I am on the United Methodist Way. Are you? Two weeks ago I was one of 847 United Methodists who attended a historic conference at Lake Junaluska called “The United Methodist Way.” This was the first gathering since 1969 of bishops, district superintendents and extended cabinets from every corner of the world.
The purpose of the conference was to affirm a vision for the future of the United Methodist Church so that we can all travel together on the United Methodist Way. Bishop Janice Riggle Huie, President of the Council of Bishops, set the tone for the conference by asking the foundational questions, “Who are we as United Methodists? Who is our neighbor? Who is God calling us to be and do? How can we as leaders best serve the church?”
One of the primary roles of a leader is to name reality and empower the community to face its own problems. At this conference our reality as United Methodists was clearly articulated: the United Methodist Church in the United States has been steadily losing members for the past 40 years, even though the church is growing rapidly in Africa and the Philippines. Our gathering at Lake Junaluska was a clear statement by the leaders of the United Methodist Church that we are ready, eager and determined to turn the ship around and begin to grow. However, that will only happen when two things occur.
- We must stop squabbling among ourselves and set aside our own personal agenda for the church.
- We must align ourselves around the mission of the United Methodist Church, which is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
How will we ever stop the bickering and move in the same direction? By following the United Methodist Way, which John Wesley laid out in his “General Rules.” (Paragraph 103 in The Book of Discipline 2004) There are three rules which lead to faithful living as disciples of the way of Jesus:
- Do no harm (believing that all are children of God, we vow not to fight one another)
- Do good (we agree to put the needs of others above our desires)
- Stay in love with God (we practice the spiritual disciplines of scripture, worship, fasting, communion and prayer)
For the first time in our denominational history, our Council of Bishops and all of our general boards and agencies have agreed that God is calling us to live the United Methodist Way by focusing on four broad mission initiatives, each with an accompanying “leading edge:”
1. Leadership development (leading edge: strengthen present clergy leadership and call more young people into ministry)
2. Starting new churches (leading edge: start one church a day in the US and central conferences)
3. Ministry among the poor (leading edge: develop strategies to tackle issues of poverty)
4. Global health (specifically address HIV Aids, tuberculosis and malaria)
Our bishops have proposed bold, new leadership, which gives me great hope for the United Methodist Church. This kind of leadership, however, is not neat and tidy. Rather, it’s chaotic and uncomfortable, as we move beyond what is secure. The United Methodist Church must reinvent itself to find a new place in our world, for the world will no longer come to us. We must move out of our churches and offer Christ to a world where there is a wide expression of the Christian faith, where there are other world religions that are attractive to people, and where we are competing with societal values that are not Christian.
As is always the case, change has to begin us each one of us. Our denomination will not change until you and I change our attitudes, habits, behaviors and values. I believe that with God’s grace, we can recover our Wesleyan evangelistic DNA. The Holy Spirit can and will change us and set us on fire to reach out into the world with the good news of Jesus Christ.
God worked in a powerful way in my heart and spirit during the three days of the convocation. I realized that if I am going to provide leadership for change, I must change as well by reading, listening, learning, collaborating, discerning, praying, living the United Methodist Way, asking questions and letting go of assumptions.
Do you want to live the United Methodist Way? Do you want your church to live the United Methodist Way? If so, what changes do you need to make to align yourself with the mission of the United Methodist Church? I invite you to join me in changing our leadership style so that we are:
- Focused on defining the future, not managing the present
- Prioritized toward teaching, preaching and mentoring the Methodist Way
- Committed not to do things the right way, but to do the right things
- Proactive, not reactive
- Adaptive, not technical
- Collaborative, not solitary
- Empowering, not controlling
- Flexible, not rigid
- Challenging, not comforting
- Focused on people, not programs
Advent begins this Sunday. The start of another Christian year is a good time to begin a new spiritual discipline. Will you join me? Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God. Journey the United Methodist Way.