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This is the last of a series of posts marking the conclusion of Bishop Lindsey Davis’ 12 years as the leader of the North Georgia Conference, now the largest conference in the United Methodist Church. Bishop Davis begins his new assignment in Kentucky next week.

Bishop Lindsey Davis

Bishop Lindsey Davis

Today, MethodistThinker.com features a recent sermon by Bishop Davis, preached in June 2008 at Mt. Bethel United Methodist Church in Marietta, Ga.

He spoke about passing on the gospel to younger generations, who are growing up in a culture that often views “religious faith, especially Christianity, as unenlightened, foolish, and sometimes even dangerous.”

An excerpt:

There is a strong movement in the United States and in Europe, by those who want a very secular culture, to put the Christian voice on the sidelines — to not allow the Christian faith and the Christian witness to have to have its proper place in the public arena, in the public square, or in the marketplace.

It is an effort, I think, to sideline our Christian witness, so that we will be weak. So it’s very important these days that we tell our story, and we tell it well….

It’s important for us to tell the whole gospel story. Often within the life of the church in America today we want to spend all of our time talking about grace and redemption and salvation. And that’s an important part of the story — the story of God’s love for us.

But it’s also important that we tell the rest of the story — that we tell about sin and the consequences of sin, and that we talk about redemption and the need for redemption, so that then the stories of grace and salvation make sense to those who come after us.

You can listen to streaming audio below (19 min.) — or download an mp3 (4.4MB).



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Bishop Lindsey Davis: ‘The primary task of the Church’
An interview with Bishop Lindsey Davis
Bishop Lindsey Davis: ‘A fully engaged laity’
Bishop Lindsey Davis: ‘Whatever it takes to reach the lost’
Bishop Lindsey Davis: The Church in time of war
Bishop Lindsey Davis: A vision for the future
Bishop Lindsey Davis speaks to the Confessing Movement
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Bishop Lindsey Davis’ 12-year tenure in the North Georgia Conference comes to an end next week, and MethodistThinker.com is offering a retrospective — in the bishop’s own words. On Sept. 1, he will move from the North Georgia Conference to the Kentucky Conference.

Under Bishop Davis’ leadership, North Georgia has grown to become the  largest U.S. conference in the United Methodist connection.

Today, excerpts from two interviews with Bishop Davis — one that took place late last year, and another that occurred just a few weeks ago.

The first is from a conversation with UM Action‘s John Lomperis from November 2007:

The United Methodist Church in the United States has been declining in membership and attendance for a number of years, although the notable exception has been the North Georgia Annual Conference under your leadership. To ask a broad question, why do you think that is?

Whenever you have a growth trend in an Annual Conference there are many variables involved. The first is that we’ve had tremendous population growth in Atlanta, and so we certainly have had ample opportunity to reach new people for Christ.

Bishop Lindsey Davis

Bishop Lindsey Davis

The key for us started back in the 1980s when the [North Georgia] Conference, under the leadership of [Bishop] Ernest Fitzgerald, began a very — at least for United Methodists — aggressive church-planting program, and over the years we’ve planted a lot of new congregations in the area.

We’ve planted over a hundred since I’ve been there, and those new churches have accounted for much of the growth.

One of the things that we know about new churches is that they tend to reach more people, more unchurched people, more younger people, and more diverse populations. And all of those are areas where the United Methodist Church has not excelled very much in recent decades. So that’s been part of the key to our success.

I would also say, though, that in spite of having grown every year for over 30 years now, we still have lost what in business you would call “market share.” Over the past 40 years, the percentage of persons in Georgia who are United Methodists has declined, although it’s a little over 5 percent of the population now, which is better than it would be for almost any other state in the Union….

There’s also within North Georgia a theological framework among many of our pastors that says having an intimate relationship with Christ does transform individuals and it does transform communities. There’s a sense of urgency about sharing Christ with the unchurched. And that kind of theological perspective may be a little stronger within North Georgia than in other places….

How do you think the sorts of things you just discussed that have worked for North Georgia, at least relatively speaking — in terms of growing the church, making more disciples of Jesus Christ, bringing people into a saving relationship with Him — how do you think that could, in practical terms, be implemented more widely across our denomination in the United States?

I work with the initiative of the Council of Bishops called Path 1, which is a church development national strategy. What we’re trying to do is to take the best knowledge, information, and best practices for developing new congregations — wherever that happens in the United States — and begin to raise up a new generation of church planters….

[In our denomination, w]e’ve been planting, generally, between 80 and 100 new churches in the United States every year — throughout all the Annual Conferences in the United States. And we need to be planting in the neighborhood of 350 congregations a year in order to reach the populations that we now have [and] in order to, in some cases, replace the churches that are dying — but especially to reach new, more diverse populations.

The United Methodist Church has not done a good job in the last 50 years in particular of reaching the poor, reaching new immigrants, reaching the working poor. In some ways, we kind of abandoned those populations, yet those are the very people we need to be reaching. And I think the only way we’re going to do that — or it may not be the only way, but the most effective way to do that — is to plant new congregations.

So I’m hoping that we can take the good things that have happened — not only in North Georgia, but also in North Carolina, in Arkansas, and in lots of other places throughout the country — and begin to do kind of a culture and climate change in the United Methodist Church that reemphasizes the planting of new congregations, that reemphasizes evangelism.

Some people have a hard time with the word evangelism. I don’t. I think it’s a perfectly fine word.

But I’m hoping that we can begin to realize that we can’t just sit and be satisfied with tending to the people who are in our little church and doing maintenance ministry — that we’re really called to reach the world. And we’ve become very timid about reaching the world, I think.

How do you hope that our church might finally move beyond the perennial challenges to our church’s historic and democratically confirmed teaching on homosexuality, and the drain of time and energy associated with those challenges?

That’s interesting. I support our church’s position on homosexuality, I happen to think it’s biblical and also that it’s compassionate. I realize a lot of people disagree with me on that, but I happen to think that where we are is where we ought to be.

I do get a little weary of the conversation sometimes, in part because I don’t ever hear anything new. It seems like the different perspectives are never changed and there’s not much new information being shared. It’s like, “Well, we’re going to get together again, it’s been four years, so let’s get together again, and say the same old things to one another.”

I do think that our position, frankly, in the United Methodist Church is consistent with Christendom throughout the world. If you somehow could quantify it, I would think that 95 percent of Christians throughout the world would agree with our position.

One of the reasons that I would be opposed to any change is that I think it would fracture our relationships with most Christian faith communities around the world.

Shortly after the July announcement that Bishop Davis was being assigned to the Kentucky Conference (as well as the Red Bird Missionary Conference), he was interviewed by Peter Smith of the Louisville Courier-Journal:

The mainline denominations have had problems with a declining and aging membership and with controversies. What are your thoughts about the future of the [United] Methodist Church here and beyond?

I frankly think the future’s bright. After 12 years of being a bishop I’m more encouraged now than when I started about our ability to turn around that trend. But the key to it is lodged in new church planting and new church development.

One of the issues we’ve struggled with as a denomination — and so have other mainline churches — is that we’re not reaching younger people, we’re not reaching diverse populations. New churches always tend to do that.

And also, when you plant a new church in an area, it’s amazing — in two or three years you start to see other churches around begin to innovate. You put a new church in, they’re very creative, they go after a lot of the people who are not in church — and then the churches around them say “Hmm, maybe we ought to do that too.” That’s very positive….

Is it harder for existing churches to reach these hard-to-reach people because they’ve been doing things a certain way for a long period time and they get a little ingrown?

That’s part of it. Many times the tendency is to become very comfortable with the crowd you already have. You forget that really the church is not about us, it’s about reaching the lost and reaching those who are unchurched and do not have a relationship with the Lord.

It’s so often easy to become very satisfied with the crowd we know and the people we’re familiar with and the people who look like us and use the same language we do. It takes some effort to break out of that complacency.

Would you describe yourself in a particular way theologically — conservative, liberal, evangelical, charismatic, progressive?

Those are all loaded labels. I tend to be theologically conservative, but I think very progressive on some other issues.

I’m very orthodox theologically — [that] would be maybe the best way to say it. I’m not uncomfortable with those terms….

How do you balance having your own views with your role as being bishop for all the Methodists in your area, regardless of whether they agree with you?

You have to be very open and transparent about who you are. We have wide diversity of thought within the United Methodist Church. I’ve never had any trouble being pastor to all my people.

Sameness and always agreeing on every issue is not ever going to happen. We learn to love and care for one another in spite of the fact that we might have strong differences on issues.

I’ve never served a congregation where everybody agreed with me. I think we learned to love, care and respect one another, and then we have to be honest about our differences in perspective — and be good at listening to people who might have a viewpoint different from our own.

I understand that you have appointed people from a range of perspectives to positions in the North Georgia conference.

I look at performance, I look at outcome, I look at fruitfulness. If people are fruitful, they don’t have to line up with my theological perspective in order to be given more responsibility.

I’ve been a very strong advocate for women in ministry and, for lack of a better phrase, cross-racial and cross-cultural appointments.

The thing I look at primarily is: Have they produced fruit in their ministry?


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Bishop Lindsey Davis: ‘A fully engaged laity’
Bishop Lindsey Davis: ‘Whatever it takes to reach the lost’
Bishop Lindsey Davis: The Church in time of war
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MethodistThinker.com is presenting a retrospective on Bishop Lindsey Davis’ 12 years as the episcopal leader of the North Georgia Conference, now the largest United Methodist conference in the U.S. His tenure in North Georgia comes to a conclusion at the end of this month.

In 2005, Bishop Davis was one of the featured speakers at the UM Southeastern Jurisdiction Ministers’ Conference at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina.

He spoke to the assembled pastors and leaders about the primary task of the church: “Making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” (At the 2008 General Conference, this phrase was adopted as the official mission statement of the United Methodist Church.)

Following is an abridged transcript of Bishop Davis’ remarks, delivered on the evening of July 8, 2005 at Junaluska’s Stuart Auditorium. (Full audio is below.)

After the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples at Pentecost, what do we see? We witness an embryonic church constantly on the go…. They were mission driven — and their mission was to make disciples for Jesus Christ so that they world might be transformed….

Sunset at Lake Junaluska

Sunset at Lake Junaluska, N. Carolina (Stuart Auditorium is at right)

From the very beginning, the early disciples understood that the Christian faith is a movement, not an institution.

[John] Wesley and the early Methodists drew upon this kind of biblical understanding — and they used words like “spread Scriptural holiness” and “redeem the lost” and “renew the Church” and “reform the nation to serve the present age,” so that they might also “flee the wrath to come.” You can hear the message throughout our Wesleyan language.

But we struggle as a denomination, do we not? We’ve lost membership for 40 years, and that loss has significantly diminished our ability to transform the world….

The Lord will bless a church that has a passion for souls. And our problem is that we’ve remembered about spreading holiness and we’ve remembered about reforming the nation, but we’ve forgotten the “flee the wrath to come” part. That has robbed us our sense of urgency and our passion for souls….

I want to talk to you like family members for just a moment. Most of us are long-time members of the United Methodist Church, and I want us to be honest…. Are we not in many ways comfortable and content? More than willing to pay the price of membership — but the real question is this: Are we willing to pay the price of discipleship? It’s a very different question. Are we willing to pay the price of discipleship — of following Jesus wherever Jesus might lead us, and at whatever it might cost us to go there? Are we willing to pay that kind of price?….

I yearn for all of our churches to be faithful, servant congregations — a church that is mission driven, passionate about sharing our faith with others, constantly discovering the needs of the world around us and then going to meet those needs….

I want us to make a difference for the sake of Christ. I want us to be salt and light to the world. I want us to act like we really believe that the Great Commission just might [be fulfilled] in our lifetime.

Friends, we’re living in the first century of Christianity all over again…. Many gods and idols are being worshiped. Spiritual hunger is rampant. The harvest is full. And I believe God is calling us out of our sanctuaries and even out of our denominational structures — and certainly out of our affluence and out of our safety — into those places where we can once again join Jesus on the mission field.

Click the arrow below for streaming audio (23 min.) — or you can download an mp3 (5.4MB).



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Bishop Lindsey Davis: ‘A fully engaged laity’
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Bishop Lindsey Davis: The Church in time of war
Bishop Lindsey Davis: A vision for the future
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As Bishop Lindsey Davis comes to the end of his 12 years of service in North Georgia, MethodistThinker.com is offering a retrospective — in the bishop’s own words.

On the day before Easter in 2005, Bishop Davis was a guest on Atlanta’s WMLB radio (then at AM1160, now at AM1690).

He talked with host Jeff Davis (no relation) about the ministries of the North Georgia Conference, and about his four years as president of UMCOR, the United Methodist Committee on Relief.

Click the arrow below to listen to streaming audio (24 min.) — or download the mp3 (5.5MB)


NOTE: Audio quality is fair.


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MethodistThinker.com is presenting a retrospective on Bishop Lindsey Davis 12 years as the leader of the North Georgia Conference, now the largest U.S. conference in the United Methodist Church. His tenure in North Georgia ends later this month.

On June 16, 2004, speaking at the annual luncheon sponsored by the Conference Board of Laity (PDF), Bishop Davis reflected on the continuing work of renewal in the North Georgia Conference, much of it led by lay people.

Eight years ago, I told you that our church was in need of renewal, and I invited you to join me on a journey of faith. You’ve been there by my side all the way. And, occasionally, you’ve even be out in front of me, leading the way….

The lay leadership of the North Georgia Conference is extraordinary. Those of you in this room represent the best our church has to offer to a spiritually hungry world.

With your leadership, the North Georgia Conference has grown by 51,347 persons in the last eight years. That’s an 18 percent increase in church membership.

Bishop Davis also noted that North Georgia’s laity had helped the Conference launch “new mission efforts all over the world,” including bringing the Disciple Bible study to Russia, offering refugee assistance in Iraq and Afghanistan, building a school in Honduras, and re-constructing a church building in Estonia that, years earlier, had been shut down and desecrated by Soviet troops.

In concluding his remarks, the bishop said lay people must help the United Methodist Church steer a course based on biblical fidelity and theological soundness.

Many challenges stand before us — none, in my opinion, more important than for us to teach and preach in these days to come with theological clarity.

We must support and proclaim, in my view, the classical, orthodox doctrines of our faith — what St. Jude said “was once and for all delivered to the saints.”

We live in a culture of disbelief; we live in culture of bizarre beliefs.

The United Methodist Church must not be timid. We must be loving, and compassionate, and respectful of all persons — but we must also, I think, reemphasize the great verities our faith, which [have] sustained the saints down through the ages.

It is this apostolic faith which will empower, shape, and guide us in the future.

And we cannot be faithful to this task without the ministry of a fully engaged laity. I believe that 99 percent of the vision that God has for this Annual Conference rests in the hearts of the laity.

As a pastor, over and over again, the really important things that we did in our church did not originate in my heart or my mind, but in the hearts and minds of the lay people who were there as a part of the congregation. I believe the same is true for this Annual Conference. And that’s why a fully engaged laity is so very important.

So we look to the future with hope and optimism and excitement. Let us hold on to God’s vision, and let us also hold on to one another, in these days to come. God bless you all.

Streaming audio of his full address is below (13 min.) — or download the mp3 file (3MB).



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Bishop Lindsey Davis: The Church in time of war
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As Bishop Lindsey Davis ends his 12 years of service in the North Georgia Conference, MethodistThinker.com is presenting a retrospective — in the bishop’s own words. Under his leadership, North Georgia has grown to be the largest United Methodist conference in the U.S.

During a “youth service” at the Conference’s 2003 Session, Bishop Davis challenged delegates to do “whatever it takes” to reach young people for Christ.

Below is a condensed transcript of his remarks from June 19, 2003, followed by streaming audio.

May 24, 1738. John Wesley went to Aldersgate Street. He had his “heart-warming” experience. It made him a different man — but the difference had to do with how he looked at those around him.

Before his Aldersgate experience, Wesley loved lots of things. He loved himself, he loved God, he loved the Church, he loved education, he loved reading and studying, he loved the Scriptures. He even loved to pray. The only problem was that he didn’t love people — and especially, I think, he didn’t love lost people.

Bishop Davis — 2003 Youth Service

Bishop Davis - Youth Service 2003 (image captured from video)

But when he finally had his heart-warming experience, his heart was transformed, and he knew that God loved him — without a doubt.

And he couldn’t wait to share that with others. And he discovered that he then had a love for the same people that God loved, especially the lost and the poor….

Wesley had a passion for the lost.

Who do we have a passion for? And who are the lost in our day? Hmm?

I’m 55 years old. Ninety percent of my generation received some kind of nurture, some kind of spiritual nurture when they were children and young people. Today, young people the age of these young people [here on the stage with me] — only about 25 to 30 percent of them are receiving any kind of spiritual foundation in their homes at all.

And so, as we look to the future, who are going to be the lost? Who are going to be the unchurched? Who are going to be those persons that we need to reach out to?

They are going to be the young.

Did you hear the statistic today? The average age of a Methodist church member is in the 50s — about my age. I yearn for the day when the average age of our church membership is 15! That’s what I look forward to….

I want to ask you a question, those of you who are a little older. If I could promise you tonight — absolutely promise you tonight — that your children and your grandchildren and your great-grandchildren would have the same deep, abiding faith in Jesus Christ that you have, what would you give for that? What would you give?

My goodness, I’d give everything! I’d give everything I have, everything I’m ever going to have, if somebody could assure me beyond a shadow of a doubt that my children and my grandchildren, my great-grandchildren, all them would have a deep, abiding faith in Jesus Christ.

Well, what are you willing to do to make sure that happens for your children and their children — and all the children who aren’t here tonight and don’t know anything about church?

What are you willing to give up? Are you willing to give up some of your comfort? Are you willing to give up some of your traditions?

I’m not talking about giving up the core values of the faith. I’m talking about all those little peripheral things that aren’t really at the heart of the gospel at all. I’m mean, are we not the kind of people who would be willing to be flexible enough to do whatever it takes to reach the lost?

And if the vast majority of the lost are younger than me, then that means that some of what we have to do in the future will be change for us.

If you want your children and your grandchildren, your great-grandchildren to know Jesus, friends you’re going to have to listen sometimes to music you don’t like! And you’re going to have to be willing to change your worship services around, and you going to have to be willing to find ways to plug young people into the structures of the church!

We have to be far more open than we’ve been. But only if we want them to know Jesus.

So I think the question for us is: Do we love them enough to make whatever adjustments we need to make in order to help love them into the Kingdom?

Well, what would you give to ensure that that happens for our church? I’d give anything.

Click the arrow below for streaming audio (4 min.).


(NOTE: Audio quality is only fair.)


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Bishop Lindsey Davis: ‘A fully engaged laity’
Bishop Lindsey Davis: The Church in time of war
Bishop Lindsey Davis: A vision for the future
Bishop Lindsey Davis speaks to the Confessing Movement
Bishop Lindsey Davis on the role of a bishop

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MethodistThinker.com is presenting a retrospective on Bishop Lindsey Davis’ 12 years as the episcopal leader of the North Georgia Conference, now the largest U.S. Conference in the United Methodist Church. His term in North Georgia concludes at the end of this month.

On March 20, 2003, Bishop Davis issued a “pastoral letter” in response to the decision by the U.S. and its allies to use military force to topple Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Four days later, he expanded on the themes of that letter in a sermon at the United Methodist Center in the Atlanta area.

The text of his pastoral letter is below, followed by audio of the sermon.

For months now we have been praying that the dispute between Iraq and the United States would be solved by peaceful negotiations.

There is no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein is a ruthless dictator and should be removed from power in Iraq. He has been a significant threat for years to the peace in the region and throughout the world. He possesses weapons of mass destruction and is seeking to develop more instruments of terror. He is guilty of terrible atrocities and has held his nation hostage since the 1970s.

I believe he needs to be removed from leadership in Iraq, but I had prayed that the efforts of the United States and other nations could resolve these issues without resorting to armed conflict.

Christians struggle with the harsh realities of violence and war. No one readily embraces war as a solution to disputes among nations, and there are some in the Christian community who believe that war is never acceptable.

However, the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church does not take that position. In the Discipline we read these words:

[M]ost Christians regretfully realize that, when peaceful alternatives have failed, the force of arms may be preferable to unchecked aggression, tyranny and genocide.

We honor the witness of pacifists who will not allow us to become complacent about war and violence. We also respect those who support the use of force, but only in extreme situations and only when the need is clear beyond reasonable doubt, and through appropriate international organizations.

We urge the establishment of the rule of law in international affairs as a means of elimination of war, violence, and coercion in these affairs.

My prayers today have now turned to those who are in harm’s way. I am praying for our troops in the field, their families at home, and the innocent civilians who will no doubt be harmed in the process of war.

I pray particularly for our chaplains who are in the field with the troops, that they may be able to bring comfort to those who are involved and to those who become injured.

I pray for our president and other national leaders, that they may have God’s compassion and wisdom in the days to come.

Like so many of my fellow Americans, I pray that this conflict will end quickly.

The United Methodist Church, through the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), is already planning ways in which relief can be extended to the people of Iraq. We will be, along with our international partners, among the first to enter Iraq with relief supplies when the fighting has ended. To be among the first is a part of the ethos of the United Methodist Church.

Please continue to pray and to ask God to bring His peace upon our world.

Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn but the sword of righteousness, no strength known but the strength of love: So mightily spread abroad Your Spirit that all people and nations may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of Peace as children of one Father; to whom be dominion and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

Listen to streaming audio of Bishop Davis’ March 24, 2003 sermon below (16 min.) — or download the mp3 file (3.7MB).



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This week and next, MethodistThinker.com is offering a retrospective on Bishop Lindsey Davis’ 12-year tenure as the leader of the United Methodist Church’s North Georgia Conference. (He will become the bishop of the Kentucky Conference on Sept. 1.)

Since being assigned to North Georgia in 1996, Bishop Davis has used his episcopal office to promote leadership development, church planting, and mission outreach, leading the North Georgia Conference to become the largest United Methodist Conference in the U.S.

In 2000, he presented a 20-year vision for North Georgia to delegates attending the Conference’s annual session. Below is an abbreviated transcript of his remarks, delivered on June 13, 2000 at the Classic Center in Athens, Georgia.

When I came to North Georgia in 1996, I inherited leadership of what I consider to be the strongest Conference in all of Methodism.

Although we are far from all that God calls us to be, we enjoy a history of excellence in ministry, a wealth of clergy and lay leader talent, a deep commitment to Jesus Christ by over 950 congregations, and we have record of membership growth unsurpassed by any other area over the past 25 years….

2000 Logo—N. Ga. Annual Conference

2000 Logo—North Ga. Annual Conference

Our local churches understand that making disciples for Jesus Christ is our primary task — but knowing it and doing it are not always the same thing.

While we rejoice in our membership growth of over 26,000 persons this past quadrennium, it grieves my heart that one-third of our churches in 1999 — one-third of our churches — did not have a single profession of faith last year. And it grieves my heart that 50 percent of our churches had “one profession of faith or less” last year.

So we rejoice in our blessings, but have no reason to be cocky or complacent. With the population growth in the 72 counties of North Georgia, this is truly harvest time for the kingdom of God in our area.

Working with over 80 key lay and clergy leaders for the past two-and-a-half years in the leadership forum, and in consultation with the staffing task force…we put before you today a vision for the future….

By the year 2020, every congregation will be making disciples for Jesus. Every congregation will be making disciples for Jesus — led by by effective and spiritually maturing laity and pastors.

How can we ensure this vision of 100 percent effectiveness?

Well, we believe that our human, financial, and spiritual resources must be focused over the next 20 years in three primary areas: leadership development, establishing new faith communities, and birthing a steady stream of transformational mission efforts.

The first one: leadership development.

Weak leaders produce weak churches.

Where we can appoint effective, spiritually mature pastors to churches and they have the opportunity to work in partnership with effective laity, our congregations always flourish.

Two: planting new churches.

The single most effective evangelistic methodology under heaven is planting new churches. All churches can lead the lost to Christ, but new churches organized around evangelism reach unchurched persons better than established worshiping communities. Much of our growth over the past 15 years has, in fact, come from the new churches which have been planted through church development.

The challenge, it seems to me, is to create 200 new, biblically-based, vision-driven, mission-minded, community-focused, culturally-relevant, ethically-grounded, cutting edge, well-equipped, spiritually healthy, Holy Spirit-vibrant United Methodist congregations in North Georgia by the year 2020.

If you looked at demographics and our growth patterns, it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that almost 100 of our 950 congregations are teetering on the brink of collapse. Many of those congregations will not be with us 20 years from now.

If we’re going to plant churches, and if we’re going to evangelize the 72 counties of North Georgia, we have to not only replace those congregations, but we have to build 100 more….

Third: birthing new mission opportunities.

In some sense, we in North Georgia live of the generational equity of parents and our grandparents. What new United Methodist ministries will be started by our generation? What new United Methodist institutions of service, and compassion, and caring, and love will be built by our generation?

What needs is God calling us to meet in the 21st century here in North Georgia and around the world?…

Just as there is a need in our day for model teaching churches to lead the way into new and dynamic ministry, I believe that there is also within United Methodism, a need for a model teaching Annual Conference — an Annual Conference that is known far-and-wide for its commitment to excellence in ministry, not for the sake of pride, but for the sake of Christ.

A model teaching Annual Conference — breaking new ground for others.

Why should that Annual Conference not be us? What Annual Conference is better positioned to do that for the whole church than us?

I believe God is calling North Georgia to give such leadership to our denomination.


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Bishop Lindsey Davis: ‘The gospel in an age of skepticism’
Conversations with Bishop Lindsey Davis
Bishop Lindsey Davis: ‘The primary task of the Church’
An interview with Bishop Lindsey Davis
Bishop Lindsey Davis: ‘A fully engaged laity’
Bishop Lindsey Davis: ‘Whatever it takes to reach the lost’
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Bishop Lindsey Davis speaks to the Confessing Movement
Bishop Lindsey Davis on the role of a bishop

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Later this month, Bishop Lindsey Davis will end his 12-year tenure as the episcopal leader of the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church, now the largest U.S. Conference in Methodism.

MethodistThinker.com is presenting a retrospective on Bishop Davis’ career in North Georgia — in his own words.

In the April 1998, shortly after a UM pastor in Nebraska was acquitted on the charge that he violated church law by performing a “same-sex union” ceremony, Bishop Davis addressed a conference of the theologically conservative United Methodist Confessing Movement held in Tulsa, Okla.

The following is a condensed version of his remarks. Full audio is posted below.

I come this morning because I believe it is important for us to be in Christian conversation about the future of our church…. Here in this place are clergy and laity from some of our most vital congregations. And I want to listen carefully to what you have to say.

I come also this morning with a troubled spirit because of the crisis which confronts our denomination.

Emblem of the Confessing Movement

Emblem of the Confessing Movement

On the surface, our difficulty appears to be a crisis of polity — a struggle centered upon the order and discipline of our denomination…. However, I believe there is a deeper crisis just under the surface of our present trouble.

One does not have to go very deeply into a discussion of issues related to the subject of homosexuality — or the nature of Trinitarian faith, or the meaning of the Incarnation, or many other issues within the life of our Church — to discover starkly contrasting understandings of Scriptural authority and the nature of divine revelation

John Wesley proclaimed the centrality of Scripture for doctrine and holy living. For him the Bible was the basic authority for the Christian life — and where its truths appeared clear, there was no alternative but obedience for those who desired to be completely faithful to God….

Unfortunately, we have significant voices within our Church who have a diminished view of the centrality of Scripture. Alien theories of biblical interpretation have assumed a prominent place in the thinking of some of our brothers and sisters….

So our current crisis seems on the surface to be centered in polity, in order, in discipline, and law. But under the surface it can also be seen as theological in nature.

But I want to go to an even deeper level, and suggest to you this morning that our real crisis — the real crisis that confronts our church — is in fact one of personal holiness, especially among our spiritual leaders….

In my view, the greatest crisis affecting our Church today is the lack of spiritual leadership in the pulpits and in the pews of our congregations. Simply stated, we have far too many pastors, we have far too many lay leaders who are not on the path, who are not open to the Lord’s teaching, who are not open to the Lord’s leading, who are not willing to be instructed, who are not being daily transformed by the grace of God, and who do not know how to lead others in this process of spiritual transformation and change.

My dream for our Church is that every clergy person and every lay person, every district superintendent, every bishop, every board and agency staff person, every seminary professor, every missionary — anyone who has anything to do in leadership within the life of our church — would want nothing more than to be transformed daily, moving closer and closer to having the mind and the heart of Christ.

John Wesley preached sanctifying grace — we’ve forgotten how to preach sanctifying grace — the notion that God not only does something for us, salvation in this world and in heaven to come, but that God also done something within us.

By God’s daily intervention and transforming grace we can move steadily toward a life of holiness. And as we attend to the spiritual disciplines — and that is where we have dropped the ball so often — as we attend to constant prayer, immersion in Scripture, fasting, the Lord’s Supper, Christian conversation and worship, acts of mercy and acts of compassion, as we attend to those spiritual disciplines then God’s sanctifying grace will work within us to give us a life of peace, and assurance, and hope, and faithfulness.

Our Church literally cries out at all levels for this kind of spiritual leadership — transformational people who can lead others toward the fullness of the Christian life….

This is not a time for pessimism. “If we believe in the goodness of God” — do we? — “If we believe in the goodness of God, and if we believe in the sovereignty of Christ, how can we not believe in the ultimate triumph of righteousness”

Friends, those of us who support the classical tenets of the Biblical faith are not on our way out. We’re on our way back in! Now is the time for us to remain unflappable, determined, wise, and very assertive….

It is also a time, I think, for spiritual humility. Over and over again in Wesley’s letters he cautioned his followers to guard against “evil” or “idol” human reasoning, and to lean upon a simple trust in God. These days to come in the life of our Church call for all of us to recognize the finitude of our wisdom and knowledge, and to trust — maybe as we have never trusted before — in the transforming presence and unlimited power of God’s grace.

As one bishop in our Church, I will seek to exercise clear and positive and prayerful leadership in these days to come. I ask you to do the same. My prayer for you is that you will keep the banners of faith flying high.

We must live our faith so effectively — and so redemptively in contact with the agony of our time — that our people will say in their hearts, “Here is hope! Here is hope!”

Listen to streaming audio below (24 min.) or download an mp3 (5.7MB).


Editor’s note: The initial meeting of what became the United Methodist Confessing Movement was convened in 1994 in Atlanta — by Bishop William R. Cannon, Dr. Maxie Dunnam of Asbury Theological Seminary, and Dr. Thomas C. Oden of the Drew University School of Theology.

Their purpose, in the words of the late Bishop Cannon, was to call the church “to renew itself through adherence to the standard teachings of Christianity and the basic doctrines of the United Methodist Church.”

Participants at the initial meeting included bishops, pastors, and seminary professors, as well as laity from all five U.S. jurisdictions of the United Methodist Church.


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Over the next two weeks, as Bishop G. Lindsey Davis ends his 12-year tenure as the episcopal leader of the North Georgia Conference, MethodistThinker.com will offer a retrospective — in the bishop’s own words.

On Sept. 8, 1996, at his Service of Installation, Bishop Davis spoke about “The Role of a Bishop.” The following is condensed from his full address.

l want to share with you…four words that are central to my understanding of the role a bishop must play within the Church.

The first is servant.

A United Methodist bishop is called to be the chief servant of the Church. Servanthood is the only authentic model for episcopal leadership….

Bishop Lindsey Davis

Bishop Lindsey Davis

As the chief servant of the Church, bishops are called to guard the faith, to seek unity within the body of Christ, and to exercise the discipline of the Church. Bishops are called to preach and teach the truth of the gospel to all of God’s people.

We are called to walk with humility, to live our lives under the tutelage of Jesus Christ. We are called to undertake the lifestyle of a mature disciple — a life of prayer, simplicity, and service. We are called to shun the trappings of power and status.

We are called to live out the truth of St. Paul’s words when he wrote, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).

The authority of a bishop is moral in nature, and is based on personal integrity and a consistent witness before Christ. My joy will be to follow Jesus Christ who came not to be served, but to serve. l commit myself to a ministry of service and sacrifice among you….

The second word which is central to me is evangelist.

An episcopal leader is called to be a clear, evangelistic witness.

There is a tremendous spiritual hunger in our nation, our world, and our Church. This is no time for us to be timid. The next few years as we move into the 21st century afford us a marvelous opportunity to proclaim the gospel with theological clarity and passion….

Our Church must reemphasize the great verities of our faith. In the words of a beloved Georgian, Bishop, W. R. Cannon, “Our religion, Christianity, rests on three historical events: a manger crib, an old rugged cross, and an empty tomb.” This is the foundation of our faith and we must not hesitate to share it with a neo-pagan world.

Our primary task is to build vital congregations filled with faithful disciples…. And the primary task of the Annual Conference is leadership development — clergy and laity who can lead us in the proclamation of the gospel in the idiom of today.

The third word for me is advocate.

Bishops of The United Methodist Church are called to be advocates for all persons, but especially we are to be advocates for the least, the last, and the lost.

Our beloved Church is called by Christ to be a means of grace to the vulnerable and the marginalized. So I will be an advocate for the poor, the homeless, and the hungry.

I will be an advocate for inclusiveness. I am committed to all persons having opportunity to fully participate in the life of the Church. So I will seek to be an advocate for fairness and tenderness in the way we relate to one another within this covenant community.

I will be an advocate for renewal within the Church…. Renewal is not easy nor does it come immediately. But if we are faithful, the Lord will lead us as we seek to shape a shared vision for our ministry in these days to come.

I will be an advocate for our children and youth…. Too many of our churches today have neglected the needs of our youth precisely at a time when our young people are increasingly at risk physically and spiritually. A United Methodist Church apathetic about the needs of young people will be a church separated from its historic identity and a church lacking in vision for the future.

The fourth word is teamwork.

The principle of teamwork in ministry is one of my core values. I believe that persons who clearly understand the vision and primary task of the Church can self-organize and work together to move toward that vision.

The church of the future will be characterized by the full partnership of lay and clergy, working as servant teams, equipped to be creative and active co-laborers in ministry.

We begin today a spiritual journey together. Sometimes we will run, sometimes we will walk, sometimes we will rest and relax and be refreshed together. We will be companions along the way…. [A]nd together we will marvel at the wonderful surprises God has in store for us….

Christ is alive, and goes before us, to show and share what love can do.

This is a day of new beginnings; our God is making all things new.

Serve our God with patience and passion;
Be deliberate in enacting your faith;
Be steadfast in celebrating the Spirit’s power;
And may peace be your way in the world. Amen.

Lindsey Davis was elected to the episcopacy in 1996, after serving as both a pastor and district superintendent in Kentucky. During his tenure, the North Georgia Conference has grown to the the largest United Methodist Conference in the United States.


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Bishop Lindsey Davis: ‘The gospel in an age of skepticism’
Conversations with Bishop Lindsey Davis
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Bishop Lindsey Davis: ‘A fully engaged laity’
Bishop Lindsey Davis: ‘Whatever it takes to reach the lost’
Bishop Lindsey Davis: The Church in time of war
Bishop Lindsey Davis: A vision for the future
Bishop Lindsey Davis speaks to the Confessing Movement

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The platform committee of the U.S. Democratic Party has released its proposed plank on abortion and unintended pregnancies:

The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v Wade and a woman’s right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay, and we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right.

The Democratic Party also strongly supports access to affordable family planning services and comprehensive age-appropriate sex education which empower people to make informed choices and live healthy lives.

We also recognize that such health care and education help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions.

The Democratic Party also strongly supports a woman’s decision to have a child by ensuring access to and availability of programs for pre and post natal health care, parenting skills, income support, and caring adoption programs.

Steve Waldman at Beliefnet.com thinks the platform plank “does NOT do what was necessary to win substantial numbers of Catholics or moderate evangelicals.”

He says pro-life Democrats likely “will continue to press for improved language before and during the [party] convention [later this month] — and that they are hoping that [presumptive nominee Sen. Barack] Obama himself will go further in his own language.” We’ll see.

Thinking more about this: At the United Methodist General Conference in April, the UMC altered its “platform” on legal abortion, as well.

Paul Stallsworth of the Taskforce of United Methodists on Abortion and Sexuality is encouraged. He thinks the new language, to be included in the 2008 Book of Discipline, is “much more pro-life than the 2004 version.”

The new Discipline statement, and Mr. Stallsworth’s analysis, are here.

It is worth noting that legal abortion disproportionately affects black and Hispanic children. The abortion rate for black women is 49 per 1,000 women. For Hispanic women, the rate is 33 per 1,000. The rate for white women is 13 per 1,000.

The updated Discipline language on abortion passed 796-24 on April 30 as part of a consent calendar (i.e., there was no debate on the Conference floor, although the matter was debated in committee).

Streaming audio of the passage of “consent calendar A04″ is below, with Bishop Peter Weaver presiding (1 min.).


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