Limited Appeal

I got an email this week from a lifelong Methodist who writes:

You do realize, don’t you, that you have a very limited appeal?  The majority of United Methodists are extremely happy with the way things are.

Really?  We are happy with losing credibility?  We are happy that more people are leaving than are coming?  We are happy that younger educated people find us irrelevant and ridiculous?  We are happy that the only people who care about our survival is us?  Really?  Then why are we so obsessed with doing anything and everything to ensure our continued survival — whether we deserve to survive or not?  Can the church of Jesus Christ fulfill its mission without a United Methodist Church?  You betcha’, which means we better clean up our act really fast.

United Methodism is so “last year.”  No one much cares if we are “UM,” what they care about is whether we are making the world a better place.  If a church is actually helping people relate to God, grow in their faith, and make a difference in the world, people care.  If a church spends tons of money on ads and holds an annual “Change the World” campaign?  Not so much.

My appeal is irrelevant.  I don’t care who reads me — I blog for me.  If others read it and are challenged, all the better.  I know that “the powers that be” could care less what I say.  Here is a quote from one of our denominational power-brokers:

 You’re a flea, a nuisance.  You criticize the work of people who are smarter, more Christian, and more committed than you, but you don’t make a bit of difference.  If what you say made a difference, we would invite you into the important work of envisioning a future for the church.

I am okay with this.  I have a different opinion and vision, that’s all.  I want to see our church make the world a bit more like the kin_dom of God.  I don’t think we have used very good critical thinking skills in looking at our short- or long-term future.  I believe we are focused on the wrong things and that no matter how hard we work, we will not see the kinds of results we want.  Lots of people disagree with me.  They look at the results we have been getting for the past 40 years and say, “we’re good with this.  Decline and decay, losing millions of members, this is what we were hoping for.  We need to keep doing what is killing us.”  That’s fine, but it will never make me happy.

We have so much opportunity, and so many options.  The only one not truly viable is to continue pandering to the lowest common denominator.  As long as we exist to coddle and comfort those least interested in living the gospel of Jesus Christ, we are on the path to extinction.  Nothing can exist if its highest value is compromise and irrelevancy.  We must actually support Christian discipleship or we will disappear.

And, yes, I know discipleship is a joy-killer; we only want a faith that makes us happy and comfortable, but that isn’t what Jesus called us to.  For those who think Christianity is showing up occasionally for a worship service, we may disappoint.  The active Christian life calls us to service, sacrifice and standards.  Being Christian actually means something.  Our church could commit to this.  Now, of course, 70% of the tag-a-longs we now have would bolt, but oh how glorious is could be to have a church filled with bona-fide disciples-in-formation.

No, to dedicate ourselves to our disciplinary mandate to reach our and receive new people,to relate people to God, to nurture and strengthen them in an authentic Christian faith, and to equip them to live transformed and transforming live in the world?  That’s hard work.  It is what we say we are all about, but still… 

We won’t do this.  We like money too much.  We have bills to pay.  We have big buildings to support… and build more of.  We like US way to much to like Jesus more.

Christianity, true discipleship, will always have limited appeal.  The costs outweigh the benefits, and the sacrifice outweighs the material rewards.  We don’t like this.  We want a faith that is all about us, and we want a church that helps us feel comfortable, safe, and accepted.

34 replies

  1. Just stumbled across this blog, and I like it. As an ordained elder and pastor who also gets frustrated and discouraged, I needed to read this. thanks!

  2. I want to know what yahoo in the denomination has the nerve to call you a flea and un-invite you from planning the future of your own church. This sort of elitism is why I left the clergy of the UMC.

  3. Dan – to get back to the flea comment. Someone else related that to the prophets. I’ve heard someone else refer to you as a modern Jeremiah. Recall Jeremiah was thrown into a dry well for speaking unpopular statements! Prophets have often been ignored and discounted because their message is not popular. Keep up the good work. I always look forward to your posts.

  4. Rev. Dick,
    While I do not always agree with you on every point, I find your writing generally on point. I will agree with your detractor that a lot of people sitting in United Methodist pews on Sunday morning are just as happy as a lark the way things are. However their happiness is born of intentional ignorance of the situation and a general lack of any real commitment to the United Methodist Church, or Jesus Christ. I would refer you to your own article on the Sleeping Dragon. Too many of our congregations are locked in their own little world, and they are entirely comfortable there, until one day their DS has to come it to have the talk about closing the church. I would say that among the laity, only about 10 percent of the people in the pews actually care to be United Methodist. As for the “powerbroker,” this would be one individual that should not be in a leadership position anywhere in a United Methodist Church, much less in a national leadership position. That individual needs to be gone, and the sooner the better.

  5. Dan,
    I read your columns fairly regularly and am generally irritated by them. However, I am a closed minded curmudgeon who needs his prejudices kicked frequently to keep from becoming completely fossilized.

    I appreciate and share your optimism about what the United Methodist church could be. However, I don’t see any way for us to get there except by the grace of God. I have worked changing the culture of secular organizations and the UMC leadership cannot change the UMC culture. The requisite levers do not exist and there is really no place to stand. The only reasonable plan is a miracle, for which I am praying.

    As the management guru Peter Drucker observed,”Every organization is optimally staffed and organized to achieve the results it is achieving.” Everyone is in favor of positive culture change so long as it does not impact their rice bowl. Those whose rice bowls would be meaningfully impacted by the needed changes have sufficient influence at General Conference to prevent the needed changes.

    Therefore, The Call to Action recommendations appear to focus on what can be done, with very minor institutional impact, rather than what needs to be done. Unless there is a lot more “envisioning” going on than meets the eye, the denominational power broker you quote doesn’t appear to have a clue about changing our church’s culture.

    A wise woman once told me that some things need to die before they can be resurrected. Perhaps that is what God has in mind for Wesleyanism in America. In any case God has the situation well in hand, which is all that really matters. That remnant of the institution that is faithful to Him will be preserved and strengthened, though perhaps through fire.

    • God appears to be redefining the rice bowl. Not what people generally look for in a miracle, but I think it might qualify. It’s not about power or money; It’s about love!

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