GROWING IN GRACE
Bishop Bryan is busy traveling the Conference speaking with members of each district of South Georgia about General Conference 2019 and the work of the Commission on a Way Forward. As we prepare for the conversations in our respective districts, I want to share three important practices I think we all should engage in as we enter into potentially difficult conversations.
(I realize that three districts will have already had their event by the time you read this column. Feel free to use these practices as you plan to attend the upcoming listening post sessions with members of our delegation in October)
1. Pray before you go
Seems obvious enough, right? We’re Christians and we all should pray regularly. “Pray without ceasing,” Paul reminds us (1 Thess 5:17). But HOW we pray is essential, especially as we pray for the future of the church. Do we pray for God to let “our side” win? Or do we pray for the Spirit to guide the process ahead? Creating winners and losers only works in sports. We’re the Church and, as such, we are called to pray for something more than merely “winning.” We’re called to pray for wisdom, for vision, and for the discipline to be generous and gracious in our faithfulness. It’s not about “my will” being done. It’s about God’s will being done “on earth as it is in heaven.” If anything, may we pray for things like humility and love and grace to win and things like divisiveness, blind stubbornness, and bitterness to lose.
2. Think before you ask
As we have opportunity to ask our bishop questions, it’s good to think before you ask. Ask yourself things like: “Does my question further the discussion? Does my question reveal a heart of peace? Does my question point others to the love of God found in Jesus Christ?” It might also be helpful to remember an adage I once heard attributed to that lion of South Georgia, Rev. Bill Powell: “Before you ask your question, wait. Inevitably someone else will ask and you’ll hear how silly your question really is.” Let’s think of questions that open us up to learning something new and not that seek to further a position we already claim.
3. Seek to grow as you go
We have an anxious seven months ahead of us. How could we grow during this time of anxiety? I think it would be helpful if we started by doing two things: First, find someone who holds a different position from you on human sexuality and get to know them. Learn from them. Ask good questions. You don’t have to have your mind changed on your position, but we do need our hearts changed to see that good people can hold a variety of positions and still be faithful Christians. Second, as this conversation makes its way into your local church, be the voice of graciousness. Our first reaction to things we don’t agree with is usually our worst reaction. Help others receive and take part in these conversations in ways that are grace-filled, humble, and loving. Help others resist the temptation to let our witnesses be tarnished by taking stands for positions in ugly ways. After all, if we’re right about a position in the wrong ways, then we’re still just wrong.
Writing as one with 30 plus years of ministry in front of me, I can tell you that while the anxiety is real, my hope is even more real. Whatever comes in 2019 will not break the Church even if it dares to change it. As our baptismal liturgy reminds us, “The Church is of God and will last for all time.” That sentence alone helps to calm the daily anxiety I feel about the future of The United Methodist Church.
Above all, may you be a witness of hope in your upcoming conversations and in these exciting days ahead.
The Rev. Ben Gosden is senior pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church in Savannah. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.