July Laity Blog: 2014 Laity Address to Annual Conference


Each year in July, I submit my Laity Address to Annual Conference in this monthly blog, as many who do not come to Conference may wish to read it.

This year I tried to parallel the Conference theme for the past two years of Cultivating and planting for the future in our North Alabama Conference. 

2014 Laity Address to Annual Conference

Greetings Ladies and Gentlemen-- Laity and Clergy of North Alabama. 

Thank you Bishop Wallace-Padgett for your leadership this past year. What a pleasure for me--- having the privilege of working with you this year---representing the Laity of the North Alabama Conference)

A very special welcome to Bishop Lindsey Davis from the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The Kentucky Conference and also Bishop Davis’s wife Jennifer who is also here. Thanks for coming this year. 

Thanks to the Cabinet, and being able to work with you this past year and thanks to you from the Conference for all you do for the churches of North Alabama. 

Thanks to the District Lay Leaders, Associates and District Lay Servant Directors for being diligent in your work for Christ this year.
At this time I would like for the District Lay Leaders and Associates stand as I call your name and remain standing until all names are called. 
  • Keith Russell – Northwest District Lay Leader(2 Years of service)
  • Betty Zoller – Northeast District Lay Leader(3)
  • Denise Cone – Central District Lay Leader (8)
  • Gail Hiett – Mt. Lakes District Lay Leader(1)
  • Judi Arnold – Mt. Lakes Associate District Lay Leader(1)
  • Joey Amberson- – Mt. Lakes Associate District Lay Leader(1)
  • Teresa Harris – Cheaha District Lay Leader(1)
  • Eric Burrage – Cheaha Associate District Lay Leader(1)
  • Maurice Stuckey—Co-Lay Leader Southwest District Leader(1)
  • Ray Alexander—Co-Lay Leader Southwest District Lay Leader(2)
  • Charlie Carlton – South Central District Lay Leader(3)
  • Bob Neighbors – Southeast District Lay Leader(3)
  • June Wilson – Conference Director of Lay Servant Ministries.(3)
Thanks to each of you for the service you render for the Conference.

Two years ago I talked about Dr. Lovett Weems “Death Tsunami”, the demise of the church. In his predictions, by 2018 which is only four years away, the church would be losing so many of the Baby Boomers there could be no turning back the loss in members of our Denomination, and this demise would continue until we can grow another Generation of Christians, which according to Dr Weems would be about 2050, if we can survive that long as a Christian denomination.

Last year I talked about the Ministries of our Conference, and I thanked the many people who do the Ministry work of our Conference, we sometimes take for granted---- singling out many of them by name. You know, Jesus calls us by name to help him.
Two names I want to add to the list from last year who are rising stars in this work, Rev. Lee Padgett and his work as Interim Executive Director of Camp Sumatanga since last fall and Rev. Mark Parris for his work in fund raising to sustain the Budget of Camp Sumatanga for the past year and going forward. Thanks gentlemen.

And now I challenge the Conference Churches and individuals to please support your Camp financially and use your Camp often. Please add Camp Sumatanga to the Mission Budget of your Local Church. 

I also want to thank Rev. Adlene Kufarmai for leading the Imagine No Malaria project this year. A very special thanks to you, Adelene from all of us in the Conference. 

This year I want to talk about your garden. 

If you have one,

If you wish you had one, 

If it sounds like a good idea to have one,

Or if you just feel guilty because your parents and grandparents always had a garden, so now it’s your turn.

Or if it’s decided you must have a garden, how would you go about making a garden fruitful?

Or maybe you are just fine letting someone else be in the garden business and you will just buy your vegetables at Winn Dixie, Publix or from the local vendor along the road. 

Well, all in the sound of my voice have gardens, and a huge stake in their success, and some of you don’t even realize that you have a garden...

Now, I’m talking about your Christian Garden -- at your Local Church!! 

The garden in which you raise Christians of all ages into mature Christian soldiers and hopefully deploy them into the world for God. This world I’m speaking of is just outside of the walls of our local churches. 

Christian soldiers don’t have to be sent to faraway lands to find hurting people that need what the church offers, just look nearby in your community.
Like we raise our physical gardens, we have to go somewhere for supplies necessary to raise new Christians. For our earthly gardens we go to Walmart-Home Depot-Tractor and Supply or the local Farm and Feed store where we buy the seed, fertilizer, chemicals and any other basic supplies needed.

Where do we go to get what we need for our Christian garden?  For the most part, we don’t have to buy anything, it is free from God.

First, we go to our local church by attending and absorbing the word of God that we hear?

For some, Sunday school is where our knowledge comes from, especially if Sunday school was part of our formative years. Another, is reading and studying the Bible. Or reading and studying about our Wesleyan heritage from real Books, the Discipline, videos or on our Kindle. Or by word of mouth from our Clergy, family or other Christian teachers.

For all, in the sound of my voice, come to Conference to be freely given supplies, necessary. What are some of the supplies you can take from Conference to help with your Christian Garden? Worship, camaraderie, exchanging of ideas, gaining knowledge, and celebration time with other Christians, and the list goes on and on. 

This year there is a new kid on the block in our Conference which is providing a new idea and as a byproduct providing the tools necessary for changing our Conference, Districts and Local Churches. It’s called the Team Process.

Eventually and hopefully, everyone will be involved in this process that could change our Conference and the destiny of our denomination, locally, Jurisdictionally and globally as well. Bishop Wallace-Padgett is the Master Gardener in this Team Process, so get on board when the opportunity presents itself to you and your local church, to live in covenant with God and learn a new way of doing Church business.

Just one example of this team process…

Remember how Jesus changed the world, one Disciple and one person at a time, and how Jesus and his small group of 12 changed and is still changing the world after some 2000 years. Well, this is how the Team process works. Deploying One, two or a few people at a time to do work for God. I’m sure others, will discuss this team process as Conference progresses this year and my hope is that you will join in, and for once, our conference will be on the same page for our programs of ministry and the way we do the business of our God.

You know when you make the decision to raise a physical garden. There is one thing besides the grace of God that is Free! I’m speaking of Free Advice. One definition of free advise is---Free advice is the advice you get, especially at times when you really probably don’t want it. and especially from self-professed authorities on most any subject. 

Just let the word out, you are going to raise a garden,and see how much free advice you get from your acquaintances, neighbors and even your family. 
A lot of free advice, but probably little help.

Have you ever noticed the grass is much greener on the other side of the street, and this is especially true in gardening? 

Everyone else’s garden produces tomatoes that are more red, greener green beans, squash that is more yellow for sure, carrots that are more orange.

Just the old potato that is hidden from view is the ugliest and dirtiest vegetable, yet produces more substance than all the others, in sustaining life.
Aren’t humans like this, in that the most unlikely person will produce the most perfect relationship with Jesus? How about the most underprivileged child, that has a chance to grow for a while in a Christian Garden, called the local church, develops into the Valedictorian of the High School class. 

So it is, in the Local Church which is yours and Christ’s garden for Christians. Many times I have heard our Bishop say that the Garden she is raising, in this team process is not here for the short run of one year, but for many seasons, all of the seasons she will be our Bishop of North Alabama. That’s why, the Conference themes have been related the past two years and will continue for a while.So the sooner you get your garden tools, get involved in the team process, the sooner you will help develop new fruit, (meaning new leaders and new Christians). The cycle that produces this Christian fruit through team process is repeated over and over and over until, all in our Conference are involved. Once this happens the results---- if the results could be put on a graft, would resemble a grapevine, not just individual pods or individual churches acting alone. 

We must discover people, develop people and then deploy these people for Christ into our Conference.

Another part of the cycle will be the journey of people in this process of Loving...Then Learning...and then Leading, becoming the future leaders we need, to turn the Tide of the Tsunami of membership loss. 

I know you have heard the old story about the farmer who took some land and after working the land for many years, an observer told him how much better the land was after God had done his magic on the land, to which the old farmer said, you should have seen the land when God had it by himself. That answer makes for a grin or a smile, yet it is only one perspective to the old story and a little selfish on the farmer’s part. What if the old farmer had just said yes, God did miracles with the land and I don’t believe the results myself? Now that’s a different more humble perspective, but is it accurate?

What about a third answer?

What if the old farmer had said, yes, it is a miracle because God gave me the ability, persistence, natural resources, tools, supplies and with my hands in his hands, we made the land the most productive it can be. This seems like the best of three answers:

Kind of like: From 1st Corinthians, I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. Isn’t this what God asks of us, in nurturing and caring for people in our Gardens we call the Local Church. 

I believe God is telling us, if we just put our hands in his, together we will change people and transform the world, but more importantly with our hands in his, we are safe.
What a great by-product of a successful garden, to be in the safe haven of God’s hands however our gardens turn out.

God Bless each of you as you journey with Christ in raising your Garden.

Thank You
Steve Lyles
Conference Lay Leader

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