Bishop: Fruitful congregations engage in five practices|
Bishop Robert Schnase presents the five core practices of successful congregations to the convocation of United Methodist bishops and their extended cabinets.
UMNS photos by Linda Green.
By Linda Green*
Nov. 20, 2007 | LAKE JUNALUSKA, N.C. (UMNS)
Radical hospitality means more than treating people well when they walk through the church doors, said Bishop Robert Schnase to participants in a convocation of United Methodist bishops and their extended cabinets.
Such hospitality offers people the embrace of Christ, is rooted is Scripture, welcomes the stranger and "is about congregations that have as much passion, desire and care for those who are not a part of the congregation as they do for those already a part of the congregation."
Schnase told nearly 1,000 participants at the Nov. 9-11 event that congregations desiring to be effective and fruitful in ministry should engage in five core practices, which he also outlined in Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, published last spring by Abingdon Press.
In addition to offering radical hospitality, the other practices are passionate worship, intentional faith development, risk-taking mission and service, and extravagant generosity.
Participants come to the altar to give thanks to God as they bring produce symbolizing fruitful congregations.
The convocation, the first in nearly 40 years, sought to help bishops and their cabinets, including lay leaders, clarify the church's purpose, mission and identity.
The bishop of the Missouri Area, Schnase told the group he is keenly aware of the negative images often generated by the United Methodist mission statement of "making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world" — images of individuals using guilt or pressure tactics to bring people to Christ.
"The United Methodist Church makes disciples through congregations," Schnase said. "It is through congregations that practice the basic elements of faith communities that go back to the second chapter of Acts."
Schnase said bishops, cabinets, pastors and church leaders must do all they can to help congregations fulfill the church's mission. The five practices offer a practical framework and a common language to help churches understand their mission and fit it into their lives in a practical way, he said.
These fundamental processes are so "critical to a congregation's mission that failure to perform them in an exemplary way results in congregational deterioration and decline," Schnase said.
By the same token, repeating and improving those practices lead congregations to health, vitality and fruitfulness.
"These words capture the core process by which God uses congregations to make disciples," Schnase writes in his book. "Congregations offer the gracious invitation, welcome, and hospitality of Christ so that people experience a sense of belonging; God shapes souls and changes minds through worship, creating a desire to grow closer to Christ; God's Spirit nurtures people and matures faith through learning in community; with increased spiritual maturity, people discern God's call to help others through mission and service; and God inspires people to give generously of themselves so that others can receive the grace they have known."
Schnase said every group and ministry in the church should engage in radical hospitality.
"Radical hospitality is about taking the second mile, going the extra step, not being pleased to just get along but offering our very best and our very highest," he said. "Our greatest strength is that we love one another, and our lives are so interweaved that we don't know that this keeps people out and is not hospitably bringing people in."
Every church thinks they are friendly and they are — "to the people already there." But radical hospitality requires looking inward and outward. "It stretches us," he said.
Worship, learning and service
The practice of passionate worship isn't routine and isn't a performance, he said. Its purpose is to connect people to God and deepen a relationship with God and one another. "It is worship that allows us to see the world through God's eyes. It is God's way of changing our hearts and minds," said Schnase.
While worship may take many forms, passionate worship must be authentic, engaging, interrelational and life-changing, he added.
As worship creates a desire for more learning and growth, Schnase said the most authentic and Wesleyan component is intentional faith development. This third practice of a fruitful congregation refers to the purposeful learning in community that helps people mature in their faith and grow in their knowledge and love of God. Such opportunities include Bible studies, Sunday school, vacation Bible school and small groups.
"Churches that are thriving are those that unapologetically teach, preach and practice the tithe." –Bishop Robert Schnase
This leads to risk-taking mission and service that make a difference in the lives of others for God's purpose, whether or not they will ever be part of the community of faith, he said.
Churches cannot be satisfied with having individuals bring canned goods to build a Thanksgiving basket and think they have fulfilled the mission of Jesus Christ. "This is something we ought to be teaching first-graders to do instead of it being the central mission of the church," Schnase said.
Risk-taking means "moving out of our comfort zones" and "doing things that we would not have ordinarily done if it had not been for our relationship with Christ," he said. "The stretch of Christian discipleship is to take on the practices of love that move us out of our comfort zone and take us to places we would never have been if it had not been for our desire to follow Jesus Christ."
A maturing Christian eventually reaches a point of understanding that all of life belongs to God, leading to a desire to offer oneself "fully back" to Christ. Such is the practice of extravagant generosity, according to Schnase.
"Churches that are thriving are those that unapologetically teach, preach and practice the tithe," he said, and they are not afraid to talk about it. These churches do not focus on the desire to receive more money but on the Christian's need to grow in the spiritual quality of generosity.
Unlike the church in Africa and the Philippines, which are growing exponentially, United Methodists in the United States are being "smothered by a consumerist, materialistic society." The practice of extravagant generosity puts God first and allows God to reshape the giver's life, he said.
During the convocation, participants demonstrated extravagant generosity by contributing $8,824 to Nothing But Nets, the church's anti-malaria campaign.
Schnase notes that the five practices are critical to a congregation's life because they reflect the ministry of Jesus Christ. He reminded the convocation that Jesus' ministry was radical, passionate and intentional and that Jesus also was a risk-taker.
*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
Growing a fruitful congregation
The Bishop's Most Excellent Book and my Zen-Like Reflections
Q&A: Getting back to Wesleyan practices
Convocation focuses on the United Methodist way
Missouri Annual Conference
Council of Bishops