The Annual Conference season is upon the United Methodist Church, or as I like to call it, fight church. This is not to say it isn’t important, in fact it is with great affection that I use this label in humor. What follows are a few thoughts that we should, United Methodist or not, all keep in mind and in some cases, some things that we all, United Methodist or not, all do in preparation and during the Annual Conference season.
First and foremost pray. Pray for members of the annual conference, for conferences, for everyone involved. This is important. I suggest that you do not pray that the things that you support pass or that the things that you find objectionable fail, I suggest that you pray that the Holy Spirit moves and that the Spirit then guides the church as Christ, the head, desires. Pray that tempers remain in check. Pray that, even in the disagreements that are sure to arise, that they remain civil. Pray because if we are all truly one body, then what is done in one corner of the Christian church affects all of the Christian church, even if that affect is not direct or even readily apparent. Pray.
Second, understand how the process works. I know that for many the internal functioning of the church is not terribly interesting, and that is understandable. Just take a few minutes and learn how the process works. Ask your delegates or pastor. If you are not a United Methodist type, ask a United Methodist type. The Annual conference is the basic unit of the United Methodist church government. These meetings are of vital importance to the church and her functioning.
Third, after doing the first two, praying and understanding, believe that the Holy Spirit is actually moving and that Christ is guiding the church. John Wesley called the episcopal governance of the church to be both scriptural and apostolic. I know that many have chosen to think of the government of the church to be little more than a human contrivance. I know that many have compared it to sausage making and hold it to be just as appealing. I know that many write it off as the business of the church and don’t treat it as anything more than that. I would like to challenge those thoughts however.
How would we think of a husband who was not concerned with the day to day activity of their wife? How would we think of a husband who was not supportive of his wife’s daily activities, helping in any way that he could? Wouldn’t we call that husband distant? Cold? Unconcerned? Rather if a husband were to be supportive, to offer their help, to even make known his thoughts, wouldn’t we then say that he was caring, concerned, compassionate toward his bride’s decisions and difficulties?Wouldn’t we say that said husband was involved in the life of his wife instead of being distant? The church is the bride of Christ. In a very real sense, how we choose to view the Annual Conferences, which, as noted above, are the basic unit of the church, reflect how we think of Christ and His involvement in the church. How can we proclaim Christ as risen if we treat His bride as a widow left to fend for herself?
I understand the temptation to say that, should a vote not go the way that you believe that the Spirit is leading, humans have interfered with the will of God, through Christ, by the Spirit. I have even succumbed to those thoughts myself. Those thoughts however, seem to be a simple matter of trust. We all struggle with trusting the will of God, especially in those times when it does not align with our will. If we are viewing the Annual Conference season properly, it is all a matter of trust. If we are unwilling to say that God will honor the process we have set to discern His will, then all we do is reveal a lack of trust in that very same God. If we say that those who disagree with a proposal are ignoring the nudging of the Spirit, then all we do is reveal our lack of trust in each other. Part of the problem is that we tend to think of things as individual votes instead of the voice of one body. We think ourselves so important that we must cling to our individual identity rather than submit to being a part of the body of believers with Christ as it’s head.
The annual conference season does many things for the church, but I do believe that it also reveals a great deal about the body of Christ. While we often think of the annual conference as being the business of the church, I don’t think that we spend much time, if any, about what it reveals about us. When we advocate for the things which we believe in, we, in a very healthy way, show where we believe that the Spirit is leading. When we say something like we wish that this or that proposal passed, we reveal, in a rather healthy way, our preference. When we say that we think this or that proposal should have passed, we reveal, in a rather healthy way, the directions that we believe the Spirit is leading. When we reject the decisions, and refuse to follow them, we are, in a rather unhealthy and spiritually damaging way, allowing our pride to decide what the decisions for the church should be. We are putting our pride, ahead of the Holy Spirit and how it has led the church. We claim to be the head of the church, supplanting Christ’s rightful place. We claim an individual knowledge of the Holy Spirit rejecting the body and it’s discernment. We become an abnormal growth in the body that seeks to multiply by convincing others to to the same as we have done. In a body, abnormal growths are always unhealthy.
The annual conference asks us deep questions of faith. Is Christ the head of the church? Is the church really the bride of Christ? Is Christ a distant and uncaring bridegroom? Is God an absentee father? Do we trust? Will we obey and submit? The Spirit will indeed move in each and every annual conference. Several ‘spirits’ will move I suspect. The spirit of the pride of the flesh will call us to a sort of hyper-individualism that says that we know best because we are right, while the Spirit will call us to a humility inherent to the new creation we are, in submission as a part of the body whose whole is greater than we are, governed by Christ the head. Which call will be listened to?