By Liza Kittle
Preparing for a new year of ministry at Renew, I have been pondering “big picture” things. One of the challenges of leading Renew is striking a balance between engaging the spiritual battles of the United Methodist Church and promoting the formation of alternative women’s ministries. Both are important.
Although God has clearly shown Renew that building transforming women’s ministries is our primary focus, we must continue to be involved in reform and renewal of the church. We persevere, knowing that our cause is just, our calling secure, and our commitment steadfast.
Our cause is just. It involves upholding scriptural Christianity and bringing spiritual vitality to our troubled denomination. It means upholding our Book of Discipline and insisting our appointed leaders enforce it. It means standing for biblical truth in the Christian faith and against pressures to abandon or alter it. It means allowing the Holy Spirit to do a “new thing” in our midst.
One doesn’t have to look far to see where the church is growing—in Africa, where the Word of God is preached, scriptural Christianity is upheld, and lives are being transformed. Growing and healthy churches in the United States are also Christ-centered, committed to scriptural integrity, and focused on evangelistic mission outreach. These churches advocate a proper balance between personal and social holiness, key tenets of Wesleyan theology.
Most of our growing, vital churches also have alternative women’s programs. Renew remains committed to encouraging our pastors, bishops, and the General Conference to recognize and support other women’s ministries within the church. Less that 15 percent of the women in the UM Church participate in United Methodist Women, the only officially sanctioned women’s ministry in the church. The time is now for our church to embrace variety in women’s ministry programs—especially in a denomination that celebrates diversity and open-mindedness.
Our calling is secure in the hands God. Renewal and reform within the UM Church is not an easy task. Those called to this task are deeply passionate about the future of our denomination. God has given encouraging signs of affirmation to this calling over the past year. Constitutional changes that would have separated the U.S. and Central conferences were soundly defeated in annual conferences. Changes that would have removed pastoral authority regarding readiness for membership were also defeated.
Many in the church believe these amendments were initiated by liberal groups who continue to promote the acceptance of homosexuality practice. By removing any barrier to church membership and silencing the voice of African delegates, who tend to be theologically orthodox, these groups would have greater success in changing our stance on this issue. By 2012, it is predicted that 30 percent of the delegates at General Conference will be from Africa. (In 2004, the African delegation made up 10 percent of total delegates in 2004 and 20 percent in 2008.) The votes of our African brothers and sisters are critical for maintaining the historic doctrines of Methodism.
Our commitment is steadfast. I have seen firsthand the devotion of clergy and laity called to this noble endeavor of reform and renewal in the UM Church. Renew was privileged to participate in a dialogue between renewal leaders and the Council of Bishops’ Unity Task Force in November 2009 at Lake Junaluska, N.C. (see page 7). I witnessed servants of the Lord speaking up for biblical truth and denominational integrity with humility and grace.
As a church, I encourage you to participate in this movement through several means. One is through prayer—for our church, bishops, and leaders. Another is through knowledge and participation. Stay informed about the issues facing the church, engage in dialogue with church leaders, and be able to clearly articulate your Christian beliefs.
And, very importantly, support renewal groups through generous regular giving. It takes tremendous financial resources to engage our brothers and sisters in Africa, send a renewal coalition to General Conference, communicate with constituents, speak to congregations and groups, and provide resources for the church. There is no greater cause than helping maintain the scriptural integrity and future growth of the United Methodist Church.
For the ministry of Renew—holding workshops, producing Christ-centered materials, planning leadership conferences, expanding our organization, communicating with our network, and participating in renewal efforts—your giving is also essential.
I pray that everyone will join this just cause, seek God’s guidance about your own calling, and be steadfastly committed to reform and renewal. Your participation will bring honor and glory to God. Won’t you partner with us in this just and noble cause? I pray that you will.
Liza Kittle is the President of the Renew Network (www.renewnetwork.org ), P.O. Box 16055, Augusta, GA 30919; telephone: 706-364-0166.
By Liza Kittle
The purpose of Renew has always been two-fold. On one hand, this organization has engaged in a twenty-year spiritual battle for the integrity of the gospel, the historic tenets of Methodism, and the need for Christ-centered women’s ministry within our denomination. But just as importantly, we have been engaged in ministries of love, hope, and healing to the lost and broken.
In his devotional book This Day with the Master, Dennis Kinlaw writes about how Paul’s letter to the Philippians gives a wonderful example of “the attitude Christians ought to have toward those to whom they minister.” This book reveals Paul’s passionate and tender love for others—the love of a father, brother, and friend—even in the midst of great personal suffering. Paul writes, “I thank God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy” (Philippians 1:3-4). Just thinking of the Philippians brings an indescribable joy and sense of gratitude to Paul due to their kinship in Christ. This bond results in a supernatural ability to love each other. Paul also says, “It is right that I should think this way about you, because I carry you in my heart” (Philippians 1:7). The intimacy of his relationship with Jesus manifested in his relationship with those he was called to serve. Kinlaw challenges the reader to ask, “Are you loving like Paul did? Are you carrying the people God has given you in your heart?”
God has given Renew an opportunity in ministry that I believe has produced this joyful and grateful spirit of love and kinship in Christ. Last summer, a young pastor from Uganda emailed me inquiring about resources for a women’s conference he was holding at his church. As we began to correspond with one another, I was struck not only by his great knowledge of the Bible, but also by his tremendous heart for the women and families of those he served. His name is Paul Mabonga and the church he planted is the Magamamba Healing Centre, located in Iganga, Uganda, East Africa.
Like many local pastors in Uganda, Paul completed a one-year course of study through a ministry of the Nazarene Church, a church with early roots in the Methodist holiness movement. Pastors are equipped through a network of regional training centers, which enable them to be trained locally for Christian ministry. Against incredible monetary and physical constraints, the Lord has blessed this young congregation with fruitfulness and joy. They worship in a room rented from a local school, with a few plastic chairs and a dirt floor. They hold women and youth conferences and all-night prayer vigils, praising God with songs of joy and thanksgiving. The members of Paul’s church have heard the Word preached, accepted the gospel offered, and experienced lives transformed.
I believe this young pastor Paul shares many characteristics with the great apostle Paul—passionately devoted to Jesus Christ and to the souls of the Ugandan people. As Paul’s letter to the Philippians explains, he “carries them in his heart.”
Paul Mabonga also carries Renew in his heart. His family and congregation have “adopted” Renew and pray for this ministry. We are their “spiritual moms” and their love for us in emails Paul writes can be felt across the many miles between us. At the end of each email, Paul always closes with a blessing and a thanksgiving. He asks God to bless Renew abundantly and to expand our borders, and Paul thanks Renew for loving him and his church and “carrying them in our hearts.”
Our partnership with this young church in Uganda is just one of the exciting areas of ministry God is developing for the Renew Network. Initial plans are beginning for a national leadership conference to be held in 2011 where women from all across our denomination will be able to come together for praise and worship, biblical teaching, and leadership training. There is much on the horizon as God enables and equips Renew to “expand our borders.” Please join us as a member of the Renew Network and experience the love, joy, and gratitude made possible through a relationship with Jesus Christ and service to his kingdom. Let’s “carry each other’s hearts” in ministry together.
Liza Kittle is the President of the Renew Network (www.renewnetwork.org), P.O. Box 16055, Augusta, GA 30919; telephone: 706-364-0166.
By Liza Kittle
If I had a nickel for every time Steve Dodson, my friend and former pastor, said those words, I would probably have at least a thousand dollars. It was truly one of his mantras and has become one of my own as well. I was reminded of this truth at a women’s event I attended this past weekend. The speaker was Liz Curtis Higgs, a prolific writer who has published Christian historical fiction, children’s books, and women’s study books. Her most famous titles are Bad Girls of the Bible, Slightly Bad Girls of the Bible, and Really Bad Girls of the Bible.
A former “bad girl” herself, Liz brought a message of hope and redemptive grace to the crowd of over 500 women, presenting biblical truth amidst hilarious stories that had the crowd laughing and crying at the same time.
A former radio personality, Liz shared glimpses of her early adulthood when drugs and sexual promiscuity took control of her life. One day a work colleague, none other than “shock-jock” Howard Stern, told her she needed to “clean up her act.” Liz related, “when Howard Stern tells you your life is out of control, you know things are pretty bad!” But she finally did just that when she met a Christian couple who just loved and accepted her the way she was, and tenderly guided her into the arms of Jesus. (Read more at www.lizcurtishiggs.com.)
Her story resonated with me on so many levels. As a former “really bad girl” myself, I spent two decades of my life not only wandering down every dark road imaginable, but also running away from every hint of Jesus I encountered.
Even after accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior of my life, I still carried around the guilt and shame from all those years living in the pit of despair. The freedom from that would come much later.
Just like the Samaritan woman at the well, the “really bad girl” in John 4, when Jesus met her face to face, he already knew everything about her—every sin, every disappointment, every wound, and every guilty thought. He knows the same about us, and despite any ugliness in our past, Jesus comes to offer us a beautiful future if we allow him into our heart and life. In Messy Spirituality, the late Mike Yaconelli wrote, “As far as Jesus is concerned, the woman with no future has a future. Jesus sees her present desire, which makes her past irrelevant.” Jesus can redeem any past, no matter what kind of past we bring with us: failure, mistakes, bad decisions, immaturity, and even a past that was done to us.
Jesus meets all of us at different places and in so many different ways. And although walking with him takes daily commitment and action, He’s done the work for us. It’s like the chorus in one of my favorite songs by Casting Crowns, “Who Am I,” “Not because of who I am, but because of what You’ve done; Not because of what I’ve done, but because of who You are.”
There are women all across our churches, communities, and world that are presently living in a pit of despair, struggling with past sin, wounded from present circumstances, and looking at the future with little hope. Renew has a calling, a vision, and a passion for reaching these women. I know that many congregations in the United Methodist Church have vibrant women’s ministries, but sadly, most do not. We want to change that.
Transformed women can be the vehicle God uses to transform marriages, families, workplaces, congregations, communities, denominations, and nations. The church of Jesus Christ is about the transformation of sinners for the redemption of the world. We should never lose sight of that.
Many women and pastors have called the Renew office asking how their church can “join” Renew and partner with us in ministry. In response to these requests, we are launching a new membership/partnership program. You can read all about this on our website at www.renewnetwork.org. This program replaces our current affiliate membership program. We believe this new partnering program will enable us to better serve the women of your group and congregation. We look forward to what God has in store for the future of this growing ministry.
We also are introducing a very special giving society in honor of the founder and past president of Renew, Mrs. L. Faye Short. The Faye Short Society will be a giving society that will enable us to fulfill the vision God has given Renew for its second phase of ministry. Monies raised through this society will go towards publishing resources that nurture women, such as a comprehensive women’s ministry handbook and topical Bible studies. Funds will also be used in the planning of regional and national leadership events for women in the UM Church. What a wonderful way to honor this faithful disciple of Christ who has given so much to uphold the scriptural integrity of our denomination and minister to the hearts and souls of its women.
Jesus desires the transformation of every living soul, every woman, and every church. Help us minister and share the Gospel as we are mandated. You won’t be able to argue with a changed life!
Liza Kittle is the President of the Renew Women’s Network