First Things First


The Current, June 2015
Bishop Jonathan D. Keaton
        Last year, I mentioned a humorous narrative about disciple-making courtesy of Larry Hollon, former General Secretary of United Methodist Communications.  Hollon asked “Why did Jesus choose fisher persons for his disciples? 
1 They go where the fish are…the fish they sought were not inside the religious institution in Jesus time.
2 They don’t argue with the fish about the bait.They fish.They’re always glad to tell what they caught, even tell about the catch with enthusiasm.We have to tell of God’s love as revealed in Jesus Christ.”
          From the way United Methodists function, we have not developed a consensus regarding who is responsible for making disciples.  Depending on the church and pastor each alleges that the other is responsible for disciple making.  By our Lord’s example, leaders and followers have shared responsibility for disciple making.   Hollon’s narrative was clear.   Disciple makers “go where the fish are and spend little arguing about the bait.  They fish.”   IGRC make the mission of Christ’s church your first priority.  
          What’s happening in our denominational conversation has revealed a focus that is functionally true but rarely acknowledged.  Have our open letters, resolutions, seminars, blogs, magazines, newspapers, emails, texts, Facebook and Twitter accounts suggested that “making disciples for Jesus Christ” should be set aside or reduced in importance until we can fix or address numerous problems bedeviling the church? 
For example,
1 In Berlin, we (The Council of Bishops) asked Judicial Council if proposed legislation the 2016 General Conference (GC) related to agency structure is unconstitutional.If so, it would keep GC from wasting its time.Here, structure is the dominant motif.
2 The Connectional Table (CT) has drafted a proposal for GeneralConference.The alternative language would “remove the prohibitive language from the Book of Discipline concerning homosexuality.”According to United Methodist News, Bishop Ough opined that CT “hopes it will strengthen the unity of thechurch…allow us to move forward together…so we can focus on our mission.”Comparatively speaking, human sexuality has garnered more attention and concern than making disciples.
3 The Pew Research Center declares that the Christian share of the US population continues to decline.The UMC is a part of that decline.In the May 20, 2015 United Methodist News Digest entitled Economist: Church in crisis but hope remains, Economist Don House predicts that “the UMC has only 15 years to reverse its decline if it is to have a sustainable future.”His prediction comes at a time when Methodism worldwide is growing.Yet, the North American Church will no longer have adequate resources to sustain its connectional structures for an ever growing global church. Membership decline is old news.It shocks us no longer.
          While structure, money or the lack thereof, membership decline and  struggles over human sexuality dominate the landscape and public speak, “Jesus calls us o’er the tumult saying Christian follow me; in the making of disciples through baptism, teaching obedience to God’s law and dependence on the spirit of the living God.”  What’s the point?  For me, The Great Commission remains a first priority.  “Seek first the fixing of our other problems and church growth will be added” remains antithetical to Jesus’ saying from the Sermon on the Mount.  You’ll find it in Mathew 6.