Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church

Where are the goal posts?


"For my part, I run with a clear goal before me."—I Corinthians 9:26 (NEB)


There is an amusing story of a college professor who told his graduating class at the end of the semester: "Ladies and gentlemen, I want you to go out from this college to play courageously the game of life."

At once a young man, who was obviously having difficulty accepting his newfound independence as a graduate, stood up and shouted from the back of the room: "But how can we, professor, when we don’t know where the goal posts are?"

The young man may not have known it, but he posed a serious question for all of us. Just where are the goal posts?

Goal posts are of extreme importance. What would a football game be without those posts or the markings for first downs and yards? We can only pray that our favorite football teams will find the goal posts this fall.

And what would a basketball game be without the baskets?

Every game is played with some goal in mind. Otherwise, points cannot be made, victories cannot be achieved, and there is no purpose to playing the game.

The same is true of life. It doesn’t matter if you’re heading a household, running a business, or overseeing the work of an annual conference. Without a goal—or should I say a goal post—we, too, drift aimlessly, having no place to go, no purpose at all. Until we know where the goal posts are, we only move haphazardly up and down the field of life.

"I run with a clear goal before me," the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians. In his letter to the Philippi church he wrote, "I press toward the goal." Our Lord said, "I know where I am going" (Moffatt’s translation of the New Testament).

If our lives are to have meaning, purpose, and fulfillment as we go about the business of making disciples of Jesus Christ, then we must know where the goal posts are, and we must press toward the goal.

The goal most worthy of our pursuit is helping people understand what it means to have a strong and meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ. It doesn’t matter if the person has been a member of the church for 50 years or has never before walked into the church; we must be about the tasks of making disciples for Jesus Christ.

But what does that really mean? How and where do we start if we are going to make that happen?

It is no secret that The United Methodist Church has been losing members. Our own Oklahoma Conference has also experienced losses, though not as drastic as the national average.

We need to bring our greatest fear to center stage and name it for what it is. Our church is dying. Our grip is slipping as one of the leading denominations in the world, and if we are going to be serious about turning that around, then we must bring to light and address some very real issues.

In order for us to achieve the goal, it’s going to take a lot of hard work by both the clergy and laity together, and it’s going to take a bishop prepared to accomplish the goal by any means necessary.

That is why it is so important for me to share with you how we are going to get there from here. Let me pass on to you some of my strategies that hopefully will engage you and your church as you seek to make disciples for Jesus Christ.

To have goals is nice, but to lay out a plan to get us there is even better.

The goals I have set are not just about achieving numbers. Numbers are fine, but growth is better. In his book "Encountering Jesus," Zan Holmes wrote, "There is a difference between growth and swelling."

I am not interested in just swelling. I am interested in helping us develop a passion for helping each other as we work together toward a common vision and a common goal.

The first step is the most difficult. If we are going to reach the goal of increasing our membership, worship attendance, and Sunday school, we must understand this:

Before our circumstances change, we undoubtedly have to change the way we do a lot of things.

If we keep doing things as we always have, we will always get the same results. On the other hand, if we want something we’ve never before achieved, we must be willing to do something we’ve never done.

This is where working together as clergy and laity becomes so important. Each congregation is different; each church must develop steps to get you where you need to be. Sit down with each other and talk about your church in a way you’ve never talked before. Examine your ministries to determine what is effective and what is not. Don’t just operate outside the box; create and develop an entirely new box that will allow you to be creative, visionary, effective, and efficient.

As you plan together, think steps and not necessarily programs. Churches often confuse programs and activity for progress. A good plan has to be easy and simple, obvious and strategic. And as you move forward, clarify your vision all along the way.

Don’t forget to celebrate the small victories that inspire and encourage people who are in the trenches.

My brothers and sisters, you’ll discover a truth as you roll up your sleeves and commit yourselves to changing churches and the lives of the people we are sent to save. That truth is: God will be present in your midst. You will come to depend more on God and less on yourselves as you ask the tough questions and seek the best answers and solutions.

Your goal post is the assurance you feel for a job done well. It is the feeling of satisfaction you get when you identify your vision, develop your ability to achieve it, and use it to make disciples for Jesus Christ.

Carry out your stewardship with a high sense of responsibility to our Creator, who gave you talents to test you and see what you will do with them.

Let us work together, clergy and laity, so that our teams are not just running up and down the field this fall, with no idea as to where the goal posts are. Let us be thankful that God has given us a goal, and do our part to run faithfully toward it.

(Reprinted from "Strength for the Journey,"a devotional collection by Bishop Hayes. Edited for length. Second printing now available. Call 405-530-2075.)


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