Will The United Methodist Church survive? There are a lot of people asking, does The United Methodist Church have a future? This question goes to more than our current controversy about human sexuality. At the heart of this question are the following issues.
1. Can an aging institution remake itself so that it can connect again with new generations of believers, capturing their hearts and imaginations? Today, particularly where the United Methodist movement has been around for several hundred years, the church is not connecting as it once did with the people in our communities.
2. Can a global denomination that is hierarchical and applies non-adaptable methods for being the church, work in a flat world? Today, more and more organizations are shifting from a pyramid organization to dispersing decision making to where the work is being done. As a global denomination, we have a worldwide body that determines how church is organized and carries out ministry in many different countries, contexts and cultures.
3. Can an institution with long and deep traditions innovate? Every congregation and church organization wrestles with two things–tradition and innovation. Tradition is confidence that the past has provided a future and a common way of doing things. But without innovation, organizations become routine, stuck on one way of doing things and dependent on a few to keep the tradition alive. Traditional core values can be innovative as long as we think there is more than one way to carry out the core values.
As United Methodists, we need to understand the core and then recognize everything else can change. Core to United Methodism is not how or even what we do, but the principles of Calling • Character • Values • The Means of Grace. These four principles, the Wesleyan Way, are core to United Methodism. They are distinctive ways of being the church.
Every United Methodist, lay and clergy person, is called to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. As a disciple, United Methodists are called to be life-long learners and followers of Jesus Christ who passionately serve God in the church and in the world. Disciples live their baptismal vows, and these vows are the standard for evaluating the calling and engagement of any United Methodist. As United Methodists, we vow to renounce sin, confess Jesus Christ and end evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.
Every United Methodist, laity and clergy, is to live by the highest standards of faith, including but not limited to, ethical decision making and living, care for creation, faithfulness in relationships, ending injustice, evil and oppression and welcoming and including everyone in its ministries and worship. The character of a United Methodist is encompassed in Wesleyanism’s three simple rules – Do all the good you can, do no harm and stay in love with God. Why “simple rules?” Because they become profound in our daily application. The ethic of a United Methodist is embodied in faithfulness to the scriptures, doctrine, teachings and Wesleyan Way of The United Methodist Church. For an overview of The United Methodist Church and our beliefs and doctrine go to www.umc.org/what-we-believe or review the front section of our Book of Discipline. The United Methodist Church page on Wikipedia also has detailed information.
As United Methodist we have seven core values.
1. Grace – God’s grace is sufficient for salvation and is offered to all through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
2. Extending God’s Grace – Grace is extended through the sacraments of communion and baptism to adults, youth and children, and by being graceful as witnessed in the life of Jesus.
3. The Bible – The Bible is the primary authority and revelation for salvation and living and is interpreted through scripture, tradition, reason and experience.
4. Personal and Social Holiness – United Methodists grow spiritually and are accountable for faithful living and service in the world.
5. Connectionalism – United Methodists are connected through a web of congregations and organizations that share a common mission, doctrine, apportioned mission support, itineracy and holy conferencing.
6. Diversity and Inclusion – United Methodists welcome and include all people in the life of the church.
7. Open itineracy – While recognizing differences among congregations – theology, language spoken, leadership needs and contexts – bishops and superintendents teach, support and practice open itineracy in making appointments.
•The Means of Grace•
United Methodists practice the means of grace. John Wesley taught that God’s grace is unearned but that we are not to be idle waiting to experience grace; rather, we engage in the means of grace. God’s mystery works in the hearts and thinking of disciples through the means of grace, hastening, strengthening and confirming faith so that God’s grace pervades in and through disciples. The means of grace are categorized into works of piety and mercy.
Works of Piety
Individual Practices – reading, meditating on and studying the scriptures, prayer, fasting, regularly attending worship, healthy living and sharing our faith with others.
Communal Practices – regularly share in the sacraments, Christian conferencing (accountability to one another in small groups) and Bible study.
Works of Mercy
Individual Practices – doing good works, visiting the sick, visiting those in prison, feeding the hungry and giving generously to the needs of others.
Communal Practices – advocating for and seeking justice, ending oppression, injustice and discrimination (for instance Wesley challenged Methodists to end slavery) and addressing the needs of others, particularly the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed, the children and the elderly.
Active participation in the mission and Wesleyan Way of The United Methodist Church keeps United Methodist disciples on the path to loving and serving God which is traditional and core to our values.
If we stay true to these core values, we can and should innovate so that we do not become stuck and dependent. It we do not innovate, we will not survive.
Yes, The United Methodist Church, can and in a number of places is already, remaking itself. It can be global in mission, traditional in core principles and local in practice. It can innovate for a flat world while building on the traditional Wesleyan Way.
Here in GNJ, we are committed to and have been building on the Wesleyan Way as we make our way forward. We have built on tradition to innovate and expand the mission. We continue to find new ways to connect with the people in our communities and make progress. During this time of innovation, there has been disruption, differences and even pain, but you have continued to make progress, and we continue to strengthen the mission and prepare the church for what God has next for us. Thank you for being United Methodist, and I invite you into a deeper discipleship path by living the Wesleyan Way.