HOPE

The women returned from the cemetery on the first Easter morning, announcing, “He is Risen!”

The response of the disciples, the church, us?

With one voice we responded that the women preached “an idle tale” (Luke 24:11).

What is there about us that tends to disbelieve the possibility of resurrection, to be cynical and hopeless? Let’s be honest. Something there is in us that has a stake in hopelessness. Those who would protect the status quo, these who profit from the present system, tend to be threatened by hope.

In one of my previous churches I had a member who was negative about everything. When anything new was proposed, he could be counted on to produce a doleful litany: It won’t work. We tried that a few years ago and it failed. We just don’t have a really committed congregation.

There’s no money.

On and on it went. He managed to kill every new initiative with his hopelessness.
I complained to an older, wiser pastor who said to me, “The only way to defeat such defeatism is by having one honest to goodness success. Nothing disempowers cynicism like success.”

He was right. For the first time in recent memory, we had a very successful Stewardship campaign. That was the last we heard from Mr. Defeat.

I’ve got this on my mind because this year’s Annual Conference theme is simply “hope.” Scripture tells us that we Christians are always “to be prepared to give an account for the hope that is within you.”

As I prepare for this year’s Annual Conference, here are some specific gifts of God that fill me with hope:

  • This past year we raised nearly a million more dollars for mission and ministry, the highest rate of giving in our history.
  • Nearly a dozen new communities of faith were formed, making our Conference one of the leaders in New Church Development in the United Methodist Church.
  • Our churches brought over four thousand people of faith in Christ this year.
  • We created the Residency in Ministry program to equip and mentor our newest clergy, a model for the rest of the church in the development of new leaders.
  • This July we will institute an extensive on-line system (created by our Conference Connectional Ministries Staff) for weekly measurement of discipleship – accountability for all of our congregations. Every congregation will report, every week, on its fidelity to Christ. This is a groundbreaking effort to recover Wesleyan accountability.
  • Natural Church Development has transformed and energized over two dozen of our congregations that were previously in decline.
  • Our Cabinet has greatly streamlined, personalized, and made more results-sensitive our methods for clergy appointments. Through our triad interview process, the First Ninety Days program, and other means we are greatly improving our success rate for clergy appointments, giving churches the clergy leadership they need to be faithful to our Priorities.

Signs of hope! Easter continues! The women were right! He is risen indeed! Defeatism is being defeated by the Risen Christ.

William H. Willimon

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6 thoughts on “HOPE

  1. “these who profit from the present system, tend to be threatened by hope.”How true that statement is! It was those who had their system of Judaism in order, that didn’t want to believe the resurrection. And even the 12 (not just Thomas) who had a presupposition based on the Jewish thinking of resurrection could not believe the news. There is indeed something that hope does to our finite tendency to want to make order of everything; hope from God comes and reminds us that he is not a God to be structured by our finite minds. Hope reminds us that we are inheritors in a kingdom that never quite fits into our present systems no matter how much we would like it to; because at the root of our hope is God’s power through the Spirit that refreshes us, transforms us, and continually threatens our present systems.

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  2. Dr. Willimon, I stopped by to thank you for your presentation at the F of H, “The Homiletical Wisdom of Bewilderment.” I have quoted you once or twice on my blog without really knowing who you are, so when I saw your name on the program I made sure to attend the lecture, and I was not disappointed. I am considering your book, “Who Will Be Saved.” Not this month, but maybe next when I have a few extra dollars! May God bless you as you prepare for your annual conference.

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  3. Thanks, Bishop Willimon. I would simply offer up these thoughts about the cynical nature of much of our culture, even church culture today.The church will always have skeptical persons…those who say, I really don’t know if I believe or not. If you show me some convincing evidence and let me have the freedom to make up my own mind, then I’m willing to embrace faith and change my way of thinking.”These kinds of persons are not the problem. As you rightly point out, it is those threatened by hope, or more to the point, those who are a threat to the triumph of hope over their own entrenched cynicism. These people say, “I don’t believe what you say, and even if it is true, it makes no difference to me.”I think there is room in the church for some honest skepticism from time to time. It helps in the formulation of programatical methods and goals to have some voice that will challenge and question what we are about and the ways we propose to accomplish organizational objectives.Time and again I have witnessed the tragedy of the man in your story who simply shrouded himself in silence after the success of your campaign, and probably died thinking his ways were good enough despite all signs to the contrary.

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  4. Bishop Willimon,Thank you for what you have shared. I’m a lay-supply pastor in your charge and am moved by your report. At times it seems as if nobody really makes a difference, but the work of this conference gives hope. Please keep the course.

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