Taylor Burton-Edwards reminded me a few weeks ago that it is helpful to see the United Methodist Church's Call to Action as a sort of vision that has been cast but that does not necessarily include specific proposals.
In fact, when our Iowa Annual Conference delegation read the Council of Bishop’s statement on the Call to Action, we endorsed the document for conversation because it does challenge us to think in new and creative and transformative ways about what it would mean to be the church in a new time and place. I think that this video put out by the Call to Action team also does this:
When I saw the video, I was mostly inspired and felt like I could find agreement with about 95% of what we were being called to live into. The vision put forth here is of United Methodists out in the world, sharing the good news, working for transformative change in our communities, and the call is to do something bold NOW… I agree.
BUT… that doesn’t mean we can’t have serious conversation about whether some of these proposals are the best possible solutions for us to live out that vision. I actually am beginning to worry they aren’t bold enough, that we won’t have the courage to really make changes that will transform our church and the world.
There is also a larger question that I started pondering after seeing this particular video. If we are doing something right globally… if we are making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world in places like Nigeria and Indonesia and Russia… then how will these proposals affect that work? Are we really talking about a problem with the UMC in the USA and parts of Europe? And will a focus on American lackluster Christianity actually harm our global impact as a church?
What I see around me is not necessarily a problem only with United Methodism, but a problem with how American Christianity has been watered down and has lost its ability to truly claim a space in the world. Many young people my age have no interest in the church and do not believe it has any value or meaning for their lives. They can change the world without us. We have not articulated how we have something to offer. We have not connected with people in our country in a way that shares the true transformative power of a relationship with the church and with Jesus Christ. But that doesn’t mean that what we are doing is necessarily wrong for other parts of the world.
Maybe underlying this problem is another question: how can we contextualize the ministry of the church without losing our global unity? How can we continue to resource and support the amazing work we are doing on the African and Asian continents and at the same time make adjustments to our engagement with the American and European dechurched and unchurched? And will our current proposals hold up one at the expense of the other? Will our focus on vital congregations drift us towards congregationalism and isolationism? Or will it inspire us to learn from one another and from what is working in other parts of the world in a way that makes our connectionalism that much stronger?