For years, I stood in the middle ground of the United Methodist Church. Right-middle to be sure but middle none-the-less. My plan was to batten down the proverbial hatches, keep Christ Church growing (we have grown for twenty-one consecutive years) and hope the denominational storm would pass. When asked about my lack of denominational positioning, I would respond, “I am going to hold the middle until there isn’t a middle anymore and then I am jumping right.” The storm did not pass. I jumped right. In the aftermath of the 2016 General Conference, I lost hope there was enough true middle to realistically occupy…and there were too few people holding it. I mourned for a couple of months and then I accepted an invitation to join the Council of the Wesleyan Covenant Association. I could not sit idly by and watch the UMC change into something of which I could not be a part.
Since joining WCA exactly none of my positions concerning the denomination have changed. Nothing has changed in my leadership at Christ Church, the content of the messages I preach or my upbeat attitude toward faith and life. I have never considered Christian people who think differently than me to be my enemies. Still don’t. I do not doubt or disparage their positions, nor do I deny their right to hold them. I don’t think they are evil. I just disagree with them. In addition, I do not plan to spend time defending and debating my positions or attempting to get others to rally to them. This is all you are going to get out of me. A blog. So if you are hoping for a popping on-line debate, I will take a “hard pass.” This is just where I stand. With no ill will. In good conscience. Always smiling.
I have a burning desire to see the churches of this tribe flourish and I am hopeful we can find a way to keep our wildly diverse denomination under one roof with integrity. Yes, you read this correctly; I am a part of WCA but I am hopeful United Methodism can stay together. Staying together may not be possible or even best but it is certainly worth our best efforts. I prayed for the Commission on a Way Forward and for the Bishops. I pray for the 2019 Special Session of General Conference. I pray for all of us caught in the “meantime.”
I have written much concerning United Methodism over the years; primarily along the themes of turning around our decades of decline, getting back on mission and the intentional development of leadership. This is where I think our real challenge lies. Even if we suddenly agreed on everything concerning human sexuality, we would still be in precipitous decline in the American church. Too many of our churches are off-mission. Too many of our clergy are ineffective. Too many of our structures are anachronistic. On top of that, we have collectively digressed into the lack of civility concerning our differences that plagues our larger culture. I once thought our challenges were a tempest in a teapot. I now believe we are a teapot in a tempest. We are in need of the kind of fresh wind and fresh fire that produces professions of faith, baptisms, committed disciples of Jesus Christ and unapologetic evangelism. We need to address our in-house differences civilly and as quickly as possible for the purpose of focusing our collective attention toward our shared mission. United Methodists, regardless of theological convictions, need better “weather” in which to pursue our mission of “making disciples for the transformation of the world.” The end game must be to powerfully recover our mission, not to preserve our structures.
The formation of Wesleyan Covenant Association has invited a spirit of revival and counts some of our most effective pastors and most dynamic congregations among its members. As a member of the WCA Council and I have found this incredibly gifted group to be thoughtful, warm and loving people…toward everyone. This Council defies the modern notion that being an orthodox Christian makes you a hateful person. WCA has provided community for many, inspired hope for the future and has allowed the Bishops and the 2019 delegates to get an accurate reading of where many United Methodist pastors and churches actually stand. I think this is a good thing. It is not just the people who scream the loudest who need to be heard.
-Rev. Shane L. Bishop, A Distinguished Evangelist of the United Methodist Church, has been the Sr. Pastor of Fairview Heights Christ in Fairview Heights, Illinois since 1997.