By Jessica Connor
FLORENCE – Sometimes you have to die to live.
In his Friday evening worship at Annual Conference, the Rev. Michael Turner preached about trusting in the Lord with blind faith that He will provide the way, about how so many churches are “dead,” with fading membership numbers and a budget focused more on upkeep of buildings than on making disciples.
“Churches, if your trustees do more work than your outreach ministry team, your church is in trouble,” said Turner, senior pastor of Wightman United Methodist Church in Prosperity.
But when we trust in Jesus with blind faith – when we let go of the shackles of the world and step out on pure hope – we will begin to regain the true meaning of what it means to be a church that transforms the world and makes disciples for Jesus Christ.
We will grow and blossom, because we are truly doing His will.
Bringing a message centered on John 21:1-6, Turner reminded the crowd how one of the last things Jesus did before he ascended to the Father was to go out on the beach where his disciples were fishing. They had been fishing all night long, not catching anything, and Jesus told them to cast your nets on other side and they will catch something.
In other words, Turner said: do something different, something that doesn’t necessarily make sense. Do something on blind faith.
The disciples listened, and the Bible tells us they brought in so many fish that they couldn’t even haul in their overflowing nets.
We can learn much from this passage, Turner told the packed arena.
“We’ve been casting our nets a long time, but problem is it’s been so long since we caught anything we forgot that’s the reason we’re in the boat,” he said. “And when we lose sight of that, all sorts of bad stuff can happen.”
A lot of times we lose focus, the mission of making disciples gets blurry, and we move from mission to maintenance, Turner said.
“We say, ‘We don’t have time to fish; we’ve got to work on the boat,’ or ‘That’s not in the budget,’” Turner said.
And sometimes, many of us move from casting nets to casting blame. Congregations will complain about the pastor appointed to their church, Turner said, whining that if only the bishop would send them a “good preacher” they would catch some fish again. Pastors complain in much the same manner: If only the bishop would send me to a “good church.”
But it’s not about the church or the pastor, or any other excuse, Turner said. It’s about the mission, and how if we let go of the trappings of “how we always did it” and step out on faith, then we can be the kind of fruitful church we’re called to be.
Turner related the story of a church, Fort McKinley UMC, in Dayton, Ohio. After their heyday in the 1950s, their membership had dwindled to barely 40, with no young people. They looked around and knew their future was not bright.
Trusting in the power of the resurrection, Turner said, Fort McKinley made a strategic decision to die. They partnered with a thriving nearby church, Ginghamsburg, with 4,500 people in worship each week. They let go of their old ways and embraced the new.
Today, a little more than a year later, most everything about their church is now different: different colored walls, different style of music, different worship times. Attendance is about 400 on a regular basis, they are 45 percent African-American and Hispanic, and they have to have three different worship services “just to haul in the nets,” Turner said.
We need to learn from the blind faith of the disciples and Fort McKinley UMC and realized that sometimes you have to die to live.
“Our job is not to hunker down in maintenance mode,” Turner told the room. “Doing that almost killed a lot of our churches; it plunges us into survival mode where churches hang on by their fingernails fighting just to stay alive.”
When we choose to fish off the other side of the boat and lose our life for Christ’s sake, we are resurrected and become far more fruitful than we could ever have imagined.
“That’s what happened when God raises the dead,” Turner said. “And our God just loves to raise the dead.”