Do you ever feel like you are living out the movie Ground Hog’s Day? The same thing keeps playing out over and over again. Life does not seem to be moving on. It seems like this is the case in the United Methodist denomination. Except in our case the rest of the world has moved on, but we keep having the same conversation without any forward progress. I guess that is not entirely true. There is progress, but it is not positive progress. I’m not even sure that it is technically progress. It is mostly just people getting uglier with one another as time progresses. It is not a good example for our culture of what a faith community should look like and be about.
In the meantime, the UMC General Conference is unable to meet because of COVID. Obviously, that’s a real issue and keeping delegates and their families from around the world safe and healthy is a top priority. But our archaic polity and structure have kept us bound from finding creative ways to gather and do the business of the denomination. Instead, we are working with a six-plus year-old outdated budget, bishops covering multiple episcopal areas because elections can’t be held, churches leaving the denomination and law suits being filed because delegates can’t come together to consider an amicable separation plan, and all the while the denomination continues to decline in its retaining existing people and reaching new people for Jesus Christ. We continue to wait to hear if General Conference will indeed gather in August of 2022 or wait until the regular quadrennial gathering in 2024.
This is such a devastating and heart-breaking scenario. We are this perpetual holding pattern. There have been conversations for decades about the important issue that seems to be at the forefront of the pending separation of the beloved UMC. While the topic is extremely important, the hyper focus on this one topic has distracted us from the larger issue facing Methodism. The denomination has no vision for God’s preferred future nor a financially sustainable strategic plan for getting us there. There seems to be more of an emphasis on upholding the institution as it is than an emphasis on reaching people for Christ. There seems to be more of an emphasis on gathering and pacifying the special interest groups over the single topic concern rather than discerning God’s vision for the UMC and creating a faithful and viable pathway forward. There seems to be more emphasis on creating further cumbersome and often self-contradictory legislation rather than seeking a more simplified, nimble, and flatter structure that is more reflective of modern culture.
As a fourth generation Methodist I found myself wanting to cry out, but feeling as though I had no voice and no seat at the table. There was nothing I could do, but watch the train wreck happen. But what if that is exactly what every Methodist thought? After wrestling with God over this very issue, we all know the outcome. God prevailed and the Cry From the Pew was written. My most recent book is not about more conversation. It is about a call for action. Let’s not just gather and have more conversation. Let’s gather. Discern God’s preferred future for the UMC. Create a faithful, strategic plan to live into that preferred future – no matter the cost. Take the bold steps to live into that preferred future – no matter the cost. We were never promised that being a follower of Jesus would be easy, comfortable, or without cost. UMC Brothers and Sisters, it is time for us to step up and take action that results in positive Kingdom impact! Won’t you please join me?