Turning the old ship around
"Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet, it did not fall because it had its foundation on the rock.
“But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash." -- Matthew 7: 24-27
By Bishop Frank J. Beard
Resident Bishop, Illinois Area
The United Methodist Church
Well, if you can't tell by now, I am not one that believes that the best days of the United Methodist Church and the movement of Methodism are in the rearview mirror. The best days of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference are not in days gone by. Our best days are still in front of us. Yeah, I think we need to amen our ouch.
Now, I'm not a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I believe in the words of my slave foreparents who said, "I don't believe God brought me this far to leave me." God did not bring us this far to leave us. Now, I am by nature a pragmatist. It does not take a rocket scientist to tell you that these are dark days in the Methodist Church. These are difficult days. These are days filled with doubt, despair, and ever-looming doom. But the God that I serve specializes in working in low to not light conditions.
God often does God's best work in the midst of chaos and darkness. I know today that some of you, as United Methodists, are wounded. I know that some of you are battle weary. I know that some of you are worried. I know that some of you are wondering what the future will bring, but I stopped by to remind you that Psalm 30:5 says, "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning."
This present darkness will not last always. Joy is coming in the morning. Now, I don't know when morning will come, but morning is coming. I was listening to Carol Sims preach the other night, and she walked all over my sermon. Then I got to thinking, "Well, maybe God is just reinforcing one another."
While I have your attention, allow me to dispel a major Christian myth popular among the people called United Methodists. The myth is this: if it's hard, it must not be of God. Here's the myth: if it's hard, it must not be of God.
I've heard some folks saying that the delegates to the 2019 general conference got it all wrong. Let's not be too quick to jump on that bandwagon. We talk about being a global church, but we continue to only scratch where the U.S. church is itching. We fail to take seriously the damage and harm that we could cause by insisting on making our global church a U.S.-centric church. General conference 2019 did accomplish this for all of us: it moved us off of stuck. Perhaps now we can become an unstuck church, maybe even an unstuck conference.
We do know that the way forward is not paved. The road is not pretty. The directions are not printed, and the path surely is not primrose. But I heard David say in the Psalm, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil because thou art with me."
Yes, this current valley is dark. Yes, this valley is long and is filled with pitfalls and perils unknown, but thou art with me. Let us never forget the dying words of our founder, John Wesley who said, "Best of all, God is with us." So, my sisters and my brothers, we have a long road ahead of us. This journey can only be traversed as we commit and recommit ourselves to the task of being aligned with Christ. Each of us must be attached to Jesus Christ with the yolk of the Holy Spirit.
Now, we are a good annual conference. We are a good annual conference. We are a good annual conference. Seriously, I've been across our connection, and I would not trade this annual conference for any in our connection. I have traveled across, up, and down this annual conference, and I'm happy to be your bishop. There is no other place I desire to serve. There's no other church I would rather serve. There's no other conference I'm looking to serve. This is a good annual conference. Can I just take a minute and brag on y'all? I heard my father say one day, "It ain't bragging if you can back it up."
- The IGRC has had seven new faith community or new church projects begin in the last 12 months.
- We've had 64 churches make at least one disciple in 2018 by welcoming a new member by profession of faith. These are churches that previously only had a profession of faith in the last two years.
- We just finished as an IGRC our ninth straight year with a balanced budget.
- We have just completed the second best apportionment receipt percentage in IGCR history at 94.69 percent.
- A total of 703 of the 820 congregations in the Illinois Great Rivers Conference paid 100 percent of their apportionments in 2018.
- The IGRC campus ministries in the past five years have had 2,657 students in service projects, 468 in worship, 327 in small groups, and they've raised more than $400,000. I keep hearing that we don't have young people.
- The IGRC churches gave $6.6 million in missions giving through the conference in 2017, and that does not include any direct giving that might have been done that wasn't reported, things like Christmas shoe boxes and those other projects. 6.6 million in mission giving.
- We lead the jurisdiction in sending out work teams, VIM teams, to engage in hands on mission projects.
- As of May 30, we have 228 people that have already committed to pray for our churches and ministries to make thousands of new disciples of Jesus Christ through our Reach 1,000 goals. We remain committed to the cast of developing leaders who are disciples who make disciples. We continue to work with our congregations offering resources and tools to develop disciple-making ministries and processes that transform and change lives.
The Illinois Great Rivers Conference practices good financial stewardship by paying 100 percent of our general church apportionments. Some of you had heard me talk about that, and I don't want us to go backward from that. We have designated giving, so there should never be a church that has a pastor under appointment that doesn't give toward the general church, because you can designate your tithing. Just a thought.
I'm happy. I'm happy. I'm peacock proud and honeymoon happy to be your bishop.
I'm happy but I ain't satisfied because we can do better, and we will do better. So the question asks itself: “Bishop, where do we go from here?” I'm glad you asked.
First and foremost, we must all be committed to be an annual conference anchored in prayer.
I believe in the power of prayer. One of the reasons I believe that I was assigned to be your bishop is that I believe we can move this conference further and farther along with our prayer ministries and our prayer effectiveness. I want us to become more of a praying conference.
Second, it really is all about Jesus.
Knowing him and making him known, we must strive to be a Christ-centered conference. Third, I want an annual conference that generally loves one another. The Bible says that folks will recognize that we belong to Jesus because of our love for one another. This love expresses radical hospitality. This love extends grace and space toward one another. This love speaks the truth with honesty and clarity and with integrity, and love looks for ways to express itself through mission and ministry outreach.
I want an annual conference that loves to give. Now, as far as I understand, tithing is not a suggestion. It's not even an option. Financial accountability and Christian stewardship go hand in hand.
Finally, I want an annual conference, and this will not surprise any of you, that knows how to catch fish.
Our call is to make disciples and to transform the world. Our challenge is to develop leaders with depth and compassion, ones committed to being the hands and the feet of Jesus to a needy, sin-sick world. Let us be committed to reclaiming and retaining our Wesleyan DNA, one hand up to God and one hand reaching out to the people that God loves, all God's people. Let us also continue to engage in the work that God has assigned to this annual conference.
Now, it will take the power of God to hold our denomination together. I'm aware of that. My prayer continues to be for the Illinois Great Rivers, yea even in my personal life, my prayer is this. You've heard it many times. “Lord, send the gentle wind of Holy Spirit. Blow upon the embers of my heart and fan me into flames for Jesus once again.”
We can determine what type of annual conference we want to be. I don't know about you, but my hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus' name, on Christ the solid rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand.
When we stand for Christ and with Christ and we're motivated to move in Christ, I believe the old ship will turn around. God bless you.