BISHOP RON RAMSEY STORY…
I had the pleasure of serving under the leadership of Ron Ramsey during his tenure as bishop of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ. He was instrumental in leading the transition of the denomination after the vote to merge with the Missionary church was not successful. I interviewed Bishop Ramsey and his story depicts that of one seeking always to be on God’s agenda. Ron Ramsey is passionate about fulfilling the commission, obeying the commandment, and carrying out the compassion. Bishop Ramsey describes how he views his task as bishop in this manner,
As the Bishop of my denomination my work mainly consisted with working with our local churches. My task was varied. My first priority as I saw it was to try to refocus the local churches attention on reaching lost people with the Gospel and then seeing them become disciples d into fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. As such, the focus was for the church to become immersed in the local community in whatever way possible, first, to serve the community in meaningful ways, which would lead to opportunities to present the Gospel.
He currently serves as part time Associate Pastor in a local church in the denomination. In this role he is in constant contact with the church community and the community at large. He teaches, followed up with visitors, makes hospital visitation and performs other tasks. This Bishop Ramsey describes this as; “Opportunity to contact the community in several significant ways and it provides a way of living out the Gospel in my life with them.” He has a burning desire to see people, all people, receive the Gospel. A slogan we have at Bethel is, “Bringing the Gospel to the world one person at a time;” this statement can be used to describe Bishop’s motives. He expresses it this way,
As I interact with not just those in the hospital but also with the person at the information desk, the nurses, doctors, people I meet in the elevator I must be ever mindful that these are people who may not know Christ and my interaction with them as a Christian has the possibility of either drawing them closer to Christ or pushing them further away from Christ. I believe that as a Christian, wherever I go, I am trying to influence those I meet along the way, to take a new, fresh look at the possibility of making Christ their Savior. As such I hopefully am living an integration lifestyle.
This holistic approach to bringing the Gospel is what Jesus teaches. Christians cannot just live their lives selfishly by ignoring and not caring about their neighbors. Jesus called us and commissioned us to show love, and that act will shed light in a dark world one person at a time. Accomplishment for Bishop Ramsey is “seeing people become Christ Followers as a result of my lifestyle ministry among them.” This concept, Bishop Ramsey said, he had taught for many years, and the ultimate accomplishment was seeing people come to faith and being baptized. As pastor and Bishop his driving force behind his work for God was seeing people become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ and seeing local churches live out the fulfilling of the Great Commission in their communities. His desires and work in the ministry have not been without challenges. Any spiritual leader that has a heart to live out the Great Commissions and desire to see others do the same will encounter challenges. As Bishop Ron Ramsey states,
The biggest challenge was to move people from the head knowledge of evangelism to actually doing it. And I do believe that the biggest challenge in that was the life the professing Christian was living. In other words, I feel that Christians who don’t feel confident in sharing their faith are not very satisfied with their own personal walk of faith. They have no context within which to share the Gospel with someone else other than an external guilt motivation. So getting individual to walk a closer walk with the Lord in meaningful day-to-day experiences is the best possible motivation.
Holistic missions are rooted in salvation through Jesus Christ and a desire to see others come to this knowledge. It is a total transformation and addresses body, soul and mind. If all those who claim to have faith in Jesus had a context, they would be more open to share about this walk. This context comes from a personal intimate relationship with God. I find it a joy to talk about my wife and my two sons. Their pictures are in my office and on all my electronic devices. I never get tired of talking about them. It is the same joy I get when I talk about Jesus and all that He means to me. I share a personal relationship with both my family and Jesus, and from this relationship He created great opportunities and experiences.
The Bishop’s understanding of missions is demonstrated in his approach to ministry. He said the “Biblical definition of MISSIONS is the Great Commission and it is what the members of the church do in their daily lives as a result of a personal encounter with Christ.” It is every believer’s responsibility to be involved in missions. We are called to go into every culture and be a witness wherever we go. Bishop Ramsey sees missions as the purpose and evangelism as the way we do mission. Missions, therefore, is holistic because it involves the entire person. He considers what he does as Missions; he describes it this way,
Yes, as a pastor or leader of a denomination what I was doing was trying to get a congregation of people focused on the main mission of the church which is to real lost people and see them become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. I would readily admit there are other purposes that the church has as well, i.e. teaching, discipleship, preaching, worshipping etc. But all other purposes in my mind are ways of equipping and motivating the church to become involved in fulfilling the Great Commission.
The role of missions has changed in the 21st Century. We are living in a global community. In many of our cities and rural towns we are witnessing the world moving in and becoming our next-door neighbors. While there is still a focus on overseas missions there are others that are looking at places locally that provide similar opportunities to do missions. It is a key principle, according to Bishop Ramsey, that Mission and Vision much drive the church. Structure and Programs are merely the tools or ways that the church implements to fulfill the Great Commission. The fundamental reason for Missions is that of love, reconciliation, restoration and forgiveness. As devoted followers of Jesus Christ we cannot lose sight of this fundamental point. The first emphasis is to bring the gospel; all the programs and structures must be aligned around this view of missions and not mission around the programs and structures. Bishop Ramsey emphasizes this point, “If there is not emphasis on the Great Commission or if the church is not really seeing individuals come to faith as a result of its Structure and Programs then I feel that the Structures and Programs need to change.” We cannot allow the Structures and Programs to be non-negotiable. They are only tools to be used to advance the mission and if they are not accomplishing this goal then they should be discontinued. Developing and maintaining this vision of missions require one to be in an ongoing intimate relationship with God. There are spiritual virtues that when practiced will help to assist in one’s ongoing spiritual growth, which will help to keep us on Gods’ agenda. Spiritual virtues should not be practiced merely as a routine or as a check box item. These virtues, Bishop Ramsey said, “Are most helpful and needed when the local church is really focusing its energy toward fulfilling the Great Commission.”
Bishop Ramsey shared two stories of his experiencing missions in the following section. “When I went to Main Street Church, Waldbridge, OH in 1993 the church had been in a slow decline for the past 7 – 10 years. This decline was showing up in all the statistics of the church, attendance, giving, baptisms etc. I felt that the main reason was they were not really focused on God. Here let me say that I feel that Worship is a Driving Force in a congregation, almost an equal purpose as Mission. Anyway, I began to teach and focus the church’s attention upon a real worship experience. I felt that when we came together if we did not really worship God, grabbed a hold of his robe and pulled Him into our midst then nothing else would matter. Their worship had become very predictable. I worked to make it very unpredictable. As the pastor I urged the staff to get out of the way and let God do what God wanted to do. The movement really began at that point. Then the second step in the process was to expose irreligious people to true worship.
True Worship by the church is the greatest motivator for people to come to faith that I know. Anyway, it took awhile to get the concept fully taught and assimilated but when we did the church growth was amazing. As I write my mind goes back to several men who came to Christ as a result of being exposed to honest, true worship. Not emotion although there was some of that. But the decisions that were made lasted. Larry was an alcoholic and drug addict. His wife came to church first through an invitation from a lady she worked with. She was looking for help in her life and marriage. She quickly made a decision to trust Christ for her salvation. The change in her life quickly became apparent to her husband. He began to attend but told me that while he was glad for the change in his wife that this Christ thing was not for him. But he continued to attend. One day, after the last worship service of the day, he confronted me in the lobby wanting to know what he had to do…I told him he just did it. He just gave up. God was looking and waiting for him to give up. He became in time, the head of our sound and video for all our worship services. I still have regular contact with him. Another was a young man who brought his wife and three children to our church. He was challenged with the need to become the head of his home. He really wasn’t a Christ Follower…he would have said he was but he just had head knowledge. Well, God got a hold of him after several months. He became part of a men’s discipleship class. Recently he graduated from Huntington University with an MA in Ministry. Out of that class of 6 men, three are involved in full time Christian ministry.
Just a couple of examples…but the church began to get it…Worship was the engine that drove the church to fulfill its mission. And I taught that prayer was the fuel for the engine. Slowly the church began to grow and the culture of the church began to change. We grew from a church of 175 to one of over 600 in worship every weekend. And we tried never to deviate from the process…. Great Commission was our Mission, an authentic worship experience was the engine and prayer was the fuel. While I freely admit this might not work in every congregation it worked there. But I am convinced that the typical church has lost its sense of awe and worship of God. Therefore it has no confidence in the power of the Gospel. It actually probably has been a long time since the average church in America has seen an honest sinner redeemed and life changed that they have lost their confidence in God’s ability to change a life.”
To prepare to meet the demands of the task Bishop Ramsey said, “He accomplishes this first by staying closely connected to God, to have an up-to-date relationship with Him in a meaningful way…i.e. Worship. Then out of the heart full of love and adoration for our Heavenly Father share the Good News with others.” Probably the greatest spiritual tools that have helped him have been to discover true worship. He continues, “A friend of mine told me one time that he believed that, “the height of our worship would determine the breadth of our ministry. If we were not going higher in worship then we would not be building a broad enough base to reach people in the numbers that we should. I have found that principle very accurate and true. If we wanted to increase our attendance, size of congregation then we had to first of all go higher in worship. That, along with the Bible, was the single greatest “tool” I have ever been given in ministry. Another tool I have used for some time is to try to read five Psalms and one Proverb a day. In that way I can read through the book of Psalms and the book of Proverbs every month. The Psalms teach me how to worship and relate to a Heavenly God. The Proverbs teach me how to relate to my world and fellowman. This practice has been a great aid to keep me focused in my personal worship because the height of my personal worship will also affect the breadth of my personal walk.” One of the largest barrier(s) to fulfilling the missional call is “very simply, the life we are now living. When someone is living in a vibrant relationship with the Risen Lord, then being involved in His Missional Call is no problem. That vibrant relationship shows up in the way we approach our worship of a Holy God. So many churches that I have been in have no seemingly awareness of a Living God; one who wants to connect with their everyday lives. Their Christian walk becomes very rote and routine. Boring might be another word for it. Why has the church in the US come to be in such a condition? Not sure if I have all the answers but I think that Satan has focused our minds on the past. I hear so many people talk about what God used to do rather than on what He is doing today. So churches tend to live in the past. No fresh missional experiences in which to rejoice.”