Author: Greater NW Communications

Graduating From Rules to Spacious Freedom

CrossOver reflection for Week 31 • Beginning July 7, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 44

Rev. Jenny Smith


You’ve likely heard of the playground experiment. A team put a fence up around a playground. Children ran all over the playground and felt free to explore. When the fence was removed, researchers noticed children gathered around their teacher and were reluctant to explore. 

Rules (and fences) can be helpful. They make us feel safe. They give us boundaries. Someone determined the rule was helpful and needed. This works. Until it doesn’t. We grow, change, ask new questions and the rules that previously gave us freedom now keep us trapped.

We’re ready for wisdom.

My dad recently retired as a United Methodist pastor and I appreciated his comment that at first it felt like his life was getting smaller. Less responsibility, fewer keys, less contact with colleagues and friends from church. But then his brother texted him two words: expansive sabbath. At the very moment that life feels like it is getting smaller, it, in fact, is opening up in a spacious wide-open way. 

Eugene Petersen puts it like this in 2 Corinthians 6:11-13 in The Message: “I can’t tell you how much I long for you to enter this wide-open, spacious life…The smallness you feel comes from within you. Your lives aren’t small, but you’re living in a small way…Live openly and expansively!”

It’s worth asking in stuck, tight, anxious, scarcity moments: What rules am I living by that are slowly taking my life? Am I open to some new wisdom? To receive it, I have to first believe I don’t actually know everything. And isn’t it surprising how often we find ourselves thinking we do?

McLaren puts it this way: “When we’re ready, the Spirit leads us to graduate from rule-oriented primary school to secondary school with its new emphasis: wisdom.” Wisdom is more than rule-following. It’s Spirit-leading.

To graduate from rules to wisdom, we’re invited to not simply follow a different plan. We’re invited to move in an entirely different way. We need this as individuals. We need it especially as faith communities.

A spacious community living from wisdom instead of rules asks different questions. They address their fear and dig underneath it. They resist scarcity. They practice trusting abundance.

Are there rules your community follows that don’t feel life-giving anymore? It’s helpful to name them aloud in safe group conversation spaces. You can help your faith community dig into good conversations and do courageous work to discern and name where God may be inviting you next. 

Spacious communities trust God’s wisdom is gloriously sufficient to hold us as old rules fall away. Spacious communities know grace and love will birth new ways of being beloved community together. Spacious communities do the work to grieve what is shifting. It is a kind of death. And they prepare for the resurrection!

I offer this reflection as a prayer for your local church family:

A Spacious Community

There’s room to breathe
In a spacious community

There’s space to bring 
Who you are

There’s margin to explore
A new perspective

There’s questions to ask
That could change everything

A spacious community
Doesn’t feel narrow
Exclusive
Restrictive
Confining or 
Suffocating

A spacious community
Breathes freedom into the
Tight
Anxious
Confusing
Painful
Knots of our souls

In spacious community
There is
Life
Movement
Gift
Joy
Sorrow
Doubt
Peace
Love

Because a spacious community
Is fully alive
Showing up with courage
Paying attention to pain
Cooperating with Love
Releasing the assumed outcome
So that Love gets a wide-open playground
To skip, climb, slide and giggle
Its way through us all

Amen!


Rev. Jenny Smith serves as pastor to Marysville United Methodist Church in the Pacific Northwest Conference. You can find more of her writing on her blog.

WJ Course of Study and Licensing School programs include 10 students from Greater Northwest

Let’s be in joyful prayer for the ten United Methodists from across the Greater Northwest Area who are at Claremont School of Theology this summer receiving theological training and leadership skills through the Western Jurisdiction’s Course of Study (COS) or Licensing School programs. Licensing School completes on July 4th, and the second session of Course of Study concludes on July 6th.

You can learn more about these programs at localpastor.org

Thanks to Christy Dirren who sent us this photo!

Students as pictured about, left to right, starting with the back row:

  • Karen Fisher – Lake Chelan UMC, Lake Chelan, WA – Licensing School
  • Pastor Selusi Tuilemotu – 1st Samoan UMC, Anchorage, AK – COS 5th year and graduating
  • Pastor Steven Berry – Upper Rogue Valley UMC and Gold Hill UMC, OR – COS 2nd year
  • Pastor Ryan Scott – Grants Pass UMC, Grants Pass, OR – COS 3rd year
  • Cyrus Githinji – Valley and Mountain Fellowship – Seattle, WA – Licensing School
  • Pastor Alice Warness – Royal City UMC, Royal City, WA – COS 5th year and graduating
  • Pastor Christy Dirren – West Portland UMC, Portland, OR – COS 5th year and graduating
  • Tammy Jane – Edmonds UMC, Edmonds, WA – Licensing School
  • Leslie McGowan – Simpson UMC, Pullman, WA – COS 1st year

Not pictured:

  • Pastor Cody Stauffer – Clarkston UMC, Clarkston, WA – COS 5th Year and graduating

Being God’s Favorite

CrossOver reflection for Week 30 • Beginning June 30, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 43

Linda Haynes


Lord,
Let me never be so conceited to believe that you love me 
More than the person standing next to me 
Or the person living a continent away from me. 
Keep me humble 
So that I may know 
That every person born is your favorite, 
Beautifully and uniquely created by your loving hands. Amen

McLaren writes: “Our neighbor is anyone and everyone—like us or different from us, friend or stranger—even enemy.”  And, “We must find a new approach, make a new road, pioneer a new way of living as neighbors in one human community, as brothers and sisters in one family of creation.” McLaren asks us to “see our differences as gifts, not threats, to one another.”

In every family, there are a variety of personalities, a variety of gifts, and a plethora of opinions. This is true in every church family and every domestic family unit. My sister was a cheeky tom-boy and I was a practical, perfectionist. And we often clashed.

One evening we were squabbling over something (so long ago that neither of us remember the ‘what’ or ‘why’). Penny looked at me and burst out with intense attitude, “Well, I am Dad’s favorite.” Dad’s frame filled the doorway as he came to investigate what all the fuss was about. I look up asking, “Dad, just who is your favorite?” (Sounds a little bit like two disciples, you know the one that Jesus loved and that other one). 

Shaking his head with a grin appearing across his face, Dad calmly replied, “You’re my favorite Linda.” Before I can snap back at my sister, he interjects, “You’re my favorite Penny and your sister is my favorite Carla.” Dad went on to explain that each of his daughters were his favorites for different reasons.

Dad told us what kept us high on his favorite list was when we showed each other kindness, consideration of the others feelings, thoughtfulness and respect for each other. He shared that when we generously shared what we had with others, were honest and truthful, and didn’t squabble–we were his favorites.

Reflecting on Christ’s commandment to “Love thy neighbor”, I can say that I am God’s favorite me just as you are God’s favorite you. We are different yet God favors each of us as His own with immeasurable, equal love. We are called to show kindness and consideration placing others needs above our own wants. We are called to love our neighbor, respecting our differences in what we believe. We are commanded to share our resources, gifts, and talents with one another. We are to love those that are different. Loving our neighbor is giving all that we have to meet another ones physical, mental and spiritual needs. Loving one another is sacrificial.

Our neighbors are everyone! Believers, non-believers, churched or unchurched, male or female, even those of different faith are our neighbors. In Christ’s church, “we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.”  (Romans 12:5 NRSV) We belong to each other. We are all part of the one body and interdependent upon each other making us responsible for each other in God’s Holy Name.

As McLaren writes love is “practical, specific, concrete, down- to- earth action.” He concludes, “In the movement of the Spirit, to love is to live.”

God may be speaking to me in a way that conflicts with what He is speaking to you. I may be right. I may be wrong. You may be right. You may be wrong. I am called to love. Loving you as my neighbor requires me to treat you with grace and dignity; honoring you as God’s favorite you!

As I sign my cards to my dad, 

Your favorite Linda


Linda Haynes is a child of God, mother of four blessings, grandmother of three blessings and a certified lay servant and member of Christ First UMC in Wasilla, Alaska. She serves the Alaska United Methodist Conference as a volunteer in the roles of Conference Statistician and Lay Servant Trainer. Linda was a Reserve Delegate to the 2016 and 2019 General Conferences.

A Sunday of Solidarity for Suffering Children

Children separated from families, held at overcrowded detention centers without food, soap or medical care…

Parents and children fleeing danger, denied safe entry, dying as they cross the border…

Who can read the stories and see the images from the US border with Mexico this week and not be moved to compassion and action?

Courageous journalists and advocates tell the stories of inhumanity and tragedy. If you haven’t read them, I encourage you to do so, with the compassionate heart of Jesus. Here are a few examples:

People fleeing violence in their homelands, meet violence at the border of the United States: rejection, separation, incarceration, neglect and death. It’s easy to feel the revulsion when it’s innocent children. Our faith reminds us that every migrant arriving at the southern border is a beloved child in God’s eyes, equally worthy of the care, dignity, and respect that we would afford to our children or grandchildren.

I am asking each local church and faith community in the Greater Northwest Area to prayerfully join me and the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) in observing a ‘Sunday of Solidarity for Suffering Children’ on Sunday, June 30.

Below you’ll find UMCOR’s encouragement toward prayer, action, and generosity on behalf of all of God’s Children. Let’s take action to respond with open hearts and minds this week to embody God’s love and make a difference.

Love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind. And your neighbor as yourself. Do this and you will live.

Elaine JW Stanovsky
Resident Bishop


UMCOR: A Sunday of Solidarity for Suffering Children | Sunday, June 30

In light of the recent news about children in U.S. government holding facilities along the U.S.-Mexico border, the United Methodist Committee on Relief has received numerous requests to respond. We have heard the plea for action from the church. Unfortunately, the facilities in question are managed in such a way that precludes even UMCOR’s assistance. Access to these government facilities is extremely limited.

As the arm of The United Methodist Church mandated to cultivate and promote mission, the General Board of Global Ministries seeks to equip your church with tools to use as you confront the frustration and helplessness that this situation evokes. While this particular case is in the U.S., we recognize that migration is a global issue and the breadth and depth of our Global Migration programming at UMCOR and Global Ministries reflects that fact.

As a church that is united on the need to care for children, we can be in mission together.

This Sunday, June 30, Global Ministries encourages you to take part in A Sunday of Solidarity for Suffering Children in three ways:

PRAY – We encourage you to pray for children. Below, you will find a prayer to use this Sunday. You might choose to dedicate a service to suffering children everywhere or conduct a prayer vigil in your community for the children suffering along the border.

ACT – We encourage you to act on behalf of children. While we cannot take UMCOR hygiene kits to the U.S. government holding centers, we are distributing UMCOR hygiene kits at transitional shelters all along the US-Mexico border. In the last three months, UMCOR delivered 46,128 hygiene kits to six church-run transitional shelters. Instructions on how to make and send these kits are available here.

You can also act by calling your U.S. elected officials. This link to the General Board of Church and Society, our sister United Methodist agency responsible for advocacy, will give you some suggestions on issues to raise with these officials.

GIVE – Finally, we encourage you to give on behalf of children. Through the Global Migration Advance, UMCOR provides grants to organizations along the U.S. border and elsewhere around the world that are working to fill gaps in the needs and rights of migrants.

Jesus implored his disciples to welcome the children. This is our mission: to make sure the children are welcomed. Thank you for your prayers, your actions and your gifts.

For media information, contact Marcy Heinz.
For program information, contact Mia Nieves.

A Prayer for Suffering Children

God of All Children Everywhere,
Our hearts are bruised when we see children suffering alone
Our hearts are torn when we are unable to help.
Our hearts are broken when we have some complicity in the matter.
For all the times we were too busy and shooed a curious child away,
forgive us, oh God.
For all the times we failed to get down on their level and look eye to eye with a child, forgive us, oh God.
For all the times we did not share when we saw a hungry child somewhere in the world, forgive us, oh God.
For all the times we thought about calling elected officials to demand change, but did not, forgive us, oh God.
For all the times we thought that caring for the children of this world was someone else’s responsibility, forgive us, oh God.
With Your grace, heal our hearts.
With Your grace, unite us in action.
With Your grace, repair our government.
With Your grace, help us to find a way to welcome all children everywhere,
That they may know that Jesus loves them,
Not just because “the Bible tells them so,”
But because they have known Your love in real and tangible ways,
And they know that nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate them from Your love.
Amen.

Don’t wait! It’s your turn…

CrossOver reflection for Week 29 • Beginning June 23, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 42

Patrick Scriven


Brian McLaren’s chapter this week (42 – Spirit of Love: Loving God) starts with a reminder of how church people can often be a barrier to our neighbors who might need God’s love the most.

McLaren writes: “Hot-headed religious extremists, lukewarm religious bureaucrats, and cold-hearted religious critics alike have turned the word God into a name for something ugly, small, boring, elitist, wacky, corrupt, or violent—the very opposite of what it should mean.”

McLaren’s words reminded me of a book I read a few years ago called UnChristian by David Kinnamon which included a list of the various negative impressions that younger people had of Christianity. While the book had its flaws, its naming of these negative impressions—hypocritical, too focused on conversions, homophobic, sheltered, too political, judgmental—resonated for many.

At this moment in the life of The United Methodist Church, we are not making great strides in convincing young people that these impressions are all that wrong. As a leader or member of a local church, you may be having a better go of it—I hope that is the case—but I have little doubt that these barriers to God’s love remain in far too many places. 

As I was reflecting on this chapter, I was drawn to think that we sometimes neglect to consider our personal responsibility to share God’s love especially because of our denominational conflict. It’s easy to act as if this task is external to us; to imagine that if we just resolved what should or should not be in the Book of Discipline, everything else would sort itself out.

Such a perspective fails to give agency where it is due. We, you and me, are called to take the love of Christ out into the world even if there is no church to support (or hinder) those efforts. Indeed, we are often best positioned for that task.

Every day, we interact with, bump into, and otherwise impact dozens, if not hundreds, of other people. Some of these interactions are intentional, significant, and lengthy. Others are less significant, at least to us. Many of these people have no regular interaction with a functional (or dysfunctional) church.

Each of these interactions is important. Each is an opportunity to share God’s love.

Now I’m not suggesting that we turn these interactions into some grand evangelistic moment. Quite the contrary, doing so might sound exactly the wrong message in many situations (see “too focused on conversions” from Kinnamon’s list). But each interaction is an opportunity to pay forward the love, generosity, and grace we have received, even before we knew we needed them, and certainly before we earned them.

Imagine with me for a moment. That person bagging your groceries may have just lost a someone cherished by them; or maybe they are struggling with addiction. The smile, thank you, and acknowledgment of their presence might be just the thing that helps them to get through that day.

That jerk that just cut me off in traffic? That same person might be a single parent heading to their second job unsure how they are going to pay all of their bills this month. Did my obscene gesture express God’s love adequately?

I don’t mean to suggest that the big things don’t matter; they do. Just don’t wait for your denomination, or local church, to perfect its witness before you tend to your own. And thank God that you don’t need to form a committee, or a majority, before you can respond to God’s calling to share your belovedness with the world!


Patrick Scriven is a husband who married well, a father of three amazing girls, and a seminary educated layperson working professionally in the church. Scriven serves the Pacific Northwest Conference as Director of Communications and Young People’s Ministries.

Spirit Move Me, God Help Me

CrossOver reflection for Week 28 • Beginning June 16, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 41

Teri Watanabe


“For you have been called to live in freedom, my [siblings]. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another. So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives.” – Galatians 5:13-16 (NLT)

For almost 6 months, we have been walking/making a road together. What happens when the road feels like it’s now under water?

This image speaks to me of the road we think we walk on—how we might be so sure of our footing one day—with one frame of mind and one convicted stance, like singular rocks jutting from the earth—only to lose sight of and contact with the path when the floods of change swamp our shores.

God’s eternal presence sings in the streams of water and wind in all creation. The words from the song “God Help Me” by Plumb have been a soundtrack for my heart these days:

“Help me to move
 Help me to see
 Help me to do whatever you would ask of me 
 Help me to go 
 God help me to stay …
 God help me”

The lyrics “Help me to go/Help me to stay” seem to represent the push and pull of the current struggle we as United Methodists face as a denomination. It’s also representative of the magnetic attraction and repulsion of how we take sides within our own souls.

Our denomination has proved the world right. We are divided. We are hypocritical. We do not show love in the way that Jesus calls us to. Perhaps it would help to remember that even the phrase “maybe they’re just not there yet” is a judgment.

So it’s up to us to change—starting with ourselves. One heart at a time, each of us can make the choice to ask the Holy Spirit to guide us, move us, help us to see. (Notice that sometimes the guide and the movement come before seeing and knowing where we are going.) 

It’s up to us to let the Holy Spirit breathe peace into our souls and let Spirit lead the way. Maybe then we can shine a different light into the world, God’s light.

What would happen if we unfurled our sails to catch Holy Spirit wind? If the tides of opportunity start rolling in, how could we move with each other in love?

  • Let us hear Jesus’ words through the paraphrase of The Message: “ Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.” – John 13:34-35
  • Let us recall Paul’s words to the Romans, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.” – Romans 13:8, NIV 

Here is the part of Plumb’s song that feels like the prayer my heart needs to hear right now:

“So take all my resistance 
 Oh God I need Your grace 
 One step and then the other—show me the way”

May we continue to pray for God to help us make Jesus’ road by walking. One step and then another. Spirit show us the way.


Teri Watanabe is a Certified Lay Minister serving the United Methodist Churches of Monroe and Valley in Oregon.

Song credit: “God Help Me” performed by Plumb, written by Tiffany Arbuckle Lee, Christa Wells, and Luke Sheets, © 2017.

Photo credit: David Fujii, © 2017, used by permission.

Whatever The Hardship, Keep Rising Up!

CrossOver reflection for Week 26 • Beginning June 2, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 39

Rev. Kathleen Weber


Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth. (God) doesn’t grow tired or weary. (God’s) understanding is beyond human reach, giving power to the tired and reviving the exhausted.

… those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength; they will fly up on wings like eagles; they will run and not be tired; they will walk and not be weary.

Isaiah 40:28-31 CEB

What does it look like to rise up whatever the hardship? Who embodies strength in the midst of adversity?

UTOPIA Seattle (United Territories of Pacific Islanders Alliance)is a LGBTQ, people of color-led, grassroots organization born out of the struggles, challenges, strength, and resilience of the Queer and Trans Pacific Islander (QTPI – “Q-T-pie”) community in South King County (Washington State). Their mission is to provide sacred spaces to strengthen the minds and bodies of QTPIs through community organizing, community care, civic engagement and cultural stewardship. UTOPIA was founded and is led by women of color, identifying as transgender and/or fa’afafine. Fa’afafine is a third cultural gender identity native to Samoa. This gender identity extends beyond a binary notion of gender (e.g., man or woman), similar to other cultures within and beyond the Pacific Islands (In Hawaiian, Mahu; in some indigenous cultures, two spirit; and in India, hijira). I suggest this short clip “The Meaning of Mahu” from the PBS Independent Lens film, “A Place in the Middle” to better understand this third gender.

I recently went to UTOPIA’s annual fundraising luau. Before this event, I knew nothing of the organization or the fa’afafine community. It was an incredible evening—full of food, music, dance, and speakers. We heard personal stories of overcoming all sorts of difficulty—domestic violence, transphobia, physical violence, and isolation—as well as personal stories of community, family and faith support. The entire evening was an expression of power, beauty, love, culture, community, and resiliency—a true “rising up.” The event inspired and strengthened me to continue the important work of resisting homophobia, transphobia, and racism in the church and to seek radical solidarity with others in the creation of God’s beloved community.

In this week’s reading, Whatever The Hardship, Keep Rising Up!, McClaren suggests that throughout Christian history, moments of hardship have always offered the movement an opportunity. An opportunity to practice interdependence, grow in our trust of God, and of course, love more fully and more deeply. He writes, “If we don’t give up at that breaking point when we feel we’ve reached the end of our own resources, we find a new aliveness, the life of the risen Christ rising within us.” This echoes a sentiment delivered by the prophet Isaiah, “(God) doesn’t grow tired or weary. (God’s) understanding is beyond human reach, giving power to the tired and reviving the exhausted…those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.”

As we face the different challenges in our life—whether grief, isolation, fear of the unknown, coming out, marginalization or oppression—we can continually turn to our God, the Wellspring of hope, strength, and resilience. We can also turn to community for support and celebration. We would do well to remember this as we continue to discern what’s next for us as the Greater Northwest Area. It is time to call upon all the resources of our faith—scripture, song, prayer, community—to guide us and strengthen us as we continue to face an unknown future in this CrossOver year.

What stories of resilience do you turn to for inspiration and strengthen? What ritual, scripture, song, poem, or picture gives you hope in the midst of difficult times?


Rev. Kathleen Weber serves as Superintendent for the Crest to Coast Missional District in the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.

Stewardship as a Matter of Life and Death

CrossOver reflection for Week 25 • Beginning May 26, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 38

Rev. Jim Frisbie


Christian stewardship is a big deal. It is not just about money. It’s not just about being in service to others. It can be, as we respond to Christ’s call to authentically care for others, a matter of life and death.

When we embrace a robust understanding of Christian stewardship, we have to be willing not only to help those in need but to recognize and respond to their emergencies as if it were our own. Perhaps that is the intersection of empathy and action. The real test comes when we are asked to bend or break the rules as we seek to protect those who look to us for deliverance.

In conversations over coffee and donuts at our local airport, I have often had friends offer their opinions about immigrants crossing the southern border. “They are breaking the law” they relay adamantly, as if to suggest that by crossing into the US without permission all immigrants fall into the same category as drug dealers and human traffickers.  

But what about a situation when we cannot both do the right thing and follow the rules? Sometimes we must break the rules, and even the law, to do what is necessary and appropriate.

As a private pilot, I am constantly aware of what it means to be “Pilot in Command.” In that role, I assume stewardship for the safety and well-being of those in the aircraft with me. If something occurs in the course of a flight, it is my responsibility to do whatever is necessary to ensure the safety of those on board—even if that means breaking the rules.

A pilot, facing a critical situation in flight, is expected to “declare an emergency” and then do whatever it takes to get the people under his or her care safely on the ground, even if that means landing an airliner in the Hudson River. It is not that the rules and laws don’t matter, but that there are expected exceptions that one in charge of the safety of others must do. 

Isn’t that exactly what those seeking asylum for their children by crossing the southern border are doing? They are “declaring an emergency” by fleeing a dangerous and even deadly threat to their lives and the lives of their children. They are getting them to safety, then standing responsibly before the authorities to answer for their actions. Yet we have consistently denied these courageous people the same latitude which is written into the laws of our land concerning basic safety for those at risk, be it in the air or on the ground.

The real emergency at our southern border is a case by case response to human safety. Each family that has fled violence and hunger is facing the hard choices of seeking safety, not just opportunity. If we who are sitting in judgment of others would accept this perspective, we might discover a new appreciation for the courage and fortitude of the immigrants coming to us. Liberated from our judgment, we could instead engage our creativity, compassion, and resources to welcome them as the heroes they are.

Perhaps it is time for us to engage our sedate value of Christian stewardship in a radical and pro-active way, eagerly offering care for those who look to us for help. The emergency of our siblings is our emergency too. And in this, we should do first what brings people to safety, even if that may necessitate bending or breaking the rules. To my mind, this does not compromise or invalidate the rules and laws by which we live, but rather puts a human face on them.


Rev. Jim Frisbie is a retired elder in the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference.

What if we prioritize ​’being’ disciples over ‘making’ them?

CrossOver reflection for Week 24 • Beginning May 19, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 37

Rev. Lowell Greathouse


“We dare to believe that through tiny little seeds like us, through the yeast of our little ecclesia, through the spreading branches of this expanding movement, the world is beginning to change.”

Brian McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking(Chapter 37)

Recently, I was at a national church gathering where several people said, “If we had been focused on our church’s mission in St. Louis, what happened at General Conference wouldn’t have happened.” When I heard these statements, it made me wonder if there really isn’t a problem with our church’s mission statement. 

Perhaps we need to stop and examine ourselves for a moment. Maybe we can’t “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” until we first take time to act like disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Perhaps that’s the real issue. So, maybe we need to change one word in the United Methodist Church mission statement. What if we changed the word “make” to “be,” since the mission of the Church really starts with us. Or, more precisely, it starts with God working in and through us. Discipleship has to do with what we do . . . how we see . . . how we act . . . what we worship . . . and how we treat each other and those around us. 

Until we manage to get this right, there’s really no need in trying to convince others about what we think it means to follow Jesus, because those around us will look at the evidence found within our own lives to determine what it means to be a Jesus follower. It’s like the famous quote, often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.” 

The truth is, people are watching; what we do and how we act makes a difference. That was clear from all the media coverage that occurred following our church’s St. Louis gathering. And what people saw there was what they think United Methodists believe it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Personally, I think we missed a great opportunity to demonstrate to the world what following Jesus is all about, and we won’t get that same opportunity again. 

What should people have been looking for? Paul helps us with this in his letter to the followers in Galatia, when he lists a series of behaviors that he calls “fruit of the Spirit.” Paul’s list includes love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I’m not sure those would be the first words that people would use when describing what they witnessed in St. Louis. And that’s a problem. 

It’s hard to make disciples of others when we struggle with the basic principles Jesus taught so much ourselves. Jesus calls us to live in the world in a totally new way that challenges the assumptions of power, privilege, and position. Jesus calls us to see the world differently and treat others in a more loving manner.

As we see in Chapter 37 of McLaren’s book, living in ways that point toward justice, peace, and joy are contagious and spread rapidly, changing life-after-life in the process. And this is how disciple-making occurs. In fact, throughout McLaren’s book, we are reminded of this again and again. And we see this phenomenon taking place in people’s lives—through Paul, Timothy, Luke, Silas, Priscilla, Aquila, Lydia—and on and on. 

Brian McLaren, in reflecting on the scripture passages referenced in Chapter 37, says, “We are partners in an earthquake of liberation!” This is an amazing undertaking, and it all starts with God working through us. When we are in sync with God’s Spirit in this way, it is something that is hard to ignore. 

Transform the world? Sure, but this begins with our own transformation first. And the truth is that we’ll have other opportunities to make a difference in the world. In fact, the next opportunity may just happen in our very next personal encounter! That’s how it has taken place from the beginning of the Christian movement—and because of this, the world continues to be transformed! 


Rev. Lowell Greathouse serves as Mission and Ministry Coordinator for the Oregon-Idaho Conference of The United Methodist Church.

The Riches of Relationships

CrossOver reflection for Week 23 • Beginning May 12, 2019
We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 36

Rev. Debbie Sperry


When I attended Candler School of Theology, I had the chance to go to Cuba with the World Methodist Evangelism Institute on a religious visa. I could talk for days about all of my experiences. It was amazing. As a lifelong United Methodist, it was my first personal experience with the charismatic church, and I witnessed the Holy Spirit moving in new and inspiring ways. It was intense, and it was life changing.  

Two of the other participants, Kathy and Sharletta, were also from my seminary and when we returned to Atlanta, we came home with the recognition that we were responsible for our own faith formation. It may seem obvious, but at a theology school, we kind of thought we would be handed the best practices. In Cuba, we humbly realized that wasn’t the case. No one was going to “do” our faith for us. We weren’t going to mature as disciples by osmosis. We had to choose to pray, to worship, to engage in fellowship, to serve others, and to study for ourselves.  

So, we decided to meet weekly to sing, share with one another, and pray. We met faithfully each week in the same space. Our time together wasn’t formal, but the rituals formed organically among us. We would start by checking in, talking about life, family, and our own needs. It was like “joys and concerns” but with deep focused attention on each of us. We could choose to share as we needed and share again if something else came up. We took turns praying however we felt led—for each other, and sometimes for our own requests. Sharletta had a beautiful voice and easily drifted from spoken words to singing, and we would join her. Her readiness to sing drew out our own inclination to sing and so it came to be that any of us might lead with a prayer or song at any point in our time together.  

We also learned to be comfortable in the silences. We didn’t rush to talk or pray the next prayer. We intentionally slowed down, leaving space for each other and created space for the Holy Spirit. All of that happened in our first year of seminary. Our time together was so valuable we continued it until the end of our third year when we graduated. Over the years, we invited other friends to join us. Some came once or twice, others joined for a season, and others joined and never left.  

All of that was more than 13 years ago and it still stands as one of the most profound experiences of church in my life.  

As I reflect on this week’s scriptures and Brian McLaren’s chapter on worship and ecclesia (We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 36 • The Uprising of Worship), I think of the riches of relationships in the church. We have so much to offer one another, so much to gain from investing in learning to do faith together. A quick read of the scriptures makes it sound easy. The reality is, like much in our faith, it is simple (pray, break bread, praise God, care for one another) but not easy. It takes commitment, dedication and intentionality.  

Being the church together isn’t easy, but it is worth it. And when it gets really hard, it’s good to go back to what’s simple: pray, break bread, praise God, and care for one another.


Rev. Debbie Sperry serves as pastor to Moscow First United Methodist Church in Moscow, Idaho.

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