I am write this on New Year's Eve 2008 to the North Central Conference Church Planters and leaders of churches sponsoring a church plant and assistant superintendents.
As we look across the horizons of time, forward and backward, we can see an important fact. Everything has a beginning and everything has an end. Kingdoms rise and fall. Religious movements blossom, grow, wither and die. When the callous disregard for a biblical view of Christ and discipleship led a few radical preachers and lay people in the mid 19th century to begin to proclaim the good news of Jesus as not merely a fix for eternity, but for a call to radical love and counter-cultural holiness, to call for an end to human slavery and an unbiblical view of gender inequality, they were thrust from the larger group of Methodists and forced to form the Free Methodist movement.
Most of the Free Methodist churches in the North Central Conference had their genesis in church planting projects that grew out of a passionate desire to live out and invite into a life of truly following Christ. A movement of church planting that seems to have had its largest impact within about 75 years of the birth of the Free Methodist movement. Now, in the NCC, most of those congregations no longer exist, yet most of the churches which stand today (albeit in
different locations and incarnations) were founded within that time period. We would not exist were it not for that old-school church planting movement.
Perhaps God raised Free Methodists for merely the cause of reminding the body of Christ of the need for Scriptural holiness and to join the larger cause that God had wrought to put an end to the villainy of American slavery (as John Wesley called it). And perhaps that was all it was called into being to accomplish. Like the plant which gave shade to Jonah, a quick rise, and a quick demise, all to the glory of God and to lead another prophet to bring about the liberation of a people.
But I don't think so.
I believe the DNA of the FMC is knit too closely to the heart of biblical Christianity to exist as a flash in the historical pan, and the call to radical obedience and the delivery of peoples and
communities and nations out of oppression -- not merely delivery a personal sin which seperates from God, but from the pervasive powers and principalities that keep people in the bondage of poverty, the sex-trade, greed, depression, racism, sexism and every evil that Satan
revels in and too many Christians tolerate. The FMC was called to invite people to truly live eternity NOW!
All our pastors must be leading the charge to re-start the movement. To wake up and understand that if we don't catch the passion for starting new movements, new churches, and new ministry opportunities consistent with the DNA, the life, the core that breathed into our
movement over 150 years ago, we will continue to wither and perish, and simply cherish the days when it meant something radically odd and powerfully confrontational to be a Free Methodist. Then we deserve to be a footnote.
Our church planting efforts are not a new grasping at straws to keep the institutional boat afloat, they are tapping the roots of God's initial call to the apostles and to the early Free Methodists.
Without continued church planting and new works starting then it is a joke to think we can be called an apostolic movement.
Times are financially very difficult. Each of your church planting works are struggling, as are every established congregation of which I am aware. Each of your works are very different -- from hispanic works based on small groups and ESL ministries to house church experiments to large-scale launches (as large as we can afford).
Frankly, we all know that there are no guarantees of success, and that starting a new church plant is risky business. But what else are we going to do with our talents, hide them away in the hopes that the master will be glad we didn't take any risks? If I'm not mistaken, that thinking gets God a bit steamy.
I have such love and respect for your willingness to venture, often unoticed, often unpaid, getting bloodied in the fight, sometimes limping forward and sometimes sitting with your face in your hands and tears streaming wondering what in the world you've gotten yourself into.
Keep on being daring. Keep on being radically different. Keep on listening to the voice of the Spirit and allowing God's call and the needs of a hurting community forge your vision into an steel rod that crashes through the gates of hell. Run, and do not grow weary, and I will be doing all I can to run with you. Regardless of what I can do, we all know that it is Christ who has granted you authority and is with you always.
We are 'bringing Jesus to the north central united states through PLANTING and growing healthy churches advanced by boldly apostolic leaders working synergisticly together." We will plant 50 new churches by 2025. If half of our new churches remain viable (which would bust through all church planting odds) and go on to plant new churches as part of the reinvigoration of the work God began in Paul, Luther, Wesley, Roberts... YOU? then imagine the multiplication of changed lives and growth of the radical counter-culture which is the body of Christ on earth. Understand this, as an NCC church planter, you are not a footnote in an historical journal about the end of a minor denomination but a hero in a story of radical renewal and hope that will bring about a resurgence of God's plan to change the world.
Only, don't give up. Draw upon the strength of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Draw upon the strength of one another and your NCC yokefellows. And strive every morning when you wake up, pray, allow the Scripture to grab your heart and mind to move
into your day, and your 2009, with the ability to say with all sincerity to those you are called to lead, "follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ" (1Cor.11.1).