Remember the Future

February 18th, 2012

Join Robert Schnase for "Remember the Future: 30 Days of Preparation," a series of reflections as The United Methodist Church prepares for General Conference 2012. These daily meditations explore hope, purpose, leadership and making and becoming disciples of Jesus Christ. With Wesleyan, scriptural, and leadership themes, explore together the mission of the church in a time of great change.

Remember the Future

Peter Steinke’s book A Door Set Open: Grounding Change in Mission and Hope contrasts hopefulness and hopelessness. Hopefulness, according to Steinke, stirs imagination, expands horizons, influences events, energizes, and creates a sense of buoyancy. Hopelessness shrinks the radius of possibility, becomes apathetic, entraps, minimizes options, resigns to existing conditions, and loses heart. Steinke also writes that hopefulness remembers the future so that we will not remain trapped in the present arrangement of things (p. 41).

Since reading Steinke’s book, the phrase Remember the Future has lingered in my mind. At first, the words are disorienting. Remember points backward, future looks forward. Yet in every discussion, deliberation, discernment, and decision, a leader must give deep and conscientious consideration to the future—to the future of the mission, to future contexts, to future generations, to a future with hope. Hope carries us across the threshold of “can’t.” We must always remember the future.

General Conference 2012 promises to be a significant moment in the life of the United Methodist Church. The Council of Bishops, through the Call to Action, has endorsed a core challenge: To redirect the flow of attention, energy, and resources to an intense concentration on fostering and sustaining an increase in the number of vital congregations effective in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. To support this, the Council of Bishops and the Connectional Table have put forward bold proposals that consolidate and streamline general agencies; give annual conferences the freedom to organize according to their context; reform the Council of Bishops; strengthen accountability systems for bishops, pastors, and general agencies; and reduce the general church budget. Also, there are proposals from an array of task forces that may change our systems of clergy preparation, ordination, and deployment, including shifts in the guaranteed appointment. In addition, General Conference will consider thousands of petitions on hundreds of topics submitted by members and congregations from across the world.

Petitions, bishops, pastors, laity, caucuses, committees, boards, agencies, budgets, plenary, legislation, young people, the global church, conferences, ordination, mission, discipline, Wesley, malaria, seminaries, worship, translators, hymns, prayer—this is the peculiar vocabulary and singular language of General Conference. The agenda is overwhelming. The expectations are incredible. The worship is awe-inspiring. The array of material to read is unrealistic. The work is important. The tension is tangible. The outcomes are uncertain.

And, I pray, the Spirit is present. I pray that delegates focus on the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. I hope they direct our energies outward into the mission fields at home and across the globe that God gives us. And I pray they remember the future.

Beginning on March 26 and continuing for the thirty days leading up to General Conference, I will post a daily blog on Ministry Matters addressing an element of our mission together as United Methodists, weaving together scriptural themes, threads from our Wesleyan heritage, and insights from the literature of organizations and change. I’ll include references and background related to the Call to Action and some of the specific proposals that come before General Conference. Some of the daily blogs will include brief  videos to explain or describe key ideas. Delegates, clergy, laity, and visitors from across the church are invited to opt in for a free subscription for the thirty days. Each day, you’ll receive a copy of the blog by email. Annual conference websites and local church websites are invited to link up as well.

The purpose of Remember the Future is to deepen understanding and further conversation about the key issues that shape our mission and future as a denomination. I hope the daily writings help focus the conversation on the mission of the church in Christ, and that they cause delegates at General Conference as well as local church leaders to continually remember the future!

The task of governance in an organization is to clarify the principle mission, maintain an outward focus, and force future-oriented thinking. How well do the governance structures of your congregation and of your conference do these things?

Why is it so difficult to focus on the future in leadership decisions? How do you remember the future in the roles of leadership you hold?


For deeper exploration, read and discuss Luke 5: 12-39 in the NRSV and The Message.

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