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District Day with the Bishop

Earlier this week I attended a District Day with the Bishop - my first district gathering in my new district with my new Bishop Suda Devadhar. As I've mentioned, Bishop Devadhar was elected out of my annual conference in 2004. I've known him for a long time, and it is a pleasure - and fun - to service in his area. He exudes a humility that is really rare at any level of leadership in the church, and it is refreshing.

Our day opened with worship at Westwood United Methodist Church, (which I didn't realize at the time is where methoblogger Melissa is doing her field ministry) and Rev. Tom Korkuch gave a sermon. Preaching on Matthew 28:16-20, he talked about political maneuvering by religious folk in order to "get votes so that you can force people to live the way you want them to live." He talked about authority, “authority from compassion” and “not the sword but the towel” authority. Authority that is the "power to serve under," not the "power to serve over."

Bishop Devadhar had asked folks to read Bishop Schnase's book Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations. I had thought I would be out of town on this day, so I have to admit I didn't read the book, but the Bishop gave us a good review/summary:

Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations – Bishop Schnase
  • Radical Hospitality – “arising from the source”, drastically different from ordinary practice, outside the normal, promotes practices that exceed expectation, “going the second mile” “a surprising and unexpected quality of depth and authenticity in the church’s care for the stranger” (pg 21) Not afraid of failure.
  • Passionate Worship – intense desire, ardent spirit, strong feelings, sense of heightened importance, speaks to both emotional connection and/beyond intellectual consent. Eagerness, anticipation, expectancy, deep commitment, belief. An extraordinary eagerness to offer the best in worship, honoring God with excellence and with an unusual clarity about the purpose of connecting people to God.
  • Intentional Faith Development – deliberate effort, purposeful action toward an end, high prioritization, sense of heightened importance, absolute critical nature of Christian Education and formation, small group work, Bible study for all ages, interests and faith experiences. (not criticizing where other people are finding spiritual growth, like Alpha)
  • Risk-taking Mission and Service – stepping into greater uncertainty, a higher possibility of discomfort, resistance, sacrifice, takes people into ministries that push them out of their comfort zone, stretching them beyond the circle of relationship and practices that routinely define their faith commitments. “Not known as the church of the middle class but as the church of the poor.”
  • Extravagant generosity – exceed all expectations, goes to unexpected measures, lavish, describes practices of sharing and giving that exceed all expectation and extend to unexpected measures. It describes lavish sharing, sacrifice, and giving in service to God and neighbor. “Give until it heals.” Not hurts. Shouldn’t chair finance if you are not giving extravagantly?

Bishop Devadhar also shared with us that ethnic representation to General Conference 2008 has declined by 30%, a figure I hadn't heard before. The Bishop says about this: “The system produces what the system hopes for.” He says we have become congregational over connectional because of restructuring freedom in annual conference that has allowed checks and balances that encourage and cultivate diversity to go by the wayside.

We also heard "reality facts" about the GNJ conference, which I suspect are similar for many other conferences:

597 churches. 20% of total average attendance is found in the 20 largest congregations. 20% is found in 306 of the smallest congregations (51% of all churches)

Our largest 20% of churches grow at average of 2.5%/year. Our smallest 20% of churches decline at a rate of 7%/year.

In 1965, Methodists represented approx 6.5% of NJ’s population.

Avg. age of GNJUMC membership is 57, but average of NJ is 37. In many churches, folks in their 50s are the youngest members. Over last 40 years, the number of UMs has declined by over 100,000, while the population of NJ has increased by 3 million+.

I haven't really processed all that information yet, but there it is. But it was good to meet some of my new colleagues in ministry, and always good to be thinking about these things. What do you think makes for a fruitful congregation?


Rev Paul Martin said…
Average age of 57 - what I'd give for that!
Anonymous said…
There was probably more to the Bishop's speech than what you outlined here, but something stuck out to me. There was not one mention of Jesus Christ. Seems to me that's why the UMC is declining in so many places. Until the UMC once again proclaims Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior; the one Way to the Father and not just a way; the very reason we do what we do, there's little hope that the downward spiral will be turned around.

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