DCC focuses on evangelism, fasting, vitality

2/28/2013

“There is a difference between being a Christian and being a disciple,” said Bishop James R. King, Jr. as he preached during the opening worship service of the third annual Disciple Covenant Conference.

Held Feb. 8-9 at the Macon Centreplex, the conference provided a spiritual and learning environment for pastors, laity, congregations and teams to develop their disciple-making plans.

The Church has done little to prepare baptized believers for ministry and growth, Bishop King said, and that needs to change.

“Christians are born to grow,” he said to the nearly 600 attendees. “The ongoing goal of a Christian is to become more like Jesus and help grow a Christlike world.”

He outlined simple, effective ways to practice disciple plans; explained how churches, laity and clergy can be designated “5 Star;” and shared his vision for CLUs – Christlike Love Units.

“The food for human beings is love, just like honey is food for bees,” Bishop King said, explaining the importance and need for CLUs. “We need more love in our hearts and in our churches.”

Rev. Mike Ricker, senior pastor of Isle of Hope United Methodist Church in Savannah and the founder and director of Light for the Nations Ministry, preached a message about evangelism and witness in today’s world.

“Someone stands on everyone’s road to Christ,” he said after sharing a personal story about an influential woman on his faith walk. “Our challenge is to be on the way without being in the way.”

The love of Christ is irresistible, he said, and the message of the gospel is for the world, not just the Church.

“Sometimes we preach too much and love too little. (Believers) came to Christ and the Church grew not through preaching, but through the daily living and the loving of the gospel.”

And everyone, Rev. Ricker said, is a part of God’s family.

“No matter who we are, we have worth in the eyes of God. It’s our call to remind and tell them.”

Friday evening’s events closed with a healing and prayer service.

On Saturday morning, Sister Kathleen Flood, a Dominican sister and a member of the Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters, spoke about fasting and prayer.

“When we have something in our lives we can’t say no to, it is lording us instead of our Lord God,” she said of fasting.

The spiritual discipline of fasting – whether of food, technology or something else – gives us perspective and makes room for prayer in our lives.

John Wesley so strongly believed in fasting, Flood said, that he would not ordain anyone to the clergy who would not keep the fast.

“Fasting and prayer enable us to know the love of God and put them into practice,” she said.

One fast in which everyone should participate is fasting from a vicious tongue.

But, she said, no one should ever fast from the Lord’s table, prayer or the word of God.

“People are famished for the food of God. That’s a fast no one should do. That is the place of greatest healing.”

The point of fasting, Flood said, is to fulfill our longing for God.

“Those who fast and pray, they hunger and thirst for the Living God and are filled with the transformative power of the Spirit.”

The DCC’s final speaker, Rev. Jorge Acevedo of Grace Church, taught about congregational vitality.

Rev. Acevedo, who leads a dynamic, large, multi-site United Methodist church in Southwest Florida, told conference attendees that highly vital churches figure out how to behave differently.

“What are the principles that drive the behaviors that will allow you to get the results God has called you to?” he asked.

According to Rev. Acevedo, there are five important behaviors of highly vital churches and leaders.

The first, he said, is that vital congregations are led by pastors who live in accountable community.

“The most important thing I lead is not my church, it is my life,” he said. “I am responsible for watching over my own life but I also have to invite being watched over.”

The second key behavior of vital congregations is that they equip and release laity for Kingdom ministry.

“(We need to be) releasing ordinary people to make the realities of heaven realities on earth.”

Leaders have to create environments where ordinary people can be released to do ministry, he said.

Vital congregations also have meaningful and relevant worship experiences.

“Worship is a holistic, multi-sensory experience. Are your worship experiences ‘OMG!’ – ‘Oh, my God!’ experiences?” Rev. Acevedo asked.

Another key element of vital congregations is that they have small groups that build Christian community.

Just as Wesley built teams, Rev. Acevedo said, churches need to build teams.

Lastly, vital congregations strategically implement outreach and missions efforts that are local and global.

“John Wesley cared about the poor,” he said. “We, too, must care about the poor. You can’t read the scriptures and not know God has a heart for the poor.

“There’s nothing more beautiful than the Church when she acts like the Church.”

Worship music for the weekend was provided by FUEL, Vidalia First United Methodist Church’s contemporary worship band.

Bishop King closed the conference with an exhortation to remain focused on spiritual growth and disciple-making efforts.

“Follow Jesus and He will show you the way. Stay steadfast. God cannot fail. We know how the story ends – stay faithful.”