The Opening Service at General Conference was sensational in many ways.
The Bishop’s message reflected on water, how it was at the water’s edge that some fishers were mending their nets when the Nazarene came up, engaged them in conversation, and called them to “follow me.”
One focus on that Scripture is that the men stopped taking care of the equipment that supported their livelihood to “immediately” follow Jesus. They radically changed their entire way of living. Perhaps this was the primary message: we are called to follow Jesus, to step up and do it. Follow Jesus!
As I twist my head and look again at the Scripture, the prism of my spiritual trifocals brings into focus another equally compelling component of the message.
The fishers tending their nets was something that needed to be done if they were going to fish. However, investing time in net care no longer was important.
Agenda and legislation of the 2012 General Conference require delegates and the church to spend a great deal of time examining and repairing the “fishing nets” of the church. Nearly 1,000 delegates will invest hours considering the structure of the denomination, the ordering of the church’s ministry, and how the vitality of these ministries—especially congregations and pastors—will be evaluated.
For me, the haunting reflection of these past five days is a question: are we just mending institutional nets? Will all the work folk are about in Tampa bring the realm of God to greater fulfillment?
I remember an evening in my United Methodist Polity and Doctrine class at seminary. We were a fine group of aspiring United Methodist clergy, eager to be part of the structure we were studying. We would be clergy of the Methodist book! Imagine our horror when a guest speaker, a pastor from the largest United Methodist congregation in the state, declared before us that he only used the Book of Discipline when it was helpful that is, to his advantage!
Forty years later, I think there was some wisdom in the pastor’s apparent Methodist heresy.
As important as tending institution nets is, as important as having an efficient and streamlined church organization is, the critical issue is how we support and encourage one another in faithful living and loving in the Way of Christ. That does not come structure. It comes from passion; it comes from commitment. We cannot order that.
John Wesley had plenty of rules for his movement. Perhaps the best—and most simple—rule is this:
“Do all the good you can, By all the means you can, In all the ways you can, In all the places you can, At all the times you can, To all the people you can, As long as ever you can.”
That cannot be legislated. In fact, when Christians follow Wesley’s admonition, it is uncontrollable!! It is not a program. It is, dare I say, a “Wesleyan movement!”