One of the most pressing needs in The United Methodist Church today is to reconnect with the world that God created and loves. As George Morris and Eddie Fox reminded us many years ago, the God of the Bible is a “missionary God.” God is seeking the children who are the least, the lost and the lonely. I would say that if we are not engaged in the mission of God, we will never enter fully into the will of God and we will not experience the blessing that comes from joyful obedience.
Over the past 30 years, I have read every early Methodist letter, diary, and journal that I could find in Britain and North America — and I am personally convinced that any expression of the Methodist movement that separates mission and evangelism from spiritual formation and discipleship diminishes our spiritual DNA and distorts our history. What can we do today to reconnect our church to our missionary God, who, in Christ, calls us to pray and live in the fullness of the Holy Spirit and in the integrity of love for God and neighbor?
I don’t need to remind seminarians that the Methodist movement began as a youth movement with few university graduates, including John and Charles Wesley. It quickly gathered the support of adults who wanted to grow in their understanding and experience of God, living in intentional relationships defined by the three general rules and five simple structures. The general rules are: (1) Do no harm, (2) do good, and (3) actively participate in all the means of grace. These general rules guided young people to active engagement in the Methodist mission to do good to the bodies and souls of their neighbors, friends, and families. The five simple structures were: (1) the trial band where people could demonstrate their readiness to engage in spiritual practice and intentional mission; (2) the class meeting for those who passed the test of readiness to grow and engaged them in an intentional experience of small group spiritual formation; (3) the band meeting for the men and women, married and single, who were indeed “born again” and now in need of spiritual nurture and guidance toward spiritual adulthood; (4) the select society or select band, the setting where men and women received spiritual “meat” instead of “milk” and could actively engage in loving God and neighbor with all their hearts, all their strength and all their minds; and (5) “leaders meeting,” where leaders could speak honestly about the issues of the Methodist “society” and the particular area where they were assigned to lead and serve. When John, Charles, or other “assistants” arrived in a city, the first group they met with was the “leaders” of the classes, bands, stewards, etc. By listening to them, they had a quick and thorough orientation to the current reality and spiritual challenges of the local Methodist Society. Then John, Charles, or their assistants could bring their knowledge of God, the Bible, church history, and theology into the local context appropriately.
So, the key question is: Knowing our spiritual and structural DNA, what difference will it make in your ministry? In mine? And in The United Methodist Church today?
How can we reconnect with our leaders? Our neighbors and our young people? In my next blog, I’ll reflect on the Methodist way to meaningfully engage our young people, reconnect with our neighbors, and become an authentically global church.
If you are interested in a preview, you can download this proposal.