A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Mr. Wesley... We Have a Problem

It was a great day yesterday gleaning from the wisdom of Doug Anderson as I sat with other pastors and laity with whom I will be involved in the new West Akron Regional Ministry (W.A.R.M.) come July 1. Anyone who has had the privilege of being in one of Doug's seminars knows how insightful and helpful he is when it comes to the task of fulfilling our mandate to make and mature disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Among many of the significant quotables we received yesterday, two stuck out in my mind:

1) Ninety percent of all UM congregations in the United States have either plateaued or are in decline, and

2) Since 1968 the population of the U.S. has increased 50%, but the UMC has lost 30% of its membership.

Mr. Wesley, we your people called Methodists in the 21st century have a problem. We have apparently wandered away from our mission of making and maturing disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We have separated mission from evangelism, thinking we could have one without the other. We have separated discipleship making from our missional mandate.

Father John, we have apparently forgotten your words to Thomas Coke as he set sail for America-- "Offer them Christ."

Yes, Mr. Wesley, we your people called Methodists have a problem.


Bruce Hitchcock said...

We are very different people than Wesley and his colleagues. Historical, national, theological, philosophical, economic, academic mindsets are all different. Yet, I would like to think that the fire of God's love that was at the heart of the Wesleyan movement is still available to us. Are we so devoid of God's Presence that we rarely if ever burn with God's love? What has happened to us?

John Meunier said...


But are we different people in the ways that matter most?

We are creatures of God in need of God. We are sinners in need of new birth. We are children of God needing to be perfected in love.

Our mindsets are different from Wesley's, but I'm not convinced that means he has little to teach us.

David said...

Sounds like it was a great and inspiring conference! The problem that Wesley's children are experiencing is, lamentably, a problem a lot of us across the denominations know well.

The demographics of the Church are shifting and when we consider global Christianity rather than exclusively its US manifestation, then the picture is not as bleak.

It's complicated, but here at home I don't think many of the mainline (and other!) denominations reflect the ethnic and class diversity of their communities. This is certainly so for the Society of Friends which continues to be a tiny island of (mostly) white in a sea of various hues of browns. If the national population is growing and if (according the the US Census Bureau) the Hispanic, Black, and Asian populations are outpacing the growth of non-Hispanic whites, then many of our denominations will continue to decline and, in some cases, vanish.

I don't think it is simply a matter of not loving God enough, but I do think this should cause us in the denominations to address latent (and sometimes blatant) classist and racial issues, not only in our past, but also in our present structure and assumptions. Leadership, worship, governance, activities, etc. All could be interrogated from the vantage point of these assumptions.

There is a lot of work for us all to do! Manos a la obra, hermanos!

Jim Jensen said...

I think the issue of demographics is certainly a factor. When older, predominantly white congregations refuse to adapt their worship and missional methods to the community around them, we fail follow Wesley's genius--going to where the hurting and lost are found and bringing the message of Christ to them in ways they can embrace.

But I think there is another problem: we are more afraid of offending than of seeing people spend eternity apart from the Lord. We've embraced too well the philosophy of the pluralistic society in which we live--everyone has the right to their own beliefs. Of course they do! But as disciples of Christ we are charged with doing everything we can to influence others to put their faith in the Messiah. I fear we are "respecting" the right of others to go to hell! For that matter, I fear we have largely lost the doctrine of hell and embraced universalism. If there's no hell, then there's no need to evangelize! We've done the very thing John of Patmos feared--we've drunk the wine of the "whore". It's time to reawaken the passion and the methods of Rev. Wesley in our movement--to cry out to the unbelieving world to "flee the wrath to come."

Bruce said...

John and the others, thanks for your thoughts on the matter. I think Wesley has more to teach us on living out our faith and embracing the Kingdom of God.

Anonymous said...

I am a simple layman. I do not have citations to give you. I am speaking from a variety of messages I have heard and read over the last several years.

God's one, simple instruction is to tell the Gospel (i.e., the Good News) to all the world (Mark 16:15, Romans 15:19-21, 1 Corinthians 1:17-19). That's right. Just tell it like it is.

Several studies have shown that the churches that are growing and becoming ''mega'' churches, are those where the Gospel is presented clearly and consistently.

There is a story of a small country church that served about 50 back woods souls. When their pastor died unexpectedly, all the members decided that the wise old deacon would assume the pulpit until a new pastor could be found. Considering the size of the church and the fact that it was secluded in the back woods hills, the search for a pastor was proving futile. The deacon was the only one of their membership who had faithfully studied the Bible all his life. He knew it well. While his sermons were different from Sunday to Sunday, using many different Bible stories, they always came around to confronting the people with their sins and their hopeless condition, followed by the Good News of Jesus Christ and God's provision for them. This was very different from the folksy stories their pastor had preached over the years. They were shocked. The board members insisted that the deacon tone down his sermons because people were leaving the fold, offended by his strong condemnation and ignoring the Good News part. As the membership had grown to some 200 members, someone asked the deacon what eventually happened. He said, ''Well, I preached 'em down to two faithful members. Then, with God's help, we began to build a Church.

A decade or so ago, our church (now becoming part of W.A.R.M.) spent a considerable amount of money for a demographic study of our community. The purpose was to see who we should be adapting our programs to serve. I was reminded of another message I had heard. The Church belongs to God, not us. He will pick and chose whom He sends to our church, based on how well we are doing what He told us to do: Preach the Gospel!

During my more than 20-year membership here, I don't recall hearing one sermon that confronted me with my sinful nature, my powerless ability to fix it myself, and the Good News that God is ready, willing, and more than able to take care of it. I still need to be reminded of that. Thankfully, I began reading the Bible over 60-years ago. There are multitudes out there who have never heard the Good News. They are hungry for God's bread but they don't know it and they don't know how to find it. Our task is great; the workers seem few. Let's get to work, not to save our bricks and mortar, but to serve our God and give the parched multitudes a drink of cool water.