A change of heart

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

A change of heart

June 28, 2005  News media contact: Tita Parham*  
tparham@flumc.org   Orlando {0323}

NOTE: A headshot of Whitaker is available at http://www.flumc.info/photo_gallery2.shtml.

An e-Review Commentary
By Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker**

Recently the Florida Conference Cabinet spent a day being trained in the resources and strategies of congregational transformation. The training was led by the Rev. Kendall Taylor, director of the Office of Congregational Transformation, and the Rev. Jack Stephenson, senior pastor of Anona United Methodist Church and a national consultant in Natural Church Development.
At the beginning of our training we looked back upon the many past efforts of the Florida Conference to enable congregations to transform, from being congregations oriented toward maintenance of their membership to becoming congregations committed to mission to their communities. There have been some fine efforts to transform congregations using approaches such as "Quest for Quality" and "Church Re-vitalization." Despite the fact that these approaches were well-developed, they were not successful. Why?
Our conclusion is that past efforts in congregational transformation were "mechanical." In other words, we were employing techniques of change, such as teaching congregations to introduce alternative services of worship, but we were not leading congregations into a new experience of being the church as a missionary community commissioned by Jesus Christ to make disciples through the leadership of the Holy Spirit. To put it simply, there can be no transformation of congregations without a change of heart.
A change of heart means that we repent because we have abandoned the love we had at first (Revelation 2:4-5). We who are Christians in the Wesleyan heritage once were filled with love for God and love for our neighbors, especially the poor and forgotten. We were grateful for the good news of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ, and we were eager to share this good news with others. But our ardor has cooled, and not even the most creative ideas and plans can substitute for love.
The living God is calling many of us to experience a change of heart, to repent of our lukewarm love of God and lack of concern about the people in our community. God does not call us because it is God's plan to revive The United Methodist Church, but because it is God's purpose that God's people participate in God's mission to transform the world by the proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ.
Our present effort to transform congregations does include the best practices for growing healthy congregations, but it is also grounded in our humble acknowledgement that congregations will not transform as God wills and as God makes possible unless we first experience a change of heart personally and corporately.
A change of heart can occur in us as we are willing to listen to God's call and to take risks to do what we believe God is calling us to do even though we have never done that before. The way to change is prepared by study of the Scriptures, honest conversation about how our congregation is fulfilling — or not fulfilling — the mission of God's church in our community today, and prayer for the illumination and direction of the Spirit.
Change in congregations is painful because it is human nature to love the familiar. But the pain is nothing compared to the gain of being involved in an adventure of obeying Jesus Christ himself and following the leading of the Holy Spirit. A church will never want to go back to the former time of the familiar once it has experienced seeing God at work in the lives of its members and the people in its community.


This article relates to Congregational Transformation.

*Parham managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Whitaker is bishop of the Florida Conference.

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