“Christianity was born into a religiously pluralistic world, and in that sense, pluralism does not present a new problem for the church.”—Leslie Newbigin
As we await the outcome of the proposed Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace through Separation at General Conference 2020, many are grossly underestimating the potential impact of a new Methodist movement. That’s because many overlook the latent DNA found in vibrant, traditionally orthodox Methodism and her multiple pocket fires of renewal. As noted in previous posts in this series, the old mainline expressions of Christianity do not possess the characteristics necessary for reaching a post-Christian culture. Thus, the particular pockets of renewal we write about below are not based on the premises of mainline religion, but on the burning embers already kindled beneath the surface in United Methodism.
While we could write about the pocket fires of some of the most dynamic United Methodist disciple-making churches in North America, or the great work of the African Church as she grows by over 200,000 people per year; or the valiant work taking place as many United Methodist theologians write and stand for traditional orthodox theology in this critical hour, this post will focus on some often overlooked dimensions that would fuel a new Methodist movement.
Imperceptible to most, these pocket fires or embers are already burning with intense light and life. When a new day dawns for these embers to burn unhindered through the birth of a new Methodist movement, the potential of these embers heating up into a raging flame lay before us.
How might we identify these embers? What pocket fires stir great potential for a new day? Here are five embers that would be fanned into a great flame through a new Methodist movement.
1: The Burning Ember of Apostolicity.
There are waves of highly gifted, high caliber leaders, who are traditionally orthodox within United Methodism. Many of these have strong, entrepreneurial, apostolic giftings. When given the opportunity to move in unity and synergy with like-minded leaders, new waves of Kingdom advancement and creativity will be unleashed.
The following is anecdotal, but I am aware of one evangelical ordained Elder in North America who is from a highly entrepreneurial family. Having grown weary of sitting on boards in his conference that cannot agree on definitions of terms, sitting in study groups reading countless books on innovative leadership while at the same time the study group fights to maintain the status quo, he chose to utilize his gifts through Kingdom efforts outside the denomination. Over 60 months, he collaborated with others in building two orphanages in Asia, mobilized persons to plant hundreds of new churches around the world, and served on four boards outside the church made up of like-minded people who wanted to get things done. These four boards acquired hundreds of acres for housing new ministries, raised millions of dollars in capital, and are making a difference in thousands of lives. All of these efforts were for causes that would be dear to socially conscious United Methodists. This is not an isolated example. Stories like this dot the landscape of North American United Methodism.
A Methodist movement has the potential of unleashing hundreds of apostolically gifted lay-people, pastors, and leaders for the advancement of the Kingdom of God.
2: The Burning Ember of New Networks for Kingdom Advancement
One walk through an ARC or Exponential Conference and one becomes keenly aware of vibrant disciple-making and church planting taking place in the West. The majority of these church planters, and those seeking to plant new churches, are in their 20s and 30s. Many of them grew up in United Methodist churches but exited years ago because of the theological drift in United Methodism. Today, when traditionally orthodox United Methodists seek to recruit apostolically gifted church planters at gatherings like these, a United Methodist recruiter is guilty until proven innocent. The looming question reigns: “Are you a mainline revisionist, or are you in the mainstream of classical Christianity?”
A new day is looming. A new Methodist movement will shed the rigid wineskin of revisionist theology, top-heavy institutionalism, high apportionments, and property clauses that formerly repelled many young, classically orthodox, apostolic church planters. We are stepping into a new day of Kingdom connectivity, and this possibility will open new doors of stirring Methodist embers into a flame.
3. The Burning Ember of Unleashing Fresh Synergy
Imagine a new Methodist movement that’s no longer encumbered by division, but is empowered by unity of purpose and mission. Imagine a Methodist movement no longer bogged down by leaders who use the same theological vocabularies, but different theological dictionaries. Imagine a new day where apostolic creativity is no longer perceived as a threat but is celebrated as a necessary gift for a new Methodist movement.
Graduate Schools, ranging from Harvard to The Imperial College Business School in London have long researched the necessity of synergy in any organization seeking to advance its mission. Synergy can be defined as the state in which two or more things work together in a fruitful way that produces a preferred effect greater than the sum of its individual parts.
Jesus said, “If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand” (Mark 3:25 NIV). It is difficult, if not impossible; to accomplish a shared mission if an organization, an army, a family or denomination is divided against itself. However, where unity and synergy exist, therein lies the potential to become a movement. This leads us to the following axiom: Where there are little synergy and unity, there is little no potential for movement. Where there are much synergy and unity, there is great potential for movement.
Over the years, too many have grown content with a version of Methodism as an institution rather than Methodism as a movement. Too many “leaders” believe they are leading by managing rather than leading by doing the things necessary to become a movement again. Let us find the holy resolve to set the bar high as we move into the new days before us. Let us determine to do the little and big things necessary to rekindle the flame of a people called Methodist. Let us recognize that this possibility is tethered to moving forward in unity and synergy for the glory of God.
4. The Burning Ember of New Capacity
Think about a new day whereby our capacity as a people called Methodists advances the Kingdom of God like never before.
Imagine the old apportionment dollars that were used to fund an outdated and top-heavy hierarchy are suddenly unleashed to resource waves of new church plants in North America and beyond.
Imagine a new day of being excited to take the people in your church to district meetings because you know they will receive valuable equipping in how to make disciples in their community and around the world.
Imagine being a part of a Methodist movement that launches waves of gospel sharing missionaries who plant new churches into the 10/40 window, Europe, and in the United States.
Imagine a new day of going to Annual Conferences gatherings where Jesus is worshipped passionately, the Scriptures are taught clearly, and you leave refreshed and renewed as you embrace a new year of ministry.
Imagine a new day that forsakes thousands upon thousands of human hours and millions upon millions of dollars no longer utilized to resolve the untenable division in the United Methodist Church. Imagine a new day when ALL of our capacities are directed toward new waves of evangelism, disciple-making, church planting, ministry to the poor and the orphan.
5. The Burning Ember of Revival and Spiritual Awakening
There are MANY United Methodists in North America and around the world praying for revival and spiritual awakening. Perhaps this is best expressed through the example of the New Room Conference.
While the New Room movement is Pan-Wesleyan, it is clear that the largest numbers of participants are made up of traditionally orthodox United Methodists from around the United States. New Room is open to anybody, but it’s primarily the traditionally orthodox who seem to want to be a part. These revival pulses and potential seeds for spiritual awakening are being sowed among a people who will be birthing a new Methodist movement.
For many years many have prayed for revival and spiritual awakening through the Wesleyan tribe. If you have been involved in the New Room Conference or movement on any level, then you are aware that revival possibility has a pulse in your lifetime.
Through New Room’s commitment to travailing prayer, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, banded discipleship, disciple-making and church planting, over 2,500 attendees are gathering yearly to dip in her life-giving waters. Over 4,500 people were connected to some of New Room’s special events last year, and over 7,500 people are engaged in ongoing Discipleship Bands. With growing awareness of the need for transcendence in reaching people in a post-Christian culture, it’s worthy to note the number of college students who are beginning to flock to the New Room gathering.
There is a critical mass of Methodists who are praying for revival and spiritual awakening. This critical mass burns with white-hot passion to move forward with the God-breathed power necessary for reaching a post-Christian culture.
The following is a true story, but the names of the participants of this conversation are withheld. A leading progressive and a leading traditionalist in the United Methodist Church shared a meal not long ago. It was not the first time they had broken bread together. They had known one another for many years, and over the years they had developed a trust and candidness in their conversations. As they talked about the probable amicable separation of the United Methodist denomination, they discussed what the future might hold for the two new denominations.
Once the topic was breached, the traditionalist spoke first. “If I may say so, I believe within five years we will be much better off than you will be.” At the completion of this statement, the progressive spoke up quickly. “Oh, I totally agree! There is no doubt that you traditionalists, with your commitment to traditional orthodoxy, evangelism, discipleship and church planting will be better off than us.”
Mainline Christianity carries a set of premises in its DNA that steal the momentum necessary for reaching a post-Christian culture. What worked for the last fifty years does not imbibe the characteristics necessary for reaching a post-Christian west. Mainline Christianity’s drift from classical definitions of Christianity is the cocktail that ferments into her self-annihilation. But when the embers of the pocket fires of renewal are unencumbered, an unstoppable force of Kingdom velocity may be unleashed. Methodism will become a movement again.
The Church has experienced a great renewal in the past. It certainly happened in John Wesley’s day. While not without cost and great sacrifice, let us consider that renewal can happen again. Because many pocket fires and embers are burning in Methodism, may the day come for them to be mobilized into a great Methodist movement again.
Paul Lawler is the Lead-Pastor of Christ Church UMC. He and his wife, MJ, have four children and one daughter-in-law. In addition to serving as a pastor, Paul and his brother, Dallas area businessman Patrick Lawler, founded two Patricia B. Hammonds Homes for orphans at high risk for human trafficking in Thailand. The homes are operated through the international ministry of the Compassionate Hope Foundation. Paul also serves on the boards of The Wellhouse, The Compassionate Hope Foundation, and the East Lake Initiative. He often tweets Kingdom thoughts at @plawler111. If you would like to read what Paul wrote his congregation regarding the Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace through Separation, you may do so at this link.