of personal preference -- all while the world is full of people hungering and thirsting to know Jesus is still here, offering hope, healing, and new and everlasting life. People need to hear our stories of faith and healing through Jesus Christ. They need to see Jesus within us as we serve together in mission and outreach. They need to know that the church still cares.
Perhaps part of the problem we are facing in church growth is evangelism has become a mere afterthought in too many of our churches, and we are reaching fewer and fewer people for Christ each year. The numbers show an alarming trend in our Holston Conference.
According to the “Book of Reports” going back to 2014 through 2018, the number of professions of faith reported are in a deep decline:
2014 – 2,004 professions of faith
2015 – 1,995 professions of faith
2016 – 1,591 professions of faith
2017 – 1,526 professions of faith
2018 – 1,378 professions of faith
In addition to this, our yearly Holston Conference Journals report many churches going years with any professions of faith. Perhaps the most unsettling fact of these numbers is very few people seem concerned by them. There is no sense of urgency to turn this trend around.
But there is hope. What if we allow ourselves to dream what the state of the Church could be like if we invested our time, energy and resources more in the task of reaching people for Christ. What if that was the only business that really mattered to us as Wesley had envisioned?
We need to remember who we are and the great story of faith we all have to tell the world around us. We need to remember God loves us, and He expects us to love one another. We can reclaim our enthusiasm for evangelism by praying God gives us opportunities to see and meet new people. We can pray God opens our eyes to see the ones that perhaps have been overlooked or forgotten for too long. We can make reaching people for Christ the focus of everything we do as well as the expected outcome.
We can focus our evangelistic efforts in building new relationships in our communities realizing that every person we talk to is an amazing creation of God and has a story to tell. If their heart isn’t quick to respond to our efforts, don’t be too quick to give up on them. Remember that God can still save. God can stop them in their tracks, take out the heart of stone, and put in a new heart. God’s grace never gives up on anyone.
What if we could celebrate one year at our Holston Annual Conference the fact that every one of our 872 churches reported at least one profession of faith? Can you just dare to dream about the potential of new life that could resurrect so many of our dying churches with a renewed sense of purpose of bringing someone to Christ?
There are many people and many congregations from small churches to our largest churches that are doing outstanding work in the mission fields of evangelism in our Holston Conference.
One such case is this year’s Denman Award for Excellence in Evangelism recipient for clergy, Rev. Robin Kyek, who received her license to preach in 2017. In her first year of her appointment at Andersonville and Mount. Pleasant United Methodist Churches in the Tennessee Valley District, these churches celebrated 16 professions of faith, 16 baptisms, and 35 new members.
It can be done at any church in any community no matter the size of the congregation or church budget or the demographics of the population. Jesus had a gift of seeking and finding the lost. He is inviting us to join Him in this vision.
Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Matthew 9:35-38
The Rev. Ray Amos is chair of Holston Conference’s Witness Team and pastor at South Bristol United Methodist Church in Bristol, Tennessee.
* The Works of John Wesley Vol.III, Baker House Publishing, page 310
Denman winner survives broken home through love of church (The Call, 7.9.19)