A Reflection on Annual Conference 2018 from Lay Leader Ralph Thompson

 Ralph Thompson is a member of Grape Creek UMC: San Angelo and Conference Lay Leader

Ralph Thompson is a member of Grape Creek UMC: San Angelo and Conference Lay Leader

Several people at Annual Conference 2018 reminded me of statements that they had heard me say, either in a speech or in a sermon, as far back as fifteen years ago! Those encounters reminded me of the power of “moments” and “events” in the shaping of our personal faith and the ways that it is manifested. It is those special moments that have the greatest impact on how we learn and grow as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Among the most significant “moments” experienced along my Christian journey are two that I first heard two decades ago from Rev. Austin Frederick and Carol Loeb, former district superintendent and conference lay leader respectively. As I look toward all that the United Methodist Church will be challenged to consider in 2019 and beyond, I find what these two leaders shared to be quite pertinent and worthy of reintroduction.

In an exhortation before the Annual Conference, Rev. Frederick challenged us to “Keep the main thing the main thing!” As a local church and District Lay Leader, I took advantage of every opportunity to remind congregations to “keep the main thing the main thing,” as we/they dealt with issues that could potentially divide the local church.

The “main thing” for the Rio Texas Conference and the entire Body of Christ is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. I would ask, “Are you (we) having this dispute SO THAT, through its outcome, God may be glorified through Jesus Christ?”

“So that”, a conjunctive phrase found throughout the scriptures, especially the New Testament (2 Thessalonians 1:12, 1 Peter 4:11 and John 11:4 to name a few) is often overlooked in the actions of the Church. Regardless of the dispute, the desired outcome should logically lead to building up the Kingdom of God by making disciples of Jesus Christ. To me, at least, all else is secondary, even minutia.

In what may have been her final Conference Lay Leader address to the Annual Conference, Carol Loeb repeatedly referred to the phrase, “It’s not about us [me]!”

I believe that Carol was urging us to look beyond ourselves as servant leaders of the Church. It takes prayer and a LOT of discipline to NOT make decisions that primarily please ME!

“What would Jesus do?” is another way of focusing outward in our decision-making. When I take time to reflect, pray, and read the scriptures, I am surprised at how many times my gut instincts are not aligned with God’s Word! And, what further astounds me is how often God’s Word is RIGHT…like…ALWAYS!

From the issues at our borders to the #MeToo Movement to the concerns to be petitioned before the General Conference; we who call ourselves United Methodists and Christians will make decisions that will affect our local congregations and mission fields, the United Methodist Connection, and millions of people around the world!

Regardless of the outcome of our conferencing and deliberations, “we will always have the poor with us” (Matthew 26:11 and Mark 14:7). The question is whether or not the United Methodist Church will be spiritually healthy enough to adequately respond to the issues of this world, so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.

So, for all things Methodist, I urge each of us to keep the main thing the main thing and remember that it’s not about us!

Ralph Thompson
Rio Texas Conference Lay Leader