Friday, February 17, 2012

a missional manifesto for the people called united methodist

We the people called United Methodist, confessing that we are a people in need of God's transforming grace, lift up the following vision as a means for guiding our practice and mission.

For more than 250 years, God has been sending people from the Wesleyan tradition into the world for the express purpose of “spreading scriptural holiness across the lands.” This vision of holiness is not domesticated in any nationalistic mission, but is rather found in announcing the good news of God’s reign in the whole of creation. It is in response to this good news that we are also called to form one another in the ways of Jesus Christ (making disciples) so that God's kingdom may be revealed "on earth as it is in heaven" (and the world therefore transformed).

As heirs to this tradition, we have been blessed with the radical love and grace of God--Father, Son and Holy Spirit--which empowers us to likewise be a blessing to the world. This is both a joyful opportunity and a sober responsibility. It is our call, as Wesleyan Christians, both to proclaim and embody the kingdom of God marked by love, reconciliation, peace, forgiveness, and hospitality for all people and in all times and places.

It is through practice of the means of grace that we are gradually formed into the vessels that embody this distinct kingdom of God. And it is through mutual accountability, rooted in love and grace, that we hold one another accountable to living lives that strive to exemplify holiness of heart and life.

Therefore it is with humility and sound resolve that we declare the following to be sign and symbol of our calling as Wesleyan Christians:

We believe...

God sends

  • God sent Israel forth in the world as a covenant people revealing to the world God’s character.
  • God sent Himself in Jesus Christ as the embodiment of love and grace so that by His baptism, death, and resurrection God’s unfailing love and grace were lived out for all humanity and the powers of sin and death were broken.
  • Jesus sent his followers into the world to proclaim the reign of God and teach the way of Jesus.
  • God now sends us, empowered by the Holy Spirit.

God sends United Methodists

  • United Methodists affirm the teachings of John Wesley, a man born into a Puritan household, raised in the Anglican tradition, inspired by Moravian piety, and devoted to the Arminian understanding of free grace.
  • United Methodists assert that God’s love, not our sin, is the most important truth we know and the starting point for the story of salvation. Everything that follows is out of response to this truth.
  • United Methodists uphold the primacy of God’s grace: prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying as the center of human life, empowering all to be disciples of Jesus Christ.
  • United Methodists hold together the love of God (personal piety) and love of neighbor (social holiness) as the holistic understanding our salvation, embodied and lived out.
  • United Methodists believe we are saved by grace alone through faith, and we are saved so we might do good works. All works of piety follow as a response to the radical grace of God.

God sends United Methodists to proclaim the reign of God

  • The reign of God burst into the world with the death and Easter resurrection of Jesus.
  • The reign of God pours forth on the apostles at Pentecost thrusting them out from behind closed doors into all the world.
  • The reign of God is both here and yet to come, inaugurated into our world by the coming of Christ and finding the ultimate fulfillment in the return of Christ.
  • As witness to the reign of God, we are called to embody it in our Methodist communities as a sign to the whole world.

God sends United Methodists to proclaim the reign of God and to make disciples

  • Disciples bear the gifts of the Holy Spirit that are given for the building up of the body of Christ and in service to the church and the world.
  • Disciples of Jesus Christ witness to the love and grace of Jesus and follow his teachings through acts of compassion, justice, worship, and devotion under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
  • Disciples participate regularly in the Means of Grace, which are tangible signs of the reign of God breaking forth into our daily lives.
  • Disciples in the United Methodist Church hold Wesley’s General Rules as a common rule of life.

God sends United Methodists to proclaim the reign of God and to make disciples for the transformation of the world

  • The transformed world is one in which Christ’s prayer “God’s kingdom come. God’s will be done” is fulfilled “on earth as it is in heaven.”
  • The transformed world glorifies God in all things and is marked by the unity of love and justice, peace and wholeness, personal and social holiness.
  • The transformed world bears witness to the interconnectedness of all people and values sacrificial love (agape) as the means by which this is lived out. This sacrificial love stands in contrast to any pursuit of power sought through coercion.
  • The transformed world is one where even institutional growth and power are subservient to the vision of love, peace, justice and reconciliation.


As United Methodists sent by God to proclaim God’s reign and to make disciples of Jesus Christ through the presence and power of God’s Holy Spirit, we call on our brothers and sisters across the world to repentance for our failure to faithfully carry out our God given mission, and to affirm God’s call to proclaim and make disciples by engaging in practices that live out this calling in the world.

Likewise we pledge our commitment to living out the ideals of this manifesto in our daily lives, agreeing to structure our mission, our ministry, and our lives around the demands of discipleship. As disciples in the United Methodist tradition, we commit to engage in acts of compassion, justice, worship, and devotion, and to live under John Wesley’s General Rules as our way of life. We go forth as a people sent by God to carry out God’s vision for the people called United Methodist.

Offered with love to our church by:

Kenneth Carter, Ben Gosden, Mike Lindstrom, John Meunier, Michael Rich, Amy Shipley-Yarnall, Jen Unger Kroc, Jay Voorhees and many others who have offered input along the way.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

the spirituality of Jesus (mark 1)

We discover the spirituality of Jesus by paying attention to his life, by listening to his words. As followers of Jesus, we look for clues about our next steps by focusing on the patterns of his daily life. And as disciples who not only listen to his teachings but have some responsibility for explaining the meaning of his life, death and resurrection in our own spheres of influence, we open our ears to hear (or, better yet, to obey) his instruction.

One can read a few verses at the beginning of the shortest gospel, Mark, and discover the shape of a spiritual life inspired by Jesus. I have chosen a central section within the first chapter, verses twenty-one through thirty-five, and as I have reflected on what is going on in the life of Jesus, I am given a way of life.

Urgency about Human Need

So, three facets of a spirituality of Jesus: there is first an urgency about human need. Jesus encounters, within the synagogue, a person with an evil spirit; as he leaves the synagogue, he visits Simon's mother-in-law, who is sick; and at the end of the day (at sunset), people continue to bring the sick and the demon-possessed to him.

We cannot turn our eyes upon Jesus, to borrow the language of the hymn, without seeing urgent human needs. Jesus was always seeking out the last, the least and the lost (a physician goes to those who are sick, he once remarked), or, they were seeking and finding him. He crossed boundaries of impurity and legality to bring healing and salvation to us. In the communion liturgy, we are reminded that he "healed the sick, fed the hungry and ate with sinners".

This was the mission of Jesus, and it is the mission of his followers. I love a phrase I recently found in Reggie McNeal's recent work on Missional Communities: "Life is a mission trip." Some of the most profound experiences in my Christian life have occurred on mission trips: in Bolivia, Haiti, Guatemala. But what if life is a mission trip? What if our purpose, if we are staying close to Jesus, is to stay close to the urgent human needs of those around us, wherever we are?

Intimacy with God

A second facet of the spirituality of Jesus is intimacy with God. "Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer." (Mark 1. 35, Common English Bible). If urgent human need is the outcome of this spirituality, intimacy with God is the source. In the early morning there are fewer distractions. In a deserted place there are fewer distractions. When we are alone we are more attuned to "the still small voice". God often speaks to men and women in the desert, or, from the perspective of Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, in the "abandoned places of empire". These are the places of emptiness, disappointment, and sorrow, and therefore the occasions where we can be filled, renewed and consoled.

The set apart places ground us, muting the voices of the urgent and powerful, questioning the paths that are pleasing to us and perhaps to others; they are the unlikely sanctuaries where we know we are on holy ground, and they provide us a way to clarify our mission and purpose. It is significant and necessary that Jesus, in the midst of so much action, when so much is flowing out of him, finds time and space to be intimate with God. As his followers this is an essential spiritual practice for us as well.

Integrity of Word and Action

A third element in the spirituality of Jesus: he teaches with authority, and not like the scribes and pharisees (1.22). I would suggest that he teaches with integrity: his speech and behavior, language and life, word and action, doctrine and discipline are consistent. Later the disciples of John will ask, "are you the One who is to come, or should we look for someone else?" This is the ancient and also post-modern question: are you who you present yourself to be? Is this true, or real?

In the modern world, we could persuade our hearers to accept the faith through the brilliance of an intellectual argument (I remember a book entitled Evidence That Demands a Verdict, which many of my friends read in college). But the evidence in a postmodern world is the life of a follower of Jesus; it is the consistency of what we say and what we do that is compelling.

Urgency about human need is the practice of social holiness; it flows from a source, an intimacy with God that is the practice of personal holiness. Our understandings of holiness are embodied in a person, Jesus Christ, God with us. We are most receptive to the gift of grace when we seek the face of God and listen for the still, small voice. And because we have received the grace and love of God, we find ourselves being drawn to the hungry, broken and marginalized.

What was so compelling about the spirituality of Jesus? It was a response to human suffering, it flowed from a deep source, and it was neither shallow, superficial nor hypocritical. Because of the resonance of the internal and external life, it communicated a truth that spoke and speaks to our deepest human desirings. As John testifies, "the law was given through Moses... grace and truth came into being through Jesus Christ" (John 1. 17; Common English Bible)

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Sunday, February 05, 2012

longing for spring: hope for the united methodist church

I write in the heart of the winter; ours has actually been quite mild, thus far, but I do enjoy the lengthening of days and the sense that more warmth and light is on the horizon. Elaine Heath and Scott Kisker teach evangelism at two of our seminaries, Perkins and Wesley, and they have framed their call for a renewal of the church around the metaphor of change and rebirth. Longing For Spring: A New Vision for Wesleyan Community (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books) is a deceptively simple, soundly argued and theologically provocative engagement with our present condition, and yet one that is placed within the context of both deeply personal narratives and carefully remembered histories of renewal.

The impetus for the writing of Longing For Spring was simple enough: something is wrong. We know this at a personal, congregational and denominational level. Elaine Heath sensed it in the inability of the denominational structures to embrace the movement of the spirit in her spiritual mentor or in the younger students she would over time find herself mentoring. Scott Kisker grew up in a mainline congregation that, for all outward appearances, was strong and health, apart from one crucial shortcoming: an inability to help younger generations to know, claim or live the faith. Longing For Spring begins with their testimonies, and in this sense the work is deeply Wesleyan---theirs is indeed a new Aldersgate.

What struck me in my first reading of this brief work----and I am grateful for its brevity, for this will render it more accessible to those those who sense with them that something is wrong----is a basic gratitude that the story did not end there. Kisker and Heath could have lived out of their narratives into a cynicism about church and culture, even as they inhabited professional positions within the denomination (this happens). But there was a turn, which for them happened as they walked around Lake Junaluska, a turn toward the radical character of the tradition, which would become in itself a movement of the Holy Spirit.

Their stories led them to think about where the church has been, over time, when something has been wrong. God has led individuals, women and men to form communities, in the desert, at the abandoned places of empire, on the periphery of established churches. Kisker traces a path from Anthony to Benedict to the Beguines to a Kempis to the pietists and Wesley. The early Wesleyan experience was a communal and intentional path toward holiness, the love of God and neighbor. Over time this practice was lost in the development of structures and conformity to the world. A lay movement became clericalized; spiritual formation and social justice were separated.

And so two academics began to explore how the tradition might be rediscovered. They found a clue in the new monastic movement, and here Heath connects the dots: methodist, missional and monastic. Learning from Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and the "Twelve Marks" from the Schools for Conversion, she pushes this movement of the spirit into the language of Methodism: three general rules and five membership vows. If Kisker is skilled at tracing the history of renewal movement, Heath's genius lies in connecting the New Monastic movement with the desire for reformation in the Wesleyan tradition.

These two movements in itself would be helpful, but Longing For Spring takes one additional step that is critical: Heath imagines how a renewal movement could exist within our present polity (clergy appointments, boards of ordained ministry, the ordering of ministry) and institutional life (camps, unused churches, theological seminaries). She names the facets of our ecclesial life that are broken, while also pushing in creative ways toward organizational reform. There is both an honesty and a hope in the institutional strategy; it seems slow and plodding at times, like the passing of time from winter to spring, and yet it moves toward renewal. This rebirth is a "new day" for the church, and the authors guide our focus toward places and texts that will encourage and sustain us in the journey.

I love this book for many reasons: it is practical theology in service of the church; it hears the cries of a younger generation that will not sign on for a career of institutional maintenance; it resonates with a postmodern context that seeks an integrity of a living spirituality and a social witness (or, in Bishop Schnase's language, intentional faith development, passionate worship and risk-taking mission and service); it moves beyond cynicism toward hope; and it translates the best of our tradition for the present moment.

What if the words methodist, monastic and missional are at the heart of our calling to be Christians in this time? And what if we designed a way of life and found institutional support for the flourishing of this calling? Heath and Kisker are asking these questions, and they have placed them in the context of our historical memory and our institutional status quo. For those who sense that something is wrong, but find themselves at the same time longing for spring, this is the text for a new day.

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