For those of you unfamiliar with the United Methodist alphabet soup, GBOD is The General Board of Discipleship (where I work). GBGM is the General Board of Global Mission. GCFA is the General Council on Finance and Accountability.
A great blessing for the laity and clergy we are working with over these two weeks is that they really are in an apostolic situation. Christianity has NOT become an establishment religion here, ever, even in places where Christians have been around for several centuries. Being a Christian here is thus a distinctive choice. And since Methodist work in both countries is so new (about 4 years in Thailand and 10 years in Laos), being a Methodist Christian is an even more distinctive choice, and neither an easy nor an obvious one.
What has become so obvious here, and what has become so much easier to say here, is that while other Christian traditions have offered much of the WHAT of the faith, Methodism has very much offered a practical, realistic and highly functional set of HOWS. The practices of the faith-- corporate worship including the sacraments, holy conferencing in class meetings/covenant discipleship groups, field preaching that directly addresses and awakens the surrounding culture, fasting or abstinence, searching the scriptures, personal and family and group prayer... these and more we know how to practice and teach. We are not left just hoping that we get our hearts warmed in a worship service and encounter with God and then sent out to try to live that individually-- which, alas, is what so many others in the larger evangelical and Protestant missionary tradition have left folks with-- we know how and can show others how to become more and more rooted and grounded in the love of Christ-- in real time and for all time.
Because if those numbers and that kind of financial success are our real goal, offering and driving toward perfection in love in this life is not appealing, because there are far easier ways to generate those metrics than this more excellent way.
And then there's the problem we may have with the word "perfection." We equate that perhaps too much with some sort of finality, stillness, unchangeability, rigidity, and even lack of joy. We look at perfection in a Platonic and Stoic way-- a way that speaks more of deprivation than fullness of life, more about getting everything in its place than what it truly is-- getting the fullness of the life and love of God, whose perfection is love, into every place in every way possible.
We have been captivated perhaps, then, not simply by an idolatrous attention to size and financial flow, as if getting people into the congregations and keeping them and their money there were the final goal of Creation and Salvation, but also by a set of philosophical and theological assumptions utterly foreign to and subverted by our truly incarnational faith in a God who never stops pursuing us in love.
May more of us in the US and Global North churches quit settling for less than God desires to make of us. And may we Methodists, in particular, pick up again our truest birthright-- as way-showers and co-laborers in love that all who come near us may know and desire the joy of being made perfect in love in this life.