Andrew Conard recently offered this reflection on the future of The United Methodist Church. Andrew is dreaming about renewal/revival for the denomination and how this might come about. Quite frankly, I’m glad that he is. I recommend reading his entire post and invite Methodists out there to add their voice to the conversation.
Andrew Conard is a friend, and as my friend he and I often talk about ministry, theology, Christian faith, practice, our local church fellowship, our read on the social landscape, and our hope for the future of the denomination. I never find these conversations boring. Andrew might, because no matter what subject we discuss, I always seem to bring up discipleship and Jesus and God’s humorous ways of employing me for his service and Jesus and discipleship. At the root our desire is the same. We want people to know Jesus, we want The United Methodist Church to be faithful, and we want to be part of a new, good thing within both the local congregation and the connectional system at large. Andrew has a lot at stake, as he is on track to be an elder. I have a lot at stake because my wife will be ordained as an elder, and I guess I’m part of this thing. I want my children to grow up in a church that is alive-with-God and taking part in the work of the New Creation. I want to be part of a church that preaches a rich, robust, gospel of grace, doesn’t shy away from the cross, and boldly proclaims the resurrection. I want to hear about the particularities of the God named Trinity. I want our life together to be compelling to my neighbors.
That won’t come about apart from God’s grace and our reliance on the Divine to do a good work in us.
From what Andrew and I have gathered, there are a number of movements among young clergy throughout the denomination. There are more people than the two of us dreaming about tomorrow while working hard today. There are a number of ideas for what is necessary if the church is to move forward positively. For some this new future entails reformulating the appointment process or changing the candidacy process. For some reshuffling the denominational polity or breaking down the “good ‘ole boy network” which exists within some conferences or districts is the top priority. Others want a change in the Discipline on one matter or another. There are a number of things people seem to think are really important and vital for the future of the denomination.
Sometimes I think our imagination is far too small.
We’re going to have to think about this. There seems to be a lot of different ideas about the problems that face Methodism and the right solutions for our collective faithfulness.
As Andrew and I discuss movements, social media, and how the denomination as a whole might bring about change, we have discerned that it might not be the case that there must be one, singular, centralized movement pushing for renewal/revival within the denomination. Rather, we thought that a more compelling idea might be that of mini-movements all headed in the same direction. If a number of people are networked around common causes that are all pushing toward the same goal, a larger cause might emerge. Andrew illustrated this idea with this napkin sketch:
To play a part in this, Andrew has suggested the following:
- Articulate a vision or align with the vision of another for spiritual revival and renewal within the United Methodist Church.
- Begin to take action toward that vision.
- Make your vision and action public through a blog, facebook, twitter, etc or share the vision and action of someone else whose story needs to be told.
- When you hear or read a story of vision and action that is producing fruit for God’s kingdom – share it with others.
Thus far, I’ve played a part in this by initiating a prayer movement. I proposed the idea, and over 50 people have volunteered to pray. You can think of the prayer initiative as one of the little arrows in the graphic above.
While I think the fruit of my conversation with Andrew is good and his articulation is helpful (little movements within one big movement), my biggest challenge right now is the current end goal. I believe “renewal/revival” is too vague. What are all the little arrows oriented toward? What are the themes which will run through all of these movements? If renewal takes place, why will people say the denomination has been renewed? More people following Jesus? More homeless being fed? More people equipped with job skills in a difficult economy? More churches being planted? By what criteria will we measure whether “renewal” has occurred?
I’d like the little movements to be defined by the following themes:
- Public professions of faith in Jesus, declaring allegiance to Christ as “Lord.” I want people to be drawn to Christ.
- Evangelism and Discipleship taking place simultaneously within local congregations. People coming to faith and being closely instructed in the central tenets of the faith.
- Creative partnerships between the culturally powerful and powerless. Rich and poor engaging in service together for the common good.
- Humble service on the part of our pastoral leaders.
- Creating a language of call in local congregations that challenges all people. This includes calling people to pastoral leadership, but does not exclude the calling of all people to serve as priests in the business, home, education, or public service sectors.
We need to have an idea where we are going and what we can do. And we need to have ideas that permeate multiple levels of the denomination.
If you’re out there working, serving, pastoring or leading, keep up the work, contribute your ideas, and let’s coalesce around some common ideas. Renewal will take all of us.
Do something good.