By Gary E. Mueller
Bishop of the Arkansas Annual Conference
I am ready to admit something I’ve been in denial about for a long time. Even though I’ve invested a great deal of blood, sweat and tears trying, I simply cannot fix what’s broken in the United Methodist Church. I can’t fix the polarization that now imprisons us. I can’t fix the outcome of this May’s General Conference. And I can’t fix the uncertainty we face as a church.
Even more significantly, the Holy Spirit has helped me realize I don’t have to fix the church. It belongs to Jesus, and he’s got it covered. This doesn’t mean I’m stepping back, shrugging my shoulders and saying, “It’s going to be what it’s going to be.” Rather, I will be focusing on what Jesus is calling every United Methodist congregation in Arkansas to do – becoming the most Jesus loving, disciple-making and sharing Jesus’ love church you can be.
I love the United Methodist Church and the way of being Christian it shares. But ultimately, local congregations matter more than denominations – even our beloved United Methodist denomination. People need your local church, not a denomination. Your community needs your local church, not a denomination. And most importantly, Jesus needs your local church, not a denomination.
This means the single most pressing task is enabling your church that has a unique location, is filled with a unique group of people and possesses a unique history to become the church Jesus wants you to be – a vital congregation that makes disciples of Jesus Christ, who make disciples equipped and sent to transform lives, communities and the world.
Embrace your identity. Your church is literally the Body of Christ. So act like it! Love Jesus, follow Jesus, grow in Jesus, be transformed in Jesus and share Jesus in ways that make it clear whose you are. Get serious about investing in those things that form you as the Body of Christ: prayer, Bible study, involving people in intentional discipling groups and reaching out to your neighborhood in ways that touch real people in real ways with real love.
Live out your purpose. Jesus uses your church, and the disciples in it, to continue his mission of making disciples, forming disciples, and equipping and sending disciples to transform lives, communities and the world. Help people discover their spiritual gifts, bless them and then unleash them in your congregation and into the mission field that begins right outside the doors of your sanctuary.
Demonstrate the difference Jesus makes. Almost every congregation has figured out how to thrive with a diverse group of people who have perspectives that are diametrically opposed. Don’t see this as a problem; see it as a wonderful opportunity to show how Jesus brings together people who normally wouldn’t give each other the time of day. Keep people worshiping together on the same pew, praying together, studying together, serving together and caring for each other.
I want to be absolutely clear about something that some people may consider to be a scandalous idea. Yet I am convicted of its truth. The future of your church is not dependent upon what happens in the United Methodist Church. Don’t let the uncertainty, or brokenness, paralyze you. Move ahead boldly and confidently. Your church will still be part of the Body of Christ. Your church will still make disciples of Jesus Christ. Your church will still form deeper disciples. And your church will still equip and send disciples to transform lives, communities and the world.
The painful reality is that we United Methodist Christians face an uncertain future. As Jesus leads us toward it, I want you to know something. I consider it an honor and a privilege to walk with you. I believe in you. I trust you. And, most importantly, I love you.