By Linda Bloom
The world was a “fragile” place when the Rev. George Freeman assumed staff leadership of the World Methodist Council a decade ago.
Less than two months after his election during the 2001 World Methodist Conference in Brighton, England, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania suddenly made it difficult for church members to obtain visas and travel internationally. The unstable financial market had an impact on the council’s budget.
“The fragile nature of the whole world and the fear that 9/11 put into people was also very painful,” he recalls.
Today, as Freeman, a 64-year-old pastor from the United Methodist Virginia Annual Conference, prepares to retire, the council’s 74 members, representing more than 132 countries, have strengthened their bonds and are looking to the future.
United Methodist Bishop William Hutchinson, who is completing a five-year term in the council’s presidium, believes Freeman has given “exceptional leadership” to the council.
“He has traveled tirelessly, he has led with a strong theological grounding, he has led with great openness to all communions of the Wesleyan family,” said the bishop, who leads the denomination’s Louisiana Area.
Nominated to succeed Freeman in the general secretary position is the Rev. Ivan M. Abrahams, most recently the presiding bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, which covers six countries, including South Africa.
The election of Abrahams, the first top executive for the council to be selected from outside the United States, will take place just before the Aug. 4-8 World Methodist Conference meeting in Durban, South Africa.
Social justice issues. The council has increasingly addressed “hot-button social issues” during recent years and Freeman credits Abrahams, his nominated successor, for that emphasis.
Abrahams has served as co-chair of the council’s social and international affairs committee for the past decade. “He brings a strong South African social consciousness to this office,” Freeman added. “The people called Methodist want to weigh in on those kinds of issues and concerns.”
Such action is necessary, the South African leader believes. “The most basic challenge for Methodists anywhere in the world is to speak of God’s enduring love in situations of economic deprivation, human suffering and the spiritual malaise which is a reality for most of the human population,” Abrahams said in his presentation to the council’s search team for Freeman’s replacement.
Hutchinson, who served on that team, said Abrahams has a “dynamic personality” and “very strong and a very steady presence” that will help the council expand its international influence.
The 2011 conference in Durban, under the theme “Jesus Christ—for the Healing of the Nations,” marks the council’s 20th world gathering. Although the venue was decided years earlier, Hutchinson called it a “wonderful coincidence” that the South African church will be present to celebrate the election of one of its own.
Linda Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York.
The Board of Directors of Good News is pleased to announce the appointment of the Rev. Tom Lambrecht as Vice President and General Manager of the 45-year-old evangelical renewal ministry within the United Methodist Church.
Lambrecht has been the senior pastor of Faith Community United Methodist Church in Greenville, Wisconsin since 1999. He has been a United Methodist minister within the Wisconsin Annual Conference since 1982. The Board of Ordained Ministry of the Wisconsin Annual Conference has approved the Rev. Lambrecht to serve in extension ministry at Good News, and Bishop Linda Lee made the appointment.
“Tom’s keen intellect, his long history as a leader in the cause of renewal, his administrative gifts and his passion for the Gospel will enhance all that Good News does to reform and renew the church,” said the Rev. Rob Renfroe, President and Publisher of Good News. “We are thrilled that he is coming on board.”
Lambrecht most recently served as the counsel for the United Methodist Church in a June 21-23 trial involving the Rev. Amy DeLong, a clergywoman who performed a same-sex union, an action that is prohibited for United Methodist clergypersons (see page 18). He successfully argued twice before the Judicial Council on matters related to annual conferences challenging the United Methodist stance on homosexuality and same-sex unions.
Since 1992, Lambrecht has worked with Good News as a part of their legislative team at five General Conferences and as a member of the board. He served as the chair of the Good News board for four years, and is currently coordinator for the Renewal and Reform Coalition General Conference effort. The Rev. Lambrecht has been instrumental in the cause of evangelical renewal within the Wisconsin Conference since 1983, helping to establish the Wisconsin Association of Confessing United Methodists (WACUM) in 1996, the first conference-level Confessing Movement organization, and serving as its first president. Currently, he serves as the North Central Jurisdictional Coordinator for the Confessing Movement.
“I am excited to have Tom Lambrecht join the executive staff of Good News. Tom brings seasoned skills developed through years of laboring in the trenches,” says the Rev. Keith Boyette, chairperson of the Good News Board of Directors and pastor of Wilderness United Methodist Church in Spotsylvania, Virginia. “He knows what local churches face as they seek to be faithful to the cause of Christ against the backdrop of a denomination that often seems to have lost its way. He is passionate about the cause of renewal and reform in the United Methodist Church. We are fortunate to have his wisdom and insight as we tackle the challenging issues currently faced by the church.”
Throughout his ministerial career in Wisconsin, Lambrecht has served as the chair of the District Council on Ministries, member of the Conference Board of Church and Society, chair of the Hunger Task Force, registrar of the Board of Ordained Ministry, member of the Conference Evangelism Committee, vice-chair of the Conference Board of Discipleship, and Rules Committee chair.
Tom’s wife, Mary, is a licensed marriage and family therapist at a Christian counseling clinic and a family consultant at a Native American drug and alcohol treatment facility. They have two married daughters and a third daughter attending graduate school.
Good News Media Service
Sadness and shock
I am writing to express my sadness and shock that leadership in the United Methodist church is recommending that homosexuals be ordained. According to Romans 1:24-32, the practice of homosexuality is condemned by God.
Scripture could not be clearer. How can we, as the church, condone what God condemns? Have we as Christians and Methodists lost our moral compass and our core values, to the point that we no longer stand for the truth?
We are told that to stand against homosexuality is a lack of love and that is just not true. Our first love is God. If we love God we will keep his commandments which means reaching out compassionately to our fellow travelers. I John 5:2 says: “This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands.” It is the kind and loving thing to speak and live the truth so that others can be set free. That is why Jesus died on the cross.
God disciplines because he loves us. The book of Hebrews commands us to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles and run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
“In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: ‘My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves and he punishes everyone he accepts as sons’” (Hebrews 12:1-6).
According to 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
Those who are consistently practicing what God condemned are not capable, nor equipped to lead the church. If the church continues to water down the gospel and reinterpret the Scriptures in order to assimilate with the culture of the day, how can they expect God to bless them?
Jesus prayed for us in his high priestly prayer: “They are not of the world even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:16-17).
Finally Jesus says in Luke: “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall” (Luke 11:17). Could this be the final nail driven in the coffin of a drifting and dying denomination?
Let us return to our first love and our core values of prayer, Bible study, true worship, evangelizing and discipleship. Let us go to God in brokenness, repentance, fasting and prayer, standing firm on the Word of God and unity. Then God can “heal our land”—our hearts, homes, churches, those who so desperately need the God we serve.
God help us.
No constructive dialog
Good News has done it again and again but, alas, no constructive dialog with the organized United Methodist Church do we see on the horizon. Not even after spending the half-million dollars on a well intended survey as to what ails the United Methodist system.
In your latest publication we have been better informed by the learned and those concerned for our well-being. My real question is this: When will we ever be given the privilege of openly voicing the opinions of the laity who are The Church? Yes, this is our church and we should be given the right to be heard—in mass.
We need to organize the laity at no cost to voice the real reasons why the UM Church needs renewal. Let the people speak! Until the heirarchy moves aside and allows the laity to speak, we have slim chance for correction as seemingly no one knows the real problems we all face.
The laity, thousands of us, know what is wrong. We desperately need the opportunity to speak.
I suggest that Good News open up the next many issues to hear us out and allow for ample space to print the truth as we see it and have experienced it.
This may be the last attempt to save our UM Church as one body without a devastating split.
We have retained the form that John Wesley spoke about, but without following true spiritual Christianity we are losing the power thereof.
J. Perry Haupt
Trinity UM Church
Edeburn UM Church
In the May/June 2011 issue of Good News, Frank Decker writes that Christians and Muslims should try to understand each other, and I agree. But a resource for church leaders he lists is “Abrahamic Alliance International” (AAI). The purpose of AAI is to help unite Jews, Christians, and Muslims. If you use this resource, be sure you get an answer to the question, which Abraham does AAI believe in? The Judeo-Christian Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice. The Islamic Abraham offered Ishmael as a sacrifice. Both sacrifices cannot be correct. Muslims say the Abraham revealed by Allah in the Koran is the only correct one. Muslims also say the revelations of Allah to His Prophet in the Koran cannot be wrong, so the Judeo-Christian Abraham must be incorrect. Does Mr. Decker know this? The AAAI resource assumes Judaism, Christianity, and Islam share Abraham in common. Abraham is supposed to be common ground for interfaith dialogue. But which Abraham?
Mr. Decker mentions a friend who questioned the value of a conference held in Georgia. The friend asked if the conference might help him love God with all his heart, and love his neighbors as himself…including his enemies? His friend did not think the conference had an open mind about Muslims. Well, Jesus tells us how to love our enemies in Matthew 5:44: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Most recently, enemies of the church burned Christian churches and murdered Christians in Cairo, Egypt, this past April. Our Muslim enemies have been persecuting the church for over 1,300 years. We should pray that our Muslim enemies would stop their persecution and not be so bad. We should ask God that they be cured, and if possible in this life, be made human again, a C.S. Lewis prayer. Christians are not the only ones persecuted, as can be seen in The Legacy of Islamic Anti-Semitism, edited by Andrew G. Bostom. He documents how Muslim leaders have supported and taught hatred of Jews for over a thousand years.
I agree with Mr. Decker that this is a great opportunity “to know and understand others and introduce then to Jesus.” If the church is to be effective, knowing and understanding Islam is critical. That means overcoming a kind of historical amnesia in the church about the 1,400 year relationship between Muslims and Christians. When Muslims choose to live in a Western country, in Europe or in America, they do not bring with them just a “religious tradition.” They bring a culture, the Muslim culture. It is very different from our American culture. We believe in freedom for all. Muslim culture believes in freedom only for Muslims. American culture believes in the equality of men and women. Muslim culture believes women are less equal than men. American culture believes in religious tolerance. Muslims culture tolerates only Islam and persecutes other religions. These two cultures are clashing. The church in America has the opportunity now to introduce Muslims to the full gospel of Jesus Christ. But we must understand who has landed on our shores.
Grace and peace,
Frank Decker responds: There are, of course, discrepancies between Qur’anic and Biblical accounts of various events, and Mr. Rettig points out one of them in the example of Ishmael (Qur’an) and Isaac (Bible) as the son whom Abraham offered for sacrifice. But we could use his logic, for example, to also ask the question, “Which Judas betrayed Jesus?—the one who hanged himself (as Matthew states in 27:5), or the one who fell headlong and his body burst open (as Luke states in Acts 1:18)?” The varied accounts do not necessarily mean that there must be two Judases, nor two Abrahams. Mr. Rettig seems to miss the point that finding some common ground as a starting point for discussion does not necessitate that one must completely accept everything that is stated in the writings of the other religion. He also summarizes all Muslims as having “A Muslim culture” and this is also fallacious. Muslims come from hundreds of cultures. There are good examples of Muslims and there are bad examples, just as there are good and bad examples of Christians. Let’s be historically honest and recognize that there are examples of adherents of both religions persecuting each other. But we will bear fruit for the Kingdom when we follow Jesus’ counsel to look for and witness to peaceful-minded persons as a starting point (Luke 10).
By Frank Decker
Not long ago, I was speaking with a missionary who has served orphans in Russia for 16 years. Recalling the fact that she had initially signed up for a one-year term of service I asked, “If you had been able to look into the future and learned that after 16 years you’d still be serving there, what would be your response?” “I don’t think I’d be able to handle it at that time,” was the reply.
There is a reason why God reveals things to us progressively, rather than permitting us to see clearly into the future. And this seems to be true even from ancient biblical times. In Genesis 12, when God spoke to Abram and told him to “go forth from your country, and from your relatives, and from your father’s house,” Abram must have wondered “where?” But at that point God only said, “to the land which I will show you.” Had that been me, I might have replied, “Huh? Lord, that’s not enough for me. I need a five-year plan—a spotlight that shines way down the path—or at least an immediate destination.”
At a recent conference on sharing Jesus with Muslims, an attendee asked the staff person who was representing our mission, “What is your method? Is it the ‘Camel’ approach? Is it ‘Insider?’ Do you do traditional church planting? Is it something else?” Indeed, missions over the past several decades have often been characterized by plans that have been cooked at home and served overseas. So, I was pleased when I learned that our staff member’s reply was, “Our approach is to go there and begin by listening, observing, and learning. After being there for a while, a strategy will emerge.” In contrast, I am aware of my own temptation to establish detailed ministry plans well in advance, with their projected outcomes and timelines.
Maybe this is why we are instructed in James 4:13-15, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a place and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’ Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow…. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” How interesting that unambiguous counsel to take a step of obedience immediately follows: “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin” (James 4:17).
About 30 years ago archeologists in the Holy Land dug up the pieces of a “foot lamp” from the era in which Psalm 119:105 was written, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” After reconstructing the clay fragments, a wick was inserted to match the size of the original one, and an interesting discovery was made. The lamp provided enough light for one step.
That God reveals things progressively as we take steps of obedience is congenial to responsible missional thinking and practice. I am reminded of one missionary in the Far East who took steps of obedience that resulted in his service in a city near—but not among—the unreached people group whom God had placed on his heart. For seven years he was obedient, learning the language and ministering in that city. Finally, his patience and obedience paid off and he was granted governmental authorization to move into the city he had originally hoped to reach and live among the people whom God had placed on his heart. As it turns out, the official who granted access was someone whom this missionary had discipled during his years of waiting.
I think of another missionary who went to South America and ended up using his engineering skills to help indigenous believers develop a bottling company to fund their ministries. This idea came to him only after he had served for a number of years. And I think of a missionary who went with her husband, a medical doctor, to West Africa. While living there God laid on her heart the need for improved literacy, and she began an extensive ministry addressing this issue, which remains today. These are a few examples of how vital strategic mission decisions often are made only after previous steps of obedience have been taken.
Sometimes when we look into the future we only see fragments, glimmers of light, yet they are enough to take a step. But later on we can piece the fragments together and see how those little steps of obedience can result in a completed puzzle, and we are able to conclude that God’s hand was guiding us at each point. It is fine to have ministry plans and goals, and they can be very helpful “pegs” on which we hang our plans. But they must always be cast in the shadow of a willingness to listen to the leading of the Holy Spirit, who seems to lead us step-by-step.
By the way, that missionary who initially went to Russia for twelve months will be headed back in July for her 17th year of service in that obscure part of Russia which she now calls home.
By B.J. Funk
In March of this year, my father-in-law, George Funk, turned 95. His church in the small town of Burlington, Michigan, decided to give him a “This Is Your Life” surprise birthday party. It was a special occasion, not only because of his many years of living, but because Mr. Funk had been in this church since he was three years old! The pastor decided that anyone who has been in the same church for 92 years deserved to be recognized!
The Burlington Church of God gives great promise to the influence of a small church. Through the years, it sometimes thrived and sometimes fell behind. There was always a remnant who kept the church going. Eleanor and George Funk were among those who raised their three children there, making sure they learned great truths in Sunday school and church.
So, what was the secret of this small church? After all, there was no choir loft, no pull-down screen for Power Point presentations, no band to attract the teenagers, no large rooms for Sunday school, and no color on the walls. There is nothing about this church on the outside or the inside that “grabs” you and invites you to come back. Yet, within this plain church, things happened for the kingdom. Gospel lessons were taught even if there were only a few attending that day.
When my late husband, Roy, was young, the church was pastored by the Rev. Lee Sickal (whose daughter would marry Bill Gaither and become Gloria Gaither of the Gaither Gospel Music group). It was Gloria’s mother who showed Mr. and Mrs. Funk the difference between going to church and knowing Jesus personally. She led them to the Lord, and she also taught them the skills of godly parenting. When Roy’s mother spoke of her good friend, Dorothy Sickal, it was with great gratitude. She gave Mrs. Sickal credit for helping her know how to bring up her children with Christian values. It worked. All three Funk children took what they learned and then brought their children up the same way. Now, those children’s children are being taught the gospel by their parents.
Snow-packed winters were not a reason to close church. On a particularly cold Sunday morning, with snow measuring several feet deep, Mr. Funk began clearing his driveway so the family could get to church, where Gloria’s dad was waiting. No one had shown up. However, he continued getting the small sanctuary ready for worship. When the Funks finally arrived—in fact, the only family to arrive that Sunday—Pastor Sickal greeted them and said, “I knew you’d come.” Then, the Sickals and the Funks had church.
When someone had a prayer need, the Rev. and Mrs. Sickal included their two daughters. They called the girls inside, joined hands in a circle, and the four of them started doing business with the Lord. This type of praying soon included others—it moved down the street and up the next dirt road to the Funk farm, where family prayer also included the children. Now that those children have grandchildren, the pattern continues. It is never strange to see any of our family members taking the hand next to them and stopping for prayer at various times of the day. In fact, it is normal.
The Burlington church had a vision. Ornate furniture and stained-class windows were not part of that vision. The vision was to teach Jesus! The church sponsored a missionary family, whose picture was distributed to church homes for prayer. Mr. and Mrs. Funk kept the missionaries’ picture taped to the hallway wall, a daily reminder that these friends on foreign soil counted on their prayers.
Having grown up in a large church, where Sunday night MYF programs were a Hollywood production that brought in youth from other churches, I questioned the impact a small church could make. However, Roy’s home church changed my thinking. When kingdom work goes forth, church size and impressive programs do not matter. When dedicated Christians bring the Word, powerful things are done for the cause of Christ. It is the Word of God that matters, not large choirs or impressive programs, though these measures have value too. The key is bringing the life-changing message of Jesus to the lost. The concept that “each one reach one” still works. One-on-one evangelism and small group settings are proven to be a major tool of evangelism.
Jesus’ original church started with only twelve men. Even without a building program, an eye-catching slogan, or a booming praise band, those first disciples effectively spread the gospel. They gave us a model to follow. Teach Jesus. However you can. Just teach Jesus…and watch what he can do. Lord Jesus, help us keep our focus on you. May the Lord continue to bless the small church.