I recently came across a sentence that jumped out at me while reading History of Christianity in the Middle Ages written by Bishop William R. Cannon. In describing the fall of the Roman empire, he said of the Eastern half of the empire, "it was busy preserving what it had rather than expanding into what otherwise it might have become." My soul was wrenched into conviction by these words. This sentence could serve as a perfect description for the state of the Protestant Church in America today including the United Methodist Church. We are good at preserving what we have and are quite busy at doing so. We are less concerned, it seems, in expanding into what God otherwise might have us to become.
I think there can be a healthy balance between preserving and expanding as it relates to the church. History, traditions, and even systems of "doing church" are necessary and even needed. History grounds us into the continuous movement of God's Spirit and connects us with God's people throughout the ages. Tradition gives us identity and connects us with the catholic church. The problem occurs when, instead of operating in balance, we neglect expanding into what God would have us to become for the sake of preserving what we have.
As I begin this New Year, I want to lead our local church to seek after God and what God might have us to become so as to find a balance between preserving and expanding. My vehicle for this leadership is prayer. I'm asking church leaders, church staff, and small group leaders to pray intentionally for the church every week while providing them with suggested prayer foci. These prayers invite God to work deeply within us and to lead us outward in mission.
The longer I serve in ministry the more I realize the magnitude of my inability to "make things happen" in the church. Only God can make the eternal and supernatural occur in the life of the church. Dear God, help us to expand into what you would have us to become - all for your glory, and for the sake of your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.