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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’ 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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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: ‘The gospel in an age of skepticism’
Conversations with Bishop Lindsey Davis
An interview with Bishop Lindsey Davis
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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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).


Related posts
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’
Bishop Lindsey Davis: A vision for the future
Bishop Lindsey Davis speaks to the Confessing Movement
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