For years now, I have been standing in the middle ground of the United Methodist Church. Right-middle to be sure but middle none-the-less. My plan was to batton down the proverbial hatches, keep Fairview Heights Christ Church growing (we have grown for twenty consecutive years) and hope the denominational storm would pass. When asked about my lack of denominational positioning, I would respond, “I am going to hold the middle until there isn’t a middle anymore and then I am jumping right.” The storm is not going to pass. I am jumping right. In the aftermath of the rancor of General Conference and the aftershocks that followed, I have lost hope that is there is enough firm middle ground to realistically occupy…and too few people holding it. I have mourned this reality all summer but now my time of mourning is over. Joy is coming. I am going to Chicago. I am joining the Wesleyan Covenant Association. I will serve in any capacity that I am asked.
As I jump to the right, none of my positions concerning the denomination have changed. Nothing will change in my leadership at Christ Church, the content of the messages I preach or my upbeat attitude toward faith and life. We will keep paying apportionments in full and I will offer my full support to my conference and Bishop. This is not reactionary for me; it is just time. I have never considered those people who think differently than me to be my enemies; they are my brothers and sisters. Always have been. Always will be. I do not doubt or disparage their positions, nor do I deny their right to hold them. In addition, I do not plan to spend much time defending my newly declared position or attempting to get others to rally to it. This is probably all you are going to get out of me. So if you are hoping for an on-line debate, I decline. This is just where I stand. In good conscience.
I have a burning desire to see the churches of this tribe flourish and I am hopeful the Bishops can find a way to keep our diverse denomination under one roof with integrity. Yes, you read this correctly; I am joining WCA but I am hopeful United Methodism can stay together. I am a church builder, not an organizational visionary but I can imagine many ways diverse United Methodists could potentially stay under the same roof. It may not be possible but it is certainly worth our best efforts. I pray for the Bishops and those they appoint as they embrace their call to forward by the General Conference. Their task is daunting.
I have written much on United Methodism over the years; primarily along the themes of turning around our decades of decline and the intentional development of leadership. This is where I think our real challenge lies. Even if we suddenly agreed on everything about which we are currently fussing, we would still be in precipitous decline in the American church. Too many of our churches are off-mission. Too many of our clergy are ineffective. This is unacceptable. We have collectively digressed into the lack of civility concerning our differences that plagues our larger culture. This is unacceptable as well. I am a systems theorist (blame Candler School of Theology); if our collective outcomes are unacceptable, we need to change our collective inputs. For me, it is that simple. We are in need of the kind of fresh wind and fresh fire that produces professions of faith, baptisms and committed disciples of Jesus Christ. We need to address our differences civilly and as quickly as possible for the purpose of turning our collective attention squarely toward our shared mission. United Methodists, regardless of theological convictions, need better “weather” in which to pursue our mission of “making disciples for the transformation of the world.”
I believe the formation of the Wesleyan Covenant Association could help provide better weather. The formation of WCA invites a spirit of revival and hope for many and seems to be attracting many of our most effective pastors and dynamic congregations. WCA will also allow the Bishops to get an accurate reading of where many “right leaning middle” United Methodists actually stand as they do their work. I think this is a good thing. We all need to be heard.
My neutrality was increasingly being seen as not having a perspective. I have a perspective. I am joining the Wesleyan Covenant Association…but I am not in a bad mood about it.
-Rev. Shane L. Bishop, A Distinguished Evangelist of the United Methodist Church, has been the Sr. Pastor of Fairview Heights Christ in Fairview Heights, Illinois since 1997.