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United Methodist bishops sharpen focus on making disciples of Christ

 


United Methodist bishops sharpen focus on making disciples of Christ

May 9, 2005

By Tim Tanton*

WASHINGTON (UMNS)—The bishops of the United Methodist Church spent their weeklong spring meeting working on their primary focus: Making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

It couldn’t have happened at a more appropriate time, as Christians around the world closed out the Easter season by remembering Christ’s great commission to his followers. The bishops adopted the 2005-08 emphasis last fall as their quadrennial focus, one that points directly to the United Methodist Church’s primary mission of disciple-making.

The emphasis permeated every aspect of the bishops’ May 1-6 meeting in Arlington, Va.—the worship services, business sessions and field-trip discussions. Bishop Peter Weaver, council president, said afterward he sees “a growing unity of this council around this mission focus” and enthusiasm among the bishops for embracing it and living it out.

“I do believe God is doing a new thing among us,” he said.

Weaver said he is hearing support for such an emphasis in the Boston Area, where he has visited more than 200 churches since beginning his appointment there last fall.

“I’ve been hearing in congregation after congregation the desire to reach out into their communities to make disciples of Jesus Christ, but often they don’t know how to do that,” he said.

“They’re looking for resources and training and examples that they can go and visit. And there are many of those examples among the congregations in our connection, so we need to reconnect congregations that are yearning to make disciples of Jesus Christ in 21st century ways.”

A plan team, headed by Bishop Bruce Ough of the church’s Ohio West Area, led the bishops in their work on the quadrennial focus.

The bishops organized their focus around:

  • The council’s leadership and teaching roles. The bishops will work with the congregations in their residential areas on carrying out the emphasis.
  • The council’s learning role. The bishops agreed they want to be a “learning community,” spending time at council meetings sharing information and best practices with one another.
  • The council’s partnership role. The bishops will work with the church’s Connectional Table, seminaries, and boards and agencies as the focus is developed and carried out. Top staff executives of the agencies as well as presidents and deans of the church’s seminaries provided ideas and comments for the bishops as the weeklong meeting got under way.

The bishops want to help the church reflect Paragraphs 120-124 of the Book of Discipline, which spell out the denomination’s mission statement. “The reason I think that’s so important is that I’ve not always felt confident that all parts of the church have believed that the bishops are on the same page, and I think we really are on the same page around this focus,” Ough said.

Ough noted that it’s also important for people to understand the bishops are ultimately calling them to reflect “what Jesus teaches about being a church that is in the world, making a difference, transforming the world to look more and more like the reign of God.”

As the bishops discussed the emphasis in their business sessions, their enthusiasm was evident, along with a sense of urgency.

“Can the world wait for us to get to transformation?” asked retired Bishop Kenneth Hicks of Little Rock, Ark. The world can’t wait another quadrennium or two, he said.

Bishop Richard Looney told the council the Foundation for Evangelism would welcome the opportunity to be involved in the focus, and he encouraged the bishops to start using resources that are available to them “and use them gladly.” Looney, retired, is president of the foundation in Lake Junaluska, N.C.

Bishop Linda Lee, who leads the church’s Wisconsin Area, wondered out loud what it would be like for the bishops to set aside a day to be in prayer and fast together, to hear God’s voice in a different kind of way.

Speaking for a table of bishops from the central conferences—regional units of the church in Africa, Asia and Europe—retired Bishop Daniel Arichea of Baguio City, Philippines, said it was important to note the need for witnessing to the rich and privileged as well as to marginalized people.

Bishops also affirmed the need for accountability. “We are eager to have some measure of accountability with one another,” said Bishop Janice Huie, speaking for a table of bishops. Huie, who leads the church’s Houston Area, is the council’s president-designate.

The bishops will develop a teaching plan for the church, and measurable goals will be provided for encouraging local congregations in making disciples, Ough said. The plan will cover a common language for the focus, helping people understand what is meant by terms such as “Christian disciple” and “transformation,” and what it means “when we say there’s a uniquely Wesleyan process for forming disciples,” he explained.

After the meeting, Weaver said he saw a “new spirit of understanding about what making disciples of Jesus Christ means.”

“And we believe that means persons following Christ in world- and life-changing ways. I think we’ve worked and prayed this week around specifics that will help us serve our churches and conferences in practical ways for making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

*Tanton is managing editor of United Methodist News Service.

News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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