LAKE JUNALUSKA, N.C. (June 10, 2019) -- Del Holley, Holston Conference lay leader, shared the following "Lay Leader's Report" today at the Holston Annual Conference.
Bishop Taylor, lay and clergy members, guests, and friends of Holston Annual Conference:
I greet you this day in the powerful name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, the one who was, and is, and is to come. It is a privilege for me to have these few minutes each year to share a word of challenge and encouragement with you and to remind you that each of us – lay and clergy alike – has been called to ministry in the Kingdom of God through our baptism. You can find the written report of the Conference Board of Lay Ministry on page 95 of the Book of Reports.
I am thankful for the members of the Board of Lay Ministry. This group is comprised of District Lay Leaders, the Conference Director of Lay Servant Ministries, Conference presidents of United Methodist Women, Men, and Youth, and additional members-at-large. These people are leaders in their congregations and districts, and I appreciate their willingness to serve at the conference level as well. They inspire me with how hard they work, and I am convinced that the word “No” is not part of their vocabulary. I hope you will join me in thanking them for their service.
I am also thankful for Bishop Taylor and the Extended Cabinet. It is a humbling experience for me to be a member of this team, and I am grateful for the opportunity to represent the laity of the annual conference in the cabinet’s deliberations and work.
These are challenging times for The United Methodist Church. I have heard many people who are wiser and more experienced than me characterize this time in the history of our denomination as a “crossroads” moment. As I consider the congregations of Holston Conference, however, I can say without hesitation that you are reaching out in powerful, Holy Spirit-filled ways to your communities and the world at large. You feed the hungry, clothe the naked, minister to the sick and infirm, welcome the children, and serve those around you in innovative ways that bring honor and glory to God. You send mission teams to provide aid and comfort to persons stricken by poverty and natural disaster, and you pack buckets, boxes, and bags to help our brothers and sisters in Christ halfway around the world. You do it all with a joyful heart. For the many ways you fulfill the Great Commandment to love one another, I give thanks to God.
Yesterday, in our churches back home and here at the lake, we celebrated the birth of the Church on the Day of Pentecost. The Scripture we read told the story of the Holy Spirit falling on a room in Jerusalem filled with people from around the world, and the miraculous way that God spoke to them in each one’s own language. The crowd was amazed and wanted to know what it all meant. Peter preached a stirring sermon to explain, and Luke reports that 3,000 people were saved. I think the preachers in this room will agree: that’s a good Sunday in any local church.
What strikes me about the story, though, is what happened after the service was over. I’m interested in that because that is where you and I live, and move, and have our being – in the days after Pentecost. After the Spirit filled the room, after the word of God was proclaimed, after the altar call and the baptisms, the people didn’t form up a bunch of committees; they didn’t call a conference; they didn’t elect delegates or start working on a 5-year ministry plan. As important as those tasks may be to the church today, that wasn’t how the church in Peter’s time got started.
Luke says that the people devoted themselves – to teaching, fellowship, breaking bread, and prayers. As the story of Acts continues to unfold, we see that the apostles – the leaders of the early church – devoted themselves as well. They preached; they ministered to the poor and the widows; they healed the sick; they traveled far and wide so that as many as possible would hear that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. They took seriously the Great Commission to do all those things in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and all the world.
Because of the devotion of early believers, the church grew. Everywhere they went, people who heard the message of God’s love responded by surrendering their lives to Christ and committing themselves to becoming faithful citizens of the Kingdom of God. A few years later when Paul came along, he regularly encouraged Christians to diligently, zealously, and joyfully lead lives becoming of the gospel and pleasing to God.
People of Holston Conference, I believe that God is calling us to devote ourselves today in the same way our ancestors in the faith did in the First Century. I believe that God is pleading with us to recommit ourselves to the mission of the church: to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world. God needs us to be ambassadors of Christ, proclaiming the message of salvation to lost and hurting people through our words and our actions. Now is not the time for us to be distracted by the storms swirling around us and pulling us down into a sea of doubt and fear. Now is the time to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, to rise up, and to boldly serve as agents of the Kingdom of God on earth!
Two paths are before us. One is the way of joyful service, mission, and ministry, sharing the love of God, and nurturing brothers and sisters into the fellowship of all believers. The other way is fraught with peril. It is a way filled with worry, hand-wringing, and asking, “What is the future of the church?” We must avoid that path at all costs for God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of self-control.
Friends, I stand here today to tell you confidently that I know what the future of the church is – I have read the back of the book. The church is of God and shall endure to the end of time; even the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it. Come, Lord Jesus!
So I challenge you today to choose the path of devotion, recommit yourself to sharing the good news of God’s love, claim the power of the Holy Spirit, that the Kingdom of God may come upon the earth.
Thanks be to God! Amen.