By Bishop L. Jonathan Holston
“God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen.”—1 Peter 4:10-11 (NLT)
Walking with Bishop Knox into the town of Alajuela, I asked him his expectations of clergy. He responded, “To be on the cutting edge of ministry, making a difference for the sake of Christ.”
As we continued, I asked him his expectations of laity. He replied, “To be on the cutting edge of ministry, making a difference for the sake of Christ.”
Knowing that Bishop Knox was a former missionary through the General Board of Global Ministries, I asked him, “Do you expect everyone to be missionaries?”
He said to me, “No, I don’t expect everyone to be missionaries, but everyone should have a missional spirit.”
For the past year, in the midst of pandemic, civil unrest and political divisiveness, at a time when our lives have changed and everything has been different, we’ve all been on the cutting edge of ministry. We’ve had to pivot. We’ve been difference-makers. Who hasn’t wanted to remain in the familiar because that is more comfortable? We want normalcy.
Why? Because we want to be around things that we know. We want to walk down that same, familiar path. It is comfortable. It is easy. It is known. It is rote. Who doesn’t want to go back to the familiar? It would be more comfortable to do so. We wouldn’t have to be challenged.
But we know that God has called us into the unknown—into that place of discomfort where we must fully rely on our faith in God. To follow where God is leading, we have had to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. For we know that the church was not created for our pleasure, it was created for God’s purpose.
And, oh, how we have been uncomfortable this year! Our rhythms have been disrupted. Our routines have disappeared.
But we have pivoted, and we have made a difference in significant ways. It is that missional spirit that has been evident in our willingness to work together as a team—in our local churches, in our conference and in our communities. That missional spirit has allowed us to be courageous people. As Maya Angelou said, “Courage is the greatest of all virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtues consistently.”
As we prepare for Annual Conference, once again this year we will be in a virtual setting. But we will be celebrating the courageous and creative ways in which we have worshiped and grown for the sake of Christ. We’ve learned so much over this past year, and God has blessed us. We are not only a team who works together. We have become a team who trusts each other.
For many of us, vital lessons about teamwork were first learned in the band, sports and mission teams. There is great pride in wearing the uniform, as well as being part of the group that forms the team. We learn to trust one another as we work together with a shared purpose. We recognize that we are people with different gifts, but we are all part of one body. We take great pride in “wearing the uniform” of our team in the South Carolina Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
As we celebrate this year during Annual Conference, “Seeking a More Excellent Way: Taking the Next Faithful Step,” we live into our mission of making disciples. We will come together in celebration as we grow in clarity about our purpose, and we will focus on being on the cutting edge of ministry together. Across The United Methodist Church, our goal, our mission and our purpose is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. This mission is shared among every United Methodist congregation around the world. Each church approaches the mission in a unique way, but the purpose is the same for all of us.
In times of change, such as this year of pandemic that we have experienced, instead of searching for a right answer that did not exist, we have instead asked new questions. We have changed the conversation. We’ve learned from each other. We’ve prayed for each other. We’ve responded to each other in ways that have been helpful to having the difficult conversations that we often would have avoided. We’ve each sought to take the next faithful steps of ministry together.
There is much wisdom that we can take with us into our spheres of influence, be that our churches, the office or anywhere in our communities as we work together to make a difference for the sake of Christ.
We may not wear matching uniforms that are easily recognizable on game day, but in so many ways, we have a shared purpose that focuses on having missional spirits.
So the question is this: What is the difference that you believe God has called you to make as you take your next faithful step?
By Bishop L. Jonathan Holston