I have been in various meetings over the past few years regarding the health and survival of the United Methodist Church. We continue to work hard to identify the work we can do to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We continue to look at the obstacles that keep us from being able to be more successful in that mission. The problem is we’re not gaining any new information.
In the meeting I was in people talked about reclaiming our identity as Methodists – engaging in small groups and working to impact the world by serving those in need. We also talked about the barriers of busy lives, self-centered living, and an unwillingness to commit.
In my opinion we were a bit off. Reclaiming our identity is important – but not as United Methodist or Wesleyans, but as disciples of Jesus Christ. Disciples who see a Wesleyan model of living in Christ as a Scripturally sound and effective way to be that, no doubt, but followers of Jesus Christ first and foremost.
We’re also a bit off in talking about obstacles we face. A friend of mine summarized all of our answers in one word – SIN. We talked about self-centered living and unwillingness to move beyond ourselves to touch the lives of others and share Christ, which is sin – the unwillingness to be obedient to God. Of course, to overcome that takes something different from a planning session – it takes Jesus, and that goes back to the earlier point.
Here’s the question that did not get asked in a room full of clergy and later laity – people obviously longing to see things become all that God would want them to be – “Of what do you repent?” That’s the question we should have gone around the room and answered – or at least answered in our smaller groups sitting around the tables. Gathered in that room we were all talking institutionally (whether we will admit it or not, it’s true). We were not ready to, or asked, to talk individually. And that’s a problem.
The solution of revitalization lies not in the work of the institution, but in the lives of the individuals in that institution. If those who are called to lead, and those who long to see change, are not willing to examine their own life and confess their sin and offer their commitment to repentance, how can we ever think the church can change. Imagine what it would be like to be in a room where we know things like prayer, and Scripture, and giving, and witnessing are the essence of spiritual vitality, and to hear people say things like, “I confess my prayer life is barely existent and this day I repent and commit to pray each day”; “I confess I have worried about money and thereby have not given generously to God even though I know he has given generously to me and this day I repent and commit to rework my financial plans and double my giving”; “I confess I have not acted with integrity in my workplace in order to gain status and a higher position and today I repent and commit to do as Christ would have me do regardless of the consequences regarding my career”.
Imagine what that would do for an Annual Conference meeting. Imagine what that would do for the local church if it happened there. Imagine what it would do in your small group or Sunday school class if it happened there. It just might begin to transform our lives and allow God to use us even more to transform the lives of others. We just might begin again to become disciples and make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
Of what do you repent?
Holy high-five to you, Mike