I was not reared in the United Methodist tradition. Melissa and I were loved into the United Methodist 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 has been widely reported that at our current rate of decline, American United Methodism as we know it will be extinct in four to five decades. And this is only if don’t blow ourselves up before then. The present reality is that it could be in four or five years.
I do not think the decades long scrap around issues of human sexuality is our biggest problem. It is perhaps the most urgent and attracts the most energy but it is not the most dire. The reality is that even if everyone suddenly agreed on issues of human sexuality (which they won’t), we would still be in precipitous decline. Our greatest problem is that we are collectively failing in our mission of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” I believe the key for finding a “future and a hope” for the United Methodist Church begins and ends with recovering mission and that is going to take 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 leaders to emerge (and quickly please) and lead us into a new era.
These leadership virtues will be required in these turbulent times:
Most of our churches are going to have to change or die. They are simply not effective. Making a denominational comeback will involve asking people in the church to sacrifice their personal preferences and that is a tough ask.
We need leaders who are consumed by the “joy of the Lord!” Tough work can only be accomplished by enthusiastic leaders.
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.
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!
Change involves loss; developing empathy for those who feel loss while still having the courage to effect change is essential.
We need to get laser focused upon our mission of making disciples for the transformation of the world. Our hope lies in a vision of making new Christians, forming them into disciples and sending them out to make new Christians. If we can’t do these three things, we will not have a future.
Let’s ask God to raise up truly great leaders for the United Methodist Church. “For such a time as this” kind of folks! We need great leaders in our episcopal offices, district offices, behind the pulpits, in our seminaries, on our staffs and in our pews. Lets pray that at least some of this tired and fractured denomination’s collective energy will center upon recruiting, equipping and maximizing both clergy and lay leadership. Let’s make our most effective churches models and not anomalies. Let’s make our most effective pastors teachers and not celebrities. Let’s retool our clergy to be effective in 2017. Let’s raise up gifted young clergy and staff people. Let’s turn our laity loose to change the world.
I truly hope the great days of United Methodism are not all behind us. Certainly our challenges are immense but we have good roots, a clear mission and the power of the Holy Spirit…it is an excellent place to start!
-Rev. Shane L. Bishop, A Distinguished Evangelist of the United Methodist Church, has been the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois since 1997.