By BISHOP ROBERT E. HAYES JR.
The evidence is mounting: The United Methodist Church-more specifically, the Oklahoma Conference-is taking seriously the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ.
My soul yearns for such commitment in each church of our Conference. When I see the signs of it, I feel such joy for Christ's kingdom.
Ten years have passed since the General Conference of our denomination adopted this mission statement, while meeting in Denver, Colo. I cringe each time I ponder how many followers we could have brought to Jesus since then if we had known what to do with those profound words back in 1996.
Perhaps a quote attributed to Oklahoma's "patron saint"-Will Rogers-best sums up what happened after we identified our mission as a denomination.
Rogers said, "President Coolidge was elected during a time when the American people wanted nothing done and, by God, (Coolidge) he done it!"
Likewise, when we voted to adopt our mission statement, the denomination didn't know what to do with it and, by God, we didn't do much with it-until now!
I fervently hope that every church in Oklahoma is spending time engaged in the "Holy Conferencing" discussions that were introduced and modeled during our 2006 Annual Conference. Urge your pastor and lay leadership to use the resource materials each church should already have to gather people in those conversations about what disciple-making means in your congregation.
I promise you-and the letters attest from all over our Conference-your local church will benefit from an honest and lively forum on what your church is doing to make disciples of Jesus Christ.
And when you complete that discussion, please report your results to our Conference leaders through the Department of Communications.
(An online survey response form is at www.okumc.org, or you can respond using the pamphlet provided with the printed resource materials.)
The entry point
As I continue this discourse on disciple-making, I want to share an insight that has consumed me in recent months. We cannot afford to overlook it.
Whenever we talk about making disciples, we quickly turn to the Great Commission, found in Matthew 28:19: "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
Consider this: How many of us grasp that there would be no Great Commission if we did not first have a "Great Invitation"?
In disciple-making, a person must first find an entry point-a place of origin, if you will-and that is found in the ways we invite people to be a part of something that concludes with them becoming disciples of Jesus Christ.
When Jesus began his ministry, as recorded in Matthew (also Mark and John), his simple invitation-"Come with me"-got Simon and Andrew started on a life-changing journey. When Jesus invited them, they immediately left everything to follow him.
You see, I believe the invitation is just as important as the commission! There will be no commission if we don't hear that invitation.
Many of us today are followers of our Lord and Savior because someone first invited us into meaningful relationships with Jesus Christ.
My point: We have to do a better job of extending the great invitation so that we will have an opportunity to fulfill the great commission.
As bishop, I attend services in a lot of churches throughout Oklahoma. Yet, I have been to a few that don't offer people an invitation to join. It saddens me. When we stand in our pulpits and proclaim the Word of God, we have to allow that Word to place a claim on someone's life.
If you are not in the habit of extending an invitation following a sermon, develop that pattern now. Please don't welcome the bishop to participate in worship where he witnesses a failure to "open the doors" of the church. That is both unthinkable and unacceptable.
Be assured, at the conclusion of such a service, this bishop will hold a "come to Jesus" meeting with that pastor and the lay members.
Research proves the majority of people who attend and unite with a church have been invited to be there. Develop a culture in your church in which the people of the church contagiously extend invitations to their unchurched friends and family-and receive them when they arrive as welcomed, expected guests.
Have you recently invited anyone to your church? Have you told anyone of the life-altering experience that awaits if they follow you to church next Sunday?
There are countless people wanting to be part of something that will make a positive difference in their lives. If they are ever invited to take part, I believe they will immediately leave everything and follow!