This was an entirely unexpected response to my forty-five minute presentation about a new model of ministry for connecting with second generation Americans. I had spent the last six weeks researching, writing, and praying about how to make meaningful relationships with the growing population of children of immigrants who have no church home. I had carefully prepared a speech and a slideshow that detailed the nuances of my plan, and I had shared my ideas with family, friends, fellow students, and Candler professors. They provided helpful feedback to flesh out my ideas and polish my message. I may have been terrified when I stood up to speak at the General Board of Discipleship conference in front of roughly seventy-five ordained United Methodist elders, but by the time I was finished, I felt relieved. I believed that I had brought a practical message of hope and encouragement to church leaders. Then, when I opened the floor for discussion, one of the first comments hit me like a brick in the face.
“We just need to preach Jesus.”
Did this person not just hear a word of what I said? Is he unable to see why this plan has such potential? Did I ever mention that we should not bring the good news of the risen Lord wherever we go?
All of these thoughts raced through my mind, and this could have been the beginning of a very ugly and public confrontation that would most likely mean an effective end to my public speaking opportunities. Fortunately, my classroom experience at Candler had prepared me for this moment. I listened to the objections of this participant, and I offered a brief defense of my views that took seriously the concerns he had raised. Another participant joined in to say that both models were useful and we did not have to choose between the two. In the time-honored Methodist tradition, we did not come to a consensus, but we did become conversation partners. We were able to incorporate these opinions into a fuller vision for our mission going forward.
Because of the diversity of age, race, gender, and theological thought at Candler, I have had many opportunities to hear views that clash with my own. These moments of tension lead to deeper discussion for everyone involved. We do not usually change our minds or declare that one argument is more worthy than the other, but we do learn what it looks like to live and work together without uniformity. I delight in the idea that God calls each of us to the task of building the kingdom with unique skills and distinct perspectives and that the kingdom absolutely needs all of these people and practices to reach the ends of the earth. Candler has taught me to speak with the confidence of a graduate level student and the humility of a child of God. We do need to preach Jesus, but there is no limit to the number of ways that we will find our voices in this calling.
Clair is a second-year MDiv and student ambassador at Candler. Originally from Louisiana, she is a graduate of Oglethorpe University.