Responsively Yours: Listening for God in Christian Conferencing
At the end of 2010 someone in a political position blogged that he wished the "Methodist Church" would go away after seeing a sign supporting the DREAM Act outside the Methodist Building on Capitol Hill.
You may have missed news reports about this — just as this blogger missed that we’ve been the United Methodist Church since 1968, or that our efforts on behalf of marginalized people are rooted in our Christian faith and have been since the days when John and Charles Wesley were visiting prisoners, starting schools for children from impoverished families, providing basic health care and fighting the slave trade of the 17th-19th centuries.
This incident provides an occasion to consider the responsibilities of leadership and the importance of the United Methodist tradition of "Christian conferencing." This blogger has a leadership title in an organization. He also has personal issues. He indicated he was a former "Methodist" who had left the church.
How tempting it seems to be for persons to speak as if their own biases were accurate or the viewpoint of their organization!
In Christian conferencing we practice a discipline of listening to God through worship, Bible study and listening to each other in deep conversations and sometimes debate. This helps us to at least clarify our positions, and when we are acting as our best selves, it helps us to hear God. Each of us has issues and bruises from our personal experiences that affect how we see the world. However, when we are part of the fellowship of believers, we share the thoughts of our hearts and benefit from the feedback and reaction of others.
That’s why only the General Conference speaks for the United Methodist Church. It can be cumbersome and time consuming, but it can sift out some of the personal hurts from our viewpoints and helps us to approach more of a "God’s eye view" of matters. It is also why the board of directors of Women’s Division, the national policymaking arm of United Methodist Women, states our positions. We pray, study the Bible, research and debate as a way of attuning our thinking to the needs of the world and to the heart of God. It’s the United Methodist way, and it makes us stronger and more focused, even though it entails a lot of work.
Each of us with leadership responsibilities runs the risk of conflating our personal issues with truth. We need others who are similarly striving to hear God and respond to the needs of the world to help us to hear and see clearly.
Who is praying with you? How is your local, district or conference leadership team sharpening your perception of what God is calling us to do and to be? It takes a certain amount of humility, bravery or willingness to be vulnerable to be a leader in the Wesleyan tradition. These disciplines can deepen our commitment to stand for those who are excluded and disregarded by those in power.