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.
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!