The Methodist Church is dying. Or so people like to say (at least, those who care about it).
But that is simply not true. It might be changing, but it is not dying. I don't believe it is dying because the Kingdom of God simply won't be defeated. And to that end - I'd like to share a bit of something I've been asked to be a part of.
You can see one person's thoughts here. Another can be found here. Another good conversation on the direction of the UMC can be found here as well (Just make sure to check the comments). The question is:
What is my vision for the United Methodist Church? If I had one sentence to give you...
It would have something to do with bringing the whole world into the Kingdom of God. Real unity in the body of Christ. That isn't my vision statement, after-all, but this post is the beginning of the conversation of finding that vision.
but I do want to focus a bit on a few different tensions I see within the United Methodist Church and how they affect the conversation.
Institution vs. Movement. The Methodist movement was once fine being a part of someone else's institution. Those days are long gone and now we are dealing with trying to maintain an institution, rather than pushing a movement. Institutions aren't bad, per se, but they lack the gumption to push people into life changing moments. Right now, the Methodist Church is an institution. And when you look at it in ways you measure success of institutions (membership) you will see its dying. But this might be good. A movement will take its place. Movements aren't all bad either. Sure, they can be unweilding and burn out sometimes - but the best movements change the world in dynamic and unbelievable ways.
Think of it like a marriage (which is often referred to as an institution). What makes a marriage work? Love. Warm fuzzy feelings? Well, definitely at first. You have to have movement. There must be a rushing of the blood and butterflies in the stomach and a sincere desire to... well, know the other. But marriage can never stay in that kind of love. Love must mature, it has to change, it must become a choice. Commitment is the catch-phrase nowadays. We must choose to love our mate if the marriage is to ever work.
SO the best marriages are ones that are institutional when the movement isn't there, but constantly working on keeping that romance there. When the romance IS around, it works on establishing commitment (I love you schnukums sooooo much, I'll always love you).
I think C.S. Lewis makes the point that something inside our nature knows these feelings will never last, so right at the highest point of their passion, we commit to a life-long relationship that we will always try to uphold.
Which really takes work. Its hard, my friend - institutions exist to promote the institution. They hold the status quo. Movements exist to change everything and start a ruckus. We need them both. Especially in the UMC where the institution is faltering and there seems no movement to fill the void.
Known vs. unknown. There is what you know and what you don't know. Which would be better for Methodism - an insitution that lasts centuries by meticulously planning, moving slowly, and engaging as many people as possible in minimal ways (as to facilitate a greater saturation) or a movement that "lasts" a few short years in the lives of a few committed Christians who do crazy things?
We can determine what our future will look like. We can decide we will strangle (or build) it into exactly the specifications we want, or we can light the fire and see what miracles emerge from the flames. Which leads me to...
My agenda vs. God's agenda. I've minced words with some friends about God's agenda. And my agenda. I think all people have agendas. And when I say agenda, I mean, what am I trying to accomplish? What am I going to do to get there? Few things turn me off more than finding out I'm just part of someone's agenda. When companies boil my existence down to simply a wallet, that degrades my humanity. When Churches see me as a number on a dashboard, that can degrade me. When I appease my God simply because its what I'm "supposed" to do and not what I want to do, it degrades my God. If I bring my wife flowers and say, "I brought these to you because I had to, its Valentine's" - instead of, "I brought you flowers because I love you" - I've probably done more damage than good.
When I look at the UMC and want to acheive my agenda, I've degraded the church.
Suffice to say, God's agenda is a non-apparent agenda. And by that I mean God's plan simply is the best plan, the best agenda. Frankly, its so good, it never degrades you. It never degrades anyone into a means to an end. you mean more than that (read a previous post on this blog for more on this take). Yes, God has plans. God has a vision for the church. But don't call them an agenda. Or at least, ask if its God's agenda.
Inclusion vs. inclusion. To really include someone makes your brain fall out, apparently. Because if you include everyone, you'll exclude someone. Paradoxically, some folks, Christians even, have a hard time bringing everyone into the fold because everyone doesn't measure up to some standard. Thank you Jesus, for grace. But one thing I do hope is that the church will strive for inclusion, even in spite of the fact that will anger some. Jesus, I envision a church that only brings people into the Kingdom of God and never pushes people out. If someone leaves because the UMC includes too many, I pray your grace will be with them and we will continue to minister to those who exclude themselves.
Talk vs. action. This is just a blog. I promise you, my best efforts to live-out the vision of the UMC is not found on these pages. It will be in the way I live in my local congregation and in the connection of the UMC. I'm not an idiot, actions speak louder than words. And with that, I'm off.