District Conference

On Saturday, June 22, I attended the annual Conference of the Western New York District of The Wesleyan Church along with our staff and fifteen lay people. This day in which pastors and laity from all 34 churches that comprise our district is set aside for business, discussion, elections, inspiration and fellowship.

I enjoy seeing people from other churches and the opportunity to visit with delegates from our congregation. I am often challenged by much of what goes on. There are moments, however, when I feel a sense of anxiety about all that has been left undone back at home. Sometimes I lament the loss of a Saturday that I typically spend making final preparations for Sunday. The hour and a half drive to Williamsville and back again can be tiring. I’m not always as interested in the discussions as I might be. Quite frankly, it’s a day of mixed emotions.

Listening to the stories of God’s people—in western New York and across the globe—I was reminded of why this conference is not just important but essential to our church and to my own life as a follower of Jesus Christ. District Conference reminds me that we are part of something much bigger than I often acknowledge. The church is not me or Houghton Wesleyan Church or even western New York; it’s so much more.

It’s in gatherings like District Conference that I celebrate being part of a denomination. I realize that denominations might seem passé to many people and churches. In this nation, we are proud of our independence and we see this in the way we organize our churches. The rise in non-denominational churches is a clear indication of our passion for independence and our spirit that declares: No one is going to tell us what to do! Being in a denomination is a sacrifice. We give 10% of our yearly income to the denomination. We live under the guidelines of the denomination as described in our Discipline. We volunteer to help in a variety of ways that have little to do with our particular local church. We sometimes lament the decisions that are made at the levels of church government that are over us. I understand why independent is so appealing. I also understand why independent can be so dangerous.

Through the years I have been convicted about my unwillingness to sacrifice for others, even though sacrifice is a central dynamic of being a follower of Jesus. How can I challenge others to sacrifice when our church bristles and rejects the call to corporate sacrifice? How can I call our church to submit to the authority of Christ if we are unwilling to submit to the authority of the larger, wider, greater church? And how do we speak with a straight face about accountability when we are antagonistic about corporate accountability? The more I read church history the more I realize how incompatible an independent congregation is to the practice of the church through the centuries…even when the church leadership was less than godly.

When our District Superintendent shared his vision for our district he talked about Jesus’ prayer in John 17: Father, make them one as we are one. Isn’t it fascinating that connection and dependence are vital to the nature of the Trinity?! This unity for which Jesus prays doesn’t mean that we all agree, but we do see the need to surrender ourselves to each other. We sacrifice for each other. We learn from each other. We recognize that it is impossible for us to be who God called us and set us apart to be without each other.

Quite frankly, it’s much easier being by ourselves, doing our own thing. No one is pushing us. No one is expecting sacrifice from us. No one is asking us to give up what we want for what is best for the whole. And yet, these are the characteristics of Christ and of his people.

I’m thankful for gatherings like District Conference. These events remind me that the church is so much more than I typically imagine.