Seeking Ways to Be in Service to the Global UM Church – The Philippines

global church

1 Corinthians 12:27 – Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

The reach of The United Methodist Church is wide. We are a global denomination focused on making disciples for Jesus Christ wherever we encounter them.  On a recent trip to the Philippines, two GCFA staff members, two professors and sixteen graduate students from Belmont University Massey College of Business learned first-hand what it means to serve in a global denomination.

There are 12 annual conferences in the Philippines – all of whom are actively making disciples of Jesus Christ.  The members of the churches work every day to reach the poor, connect with persons seeking Christ as their Savior and receiving the Love of Christ in their homes and their places to worship.

Work began in earnest for the team on April 1 when we arrived in Manila. Belmont University and the Travel and Meeting Planning Department of GCFA coordinated the 10-day trip.  The purpose was to talk face-to-face with leaders of the Philippines annual conferences about their need for resources to support their ministries and how GCFA shared services can fill those needs.

Using one-on-one interviews, surveys and hands-on interaction, the graduate students talked with and learned of needs in the area of financial reporting, data collection, meeting planning, and giving methods in the areas they visited.

belmont students

The students worked on four areas of interest: missional giving, travel and meeting planning, effectively using the Ezra database outside the US, and training and leadership resources. Each small group met with church leadership and got responses in each of the work areas.

Dedication

However, an even bigger impact than talking first-hand with church leaders was the observance of the dedication of the people of the church.  When, in one area, the students learned that pastors and bishops sometimes travel by boat and sometimes even by horse to visit and worship with their congregations, the students saw great examples of faithfulness to the people.

The team was able to visit the Kapatiran-Kaunlaran Foundation, Inc. (KKFI) – an organization that works in the community to provide education, meals and skills training for children.  There they observed the impact that people dedicated to serving have in their ministry.

The students, in a report back to GCFA when they returned, shared the impact their experiences had on their lives as they visited people, offices and churches in Manila and Baguio.  The work in this ministry continues as GCFA leadership will review the recommendations of the team and find ways to implement them as we work to serve the global church.

Cheryl Akey, Travel and Meeting Planning Manager, The General Council on Finance and Administration

Monday Meditation – Outside Our Comfort Zone

Comfort Zone

Sometimes we are called upon by God to do things that are outside our comfort zone.  Nowadays almost anything God asks us to do will tend to fall outside of what we usually do.

It is how our faith grows.  We come to trust in the Lord as we walk into unchartered territories.

Opposition

Our faith is truly tested when opposition comes up against us as we walk in a new thing.  Rarely are there no troubles when it comes to doing something difficult.

The angel’s words to the women at the tomb who were about to embark on a journey none of them had ever taken before, rings ever truer today in an age of skepticism, fear, anger and hate.

“Do not be afraid.” Matthew 28:5 (NIV)

Let us take to heart the angel’s admonition as we begin to walk out in faith on the new things God is doing in the Church and in the world.  There will be many changes in the coming months and years.  Let us remain true to our God and have the courage to face the opposition that may come against us as we try to do God’s work in this Church and this creation we have been given.

Dear God, Holding fast to what endures – Your love, Your grace and Your justice – and letting go of what is but mere chaff, grant us the courage to live faithfully beyond our comfort zone.  Amen.

Monday Meditation – Giving

Giving

It is the heart that does the giving; the fingers only let go. – Nigeria proverb

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:21 NIV

All giving is from the heart.  Giving is first an inner choice before being an outward action.

We must ask ourselves several questions as we give.  It will help strengthen our hearts toward generosity and away from selfishness.

  1. What am I giving? Finances, time, gifts?
  2. Why am I giving? Conscience, habit, guilt, love?
  3. What does God think of my giving?

As Christians we realize that what we have is a blessing.  Being good stewards of the things we’ve been given should be a priority.

A friend of mine had stopped giving to her local church because the congregation seemed to be on a theological course she did not appreciate.  She had been giving money and time to the church but had stopped both.  She continued to attend church because she had been a member there for over fifteen years.  Even though she entertained thoughts of leaving the church, she didn’t.  She still loved the people there.

God pricked her conscience and asked her why she wasn’t giving anymore to the church.  One reason was to “punish” the church for doing what she believed to be wrong.

God asked her if “punishing” the church was an acceptable form of protest.  She struggled with the question because it seemed like a conventional way to get her point across.

However, was that really the case?  She finally concluded that her “punishing” the church was really her attempt to “control” the church. But this is God’s church and that action was unacceptable.

If things were wrong, she needed to make her case.  She needed to show she was invested in the church community.  Withholding her giving was not doing either of these actions.

As a result, she went back to teaching bible study and giving financially.  Within weeks, a ministry opportunity came up that was near and dear to her heart and the church took it on.  Now her tithe and offerings support not only the church but also this new ministry.

We must get our hearts right with God before we start trying to use our giving as a vehicle of protest against the Church.  In some cases, it may be appropriate.  In some cases, it may not.

However, we must all seek God’s guidance so that our generosity is never stunted for our own personal agenda.  Keeping in mind all those that we, as a Church in connection, can help by our generosity begs us to give and give generously.

Dear God reveal to us our innermost feelings and thoughts.  Show us how to give joyously and generously to your ministries here on earth.  Let us put away our foolish intentions and look for your guidance.  Amen.

Many Parts … One Body

Working As One Body

Nowadays it takes a lot of technology to run a church, much as it takes different people to form a congregation to do the ministry of God.  “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ” (I Corinthians 12:12 NIV). The technology available to churches are a few of the many parts – including its members – to support the vision and ministries of the church.  So incorporating helpful technology systems would benefit a church with efficiency and productivity, freeing up resources for its ministries.

Integrated Technology

Shelby Systems, a vetted corporate sponsor of GCFA, is a software company started in 1976 to support churches with integrated technology solutions. Today Shelby Systems continues its vision to serve faith-based customers with a full range of technology tools for ministry including people tracking, website design, content management, and state-of-the-art financial software.

United Methodist churches have benefited from using Shelby to manage several areas of their church:

“I have worked on different accounting systems in the past and Shelby is one of the most user friendly [systems] I have encountered. It is just very easy to work …”

Tina, First United Methodist Church, Montgomery, AL

“We have been with Shelby Systems for about 7 years now.  Although there is always something new and great to learn with Shelby, I find that when I called the support system they are the best.  When I’m finished with them I will know a lot more than I did before I called.”

Cheryl, St. Luke Community United Methodist Church, Dallas, TX

When your church uses resources that aid the ministry of the local church, it is living into the scripture message that there are many parts…and one body.

Monday Meditation – Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit

Blasphemy

It seems one can blaspheme the Holy Spirit and commit an eternal sin, one that will never be forgiven.

What is this unforgivable sin?

Juan Luis Segundo writes, “What is not pardonable is using theology to turn real human liberation into something odious.” (1979, Frontiers of Theology in Latin America, p 240ff.)

In other words, calling the work of the Holy Spirit evil.

The context of this sin is within the story of the Pharisees addressing Jesus as possessed by Beelzebub.  They were saying that in fact, Jesus was driving out demons by the power of Satan.

Yet Jesus is liberating people from not only their demonic oppression but also their spiritual and cultural oppression.  He freed the people from ritual restraints on them in order for them to lead a life outside of the rules and regulations of the Temple priests and pharisaical laws.  Laws which had become vile themselves despite having begun with the best of intentions when handed down to Moses from God.  Laws used to trap people in poverty and outsider status.

What Jesus was doing by calling out the evil done in the name of God was not blasphemy.  But calling what Jesus did as evil was blasphemy.  Jesus’ liberation of people, His freeing of people in the name of God was a true act of the Holy Spirit.  The priests’ and Pharisees’ need to control people through the law was blasphemy.  Not because of order but because it masqueraded as the word of God and restricted people into “pure” and “impure” states according to their ability to pay for the cleansing rituals and sacrifices.  This was not what God intended.

Instead of freeing people, the religious authorities straightjacketed them with the law in order to gain from them financially.

Dear Holy Spirit come and illuminate the world for us.  Help us to see Your movement in the world.  Help us to know Your liberating power in our world.  Expose for us the hypocrisy we live with day in and day out in our lives.  Help us to see what is evil and what is not, and to know the works of our Lord and the works of the Enemy.  Amen.

Power of the Connection – Working with Africa University

AU & GCFA

Last October, a team from GCFA’s Shared Services and IT departments traveled to Africa University (AU) for a week to perform an IT assessment and look for ways to strengthen the Church’s global ministries.  This was all in response to contacts and conversations during the 2016 General Conference.  The power of connection!  AU wanted us to work together on their technology and see how we might be able to collaborate to improve the work done at AU.

Working with AU is an opportunity to bring cost savings and efficiencies to others throughout the connection, regardless of their location.  We are continually looking for  solutions that will serve our church wherever we are or are planning to be. For example, this year, GCFA will employ a Shared Services Manager to focus on the Central Conferences.  The position will be based on the African continent. We are listening to the desires of our church and delegates from the central conferences and are implementing an out-of-the-box approach to seek global solutions.

Competing on a Global Stage

AU is looking to modernize its technology in ways that will help students succeed and show that AU can compete with other schools on the global stage. For GCFA, this is an opportunity to focus on the work within our connection in the central conferences.  We are focusing our efforts in the 2016 quadrennium on ensuring that our work and actions are serving the global church.

During the visit, we met with many wonderful people at the university.  We interacted with the faculty, the students, the Vice Chancellor, and all of his staff.  We spent the most time with Richard Fotsin, the Director of Information Communications Technology and his team.  We learned a lot about how things work in Africa and much about the culture and plans for the future.

AU-GCFA Staff

In addition to the Africa University staff, the GCFA staff included Michael Dunn, Network Engineer, and Stephen Pace, Data Center Engineer, Dale Owens, Application Development Manager, Derek Preston, Director of IT Infrastructure, and Shannon Lavrin, Senior Shared Services Manager.

The thing we love most about Africa, and Zimbabwe and AU specifically, are the people. John Calipari, University of Kentucky’s basketball coach, was recently stated that all of his success comes down to one thing – relationships.  For him, he said, nothing is more important.  We believe that the relationships we have and will continue to build through this partnership, speak to the power of the UMC’s connection.

Monday Meditation – Monkeys In the Wild

Monkeys

We have all had road to Emmaus moments.  Those times when what God was doing is right in front of us but we don’t recognize God’s presence in our living.

It’s easy to not see the Holy Spirit moving among us.  It is by its very nature difficult to detect.

Like monkeys in the wild.

How do you catch sight of a wild monkey?  By their movements in the trees.

First you see branches and leaves moving and then as you stare at a certain point, monkeys come into your view, generally as a flash of fur and faces.  Sometimes you are blessed to have one or two stand still for you.  But like the Spirit, they are always on the move.

Even knowing it is there does not make the Spirit’s movement easier to see. Whether flitting to and fro or vibrating as it hovers over the deep, the Holy Spirit is elusive but not unknowable.

It is generally after the fact that we see how God moved in a situation in order to save us, to bring us to enlightenment.  It may entail tough and hard circumstances but even in these moments, God is with us.

“Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  Matthew 28:20b (NIV)

Dear God, help us to see Your Holy Spirit moving in this world.  Let us know its movements so that we might follow with it to do Your good on the planet.  Thank You, Lord, for sending us this Spirit to comfort and join us in this unending work with freedom and joy.  Amen.

When We All Get TOGETHER …

Together We Can

First Quarter Giving

The title of this blog is a paraphrase of the familiar song we sing, but the idea is the same. I was reminded of that song title as I looked through our giving trends for the first quarter of 2017.

This is the first year for the Central Conferences to contribute to apportionments in a formal way.  Work of the leadership in the Central Conferences, the Economic Advisory Committee, the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters and others helped us get to this point. Their work developed a formula that is being used this quadrennium to fully engage Central Conferences in general Church apportioned giving.  Developing this formula honors the tradition of many conferences outside the US that informally participated prior to this year.

We have started the year with great participation. Through March, the collections are 13.1% of the full year’s apportionment.  This rate is comparable to that in the U.S. and is a great beginning to this new process.  Globally, Special Sunday collections are 6.8% higher than last year thanks to the generous giving of our members on World Communion Sunday.

Apportionment Giving

Apportionment collections through March are $1.1 million, or 6.4%, higher than the same period last year.  We recognize that for many members, local churches, and annual conferences connectional giving is a priority even if locally finances are tight.

It is apparent that many recognize the value of “getting together” to support global ministries to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world in all the ways that we do this in The United Methodist Church. The evidence proves that the people of The United Methodist Church are committed to giving to supporting global ministries.

Each of the seven funds shows increased collections compared to last year. The overall collection rate through March is 12.4% compared to 11.9% a year ago. The highest collection rate is Africa University at 15.1% with its collection up 10%!  With over 6,000 alumni, this funding will provide an education for many more people in Africa.  It also demonstrates the importance of this mission to all United Methodists.

Other funds that show increases above 10% are the Black College Fund and the General Administration Fund.

All of these trends demonstrate the generosity and commitment to God’s mission by those in The United Methodist Church. When we all come TOGETHER for the benefit of the global ministries of the denomination, great things happen for those whom we serve.  Thank you for your faithful witness of fruitful giving.

Rick King

Chief Financial Officer

The General Council on Finance and Administration of The United Methodist Church

Monday Meditation – The Ascension

Ascension

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. Acts 1:8-9 (NIV)

Ezekiel ascended leaving Elisha.

Mohammad ascended and then returned.

Jesus ascended leaving the disciples.

But Jesus went one more step.  After his ascension he sent the Holy Spirit.  He prepared a Comforter, the Holy Spirit, to be with us always, through the decades.  God would still be present in the lives of God’s followers even unto this present day and age.

God is still with us even as God’s son has returned to God.  The trinity allows for the spirit of God to remain with us then and now.  Indeed Christ’s leaving opens up a place for the Holy Spirit of God to be present in this world.

Yet Christ and God remain with us as well as part of the Trinity through the presence of the Holy Spirit.  It provides a doorway to the two other but same entities that co-exist within God’s self.

Consider ice, water and steam.  All exist within each other, yet are separate. The Holy Spirit, God and Jesus exist within each other but are at the same time separate from one another.

Let us partake of this presence in order to shore up our faith and guide our lives.

Dear Holy Spirit, come.  Come and enlighten us.  Come and free us.  Come to comfort us.  Come to guide us.  We ask this in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday Meditation – After Easter Fear or Joy?

After Easter

The ending of the gospel of Mark is filled with fear.  So much so that it can baffle us with its lack of a happy ending.  Hence why some have tried to add a happy ending to the gospel which was not there in its earliest renditions.

Mark ends abruptly with Jesus’ death and the two women coming to an empty tomb.  We, like the women, can be afraid to accept the testimony of the young man who gives instructions for what it is to follow Jesus now that the tomb is empty.

Our fear can rob us of the greatest joy – seeing Jesus again.  Not in heaven or Jerusalem, but back in Galilee, where it all began, at the beginning of His ministry.

It is there that we can begin our own ministry based on Jesus’ ministry with His presence in our midst.

That alone should fill us with joy not fear!

He is risen!

He is risen indeed!

Hallelujah!