Unfortunately, that development doesn’t seem to be anywhere on the horizon.
United Methodists are aware, or becoming aware, that their denominational home is unraveling. But most don’t understand why.
Congregations are leaving, a new Methodist denomination is forming, some bishops, clergy, and regions of the church are in proud rebellion against the democratically determined decisions of the larger denomination, the number of clergy under age 35 has hit a record low and continues to shrink. Truth to tell, we probably don’t need all that many new clergy because the United Methodist Church overall in the US has lost nearly half of its members since it launched in 1968 and the number of funerals each year clearly outpace the number of baptisms.
Much of the commentary, analysis, and general handwringing about the plight of United Methodism focuses on divisions over theological convictions, approach to social issues, and substantial divergence on basic understandings of the Christian gospel, salvation, and Scriptural authority, as well as the impact of various current and long-standing cultural dynamics. All of this is worthy of focused attention, but we should be aware that finding our way through the underbrush of theology, church history, and cultural context can leave us, as the shopworn truism goes, unable to see the forest for the trees.
During my years serving a United Methodist congregation in suburban Chicago, a well-respected church consultant, in a conversation about my frustration with the machinery of United Methodism, simply (and as it turns out, wisely) observed: “The United Methodist Church is well-prepared should the 19th century ever return. Unfortunately, that development doesn’t seem to be anywhere on the horizon.”
Aha! Clarity Amidst the Confusion!
Consider for a moment: the ponderous, centralized, hierarchical structure of United Methodism produces what? The verifiable ineffectiveness of our seminary training for clergy, our sparse evangelistic outreach across our communities, and our deficient development of fully-devoted Christ-following laity are glaring indicators that our denomination has an established record of failing to fulfill its stated mission: making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
With often-overlooked common sense, Jesus observed, “A house divided against itself cannot stand” (Matthew 12:25 and parallels). Jesus’ observation was descriptive, not evaluative. It is a basic, common-sense reality that a group that is divided against itself cannot hold together. There are limits to how big the tent can be.
What to do if you find yourself in a divided house?
Well, you can try to unite the house. United Methodists have tried that for over 50 years.
And still we are a house irreconcilably divided.
Any other ideas?
Move to another house.
If you are done with the chronic conflict, ambiguous integrity, and discouraging prospects of United Methodism, you might want to consider a new denominational home.
Thomas Lambrecht, UM clergy and vice president of Good News, has provided a summary of reasons to become part of the Global Methodist Church. He writes:
“The Global Methodist Church offers a much cleaner slate to which to write the principles (and practices) of an effective and Christ-centered denomination that is more flexible and adaptable to today’s world.”Reasons for Affiliating with the Global Methodist Church
I would add one more, over-arching reason to the Lambrecht List: Stop confusing motion for action. The UMC has a slogan about making disciples. The Global Methodists are actually organized to realize the goal of disciples who “worship passionately, love extravagantly, and witness boldly.”
History only goes one way. The 19th Century will not return. Next year will be 2023. And, as Jesus also observed, “You can tell a tree by the fruit it produces” (Matthew 7:16). If your tree isn’t producing fruit, maybe you should consider planting a new tree.
Want to know more and get connected to a network of Christ-followers focused on the future? Come to the Fall Gathering of the Northern Illinois Wesleyan Covenant Association, Sunday, October 23, 3-5 pm at The Stronghold Conference Center in Oregon, Illinois. Stay for dinner if you’d like. Register below for the October 23 Fall Gathering of Northern Illinois Wesleyan Covenant Association.
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