(Excerpted, 2012 Laity Address by Judy Benson, May 28, Oklahoma Annual Conference, at Tulsa-Boston Avenue UMC)
"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen." (Ephesians 3:20-21 NIV)
|Photo by Holly McCray
Outgoing Conference Lay Leader Judy Benson of Frederick encourages Chuck Stewart of Stilwell, who succeeds her in the post. In her honor, the Board of Laity established The Judy Benson Scholarship for Leadership and Spiritual Formation; gifts may be directed through the Oklahoma United Methodist Foundation.
By JUDY BENSON
Celebrate the Plan? Can we celebrate "Growing Fruitful Congregations"? Can we celebrate "Promoting Ministry Partnerships"? Can we celebrate "Equipping Spiritual Leaders"? Yes, we can! There is a reason we’re called the Sooner State: Oklahomans have a reputation for getting there early and being out front.
Oklahoma United Methodists have been out front and cutting-edge with God’s plan. Frankly, Bishop Hayes is set apart among leaders. In large part because of his leadership—praise God—we are in the position to celebrate a plan that is not status quo, but one that is on the move.
However, as wonderful as Bishop Hayes is, if Oklahoma laity and clergy were not responding to God’s call we wouldn’t have much to celebrate. So today, we celebrate you churches and, as Ephesians 3: 20-21 says, God’s ability to work through you for God’s honor and glory!
Celebrate fruitful congregations
We are growing fruitful congregations that continually ask, "What is God calling us to do in our community in order to share the love of Jesus Christ?"
Traveling across the Conference and listening to laity in Local Church Leader Workshops, our Board of Laity team has heard wonderful stories of how fruitful congregations are living their ministry.
In one of the far corners of our Conference, Sue, a seasoned church member, said, "We have all these young children, and we’re looking for ways to be better in ministry with them. It’s difficult to understand because we’re certainly not in a growth area, but several years ago a number of us prayed together for change, for our church and our ministry. I guess these children are a part of the answer to our prayers. It’s a good problem."
Cynthia shared that her church had been really big in years past, (then) declined. "But recently our church has been growing so much we have all these 2-, 3- and 4-year-old children, and we need more new and creative ways of being in ministry with these young families."
Lunch in the Park was started by a couple who took time to see the hungry and homeless in their city park and determined they could and would do something about it. Sharing hotdogs grilled in the park each Sunday afternoon, that ministry has grown from two people to 40, and from feeding 14 to 140 each week.
In another community, spearheaded by United Methodists, churches work cooperatively to provide a safe, clean place for a homeless family to lay their heads each evening.
I suspect you could share a story of how you’ve been involved in meaningful small groups, taking care of each other, helping your church family grow in Christ, reaching out in love to your community—how you continue to grow as a fruitful congregation, too.
Celebrate ministry partners
We celebrate ministry partnerships that are transforming the world for Jesus Christ, partnerships that help us do ministry beyond our local church. Our Oklahoma Conference is unique in the way we both support and benefit from the influence of ministry partners.
My friend Cindy was telling me that her daughter was influenced by older kids. When they didn’t get their way, they would say, "So!" As children often do, Kaka began to reply to her mother’s requests with "So!" My friend set about to point out that response really wasn’t appropriate for a little girl. Kaka replied, "Why, Mom? The Bible tells me SO!"
The Bible does tell us so many things that we live by. One of our Guiding Principles for ministry partnerships is in Matthew 28:18-20. "The mission of the church is to proclaim God’s kingdom as revealed through Jesus Christ." We praise God for ministry partners that help us reveal Christ to the world by starting new churches, enabling compassionate ministries, and providing opportunities beyond our local churches.
Have you touched the life of a child by supporting the Circle of Care?
Have you been on a Kairos prison ministry team, baked cookies, helped Redemption Church through CJAMM?
Have you pointed a parent whose family member is suffering from an addiction to a helpful resource?
Have you benefited from a class or a graduate of OCU’s Wimberly School of Religion or Saint Paul School of Theology at OCU?
Have you slept on the floor or climbed on a roof as a Youth Force volunteer?
Have you spent your summer tutoring a child in Project Transformation?
Have you sent a youth to camp, laughed or cried at their stories, and thanked God for those who were called in the midst of God’s beautiful creation?
Have you had your heartstrings pulled being a VIM servant across Oklahoma or around the world?
Have you supported a campus ministry, encouraging young leaders of today and tomorrow? I’m thankful we can pass on the baton of our youth group to effective campus ministers. Currently three young people that our little church passed on have been ordained, two others are on that track, and many others are laity servant leaders in churches.
We are thankful for all our ministry partnerships, because we are at our best when we are "united"—it’s not just the name that we claim.
Celebrate spiritual leadership
We grow spiritual leaders and utilize our resources in equipping them. It starts in our local churches with our children and youth.
Kalyn, like so many others, is a wonderful young leader. She reaches out to others and brings them to church. She radiates the love of Jesus wherever she is—on the softball field, on a stage. Her dad told me that Kalyn said God put the lady next door on her heart; she felt she needed to do something for this woman. So she baked a plate of cookies.
When the neighbor came to the door, she answered Kalyn’s loving smile with an outburst of tears. Through her sobs, she told Kalyn that was the one-year anniversary of her mother’s death. She had been all alone, with no one caring then and no one caring now—until Kalyn.
All from cookies? No—from cookies in the hands of a young spiritual leader who listened, responded, and let God work through her. Kalyn and her cookies were God’s hand at work, bringing compassion and healing to that woman’s troubled life.
Someone said there are three types of leaders:
Those who make things happen;
Those who watch things happen; and
Those who ask, "What the heck just happened?"
Through God’s plan, we build leaders who make things happen. Romans 12:11: "Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic—be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord!" We’ve all heard Bishop Hayes say, "Watch me burn," and we have!
Churches that don’t want to change are not the failure of clergy. It takes both clergy and laity to change and move a church toward being a fruitful congregation; clergy and laity partnering, working together, true to God’s calling.
The calling of Mrs. McElroy is teaching preschool for God. She hears lots of stories. Ellie, age 4, shared that her mom was going to have a baby. Ellie was persistent all day in her excitement. So convincing was she that, after school, Mrs. McElroy congratulated Mom Jodie on the good news.
Mom replied, "It may be a good idea, but we’re not having a new baby. Ellie?"
Ellie, arms folded, replied, "Awkward!"
I pray we eliminate "awkward" situations that hold churches back and work together as clergy and laity.
We are not finished. Our mission is not complete.
Celebrate by working the plan
As long as there are homeless, in shelters and abandoned buildings; students homeless, living in cars or with friends, trying to get an education so they can get out of their situations, we are not finished…
As long as we have child abuse, 7,300 confirmed cases and 51 deaths in a year, with 82 percent of those abused children younger than 2, we are not finished…
As long as poverty for those under 18 continues to increase each year, we are not finished….
As long as we have 16,000 cases annually involving abuse, neglect, and exploitation of the elderly, we are not finished…
As long as 39 percent of Oklahomans do not even pretend to have a religious affiliation, we are not finished.
Laity and clergy, in every place in Oklahoma, we are not finished. Hear the words of Haggai 2:1-7. I truly believe they parallel The United Methodist Church today.
"Is there anyone here who saw the temple the way it used to be, all glorious? (Feel free to substitute conference or your church for temple.) And what do you see now? Not much, right? So get to work."
God is speaking: Get to work, high priest! Get to work, all you people!
God is speaking: Yes, get to work! For I am with you! I’m living and breathing among you right now. Don’t be timid. Don’t hold back! This temple is going to end up far better than it started out, a glorious beginning but an even more glorious finish, a place in which I will hand out wholeness and holiness."
We are not finished!