Frustrated with the Negativity!
If I read one more well intentioned article about what the church, particularly The United Methodist Church, is doing wrong I think I will scream. Yes, I know we are struggling with years of decline. I know our buildings are old, our polity is complicated, and we are not trend setting, wearing skinny jeans, and we don’t have many “rock star” preachers. So what. Garrison Keeler is fond of noting that
Reaching More People, More Diverse People, and More Young People
You may not know it but The United Methodist Church is starting more churches reaching more people, more diverse people, and more young people than almost any other denomination in the world. Most “church planting movements” are focused on spiritually displaced, middle class, Anglos filling their padded pew chairs with people from other churches. Thanks to the work of Path1 nationally, and the Office of New Faith Communities in my own North Carolina Conference, we are demonstrating a commitment to not only serve wealthy urban neighborhoods, but also struggling rural communities like Aulander and Winfall, NC. In addition to funding downtown, urban satellites, we are also seeking to reach minority communities, serve the growing Hispanic population, and create new places for second-life singles and young adults. In our own conference we have planted more than twenty churches in the last four years that represent the liturgical, theological, and cultural diversity of our communities.
The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is one of the best kept secrets in United Methodism. This disaster relief agency provides immediate and long term disaster relief both domestically and internationally. It is usually one of the first organizations on the ground, thanks to the global nature of The United Methodist Church, and stays long after organizations like the Red Cross pack up their trailers and head home. They provide emergency food, water, and supplies, and then stick around to rebuild homes, communities and lives. Staffed by a skeleton crew but fueled by hundreds, even thousands, of dedicated part-time and full-time volunteers UMCOR teams are at the ready for disaster wherever it occurs. They serve tirelessly and faithfully, often under the media radar because their primary mission is recovery not self-promotion.
Embracing the Global Nature of the Church
The United Methodist Church is growing. It may not be growing in the US or in Europe, but globally The UMC is expanding at a rate in South America, Africa, and around the Pacific rim at a rate that we can barely keep up with. I have been impressed at the way that The General Conference has embraced the globalization of the church and attempted to insure that the voices of these emerging global United Methodists are heard loud and clear. God is at work within The United Methodist Church, and I believe that the global revival that is occurring will spur renewal within the areas where our church is in decline.
Having a Big Tent
If you live in a town with more than one United Methodist Church I can almost bet that one of them is one of the most progressive churches in your community, and the other is one of the most evangelical churches in your community. I believe the fact that our denomination provides room for theological tension is actually a strength, not a weakness. Too often we are too quick to try to solve problems with pronouncements and legislation, when what we really need is civil discourse and the ability to love each other and disagree with each other. Like every family we have crazy cousins, and calm peacemakers, but that is what being the family of God is all about.
Having Difficult Discussions
Lastly, The United Methodist Church is willing to have difficult discussions. Don’t get me wrong, there are people on every side of every issue that would much rather scream, yell, and throw rocks than enter into prayerful times of discernment and discussion. This is incredibly frustrating for those of us who struggle with maintaining our evangelical faith and our social witness. I am glad that I serve within a denomination that doesn’t expect everyone to follow divine pronouncements from on high made by a few, influential leaders. Instead we enter into difficult times of discussion where we pray, listen, debate, practice holy conferencing, and strive to listen to the voice of God. Having these difficult discussions actually allows us to discover the truth at much deeper levels.
We Are Not Perfect!
The United Methodist Church is far from perfect. There are people that I love dearly and disagree with completely. There are times wihen the idea of locking 2,000 people in a convention center and feeding them a high carb diet and expecting them to make good theological decisions seems ludicrous. In the end, I love The United Methodist Church, I believe in the power of the Holy Spirit to help us overcome the “humanness” of our church and will guide us to continue to do all the good we can, in all the ways we can, wherever we can and to continue to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ around the corner and around the world. This is my church, this is my family, and I’m staying!
The ideas, opinions, and reflections above are solely those of Marty J. Cauley and do not, necessarily reflect those of The United Methodist Church or The North Carolina Conference.