Musings on the United Methodist Church
The United Methodist Church in USAmerica is in precipitous decline. And on top of that, it costs us more and more to accomplish less and less each year if things like attendance, professions of faith and baptisms are important. The metrics are unsustainable. Our decline is admittedly more like a slow leak than a blow out but we have been leaking for a long time and at some point soon (unless something changes quickly) we are going to be driving on the rims.
The denomination has its quadrennial General Conference in 2016 to decide all things Methodist, and most of the early indicators point to yet another showdown over issues of human sexuality. We have been doing this for a really long time. I first served as a delegate in 2000 and we did it then. I again served in 2004 and 2008. We did it then too. I didn’t go in 2012. I hear we did it then. We are clearly making plans to do it again. All while the tire valve hisses and the car sinks ever closer to the pavement.
I guarantee you there will be plenty of drama leading up to Portland (there has been plenty already) and no small amount of time, effort, money and energy fueling it. But here is the deal, even if every single person in the UMC came to absolute agreement on human sexuality (which isn’t going to happen) and even if we keep the denomination from blowing apart; we are still leaking…fast.
Our problem is really quite simple: We can’t replace deaths and exits from the church, with births and entries into the church. And to make matters worse, we don’t collectively know how to patch the leak and air back up the tire. We really don’t have a clue. And we are too busy fussing with each other to give the discussion much time.
I think it behooves (I love using this word) us throughout Planet Wesley to consider three things:
1) Reconnect with our mission. We need to turn unbelievers into believers, believers into disciples and disciples into leaders.
2) Encourage delegations to nominate episcopal candidates with a vision for seeing revitalization beyond the things that divide us. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to run for bishop but I am thankful that some feel called to it. We are going to need leaders who can not only help us navigate a seemingly impassible road, but move a very diverse denomination forward in mission and ministry.
3) Pray for revival. We were birthed as a revival movement and we need to be born again. If restructuring, committee work or studies could turn a denomination around, we would be bursting at the seams. We are not bursting at the seams. We need a movement of God. That comes from prayer and repentance and not from politics.
United Methodism is in a predicament from which only God can deliver us, but God will have to change our hearts. We need to get on-mission, raise up spiritually intelligent episcopal leaders and display a heartfelt commitment to the kinds of spiritual disciplines than once defined the Methodist movement.
I truly love this church but I am concerned that the battle lines have been drawn in the wrong places. There will be no winners if the church who once “organized to fight the devil” continues to “organize to fight each other.”
-Rev. Shane L. Bishop, A Distinguished Evangelist of the United Methodist Church, is the Senior Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois.