As I move toward my retirement as a bishop and as the bishop of the Indiana Area in about 18 months, I have said many times and in many places that I covet prayers for me to “Finish Strong.” I appreciate that many of you have indicated you are praying for me and wishing me well. However, I realized this past week as I prepared to preach from I Corinthians 1:18-25 (the epistle reading for the 3rd Sunday of Lent) that praying for me to “Finish Strong” is probably the wrong prayer.
The Apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians that we are to rely upon God’s strength and God’s wisdom, rather than upon our human strength and wisdom. He even says that “God’s weakness is stronger than our strength” and “God’s foolishness is wiser that our best wisdom.” Paul reminds us that the Cross itself is an example of the so-called weakness and foolishness of God (and thus the Cross is a stumbling block to many), but in fact the power, strength and wisdom of God were and are displayed through that same Cross. We serve a risen Savior, and his model of giving his life for others should remind us that we don’t succeed through our own wisdom and strength.
So, I am changing my prayer request. Rather than praying for me to “Finish Strong,” please pray that God’s strength will be revealed through and in spite of my weaknesses. Please pray that God’s wisdom will overcome my own foolishness and short-sightedness. Please pray that my final months as your bishop will focus not upon me or my leadership, but upon the amazing power, wisdom, and direction we can all receive through the Spirit of God. My final months as your bishop are not about me – they are about what God can accomplish in spite of me.
I share this new prayer request because I have been feeling overwhelmed by all the things I want to accomplish these final 18 months – and I have been feeling overwhelmed by all of the things so many of you have wanted me to accomplish these final 18 months.  I have realized that there is something wrong with that kind of thinking (on my part and yours), because it puts the focus in the wrong place. Our focus must be upon God’s direction and God’s strength and God’s wisdom.
An example: the Leadership Table of our Indiana Conference approved a request from our Camping Board to conduct a feasibility study to see if there is support for building a new “Discipleship Center” facility at Epworth Forest to replace the old wooden auditorium and to expand the mission and ministry of that site and of our conference. A professional firm has been hired to do this feasibility study, and we will know their results later this spring – in time for any proposals to come to our CFA and on to our Annual Conference Session. I am very supportive of such a project because the need is clear (if you have been to the old auditorium in recent years you know what I mean), the vision for a “Discipleship Center” is right on target with our conference mission statement, and Epworth Forest is a place where many, many people have found the presence of Christ (and I am one of those persons). However … so many people who support this idea have talked about it being “the bishop’s legacy” and they have said this will only work if people want to give the money to honor me. That is not the right perspective. Any decision about a new “Discipleship Center” at Epworth Forest must focus upon God’s purposes and God’s mission. If this project is “of God” then it will happen. If we make this project just about me, it will fail.
Another example: many persons have been expressing or acting out their anxiety about the transition to a new bishop in 2016. This is due to the fact that the Indiana Area has not had a “new” or “unknown” bishop in 24 years. Bishop Woodie White was assigned to be our new bishop in 1992, and then after his 12 years of service here, I was assigned in 2004 and many people already knew me because I was from Indiana and had served as Bishop White’s Executive Assistant. So in 2016 when a new bishop is assigned to serve Indiana, that person will likely be someone most of us don’t know or know well. Thus there is anxiety. But that anxiety is misplaced – the next bishop will have strengths and weaknesses (probably different ones than I have), but God will work through that leader in ways we cannot yet imagine. Just as pastoral transitions in a local church allow for new ideas and new possibilities, so it will be when a new bishop arrives in 2016. Even more importantly, God will continue to provide the real strength, wisdom and guidance – working through or in spite of whoever is bishop.
So please join me in praying for God’s guidance, wisdom, strength and purposes to be fulfilled. It is not about my “finishing strong” – it is about our discovering the strength of God and the directions God is leading us. I will do my part, but it is not about me.