Tag Archives: Outreach

Andy Stoddard ~ The Prevenient Grace of Mr. Rogers

Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian pastor, but I believe that actually he was a Methodist deep down inside.  Why do I say that?  From my understanding of how he lived, I don’t know anyone who more fully lived out the concept of “prevenient grace.”  Prevenient grace is the grace that goes before us, the grace that calls us into conversion. In our Wesleyan understanding of prevenient grace, it is also the grace that goes to all people. It is the grace that embodies God’s love to all persons. You can reject conversion, you can reject sanctification, but you can’t undo God’s love for you. All people receive God’s love, whether we accept it or not.

Mr. Rogers understood that.  He sought to live out a life in which he treated all people with kindness; he treated everyone according to their worth. That is the essence of prevenient grace, the essence of the image of God that is placed upon all people. All are made in the image of God, all are in need of salvation, all can be saved, all can be saved to the uttermost.  All persons are called to receive grace, and all persons should be treated with the kindness to which this theology calls us. 

After my family and I watched A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, I did a lot of reading about the original article that forms the foundational narrative of the movie. That led to another article that is a postscript about the original piece and the movie on which it’s based. It is a really powerful follow-up, but as I read it, this line got me the most: “He lost, because the great conceit of the internet is that it has unveiled and unmasked us, that it shows us as we really are and our neighbors as they really are, and that hate is more viral than love.”

To think about Mr. Rogers “losing” a fight that is unwinnable – the temptation to hate and to belittle – is painful. But it is also true.  We are tempted to belittle those with different political beliefs (or at least think the worst of them).  We are tempted to belittle those with different religious ideas and ideals (or at least think the worst of them).  I don’t want to do that; I don’t want to fight; I don’t want to live in a “scorched earth” reality.  But the culture is pulling us all that way. 

Our moment puts us on different sides of so many issues, pitting us against each other.  Everything seems to be colored by our personal perspectives and realities. Some things are powerful and so very important: world views and religion, for instance. Others are of great value: religion and social matters. Some are of no particular importance: iPhone vs Android or sports teams. Everything seems to make each of us angry, and while some things are worthy of our passions, we can’t be angry about everything.  If everything arouses passion, then what is truly worthy of passion?

These passions and divisions seem to be tearing our nation, culture, and even churches apart. And we each, deep down within our heart, have to be asking ourselves, “isn’t there a better way? We can’t continue in this cycle forever, can we?”

This is not a liberal vs conservative ideology or Christian vs non-Christian thing that is unique to America in 2019. It is an age-old human thing. In light of these passions, we have to ask ourselves a question, especially those of us who value Wesleyan Methodist theology. Do we believe in prevenient grace?

I mean, do we really believe that preparing grace goes out to all people, the righteous and the unrighteous?  Do we believe that all persons, not just those who are with me, are made in the image of God?  Do we really think they are of sacred worth? 

Here’s the thing.

Jesus did.

He treated everyone that he met as a person with worth.  From the rich young man (who he looked at with love) who walked away, to the Samaritan woman, to the ones who nailed him to the cross. 

He treated each of these people as a person with worth.  And if he did, as one who follows him, I have to as well.  I don’t always want to.  It would be so much easier sometimes to give into the viral nature of hate.  It feels like everyone else is.  And what if I really disagree with “them,” whoever “they” are? I don’t ever want to pretend that our differences aren’t real: they are. It would be so easy to walk down that path of the world and culture.

But I don’t want to walk down that other path. I want to be like Mr. Rogers and as best I can, through God’s grace, live our God’s grace.  I believe that is the only path that leads to peace.  Maybe it makes me naive, or foolish, or less than those who want to pick up the battle. I’m learning to be okay with that. We all have to do what we think is right.

I think of another who, like the journalist believes Mr. Rogers did, “lost.” 


He lost in the sight of the world, in the sight of the religious leaders of the day, in the sight of Rome.

But he didn’t lose.  Because he lived and died, showing God’s heart of love, and rose again to triumph over sin, death, and the grave.  Hate is not the most viral after all.

To win isn’t always to win.  And to lose isn’t always to lose.

In the end, Mr. Rogers didn’t lose if he still inspires us to show kindness and treat people as though their lives have worth. And Jesus, through his life, death, resurrection, and soon return, shows us our worth and the great love of the Father for us all.

Featured image by Lacey Terrell – © Sony Pictures Entertainment

The Work and the Rest that is Worship

By Rev. Dr. Robert Haynes

In the midst of the Advent season, many church leaders are busy preparing for some extra special: Extra and Special worship services. These services generally draw people to church who have not been before or who have not been in a long time. These can be wonderful times of evangelistic energy. Newcomers to the church can be invited into the Christian community when church leaders work to prepare themselves and their congregations for authentic worship.

Though it may seem paradoxical, Christmas services maybe a time to demonstrate that the work of worship can lead to a divine rest. It is work that does not exhaust, but refreshes.

Church leaders will spend a great deal of time preparing for worship services. Every word to be spoken has been carefully prayed over. Music has been rehearsed. The worship space has been prepared. Leaders should also teach the congregation that worship takes some work on their part. It takes a holy work, and therefore, it is work worth doing. Whether we participate in a uniform, regular order of worship or not, we all participate in a “liturgy.” Liturgy literally means “the work of the people.” Liturgy does not have to be confined to something we read through in traditional worship.

It is indeed powerful to remember, participate, and celebrate the traditions of the centuries of worship that came before us. But all worship: traditional, contemporary, emerging, etc. can be a “liturgy” or a work of the people. Worship is not a spectator’s sport. True worship occurs when we bring ourselves to the worship of God. This requires more than our mere physical presence. This requires our entire being, our time, and our full attention. This can be real work sometimes, but it is always worth it.

Because the Holy Spirit is working in authentic, work-filled worship it is powerful! The power is already there in the Person and Presence of the Holy Spirit. We do not have to force it or make it happen. The Spirit is already there. When we open ourselves to the work of the Holy Spirit by reverent and careful preparation for worship God is glorified, and we transformed in the process.

Worship is also about rest. Let’s face it, many of us have trouble resting. Sometimes we even look down upon those who rest as lazy or unproductive. To be the child of God that we are called to be, we need to rest. We must take a deep breath: spiritually, emotionally, physically.

True worship is a time of rest. We rest in the arms of the God who loves us and desires that we too love Him. He wants us to cast our cares upon Him and take rest from the burdens that the world, others, or even ourselves have placed upon us.

In our worship we can sometimes get so caught up in singing about God or reading about God or hearing about God that we forget that worship is an experience of God. We experience God’s love so that we too might be changed more into the likeness of Him. Have you ever considered how you might move from all those things about God and move into a restful experience of God?

Our worship truly takes on a whole new meaning when we live out that which we say and do in worship. We affirm that God is all powerful, that He forgives sins, that the saints are to commune together, and that there is more to our being than just this earthly life.

If done carefully, prayerfully, and intentionally every worship service can be filled with holy work and holy rest. As new people come to our churches, may Christian leaders model this work and this rest some that others would come to know God’s work and rest for themselves as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Dr. Haynes is the Director of Education and Leadership for World Methodist Evangelism and the author of Consuming Mission: Towards a Theology of Short-Term Mission and Pilgrimage. He is an ordained member of The United Methodist Church. He can be reached at rob@worldmethodist.org. To learn more about, or to order, Consuming Mission, visit www.ConsumingMission.com.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_facebook][vc_tweetmeme][/vc_column][/vc_row] [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Show Up and Pay Attention

By Rev. Dr. Robert Haynes

I was recently visiting my son who is away studying at University, and we attended Sunday worship at a church near his school. After the service, quite a few people stopped us to thank us for showing up to church. The congregation was made up of mostly older members who seemed thankful, relieved, and overjoyed that people from a younger generation would show up to church. That is the way the church is supposed to respond when people show up to church, right? So why don’t more people show up?

In an age of increasing moral relativism, secularization, and skepticism, convincing those outside the Church to show up inside the walls of a local church to seek answers to life’s problems will only grow more difficult. Standing on the front steps of the church while yelling, wooing, or cajoling passersby (literally or figuratively) to come on inside is likely to fail. Rather, those who would seek to effectively share the life-changing message of Jesus Christ must move in another space.

Sociologists say that we live and move in three different spaces. The first is our domestic space: where we live, eat our meals, and spend time with our families. This is our most private space. The second is where we go to work/school. We build relationships here, but they are limited by the confines of the nature of our work environment or school situations. The third space is where we spend the rest of our time. This can be a coffee shop, restaurant, pub, park, or playground. It may be the gym, the athletic fields, or the shopping mall. Used to its fullest potential, the third space is where we do life together. It is where we catch up with friends and neighbors. It is where we are able to hear one another’s hopes and dreams. It is where we are able to talk and reason and learn from one another. The third space allows for an exchange of ideas in a reasonable and measured way.

Faith-sharing is important in all of these spaces. At home, families should worship and study together. At work and school, there is an appropriate way for one to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ who shares love and hope with others. However, it is in the third space where a great impact can be made on non-believers. When people come together around a common interest or on common ground then Christians find themselves entering into spaces where God works in some remarkable ways.

Consider the example of the Apostle Paul in Acts 19 in which we see Paul living and working in Ephesus. In verse 9, we learn that for two years Paul and the disciples went daily to the hall of Tyrannus (an Ephesian third space, if you will). It was there that Paul taught any who would hear, Jews and Greeks, to the point where God did “extraordinary things through Paul” including healing people with the handkerchiefs and aprons that Paul had touched. Wow! Notice that it was not a cleverly devised outreach event where this happened. Rather, Paul deliberately and consistently moved out of the confines of his home and the marketplace of tent making and moved into a third space in Ephesus.

A mentor continues to remind me that in order to share your faith, you must show up and pay attention. Show up in people’s lives. Show up in the momentous and the mundane. Show up in times of joy and of sorrow. Show up for celebrations and for struggles. And pay attention. Pay attention to their hopes and dreams. Pay attention to their doubts and fears. Pay attention to their questions and curiosities.

Most importantly, pay attention to what the Holy Spirit is doing. When Christians show up in other peoples’ lives and pay attention to what is going on, the Holy Spirit will work in ways we could never imagine. As Wesleyans we know that God is calling each and every person to life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ. We also know that we have the privilege and responsibility to use our presence, our works, and our words to be a part of God’s invitation to others. So, pay attention to the promptings and urgings of the Spirit to speak words of comfort and hope. Pay attention to the nudges you feel about when to speak of your faith and when to remain silent and to listen more. Pay attention to the doors that open for you to declare with loving kindness God’s saving grace.

So, move out into your third space. Show up. Pay attention. Then, celebrate what the Holy Spirit does in and among you!

Dr. Haynes is the Director of Education and Leadership for World Methodist Evangelism and the author of Consuming Mission: Towards a Theology of Short-Term Mission and Pilgrimage. He is an ordained member of The United Methodist Church. He can be reached at rob@worldmethodist.org. To learn more about, or to order, Consuming Mission, visit www.ConsumingMission.com.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_facebook][vc_tweetmeme][/vc_column][/vc_row] [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

A Celebration of Continued Vision

A Note from Board Chair Davis Chappell

It is with great joy and thanksgiving that we celebrate Kim Reisman’s 5th anniversary as Executive Director of WME. What a blessing she has been to our mission and ministry! God has used her in marvelous ways to continue the witness and work of WME. Her passion for Christ, her love for people, her vision, teaching, preaching and organizational gifts have faithfully led us into a strategic place for the days ahead.
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On behalf of the board of WME, we give thanks for Kim and are excited about the future, with her at the helm.
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“The past five years have been filled with lots of learning; we have all worked hard and come a long way. It is a true blessing to serve and to be part of this life-changing work.”

Through Kim’s leadership, WME has:

  • Expanded leadership: In addition to the amazing Board of Directors, Regional Secretaries and our newly formed Next Generation Advisory Team, WME has doubled the size of the operations staff, going from two to five positions. Take a minute to meet the dedicated team.
  • WME held our 24th gathering of Order of the FLAME and are working to create a database of all its members. If you have participated and are a member of the Order, please be sure to complete the FLAME Member Form and stay connected.
  • ICYCE (International Christian Youth Conferences on Evangelism) has been rebranded and is now called Metanoia. WME held our 10th Metanoia event after a nine-year hiatus. Young adults from over twenty different countries attended.
  • WME feels a strong commitment to missional evangelism, and therefore, has established the Residency In Mission (RIM) program. We have two residents working with host ministries in New Zealand to strengthen the work in their local contexts, while offering Residents an environment in which to grow in their ministry service.
  • Published the Embrace materials and began holding training workshops. Embrace is an evangelism resource melding personal experience and theological integrity to equip Christ followers to share their faith with confidence, competence and grace.
  • In this ever-changing and tech-savvy world in which we live, WME has worked to make advances in technology. We have updated the website, established a stronger presence on Facebook and other social media outlets, and created a working and more efficient database.

But most importantly, through the ministry of WME, lives of literally thousands of people around the world have been touched and changed. Collectively we will continue to empower Christ followers to share their faith in Jesus Christ!


Share, Give, Join

  • Have you been influenced by the work of WME? Share how Kim’s leadership has impacted you by commenting on our Facebook page here.
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  • You can support the work of WME and make a gift in honor of Kim. Donate NOW.
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  • Join us in our mission to strengthen and promote evangelism by telling others about your personal relationship with Christ.
Stay connected with WME! Receive The Latest news and info from WME

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Reaching Young Adults

By Rev. Dr. Robert Haynes

People sometimes ask me for advice on how to get more young adults to come to church. Frequently, their church is warm and friendly, but is made of up older and/or elderly adults. They sometimes speak passionately about their desire to see their church not die off as members age. These conversations usually occur with church leaders in parts of the world where the church attendance is in decline, particularly in the West.

When I ask them what sort of things they have tried, they tell me they are thinking of putting ads in the newspaper. Or they hung signs up outside inviting people to come to church. Or they held an event and they hung up fliers in places like the post office. They seem disappointed that the response to these has been poor.

At this point, I try to steer the conversation away from these passive, impersonal efforts at “outreach.” None of these require a great deal of time of true investment in people. Effective ministry takes work, a great deal of hard work. It takes an investment of time, of love, and of self-abasing service. While no single formula provides a simple solution to increasing the spiritual involvement of young adults, I will offer a few principles for fruitful ministry.

Pray. This seems so basic, but it cannot be overstated. Pray for God to open your eyes to those you are to serve. Remember that prayer not only changes the one who is the subject of your prayer, but it changes the one who offers the prayer. Pray that God will set your heart right to minister to others.

Check your motives. Simply wanting young adults to come to church merely because it will keep your particular congregation alive is disingenuous and unbiblical. People will see right through it and be turned off. Rather, the gospel calls us to share the love of Jesus because it changes lives, transforms relationships, sets free those enslaved to sin, and heals the broken hearted. If that is your focus, the church will grow as a natural result. If you seek maintenance of an “institution” without prioritizing mission, you will get neither.

Seek Community. Research continues to show that today’s younger adults are looking for an authentic community that will help them discover the meaning and purpose of their lives. There is no better place than the community of vibrant Christians faithfully living out the gospel to aid in that discovery. However, true community looks much different than the institutional nature of many churches, and young adults, generally speaking, do not trust institutions. They have grown up watching banks “too big to fail,” fail. They do not trust government because they see political acrimony everywhere they turn. They see the institutional church racked by scandal again and again. Hence, they will not give blind loyalty to an institution, as maybe the previous generations have done. In order to help them see the good news of the gospel, authentic relationships in a dynamic community of Christians dedicated to scriptural holiness must be developed to provide a healthy picture of the church.

Prioritize Belonging. Too many times the church has told people that they must behave and believe before they can belong. However, this is not the pattern Jesus models. In Luke 19, Jesus is passing through Jericho. When he sees Zacchaeus, Jesus publicly invites Zacchaeus into the community of faith. Picture it, Jesus offers a notorious cheat and swindler a place in the community of people of faith. The members of the religious establishment immediately disapproved. But notice that the result is Zacchaeus’ confession and repentance. Offering community where people are free to belong and can honestly share their doubts, struggles, and questions about faith and have them answered with the transforming love of the gospel is a powerful agent of change.

Celebrate multi-generational ministry. In many parts of the world, young adult Christians are a minority in their peer group. Anecdotal evidence and academic research alike show that young adults want relationships with Christians of older generations to help them navigate life. This does not mean that the older adults need to have all the right answers every time. Rather, young adults tend to seek someone who will say, “I’ve have been walking this road a bit longer. I do not have it all figured it, but I will walk this road with you.” I know I am thankful for the mentors who came alongside my wife and me to help us learn how to be better parents, buy our first home, or take on new community projects. We received invaluable friendship and wisdom from people of several generations.

Be authentic. Young adults value genuine relationships that demonstrate sustained authenticity. Putting on a false front or a fake persona will only hurt ministry. It is not necessary to dazzle them with fancy lights, sound, smoke machines, and mirrors. Do not prioritize another slick event to get people in the door. Leave these things to the entertainment industry. Similarly, do not rely on the latest, trendy program to solve everything. Share your struggles and successes alongside one another, just as the New Testament churches did. Live in community, devoting yourselves to the apostle’s teaching, sharing meals with one another, and sharing as any has need (Acts 2). When a church operates this way people, communities, and the world are radically transformed.

Practicing principles like these in your ministry can help reach people for Christ of all ages, particularly young adults, in your community. The work of World Methodist Evangelism provides even more resources and events to equip your church for ministry. Contact us today to learn more.

Dr. Haynes is the Director of Education and Leadership for World Methodist Evangelism and the author of Consuming Mission: Towards a Theology of Short-Term Mission and Pilgrimage. He is an ordained member of The United Methodist Church. He can be reached at rob@worldmethodist.org. To learn more about, or to order, Consuming Mission, visit www.ConsumingMission.com.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_facebook][vc_tweetmeme][/vc_column][/vc_row] [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Priscilla Hammond ~ How Church Personalities Reveal Epiphany Living

January 6 marked the beginning of the season of Epiphany in the Protestant Church. This date celebrates the revelation of Christ to the wise men from the East (Matthew 2:1–12), in which Christ is revealed to the Gentiles. Of course, we also use the word epiphany to describe that moment when something suddenly becomes clear.

Christ is revealed

I grew up in a “high church” tradition. The liturgy cycled through the church year with steady reliability; Charles Wesley’s songs were as contemporary as it got; and even if the seasons weren’t readily apparent in the moderate Georgia temperatures, they were obvious in the vestments of the clergy. As an adult, I became a member of a modern megachurch, where my mother visited and whispered, “Applause is okay at a concert, but not appropriate in church.” I have been a member of a small church plant that had a five-minute greeting time during the service (and all the extroverts said “Amen!”). I have attended my siblings’ churches: Presbyterian, Baptist, and non-denominational. I have visited a Church of Christ congregation that didn’t use instruments in worship. I preached at a church in Kenya following a wonderful celebratory dance by Maasai women accompanied by a drum and tambourine. In all of these churches, I have observed that the form of worship changes, but the manifestation of Christ does not.

An epiphany during Epiphany

Over Christmas, my husband and I visited a church while on vacation. Old carols sung in contemporary arrangements preceded call and response preaching on the theme “Nothing is Impossible with God.” As I listened, I had an epiphany about Epiphany. Epiphany celebrates the manifestation of Christ to those outside of his Jewish lineage. Jesus’ genealogy had been presented in Matthew 1 as proof that he had a place as the leader of God’s chosen people, but Matthew 2 quickly demonstrated that he holds “the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile” (Romans 1:16). Today’s “Gentiles” include thousands of different people groups. If people are divided by language, ethnicity, culture, behavior, education, customs, and ideology, but unified by the Gospel, then shouldn’t we expect churches to also be unique expressions in their contexts, with different worship, preaching, and organizing principles?

Gospel Personalities

Through my personal epiphany I realized that the differences in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ ministry reflect each of the Gospel writers, each a unique expression of their context. That same unique expression is reflected in all the different forms of church structure and worship.

Matthew began his Gospel with a detailed genealogy followed by an account of Jesus’ birth and the visitation by the Magi. These facts set up a series of organized pericopes and major discourses in which Matthew’s personality shines through. This Gospel has a theme of unification, which is not surprising given Matthew was an ostracized Jew who reached out to sinners and outsiders after his conversion.

Mark’s encouraging storytelling is an exciting journey through Jesus’ ministry as told by a young follower. His loosely connected but grouped episodes resonate with those who value experience over education.

Luke was an educated man who processed through the facts to get to his faith. The theme throughout Luke’s Gospel is challenging Christians to put their faith into practice. Luke’s thoughtful study results in action.

John’s audience is the most diverse. His theme of love unfolds through miracles and signs. His desire for the diverse people of God to be the family of God is true spiritual community.

Church Personalities

Though each Gospel presents the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, they are all unique in their specific presentations, and they are organized differently.

And so are our churches.

A Matthew personality church focuses on liturgy and teaching. The preaching is expository and connected to the church season or a planned annual church calendar. The education of the leadership and the congregation is important but not overly emphasized. Small groups are focused on Bible study, which will help believers “to live a life worthy of the calling you have received . . . Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4: 1, 3).

A Mark personality church may create short three to six week series centered around a topical, relevant theme. The preaching is inductive, beginning with stories that add up to a general conclusion of a scriptural application. The leadership of the church may not emphasize academic credentials. The congregation is drawn to experience over education. Small groups may be organized as semester-based experiences. This church may have a hard time with the “be still” command of Psalm 46:10.

A Luke personality church challenges its members to put their faith into practice. Academics are important, as we are called to study in order to correctly handle God’s word (2 Timothy 2:15). This prayerful study should instruct our faith, moving us forward on our social justice journey. Sermons may be textual (using Scripture as the starting point). Small groups are formed for Christian education and service.

A John personality church includes diverse fellowship. Signs and testimonies are emphasized. Leaders have different academic paths, but education of the congregation is not a priority unless it leads to deeper spiritual community. The purpose of small groups is fellowship, since “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).

Churches have personalities, expressed through their organization, Christian education processes, preaching, and worship. Each can have strengths and challenges, but the diversity is reflective of the differences we see in people, including the Apostles.

Instead of focusing on which organizational structure or form of worship we prefer, we need to ask if our church is manifesting Christ to the world. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John churches all have the opportunity to serve those who are lost and to “encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

Just as Christ was revealed to the wise men, we all have the opportunity to help people on their epiphany journey.

Edgar Bazan ~ Prayer: A Source of New Life

Recently, I had the opportunity to travel to South Korea and visit some of largest churches in the world: Kwanglim Methodist Church with 85,000 members and Yoido Full Gospel Church with 900,000 members. We met with their senior pastors and leaders and learned about their leadership. We were, so to speak, drinking from a fire hydrant all week.

The food was great. The people were amazing. And some of the cultural differences were shocking, and I noticed some contrasting differences between Westerners and Asians.

One observation in particular is that Koreans, in general, are not individualists; they have a culture of collectivism. They are compliant with each other, and their main concern is the greater good. This cultural context influences the ways in which they practice their Christian faith, including how they read the Bible and pray.

Here in America, a question that we typically ask is “What is God’s will for my life?” But this is not a question that is common in Korea. A more common question for Korean Christians would be, “What is God’s will?” Period. The difference between these questions is that the latter focuses on God, on pursuing God’s kingdom, and not on ourselves.

To us, this may not be a big deal since we have been taught about the value of individualism. But for many Koreans, this is not typical. They don’t ask the question, “What is God’s will for my life?” They seek God’s will collectively by studying the Bible and praying. Their main concern is not asking for God’s will but aligning themselves with the teachings of Jesus. In general, the concept of having a tailored plan for oneself is an alien one to them.

In essence, Korean Christians fulfill God’s will for their lives not by waiting for a specific answer from God about a plan for them but by pursuing what they already know God is doing. Their prayer life is more about joining God than asking God.

This experience led me to reflect deeper on my own practice of prayer. A Scripture that spoke to me in very significant ways is in Matthew 20:20-23,

“Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favor of him. And he said to her, ‘What do you want?’ She said to him, ‘Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.’ But Jesus answered, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?’ They said to him, ‘We are able.’ He said to them, ‘You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.'”

This Scripture of Matthew is the story of a mother who wanted only the best for her sons. She came to Jesus with a bold request. She asked that when Jesus comes into his Kingdom, he would have her sons seated on his right and the other on his left. She was doing what any mother would do. I don’t think we can blame her for coming to Jesus and asking what she thought was the best for them.

If we read the other gospels, it’s clear that this was a shared controversy among the disciples all the way until the night before Jesus was crucified. No matter what we may think about James and John (and their mother), the other disciples wanted those seats as well.

The basic problem is that James and John didn’t ask for work in the coming Kingdom but for a place of honor. Through their request, they were not pursuing the purposes of the kingdom but the benefits of the kingdom.

To this request, Jesus provides an answer. He says, “You don’t know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” And they replied, “Yes, we can.” And Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.” (Matthew 20:22-23).

Notice that Jesus doesn’t rebuke the mother or her sons. There was no problem with asking. However, Jesus does tell them that they don’t know what they are asking. And, at that moment, Jesus then asks them if they can drink the cup he is about to drink. With commendable bravery, they replied, “We can.”

Here is a critical moment for all of us as we look to learn more about the power of prayer.

The concept of the “cup” in the Bible speaks of intense personal experience. It is the same image Jesus used in the Garden of Gethsemane when he prayed that the cup he was about to drink might be taken from him. Luke 22:42 says of this, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.”

That “cup” for Jesus particularly meant to him the burden of bearing the sins of the world, of having to face death on a cross. His drinking of the cup was his willingness to accomplish the will of God no matter the cost to him. And he did, because he trusted that the Father’s desire would result in the greatest good for the greatest glory and joy possible for all the saints. And so, even while sweating blood in tortuous expectation of his impending execution, Jesus exclaimed to the Father, “Not as I will, but as you will.”

What then is our cup? When Jesus says, “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” he is telling us that just as his cup represented his submission to the will of God and the purposes of God’s kingdom, so it means to us how we too submit to God. In this context, the cup is something taken voluntarily when our goal is not personal gain but accomplishing God’s will. Drinking the cup is the ultimate act of obedience and trust to God.

What does this have to do with prayer? When we pray, are we only asking for a seat, or are we drinking the cup, submitted wholly to God? When we pray, are our main concerns our individual comforts, or are we pursuing the kingdom of God?

Of course, Jesus does invite us to ask for whatever we may think we need. The point is not to stop that, but to go beyond that. Jesus spoke of this when he said, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)

If we look closely, all this time Jesus has been telling us that prayer is not a means for personal gain (a “seat of honor”) but a source of life. Prayer is the cup that leads us beyond brokenness into new living.

When we tell God, “all these are my wants, but let it be your will and not mine,” we are basically saying, “I want that seat, but that is not the most important thing; above everything else, I want to please you.”

This is the cup Jesus was talking about; this is the meaning of the cup to us. And here,is where the power of God is unleashed in and through us. When we drink this cup we are taken to new heights in our spiritual life.

The secret to a powerful prayer life is drinking the cup: humility and submission to God’s teachings. It is not about not asking what you want or pretending that you really don’t want it by forcing artificial piety; but it is about not losing sight of what matters most even as you struggle with your own priorities. There is nothing wrong with asking and talking with God about our wants and desires. In fact, God welcomes that very much. However (in my Korean experience), prayer is not only about asking “what’s in it for me?” but a pursuit to learn to align our lives with God’s Word and the teachings of Jesus.

How have the Korean churches have been so successful in reaching out to the unchurched and making disciples of them? I came across Matthew 20 and realized that their power to minister comes from their unwavering commitment to please God and accomplish the purposes of God’s kingdom.

What are we to make of all this? We learned from Matthew about not being shy about asking but also about making sure we don’t miss what matters most. Don’t stop praying when you are finished asking for a seat; drink the cup after that. Don’t stop praying when you are finished asking God for what you want or need. Once we ask, then let’s consider also praying like Jesus did, “Not as I will, but as you will.” (Luke 22:42 paraphrased)

Prayer is ultimately a source of new life, not a means for personal gain. Take your prayer life to the next level. Ask everything you want, but then pursue the kingdom of God and offer yourself in complete obedience to what God is accomplishing around you. Say, “here I am, Lord, let me serve you in any way you want me to.”

Let’s not stop asking, but let’s also never stop pursuing the kingdom of God and offer ourselves in complete obedience to what God is doing around us today and every day.


Note from the Editor: the featured image is “Prayer” by painter Kazimir Malevich, 1907.

Matt Sigler ~ How We Really Measure Congregational Growth

Methodists are good at counting. The numerous records that have been kept over the years of “conversions,” “probationary members,” and the like, are a goldmine for historians. This penchant for noting numbers remains in our DNA today. “How many members?” and “How many in active attendance?” are the two primary questions asked when one evaluates the strength of a local church. The church growth movement did little to abate this obsession with head counting. While a growing congregation is, in fact, a sign of vitality, it’s the type of growth that we are marking that concerns me.

We Are Called to Make Disciples, Not Converts

Obviously there is a correlation between the two—one must be born again to become a disciple. And, one of the reasons I am a Methodist is because of the clear emphasis John Wesley placed on saving souls. As Wesleyans, though, we also affirm that conversion marks the beginning, and not the end of following Jesus. We should, we must, continue to celebrate each person brought to the new birth in our congregations, but we should never lose sight of the fact that baptism is just the start of life in Christ.

Our church desperately needs to shift from just asking questions like “How many members?” to also asking “How is the congregation growing in Christlikeness?”

This change in emphasis may equate with numeric growth, or it may not—calling people to come and die doesn’t always make for rapid growth in our time.

The Sunday Worship Gathering is Primarily a Gathering of, and for, the Faithful

Most Methodist churches I know of view Sunday worship as the primary doorway into the church. Worship styles are tailored to meet the perceived “need” of the surrounding community or “target” population. If a church is declining in membership the solution is most often thought to be found in a retooling of the Sunday worship service—making it more appealing. While worship in a local congregation must be contextual, I have found at least three problems with this approach.

First, it feeds into the consumerist mentality that has dominated the North American church for years, making worship often about personal preference.

When worship services are crafted primarily because of a concern for attractiveness, worship becomes a commodity. This approach does little to make disciples; oftentimes it simply makes spectators.

Second, this method is inevitably bound to the winds of change. I find it fascinating (and saddening) to see how many churches continue to launch new, “modern” styles of worship in an effort to increase attendance. Many churches that once offered “contemporary” and “traditional” options now offer a plethora of services with differing styles often defined by generational preferences.

Third, the weight of Christian worship history testifies that the Sunday service is primarily a gathering of, and for, the faithful. This is not to say that we shouldn’t consider how our worship services can best speak in the language of our local contexts. It isn’t to say that we shouldn’t consider if our gatherings are marked with radical hospitality and welcome. But we gather in continuity with the first followers of Christ who found the tomb empty on Sunday. When worship services are designed with the primary aim of increasing attendance, often the centrality of the Story of God’s salvation in Christ is obscured. “Boy scout Sundays,”  “U2charists,” and countless other services which mirror the culture, have all fallen victim to this trap.

Our Culture Needs to See Faithfulness, Not Flashiness

In an increasingly post-Christian context the viability of the Church will stand or fall on the witness of its members, not the appeal of its facilities, programs, or worship services.

For five years my wife and I were a part of a church-plant in Boston, MA. It wasn’t a perfect church— there’s no such thing—but we watched with joy as the church grew significantly during those five years. While there were plenty who joined the congregation through transfer of membership (people who had moved into the city who were already following Jesus); to a person, those who were baptized into the faith came to Christ because of a relationship outside of the Sunday service. One young man, for example, first became curious about Christianity after meeting some of our members at a gardening club. For over a year, he seldom set foot in our Sunday worship services, but came every week to a bible-study/fellowship group some of our members held in his neighborhood. He was baptized on Easter this past year in what was an incredible moment for our congregation. When it came time to give a testimony about how he came to faith, he had nothing at all to say about how good our worship band was or how attractive our space looked.

From the Top, Down

Our current ways of evaluating the health of local churches need to be reexamined. For instance, United Methodist pastors face an ever-present pressure to increase membership, grow the average Sunday attendance, and pay apportionments. I hear plenty of bishops talk about making disciples, yet in most cases head counting on Sunday morning and the paying of apportionments remain the primary criteria for evaluating local congregational health. If we are to see a new way of counting in the Methodist Church, and, I would argue, healthier congregations as a result; change must come from the top down. Our Methodists leaders – our bishops – must model a fresh approach: an approach that values making disciples, restoring worship to its roots as a gathering of the faithful, and finally, faithfulness in the form of relational evangelism. If our leaders model this new way of counting, our pastors can more faithfully lead and grow communities of disciples.

From the archives: this first ran on Wesleyan Accent as “A New Way of Counting” in 2014.

Janine Roberts ~ Connecting Local Congregations to Global Missions

When I was in middle school, I developed a deep desire to go anywhere in Africa.  At the time I had no idea why.  I just knew I wanted to go there someday.  As I entered high school and then college, this desire only increased, until I finally heard of a United Methodist mission team traveling to Zimbabwe for three weeks.  I quickly checked a map, verified that Zimbabwe was in fact in Africa, and began the process of begging my parents to go.  They finally relented a few years later when I was over the age of 18 and were no longer legally allowed to stop me.   

From the time I stepped off the plane in July 1998, I was smitten.  My love for Zimbabwe was cemented that first day and has only grown each year since.  I lived there for many years at a Children’s Home, and I still go back each year to visit people who are now as close as my biological family.  They are a part of who I am.  My life is richer and fuller because was able to see a new piece of who Jesus is by experiencing another culture. 

Now I serve as Mission’s Director at Chapelwood UMC in Houston, TX.  We are still wading through the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and trying to figure out how we can assist other states and islands that were devastated by the hurricanes and storms that followed.  With so many disasters occurring around the U.S. this past year, it is natural to ask, Why should we help people in a different part of the world when there are so many in need throughout our own country?”  As with many issues, the answer is not always either/or, but requires a both/and mentality.  Either/or signifies a limited capacity and in turn can limit God’s ability to work fully in our lives as individuals, families, and churches.   

Similar to when we are told to put on our own oxygen mask in an airplane before we help others, we do need to make sure that our own well-being and that of our family and community are met first so that we have a stable base from which to serve.  When I was in the middle of weathering Hurricane Harvey, I had no capacity outside of trying to do my job and figuring out how to move around a city where most of the streets were still blocked with water.  But – before long the streets and businesses opened back up, and most people were able to find a safe place to stay even if it will be a long time before they can achieve a new “normal.”   

We have churches, organizations, and government programs all working together to provide immediate assistance, and they will stick around for the next few years to make sure the city is back up and running. Unlike many other parts of the world, the structures we have in place throughout the U.S. make it much easier to respond quickly in disaster situations. In many cases, our resources far surpass the services available in other areas around the world.

Yet after we have experienced devastating disasters, our desire and ability to practice generosity to those outside our small bubble may fade even though the needs of our family around the world has not decreased.  We need to remember especially during these times why it is so important to continue serving and building relationships with our brothers and sisters around the world 

We serve because God calls us through his Word to participate in his mission of reaching out and loving people from every nation and culture.  We have the opportunity to form genuine relationships as a means of building up and unifying God’s kingdom, to learn from each other, and to see new ways that Jesus is at work. We grow in our faith when we observe how God has moved in the lives of people in so many different and difficult circumstances.  The faith that I saw exhibited by my Zimbabwean family throughout the years shaped and changed how I responded when going through traumatic events, including Hurricane Harvey.  

My experience is unique to me, but God has a unique experience ready for each of us who are willing to listen and respond in faith daily.  Go where God asks you to go and do what he asks you to do, whether it is as a missionary in your own community, or in a place that starts out entirely foreign to you.  The main reason I believe that we are to serve both at home and around the world is because when so many have looked into the eyes of Jesus and sat still enough to listen, that is what he told them to do.    

So find out which partnerships your church has formed in different parts of the world and how you can participate in growing these relationships.  Research an organization in your town that welcomes refugees and international students and invite someone to dinner.  Check out the work supported through World Methodist Evangelism or other connectional mission organizations.  Choose a country that God has set on your heart and educate yourself and your family so that you can actively pray for individuals and situations in a place you may never physically be able to visit.   

Or go.   

Whatever you feel led to do, you are guaranteed to discover a richer and fuller love for Jesus and the life he has given you. 


Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ The Unreached Object

Protestantism has hit a snag.

Catholics have their challenges, but it’s a very different set. The Orthodox church in its various forms has its disputes but remains largely unchanged.

North American Protestants have hit hard times, like an ecclesial version of the 2008 economic meltdown. We’ve printed Bible verses on magnets, screen printed t-shirts, run food pantries and epic VBS spectaculars, hashtagged our sermons – and overall, in the main, numbers are down, scandals occasionally rock prominent pulpits – if not of moral failure, of exhaustion and burnout – and everyone has a different perspective about why.

Which means we must be very careful about how we go about our mission, because across the country our faith community is in crisis. And crisis breeds desperation.

So these few thoughts aren’t on the why’s and wherefore’s of politics and theology other than as they may shape our attitudes while we attempt to go about ministry in the midst of a colossal, tectonic shift. When a shift of this magnitude occurs, it is tempting to:

A) Cling to the familiar and hold on for dear life

B) Take my Grandpa’s card-playing strategy, getting more and more desperate to get out of the hole and taking wild risks

C) Bail

Investors could probably capture this dynamic in economic terms. Some steadily play the long game, waiting for the system to settle itself down; the infamous day traders took high-risk, high-reward gambles; and there’s always someone who, like in the memorable It’s A Wonderful Life scene, lines up to get their money out of the bank. The tyranny of the urgent doesn’t always create space for careful deliberation. There is a crisis; we must act now; and certain leaders will tell us we must act this way or that way to navigate the crisis successfully.

So what is the mood – not in all, but in many – what is the mood in many congregations?

If we’re not growing, we’re dying.

We’re losing an entire generation.

How are we going to pay for that building project?

The church across town is really giving us stiff competition.

I feel dead inside and my superintendent has called three times about whether we’ll meet our apportionment. 

One bad flu season could wipe out 80% of our biggest givers.

If I could really get this congregation going, I might get on the coaching circuit. 

That’s just being honest.

So some congregations desperately cling to the rituals and routines – events you’ve always done, a calendar you’ve always observed, a strategy you’ve always employed. There’s risk of loss through attrition, but it’s slow and not too jarring, and in times of crisis overextension can be fatal, right? So keep your head down – even if your teeth are gritted and volunteers are getting discouraged.

Other congregations show desperation in other ways: your outreach gets a little frantic, your events are held with little or no explanation as to how they tie into mission, and visitors notice the tightness of the greeter’s eager handshake. There’s risk that you’ve lost your way, your identity, your distinct mission, but as long as the numbers stay up, you can tread water, right? So keep brainstorming, keep in perpetual motion – even if your outreach isn’t translating into discipleship and your focus is blurred.

Meanwhile, the last group usually isn’t made up of congregations: it’s made up of individuals. These are the people who, for one reason or another, bail. And boy, is this a growing group. Maybe you know one of these people. Maybe you are one of these people. You volunteered for years, you were a leader, but slowly you noticed that doing God’s work looked a lot like doing whatever program the latest pastor was enthusiastic about. You spent hours and money for The Vision, but after one too many blowups, or one too many events that bolstered a leader’s ego but didn’t necessarily seem to build the Kingdom of God, you were exhausted. Finally, you were done. You go to church occasionally but wince when greeters learn you have A Background In The Church because they’re quick to share they need volunteers…Sometimes you even sneak into the back of a Catholic service just to be anonymous, to be on the receiving end of ministry, to go somewhere friendly but not desperate.

Oh, American Protestants. You’ve published every version of the Bible possible, from Princess Bibles to Hunter Bibles to Bibles For The College Student, and you’re so tired. So very tired.

Listen, friends, our culture is in a huge seismic shift. I know you’re weary. I know you feel overwhelmed. I know sometimes in the middle of the grocery store your heart hammers and you fight away the panic while staring at a discount bin. There’s extraordinary pressure.

But no matter how you feel, people are not objects of your ministry.

They’re just not.

As soon as we start talking about zip codes or housing developments or suburbs or regions, we immediately have to exercise extraordinary caution, because while talking demographics can be helpful, people are not objects. And they are not the object of our outreach.

If bottoms in pews are a rung on your upward ladder, then buddy, you’re in the wrong business. That is the way of bickering disciples asking who will get the promotion, not the way of Jesus, who saw Zaccheus through the crowd, perched up in a tree. That is the way of the Pharisees, who objectified everyday people, not the way of Jesus, who fell asleep in the bottom of the boat. That is the way of the wretched Simon, who saw the gift of the Holy Spirit and asked for it so that he could make money off of it, not the way of Jesus, who healed ten guys but was only ever thanked by one.

Maturity means knowing how to be patient. It means knowing that you may invest in a relationship for years before a spiritual question ever comes up – if ever. It means praying for people by name for months, years, decades, knowing that their choices may cause them pain in the meantime. It means seeing people, not objects. You can control and herd objects. People are harder. And God may bless your ministry with extraordinary tipping-point breakthrough – or not. But you don’t get to control the outcome. Research, use common sense, learn about your “target demographic,” then push it all aside and ask God who God wants you to see with new eyes -really see. Because people are not objects.

Let’s trust that Christ will build his church, whether you run yourself ragged or finally take a vacation with your family.

Let’s trust that Christ will build his church, whether you can afford to helicopter the pastor onto the roof on Easter Sunday or you can only afford to repair the roof – after a special fundraising campaign.

Let’s trust that Christ will build his church, whether you flip pages of a hymnal or read words projected onto a screen.

Let’s trust that Christ will build his church, whether you feel insignificant or whether you’re in a spotlight of honor and praise.

Let’s trust that Christ will build his church, whether you wear vestments or jeans.

Let’s trust that Christ has given us everything we need to reach the unreached. Let’s trust that Christ didn’t see us as objects to be collected, but as people with sacred worth. Let’s trust that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, no matter what new tech gadget we have to adapt to, no matter who is elected, no matter how effective our personal branding efforts are.

God, save us from the unreached object. Let us have eyes to see people, and to see them as you see them.