I want to thank the clergy of our conference for coming to the convocation on October 14th at First United Methodist Church in Lakeland. The sanctuary was packed, and there was a good spirit in our gathering.
Our theme was the theme which we shall emphasize over the next four years, "Making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World." This is the theme developed by the Council of Bishops during 2004-2008 and introduced to the 2008 General Conference.
As I said during the convocation, I believe that every congregation can become effective in making disciples of Christ. We have to create an on-going process that enables persons to go from not being a Christian to being a conscious Christian growing in understanding and committment ,and becoming engaged in service in the world. The five practices of the United Methodist Way suggest a framework for creating such a process. Each congregation should look at itself and ask if it has put into place all necessary parts of a process of disciple-making. As I mentioned to you, often what is missing is an intentional Christian initiation process as a part of radical hospitality or intentional discipling, but in other congregations there may not be a strong small group ministry led by laity for intentional discipling, or opportunities to engage in saltry service or extravagant hospitality. The beauty of creating a process of disciple-making is that the process will be somewhat distinctive in every congregation even though the overall patterns will be similiar.
While doing the basic work of disciple-making, we as a Church also should be participating in God's work of transforming the world. The work of the Holy Spirit is that of bringing liberty or redemption to all of the creation so that the world will become what the triune God intends it to be. We look forward to a new heaven and a new earth, and we always pray. "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done." So then, to help us get more involved, our annual conferences will focus the next four years on "Transforming the World by...Cherishing the Creation (2009)...Eradicating Extreme Poverty (2010)...Living as Peacemkers(2011)...Being United in Christ (2012).
I have a strong awareness of the power of the ministry of the laity. We who are clergy are only the servants of the laity to enable them to live out their faith and fulfill the ministry the Holy Spirit gives to them. Nevertheless, the laity need strong clergy to be their partners in advancing the cause of Christ our Lord through his Church. I believe you who are the clergy of our conference have so much to give, and I know that your leadership makes a powerful witness.
I want to share with you the prayer of my heart for our clergy.
Eternal God, I thank you for all the persons who are ordained and licensed ministers in our conference, including the lay persons who serve in the pastoral role. Each one is someone You created and shaped through experience with special gifts and abilities. We need all of us with our differences to be one whole body. You have a plan for each of us and for all of us together. By doing what You call us to do, we will not only make a difference in people's lives and in Your world, but we shall also feel the vitality of Your divine energy and love within us as we give ourselves in Your service. Grant to us the illumination, guidance and empowerment of Your Spirit through Your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.