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Churches need to get busy doing God’s work, agency leader says

 


Churches need to get busy doing God’s work, agency leader says

Oct. 6, 2004

By Linda Green*

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)-Churches do not need a purpose statement that is created by a committee and then filed away.

Every congregation has a mission from God, and United Methodist churches need to hear that mission and get busy doing it, according to the leader of the denomination’s discipleship agency.

"I believe that when God’s mission is written plainly ... on the people’s hearts in our congregations, we cannot sit still," said the Rev. Karen Greenwaldt, top staff executive of the United Methodist Board of Discipleship. "We cannot be content with clubs, with nice safe places that wall ourselves in. God’s mission is available in every congregation, and every congregation can describe what a disciple looks like."

The board’s primary task is helping churches respond to the mission of God and be places of transformation, Greenwaldt said, in a keynote address to the agency’s newly constituted board of directors.

During the board’s Sept. 29-Oct. 2 meeting, she shared several statistics that painted a startling picture of the world and illustrated the need for the board to help individuals and local churches become who and what God intended.

"Every congregation can listen to God’s call to that particular place of ministry and can struggle to understand how to respond to that calling together," she said.

Of the world’s 6.3 billion people, 798 million are in developing countries and are undernourished, she said.

While Christianity remains the most popular religion globally, Islam is set to become the dominant religion by the year 2050, based on current trends, she said. In the United States, the percentage of American adults who identify themselves as Christians dropped from 86 percent in 1990 to 77 percent in 2001, and most Americans will be non-Christian by 2035, she said.

Turning to United Methodist statistics, Greenwaldt described the decline in U.S. membership and noted that today, 19 percent of the denomination’s 11 million members are outside the United States. The total number of United Methodists per 1,000 people in the United States dropped 31 percent from 1980 to 2000, while the population grew 24.2 percent in that time, she said.

The denomination has a presence in 3,003 of the 3,171 U.S. counties, more than any other church, Greenwaldt said. However, the only growth trend in the United Methodist Church in the United States from 1973 to 2002 was in the number of new members received from other denominations-a measure that increased 7.2 percent.

"Facts about the world confront and confound us," she said. "The realities of the world press upon us, and our response is often to build walls of denial and fortresses of safety around ourselves."

She called the accumulated data about faith and spirituality astounding. "We are baffled by the decline of the vitality and ability of the United Methodist Church in the United States to address even the spiritual needs of children, youths and adults."

The Board of Discipleship must help make a difference, she said. "We believe that there is a disciple-making system that can be nurtured in every congregation."

The board’s place in the church and in the world is to connect the world’s realities with issues of spiritual and leadership formation. "It is not enough that we have United Methodist churches all over the world if they are not moving people out into the world."

During their meeting, the board members received instruction on how to create a covenant and inclusive community. Eric Law, an Episcopal priest, consultant and trainer in multicultural organization development, led them.

Using the word "respect" as an acronym, he said building a covenant community involves taking responsibility for what you say; using empathetic listening; being sensitive; pondering what is heard and felt before speaking; examining personal preconceived assumptions and perceptions; keeping confidentiality; and trusting ambiguity.

Officers elected include Bishop Michael Coyner, Indianapolis, president; Bishop Charlene Kammerer, Richmond, Va., vice president; Arturo Razon Jr., Isabela, Philippines, secretary; and Foye Webb, Nashville, Tenn., treasurer.

In other action, the board:

  • Welcomed the new Division on Ministries With Young People.
  • Learned about the Africa Collaborative Team Initiative, a partnership between Discipleship, the United Methodist Publishing House and United Methodist Communications to assist the church in Africa in producing and distributing resources in English, French and Portuguese.
  • Heard that the Smurfit Container Corp. had donated IBM Thinkpad computers to each of Africa’s 11 episcopal area offices.

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer in Nashville, Tenn.

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

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