Men’s ministry leaders hear words of possibilities and calls for action
More than 70 people participated in a March 4-6 virtual meeting of the National Association of Conference Presidents (NACP) of United Methodist Men.
The 3-day Zoom session focused on Christian Unity and offered ways for men to get out of their comfort zones to reach men beyond their faith communities. Participants also discussed techniques to dismantle racism and learned of ways to heal divisions within the denomination.
Values of a delayed General Conference
Arkansas Area Bishop Gary Mueller said God did not cause the pandemic, but God may be using the virus to protect us from causing thoughtless harm to the denomination
“This is a rich time for us,” said the bishop, who serves as vice-president of the General Commission on UM Men. He told participants in the Zoom meeting that 16 months ago everyone seemed certain General Conference would pass the protocol resulting in a divided church.
The bishop said that passage of the protocol is now less certain; many other options are under consideration. “God is not finished with us yet.”
Noting difficulties with other nations getting vaccinations and the high cost of visas, Mueller said he is not certain the legislative assembly will even be able to gather for the meeting now scheduled for late August and early September 2022.
Mueller suggested the denomination could learn a lot from local churches. “Every church has figured out a way to make this work. They disagree, but they worship together.”
Bishop Swanson calls for patience
“The most important word is patience,” said Mississippi Area Bishop James E. Swanson, president of the men’s commission. “You need to allow things to unfold [and] not try to speed things up.” He noted that the Book of Disciple has a lot of wisdom about what can and can’t be done; “it spreads out authority.”
“We need time to assess where we are,” said Swanson. “Sometimes we’re in just too big of a hurry.”
The bishop reminded conference leaders that “We’ve been here before. God has a special mission for the UMC [and] don’t let anyone tell you the men are going to break up.”
Focus on Christian unity
Mark Lubbock, a Louisiana-based staff member of the General Commission on UM Men, opened each of the 3-day virtual sessions with a devotion focused on Christion unity.
“We don’t have to agree with everyone; we don’t have to even like them; we do have to love them,” said Lubbock. He encouraged the men to get out of their comfort zones and “invest in others that we aren’t interested in investing in.
“Don’t close the door on people who are different from us,” said Lubbock. That includes people with different political opinions, different ethnicities, different ages, and different geographical areas.
Mission is first
The Rev. Dr. Rick Vance, director of the Center for Men’s Ministries, reminded the participants that “coaching men to thrive through Christ” is their first priority. He cited a variety of resources available on the website and the commission store, including a needs-assessment tool for local churches, districts and conferences. “Resources are important,” said Vance. “One-on-one relationships are essential.”
Message is what they receive
Andrew Kissell, president of the Southeastern Jurisdiction UM Men, and Robert Wright, interim president of Texas Conference UM Men, suggested practical ways to reach out to others. “The depth of our relationship will be determined by the level of conflict we are willing to endure,” they said.
They added words of caution: “The message is not what you send; the message is what they receive. Words are like bullets they travel far and can do great damage.” While it is tempting to contact people by e-mail, the men suggested phone calls are much better. “E-mail is like sending a letter to a fire department saying, ‘My house is on fire’.”
In other business, the NACP:
- learned that the Upper Room Prayer Center received 94,300 prayer request on the prayer wall;
- received an invitation from Gil Hanke, top staff executive of the General Commission on UM Men, to participate in a virtual Class Meeting. Admission to the meeting is a promise the participant will also begin an 8-week meeting with 8-10 other men;
- received an invitation from Greg Arnold, a Mississippi-based staff member of the commission, to participate in Adventure Men, an on-line meeting of men interested in growing as disciples. The Live Bold app is viewed by 412,000 individuals each month;
- Viewed two devotions on dismantling racism by Bishop LaTrelle Easterling and Bishop Hee-Soo Jung .
NACP President Herman Lightsey said there was a lot of time and planning put into revamping this meeting to meet the request of the jurisdictional presidents. He said this virtual meeting was just a “stepping-off point.” He is proposing the jurisdictions and/or the commission provide ongoing monthly or bi-monthly training experiences.
This 3-day session followed a February 25 meeting where annual reports from staff and affiliate organizations were received.