'Will the conference affect Portlanders?'

May 9th, 2016

"Will the conference affect Portlanders?" she asked.

Tomorrow, May 10th, the United Methodist Church's General Conference will begin in Portland, Oregon. Every four years bishops and delegates from around the world gather somewhere for General Conference and make decisions affecting the mission, the money, the principles and the organization of the UMC. I was just reading an article from The Oregonian explaining all of this to the locals, and the article ends by briefly addressing the question: "Will the conference affect Portlanders?"

The answer? Yes. Traffic may swell near downtown, the restaurants near the convention center will definitely be crowded at lunch and hotel rooms will be fewer and pricier for the duration of the conference. (Also, these United Methodists will be doing some volunteering while they're in town, "so some Portlanders may benefit from their presence.")

While I am glad to hear it reported that some people may be blessed by Portland's United Methodist guests over the next week and a half, even that happy observation only reinforces another, rather depressing take-away.

Will the conference affect Portlanders?

Yes. While they're here (mostly inconveniencing us).

But that's all you need to worry about.

Beyond the immediate effects on traffic and hotel room availability, etc., once they're done and gone: No, the conference will not affect Portlanders.

The mission of the United Methodist Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. But apparently Portland hasn't heard that we're transforming the world.

Which makes me wonder: have the people in your town heard? Or in mine?

Or do they just know that you don't want to turn left onto the highway right here on Sunday mornings, because the church traffic makes it tricky, and that you need to get to the restaurant pretty early to beat the after-church crowd?

Will the conference affect Portland? Will it affect Oregon? Will it affect Georgia or Michigan, Natchez, D.C., Manila, Mutare or Baton Rouge? Will the work of United Methodists affect the world? Will your congregation? Has anyone seen the world-transforming, disciple-making power of your church?

In Portland they haven't.

They just know we have meetings, argue over different things and occasionally some people may benefit from our presence.

So what do we need to be doing? What does your congregation need to be doing right where you are? How can we love the Lord and love our neighbors in a way that the world will hear about? How can we start to take people from assuming the conference will not affect them to never forgetting how those United Methodists affected their lives for good?

United Methodists everywhere have two critical tasks this week (and I'd invite Christians of all stripes to join in both). One is to pray for the deliberations and decisions of the General Conference, that the Holy Spirit would stir in hearts and direct the church.

Two is to go and touch someone's life in the name of Jesus Christ.

In other words, to go and make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

This piece originally appeared on the author's blog. Reprinted with permission. 

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