Dear brothers and sisters of the West Virginia Conference,
The Epiphany season is upon us. Epiphany is about making known, disclosing or bringing witness to the Christ who is present with us and the God, who out of great love for us, will not let us go, no matter what! Our work on reaching 2400+ for Christ has been all about the ministry and mission of making Christ known and helping others to discover the gift of Christ we have experienced in our own lives.
It is a joy to share that our churches, districts, and conference have caught the vision of 2,400+. Prayers are being lifted, dreams are being realized, and people are finding the grace and love of God through the ministry of The United Methodist Church. Our conference vision of 2,400+ professions of faith keeps before us God’s mandate to “go and make disciples of all nations”(Mt. 28:19) and the commission that “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). This has always been the mission of the church and the purpose of the people called United Methodists. We articulate our mission when we affirm that our purpose is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” (2012 Book of Discipline). Unfortunately, in recent years many of us and a number of congregations have lost our passion for reaching new people for Christ. 2016 marks a turn around for a number of our churches. The vision of 2,400+ new persons in Christ has inspired many of our faith communities to see building relationships with our neighbors and helping them to delight in Jesus to be the priority of our witness.
In 2017 the WV Annual Conference will extend and expand the vision of 2,400+ new persons in Christ. We will still have a goal of 2,400+ professions of faith and have expanded that vision to include 2,400+ new persons engaged in an intentional discipleship learning and growth process. As United Methodists we have always believed that the goal is not just to reach people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but to help them grow in Christ-like holiness. The salvation experience of becoming new in Christ is the beginning of the race of faith and not the finish line. Paul uses his own life as an example that we continue to grow into being more like Christ: “Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own…. I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:12, 14).
Now, there are a variety of ways that we can encourage those who are new in Christ: mentoring relationships, huddles, covenant and accountability groups, small groups that simply connect people who are living in the everyday life and seek to connect with others who are seeking Christ in the midst of the reality in which they live, mission and ministry teams, Bible studies, support groups, affinity groups, Sunday School, even choirs and praise teams. The catch here is that as you meet, you come together asking this question: How can this gathering help us to grow in our Christian Discipleship? How can we hold each other up and help each other to learn and grow thereby creating intentional communities that seek to grow in their delight of Jesus and become better disciples? Some might call this developing a Rule of Life or developing an intentional avenue for examining and growing a life of faith. Biblically, this would be described as growing in a way that having the “same mind in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5) is the hope of the Christian life.
It is my prayer that you, the churches, districts, and conference may see the mission field that is all around us. When we step out of the sanctuary, we have entered the place where God is sending us to make a difference: to share the Gospel of Love and to help our neighbors to discover, experience, and grow in the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ. The vision of more than 2,400 new professions of faith and over 2,400 new people stepping forward to grow in their faith and discipleship is just the beginning of our bearing the fruit of faith and love. The vision is a sign that we are committed to loving God and loving our neighbors! There are no greater commandments and no more fulfilling life than being part of God’s mission.
Please take up this mantle for Christ! There is no better time than the present to make an intentional commitment to make Christ known, and to help others to both discover and commit to an intentional lifestyle and practice of discipleship. The world needs to discover the love of God through Christ Jesus our Lord. It is this love that chases us to the ends of the earth. It is Christ’s love that brings the fruit of repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation, and new life. It is the gift of God’s love in Christ and working through us, as Christ’s disciples, that can transform the world and bring this world to know the hope, love, joy, and peace which brings new life.
Grace and peace,
Sandra Steiner Ball
Resident Bishop, West Virginia Conference