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SED December 2018

Dear South East District Friends,

Blessed first week of Advent to you all! 

I so enjoyed seeing you at charge conferences this year and rejoice with you in what the Lord is doing in your churches and communities. Thank you for your leadership and commitment to transformation in the name of Jesus Christ.

I learned many things as I spent time with you this fall. Your questions and comments helped me in my own thinking. At one cluster charge conference I found myself elaborating on an item in a way that was not planned in advance (preachers do that sometimes!). It was when I was discussing the new vision of the annual conference (a vision of cultivating Courageous Leadership, Missional Engagement and Spirit-Led Innovation). As I was elaborating on Spirit-Led Innovation, I made the following statement, “Our population is energized by innovation everywhere they go:  school, the mall, workplaces, stores, the doctor’s office. Everywhere they go they enter a world that looks like the future.  Then, when they arrive at church, they walk into the past.” Because several people mentioned to me that this really “hit home” with them, it caused me to think more about my impromptu comments. Let me share more of my thinking here.

Imagine that your middle school child or grandchild entered class on the first day of school and discovered the following. The desk was wooden, one of those old desks where the chair connects to the desk. The only public writing space was a chalk board, no dry erase board or projector and screen present. The only writing utensils were pencils, no pens or markers or highlighters. The teacher sat at a desk and informed the students that if parents needed to communicate with him then they should write a letter, no email, phone calls or texts. 

When this child gets home from school and tells you about her day, how do you respond? How do you feel about her school?  Are they prepared to teach your child in the 21st century? Technically, they have what they need to teach (a teacher, textbooks and a school). But will your child be engaged with the material it the most creative and thoughtful way possible for her generation?

This kind of thinking is what my comments at charge conference were intended to generate. Often times we feel that because the church tells an ancient story, the story needs to be told in an ancient way, with ancient materials and in an ancient building. But consider what we learn when we visit history museums and when our children learn about historical events – they are learning about them with digital devices that share sounds and images that spark their imagination. Things of the past come alive in new ways when we allow innovation to breathe life into an ancient story. We also say to the world,We love this gospel message so much that we will constantly be thinking of new ways to share it with new people.

A challenge we have in our churches is to balance the needs of the current congregation with the needs of those who are not yet with us. Remember, the church does not exist for those already present but for those we haven’t met yet. Those of us who are already disciples can find multiple ways to worship God (and most of us don’t require an innovative approach). Our goal is to transform the lives of those not yet aware of the amazing gift of God’s grace. This will take innovation, creativity and hard work by those of us in church leadership.

Thank you for giving yourselves to this important work and for challenging your local church community to dive into the future in courageous, missional and innovative ways!

Grace and peace,