What do basketball, making disciples, and transforming the world have in common? Rev. Benton Heisler explains.
Director of Connectional Ministry, Michigan Conference
We [the UMC] have a presence on nearly every continent. Our cross and flame is a distinctive symbol with a high degree of recognition. Our mission is inspired by three key biblical texts:
- “For God so loved the world that he gave His only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16).
- “Therefore, go into all the world and make disciples in my name.” (Matthew 28:19)
The third text is a little less known but I believe it is every bit as essential to our mission: “Everybody do their part!” That is not exactly what it says, but if you read Nehemiah 3 you quickly get that impression. Every worker with a wide variety of skills, from all sorts of places did their part to reconstruct the wall of safety and security around the city of Jerusalem. (And unfortunately as is human nature, in verse 5 you read of a few folks that would just not put their shoulder to the work.)
The good news in Nehemiah 3 is much greater than the one line of disappointment that “a few folks would not put their shoulder to the work.” Person after person, from servant to high priest, from those with more simple roles to those with great responsibility, they all did whatever it was going to take to accomplish this vision, of not only restoring a wall around the city of Jerusalem that would mean safety, but ultimately be a tribute to God. In the end their enemies were amazed the project took only 52 days(!) saying, “this could only have happened as a result of the power of God (Nehemiah 6:15-16).”
My friends, the challenge of “being the Church” in 2018 is a massive endeavor. The world has changed! No longer will 135,000 people gather in the Los Angeles Coliseum to see a young Billy Graham evangelize the masses. They may gather to watch an outdoor sporting event or concert, but to hear the “Word of God” proclaimed…….?
In the opening paragraphs, I point to our mission: Make Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World. The UMC Discipline states that “The local congregation and extension ministries are the most significant arenas for making disciples.” It further states that the purpose of the Annual conference is to “equip and connect the local church.”
EVERY conversation I was a part of at the Design Team as it has worked these past three years has had some element of “improving our focus on and support of the local congregations.” I am filled with excitement in regard to the staffing model we have outlined and even more excited in regard to the persons who have been selected to lead in these various positions. Last month all the staffing positions were announced except one. We still had some interviews in the process to complete.
I am pleased to introduce to you Brittney Stephan. She will graduate from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary this May with a Master of Divinity including a Concentration in Multicultural Worship and Music Ministry. She will be commissioned and become a probationary member of the Indiana Conference in June. Her appointment as the Associate Director of Multi-Cultural Vibrancy in the Michigan Conference will begin July 1, 2018. It is quite possible you will have an opportunity to greet her at Annual Conference.
Brittney’s cross-cultural ministry setting is currently with a predominantly African American congregation in Evanston, IL. She has spent time in Zimbabwe, served on the Indiana Conference staff in the area of youth and young adult ministries, and grew up on a farm in north central Indiana. These diverse experiences and contexts have provided Brittney with a deep faith, a compelling interest in helping others grow in their desire for diversity and develop their skills for navigating through our culture of change.
So this is only part of the “team.” The conference staff exists for the purpose of equipping and connecting the more that 140,000 laypersons and over 1,000 active and retired clergy. “Some may not put their shoulder to the task” as it says in Nehemiah. I get that, but their failure cannot be our excuse to be and to do what God has placed before us.
Thirty five years ago I was the assistant varsity coach of a high school basketball team in the regional finals. It was the last year before they added the three point line in high school. Five talented seniors took the floor. As a team and coaches, we had been through thick and thin together. Each had a special role: rebound, shoot from the wing, shoot from the top of the key, post up in the lane, run the offense, everybody play defense, and coach. Two minutes into the game, I screamed at the head coach, “We gotta call a time out. Nobody is doing their job!” We did and adjustments were made. We did not win that game, but it wasn’t because people didn’t fulfill their role. The other team just did a better job at their responsibilities.
Many of you will watch a lot of NCAA Tourney Basketball the next three weeks. Don’t lose sight of two facts: it is only a game and these athletes are only in their late teens and early 20s.
Every Sunday is a “time-out.” It is a moment to be reminded of the call God has placed on our lives. It is a moment to hear a word of instruction and encouragement from the “coach.” Our spirits are lifted as together we sing the “team fight songs” that remind us of how God has called us and will equip and sustain us to the completion of our task.
My father always shot baskets with two hands. My sister could only play in GAA (Girls Athletic Association). She wasn’t allowed to run the entire court or take more than three dribbles before she had to pass the ball. I ended up in a lot of “jump balls.” There was no “possession arrow”. Basketball is not the same anymore and basketball is every bit the same.
A lot has changed in our culture and the Church, but God’s redeeming love found in Jesus Christ is still the same and always will be. I pray we all take the necessary “time out” to listen to the voice of God give us the clear “play” for what God desires us to be our next step.
~“If you make my Word your home, you will indeed be my disciples. You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:13 New Jerusalem Bible)” Each article I write for this column is based in the guidance of a particular Scripture passage. I pray that these reflections, stories and information will assist you in your own witness and service as a Disciple ofJesus Christ.