April 30, 2012

Do you like this?

This morning I came across a blog written by my friend, John Stephens, who is the Chair of the Order of Elders here in the South Georgia Annual Conference. In his piece, John asks some fundamental questions about the identity of The United Methodist Church displayed in and through the decisions being made at General Conference.

One paragraph in particular jumped out at me:

“While “making disciples for the transformation of the world” may be our espoused theory, is it really our theory in use?  Is it really what we do?  Does the whole denomination embrace it?  Is the vision shared?  Or, are we a collective of differing interests and priorities?”

Let’s push this reasoning a little further.

I’ve found as of late that the go-to answer in most circles of The United Methodist Church is “making disciples for the transformation of the world.” It’s simple, catchy and even sounds very theological. We throw this answer out whenever we discuss issues ranging from mission to money to church decline. We claim it as a mission statement and, by God, we hold ourselves to using the phrase on a regular basis.

What does it mean to “make disciples”? What does a disciple look like? How does one not only become a disciple but also continue to grow as a disciple?  Why is discipleship important?

These are fundamental questions that I don’t think we have consensus on. So if there’s no consensus, does using that catchy phrase render it empty? In many ways I think it does.

The hard truth about The United Methodist Church is that along with much of mainline, Protestant America, we’ve been more concerned with forming good people — people who love their families, pay their taxes, go to church regularly, and try to be nice to others — than we have with forming disciples of Jesus Christ. Now that people have begun to figure out they can be all of those things without going to church, we’ve lost ourselves in the despair of decline.

We’ve done very little in the Church to distinguish Christianity as something unique and different. We’ve been comfortable in our perch as an American institution and we’ve done our parts to ensure that remain our place in society. Unfortunately the 21st Century has awakened us to the reality that were knocked out of that perch a while ago. We’re just now waking up to that reality.

I’ve heard leaders and advocates of various restructure plans say in one breath “this isn’t a magic bullet” and “we’re doing this to ensure we make our top priority the making of disciples” (my paraphrase). If we aren’t discussing the basic questions of discipleship — what it is, what it looks like, what changes are required to live into it — then plans of restructure are simply plans to grow the church and sustain viability. These aren’t bad things at all. Nor are they 100% mutually exclusive. But we simply can’t go on assuming that we all agree on the very basics of discipleship just because we all agree on a catch phrase. 

I do hope there are some delegates present who will at least ask the tough questions of discipleship when they hear the catch phrase “making disciples for the transformation of the world.” If we don’t ask the tough questions, I fear we are, in fact, making a values statement by our lack of speech. We’ve got a long way to go if that statement is to reflect the reality of our lives together. It’s my hope that we begin the journey of a few thousand miles with a few tough questions.


April 30, 2012

Comments (4)

Comment Feed

We do not agree.

It is clear that we do not agree on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Some of us believe that converting people of other faiths to Christ is not even a worthy goal. The majority of the UMC (I think) still believes this is the most important and most worthy goal. If we can't agree on this, we are certainly not a "United" Methodist Chruch, whatever we call ourselves. Nor are we likely to end the frustration that is being expressed.

It is clear from the votes at General Conference that the UMC is moving to the right on many issues, including Biblical authority, sexual morality, and homosexual practice. With the addition of the growing African members, the growth in the Southeastern Jurisdiction, and the decline in the Western and Northeastern Jurisdictions, that is the direction of the chruch. That direction will not change in this generation. United Methodism grew by a million members last year, but guess where.

If we are ever be a "United" Methodist Church, we all have some important questions to ask ourselves.

Mike Childs more than 1 years ago

Making Apostles

I was a disciple in Sunday school. And, given our understanding of educqation as being a life lonbg endeavor, I am still a disciple.

But I had to enter the adult world. And, thanks to some wonderful Sunday School teachers and leaders at Wesley Foundation when I got to college, I realized that I also needed to be an apostle.

There's a huge difference.

Whether or not I had a lot of gifts and graces, Jesus called me to use them as a means of showing God's love. Transforming the world would take care of itself because that was God's job. Mine was to be His/Her missionary wherever I was.

I've tried to do that by helping in the church because the local church is where fellow disciples and apostles met regularly to upbuild one another. I tried to be a good worker in my various part-time and summer jobs while I was in school. I tried to be a good neighbor. I tried to help on mission projects set up by the church. I tried to do that as a student. Then I got to try it in my vocation, which happened to be as a pastor in the United Metrhodist Church. I've tried to do it by working with other churches's pastors, by leading teaching confirmands and giving them mission opportunities, by setting up local church ministries to the city's hospital, county jail, etc., by helping pastrors and laity in trouble with the denomination's administrative and judicial, and by using legislative and judicial options open to an individual to help move our denomination in directions I thought consistent with a Christian apostle's mission.

In retirement, I have had to focus declining energies and gifts, but I hope you see me hanging in there for a few more years.

Making disciples is not aiming high enough. Making apostles,turning loose God's people to be missionaries where they are and where God takes them, would be a better description of what the church actually does when it follows the Spirit.

Jerry Eckert more than 1 years ago

UMC changes

I see this transformation setting into all the denominations of our Protestant faith and it is unsettling. However, the Lord Jesus Christ is not into denominations. The world has fallen asleep and lulled into deception by the anti christ spirit and Jehovah Father will not stand by and see His word flattened and watered down. elect and true bride of Christ will know His voice and follow his Ways no matter what the world is doing. I believe we will continue to see the denominations fall apart under the gise of becoming united in one. The world is setting the stage for satan and his regime to set up the war against the saints and our Lord Jesus Christ. But we know who wins! Come Lord Jesus quickly. My husband and myself have removed our membership from the UMC and will not follow these vipers into the pit.

Brenda Barnett more than 1 years ago

Transform the world

Making disciples for the transformation of the world sounds good and seems fine for a faith-based institution. It still smacks of triumphalism and places the priority on making disciples. We live in a multi-religious contemporary world. The hope of converting the whole world to one's faith tradition is misplaced.The urgency is on transformation of the world. This can only come about not by having more disciples in one's own faith community but working together with people of other faith and non-religious faith in the work of transforming society and the world and to live in harmomy with all of God's good creation.

Yap Kim Hao more than 1 years ago


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