I spent a few days this past week at the Bishop's Convocation (for the GNJ conference) at Willow Valley Resort in Lancaster, PA. Willow Valley is a very nice facility, if you ever have the occasion to be in Lancaster. I somehow wound up with a gorgeous room with a whirlpool tub in it, the gym on site is much better equipped than most hotel gyms, and the site is close enough to stores and restaurants while also being in the middle of Amish country.
Our theme at this gathering was Prayer in the Life of the Pastor, and we had a mix of speakers. Our first was a presentation a bit off-topic perhaps, but one I was glad for: Larry Hollon, the General Secretary of UMCOM, shared a presentation on the new marketing/advertising campaign of the UMC, RETHINK Church. Hollon talked about looking to the future - the challenges and opportunities for ministry that our changing world provides. He talked about, for example, how Google's tracking of search terms could provide indication of a rise in cases of the flue almost 10 days sooner than the CDC could announce a trend. Google has made this an official tool, with a site where you can track the flu based on searches for flu.
The new campaign includes a video segment that I really like (featuring James Earl Jones as narrator), a brochure you can look at, and a website, 10thousanddoors.org, that will more completely launch in May, but is already 'up' with a space for people to enter thoughts. Hollon also talked about a presence on YouTube, facebook, using texting, partnering wtih Google, etc. Sounds like they are making a real effort to engage in some new ways of marketing the UMC, and he talked about the struggle when you are also serving a denomination that has a lot of people in it that really just want Interpreter delivered by snail mail. We also talked about how this campaign is really great - but how UMCom can only give a great campaign - it's up to churches to live up to the great commercials. How do we make sure we're the church envisioned in the video?
On day 2, our speaker was Renita Weems. I really enjoyed her time with us. She talked about this being an "auspicious moment in the kingdom of God” as she reflected on the inauguration of President Obama, and as we talked about the "prayer journey of a minister, the waxing and waning of a minister's prayer life," she wondered (and posted on her blog about) how difficult it will be for the President to be able to worship, always in the view of cameras, watching his every emotional reaction, or lack thereof. "Faith is not the absence of doubt, it is what you do in spite of doubt. Preach as if you’ve heard from God. If not, preach what you heard last time you heard from God!" (I can't remember if she was quoting someone or not...)
Prophecy happens within a particular context – preaching, prayers happen in context. We are called in a particular moment. No such thing as “Have sermon, will travel.” If your grandchild finds your sermon, they should be able to tell from it what year (close) it was written. Contextual. Did you reference anything real in the world? God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. "God is – but you ain’t.” We are creatures of our context. Not enslaved to it, but shaped by it. Something that only you can preach because of where you come from and what you’ve gone through. Each of us really has only one theme, one message. What's yours?
We did have a couple of other speakers, although I didn't take many notes. I enjoyed getting to know some of my NJ colleagues a little better, enjoyed a time of retreat. Check out that Rethink Church campaign - good? bad?