4 Strategies to Transform The United Methodist Church

In my last post on Transformation of The United Methodist Church, I stated, “Ultimately, transformation is God’s work,” and added, “God simply chooses to use us.” In this post, I want to reflect on four specific ways God can use us to bring about transformation in The United Methodist Church.

1. Engage in prayer and fasting.
Nothing is more important, and necessary, than prayer and fasting. Transformation begins in prayer, prayer that is broken and fervent. As Mark Batterson says in his great book on prayer, The Circle Maker, we must pray “as long as it takes”!

Specifically for General Conference (as well as other conference gatherings), I love what Elaine Robinson suggests in her General Conference reflection …

In the early annual conferences of the Methodist movement (well before any such gargantuan as General Conference emerged), they began the conference “after some time spent in prayer.” … I wonder what might happen … if we spent the first 24 hours gathered in prayer, silent prayer especially, and listening for God? No politicking or maneuvering allowed! Can we expect holy conferencing to be holy if we haven’t quieted ourselves to listen for God?

Without prayer and fasting, we will never experience widespread transformation in the UMC!

2. Recover Wesleyan theology.
In his book, The Recovery of a Contagious Methodist Movement, which I wrote about recently, George Hunter includes Wesleyan theology as one of the things Methodists must recover in order to become a missional movement again.

It’s impossible to understand Wesley’s vision and the Methodist way without understanding Wesley’s theology. A good, readable book about Wesleyan theology is This We Believe by Bishop William Willimon, which I’ve written about.

3. Redevelop Wesleyan small groups.
George Hunter mentions small groups as one of the Wesleyan practices that we need to recover. Kevin Watson also calls for the recovery of small groups, or what early Methodists called “class meetings” (see vitalpiety.com as well as Kevin’s book, A Blueprint for Discipleship). It’s hard to imagine the UMC being distinctively Wesleyan without an emphasis on small groups for discipleship and “watching over one another in love.”

4. Practice transformational leadership.
A fourth way that will transform the UMC is transformational leadership. Hunter lists “lay ministry” and “missional Christianity” as practices that must be recovered. Transformational leaders equip (lay) people for the work of ministry (i.e., missional Christianity).

Yesterday, while reflecting on General Conference, I reread my post from two years ago, reviewing The Future of The United Methodist Church, the book that came out of the Council of Bishops. My post includes some great quotes from the book, including strong statements about leadership.

Transformational leaders are especially needed in a declining institution, but leadership in such a context is challenging. Institutions naturally guard against leaders.

Much has been said in the wake of General Conference about lack of trust (see this quote by Adam Hamilton). Included in our lack of trust is fear of leadership. In fact, a lot of our structure is designed to protect the organization from leadership, which is part of the reason the current Book of Discipline includes 4,835 “shalls” (requirements), according to Bishop Schnase.

So, as difficult as it was to swallow the Judicial Council’s ruling of “Plan UMC” as unconstitutional, Bishop Timothy Whitaker asks, “Could it be that the Spirit is leading us to confront the lack of trust that exists among us …?”

Bishop Coyner also looks for the positive in the Judicial Council’s ruling, stating …

The Judicial Council … restored the sense of Bishops as ‘General Superintendents’ who supervise the church. Our UMC is an Episcopal system, and we bishops are the only ones elected and set aside for the specific purpose of leading the denomination.

In organizations that need turning around, leaders must be pot-stirrers (see this post, too); they challenge the process.

Transformation takes time; it doesn’t happen overnight. Transformational leaders must be patient and persistent. Transformational leaders plant seeds, cultivate the environment, and shape the culture. Over time, God brings about transformation.

I believe transformation of the UMC is possible. Ultimately, transformation is God’s work. But we must cooperate with what is doing!

4 thoughts on “4 Strategies to Transform The United Methodist Church”

  1. If we were to on a large scale begin to pursue all four of these I have no doubt we’d see transformation.

    I fear few would be willing to go through such changes quickly as they all expect more of us (in transparency, commitment and discipleship) in addition to putting more of the expectation of results on God.

    Do you see any churches moving in this direction with two or more of those things you list?

  2. That’s a good question, John. Actually doing it is the hard part!

    I can’t say I have a lot of hope that these (or similar) strategies will be used widely throughout the UMC, but I’m hopeful that they will start somewhere and that God will use them to spread to other places. I’m certainly trying where I am, though I will need to work harder!

    Maybe I’m naive. But I think that’s more likely to happen than for it to ever result from General Conference action!

    On that note, I love what Bishop Lindsey Davis (KY) wrote yesterday: ” I am convinced now more than ever that the renewal of the church will not come through our human efforts to legislate, restructure or manage our resources. Renewal of the church comes only from our prayerful listening to the Lord and our obedience to the movement of the Holy Spirit. Ninety-nine percent of what is needed in our church must happen at the local church, district and annual conference level anyway.”

  3. One size does not fit all. While we need to retain vitality of spirit, Methodist Churches where my generation was raised were worship centers. We did have outreach to the community most often through pre schools. The people we are losing are people who want that kind of church back. There are unchurched people everywhere. I think you need a balance between worship and mission. We need to retain our traditions, too. People in my community like churches that retain tradition while also reaching out to the community. Yes, you must make people feel welcome, but if you are changing everything about your worship to do so, are you being true to what John Wesley set forth with his brother’s hymns, etc.? The way the church proceeds should be based on the area in which it is located, not dictated by the conference. A church in Johnstown, Ohio may not function quite like a more suburban church in a suburb of Columbus for example. There is no one formula for success though it seems our conference thinks there is only one way. Why do you think there are so many non-denominational churches? It is because they don’t have to answer to a conference or some other entity telling them what to do and how to do it. They stick to scripture and design their church to match the community.


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