Exquisite Individuality

January 20th, 2012
This article is featured in the Call to Action (Feb/Mar/Apr 2012) issue of Circuit Rider
People and churches as unique as fingerprints.

The United Methodist Church has, from the beginning, been a denomination of exquisite individuality. Grounded in grace, the experience of local church ministry is as varied as the context in which it finds itself. The Call to Action declares that we are all called to be vital congregations and then it offers a formula for achieving that status. I believe that we are called as United Methodists to transform the world through our faith in Jesus Christ. The current planning around the Call to Action assumes that there is but one answer to all of the complexities around growing vital congregations, and the idea of that makes this feel like a program, not a denominational transformation. We must begin with an acknowledgment of who we are.

We are a denomination of small groups—when we gather in small churches whose history spans the generations who sit in the pews and when we congregate in large spaces with multi-site ministries. We are a denomination that appreciates the intimacy of relationship. Every local church has a story. None came to stand on a corner or in the middle of town without having had a handful of faithful folk who stood in that place and dreamed a future of reaching out in the name of Jesus Christ. Neighborhoods have changed, demographics have shifted but the need remains. Our desire to reach the world for the transformation of Jesus Christ cannot ever be motivated by numerical advance. It must be about relationship, ours with Christ, Christ with the community, ours with our neighbors.

So how do we move forward into a shift of this great denomination? We begin where we always begin. With our story. The story of God in Christ drawing all of creation back into the heart of God. This is the story that every local church has to tell. We must encourage the people called United Methodists to internalize the unquenchable desire to reach out of our comfort zones with faith. We still need Jesus. The world still needs the light of salvation.

We will not get there if we continue to fuss with each other over issues of exclusion while we wear shirts proclaiming Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors. When we get to General Conference we must be bold enough to send a unified message of hope to the world. We must be who we claim to be! We’re not going to get there if we set numerical goals that cannot be achieved. We’re not going get there if we pretend that one plan, one size will fit every local church, annual and central conference.

We can transform the world if we acknowledge the diversity of our denomination. We can do what we are called of God to do if we empower clergy and laity to dream this new dream without fear of reprisal. These are exciting times! What would it look like if we embodied the vision God has for our denomination? What’s the next chapter in our story?

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