‘I am excited to be United Methodist’
I'm EXCITED to be a United Methodist Christian!
In pondering the state of the church today, I say that first. Because recalling and affirming the many ways God has worked and is now moving through our United Methodist connection makes me thankful and brings me hope.
Yes, we have challenges ahead. Sometimes it seems that, like the churches in Revelation 2-3, we've neglected our first love and become lukewarm. Sometimes we've reflected unhealthy practices of the culture around us. The result is a denomination declining in the United States, distracted from its mission, losing relevance to a culture desperately needing its message of both grace and truth.
Ah, but I'm still excited to be a United Methodist. Despite all the challenges, God is working in some amazing ways. Many local congregations are reaching out and making disciples of Jesus Christ. They are healthy, growing and vital to their local communities. They are led by clergy and lay leaders who are Christ-centered, spiritually engaged and focused upon loving God and loving their neighbor. United Methodism has a great number of these exemplary, fruitful congregations. Many are in Africa and the Philippines, while many are in the United States.
Still, too many congregations struggle to reach changing communities and younger generations. Our denomination's organizational system is bureaucratic with perceived power at "higher" levels – conferences, general agencies, councils. If we want the United Methodist movement to recover and grow, we must embrace the "adaptive challenge" to redirect our attention, energy and resources toward healthier local churches and annual conferences that are united in doctrine, discipline, connectional mission and covenantal unity.
Finally, United Methodism is distracted today by differing ideas on human sexuality. This reflects the recent cultural debate in the United States. For many this is the primary issue that needs to be resolved. While I'm anxious about how the church can do that, I'm trusting in God and hopeful that the United Methodist movement will see the light of Christ in this wilderness – a renewal of spirit, faithfulness, witness and growth. We need to affirm the positive, solid faith we share, reducing emphasis upon issues that can overshadow our mission ("the main thing").
As Wesleyan Christians, we have the right theology of grace and truth. We have a proven, powerful network to follow Jesus in feeding, healing, teaching and comforting those in need. And we have vast resources, including spiritually engaged leaders and congregations who are transforming lives in places all over the world.
I do believe that God is not yet finished with "a people called Methodist." Yes, I have hope. Yes, I believe that God's Spirit is very much alive and moving, connecting our past with a hope-filled future. Yes, I'm still excited to be a United Methodist Christian!
Brian Hammons is a member of Schweitzer United Methodist Church in Springfield, Missouri. A delegate to General Conference 2016, he has served as Missouri Conference lay leader since 2008. He leads Hammon Products Company, a unique black walnut nut business.