What’s Your Plan?

by New Church Starts

by Doug Ruffle, Congregational Development Team Coordinator, Greater New Jersey Annual Conference (and Path 1 Team Northeastern Jurisdiction Representative)

The Gospel of John (Chapter 5) recounts the story of an encounter between Jesus and an infirm man beside the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem.

Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew, Bethesda, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, ‘Do you want to be made well?’ The sick man answered him, ‘Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Stand up, take your mat and walk.’ At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. (John 5:2-9).

The infirm man had been there, posted by the pool, for thirty-eight years. The first thing that Jesus said to the man upon seeing him was, “Do you want to get well?” It was a good question. If the man had been lying there for thirty-eight years seeking a cure for his infirmity, one would wonder if he really wanted to be well. In thirty-eight years he could not come up with a plan of wellness? The man was ready with an excuse: “Sir, when the water is stirred, I don’t have anybody to put me in the pool. By the time I get there, somebody else is already in.”

I reflect on this passage of scripture in light of churches that have been going along for years without any plan of action for making disciples of Jesus Christ. Like the infirm man, why can’t they come up with a plan? Too often, the church is filled with excuses for why they don’t have a plan. “We’re too old,” “We live in an area where there are a lot of non-Christians,” “It’s the Pastor’s job,” or "We don't want to change." They go about the motions conducting church the same way as before afraid to innovate or plan for the future.

Jesus told the man to get up and carry his bedroll and to start walking. And he did. Jesus’ first question still resonates with the church today.  “Do you want to be well?” You would think that in thirty-eight years the infirm man could have elicited the help of others. He could have come up with a plan to make sure he could enter the pool when its waters were stirred. Likewise you'd think reports of declining membership coupled with the world's continued need for the Gospel would cause the church to innovate its practices in order to reach more people. Do we want to make disciples for the transformation of the world?

The challenge is there for many of our United Methodist churches. What is your plan for making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world? What are the goals and strategies to help you realize your plan? How long are we going to wait for Jesus to come in and tell us to get up and walk?