Reflections by agency officers and staff
of the General Commission on UM Men
The Church is of God
By Bishop James Swanson
I just returned from a 10-day mission immersion experience in Nairobi, Kenya and the Central African Republic.
While I was in Bangui, the capital of the Central Africa Republic, I heard two men tell about the beginning of the UMC in that nation.
Their story began in the late 1990s when a parochial school teacher heard a radio broadcast about the work of The UM Committee On Relief.
This teacher was so touched by what he heard that he instantly said to himself, “I must bring the UMC to Bangui!” He recruited his best friend to listen to the broadcast, and that led to correspondence with the Rev. Sam Dixon, deputy general secretary of UMCOR (Sam later died in the 2010 earthquake in Haiti).
Later, the two men and their wives journeyed to the Democratic Republic of Congo to study at the Methodist Theological School in Mulungwishi.
Today, they are both district superintendents leading the conference in planting new churches and developing strategies for the long-term growth and sustainability of the UMC in The Central African Republic.
Throughout our five-day visit in the landlocked country in central Africa, these devoted church leaders only asked for additional training. They merely wanted opportunities to be better serve Jesus. After years of war, they wanted peace. They wanted their children to be safe and to realize their potential. They knew this could only be achieved through Jesus.
These African church leaders understand United Methodism is a holistic gospel that sets people free from their own deadly impulses and frees them to unselfishly serve God and humanity.
The church was born on March 6, 2014, while war ravaged the country and deep despair hovered over the land.
In the most unlikely of times, God said, “Let there be a United Methodist Church in The Central African Republic.”
Can we not learn from this? God owns this Church, God sustains, maintains, expands, revitalizes, or makes new the Church, not us.
And it happens like the creation story, in the dark or even in the midst of war and confusion like the current state of noise in our Church now.
The Church is of God.
Bishop James E. Swanson Sr., president
The General Commission on UM Men
My favorite nativity set
By Bishop Gary Mueller
Every year as I unwrap my favorite nativity set from its storage box, I inevitably spend a few moments reflecting while I put all the figures in their proper places. Quite frankly, and somewhat surprisingly, it’s always a bit depressing because it causes me to remember how often Jesus remains stuck in the manger as a benign and sentimental figure who seems to have little to offer our broken world today.
But I don’t remain depressed for long because the words of Matthew’s Gospel figuratively shout out, “This baby born to Mary is ‘Immanuel, God with us’.”
This is the joy of Christmas. God is so passionately in love with humanity that God decides to risk plunging into the messiness and muckiness of life to give us what we absolutely need, but can never get on our own.
That is why I pray you will be filled with the true joy of Christmas that comes from knowing you do not have to find God in order to convince God to give you something. God already has found you and offers you amazing grace.
I’ll continue to stop by my favorite nativity set every day for the next several weeks until I put it away for another year. But more importantly, I’ll let it remind me of the eternal truth that God’s Christmas gift to us comes in the most unlikely of ways––through Jesus, an infant born of Mary, a carpenter from Galilee who was an itinerant preacher for just three years, and the Son of God who died on a cross for the entire world.
I hope you’ll find some time to stop by your nativity set and be reminded, too.
Bishop Gary Mueller, vice president
General Commission on United Methodist Men
The seasons of ‘thanks’ and of ‘giving’
By Gil Hanke
A few days ago, we celebrated Thanksgiving. Now our focus clearly is on Christmas.
I find it interesting and helpful that these seasons come when we need them the most.
It is so very important to be thankful.
I thank God for my family, for my friends, for the amazing staff I get to work with and for the work I get to do. I am thankful for health, and for safety. I am thankful for each of you who use the materials we produce, and who ask for additional resources (that is how this document came into being).
I recently started a new practice and have received interesting results.
I was taught to say “thank you” in response to being helped. Recently, though, I have added a few extra words, which take many by surprise; “Thank you for what you do.”
I have said that to people who work in restaurants, to the guy who fixed my car, to the folks who work for TSA at the airport, and to store cashiers. I want to convey my appreciation for their help and assure them that they, and the work they do, are important.
They usually respond with smiles.
Now, in the season of giving, I am thankful to you who provide financial support for the commission.
I am thankful for what you do, because our need is critical.
We get some interesting thank-you notes added to financial gifts of EMS, legacy, charter subscriptions, and other donations. Most relate to a resource, a publication, or to a news story about scouting or men’s ministry.
So, please accept my sincere appreciation for your comments, your financial gifts, and for all you do as disciples of Jesus Christ.
Gil Hanke, chief executive officer
General Commission on UM Men
Into dark places
By Steven Scheid
I come from a scouting family where the youth like to go caving. They love to challenge their bodies and minds. The cave paths cannot be walked. They must work their bodies through places with names like the “49 Cent Squeeze”, “Canyon Crawl”, “Keyhole”, “Squeeze Box”, and the “Stream Passage.” These obstacles are complicated by the ever-present darkness. The mind is squeezed by a limited view, still air, and closed spaces. Youth meet the challenges head-on.
Life has challenges
There are times in our life journey of life that obstacles seem to block our path. We have a tiny bit of light and we can only see a short distance.
Challenges may be financial, spiritual, emotional or physical.
Sometimes there is peril as in the “Canyon Crawl.”
Sometimes life experiences both stretch and squeeze us. Our limited view hinders the confidence found above ground.
However, no matter how narrow the passage, we can feel our way through.
Let youth lead
When we look out at the future, we cannot see a repeat of the past. The youth of America stand in a different place today. They are willing to take on all challenges.
Boy Scouts of America has changed.
Girl Scouts of the USA has changed.
Both are reaching to meet the next generation.
We cannot see the future, but we know there are opportunities for growth.
Pathways may be difficult; they may twist and turn, but they may take us to a brighter tomorrow.
Steven Scheid, director of the Center for Scouting Ministries
General Commission on UM Men
Questions to accompany your Advent journey
By the Rev. Dr. Rick Vance
Last December, I challenged you to consider the following questions as you began your Advent journey:
- Have you heard God calling you to take a new first step?
- How is that step leading you into a new or deeper relationship with God?
- What frightens you about taking that step?
- How will that first step facilitate the ministry God is calling you to do?
- Will you take that step?
Advent is the beginning of the church’s liturgical year. It is a time to prepare. I believe that a vital part of preparation is reflection.
- How has your ministry and relationship with God been this last year?
- What opportunities has God given you that you have done and left undone?
- How have you experienced God’s grace this past year?
- What has been you experience of giving and receiving men’s ministry in the past year?
God, many times, calls us into challenging, yet amazing, opportunities to experience the fullness of ministry. In response to the call, God asks that we take action. I see this as I begin to read the Christmas story in Luke 2:
“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.”
The shepherds experienced the angel’s call and responded by going to the birthplace of Jesus.
As you reflect on the past year, ask how is God calling you to respond in the new year.
Don’t be afraid! Trust in the plan that God has for you and live into the new opportunities ahead.
In Revelation 21:5, God tells John, “I am making everything new!”
These words are true for us as well.
The Rev. Dr. Rick Vance, director of the Center for Men’s Ministries
General Commission on UM Men
Challenged to make a difference
By Steve Nailor
We have all lost things of importance.
It could be the loss of a loved one, a job, or support from others.
Victims of the fires in California and hurricanes in the South and East have lost all of these things at the same time. They have lost all of their material processions, neighbors, friends, and family members. The trauma of floods and fire will impact their lives forever.
Sure, insurance will cover some of the loss, but it won’t cover everything. How will these victims begin to rebuild their lives?
That’s where we and the Holy Spirit come in. We are a connected church. As United Methodist Men we can step up and help our brothers and sisters.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment and the second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself.”
Matthew 22: 37- 39
If we as Christian Men believe the commandment to “love thy neighbor,” then we are called by God to make a difference in the lives of the victims of these tragic fires and floods.
These families are beloved children of God and we are called to help in any way possible.
I know your UM Men organization will want to help. One way would be to financially support the UM Committee on Relief Current Disaster Response here.
If your group provides funds for disaster relief or finds other ways to respond, please let me know.
Let’s tell others how UM Men are responding.
Steve Nailor, president
National Association of Conference Presidents of UM Men
Support your pastor
By Mark Lubbock
“Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.”
––1 Timothy 5:17
United Methodist Men have a rich mandate that calls us to help grow spiritually strong men. We are also asked to strengthen the local church.
Our Book of Discipline says in part: “. . . UMM exists to declare the centrality of Christ in every man’s life. Men’s ministry leads to the spiritual growth of men and effective discipleship. This purpose is served as men are called to model the servant leadership of Jesus Christ.”
As part of our “servant leadership” we are called to provide emotional, physical and spiritual support for our pastors.
Here are a few ways you can serve the shepherds God places over your congregation:
Form a prayer team––Recruit men who will individually be in prayer for the pastor and his/her family. Pray for your pastor’s protection, encouragement, renewal, and strength to execute God’s mission for your church. Check to see if your pastor would appreciate a small group of men who pray with him or her prior to a worship service. For help in forming a team, visit here.
Provide expressions of appreciation––Your pastor will appreciate handwritten notes of appreciation and encouragement. Consider purchasing gift cards to a movie, dinner out for the family and even a weekend getaway at a bed ‘n breakfast.
Offer a leadership-training opportunity––Offer to bring in leaders who can provide Lead like Jesus or Understanding Men’s Ministry training for your church. This world-class training will develop Godly leaders.
See additional ways to support your pastor here.
I’m sure you will come up with many of your own suggestions. Please share your ideas with me.
Mark Lubbock is a certified men’s ministry specialist and a deployed staff member of the General Commission on UM Men