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….
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.