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Laity challenge: Be champions in the mission of God

Laity challenge: Be champions in the mission of God

LAKELAND -- Energizing praise music, inspirational speakers and a challenge to be the “champion of your congregation” kicked off the laity session of the 2014 Annual Conference at The Lakeland Center.

Lay Leader Russ Graves speaking
Lay leader Russ Graves, above, challenges Annual Conference laity young and old to reach out to one another in fellowship and discipleship. Below, a young adult praise band headed by Jeremy Hearn and Michelle Weger stir up the crowd on opening day of Annual Conference 2014. Photos by Cindy Skop.
Young adult praise band performing

In celebrating the vital role laity plays in “the mission of God,” the session centered on the progress of the intergenerational initiative launched at last year’s laity session, in which attendees were challenged to make a written commitment to make a new friend outside of their generational age group.

“Close to 700 people put a name on a card,” said Florida Conference lay leader Russ Graves. The intergenerational relationships represented on those cards have been prayed over by lay conference staff throughout the year, shared with an international meeting of lay leaders and symbolically placed on the Western Wall in Israel.

Rachael Sumner, associate conference lay leader for reaching the next generation, shared the testimony of one attendee who reluctantly formed an intergenerational relationship with unexpected positive results. Graves noted that through this initiative, “Lives are being changed, covenants are being formed and love is being exchanged.” 

Building on that momentum, attendees were encouraged to save the date of Jan. 16-17, 2015, when the Board of Lay Ministry and Bethune-Cookman University are sponsoring an intergenerational make-a-friend meeting for Mission Impact: Imagine No Malaria. This experiential event will provide further opportunities for young and old to make connections as they enjoy a concert and learn more about the Imagine No Malaria effort.

Dr. Robert “Bob” Tuttle, professor emeritus of World Christianity at Asbury Theological Seminary, focused on living “a life that really matters” and referenced Romans 8:1-2: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”

Tuttle has traveled and studied around the world. He observed that across all types of societies “everyone has a need to measure up to some law.”

But, in a time when “60 percent of Americans cannot name the four gospels,” it is difficult for people who have no Christian foundation to understand “when I’m talking about the power of the Holy Spirit available through personal faith in Jesus Christ.”  

Laity crowd with upraised hands
Joanne and Jim Ullery, center, raise hands in praise during the Annual Conference laity session.

In keeping with Florida Bishop Ken Carter’s vision to emphasize and develop lay leadership, Derrick Scott III, associate lay leader for intergenerational focus, closed out the session by challenging laity to be “champion of your congregation.”

“Our lives are still worth being leveraged for the mission of God,” said Scott, who also is the executive director of the Campus to City Wesley Foundation in Jacksonville.

Like David stepped up to be a champion when the Israelites were floundering in the absence of Saul’s leadership, he said, laity should “make it real, make it tangible and make it loud” in stepping up to be the champions of their congregation and community.

And for older laity who might turn down the opportunity to be a champion as something only for the younger generation, Scott said, “David would not have done battle with Goliath if not for an old guy named Samuel.”

-- Colleen Hart is a freelance writer based in Cocoa.