Laity Address
Partners in Ministry: A Vision for the Year 2000

April 16, 1996

1996 United Methodist General Conference


God spoke, through the Old Testament prophet Joel, these words:

"I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters will prophesy, and your young shall see visions, and your old shall dream dreams."

On January 1, 1996, we were exactly four years from the beginning of the year 2000. Much has already been written and much more will be published about this grand event in the history of humankind. Those of us who are destined to live through that occurrence will always remember it as a major milestone of our lives.

It occurs to me that in the final moment of truth on the night of December 31, 1999 that the year 2000 will begin, as every new year has - - with just another tick of the clock of time. Everything will be different and yet everything will be the same. There is nothing magical or mystical about one year ending and another beginning. When we awake on the morning of January 1, 2000, what will be different? What is there about that morning that will be different from all other mornings?

We are being drawn like a magnet toward this new century. Our imagination has been captured by all kinds of "what if" questions about "what might be" in the year 2000. One thing is sure if we have not planned well for that event and put systems in place to engage the world in which we live - - that day will be like all other days - - just another beautiful dawning of another new day. People will live and die, people will laugh and cry, people will hurt, people will love and lift up, people will be full and they will be empty. Many of God's people will be forgotten and ignored by us and continue to exist on the margins of life.

As United Methodist Christians - - today it is our time to see the visions, to dream the dreams, and to prophesy - - as God's Holy Spirit is now poured out upon us. As the story of Esther informs us in the Old Testament - - God has surely brought us to this place for just such a time as this!

What is God's vision for The United Methodist Church in the year 2000? Since our past, present and future are in God's hands we are destined, as God's people, to move toward and enter the 21st century. Onward we go - alive with confidence and excitement, people full of hope, and open to the winds of God's Holy Spirit - - as we are confronted with the changes and challenges of loving and caring for God's people.

As that part of the body of Christ, called United Methodists, our calling and task is always to be open to discovering new and effective ways of fulfilling our ministry under the guidance of God's Holy Spirit.

Our focus must be Jesus Christ! John Wesley said "Offer them Christ!". Our ministry is to people. Our commitment is to make a difference in our neighborhood, in our community and in our world. We are God's ambassadors and ministers. The people of God are the church in the world. It is we who must convince the world of the reality of the gospel or leave it unconvinced.

We must thrust open the doors of our Churches, as we go out in ministry and service. We need to quit sitting around in meetings talking about what we ought to do - - and get out and about and be in ministry. If every church would declare a moratorium on meetings next year and send the people out - - equipped and prepared to offer Christ to their world, what do you think would happen? United Methodists who are dispersed for mission and ministry onto the highways and by ways of our global community - - just think about it? Folks, it should be obvious by now to everyone that we can't, as Wesley said, "Offer them Christ" - - by sitting in the Churches waiting for something to happen.

Vision 2000, and similar programs, have proven to be an effective way for local churches to vision their future - - and then live out that future - - in new and exciting ways. I have seen it at work in my own church - - a church that was getting older and older, now attracting many young families with outstanding and exciting children's programs, and now with a state licensed, after school care program for latchkey children. At one time our children's time during the morning worship service might have five children; now we have as many as 25 come forward for their special time in the worship service. I have seen Vision 2000's vibrant witness in scores of other churches across my Conference. If your area has not yet begun a Vision 2000 program let me strongly encourage you to be the one to stand up and tell your Bishop and Conference leadership that you want to be a leader in bringing Vision 2000 to your area.

We, the Church, must be energized and set on fire by the Holy Spirit of God. You see we Christians are in the fire business. The gospel song says "it only takes a spark to get a fire going" - - but it takes all of us to keep the fire going! We gather as communities of the faithful in our Churches for empowering, equipping and sending. We continue to kindle the fire - as one warms and is re-energized by the fire, others bring new coals. Together we keep the flame aglow.

God's people are bound in love and covenant by a golden strand that reaches back to God's people from the very beginning of time.

Do we all look alike, think alike, understand and express God's love the same, hold the same, turn loose the same? Heavens no! Does that make any one of us any less, or any more, worthy of membership in this covenant community of fire keepers? Certainly not! We all need each other. Each one of us needs his or her own place to stand in this great congregation but we also need each other - as one warms by the fire, another brings fresh coals to keep the fire burning.

Dr. Donald English, President of the World Methodist Council, closed the 1991 World Methodist Conference in Singapore with this image: All of us are players in the symphony with which we praise God. We need each other to provide all the different visions and sounds that make the symphony beautiful - both to hear and to see. If we want to belong to a group that is only violins, we can only make one sound. If we want to only play our own violin, we don't need to be with anybody, and we will always be right. If we want to play the symphony in the orchestra of God, we all need each another.

Imagine for just a moment that this great United Methodist Church of ours is one of the fine "tall sailing ships" with all of its sails billowing in the wind. We have turned and trimmed those sails so that the Wind - - the Wind of God's Holy Spirit - is blowing at our backs and we are speeding across the water. Wait! - - there's troublesome times ahead, the water is getting choppy, the wind is beginning to shift, the sails need re- trimming, and there is a rocky shoal ahead. All of us, who are called United Methodists, have our hands on the wheel. Will it be shipwreck - - or sailing on to ports of ministry? If you push and I pull, we are going to run our ship onto the rocks and just look longingly for the missed ports of ministry where God's people are. We must, all in one spirit, very quickly decide which way to turn this ship we call the United Methodist Church, to keep in on course.

We desperately need to become partners in ministry.

What does it mean to be "partners in ministry" in the 21st century church? It means a place for service and ministry for everyone! A place where everyone is worthy and valued and has equal voice. It is a partnership that places far more value on your ability to see through "kingdom eyes" than it does your certificates, diplomas and credentials. Being partners in ministry values the "warm heart" and the "passion for souls" that not only is our heritage as people called United Methodist, but gives us vision for our future. Partners in Ministry is not just another program for us to consider. It is in fact a "new way" for folks in ministry to work together in our great church. It is an attitude, an ethos, something that permeates how we "do church." Out of the understanding of Partners in Ministry, a new model for leadership in the church is emerging. This new model calls for sharing in ministry and leadership between the pastor and local church laity. It is crucial for pastors and lay leadership to work in tandem as partners in ministry. This requires a deep level of trust, commitment and communication on both sides. How can this trust be developed and deepened? How can we foster more effective teams in ministry? Our vision is that each congregation within United Methodism will be equipped with the resources and skills to engage in a shared ministry for Christ - - both within the Church and throughout the world. This shared ministry is focused on the primary task of the church and yoked with that church's own unique shared vision. A new millennium is dawning and many of us in the United Methodist Church are ready! God's Word through Isaiah to us today is "I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?" The clarion call to be "partners in ministry" is valid and urgent.

The call is urgent. The time is now! We can't wait on studies to be completed. We don't have time to schedule committee meetings. We can't have consultants come in. Folks, we don't even have enough time to have a caucus meeting or take a vote. The Spirit of the Lord is poured out upon us right now! It is our time! God has brought us to this place and time with purpose and intent!

The calendar sheets come off, one by one. The clock ticks methodically, slowly, surely. The year 2000 looms before us on the horizon. God's people are given this time and this opportunity for imagination and vision. What shall we do?

Let me list just a few of the possibilities for mission and ministry as we stand on the threshold of the 21st Century - -

First, our Churches must become "full service mission stations". Centers for spiritual renewal and personal commitment. Stations where the sweet, Holy Spirit of God has permeated and engaged a whole community of believers. Stations that are community centers of wholeness and healing. Stations that serve as a welcoming beacon to all God's children who are seekers of The Way. Stations where everyone "standing in the need of prayer" will find love, forgiveness, acceptance and haven.

Second, we must become United Methodist "saving stations" where love abides, and all God's children can find salvation, healing, wholeness and safety. We shall offer Christ as Savior to God's people, to the community and to God's world. We shall be centers of fellowship where all people feel included, loved and valued - - a place where everybody knows your name! We must create a myriad of programs of ministry and healing for young, old, men, women, boys, girls, married, single, senior citizens, persons with disabling conditions, all persons who are hurting - - ALL God's children.

Third, we need United Methodist Church "empowering stations" to offer vital and exciting opportunities for worship and learning. We are people of The Book. It is absolutely essential that we know and understand our Book. "Disciple: Becoming Disciples Through Bible Study" should be a part of the yearly program in every Parish. This is a United Methodist Bible Study designed and written especially for United Methodist Christians. It is now ten years old and growing each year. Let's use it!

Let's take a really honest look at how we conduct our worship services. Do they communicate the Good News gospel? Do they lift up the excitement and call of the Pentecostal fires of a Church in mission and ministry? Do they offer Christ? Do we lead persons to conversion and commitment? Do we have an opportunity for conversion and commitment at every service? Today worship must be exciting and vital. Worship must address our heart felt and gut felt needs with the integrity of Holy Scripture.

We must feed others with God's manna and lead them to the well with the water that will quench their thirst forever. We must meet the spiritual needs of our people! Let us challenge each other to ministry and service as Disciples of Jesus Christ. Let us "Lift high the Cross, the love of Christ proclaim!"

Fourth we must become "equipping and sending stations" where we equip persons for ministry and send them out into the community and world for mission and ministry. Equipping the Saints for ministry is one of our most challenging tasks. Hands-on training for ministry and skill building events are what we need for the 21st century. Every Church should have a part time or full time Director of Volunteers. This person must be a dedicated church worker who has caught the vision and is willing to be equipped and sent and to equip and send others into mission and ministry in the Church and in the community and world.

We must learn to listen to all our people. Our best ideas for ministry come from those who live out their lives in the everyday world who have seen the struggles and injustices. People who see ways out for those who are in need and who are hurting. We need to help these with vision, sometimes far beyond our own, to translate their ideas, hopes and dreams into ministry.

And finally, our Churches must become "community outreach stations". Stations that offer programs for youth groups, scouting groups, community agencies, recovery groups, and assistance for those with immediate survival needs.

Committed to being peacemakers among individuals, families, communities and nations, we must serve as agents of change.

As we bind up the wounds of God's people, we are compelled to help find ways to stop the causes of those wounds.

. . . . Mission Stations - Saving Stations - Empowering Stations - Equipping and Sending Stations - Community Outreach Stations . . . . . .

The Spirit of the Lord is upon us now! Jesus reminds us, in the Holy Scripture, that God has anointed each of us to bring good news to the poor.

God has sent all of us to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of God's favor.

We are God's station keepers! We are "partners in ministry."

God's prophet, Habakkuk, stood at his watchpost; he stationed himself at the rampart and looked out - - watching and listening for God's word in his day. Here was God's word for Habakkuk--- ------

Write the vision - -

make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it - - -- - - - for there is still a vision for the appointed time!!!!! What kind of a new day will it be on January 1, 2000? What will the dawning of a new millennium bring?

We are given this time and this vision - - let us write it in big bold letters, and lift it high, for all the world to see!

Together let us claim the vision and lift high the Cross!

March 28, 1996
James W. (Jim) Lane
Conference Lay Leader
North Arkansas Conference


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The Laity Address, April 16 1996
1996 United Methodist General Conference