How to Prepare for Your Annual Conference

In the weeks leading up to the 2016 General Conference, Abingdon Press reissued Francis Asbury’s book The Causes, Evils & Cures of Heart & Church Divisions . It includes headings such as:

  • Pride, the Chief Dividing Distemper
  • Self-Love is Another Dividing Distemper

It was the best SWAG the delegates got.

As we head into our annual conference sessions, Asbury’s prophetic words should guide us.

With the crisis in the denomination, it is very tempting to play the blame game. There is a certain comfort one finds from analyzing the motivations of others and a catharsis in finger pointing.

Blame is a powerful drug because so much of it is true. In the pursuit of their cause, Traditionalists have hurt LGBTQ persons. The actions of General Conference have done grave harm. However, this drug is also a poison of our own making. It is also true that centrists and progressives have sinned in the pursuit of their cause too.

Part of my spiritual preparation for annual conference is changing the question in my head:

The wrong question: What did they do to create this crisis?

The right question: What did I do or fail to do that created this mess?

Confession of one’s sins is tricky, especially if you have been the target of someone else’s sin. I have been sinned against over the years and that makes me defensive. Confession makes us vulnerable at a time when the wounds are still bleeding.

Yet, God is the primary audience for our confessions, not my offenders or myself. Only God can sort out where their sins end and my sins begin. All that messy stuff I need to leave at the foot of the cross.

Keep in mind, confessing your sins may not change your political stance but it does change your relationship with God and how you relate to others. Confession of sin helps clarify your vision and refine your attitude and actions needed for the vision.

Confession of sin is a necessary part of God’s healing process to prepare us for the future. A better future begins with confession, not guilt or blame. Guilt is a lousy motivator; it fuels the blame while at the same time burning you out. Blame keeps our focus on the past; confession enables us to turn to the future. The prayer of confession ends with words of assurance in which true love and liberation can grow.

As you go to annual conference I recommend looking at Asbury’s checklist:

  • Distempers that Divide: Pride, Self-Love, Envy, Passion, Rigidness, Rashness, Wilfullness, Inconstancy, Jealousy, Contention
  • Practices that Divide: Whispering, Needless Disputes, Meddling, Slander, Respect of Persons, Partial Disagreements, Using the Wicked Against the Good, Revenge

If the church’s foundation and renewal is the grace of Jesus Christ, then we can risk confessing our sins to Christ and the church will be better for it.

[For more perspective order my book The Secret Transcript of the Council of Bishops]

Published by

Notes for a New Methodism

Rev. Darren Cushman Wood is the senior minister of North United Methodist Church in Indianapolis, Indiana and is an elder and full member of the Indiana Annual Conference. He is a graduate of the University of Evansville and Union Theological Seminary (New York). Darren was a delegate to the 2004 & 2008 General Conferences and a delegate to the 2000 & 2016 Jurisdictional Conferences. He is the author of "The Secret Transcript of the Council of Bishops" and "Blue Collar Jesus: How Christianity Supports Workers' Rights."

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