By Brian Hammons
I’m excited to be a Methodist! I hope you are too! Keep reading and I’ll explain. In this era of soundbites, short tweets, and even shorter labels, every name seems to carry meaning. Often several meanings, depending upon who you ask. The hard part is getting to a common understanding of what that meaning is.
How about our name “Methodist”? Or, more precisely, “United Methodist”? Yes, I know that we really need to remember the “United” part of our name, largely since it comes from our EUB heritage. Our founder John Wesley used the name “Methodist” and I will here for simplicity.
Wesley himself wrote about “The Character of a Methodist” in 1742. He listed several characteristics or “marks”, often quoting scripture, saying that Methodists: are “happy in God”; “give thanks” in everything; “pray without ceasing”; “love their neighbors”; focus upon “doing God’s will”; “avoid evil”; and “do good to all”. Of course, he had a lot of other guidance for “a people called Methodist”, but you get the idea.
So what does it mean to be a Methodist today – in 2015? Is it a positive name, or does it matter? And why do I feel happy, blessed, even excited? With the decline in the denomination in the U.S. over the last few years, the difficulty in reaching new people, and sometimes bitter disagreements over several issues, what is there to be excited about?
Well, here are 5 reasons that I am excited to be part of the Methodist movement today:
1. Personal Experiences. I grew up in the church. I’ve been a part of the Methodist and United Methodist church all my life, connected with congregations wherever I’ve lived. I can’t even begin to list all the ways my family and I have connected with people, worshiped, grown, and served. So many memories, friends, activities, and connections that have become part of me. And of course, I’ve met Jesus and continue to see Him through the Methodist community of faith.
2. Our Beliefs – doctrine & theology. I so appreciate the balanced, “both-and” nature of our Wesleyan perspective on the Christian faith – personal piety (loving God) and social action (loving others); grace and truth; holiness of heart and life. Our grounding in Scripture first, using tradition, reason, and experience to aid in understanding its application to life. And a focus upon unity in the essentials of faith and charity in the non-essential areas upon which we may disagree.
3. Outreach to Help People. So many ways – emergency relief, providing food, clothing, shelter and medical care to those in need. Also schools and hospitals. Even job training. I’m amazed at the way Methodists reach out to help and serve, making a difference and transforming lives both physically and spiritually. It’s who we are, who God calls us to be. When we do that, we’re being Jesus’ hands and feet, connecting people with God’s love in the form of physical and spiritual help – and hope.
4. Spirit-led Movement. Methodists began as a reform movement to transform a church and a nation. God’s Holy Spirit was alive through spiritually-engaged laity and clergy as they prayed, met in small groups, worshiped, and worked together. The Spirit that “strangely warmed” Wesley’s heart inspired countless circuit riders and camp meetings as the movement transformed lives in America and “spread scriptural holiness” across the young nation. The Spirit also inspired missional outreach all over the world and keeps us connected in visions of God’s kingdom on earth.
5. Vision and Hope. Our mission today is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” That’s a big, huge, challenging purpose.
And I’m excited that we’ve realized that it’s best accomplished locally – with each local church actively engaged in transforming lives in their community. The process to make disciples is very important – that’s why it’s emphasized at annual conference this year. I hope that you as a leader are clear about your congregation’s process, perhaps a variation of our Book of Discipline par. 122: proclaim the gospel; lead persons to Jesus; nurture them in Christian living; and send them out to live lovingly and justly in serving Christ. Or, as my congregation states its process, to “Worship, Grow, and Serve.”
This mission and vision for the future, along with a clear process, give me Hope. Hope for my congregation and for the Methodist movement. And Hope for the future of God’s ongoing spiritual work in our world.
I hope and pray that something here may stir your enthusiasm as a Methodist. If you happen to read this before annual conference in June, I also hope it may help as you consider candidates for election to General and Jurisdictional Conferences. I’ve written in previous issues about the elections, and I hope that this perspective – enthusiasm about our Methodist experiences, beliefs, outreach, spiritual heritage, and vision – may help. We really do need for our delegates to affirm the positive, solid faith we share and to reduce emphasis upon divisive, non-essential issues. Not that some issues and opinions aren’t important, but they don’t need to overshadow our mission (“the main thing”) and all the great opportunities for a future.
You see, I believe that God is not finished with “a people called Methodist”. As spiritually engaged United Methodist laity and clergy working together, connected throughout Missouri, across the country, and all over the world, we’ve got an exciting future ahead. So I’m Excited to be a Methodist! I hope you are too!