By Jessica Connor
FLORENCE – Why can’t we be the kind of United Methodist Church that God calls us to be? Reach young people and the unchurched? Speak in one voice as a denomination? See the growth and transformation that John Wesley saw in early Methodism?
Perhaps, said the Rev. Jeff Kersey, our answer can be found in our faith – or lack of it.
In the evening sermon June 8 at Annual Conference, Kersey told the more than 2,000 attendees that we tend to deflect the real reason for our denomination’s membership decline, shifting blame to a myriad of external forces when we should be looking within.
Just like Peter, who began to slip into the ocean when strong winds and crashing waves made him doubt Jesus’ ability to keep him walking on water, we, too, allow our faith to falter, Kersey said. And that’s when our foundation begins to crumble.
“Discouraged faith leads to distorted faith,” said Kersey, senior pastor of the 2,600-member Mount Horeb UMC, Lexington. “We start to believe we can’t, so we don’t. We don’t stay true to Scripture. We fear the disapproval of people more than we fear the disapproval of God.”
Too many times, he said, we blame the membership decline on flimsy excuses that come from distortion, such as “young people who are just not interested in church anymore,” or how “when people move to the lake or the beach or the mountains, they just don’t like to go to church.”
Distorted faith then leads to diluted faith, which eventually becomes an immovable mountain preventing us from being the kind of church God wants us to be. Lack of self-esteem, lack of mission and a lack of vision combine to create an obstacle so high we cannot scale it on our own.
We falter. We slip beneath the waves. But fear not, said Kersey: Faith does move mountains.
“We need a determined faith – not discouraged, not doubting – that God will use the United Methodist Church to reach people that no other church is going to reach,” Kersey told the crowd. “Without this church, there will be people who will never know a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.”
Offering an acrostic of FAITH, Kersey encouraged those gathered to heed the words of the Savior and to not be afraid of what God can do if we only allow Him to work through us:
F: Follow God (not hope God will follow where we want to go)
A: Apostolic faith (reach out to the unchurched, to the underserved)
I: Investigate barriers (identify the weakest point in our church and fix it)
T: Take risks (don’t just survive but thrive)
H: Here we go (don’t delay: identify your mountain and let your faith allow God to move it)
“We need the faith to believe we can, not we can’t,” he said. “We can be the church God is calling us to be.”
As Kersey asked attendees to turn their eyes toward the screens above the podium, images flashed of men and women struggling with and ultimately transforming through their faith, while the song “What Faith Can Do” by contemporary Christian band Kutless filled the arena.
Then as the video ended, the congregation sang those same lyrics to piano accompaniment by Carol Wyndham:
“I’ve seen dreams that move the mountains / Hope that doesn’t ever end / Even when the sky is falling ¨/ I’ve seen miracles just happen ¨/ Silent prayers get answered ¨/ Broken hearts become brand new ¨/ That’s what faith can do.”
“Amen,” Kersey told the crowd to applause. “Why can’t we? Faith will tell you we can.”
The Wednesday worship offering went to United Methodist Committee on Relief efforts: Japan tsunami relief, tornado disasters and flooding in the Midwest and Mississippi Valley. Total for this offering was $18,442.47.
The Rev. Millie Nelson served as liturgist, the Rev. Judy Hames provided special music, and the Rev. Paul Frey was song leader.