“The Recovery of a Contagious Methodist Movement”

One of the highlights of our D.Min. program at Asbury Theological Seminary was taking a course called “Church for the Unchurched” by Dr. George Hunter. One of our favorite memories from the class was Dr. Hunter addressing the class as “Colleagues.”

I have read some of Hunter’s books, including Church for the Unchurched, Radical Outreach, and The Celtic Way of Evangelism. And I recently finished reading his latest book, The Recovery of a Contagious Methodist Movement.

The book is based on the premise that Methodism, which “was once a great contagious movement in North America” but now finds itself in a “mess,” can have a greater future if it makes the right choices. The problem is that Methodism, which “started out as a missional alternative to establishment Christianity … has now become the establishment Christianity that it once critiqued.”

The first step toward becoming a contagious Methodist movement is to recover Wesleyan theology. Wesley’s “magnificent obsession was simply to recover the gospel, the theology, the vision, the mission, and the contagion of early Apostolic Christianity.”

Hunter agrees with Scott Kisker’s assessment that our becoming “much less Methodist and much more mainline was a profound and tragic mistake.” Scott Kisker wrote Mainline or Methodist?, which I’ve written about before. I agree with both Kisker and Hunter.

At the end of the book, Hunter critiques three different strategies for renewing the church, including the Call to Action (which recently died at General Conference). But the heart of the book is Hunter’s proposal of “at least three bold directions in ministry, in addition to Wesley’s theological vision”: lay ministries, small groups, and missional Christianity.

Hunter notes that early Methodism was largely a lay movement. Hunter notes, “In the last two centuries, we have experienced no greater shift than in our assumption about who does most of the ministry.”

In discussing small groups, Hunter shares conversations with Korean pastors from a visit to South Korea. One pastor asked, “Can there be real Methodism without class meetings?” Another pastor stated, “If our people were not shepherding each other in their class meetings, the pastors would have to shepherd everyone.”

These comments caught my attention because of our two adoption-related visits to South Korea in recent years. During our visits, we learned that the success of the Methodist church in Korea was attributed to prayer and small groups.

In my last post, General Conference and the Transformation of The United Methodist Church, I stated, “The way forward always begins by returning—to God, to our theological roots, and to a passion and commitment to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world!” That fits with Hunter’s call to a recovery of Wesleyan theology, as well as a recommitment to essential practices like small groups and the ministry of all Jesus followers.

Finally, I love Hunter’s description of early Methodists …

Early Methodists understood that they were an ecclesia—the called out people of God; and they were also an apostolate—the sent out people of God.

May God help us be both an ecclesia and an apostolate. May God help us recover a contagious Methodist movement so that our future will be greater than our past!

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