I am now safely in Portland, Oregon, eagerly anticipating tomorrow’s opening worship service of the 2016 General Conference of the United Methodist Church.
For the last several months, I have been engaged in a rhythm of reading, writing, and prayer in preparation for this important time of conferencing. My preparation has led me to a clearer understanding of the personal values that I bring to General Conference. By “values,” I simply mean those convictions and priorities held so deeply that they shape and, in many ways, guide my worldview, my decision-making, and my understanding of the church.
Here are some of the values that I hold most fervently as General Conference begins. I share them for no other reason but to be transparent in my ministry as a delegate.
Personal Value #1: Ever-Deepening Love for God
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus identifies the greatest commandment in this fashion: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind…”
The heart (“kardia”) calls to mind the physical essence of our being, the organ that is closest to the center of our physical sustenance. To love God with all our heart, therefore, is to practice faithful stewardship over our physical being, caring well for our hearts and bodies in a way that honors the One who made them.
The soul (“psuche,” from which we derive the word “psychology”) is the place of our deepest thoughts, feelings, passions, and emotions. To love God with all our soul, therefore, is to practice faithful stewardship over our inner being, caring for our emotional health and our spiritual growth in a way that honors the One who desires nothing less than an intimate communion with souls.
The mind (“dianoia”) is a reference to the realm of our cognitive reflection and our rational analysis. To love God with all our mind, therefore, is to practice faithful stewardship over our intellectual development, caring for the formation of our minds in a way that honors the One who desires to be known, not only through feelings, but also through thoughts.
My prayer: “Ever-present God, whose very nature is love, awaken within me and within the entire General Conference a deep desire to love you with heart, soul, and mind, so that every portion of our conferencing will become a doxological effort to render our heartfelt praise and adoration to the One we love.”
Personal Value #2: Commitment to Personal and Communal Integrity
The word “integrity” is a derivative of a Latin word meaning “intact” or “whole.” According to Scripture, “The integrity of the upright guides them, but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them” (Proverbs 11:3). The Hebrew word here for “integrity” calls to mind holistic innocence and an unbroken character. People of integrity are people who commit themselves to authenticity, wholeness, and ethical intactness in their relationships, their administration, their self-care, their communication, and their personal conduct.
My prayer: “God of wholeness, whose character is always trustworthy and whose grace rejoins our broken pieces, let the integrity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit find dynamic expression in the rhythms and interactions of the General Conference.”
Personal Value #3: Subordination to the Revelation and Authority of Scripture, Prayerfully Interpreted and Wisely Applied
When the Psalmist declares that God’s “word” is nothing less than “a lamp to [our] feet and a light to [our] path” (Psalm 119:105), and that “the word of the Lord is right and true” (Psalm 33:4), he is giving expression to the conviction that God has definitively communicated to humankind in a manner that is both trustworthy and illuminating.
In the Christian tradition in general, and the United Methodist denomination in particular, the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments have been embraced and elevated as the narrative of God’s revealed Word and are believed by the church to contain all that is necessary for salvation. Part of our very identity as the church is our urgent and ongoing task of interpreting Biblical revelation through the hermeneutical lenses of tradition, reason, and experience, so that the Word will leap off of the printed page and into the various contexts of the contemporary world.
My prayer: “Allow your Word, O God, to find its authoritative place in the hearts and lives of your people. Let your Scripture be breathed afresh in our midst, that it might be received as a tangible expression of your vast and glorious heart.”
Personal Value #4: Attentive Listening to All Voices and Patient Exploration of All Perspectives
Instead of being governed by skepticism or, worse, cynicism, I long to be the kind of Christ-follower who recognizes all voices as being worthy to be heard and all perspectives—even the ones with which I may strongly disagree—as being beneficial to the collective discernment.
My prayer: “Deliver me, O God, from the kind of sharp-edged presuppositions and selective listening that so frequently prevents the viewpoints of my sisters and brothers from reaching my deepest contemplation. Grant that I might bear all things, believe the best about all things, hope all things, and endure all things. (1 Corinthians 13:7).”
Personal Value #5: Compassion for Those Who Are Wounded by the Pace, the Harder Demands, and the Difficult Dynamics of Our Conferencing
It is a bit ironic that General Conference sometimes causes woundedness, given that we gather in the name of the One who “consoles us in all our affliction” (2 Corinthians 1:4). Sometimes the pace, tenor, and outcomes of the sessions of General Conference leave tender souls feeling bruised and mistreated, meaning that an ever-deepening spirit of sensitivity and compassion must infuse our engagement with one another.
My prayer: “Soften my heart, Always-Tender God, that it might hurt with the hearts of my sisters and brothers when they are wounded.”
Personal Value #6: Commitment to Biblical Holiness
When Jesus tells us to “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), he is not setting us up for failure. Rather, I believe he is imparting to us the truth that it is possible to live a life that is so thoroughly subordinated to the transforming Lordship of Jesus that every part of that life—EVERY part—begins to reflect more deeply the sanctified (perfected) condition into which the Holy Spirit is leading us. This is holiness—not a “try harder” kind of self-reliance, but a steady yielding to the new creation that Jesus is making out of our lives.
My prayer: “Usher me into a deeper journey of holiness, Most Holy One, that my presence will contribute to the collective holiness of our conferencing instead of diminishing it.”
Personal Value #7: Prayer Without Ceasing
The teaching of Scripture is that “the prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective” (James 5:16), meaning that prayer is God’s dynamic engagement with human hearts—an engagement through which God makes redemptive excursions into lives and circumstances. If I do not cling to prayer as a personal value, my contribution to General Conference will go only as far as my personal abilities, which is not very far.
My prayer: “Let prayer become for me as natural as breathing, God, and every bit as urgent.”
Personal Value #8: Willingness to Acknowledge the Possibility That My Personal Discernment Might Be Distorted and Significantly Misguided
Holding one’s convictions strongly produces a necessary confidence and commitment. Acknowledging that one’s convictions might be wrong, however, is what enables us to see those convictions as a window rather than a wall and an invitation rather than a weapon.
My prayer: “Deepen and clarify my discernment, O God, and allow me to hold my convictions in a way that nurtures community instead of fracturing it. Make me ever mindful of the truth that your thoughts and ways are always higher than my thoughts and ways (Isaiah 55:8).”
Personal Value #9: Agapic Love
The agapic love that 1 Corinthians 13 describes demands a relentless attentiveness to the personhood of another. It is the love that names and dismantles racism in all of its forms because it dares to see one’s race and ethnic heritage as gifts to be embraced rather than obstacles to be feared and manipulated. It is the love that purges the prejudices that would prevent us from being kind and respectful to the person who stands on the other side of a debate or who brings a contrasting viewpoint to a piece of legislation. It is the love that acknowledges the insufficiency of the glass through which we dimly see one another and yet foreshadows the realm where we will see one another with face-to-face completeness.
My prayer: “God, whose heart is love: Let me love deeply, dynamically, and beautifully during my days at General Conference, so that your heart might find expression in the manner with which I relate to my sisters and brothers.”
Personal Value #10: The Lordship of Jesus
My prayer: “Remind us in fresh and powerful ways, O God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that the Lordship of Jesus is wonderfully secure and that his justifying and sanctifying grace is sufficient to hold redemptive governance over all that transpires at General Conference and beyond.