2015 Fall Update
Dear Renew Network,
In September 2015, I received the Newsletter of Lifewatch, which is a sister renewal group in the Methodist Church. I always look forward to Rev. Paul Stallworth’s excellent writing. In the September letter was a special report titled God’s Own People by Bishop Timothy Whitaker.
The essay challenged the church to rethink its identity and purpose by asking, “What does it mean to be the church?” Bishop Whitaker believes, if the church is to be faithful to God’s own plan, we must recover the meaning of the church revealed in the New Testament. This means that both progressives and conservatives will have to alter their ways. Progressives must move away from trying to accommodate the culture, and likewise conservatives must move away from trying to convert the culture.
I have oversimplified Bishop Whitaker’s excellent remarks, so I encourage you to read his entire deep and very pertinent essay. But having reported many years for Renew, I certainly could see my work for Renew in the Bishop’s remarks about conservatives.
Over the years, many women came to Renew concerned that “mission,” as interpreted by the staff in New York, was far from the mission work of their mothers and grandmothers, which had been centered in the offering of Christ and fulfilling His Great Commission. Instead, these women recognized that the mission of the church was being tied to the goals of the United Nations and left leaning political agendas in the name of a secularized understanding of justice which had become little more than a crusade for rights and empowerment. The reality of the strength of Christ’s message in the light of our weakness and need was being lost. These concerns still exist.
Both progressive and conservative women in the church were concerned about the poor and any number of theological and social issues. But there was a deep divide not only on how to best address these issues, but also a concern on the part of conservative women that secular approaches to issues like abortion lost both God’s perspective and call to holiness resulting in a rejection of scriptural authority. No one wanted women butchered in back alleys. But for many women, the answer to that wrong was not the wrong of sacrificing innocent life.
Renew prayed that all women’s ministry in the UMC would experience a revival and once again in the words of John Wesley, “Offer them Christ.” But in 2008, then president and founder, Faye Short called the leadership of Renew to a time of prayer and discernment. It was evident that UMW under the leadership of the Women’s Division was not going to include the voices of theologically orthodox evangelical women or address their concerns.
UMW membership was declining across the United States. It was declining at a rate faster than that of the church as a whole. The leadership of Renew was discerning that God was calling us in a new direction. As I read Bishop Whitaker’s remarks that call the church to understand itself “according to the gospel of Jesus Christ rather than according to its status in the culture,” I realized this is just how God had been leading Renew.
Today, many churches are designing their own women’s ministries to meet the spiritual needs in their congregations. Many of the women, men and youth want hands on mission opportunities to share Christ and not political agendas.
It is not so much that we have achieved the meaning of the church or even that we have influenced those who have. But Renew highlights and encourages women in the church to come away from the fruitless pursuit of secularism wrapped in religious garb and pursue a clearer understanding of the way, the truth, and the life we are called to in Him.
Renew will still report and speak to important issues in our culture and in the church. On some things we cannot keep silent. But our primary focus will be to call and aid the women of the United Methodist Church in their walk of faith. It is from Him all blessings flow to each person and all organizing structures in society.
I invite you to visit the Renew website and Facebook page. There you will find several resources that you are free to copy and use as you and your women’s ministries grow in Christ and offer Him to a hurting world. As always, Renew exists because of your sacrifices and generous gifts.
Please join me in praying that the United Methodist Church will recover this New Testament vision of what God intends for the church. In the words of Bishop Whitaker, let us pray:
The church whose future is assured by the living God will learn to be a people that is distinctive in its identity from others in the culture and lives an alternative way of life in the larger culture while loving the world and all peoples, praying for the world, serving the world, and inviting people of all ethnic groups and social classes to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and to become a part of “God’s own people.”
In His service,
Renew Team Leader
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