Tuesday, March 6, 2012

We need to be willing to die that we may have new life.

(Today's post comes from Brandon Lazarus)

Two weeks ago I had the privilege of speaking at and attending the inaugural RelevanceLEAD conference in Las Vegas. At the conference, 100 young adult clergy and lay leaders came together to discuss exciting ways of doing ministry in the United Methodist Church. One of the presentations that stuck with me the most was a conversation with Andy Mattick and James Kang. They came from two different angles on what is in store for the future of the UMC. Andy is the pastor of a larger traditional church while James is working in a new emergent ministry. They both were hopeful about the future but had very different visions.

James started the discussion off by saying that the UMC is not finished, but it is done. Sure he was going for the shock factor but the more I think about the more I realize that he is right. I would take it even a step further and say that the UMC is not only done, but dead. Others say that it is dying, but I think it is already dead. The Call to Action is a movement about reviving the church. The CTA has new initiatives, new programs, new titles, new positions, and a new structure. The CTA wants to take the boards and streamlined them so that they can be more efficient and more effective.  The CTA is a call to a revival to help keep the UMC from dying.

Looking at the church as dying is dangerous. Seeking to keep merely it from dying, in my opinion, is even more dangerous. Rather than be in denial and claim that we need to revive the church, we need to bury it. We need to bury the church because it is only in death that we can have what we truly need. We need the Holy Spirit to resurrect us from the dead. I no longer think the revival is what the UMC needs but a resurrection. A resurrection in which the old will pass away and the new will come.

I am not saying that we will become a different denomination or adopt a different name. I am not saying we should throw out the Book of Discipline and start from scratch. What I am saying is that we need to put down the defibrillator and pray for the Holy Spirit. We need to stop getting in the way of the Holy Spirit and let her do her thing.

Jesus says that whoever wants to save their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for his sake and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. I could talk about the parts of the CTA that I like and the parts that I do not like but there is a question that is far more important. Is the CTA about saving the church or is the CTA about losing the church for the sake of Jesus Christ and the gospel? If you believe that part or all of CTA is about losing our lives and the church’s life for a new life in Christ then you should be in favor. However, if the CTA seems to be an act to save the church then perhaps we need some more discernment and soul searching.

If we are not willing to let the UMC die, then we are not willing to let it live. In this time of preparation for Holy Conferencing we need to make sure that our discernment process is not about what we can do to save the UMC, but what we can do in order to give up our own lives, and the life of the United Methodist Church so that both us as individuals and us as a church may have new life.

So what can this new life look like? In the fellowship hall of University United Methodist in Las Vegas, James proposed that we begin to break away from traditional forms of ministry and create more “non-church ministries” that have a leadership that is more flat and interact with the world outside of traditional church outlets. Andy said traditional churches do not need to be abandoned but rather need to focus on empowering discipleship. I left their conversation with a realization that it is not an either/or but a both/and. There are a lot of new and exciting forms of ministry that when we look at them under a microscope we learn that they have their DNA rooted in Wesleyan heritage. Ministries such as New Monasticism and Emergent House Churches are closely related to the classes and bands that were foundational in Methodism. I do not think that we need to abandon what we have but we need to find ways for the two to work together. We need to be willing to die that we may have new life.  

MDiv Student at Perkins School of Theology
Candidate for Elder in the South Carolina Annual Conference


  1. I have to admit, even as a young person, it's still a shock to hear that the church should die. I just recently experienced a "hospice" situation with someone close to me. We were trying so hard to keep her alive, not realizing that by keeping her alive, her quality of life was diminishing every minute. When she died, I cried, couldn't breath, couldn't focus. I can imagine feeling the same way about the church's end of life.

    I am stuck somewhere in between: appreciating my "grandmother's church" and the way they've ALWAYS done things and the need for new, innovative and relevant ways to be and do church. My hope is that there is room for both - that both ways are successful in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. It just depends on the audience...

    In agreement, with your post and many others, this is definitely a time of discernment and allowing the Holy Spirit to work in and through us. If we truly "deny ourselves", we can honestly pick up our cross and follow Jesus - but we ALL are still having difficultly denying ourselves.

    What would it look like to deny ourselves?

    1. I love the example you gave of hospice. It's difficult to want to hold on to life but then also know that sometimes letting go is what is necessary. It does not make it any easier. I too love a lot of aspects of traditional church but not because they've always done things a certain way but why they've always done something a certain way. Tradition that comes from Creeds, Wesleyan Hymns, Liturgy etc is beautiful but then there are some things that are done solely because they've always done things a certain way.

      I definitely think that there is room for both. I work with a New Monastic residential community and a New Monastic/Emergent worship community. We are doing things very different but are anchored in a traditional church where we register our membership, do out accounting, and work with them in missions etc. I think that both/and is what is necessary for the future.

    2. My reply is a bit long for here, and a bit broader in scope. So, I'll just link to my first stab at it. http://cloudkucooland.livejournal.com/337062.html