What Do You Think ReThink is Thinking?

The prefix “re” usually implies “again,” — return, turn again; review, view again; regain, gain again; reframe, frame again — so in the case of ReThink Church, the implication is that we have thought church through at least once.  (It doesn’t work so well with regret, gret again?, rebate, bate again?, rebut, but again???)  Upon reflection, some believe it is time to rethink church — to take a careful look at what we’ve got and ask the question, “is this the best we can do?”  rethinkchurch_logo_The deeper question is, “are we really re-thinking or just dressing up the same old thing so it looks different?”  As with most things in life, the answer is not a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no.’

ReThink Church is a branding package — a promotional ploy to update and/or replace the problematic “open hearts/minds/doors” sound bite of Igniting Ministry — designed to get more people to want to join The United Methodist Church.  To this extent, it is simply same-old, same-old — nothing new, just a retread.  If it becomes nothing more than a pleasant website and a logo on a bumper sticker or a coffee mug, then we’re no further along than we’ve been with whatever Ministries we’ve Ignited over the past eight years.  Each time I visit the website, I come away dismayed that there really isn’t anything new or innovative.  It seems to me to be a fresh coat of paint on the old, familiar structure.  To me, and I emphasize that this is (as always) just a personal opinion, it smacks of the tired “Venus fly-trap” approach to snagging young people to bolster the sagging attendance stats of the UMC.  So much is geared to getting people in our doors — the main foundation of the “institutional preservation paradigm” of our denomination.

This calls to mind the business book battle of the 1980s and 90s between “re-engineering” vs. “reinventing.”  The United Methodist Church cannot afford re-engineering in a time demanding reinvention.  Our denomination accepts as given the historical and traditional practices of itineracy, connectionalism, governance, judicial review, episcopal oversight, appointive orders, apportionments and disciplinary obligations, and resourcing.  None of these should be summarily dismissed, but all have more validity for 18th, 19th, and 20th century realities than relevancy in the 21st.  It sometimes seems that we are trying so hard to be a Sony Walkman church in an iPod world.  This is more than an “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” thing — it’s more an “I’m a Mac, I’m an IBM Selectric” (with self-correcting ribbon cartridge!) distinction.

The idea that The United Methodist Church might actually be doing a new thing falls apart under close scrutiny.  ReThink Church, at least what has appeared so far, is the same old institution parading around in a new suit of clothes.  Unfortunately, like the emperor of the children’s tale, this new suit is imaginary and what is underneath is shining through — the church we’ve always had, unaware that it’s not fooling anyone.

We need a new United Methodist Church — drawing from its strengths, its theological roots, and its commitment to transformation — to create a Christian presence in the world that is different.  The key to this difference is that we stop focusing so much on “Methodist” and we start focusing more on “United.”  Rather than airing all of our grievances, disputes, controversies, and conflicts, we need a witness to the world that unity in Christ is greater than our petty squabbles.  Instead of fixating on our sins, failures, losses, and weaknesses, we need a vision for God’s healing grace, inclusive justice, unmerited mercy, and boundless love.  We need to get up out of our pews, stop hiding in our sanctuaries, drop our clergy-laity competitions, and take our faith into the world — especially the ugly, dirty, broken, diseased, and hopeless corners and crannies.  We need to stop believing we are the gravitational center of the Church, and become the presence of Christ reaching to the fringes, the margins, and the boundaries where the children of God are disenfranchised and ignored.  We need to break from the “mainline” to and draw a “newline” that encompasses more of those on the outside — increase our definition of “us” while significantly decreasing the number of people we marginalize as “them.”  Perhaps what we need most is to stop listening to those calling for revision and pay a little more attention to those crying out for a revolution.  It’s not too late.  Let’s rethink our rethinking before all we end up with is a repeat of what we’ve already done.

43 replies

  1. Oh, God, thank you. Do the people who did this know how much it SUCKS? I’m not stupid, I’m not three years old, and I am not my mother and father, either. Do these people know what a young person is like? Keep telling the truth and hopefully people will wake up and listen.

  2. I thought you were being unfair when I first read this. Then came annual conference and a whole bunch of hype since, and then I decided to talk to people about it in our conference. Then I talked to my kids about it. You were dead on target and then some. Once the cheap veneer of this thing peels away, we’re going to see that this is a pretty superficial and wasteful thing we’re doing. May God forgive us for selling out to corporate shills who teach us to ignore our true identity in search of our “brand.”

  3. I hope this doesn’t interfere with the cooling off Jan. Here is the reply and explanation I received from Vicki Wallace at InfoServ when I expressed my concern through the “Contact Us” tool on the 10000doors website:

    Hello Rev. Thompson and thank you for writing.

    Thank you for asking about the presence of United Methodist Children’s Services of Wisconsin on 10thousanddoors.org.

    The FIND section of the website searches for local church ministries in order to connect seekers with local churches in their area.

    The global map on the GO/DO section currently displays local church health ministries and mission projects as well as Advance projects from the General Board of Global Ministries. The global map will soon be displaying Volunteers in Mission (VIM) opportunities also.

    At this point there is no process to display conference ministries, however the website staff said they are continually looking for new source feeds. Several of our staff are also planning updates to the annual conference and district directories on UMC.org. The hope is to design a place for conferences and district to enter ministries that would be similar to a local church Find-A-Church profile. Local church ministries entered on Find-A-Church feed the search on 10thousanddoors.org and we hope to have conference and district ministries feed that search also.

    If there are churches in your area supplying volunteers, you might suggest to them that they add UM Children’s Services to their church profiles on Find-A-Church. Then seekers would be able to connect through the local church to volunteer at your agency.

    As you can see, this is still a work in progress. We want seekers to find as many opportunities as possible on 10thousanddoors.org, so staff will continue to work to find ways to include more and more ministries.

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