I was not reared in the Methodist tradition. Melissa and I were loved into the church when I was teaching and coaching in Louisville, Illinois in the mid-80’s. It was only then I began to take a serious look into historical Methodism. In Methodism I found a theological tradition to call my own and my love and appreciation for her only grows as the years pass by. I became a Methodist because the movement had good roots and I believe these deep Biblical and historical roots to be our best hope for a future.
That mainline Christianity is dying in USAmerica is no longer an insider’s secret. Founder John Wesley wrote, “I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe of America. But I am afraid, lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power.” I am sad to report that the news may be even worse than Wesley feared. It is widely reported that at our current rate of decline, American United Methodism will be extinct in four to five decades. I believe that the key to transformation of the United Methodist Church begins and ends with leadership. We were founded on great leaders like Wesley, McKendree and Cartwright and we need great leaders again! We desperately need to pray for gifted, exceptional and visionary young leaders to be called into ministry to lead us into a new era.
These leadership virtues will be required to turn things around:
1. Persistence Most of our churches are going to have to change or die. Making a denominational comeback will involve asking people in the church to sacrifice their personal preferences and that is a tough ask.
2. Optimism We need leaders who are consumed by the “joy of the Lord!” Tough work can only be accomplished by enthusiastic leaders.
3. Insight We need leaders who have a sense of where the world is going and have a passion for reaching it for Christ. We are going to have to learn to speak a new language to be relevant in this new world. This culture stands far more in need of Jesus than in need of our value judgments upon it.
4. Humility Arrogant leaders will not do. We need to take on the posture of thanksgiving, the role of lifelong learners and strive to keep the “me” from being the primary emphasis of Methodist.
5. Impulse control Self management is the key for sustained leadership. We need leaders with steady hands, stout hearts and true character!
6. Sensitivity Change involves loss; developing empathy for those who feel loss while still having the courage to effect change is essential.
Let’s ask God to call great leaders for the United Methodist Church. Let’s make our most effective churches models and not anomalies. Let make our most effective pastors teachers and not celebrities. I truly hope that the great days of United Methodism are not all behind us in USAmerica. We have good roots…it is an excellent place to start!
-Rev. Shane Bishop, a Distinguished Evangelist of the United Methodist Church, has been the Senior Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois since 1997.