If you were asked to strike the theme of the next General Conference, what would you choose? We’ve had some great General Conferences in the past with some wonderful themes – « Called to declare Jesus—anywhere, any time, in all kinds of ways » ; « Our Passion: Jesus and Those He Loves » ; « Empowered by Christ: Growing His Kingdom » , etc. – but now it’s time to get focused on General Conference 2008. Here is what we have come up with for its theme: « You’ve been treated generously so live generously….That’s so like Jesus. »
« So it’s about money, eh? And what fundraiser came up with that ‘ditty’?, » you may ask.
Actually, it’s not about money. It’s about Jesus and what he said in his closing comments to the twelve disciples when he sent them out on their first foray. The story is in Matthew 10 and the key verse that the General Conference theme focuses on is Matthew 10:8b. You may know it as « Freely you have received, freely give. » [NIV]
When you read the phrase in context in Eugene Peterson’s The Message, it reads, « Jesus sent his twelve harvest hands out with this charge: ‘Don’t begin by traveling to some far-off place to convert unbelievers. And don’t try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy. Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here. Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchables. Kick out the demons. You have been treated generously, so live generously.’ »
So you can see that our focus will have little to do with money and a lot to do with a passionate generosity of spirit that is preoccupied with what preoccupied Jesus. When we struck the theme, we chose the phrase, « You’ve been treated generously, so live generously » and then we added the comment, « That’s so like Jesus! » to ensure that our understanding of generosity centred on the One who best exemplifies « generosity of spirit. »
This all got started last Fall when the Board of Administration [BOA] took time to wrestle with this question: Why do we have General Conferences? They came up with the following six goals for the 2008 General Conference:
• To worship and pray together as leaders
• To inspire involvement and build momentum in our movement
• To teach leaders and influencers
• To build relationships
• To celebrate our diversity and what God has accomplished
• To attend to matters of the Corporation
I like those reasons for a meeting! The General Conference Planning Committee and the National Leadership Team have been trusting God to help us in our planning so that when General Conference 2008 is over, pastors and local church leaders from all across Canada will go back to their congregations and communities committed to live generously – like Jesus did when he walked among us. [Generosity of spirit is actually a theme that we find all through the scriptures. Every time they speak of grace, they describe what we are talking about – generosity of spirit.]
To work with these reasons for meeting seriously meant that the General Conference Planning Committee needed to propose some adjustments to how the General Conference will function when it meets. We realized that if we were going to have time for « teaching sessions, » we couldn’t have as many Study Teams. This brought about a crisis of setting priorities. If time is limited, what are the essential topics that a General Conference needs to discuss if The Free Methodist Church in Canada is going to be a healthy movement of God? Here are the Study Teams that the Board of Administration has approved:
• Healthy Churches – Here and Beyond
• Developing Godly, Competent Leaders for
Today and Tomorrow
[Ministerial Education, Guidance and Placement Committee]
• Generosity – A Way of Life
• Careful Thinking about God’s Truth
[Study Commission on Doctrine]
With this change in the number of Study Teams, there will be more room in the schedule for extended teaching times. Rev. Bruxy Cavey, the Teaching Pastor of The Meeting House, a multiple-site Brethren in Christ church in the greater Toronto area, has agreed to come as our guest speaker. If you have not heard of him, he is a Canadian communicator that the Lord is using on university campuses, in high schools, at church leadership conferences, and churches throughout North America. He has also been a guest on various television and radio programs where he ably speaks to topics that are challenging and controversial—always with the conviction that the message of Jesus is uniquely relevant, relational and transforming. He is the author of a book entitled The End of Religion.
We also hope to have a time for general questions and answers in the Conference agenda. Of course, one of the ways this can be set in motion is through Resolutions sent in by local churches or individual members prior to the Conference.
For more information, please go to the General Conference website: www.fmc-canada.org/gen_conf/conference_index.html. There you will find more information about the General Conference as it becomes available. The dates are May 16-19, 2008 and the location is the Toronto Airport Marriott Hotel.
I invite you to join us in praying that God’s generous presence will be upon everything that has to do with this important event.
Rev. Keith Elford is Bishop of The Free Methodist Church in Canada.