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Bishop Robert Schnase (Missouri Conference) has done a great service for the United Methodist Church with his book, The Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations.

Bishop Robert Schnase (UMNS photo)

Bishop Robert Schnase (UMNS photo)

The United Methodist News Service notes that “[p]ublisher Abingdon Press has sold nearly 75,000 copies of the Five Practices book, and demand is hot for the companion leader manual and media kit and church-wide devotional book, Cultivating Fruitfulness. More than 2,000 congregations have used the material in some fashion.”

Speaking last week at the United Methodist Congress on Evangelism in Nashville, Bishop Schnase (Schnay’-zee) explained that the five practices — radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith development, risk-taking mission and service, and extravagant generosity — are “the fundamental activities by which congregations carry out their mission.”

When I talk about radical hospitality, it’s got to pervade the whole life of the congregation — every cell has to vibrate with… [an] outward focus…. Churches that practice [radical hospitality] are constantly examining every one of their ministries and saying, “How do we become more… attuned to the call of God to reach out to other people?”…

When I talk about passionate worship, I’m talking about worship that is authentic, that is true to the gospel, that is life changing. Worship that we enter into with an air of anticipation that something significant might actually happen in this time together…. I’m talking about worship that really connects people to God….

Intentional faith development has to do with all those things that a congregation offers to help people grow in faith outside of the Sunday morning service…. [This] is central to our self-understanding as United Methodists, of the sanctifying grace of God…. And churches that are vibrant, fruitful, and growing are those that provide rich opportunities constantly for people to grow and mature in the faith….

But you can’t go very far in engagement with Scripture, or learning in community, growing in Christ — this “inner holiness” — without being struck by a call of God to make a positive difference in the lives of people around you.

And that leads us to risk-taking mission and service…. [These are] the things we do out of our commitment and obedience to Christ that we would not have done  if we had never known Christ…. Risk-taking mission and service stretches us, and churches that practice risk-taking mission and service… [are] looking at the gifts and abilities of the people in their congregation and the needs of their community and the world, and they’re [asking], “Where do these intersect?”…

Now, extravagant generosity. I’ll just say it up front, what I’m talking about is teaching, preaching, and practicing the tithe, among other things — and just being unapologetic in our proclamation of that. Churches that are growing and vibrant and fruitful talk about generosity — not about the church’s need for money, but about the Christian’s need to give. They focus on generosity as an aspect of Christian character…. The practice of tithing — of putting God first in everything — starts changing how we feel and experience everything else.

Use the audio player below to listen to a 12-minute excerpt of Bishop Schnase at the 2009 Congress on Evangelism.

Bishop Schnase’s Five Practices Blog is here.

The Congress on Evangelism is presented each January by the Council on Evangelism and the General Board of Discipleship, with support from The Foundation for Evangelism.

coe09In addition to Bishop Schnase, this year’s speakers and workshop leaders included Tyrone Gordon of St. Luke Community United Methodist Church in Dallas, Tex. (summary of remarks); Sue Nilson Kibbey and Mike Slaughter of Ginghamsburg Church in Tipp City, Ohio; Maxie Dunnam, chancellor of Asbury Seminary (summary); Terry Teykl of Renewal Ministries; Kent Millard of St. Luke’s UMC in Indianapolis; and Karen Greenwaldt of the UM General Board of Discipleship.

Dr. Billy Abraham of the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University delivered the annual Denman Lectures (summary).

Video and audio recordings of the 2009 Congress on Evangelism are available from the GNTV Media Ministry.

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Rob Renfroe is the pastor of adult discipleship at The Woodlands (Texas) United Methodist Church, one of the UMC’s ten largest churches. He is also a former member of the UM General Board of Church and Society (GBCS).

Writing in the January/February 2009 Good News, Mr. Renfroe mentions the current lawsuit related to whether GBCS has violated a 1965 Declaration of Trust that earmarked certain donated funds for the promotion of “temperance and [ministries related to] alcohol problems” (lawsuit details are here and here).

While serving on the Board, I asked questions about the suit that had not yet gone to court….

Rob Renfroe

Rob Renfroe

When I made a motion that every Board member be given a copy of the Trust so we could read it for ourselves, I was voted down.

And after the suit was filed, when I asked why we were employing a legal strategy that had not been authorized by the Board (i.e., asking the court to allow the Board to use funds for purposes other than those specified in the Trust), I was told that these matters could not be discussed with me.

At that point, I resigned.

For Mr. Renfroe — and for anyone else who may wish to read it — the 1965 Declaration of Trust is posted here (PDF—8 pages).

Key paragraphs (note: the Division of Alcohol Problems is a predecessor to the General Board of Church and Society):

The [Methodist Church] Division [of Alcohol Problems] owns securities and cash given to it over the years through donations, contributions, and bequests to support the work in the area of temperance and alcohol problems….

declarationoftrust[These assets,] including real, personal, and mixed property, have been impressed with a trust-in-fact for them to be used and applied for the purposes for which they were given — for work in the areas of temperance and alcohol problems. The assets have been so utilized to the present time.

It is the purpose of this Declaration of Trust to formalize the existing situation and provide a method for the continued management, investment, reinvestment, and application of the principal and accumulated income for the purposes for which the funds were originally given, that is to say, work in the areas of temperance and alcohol problems….

It is the further purpose of this Declaration of Trust to implement the action of the 1960 General Conference of the Methodist Church…. [T]he General Conference… ordered the following wording to be placed in that section of the 1960 Discipline of The Methodist Church which describes the Board of Christian Social Concerns and its Divisions…:

Funds vested in any of the predecessor boards shall be conserved for…the specific purposes for which such funds have been given.

The General Board of Church and Society is asking the District of Columbia Superior Court for a “reformation” of the Trust “which will make it clear that the trustees of the Board will not in the future be limited in the use of income of the Endowment Fund to problems of alcohol abuse only.”

The Board’s Feb. 2007 complaint filing to the Court is here (PDF—15 pages).

The case is before the D.C. Superior Court

The case is before the D.C. Superior Court

Some Methodist conservatives have complained that GBCS appears to be using funds that should be restricted for temperance-related ministry to lobby for causes associated with the American political left, such as abortion rights, government-run health care, and an expanded welfare state.

In 2007, the Western North Carolina Conference overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling on the Board to comply with the “purpose stated in the Trust and use Restricted Funds for the work on temperance and alcohol related problems” (see “Petition 34” here—PDF).

The resolution asserted that the Board has not “followed either the letter of the trust or the spirit of its founders as it has expended a large portion of the funds from the trust (approximately $2 million annually) on items and programs not in accordance with the requirements of the trust.”

District of Columbia Superior Court associate judge Rhonda Reid Winston (PDF), a graduate of the Duke University School of Law, is expected to issue a ruling in the Trust case soon.


Related posts
General Board of Church and Society goes to court
Source documents in the Methodist Building Trust case
‘Church and Society’ to Obama: End protections for unborn
Church and Society withdraws support for Freedom of Choice Act

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With one more vacancy on the Supreme Court, we could be looking at a majority hostile to a woman’s fundamental right to choose [to have an abortion] for the first time since Roe v. Wade. The next president may be asked to nominate that Supreme Court justice.

That is what is at stake in this election.

Throughout my career, I’ve been a consistent and strong supporter of reproductive justice, and have consistently had a 100% pro-choice rating with Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Sen. Barack Obama, Jan. 22, 2008

In response to such statements from the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee, as well as to the party’s 2008 platform, Charles J. Chaput, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Denver, pulled no punches in an address last week to a conference of Catholic women.

I believe that Senator Obama, whatever his other talents, is the most committed ‘abortion-rights’ presidential candidate of either major party since the Roe v. Wade abortion decision in 1973….

The party platform Senator Obama runs on this year is not only aggressively ‘pro-choice;’ it has also removed any suggestion that killing an unborn child might be a regrettable thing.

On the question of homicide against the unborn child — and let’s remember that the great Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer explicitly called abortion ‘murder’ — the Democratic platform that emerged from Denver in August 2008 is clearly anti-life.

Archbishop Chaput isn’t alone among Catholic leaders. One political commentator observed that “the Roman Catholic leadership has never been this united or this vocal in denouncing the agenda of a nominee.”

In Scranton, Pa., hometown of Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden, Catholic bishop Joseph Martino directed his priests to read a pastoral letter at all masses on Oct. 4 and Oct. 5 in which the bishop noted that that “pro-choice candidates” are living out a “tragic irony”: they “have come to support homicide — the gravest injustice a society can tolerate — in the name of ‘social justice.'”

Although an uninformed observer might see such statements as “political,” the reality is that these and other Catholic leaders are simply urging Catholics to live out long-held moral teachings of the Church, teachings that through the centuries have often run counter to the prevailing culture.

And the appeals made by these leaders are being presented clearly in the context of Christian discipleship. As Bishop Martino put it in his pastoral letter: “Our Lord, Jesus Christ…does not ask us to take up his Cross only to have us leave it at the voting booth door.”

Strong language. Not the sort of thing you would hear from any Methodist leaders I know.

But let’s think about this.

Aren’t we, too, a people who — as Christian disciples — profess belief in the “sanctity of unborn human life” (UM Book of Discipline)? Don’t we say that we “cannot affirm abortion as an acceptable means of birth control” (which account for an estimated 75 percent of abortions) and we “unconditionally reject it as a means of gender selection”?

Perhaps we aren’t as bold in our speech as the Catholics (Hmm, didn’t we used to be “back in the day”?), but at least we’re willing to take up our cross and carry it into the voting booth!

Or are we? Do we still have the conviction to live out a biblically rooted moral code that runs counter the culture?

Thinking more: I sense that many United Methodists (and other Christians) are leaning toward voting for Sen. Obama, not so much because they agree with his economic and social views, or because they are confident regarding his judgment, but because of a sense of “white guilt” over past sins. By voting for Sen. Obama, they somehow hope to “make up for” the sins of the past.

Yes, we have racial sins in our past, nationally and denominationally. And we ought to decry them.

But shouldn’t we be more concerned about the sins of the present and the future? After all, these are the sins over which we have some control.

The reality is that left unchecked, legal abortion — which Sen. Obama is squarely behind — will continue to claim hundreds of thousands of innocent lives each year. And (speaking of race-based sin) let us remember that 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.

In other words, while abortion is violence against children generally, it has its severest cultural impact among black and Hispanic populations. Do we want to be complicit in this, just so we can feel better about our past?

We need to remember that the first General Rule of the United Methodist Church is: “Do no harm.”

UPDATE: From “Faithful Citizenship — Respect for Life,” issued Oct. 23 by Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia:

The human dignity that we proclaim works two ways: it affords us a great privilege but it also demands a responsibility. The feeble defense ‘I did not know’ cannot be used by any responsible person in our time when confronted with the reality of abortion. We do know. We know because we can reason and think and see….

It is not a question of politics but a question of the gravest of intrinsic evils; and just as the reality of what it is cannot be explained away, neither can our responsibility.

A word about California, Florida, and Arizona, where the definition of marriage will on the ballot on Nov. 4. As United Methodists, we say we “affirm the sanctity of the marriage covenant that is expressed in…shared fidelity between a man and a woman.” We even “support laws in civil society that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”

Will these precepts regarding marriage, rooted in two-thousand years of Christian teaching, make any difference to Methodist voters in those states? I hope so, but I’m not too sure. Indeed, some UMs in California are working on the opposite side of the issue.

At least the Lutherans (LCMS) are willing to stand up for what they say they believe.

The UM Book of Discipline reminds us (Article XII, The Confession of Faith) of the biblical truth that someday we will all “stand under the righteous judgment of Jesus Christ.” A sobering thought.

John Wesley, in his sermon The Good Steward (PDF), wrote that one aspect of that judgment is likely to be this question from the Judge: “Didst thou employ… whatever advantages thou hadst by education, whatever share of learning, [and] whatever knowledge… was committed thee, for the promoting of virtue in the world?”

Because we live in society in which people have the privilege of electing their leaders, a key means available to us for promoting virtue is the voting booth. May we take up that responsibility with a keen sense of our stewardship.

Here is a personal prayer for Election 2008 (I hope you will make it your own):

Righteous Judge, I am a steward of what belongs to you. By your Spirit and your Word, help me to judge righteously in the choices I make in this election, to the end that your will may done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

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Phil Schroeder, associate director of Connectional Ministries for the UMC’s North Georgia Conference, has an interesting idea for helping people take steps toward becoming more generous givers.

From his column in the Sept. 19 Wesleyan Christian Advocate:

Several years ago I was working with a friend’s church that was resistant to having any kind of pledge campaign to set their budget. They finally decided to try something different in order to set a budget based on what God was calling them to give.

Phil Schroeder

Phil Schroeder

We presented a pledge card with a perforation down the middle, with the person’s name, and their commitment to pray and serve on the left side — and a place for them to make their financial commitment on the right side.

After the card was completed, people brought their cards forward and tore them in two before the altar as a sacrifice unto the Lord. One half was placed in each of the two offering plates to echo Matthew 6:3 on giving alms.

The church knew who was giving and what was going to be given, but not who was giving what.

In challenging economic times, this allows the church to set a budget based on faithful promises — while sending a quarterly statement thanking people for their giving, rather than sending a statement that reminds them of what they have failed to give.

People appreciated that we trusted them to be faithful to their pledge. In fact, over the years, the amount and the number of people willing to pledge grew as did the budget.

Here’s a sample of what a two-part pledge card might look like (click to enlarge):

Thinking more about this: The card above echoes the longstanding membership vows of the UMC, which call on members to “be loyal to The United Methodist Church” and to “faithfully participate in its ministries by their prayers, presence, gifts, and service.”

Effective January 1, 2009, these vows will be altered, based on action by the 2008 General Conference.

Soon, members will pledge “to be loyal to Christ through The United Methodist Church” and to “faithfully participate in its ministries by their prayers, their presence, their gifts, their service, and their witness.”

These are good changes. Challenging people to be loyal to Jesus Christ is much more apt to produce generous givers than challenging them to be loyal to a denomination.

When Jesus is first, giving becomes much more than support for an ecclesiastical institution. Giving becomes a means of witness — to us and to others. Through our giving, we declare that the One to whom we are loyal is the source of our financial resources and the Lord of all.

Praise be to you, O LORD…. [E]verything in heaven and earth is yours….
Everything comes from you, and we have given you
only what comes from your hand.
(1 Chronicles 29:10, 11, 14)

[T]hey went beyond our expectations; having given themselves
first of all to the Lord, they gave themselves by the will of God also to us.

(2 Corinthians 8:5)

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