I’m Amory Peck, from Bellingham, Washington, in the United States. By the grace of God, I am a disciple of Jesus Christ.
It happened four years ago in Fort Worth Texas. We adopted a new ending to our mission statement. Until then it had said: “The mission of the United Methodist Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ.” In 2008, the body added the “for the transformation of the world.”
No one named it quite this way, but the United Methodist Church had just created a BHAG – a Big, Hairy Audacious Goal.
Jim Collins and Jerry Porras explained that bizarre sounding acronym in their book “Built to Last.” They had found that organizations that survive are bigger and bolder in their thinking; that their goals are huge – and also, ultimately, in the dreamed of future, achievable.
I’m proud of us for thinking audaciously. Proud to be part of a church that names its mission in fearless, daring, bold and spirit-filled language. Proud that we – lay and clergy alike – overwhelmingly claimed such a vision.
“The mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Big? Yes. Audacious? Yes. Wonderfully fearless, bold, and spiritually challenging? Indeed. And, in our dreamed of future, achievable? Yes!
Yet, that’s hardly enough, is it? Unless something significant happens, the words are empty, nothing more than a dream deferred. Nothing more than a banner or a slogan. Perhaps nothing more than a phrase on a t-shirt.
So, back to Fort Worth, Texas and two other significant pieces of legislation that were adopted.
Watch Amory Peck present her portion of the Laity Address starting at 1:26:00.
First, we created a new paragraph in the Book of Discipline, ¶126, The Ministry of the Laity. We committed to outrageous ideas such as this one: The witness of the laity …, is the primary evangelistic ministry through which all people will come to know Christ and the United Methodist Church will fulfill its mission.”
I revel in those words, even as I find them exceedingly challenging – daunting, even. Lay people – are you hearing what we’ve promised to do? Performing the primary evangelistic ministry by which the United Methodist Church will fulfill its mission. We said “yes” to carrying out quite a BHAG.
The second addition to the Book of Discipline made a change to the membership vows, the first since 1932. Since General Conference met last, every new member has promised to be faithful to the United Methodist Church in “his or her prayers, presence, gifts, service – and the new vow, witness.” And – each time our local churches have taken in new members, we have reaffirmed our vows – including our promise to witness.
So, laypeople, there it is. The beauty, reality, and terrifying awesomeness of our role. These few minutes of General Conference today are given to the laity, and our report is this: if it’s to be, it’s up to me. If it’s to be, it’s up to you.
There’s no wiggle room, there’s no out. The mandate covers each lay person here, and every layperson in our local churches. Each and every. No exceptions – no one excluded.
Clergy, we certainly acknowledge and celebrate your missional role with gratitude, appreciation, and relief. And, we commit ourselves to these new mandates. We, the laity, have taken, with new vigor, the great commission into our hands and hearts.
Look around you … the challenge has been placed into the hands of those of us assembled here. What an incredible gift. What a joy. We should be bursting with pride and enthusiasm.
Now, look deep within yourself. Is there, perhaps, an inner voice gulping and saying: “Me? Surely not me? Can’t say that I’m up to the task.”
Look around again … perhaps those confident people sitting around you, seated across the aisle, over in the other sections of the room, are feeling the same reticence. Perhaps we are all – lay and clergy alike – in need of some buoying up, some reassurance we’re fit for the job we’ve been given.
We’re in very good company, part of a long line of less-than-perfect doubting doers of the work of discipleship.
Ruth C. Duck, in her book “Touch Holiness,” reminds us of the humanness of all God’s workers: “We come like Job, Thomas, and the Samaritan woman, people with questions. We come like Moses, Jeremiah, and Mary, people with self-doubts. We come, like David, Mary Magdalene, and Paul, people with sadness and sin in our memories … people with a part to play in the story of faith.”
We’re part of a long line of God’s chosen. We’ve been chosen by God, and elected by our Annual Conferences. If it’s to be, it’s up to me. If it’s to be, it’s up to you.
So, that’s it. God, count me in. But what am I called to do?
This is a hall full of crazy-busy people. Lay people; let’s see a show of hands. How many of you have served the church as a trustee? As a member of your church’s Staff/Parish Relations committee? As a member of a worship committee? Taught Sunday School? Sung in a choir? Gone on a mission trip? Preached a service? Cooked a meal in the church kitchen? There are hundreds and hundreds of volunteer hours represented in this room – there’s not a category I could name that wouldn’t have a flurry of hands raised.
Bravo for us! Bravo for us!
Just minutes ago Betty mentioned that we in the US are in our maturity as United Methodists. But, in that maturity, something’s amiss. Perhaps we’re doing too much of some things and not enough of others. Or, missing something that we haven’t even thought of yet. We all know the statistics. We’ve read the numbers, and we know the problem. Doing what we’ve always done before – no matter how hard we try to do it – isn’t working well enough.
At the conclusion of a workshop called “Beyond the Generation Gap,” Janet Forbes, the facilitator, startled all of us by asking the question: “How much change are you willing to lead?” I was stymied by the question. It wasn’t that I was unwilling to lead … I just didn’t know if my wits were clever enough to understand where exactly we’re headed and just what I was being called to do.
Consultant Gil Rendle helped me become more comfortable in sorting all that out. In preparation for change we knew was coming, my annual conference, The Pacific Northwest, including the Alaska Conference, and our neighboring conference, Oregon/Idaho did some important work with Gil. His directive to “be steady in purpose and flexible in strategy” was core to our thinking about the maze of change ahead.
I had a “steady in purpose, flexible in strategy” ah-ha of my own recently. I am, I have always been a reader and am most happy with a book in my hands. I had also been a bit of a snob about that, loving my printed books and feeling distain for those who were “reading” on an electronic devise. Then, one day I focused on a TV ad for one of the new electronic books. I saw shot after shot of happy people. People of all ages, in all sorts of locations, happily reading. All of a sudden it became clear. It’s not really the physical book that matters to me. It’s the story, the experience, the author’s words being discovered, that matter – and what a joy it is that many, many people are now sharing that core joy. An aside. I now own an e-book of my own, and have it here at General Conference. My most important book on it is the one on overcoming stage fright.
So, the challenge. Especially for those of us here. How do we separate our beliefs that must be preserved from our practices that are, well, just practices.
All of us here are committed to the United Methodist Church. We are passionately, deeply in love with our church. We, on one hand, are here to create change, to authorize new ways of being church. However, we are also the deeply entrenched, and may be the ones least likely to want to see our beloved traditions changed. But, we know the urgency. We know that change must happen. And, each of us knows, if it’s to be, it’s up to me. If it’s to be, it’s up to you.
It won’t be easy, but it is simple. Holding fast while letting go. Just as Steve honored his deep commitment to Christ by letting go of unhealthy living, we need to hold fast while letting go.
These words from the Book of Isaiah (as told in “The Message” chapters 42 and 43) reassure us: “Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new … I’ll take the hand of those who don’t know the way; I’ll be a personal guide to them, directing them through unknown country … sticking with them, not leaving them for a minute.”
Here at General Conference we’re doing critically important, holy work. And, we know well this isn’t the place where disciple making occurs. We will leave this arena and rejoin our local congregations. We all know the true work, the spirit-filled, “this is my commandment” work occurs through our witness back home. It won’t be easy, but it is simple. Holding fast while letting go.
BETTY: If it’s to be, it’s up to me.
STEVE: If it’s to be, it’s up to me.
AMORY: If it’s to be, it’s up to me.
AUDIENCE: If it’s to be, it’s up to me.