By Thomas Lambrecht –
In the church calendar, the Advent season – the four weeks leading up to Christmas – are set aside as a time of preparation for the celebration of Christ’s birth. The idea is taken from Isaiah 40:3, “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” This verse is quoted in Mark 1:3 as applying to John the Baptist, who came, “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4). Just as John came to prepare the people of Israel to receive Jesus in the first century, we take time during Advent to prepare to receive Christ anew in the celebration of Christmas.
The late statesman and political figure James Baker III is quoted as saying, “Proper preparation prevents poor performance.” Preparation is a necessary part of any major project and the key to its success.
What is true of our spiritual preparation for celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ is also true of the needed preparation for the separation of The United Methodist Church and the founding of the Global Methodist Church. Acting without proper preparation would ensure poor performance!
The Timing of Preparation
What is disturbing many United Methodists today is the length of time needed for preparation. What was originally projected to be a nine-month period of preparation in 2020 has now stretched into at least 32 months. And even that length of time is uncertain, depending upon decisions made around holding General Conference and when to launch the new Global Methodist Church.
A cursory look at the Bible, though, helps put the preparation timeline in perspective.
Noah and his family spent over a year floating around in the ark before the floodwaters had sufficiently receded. However, that amount of time is dwarfed by the decades he spent building the ark in the first place, uncertain when the floods would come.
The people of Israel spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness, waiting for the disobedient generation to die off so they could enter the Promised Land. All the while, they were learning to live according to God’s instruction through Moses.
The nation of Judah spent 70 years in exile in Babylon, waiting for the opportunity to return to their homeland, uncertain when or how such a miraculous return could ever take place.
The fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy with the coming of John the Baptist took place over 700 years after it was first written down. There was a lapse of over 400 years from the last prophetic word of the Old Testament (Malachi 3:1) until its fulfillment by John, as quoted in Mark 1:2. The people had no idea when the Messiah would come, but the belief in his coming persisted through hundreds of years of war, turmoil, exile, hardship, and even just the mundane realities of everyday life. They “kept the faith” in the face of uncertainty.
In a completely different context, as we prepare for the coming Global Methodist Church, we too can “keep the faith,” believing that God will open the door to a new reality in his time and in his way. We can become discouraged at times with the waiting and the uncertainty. But we know we can trust God to lead us and to accomplish his purpose at the right time.
The Tasks of Preparation
The key to the preparations for Christmas is not just getting all the decorations put up, all the presents wrapped, and all the baking done. Advent is a time of spiritual preparation, to make certain our hearts are open and ready to receive the gift of God’s Son as we celebrate his coming into the world. As the carol puts it, “in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.” We are encouraged to take the season of Advent to examine our hearts, confess our sins, and allow the Lord to make us “meek souls,” so that we are prepared for what he wants to do in our lives.
In the same way, preparation for the new Global Methodist Church begins with prayerful self-examination and humbling ourselves before God. We want to start a new reality with a clean slate, with our sins identified and washed away by the blood of the Lamb. We do not want to carry old bad habits or unloving patterns of thinking or behaving into the new church.
In addition to the necessary spiritual preparation, there are other, more concrete, ways to prepare. One way is to disseminate information about the Protocol, the options available under it, and the Global Methodist Church. There are many local churches who are unaware of the decisions that are coming in the not-so-distant future. Helping pastors and congregations get clear and truthful information will help all make informed decisions that lead to no regrets later.
Information on the Protocol is available on the Protocol website, including details of the proposed legislation, a summary, and frequently asked questions. These materials have also been translated into the church’s official languages available on the website.
Information on the Global Methodist Church is available on the GM Church’s website, including summary information about the proposed new denomination, the transitional Book of Doctrines and Discipline, frequently asked questions, and ways to connect to and financially support the project of building the new church. All that information can similarly be accessed in all the church’s official languages.
Literally hundreds of people have been involved in various task forces and councils, beginning even now to shape the ministry of the new denomination. Ministry plans have been formulated for various population groups and types of ministry. Some clergy are already in training programs for church revitalization and church planting. The process for clergy and congregations to transition into the new church is being finalized. Pension and other insurance programs are being fleshed out.
Contacts are taking place with United Methodists in various parts of the world to ensure they have the information they need to make informed decisions about their future. Other Methodists who are not part of the UM Church are also exploring options to cooperate with or join the new GM Church. Passing the Protocol is essential for many United Methodists to be totally free to join the new church, so regardless of any other interim contingency plans, the goal will always be to pass the Protocol, no matter when General Conference takes place.
Preparation is hard work and it is often less than satisfying. During preparation, we do not see the results of our labors. In fact, sometimes the situation looks worse during preparation than before! (Visualize a wall that has been scraped and sanded before it is primed and painted.)
But the quality of our preparation will determine how well the project goes. Proper preparation can turn Christmas into a deeply meaningful spiritual time, rather than a chaotic material-focused bedlam. Proper spiritual and logistical preparation can make us ready to experience a new kind of church in the Global Methodist Church, and it can make the GM Church the kind of church we are eager to join and support.
“Let us not become weary in [preparing], for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).