Friends: For this first pastor’s perspective of 2013, I’d call our attention back to the first of 2012, which was one of my favorites of the year. I wanted to remind you of it, becasue next week I’d like to share exactly how I think we’ve won in 2012, and in what ways we could still stand to “work on our game.” I hope you’ve had a wonderful Christmas holiday.
This past Monday as I was headed out the door for my 9pm doubles tennis match, I got a call on my cellphone. It was Bishop Hayes. Every pastor’s heart quickens when they receive a call from the Bishop—his call can mean that he’d like you to move! (Although, usually those calls are made by the district superintendent.) I was relieved to find out that he was only calling to invite me to a couples retreat for pastors and their spouses. I had not been able to go the past few years when the person who coordinates that program has called and made me aware of it, so I guess I can just deduce that my Bishop really wants me to go! You can mark your calendars that I’ll be gone Feb. 7-9 J One thing that stuck out to me about his call was that when I told him I was just heading over to play a doubles tennis match, (I thought he’d be glad to know that I was getting some physical exercise—doing my part to keep health insurance premiums low….er.) he ended the call with, “Well, I hope you win!”I’ve never been a competitive dude. It’s probably why, though I ran just as fast and caught just as well as the other wide receivers on my high school football team, I didn’t play in the games all that much. I also never rose above the 5th seed on my high school tennis team, though I’ve always been a bit more competitive on the tennis court than in anything else (save Trivial Pursuit). I’ve just always approached sports with the adage “It’s not if you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” Problem is, because I have never been all that bothered if I win or lose, I’ve never really “played the game.”Saying “I hope you win,” is a pretty bold statement, and I walked on the court that night with the bishop’s voice ringing in my ears. The truth was, I had been playing since October and the team I played on had not yet won a match. I was beginning to think that I was dragging whatever partner I had for the night down and that the other players probably thought to themselves, “Oh well, I guess there’s next week!” when they saw they had been paired with me. I hadn’t played in about 10 years when I started the league at the invitation of Randy Wagner—but I was sure I’d be competitive once I knocked the rust off. Well, the rust finally came off. That night, I accounted for more points and played more consistently than I have all season. I was able to place shots where I wanted them. I returned serves with velocity and consistency. I even served one game when I hit 4 winners in a row. In fact, in 3 sets we only lost one game that I served. After the match, I didn’t tell my opponents that I had a Bishop’s blessing working for me. I thought I’d rather them just think I’d turned a new leaf. And maybe I had!I want to have the kind of boldness that our Bishop has. I want us to look at 2012 as a church and say, “I hope we win!” I would hope that this proclamation might fill us with the same determination, focus, and intensity that I felt on the tennis court this past Monday night. It is a little easier to know if you are “winning” on a tennis court than in a church though. There are boundary lines, scores, and set rules and structures in tennis. How do we know we are “winning” as a church? The General Church has struggled with this part of our identity for a few decades now. We are hesitant to correlate “winning” to gaining members, rising attendance, increased visibility and impact in the community, and swelling treasuries, especially when the United Methodist Church has seen a decrease in all of those areas over the last 40 years. We look for other ways that we might still be able to think of ourselves as “winners,” and so we attempt to gauge the interior spiritual lives of our adherents. Are Methodists deepening and broadening their lives of discipleship? Are our traditions growing richer and stronger? Is our worship life meeting a need not found elsewhere among “church shoppers?” These are harder qualities to measure, but the optimist in me says “yes.”
But, you know what? I don’t want to just tailor the question to a suitable and favorable answer. I want to look at the “measurables” too—attendance, membership, visibility and impact, and finances, and say with boldness for 2012 and beyond: “I hope we win.” Our opponents aren’t the other churches. Our opponents are apathy, malaise, cold-heartedness, and greed. Let’s step on the court of 2012 and take it to them.