Laity Session: Creating a REAL Church

Story by Ann Jacob

On May 19th, the first day of the 2011 Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference, laity from across the conference gathered early in the morning for the Laity Session. Dr. Mary White, Conference Lay Leader, welcomed and thanked the laity for coming. After a few hymns, Thomas Gibson (Northeast District Lay Leader) lead the group in an opening devotion focused on John Wesley’s three simple rules: Do no harm, Do good, and Stay in love with God.

Photos by Rev. Jim Mundell.

After Mr. Gibson’s challenges to stay true to Wesley’s three simple rules, the laity were given an even more audacious challenge from the guest speaker Rev. Joseph Daniels, Jr., pastor at Emory United Methodist Church in Washington D.C. Rev. Daniels spoke to the laity about the REAL (relevant, enthusiastic, authentic, loving) church and gave the lay leadership a reality check saying, “You can’t lead where you are not going, you can’t lead what you don’t know.” With this bold challenge he offered steps toward becoming a relevant, enthusiastic, authentic, and loving church. He spoke of what it means to engage in meaningful ministry within the communities we live in.

According to Rev. Daniels, being relevant, enthusiastic, authentic, and loving are the ways to minister to those in our communities. To be relevant in a way that speaks to the needs of those who we seek to transform and then, help lift them up. So, in the summer when gas prices were high and some members were having trouble getting to church because of the financial burden, Emory UMC offered $10 gift cards for gasoline. Of course, not all 400 members of the church took the gift cards. The people that needed to offset their financial burden took the gift cards, and those that were able to help their brothers and sisters gave what they could. In order to fully minister to those we seek to transform, we must also be enthusiastic. To be enthusiastic means to be possessed by God in a way that constantly leads and inspires people to a holistic life change in the name of Jesus. This involves practicing the spiritual disciplines (worship, fasting, tithing, discipleship, etc.) and equipping FAT (faith-filled, available, teachable) people. The next step to engaging in meaningful ministry is to be authentic. Being authentic means to do things in earnest such as, passing the peace and meaning it or creating a ‘beggar-friendly’ church environment (which is a reference to Acts 3:1-10). The final step that Rev. Daniels addressed, in order to become a REAL church, is loving the community. He said, “Unconditional love desires the well-being of others regardless of race, gender, age, nationality or sexual orientation.” Through unconditional love he said that we would be able to break down barriers and build up bridges.

In responding to the needs of the communities that each of our churches are located in (being relevant), leading our communities in the spiritual disciplines (being enthusiastic), caring for one another by creating a beggar-friendly environment (being authentic), and breaking down barriers and building bridges (loving) there is nothing we cannot do. John Wesley once said, “I look on all the world as my parish.” Therefore, I challenge each one of you to make your church a REAL church, one that engages in meaningful ministry with the communities where you are and the world.