Saturday, May 30, 2009

More On Saving the Church

"The truth is I feel tremendous pressure to save the United Methodist Church."

So says Rev. Eric Van Meter, director of the Wesley Foundation at Arkansas State in a column for the UM Reporter. And so say we all. It is a pressure from within, driven by our love for the church and our deep desire for the church to flourish. It is a pressure that he says many young adults feel, and I count myself as one of those many. So I really resonate with what Eric is saying, and commend his column to you to read in full.

I have written before about the ministry of young adults; I have led a couple of workshops; it is one of my favorite topics. Among other things, my underlying feeling is that young adults are being objectified by the church as "savior" figures, rather than being valued intrinsically.

It seems sometimes as if young adults are valued as long as they can be useful in reanimating the dying denomination, and by "reanimating the dying denomination" I mean acting like younger versions of the people currently populating the pews. But not if they're just being themselves.

The problem, as Eric sees it, is when the church does things that "give church insiders something to rally around, [but have] little impact on most folks who populate Sunday morning worship or Wednesday night council meetings." And a lot of that complicated (and expensive) navel gazing has exactly the opposite effect that was intended. Let me explain.

Trendy programs and slick websites sometimes give the impression of trying too hard, especially when the true life experience of the church just doesn't jive with what is being presented. Or as Shane Raynor puts it (as only Shane can), "Let's face it...some of our churches stink. Why should we spend money advertising them?"

I might not want to say it exactly that way, but I fully agree with the sentiment. When a young adult (or any adult, just about) looks for a church, they go online. Based on what they find there, they'll attend a worship service or two or three. But if they do not experience a connection, something that resonates with what they have seen in the ad, they'll head somewhere else in a hurry.

As I see it, the way to "save the denomination" is to stop trying to save the denomination and focus on the church's identity as the body of Christ in the world today. The early church grew amazingly quickly, and it did so with an anti-publicity campaign that actually kept everything secretive and subversive, meeting at night and communicating with codes. They basically just cared for one another, ate meals together, and talked about Jesus. What would be the 21st century equivalent?

I love church, and I would like to see the United Methodist denomination flourish by being the body of Christ in a distinctively Methodist way. And I think that if we do, we will grow. Eric Van Meter asks, "Does wanting to save my church mean that I should fight to keep her young, or let her die and trust in the hope of resurrection?" I think that is a false choice; there is another way to think about it.

I think that wanting to save my church means that you have to abandon all thoughts of saving your church, and simply be the church as best you can. God will save the church if God will. In the meantime, we just live faithfully.


Pilgrim said...

Inclusion or Exclusion
Some people have an Idea that God is inclusive for mans eternal destiny, that all religions and all people will be saved. That God will allow all of mankind to enter into heaven because everybody is good so God must be fair and include everyone! It is true God does love the whole world but God is exclusive about mans eternal destiny without the Savior. To keep this simple man has a problem called sin in which man refuses to believe that there are eternal consequences for having sin, which is a one way ticket to hell. God is holy and he will not allow anyone with sin to enter into heaven. God is hurt and angry about our sin, we have broken his laws. But God is just and good and he knows our need so he provided a solution to our problem. His solution to our problem is to have our sins removed by having our sins placed on someone else, a sacrifice for us; paying for the penalty of the sin we have in our lives. So that someone else would get the penalty of Gods wrath and separation on him that was meant for us. So God sent his son Jesus on a mission from heaven to earth as our sacrifice to die on the cross on our behalf after this happened three days later Jesus came back from the dead, alive. But that’s not all remember I wrote that God is exclusive about mans eternal destiny without the Savior? The only way that Gods promise can be applied to your life is for you to turn from your way of thinking and know that your sin offends and hurts God and call on the Lord Jesus who’s alive to save you. Your sins are then transferred to Jesus for what he did at the cross, dying and being abandon by God because of your sins, for you and because Jesus arose from the dead he is alive you can now enter into a relationship with God. Will you call out to Jesus to save you? It’s your choice to enter in exclusively with God’s grace for you. Where will you want to spend eternity after hearing Gods promise for you?
If the answer was yes that you do want Jesus as your sin bearer, Savior, and you do believe God raised Jesus from the dead you can pray with your voice.

“Dear Lord Jesus save me.”

Acts 20:21 Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance towards God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.

Adam said...

Whoa, thats a whale of an irrelevant comment!

I think part of the reason young adults are viewed as "saviors" is because we're still idealistic enough to think that we can make a difference. I hope we never lose that. But with naivety arrogance usually follows, so we need to remain humble and like you said, depend on God and not just good ideas and cool stuff.

Good post, and sorry about the Royals bobblin the ball all over the infield tonight!

Anonymous said...

Great post, my brotha! Wish you were going to be at Northtown this coming week while my youth group is mission-tripping. Ahhh, the good 'ol days! ;-) Miss ya, dude.

Kansas Bob said...

I regularly catch COR's online broadcast and love the way that it is relevant and bible based. I think the UMC can flourish if it finds creative ways to connect with people and the culture.

Kory Wilcox said...

..."this was not the way it looked on the billboard... woa oh oh!... smilin' family beamin' down from the interstate"...

Pastor Amanda said...

Our conference has set a goal to have the largest percentage of clergy under the age of 35 by 2012. I wonder what they are hoping this will accomplish? I'm hopeful it's about our hopeful idealism. . .our creativity, and willingness to change. (Not that older generations don't have that.) Part of me thinks some people see it as the saving magic bullet. . .

Eric said...

Good post! Thanks for a thoughtful response to my UMR article. Keep the conversation going! --Eric