When Joleen and I came into The United Methodist Church, we knew that the denomination had been in steady decline. But we were young—and hopeful that the denomination would soon experience a turnaround.
Thirteen years later (and two months before being ordained in the UMC), we still believe a turnaround is possible, but it’s obviously a bigger deal than we realized at first!
The UMC continues its decades-long decline (primarily in the U.S.). For years, leaders have been trying to figure out how to stop the leak and turn things around. The basic question is, how does an institution that was once a movement become a movement again?
The most recent (and current) effort is the Call to Action from the Council of Bishops (see last week’s post: United Methodist Leadership Summit). I’m all for calls to action (as long as we move beyond studying it and talking about it to acting on it).
While I certainly don’t have all the answers, I believe that restructuring agencies, tracking vital statistics, and redirecting resources—all necessary—will only accomplish so much, in and of themselves.
John Wesley once wrote “Thoughts Upon Methodism” (see page 315 in this volume of The Works of Wesley) in which he stated …
I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case, unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.
Wesley makes reference to 2 Timothy 3.5: “They will look like they are religious but deny God’s power” (CEB). While we must make sure the structure is as missional as possible, we must not leave out what’s most important.
What the UMC needs most is an awakening by the Holy Spirit. That’s the only way we will truly be passionate about, and focused on, God’s mission in the world. That’s the only way we will be equipped for effective, fruitful ministry in the world.
Sure, we should make the structure more missional by redirecting resources, restructuring the agencies, tracking vital statistics, and equipping clergy and lay leaders for missional leadership in the 21st century. But most of all, we need to seek God for an awakening that only God’s Spirit can bring.
Seeking God includes declaring our dependence on God. During Lent, I’ve been preaching through Jesus’ messages to the seven churches of Revelation. The final message is to the church in Laodicea, a church that was neither hot nor cold. The worst thing about this church was not that it was lukewarm, but that it thought it was rich and didn’t need anything. However, in God’s view, the church in Laodicea wasn’t strong and rich but “miserable, pathetic, poor, blind, and naked.”
God’s advice to the church in Laodicea is good for us today as well:
… buy gold from me that has been purified by fire so that you may be rich, and white clothing to wear so that your nakedness won’t be shamefully exposed, and ointment to put on your eyes so that you may see. (Revelation 3.18, CEB)
God is our source. We must get what we need from God. Until we do that, the effectiveness of anything else we do will be limited, at best. If we want to become a movement again, we must declare our dependence on God.
That’s the only way I’m going to see us become a movement again in my lifetime—and I want to be part of a world-changing movement of God’s Spirit!