What if in 2011 we focused not on growing churches so much as growing hearts – growing our capacity to love? The theme this Conference year is “Making Contact,” based upon the idea that at Christmas “the Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14). Love was God’s motivation (John 3:16).
Love fulfills the law (Romans 13:10). The distinguishing mark of a Christian is love - not merely for family and friends, even unbelievers share that kind of love - but love for your enemy (Matthew 5:43-48). Proof that we love God is our love for our neighbor (1 John 4:20).
Free Methodists identify with the holiness movement. Sometimes this has led us to replace the royal law of love (James 2:8) with a legalism that has done more to hinder the expression of the gospel than to further it (Galatians 5). John Wesley, our theological forefather, called the first Methodists to pursue perfection, to experience entire sanctification, which he identified as “love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.”
Grow in love. Grow in love and your church will grow. Your heart will grow. Your relationships will grow. Your happiness will grow. Your resources will grow. Love is expansive, expressive, social and warm. People are attracted to loving people. People are attracted to loving churches. The warmth of love will melt away the icy hardness of self-righteous pseudo holiness that keeps men and women, liberal and conservative, dark brown and light beige, generation Y and the builders from experiencing Christian community together.
Resolved for 2011: North Central Conference Free Methodists will be known as the most radically generous, openly loving, self-sacrificial people anyone will meet this year. In love let’s shovel our neighbor’s walk, offer a kind word to the harassed grocery clerk, set aside our agendas to listen to the complaints and hurts of others. In love feed the hungry, free slaves, protect aliens and widows.
When people experience God’s love through you, you will be an amazingly attractive and compelling person. When our churches are known in the community as places of radical, uncompromising, extravagant love I suspect growth will come. Christ in you, the hope of glory, is how God intends the world to know the gospel (Col.1.27). This is “Bringing Jesus to the North Central United States.”