Happy New Year! 2019 is underway! I love fresh starts, new calendars, and looking ahead to good things to come.
I started this year by reading a book by Dr. William B. Lawrence, who serves as professor of American Church History at Perkins School of Theology and is a research fellow at Duke Divinity School. The book is A Methodist Requiem: Words of hope and resurrection for the church, and was published just last year. Because I'm a United Methodist, I read a lot about our denomination and our upcoming special General Conference on human sexuality. I think some of the best wisdom is from our church historians, who put our current crisis into perspective. Dr. Lawrence and Dr. Ted Campbell are two of my favorites, probably because they are also pastors, and their dual lenses offer a great deal of hope for the future of the United Methodist Church, as opposed to the cynicism I see in so many of the online articles and commentary.
Dr. Lawrence asserts that while the United Methodist Church may be working through conflict and considering various options for division, hope for the future actually lies in a refreshed vision for mission as a church. Rather than each individual person having a mission, or each individual congregation having a mission, Dr. Lawrence suggests that Methodists have in the past understood themselves to be a people who are connected globally through a shared vision for mission.
In this understanding of the United Methodist Church, hope for the future comes not through our rules and structure, not through sending pastors to only the right seminaries, not through a formula for church growth, but through a shared vision for mission. What is that mission? Proclaiming the good news of the grace of God. Here's how Lawrence states it:
"The answer...is that we Methodists are a body of Christians who insist that the message of salvation applies as fully to this life as it does to the life to come. We celebrate the gospel of Jesus Christ as a message of death and life. We offer good news in confronting death, whether that is the biological death that comes to all God's creatures or other forces of death such as the suffering, hunger, injustice, hatred, and slavery that deprive human beings of the freedom for which Christ has set us free. We proclaim the good news that death - in all of its forms - has been overcome by the power of God. In this age and for the age to come, Methodism's mission is to proclaim the good news as a matter of death and life. And we have the theological perspective to do it."
This missional vision for the church - to proclaim the good news of grace for all people, that no matter what kind of death is holding us back we are freed to life in Christ - this is the vision that drives my passion, drives my work and my ministry. What I love more than anything is to be with a group of people who are out in the world doing good work so that others will know the grace of God. I love to listen to folks who are sharing breakfast, dressed in work clothes and ready to head out to work on a porch, to build a classroom, to make lunch for the community, to worship in a language other than the one they grew up speaking. I love to sit in a classroom with folks who have just come back from a mission trip, hearing their deep joy, listening to their questions, studying the scriptures together. Dr. Lawrence is correct that it is in a vision for mission that there is hope for the people called Methodist, and I plan to be part of that mission!
Quote from page 115; A Methodist Requiem is published by Wesley's Foundery Books, an imprint of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, The United Methodist Church.