We all had a great time at our first Annual FLUME Breakfast, featuring Dr. Bill Bouknight from the Confessing Movement. His rousing speech with its three challenges to all of us follows:
I greet you in the high and holy name of our Lord Jesus Christ. I count it an honor to speak at the very first annual meeting of FLUME, Florida United Methodist Evangelicals. It has been my privilege to confer with Rodney Akers, Chet Klinger and others as FLUME has been launched. You have a great calling to lift up orthodox, evangelical concerns before the great Florida Annual Conference
Just a short distance away in Tampa, the 2012 General Conference of the United Methodist Church adjourned just over a month ago. Since then I have been reading the evaluations of General Conference by some of my liberal friends; my goodness, are they ever dismal! One said, “Thoughts of that General Conference fill me with deep and profound sadness.” My liberal friends report that they were miserable in Tampa and have been miserable since returning home. Sort of reminds me of that class country song by Billy Ray Cyrus: “I’m so miserable without you, it’s almost like having you here.”
Usually, if our liberal friends find an experience depressing, then we orthodox/evangelical types deem it to be hopeful. I believe that beneath the apparent deadlock and confusion of that General Conference, something big and hopeful was happening. In Tampa we were witnessing the passing away of a tired, declining, liberal denomination, and the rebirth of a worldwide, Bible-centered, evangelistic, Wesleyan movement. Bishop Scott Jones seemed to sense that transformation. He referred to this General Conference as the “death throes of a dying 1970s establishment church, and the birth-pangs of a missional global 21st century church.” Lord, make it so!
Our beloved denomination has been changing for the better since about the year 2000. But the United Methodist Church is like a large convoy of ships at sea. It changes direction slowly. The General Conference of 2012 continued to move the church in a biblical, evangelical direction. Let me mention a few high points of the Tampa Conference:
- First, there were eight significant elections at General Conference, four to the Judicial Council and four to the University Senate. Six of the eight persons elected are orthodox/evangelical in theology.
- Second, all attempts to change our biblical and compassionate positions on sexual morality were soundly defeated. The United Methodist Church is the only mainline Protestant denomination in America that has not compromised the Bible’s standards on sexual morality. Isn’t that good?
- Third, over the next four years, $5 million dollars will be invested in theological education in the church overseas, most of it going to Africa. This is smart because Africa has enormous growth potential.
As you know, the dominant item on the agenda of General Conference, and the item that took up the most time and sucked the oxygen out of the atmosphere was the Call to Action Report. This CTA report was two years in the making and cost $500,000 to prepare. Its goal was to address the declining U.S. church and suggest ways of making more vital local churches. But the plan was mostly about restructuring or reorganizing the church.
There were two big problems with the CTA report. First, reorganizing the church will not solve the church’s main problem. Our problem is not organizational. We are almost as organized as the U.S. Army. If there were a correlation between holiness and number of meetings held, we would have already ascended by now. Friends, our problem is not organization or structure; our problem is spiritual and theological. I agree with the district superintendent who said, “I have studied the 300-year history of the Methodist movement, and I can tell you that not a single revival has ever been started by restructuring.”
The second problem with the CTA report was that it ignored where revival is already occurring. Just suppose you are the CEO of Verizon Corporation. And just suppose as you review the annual reports from your worldwide corporation, you notice that the Brazil division’s sales have doubled. But you also note with alarm that the Canada division has suffered a 30 percent decline. Wouldn’t you get on the phone to Canada’s manager and say, “Look, I want you to send a blue ribbon team down to Brazil and make a study of why they are so successful?”
Now transfer that analogy to the United Methodist Church. The U.S. division of the UMC has suffered a net loss of 300,000 members over the past four years, while the African division during the same period has grown by over one million members. Why didn’t someone on the CTA committee suggest that a blue-ribbon team be sent to Africa to find out the secrets of their explosive growth?
It’s so obvious; why didn’t it happen? Could the problem be racial prejudice, since the African Church is black and the U.S. church is over 90 percent white? I doubt it. The church bends over backwards to make up for its racism of the past. I think the real problem is ELITISM. There is an unspoken assumption that most denominational wisdom resides in the U.S. After all, our universities and seminaries are thought to be superior. The church in the U.S. is 200 years older than African Methodism. Indeed, there is a bit of condescension among some of our leaders toward the Africans. Following General Conference, one of our U.S. bishops said that she wished the African Methodists would “grow up.” What a condescending statement!
But remember, God has a particular fondness for flipping worldly wisdom upside down. St. Paul asked, “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” Remember, the status of Abraham’s tribe was not very high when God chose them to be his special people. Wouldn’t it be just like God to use the least affluent part of the United Methodist Church, the African part, to lead the other portions of the church toward vitality and renewal?
Brothers and sisters, the African Church is already leading a revival of our beloved denomination. The African church is growing faster than the U.S. church is declining! For the first time in our 44-year history, the United Methodist Church has more than 12 million members worldwide. Why are the African Methodists so successful? It’s not their organization; they have little of it. It’s not their money; they have little of it. It’s not their great institutions of higher learning; they have very few of them. They don’t attend lots of meetings because distances are too great and transportation too expensive. Their secret is that they know their mission and their message and they keep the main thing the main thing. Their mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Their message is Jesus Christ and him crucified. They simply tell people that if they will repent for their sins and trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, he will forgive their sins, save their souls, and transform their lives. People respond, and God is faithful.
God wants to do in American Methodism what he is doing in African Methodism. His miraculous work is not coming from top down, but from bottom up. Your local church is ground zero for God’s renewal plan.
Let me extend three challenges to your local churches, and I hope you will write these down: FIRST, EXTEND INVITATIONS IN WORSHIP SERVICES. In United Methodist worship services, the invitation to Christian commitment has almost disappeared. Bishop Dick Looney says that in regard to invitations, Methodist churches can be divided into two camps. Most have no invitation at all. The rest have an invitation so perfunctory that if anyone responded, the preacher would faint.
Archbishop William Temple is credited with saying, “It is immoral to preach the gospel and not give an invitation, and it is immoral to give an invitation without first preaching the gospel.”
There are lost people in every congregation, and God expects preachers and congregations to create opportunities for him to save them. Just six weeks ago Charles Colson departed for heaven. He was President Nixon’s old hatchet man who was soundly converted just before he went to prison for Watergate crimes. He came out of prison with a passion for the Gospel and a special mission to reach prison inmates. I would rank Colson among the ten most influential Christian laymen of the Twentieth Century. In his classic book “The Body,” he tells about visiting a Southeastern city. While there he was invited to speak to a downtown businessmen’s group. This was about 20 of the city’s power establishment, distinguished looking men in dark suits. In his remarks Colson made reference to our sinful nature. He actually used the term “total depravity.” During the question and answer period, one man said, “You don’t really believe we are sinners, do you? You’re too sophisticated to be one of those hellfire and brimstone fellows.” Colson replied, “Yessir, I believe we are desperately sinful. In fact, we deserve to go to hell and would but for the sacrifice of Christ for our sins.” A shocked silence filled the room. Then another man spoke up and said, “I don’t know about that, Mr. Colson. The people in this room go to church and exhaust themselves doing good works for this city.” Colson replied, “I hesitate to say this, because I know you will not invite me back, but you are, for all your good works, further from the Kingdom of God than the people I work with in prison. They know they are sinners.”
There was lots of coughing and rattling of cups. People began to excuse themselves, “Got to get back to the office.”
After the other men had left, one remained. He asked Colson to come to his office just down the hall. When they were alone, he blurted out, “I want what you have. Show me how to find it.” Moments later they were both on their knees. This man asked for forgiveness of his sins and turned his life over to Christ.
There are people like that in every congregation, and God expects preachers and congregations to create opportunities for him to save them. Invitations to commitment should be varied and fit the theme of the service. Let me give you just two examples of creative invitations. I know of a preacher who about once per quarter gives this invitation before the last hymn: “Brothers and sisters, usually at the end of our services I greet you at the door, but today will be a little different. Our Lay Leader will be at the door to greet you. I will be at my office which is just through that door and to the right. I have a feeling that there might be persons here today who want to talk with me about spiritual matters. Just meet me there in my office. There are multiple chairs in the outer area of my office. I will invite you one at a time into my office for sharing. Maybe God brought you here today for just this opportunity.”
Let me share a second type of invitation. This one was issued last Easter Sunday in the Chapin United Methodist Church in Chapin, South Carolina. The pastor Jody Flowers knew his congregation would be larger than usual and might include some lost folks. So, Jody preached a Gospel-centered sermon on Resurrection and then had a detachable card placed in the bulletin. It was entitled “Easter Response Card.” It had a place for a person’s name and email address. Then you were invited to check one of four responses: A- Already a Christian, B-Became a Christian for the first time today! C-Came back to Jesus today! And D- Did not decide today. Then worshippers were invited to bring those cards to the altar during the last hymn or following the service. Jody showed me one response card from a child. She had checked answer A, already a Christian, and then she wrote, “God is awesome!”
My first challenge is to extend invitations in worship services. My second challenge is EXTEND INVITATIONS ALL WEEK LONG, WHEREVER YOU ARE. Church leaders, train your people to do two things. First, engage in godly gossip every week. Train yourselves to pick out at least one good thing about your church and share it with someone at work or in the neighborhood or on the golf course. Maybe it’s something your Sunday School teacher said, or a great choral anthem, or an answered prayer. The ears of lost people will perk up when someone says something good about their church, because lost people have spiritual needs that are not being met.
Also, train your people to be list-keepers. Teach them to keep a list in their wallet or pocketbook or on their blackberry. It’s a list of three friends, co-workers or neighbors who to the best of your knowledge are unchurched or not in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. If someone is on your list, that means you promise to do three things in regard to them. First, pray for them regularly. Second, invite them to church or to some kind of Christian group. And third, you promise that if an opportunity presents itself in the natural flow of conversation, you will share with them briefly what Jesus Christ means to you. If a local church has even 25 list-keepers, God will transform that church into an incubator of new births.
A Methodist layman named Sam walked toward his car one Sunday morning to go to church. At the same time his neighbor Henry happened to be leaving his house with his golf clubs on his shoulder. He said, “Sam, come play golf with us today. We need a fourth person to round out our foursome. It’s a beautiful day.” Sam, with just a tad of spiritual pride, said, “No, Henry, today is the Lord’s Day and I’m going to church.” Henry put down his clubs and walked over to Sam. He said, “Neighbor, I have noted your faithfulness to your church and have often wondered about your church. But you know, this is the fifth or sixth time I have invited you to play golf with me. But you have never invited me to go to church with you.”
There is likely some person out there, a lost soul, who may never be reached for Christ unless you extend the invitation.
Now, here is the third challenge I want to extend: GROW THIS FLUME ORGANIZATION SO THAT YOU HAVE SUBDISTRICT GROUPS ALL OVER THE CONFERENCE. Your districts in the Florida Conference are so large that it will work better to have groups in smaller areas. I’m talking about groups of orthodox/evangelical clergy and laity who meet once per month for breakfast or lunch. Your conference steering committee can email helpful articles for these groups to consider. But their main purpose will be sharing, mutual encouragement and prayer.
Friends, I see organizations like FLUME being established all over the country. That makes me bullish on the United Methodist Church! I can’t wait to see what the next four years will bring. I feel a bit like the old country boy who came to the airport in Charlotte, NC to inquire about buying a ticket to Memphis where his best friend had moved. This good old boy did not realize that Charlotte is on Eastern Standard Time but Memphis is on Central standard. The travel agent quoted the price of a ticket and told him that the next flight would depart at 12:01 PM and arrive in Memphis at 12:02 PM. The country boy’s mouth fell open in amazement. The agent asked, “Sir, would you like to purchase a ticket?” “No Maam,” the country boy said. “But if you don’t mind, I’d like to hang around and watch that thing take off.”
I plan to hang around and pray and cheer as the United Methodist Church really begins to take off!
Be bold and confident, my brothers and sisters. I believe that during the first half of the 21st century we are going to see a new United Methodist Church emerge. No longer will it be just an institution; it’s going to be a mighty movement of God, fueled by the Holy Spirit, and to God be the glory.