- The Washington Times - Monday, October 21, 2002

Excerpts from an inaugural address given Saturday by the Rev. David McAllister-Wilson at Metropolitan Memorial United Methodist Church in the District.
Wesley is a church-based seminary. Our primary interest is the vitality of your ministries.
Most of my conversations with churches are about change. A declining church wants to turn things around. A strong church wants to restructure. Every church knows the world is changing, and we have to change with it. That is why we are interested in leadership. Going with the flow of starting something new is easy. Change is hard, especially when you've been doing something the same way for a long time. It's like changing someone else's mind. You know, changing your own mind is a pretty good description of the word "repent."
Leading change in the church is deeply theological. You'd expect that view from the president of a theological seminary. But that word only means the way we think about God's work in the world. Our theological thinking affects how we lead the church. And it comes down to two choices: Either we believe in a "limited-engagement God" or we believe in a "fully engaged God."
Many people believe in the Creator of the universe. That's not hard. And most hope to go to heaven when they die. Meanwhile, God exists somewhere in the fifth dimension. Many Christians operate on this theology. They behave as if the Christian faith is a story told long ago and that God is watching from a distance. And the church exists in the meantime. If that's your theology, the only thing theological about the church's business is the prayer before the meeting.
On the other hand, churches that grow, change and seem filled with the spirit believe in a wholly engaged God. We have a word for that. The word is "incarnate." It means in the body, in the flesh, as in "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us full of goodness and light." We believe that in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we have become the body of Christ and that the Holy Spirit moves with power among us.
We often say seeing is believing. But the deeper truth is that believing is a way of seeing. Ask anyone who has accomplished something great, and they will tell you the vision comes first. The vision creates a sense of mission. Billy Shore, the founder of the Share Our Strength Foundation, calls these visions "the cathedrals within."
It takes thousands of people and several generations to build a cathedral. Where did they get that sense of mission? We want our lives to count and to be part of something bigger. There are things worse than death depression, hopelessness, meaninglessness. And there are things more important than life. That is why starving mothers will feed their babies first. That's why firemen run up the stairs of burning buildings. Leaders of everything, from corporations to Girl Scout troops, know that vision and a sense of mission are the key to success.
Well, the Christian faith is a vision about God's promise. God revealed that promise to the prophet Jeremiah when Israel had lost everything, Jerusalem was destroyed, and Jeremiah was in prison: "Call me, Jeremiah, and I will show you things you have not seen." God revealed deliverance and return to the holy city of Zion. It was a grand vision about the ultimate triumph of God. One day, there would be peace. There would be no hunger or pain. The power of death itself will be defeated.
That promise is the kingdom of God. When we pray "Thy kingdom come," that's what we are hoping for. It's the only thing Jesus talked about. The kingdom of God is the Christian "vision thing." Churches that think big do well. They glimpse the kingdom and move toward that vision with a sense of mission. Many churches think small, but belief is a gift that God can't wait to give us.
Next week: a sermon by the Rev. Brett Fuller at Grace Covenant Church in Herndon

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