A New Advance for a New Century
by Larry M. Goodpaster
Anniversaries mark unique moments in time. They are a human way of remembering a significant event that—for good or ill—changed us as individuals or as corporate entities. Some events are cause for celebration: weddings, consecrations, baptisms. Other events simply bring to memory a moment that forever changed the world, or our view of the world: Wounded Knee, Pearl Harbor, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, 9/11. Whatever the reason, we have developed distinctive ways of remembering. As years go by, some anniversaries even get special, precious names: silver or golden or diamond. Others become an occasion in our consumer-mad world to promote special sales and discount prices, as if the only way to observe an anniversary is to buy something that we really don't need. A few anniversaries become somber moments for reflection, repentance, and renewal.
The Birth of The Advance
The Spirit of God stirred in the hearts of Methodist people, and they responded with what President Abraham Lincoln once described as "the better angels of our nature."
Led by its bishops, the Methodist Church launched an initiative that was designed to offer more than the rebuilding of cities and infrastructures. The Advance for Christ and His Church was intended to connect the people called Methodist with those who were suffering and deprived, those who were hurting and discouraged. It was designed to extend God's love in visible and concrete ways and build up what had been torn down and destroyed. This ministry of assistance and restoration meant not only food and clothing; it meant hope and the possibility of a different future as resources were given and then shared around the globe.
For many of us who grew up in church circles and who have cut our ecclesiological teeth on United Methodist lingo, the single word "Advance" brings to mind special monetary offerings for mission projects that help others in far corners of the world. For those who have become professing members of The United Methodist Church only within the last decade, or who drift in and out of our facilities, the word "Advance" means almost nothing at all. As we approach this 60th anniversary of the Advance, it is certainly a time for all of us to celebrate what has been made possible through six decades of gifts and outreach. This time is also ripe to reinvent the Advance for a new generation of believers.
The Mission of the Advance
The tenth chapter of the Gospel according to Luke is mission-oriented, recording several stories of outreach and assistance. It contains the almost too familiar story of the Good Samaritan, reminding and urging us to be in ministry with those who are left by the side of the road, ignored in the name of busy-ness and our never-ending list of errands and personal agendas.
The chapter also contains the account of Jesus appointing and sending 70 believers on a mission—not only the inner circle team of 12. They and we are sent into the world as lambs in the midst of wolves, as representatives and ambassadors of a mission that is always about God (never about us), God's grace, and God's redemption and transformation not only of the hearts of people but of the structures of society. This image of a "sending" by Jesus is a sign that ours is a movement that is about getting up, getting ready, and getting on the road.
Luke records some simple instructions for those who are thus sent. "Remain… eating and drinking whatever they provide….Eat what is set before you." (Luke 10:7-8) This is more than table manners or politeness. Jesus instructs us each to become so much a part of the community to which we are sent that we are really there, taking up residence and fully engaging with the people, even to the point of eating with them. Those who are sent are not the ones who establish the menus, for it is the host, not the guest, who provides the setting and puts food on the table. Jesus bids us come, eat, and serve, according to his agenda—not ours.
The Advance has been able to provide opportunities to serve in many parts of the world. The projects endorsed by the Advance and supported by people of faith are located in community and in partnership. We share the gospel, we live the gospel, and we model the gospel in every particular context: we eat what is set before us, and we proclaim Good News.
"Cure the sick who are there," Jesus says (Luke 10:9). The gospel stories are consistent in the testimony that Jesus went about restoring wholeness, bringing sight, strengthening weak knees, and returning vitality to hurting, empty lives. The Advance has been providing the resources to continue that ministry in thousands of places around the world. It also provides a means for God's grace to flow into the hearts and lives of those who provide monetary resources. In reaching out to "cure" others, we ourselves may be restored, renewed, and healed through a spirit of generosity that is generated by God's spirit being poured into our hearts.
The Advance Today
The organization and the means of promoting the Advance for Christ and His Church have not changed dramatically over the last 60 years. In many ways we have grown complacent and assumed that what worked in the past will continue to be adequate for a different time and very different world. The message and meaning of what the Advance is called to do have not, and will not, change in the least: it is still about sharing the Good News by giving resources and support to thousands of mission projects around the world; by proclaiming the gospel, not with words only, but with hands-on caring for those who are most in need. We have made it possible to go into difficult circumstances in every corner of the globe; we have offered help, hope, and healing in the name of Jesus and in the power of God's love. We will continue to do so because that is who we are.
We know that to keep doing the same thing and expect different results is not good practice—it is not even good theology. The Advance must advance with the times; there are new challenges and new opportunities; there are new, more effective ways of offering healing and hope; there are new ways of sharing, giving to, and supporting the Advance. We cannot keep doing what we have always done and expect to reach new generations of supporters. Yet, this new century is already filled with the pandemic threats of poverty, humanitarian crises, violence, and hatred and desperately needs the help, hope, and healing of God.
As we approach the 60th anniversary of the Advance, we will of course remember and we will celebrate. However, this is not a time merely to perpetuate what we've done for the past 60 years. On the eve of this milestone anniversary, we are launching a new Advance for a new century. We are building a new Advance in order to extend God's love throughout the world, to cure the sick, to proclaim the Good News, and to stop and minister to those on the side of the road. We are creating new staffing relationships and partnerships in order to support and resource God's mission in the world with our mandate for outreaching love.
We will keep on Advancing, with a new team, a new methodology, and a renewed commitment to extend God's love. This is no longer your parents' Advance—but it is still the Advance for Christ and His Church.
Bishop Larry M. Goodpaster is the episcopal leader for the Alabama-West Florida Conference. He is a member of Global Ministries' Board of Directors serving on the Mission Development Committee and Evangelization and Church Growth.
Date posted: Nov 05, 2007