Friday, January 10, 2014

Renewed Convictions

What Six Months of Terminal Illness Has Done for My Personal Conviction
Dr. Marty Cauley

Six months ago today I was diagnosed with an incurable form of cancer. Initially my prognosis was fairly grim, but has been revised of late to allow me several more years of life to live out my divine calling. When you come face to face with your mortality, it forces you to take a very hard look at your convictions. What you really believed surfaces when you face insurmountable difficulty. I have written extensively about the personal life lessons that I’m continuing to learn. In addition to the personal lessons, I have some renewed convictions about my ministry and vocational life that have taken deeper roots in my life. Three primary convictions are emerging as frequent topics of conversations and these convictions have become stronger as I have been forced to face the limitations of my illness. I am convinced that it is the Church’s calling to address social problems. I am convinced that the community I serve is the parish where God wants to use me. I am convinced that my commitment to The United Methodist Church is where God has called me to live out my ministry.

The Church of Jesus Christ is unequivocally called to serve those most neglected by our society. For decades we have allowed the government to take the lead on providing ministry and
assistance to the poorest in our communities. The church has forsaken its calling to feed the hungry, provide resources to assist families to survive during difficult times, and to renew hearts and minds. We have devoted millions of dollars to programming while allowing children in our communities to be homeless. We have sought to attract middle class families with flashy campaigns, and ignored those who need the hope of Christ in order to survive. We have allowed children to go uneducated rather than find ways to provide them with education. I am aware that I have been a full participant in this ministry of neglect, but as I have faced my own mortality, I want to spend my remaining years in ministry addressing the social issues that I have ignored for so many years.

I was a child raised in a “low income” home. It was people from my neighborhood who took me to worship, invested in me, and who believed in me enough to make that investment that changed the trajectory of my life. I know the social problems in our communities are huge. I believe it is time for us, as Christians, to accept the challenge to do for one what we wish we could do for everyone. Pray that God will send into your life those who you are called to invest your life in. Social problems are not solved on a macro scale. Big problems are best addressed with small answers over a long time. God has consistently called His people to serve the “widows and orphans.” I am convinced that I must lead the congregation I serve into a life of serving others rather than simply serving those who fill our pews. John Wesley was right when he instructed those early Methodists and reminded them that the hungry could not hear the gospel over the roar of their growling stomachs. We must offer the Bread of life, and put bread on the table if we are to be taken seriously.

Secondly, I am convinced that the community I serve is the parish where God wants to use me. I am a United Methodist pastor, which means I serve wherever my bishop sends me. There is the sometimes-overwhelming temptation to see one appointment as simply a stepping-stone to another. With that temptation comes the reluctance to ever really invest in the community and people you serve for fear of the pain of separation when you leave. My friend, and now bishop of the Alabama-West Florida Conference, Dr. Paul Leeland once told me “to serve every appointment like it would be the only appointment you would ever serve.” In the last six months I’ve become even more convinced that in order to really make a difference in a community you must be willing to stay in the community.

Our world is transitory. People move in and out of our churches and our lives almost daily. Historically, United Methodist pastors moved frequently and that was acceptable because the people in the congregation were stable, they didn’t move. With the increasingly mobile nature of our churches it is becoming essential that our pastors become the stabilizing force for the congregation. Research consistently shows that longer pastorates are healthier for the church and the congregation. While the community I serve has its challenges, I believe now, more than ever, that I am called to serve to the best of my ability where I am. I am called to see the entire community as my “parish” and to be a pastor to the city, not just a chaplain to my congregation. To pastor the city means I have to stay put for a long time and make lasting relationships within this community. Sure, I’ve been tempted to move to pursue “greener pastures” but God did not call me to seek vocational advancement. I was called to serve, and here I will serve until I am called elsewhere. This is my community, my city, my parish.

That brings me to one last conviction; I am convinced that my commitment to The United Methodist Church is right where God wants me. The historical commitments to encouraging both personal holiness and social holiness resonate with my heart song. The theological emphasis on grace is a message that has been lost in the narrowly focused, judgmental Christianity that seems to get all of the attention of the media. The balance of passionate spirituality and determined discipleship allows for a healthy Christian life.

I am well aware of the controversies of my denomination. My heart sinks every time those with personal agendas seek the limelight that takes the emphasis away from the Gospel. You do not need to remind me of the difficulties of serving an aging, mainline church that sometimes seems willing to debate itself into oblivion. Despite these struggles, I believe that The United Methodist Church is where I’m called to serve. I may not know the answers to our problems, but I know God does. I do not have to agree with everything my denomination does, I only have to be willing to live in obedience to my ordination vows and to be willing to respectfully challenge the areas where I believe it is wrong. I appreciate serving a denomination that has more discussions, even around sensitive issues, rather than one that makes judgmental declarations.

I have renewed convictions. These convictions will assist me in determining where to invest my life and ministry. The world is my parish, but this city is my calling. I invite you to pray for me as I seek to continue to be God’s servant right here in Rocky Mount, and pray for God to send others who have similar convictions. Let us be the hands and feet of Christ right where we live.

Gracious God who called me to serve and not to be served, help me to see those who need you most. Break my heart with the things that break your heart. Allow me to serve my community and to be content to be right where I am and to serve those right outside my doors and not waste time looking to the next place. Loving God, bless The United Methodist Church, and allow it to be a gathering of people who truly have open hearts, open minds, and open doors. Send to us those co-laborers with Christ who would change the world, one person at a time. In the name of the One who changed me, Jesus, I pray. Amen.

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