Conference speaker says viewing world through God's lens is key



e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service
      
 

Conference speaker says viewing world through God's lens is key

June 24, 2007  News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011 
tparham@flumc.org  Orlando {0691}

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

LAKELAND — The Rev. Dr. Lovett Weems Jr. said reaching younger generations doesn’t require attending fancy conferences to learn new gimmicks, hiring additional staff or supplementing the worship schedule with special services.

The most important thing church leaders can do is listen.

Rev. Dr. Lovett Weems Jr. tells members attending the 2007 Florida Annual Conference Event that unity — among individuals, countries, generations — can be achieved if people will listen to each other and view the world through God’s lens, not the lens of their own perspectives. Photo by Caryl Kelley. Photo #07-0613.

Weems was the Bible study leader at the 2007 Florida Annual Conference Event, speaking twice during the conference. He is a professor of church leadership and executive director of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.

Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker introduced Weems as a “friend of the Florida Conference,” saying one of the reasons Weems was invited is his leadership in calling the church’s attention to the need to reach out to all generations, especially younger ones.
 
The text of his message came from Ephesians, which Weems said has the most contemporary relevance, with the first three chapters outlining the implications of the everyday issues the church faces.

He focused on unity, what he considers the key theme running throughout the book, to connect with the conference’s “From Generation to Generation” theme.

Weems said a mystery that’s been hidden throughout the ages is revealed and discussed in early chapters. The mystery is that God is acting to bring unity and that unity is possible even when there is division within a group.

Weems said divisiveness occurs when people see things through the lens of their particular perspective, instead of through the lens of God’s unified vision. He said that sometimes happens when a faith community begins its ministry. There is clear direction about what God has called the people to do. Values are consistently observed as the group moves toward the vision, mission and purpose. But as time goes by, values begin to overtake the common purpose.

“It’s like having a hymn,” Weems said. “Everybody is always fighting about which stanza we’re going to sing the most often or which ones we’re going to sing the loudest. One day we all wake up and have forgotten the tune.”

In any organization, including the church, Weems said there are special interests, but without leaders, people begin to view the whole organization through the lens of their own narrow interest.

He said church leaders should not try to make the special interests disappear; people must learn to view their perspective through the larger lens of the whole. Differences should remain, but they must be placed in perspective.

“When Paul said, ‘In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free,’ he was not making a sociological analysis,” Weems said. “The fact is, different groups continue, but we’re not going to live our lives based strictly on our differences.”

Weems said unity in Christ provides the common vision and allows differences to be seen not as problems, but assets.

“We can sing this song in different languages, colors, theological emphasis, and all of a sudden instead of differences, the whole vision unites us,” he said.

One area in which different generations share similar views is values, Weems said. Where they disagree is how to express those values.

“What people of every generation want is respect,” he said. “Every generation has an image of what respect looks like to them. And they know when they are receiving it.

“Now folks that are a bit older, like me, look at respect in terms of deferring to our greater leaders. Now younger people don’t look at respect in terms of deference. They look at respect in terms of being listened to. They are in high esteem by being heard, by being taken seriously.”

The more those in the church listen to other generations and people who see things differently, Weems said, the more interested everyone will become in listening to what others think.

“The more willing I am to be influenced by you, the more likely you are to be influenced by me,” he added.

He encouraged everyone attending the conference to “go home and listen; go home and talk to some people you have not talked to before.”

Weems also noted God intends unity for the entire world.

He said there was enormous animosity between the Jews and Gentiles, making current conflicts appear tame compared to the earlier contempt they had for each other. He said all were made one in Jesus Christ, dissolving their bitterness.

Weems said the miracle of the unity described in Ephesians is possible today, and he was reminded of that while recently attending his son’s graduation from Millsaps College, a United Methodist-affiliated school in Mississippi.

When Joseph Howard Meredith, a soon-to-be graduate, strode across the stage to receive his diploma, Weems said he was immediately transported to a time 30 years earlier when the student’s father, James Meredith, was barred from attending the University of Mississippi by state officials and students. Attorney General Robert Kennedy sent 23,000 troops to the school to ensure Meredith was allowed to enter safely; 500 were kept there during times of civil and political strife. Despite the opposition, Meredith successfully graduated in 1964.

“Miracles are happening,” Weems said, adding the church and the world must decide how to learn from the miracles.

He said the church must also be the model, the sign of what God wants for the whole world. Although that doesn’t often happen, he said it won’t take a miracle for the church to bring reconciliation between generations.

He said the first step is to see reaching different generations as a challenge, not a problem; that tension between generations is a sign of health and should be celebrated as a chance for a better future for the church.

Weems said younger generations don’t value the concepts of church or religion. They care about people and their wellbeing, “mind, body and soul.” He said that’s a thread in the fabric of the church that leads to the mending so many in the church need. He reminded conference members the core tenets of the Wesleyan tradition begin with people.

Issues like poverty, racism and war can be eradicated from society, Weems said, if all generations realize they need each other.

Quoting Catherine of Siena, Weems said, “God could have made us perfect, but he didn’t so we would know we need one another.”

Leland McKeown, a member at First United Methodist Church, Brooksville, said Weems’ comments “really hit home.”

“I’m going to go home and talk to the youth director,” said McKeown, who has been a United Methodist for 70 years. “I’d like to have his (Weems) address available. I thought it was really good.”

The mission of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership is to advance the understanding of Christian leadership and promote the effective and faithful practice of Christian leadership in the church and world. The center’s vision is for church leadership grounded in faith, informed by knowledge and exercised in effective practice. The center encourages a holistic understanding of leadership that brings together theology and management, scholarship and practice, and research and application. Individuals interested in receiving the center’s e-newsletter or more information may visit http://www.churchleadership.com.

Videos, photos, summaries and additional information about the conference event are available on the Florida Conference Web site at http://www.flumc.org.

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This article relates to 2007 Florida Annual Conference Event.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.




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