Invite God To Change Our Conversations

Invite God To Change Our Conversations

conversation

Photo by Korney Violin on Unsplash

By Gary E. Mueller

Bishop of the Arkansas Annual Conference

It seems to me that we Christians are engaging in more and more conversations about the future that leave us feeling stuck, frustrated and hopeless. The result? All too often we end up cynical at best or polarized at worst. Which is exactly why it’s time to do something we should have been doing all along – invite God to change our conversations.  

When we think that the only way we can solve “the problem” in our beloved United Methodist Church is to adopt some plan at General Conference, we descend into chaos and despair. But when we invite God to change our conversation about our church, then we begin to ask a new question that can change the trajectory of our future, “What does the General Conference have to do to ensure there are as many faithful and vital congregations as possible making disciples of Jesus Christ?”

When we are convinced that the United Methodist Church is going to continue to decline, we give up and just go through the motions. But when we invite God to change our conversation and focus on how prayer changes things, then we begin fervently praying for a Great Awakening that always brings Jesus into the lives of people both in the church and the mission field all around us.

When we think we’re always going to struggle to reach younger people, we’re embracing a self-fulfilling prophecy that ensures we are always going to fail to reach younger people. But when we invite God to change our conversation so that we are talking about how God is giving us the gifts we need to reach young people, then we are propelled into the lives of those who are longing for the opportunity to grow in deeper discipleship.

When we invite God to change our conversations, we change the way we look at things. When we change the way we look at things, we change the conversations we have. And when we change our conversations, we experience God doing the most amazing things in our lives and the lives of those around us!

COVID-19: A Rapidly Changing Landscape

The last several weeks have seen a rise in COVID-19 cases in many communities in Arkansas. During the last two days, the number of reported and active cases, hospitalizations and deaths have dramatically increased. This new and dangerous landscape is the result of the Delta variant present in our communities, vaccines possibly being less effective and the fact that the number of people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 has plateaued at an alarmingly low rate.

I have worked closely with the Bishop’s COVID-19 Task Force to develop the latest guidance as your Boards of Trustees use the ARUMC dashboard, CDC guidelines and information about the vaccination rate in your congregation to make decisions about how best to keep those in your church safe. While none of us like having to remain vigilant after having such high hopes about the vaccine allowing life to return to normal, we must deal with reality the way it is and not the way we wish it were.

1. Utilize the ARUMC COVID-19 dashboard.

  • Check the county-focused dashboard that now contains vaccine data and may be found here: https://arumc.org/covid19/dashboard/
  • Be aware that the benchmarks do not account for the vaccine data, nor do they distinguish between non-vaccinated cases or vaccinated cases.
  • Consider collecting self-reported vaccine data from individuals in your ministry setting without asking any questions other than “Have you been vaccinated for the COVID-19 virus?” This may help you better understand how many of the people attending events at your church are vaccinated.

2. Continue to follow the safety guidelines set forth by the CDC.

  • Access the CDC links on the ARUMC website that are updated weekly and may be found here: https://arumc.org/covid19/
  • Strongly recommend, or perhaps even mandate, that those not vaccinated wear masks and socially distance by at least 6 feet.
  • Move events outside if members of your congregation test COVID positive.

3. Act to keep our children safe. Since they cannot receive a vaccine yet, children under age 12 should be considered high-risk for contracting COVID-19.

  • Create a ‘cocoon of safety’ by asking everyone – vaccinated and unvaccinated – to wear masks at church.
  • Encourage all individuals in your community who qualify to get fully vaccinated since this provides the best way to keep our children safe.
  • Follow the safety guidelines for children’s ministries may be found here: https://arumc.org/covid19/safe-church-reopening-guidance/ministries-with-children/

4. Think ahead.

  • Prepare for flu season by continuing to sanitize hard surfaces, offering hand sanitizing stations, limiting shared surfaces, and offering only pre-packaged foods.
  • Help people understand that there is a possibility for vaccinated individuals to require a booster dose of their vaccine later this year.

We do not wish to alarm you, but we believe that churches need to take the lead in keeping people in our congregations and communities safe. Just yesterday, an Arkansas United Methodist Church learned that 4 fully vaccinated members wearing masks who attended worship last Sunday have been diagnosed with COVID.

We are grateful for how Arkansas United Methodists have led the way in responsibly addressing the COVID crisis the past 18 months. It is time for us once again to step forward and make a positive difference in our congregations, communities and state as we proactively address the rapidly changing COVID landscape by getting vaccinated, socially distancing and wearing masks. We join you as you pray for each other and care for each other.

This statement has been compiled and shared by Bishop Gary Mueller
and the Bishop’s COVID-19 Task Force

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact Amy Ezell at amy.ezell@arumc.org.

 

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A Word Audit

A Word Audit

words

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

By Gary E. Mueller

Bishop of the Arkansas Annual Conference

When I find free moments to reflect on my life and ministry, I often think about the words I use to describe what I’m experiencing. If the words are positive, uplifting and energetic, I know I feel good about what’s going on. If they are negative, it’s equally obvious. And if they are snarky (and, yes, that’s a theologically appropriate term), I know there’s something going on in me I need to figure out.

Quite frankly – and it’s embarrassing to admit this – I don’t like the negative words I’ve been choosing recently to describe the contentiousness that occurred at this year’s Annual Conference, congregations complaining about “those people in Little Rock,” pastors expressing an entitlement attitude about their appointments, or all the talk about the future disintegration of the denomination. In fact, I deeply despise the fact that I have been mired in a sea of negative words when I talk about our church, people and future.

It’s very different, however, when I think about the words I’ve been using to talk about the “Body of Christ.” Suddenly, it’s like I’m talking about something that’s the polar opposite of what I so often experience in the “church.” And my vocabulary reflects it as I invoke positive words that describe God-nods, Holy Spirit breakthroughs, reconciled relationships, the bright light of Christ shining, and the making of disciples of Jesus Christ, who make disciples equipped and sent to transform lives, communities and the world. 

So why do I speak negatively about the “church” and positively about the “Body of Christ”?

I think it has everything to do with whether we are acting like the church belongs to us or whether it belongs to Jesus. I instantly get negative about the “church” when we treat it like a human institution that we believe we’re in charge of because, whenever that happens, we get what we’ve got – something far more reflective of the worst of humanity instead of the best of Christ. I speak positively about the “Body of Christ” when we are able to step back from our urge to control and are instead controlled far more by Jesus’ heart and mind.

Of course, it’s one thing for me to understand why I do what I do. It’s quite another for me to do something about it. That’s why I’m glad God has stepped in and convicted me in a way that will keep me from throwing up my arms at the overwhelming impossibility of the task and just walking away.  

And because God has stepped in, here is what I intend to do. 

I will divest myself of the notion that I can fix the “church” because I somehow live under the delusion that I am in charge. Rather, my vocation will be to experience the “church” more and more as the “Body of Christ” in which I experience Jesus as our literal and spiritual head who directs our life together. And while I don’t know what the future of our beloved United Methodist Church is going to be, I do know that this way of being “church” offers a wonderful opportunity to be part of a group of people who live in true love, joy, justice, new life, resurrection, healing and hope.

And that’s more than enough for me.

At the Heart of the Heart

Here’s what I’ve learned and I give thanks to God that I have. The world is filled with so many wonderful surprises, different kinds of people and amazing experiences. Life works far better when you lead with love and let that set the tone of everything else that happens. And you find far more satisfaction when you focus on others than on yourself. Yet my spirit is unsettled. And the reason is that for some reason we seem to keep spending our time and energy on almost everything but the most important thing: Jesus. So let’s make a shift today, and put Jesus – who is the Way, the Truth and the Life, Hope unending and Joy inexplicable – at the heart of the heart of everything. No telling what will happen. Literally!

A Bubble of Grace

In the same way seasons change with the calendar, life changes as you journey through the years. In the same way you have no control over the weather on any particular day, you often have no control over what happens in your life. And in the same way you have to adapt to the weather the way it is and not the way you would like it to be, you have to adapt to what is happening in your life. This can be daunting, even overwhelming. But it is a powerful reminder of something you need to remember, embrace and celebrate. You do not do life alone. Jesus is in front of you, behind you, above you, below you, beside you and in you every moment of every day. So much so, you literally walk through life in a bubble of grace.