Walking in the Light

There is an unnecessary tragedy associated with our current obsessive-compulsive fixation on death, decay and decline.  The tragedy is that we are living a lie.  We are walking by sight, not by faith.  We are choosing to accept darkness as truth, and in so doing we create a self-fulfilling prophecy.  We embrace secular values, slap a coat of piety-paint on them, and pretend that we haven’t sold out.  We buy a billboard, put a cute phrase on it and call it “witness.”  We create a smaltzy ad to manipulate the emotions and call it “evangelism.”  We develop a bumper-sticker slogan and call it “vision.”  We look and act less and less like the Christ and call it “The United Methodist Church.”  It is time to look in the mirror (and wipe off all the grease paint that make us look clownish and foolish).  Time to turn on the lights and take a good look at ourselves.  You know what?  If we will do this we will find a huge surprise.  We don’t look nearly as bad as we think we might.

This opinion is based on what exactly?  Well, some “big picture” thinking, basically.  Here are some facts.  People are joining our churches, they are getting involved, they are growing in their faith, they are giving generously, they care about their neighbors and their world, they are all ages, races, cultures and backgrounds.  You might react, saying, “Not my church,” and that is undoubtedly true.  It isn’t happening everywhere — but it IS happening.  And yes, people are leaving and dying and staying but not engaging (or staying and being selfish, or staying and causing conflict, or staying and griping about everything, or staying and going through the motions, or…) and that makes things harder, but this is not our whole story.  In the past month I have been on the receiving end of 116 positive stories about how The United Methodist Church is succeeding and making a positive impact on lives.  From Japan, Malawi, Haiti, Cambodia, Senegal, Costa Rica, and Korea — stories of help and grace and healing and hope.  From a young woman,

We (this person and two friends) read your blog and find great hope.  We started attending a church together – me for the first time since I was confirmed — that you mentioned and I just wanted to thank you.  I thought “organized religion” was only for hypocrites and losers.  And I was right!  I just didn’t realize I was the hypocrite and I was the loser.  I was so turned off by all the churches with banners and praise bands that I missed the fact that there are some amazing churches that aren’t wasting time and money trying to get members.  We found a church that is trying to help people live meaningful and spiritual lives.  I am proud to call myself and Christian and invite other people to church for the first time in my life.

Yes, she’s talking about a United Methodist Church.  And she mentions a critically important factor in getting people to come to church — ask them.  Here’s another snippet from a different email:

I am going to St. Luke’s (Indianapolis) because you told me it would be worth checking out.  I thought it was weird that you would ask me to go to someone else’s church, but I figured if you recommended it, it was worth checking out.  There are lots of things different about St. Luke’s and there are a lot of things that are just like every other church, but the one thing I noticed right away is how much the people there love their church.  I know that everyone says they love their church, but you can tell at St. Luke’s because they talk about it all the time with everybody.  I have never been with a group of Christians that are so excited about their church that they actually invite friends and neighbors to check it out.  I don’t think I ever in my life invited someone to church before I came here, but then I never have been part of a church that made me want to invite them.  I have told at least twenty people, “I go to a amazing church.  You should check it out.  Our church is growing because people ask their friends to come.

I visited a church where the youth group decided on their own to stop having meetings in the church.  Instead, they volunteer at a community project — soup kitchen, shelter, clean-up, nursing home, etc. — every Sunday.  Afterwards, they go back to the church for prayer, Bible study, conversation and to decide where to go next.  Last year, the youth group dwindled to five members.  Since committing to the service projects they have increased the youth group to 27 members, with average attendance of 22 each week.

The Crossings ministry at University of Wisconsin, Madison, is changing young lives through their Quest mission trips.  Young adults are making career decisions based on the experiences they have providing Christian service to those in need.  This is Christian leadership development at its finest.

Lives are being not only touched, but saved because of The United Methodist Church.  People are coming to faith, and our best evangelism doesn’t create new church members, but new Christian disciples — some of whom pursue their spiritual journey with other denominations or Christian affiliations.  Perhaps we are not growing numerically and getting more money to build more buildings and fund more marketing campaigns, but that isn’t why we exist in the first place.  It is time for us to stop whining about what isn’t all that important.  We might find that we are more attractive when we are joyful and positive.  Jesus called us the light of the world.  It’s time to shine.

17 replies

    • Davy, I’m just curious – why the need or desire for the name-calling (that I cleaned up but left in…)?

      • I am a sixty-year-old gay Christian, who loves God, does work for the Lord, prays daily, reads the Bible and has been welcome in absolutely 0 United Methodist churches since I came out in 1974. Your church is in decline, it is dying, and it is a pit of hateful, angry, evil decay. So, by all means turn on the light and see who you really are and no that God really isn’t interested in having anything to do with people who hate his children.

      • I’m truly sorry for your experience. There are some (many) of my UM brothers and sisters who claim that God is love but still live in the darkness of hate and condemnation of others. I still maintain they are not the whole story and their pettiness and lack of Christ doesn’t define us all. I see both sides, and feel that we have too long focused on the negative to the exclusion of the good. I wish it were true for all. Thank you for explaining.

  1. @Davy: I’m so sorry that happened to you. Your experience is true in far too many United Methodist Churches. I am, however, glad to say, not all.

  2. Davy, you would be very welcome at the church I serve. I’m sorry you’ve had so many bad experiences at other churches.

    Dan, I love much of what you write but I think you’re wrong on this. Something like 40% of UM churches didn’t have a single profession of faith last year. Not one! We’re like an animal on the endangered species list. Find a pack of maned wolves and they’re doing fine. The problem is that there are fewer and fewer of those packs around. We still have many bright spots in the denomination, but fewer all the time.

    • Ah, and if it were all about us, this would be a problem. Professions of faith to the totality of all Christian communions actually increased two of the last three years — just not in United Methodist congregations. Why do you think that is? People are attracted to churches focused on vitality, joy, encouragement, and a positive vision — all things lacking from our current conversation. Who, may I ask, will jump at the chance to join a faith communion fixated on decline, decay, and death?

      • I agree with that, Dan. Even the so-called “church growth” measures are primarily a response to the decay rather than the expression of a positive vision for serving Christ. They may use positive language, but the conversations reveal the real motive – the desire to save the church from further decline. They say they tell the story of decay as a wake up call, to get us to change what we do, but the impression it gives is a focus on stopping decay rather than on living an abundant life.

      • i wonder (almost i THINK it) if we could think of ourselves (various denominations and groups) as a unity, perhaps we and the world we are called to love would be better. The UMC is not the whole Church. Can we rejoice when another denomination receives a member?

  3. What if our goal wasn’t to save the UMC? What if our goal was to spend the UMC as fully as possible in ministry to the world? What if, instead of worrying about how much we’ve lost, we focused on what we have and how it could be used to do the work of Christ? What if, instead of trying to avert death, we simply did what ministry we could for as long as we could?

    • Preach it. What if we talked about life, promise, hope, love and possibility? Oh my God! People might think our church was worth supporting.

      • Hey bishops! Are any of you listening? Do any of you think we might have a future? I saw John Shoal’s absolutely clueless response to the Global Summit. Are any of you praying and using a measure of common sense? Please lead. Please quit being cowards. Please quit kissing up to stupid rhetoric and the secular powers that be. We need our bishops to be spiritual leaders, not insipid “yes” men (and women). Please have courage. Listen to Dan Dick.

    • Too many churches, too many Methodists, and not just Methodists. I was raised in the church and some of the most “loving” people turned out to be some of the most hateful when they heard I was gay. I wish I believed it was just a “few closed minded churches,” but after my twentieth or so without finding any open minded ones, I gave it up as a lost cause. Closed Hearts, Closed Minds, Closed Doors – The People of the United Methodist Church.

      • I know there are open-minded churches — Reconciling Congregations (United Methodist) and Open and Affirming (some other denominations) — so I hate to see you reject whole denominations. On the other hand, Davy, I know there are far too many of the other kind, and I can only imagine the horrible experiences of rejection that have made you justly angry.

        I had the privilege of serving a reconciling congregation for six years and I heard many stories of pain from fine Christians who’d been condemned by narrow-minded churches. It breaks my heart that people would be so terribly cruel and judgmental. You deserve to have a place where people of all orientations are fully welcomed and affirmed.

  4. Yes, Yes, and yes. What I find lifegiving in the connection (UMC) right now is the flow of narrative and prayer that trace the Spirit’s fingerprints among us. What concerns me is “heavy lifting” talk about turning the institution. Wesleyan grace isn’t served by strapping on concrete shoes while being told to run. Denominational dashboards will encourage our competitave natures, but will they nurture the peculiar embodiments of Christ that make us want to invite others to our faith communities and draw us to serve our local and global neighbors with whatever and whoever we are?

  5. Davy, your comments towards the Methodist Church are as hateful,angry, and judgmental as you perceive this denomination to be. Acceptance, mutual love and understanding is a two way street. The Methodist Church is in need of transformation to be sure, but might I suggest that given your tone, you do too.
    And Kathy, Reconciling congregations don’t have the market cornered on acceptance and openness. To assert that non-reconciling congregations are narrow minded and bias (the “others”) is skirting close to a judgmental position yourself. In my opinion, factions (both confessing and reconciling) are a major part of our denominations problems.

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