Some people seem not to have noticed that the 2008 General Conference changed the membership vows of our United Methodist Church. Now, when new members join any of our 1,200 congregations of the Indiana Conference (or any of our 40,000 congregations around the world), they should be asked to pledge their support to the church by their Prayers, Presence, Gifts, Service and Witness. What does that new word “Witness” mean, and why was it added?
The actual decision to add “witness” to our membership vows was initiated by the United Methodist Council of Bishops, because we bishops believe too many United Methodists have lost the skill or desire to witness to our faith. Being a “witness” is among the most biblical of all the characteristics of a disciple of Jesus.
We remember how the Risen Christ said to those first disciples, “You shall be my witnesses.” Through the centuries, the witness of faithful Christians has even resulted in some becoming martyrs for the faith. At the very least, being a faithful witness ought to challenge us to find ways to testify, to advocate, to evangelize and to uplift one another.
Here are some of the ways we all might share our witness:
- Write to your elected government representatives to advocate for the Christian principles outlined in the Social Principles of our United Methodist Church.
- Offer times in our local church worship services for “testimonies” where individuals can witness to how God is at work in their lives.
- Include in every United Methodist gathering (clergy meetings, cluster charge conferences, district conference, annual conference) a time for us to share with one another the stories of our ministries. Too often we are reluctant to “brag” to one another, and it is easier to share our gripes and our cynicism. We need more opportunities to share what God is doing through the ministries of our churches and our outreach efforts.
- Be prepared to share our own faith story with individuals around us. One pastor has called that “work the turf” and he says each person God brings into our presence is potentially someone who needs us to listen first (that is important) and then to share our own experience of God at work in our lives. Such a sharing is not about telling others what is wrong with them, it is about sharing honestly how God is helping us.
Can we do that? Can we take seriously our vow to Witness? I believe we can, but most of us need practice.
I want to help us get started. I plan to share a monthly e-mail to all of the Indiana Conference clergy that I will call something like “The Three Best Ministry Stories Bishop Mike Has Heard This Month.” These e-mails can be sent with one push of a button on my computer to all of our clergy – IF they are signed up to their INUMC.org e-mail accounts.
I need all of our clergy to be sure each one has activated his or her INUMC.org e-mail account.* These accounts also can be set up to be forwarded to any other e-mail account clergy use, so that all clergy will receive these monthly stories. I will only be sending this e-mail to INUMC.org e-mail addresses.
I also need clergy to send me their best ministry stories to share, such as what are the great things God is doing in and through your local church or your ministry setting? I will pass along the three best stories I hear each month .
We start being a good Witness by witnessing to one another, not about ourselves, but about what God is doing in and through us and others. So, clergy, please help me start this process with these monthly e-mails. I hope you will be uplifted by these stories, and I hope you will share them with the laity of your churches, too.
Bishop Michael J. Coyner
Indiana Area of
The United Methodist Church
“Making a difference in Indiana
and around the world”
*To activate an Indiana Conference e-mail account, go to http://mail.inumc.org and use your firstname.lastname as the user ID. The password for the first time is inumc2010. You will be prompted to change the password. If you wish to forward this e-mail to an existing account, go to “Settings” and then “Forwarding.” For answers to questions about clergy e-mail addresses, contact the Indiana Conference Center at 317-924-1321 or toll-free at 877-781-6706.
“Being a ‘witness’ is among the most biblical of all the characteristics of a disciple of Jesus.”
– Bishop Coyner