It seems like I have been thinking through this a lot over the past few months. I agree with most of what Dave wrote in his post on what concerns him, maybe with different emphasis. There has been a lot going around about what’s going on in American Methodism (in particular, with the ordination process), but 5 years removed from the UMC, I can’t really speak to it. So this post will focus on British Methodism.
- Sunday Only Focus: Church has become what happens during the hour on Sunday morning.
- Maintenance has Become the Mission: Ministries are judged by if they will get ‘bums on seats’ on Sunday morning, which will bring people in to do the vacant jobs and maintain the building.
- Too Many Buildings: As congregations become smaller and older, the buildings become harder to maintain, yet the congregations remain steadfast in their determination to remain.
- Maintaining the Status Quo: I get the sense that the connexion has a list of suggestions that are ‘off-limits’ for a number of reasons. But there seems to be an avoidance at all costs of a complete overhaul (my friend Garreth talks about the church needing to overhaul here).
- The Ambiguous Leadership Role of Clergy: The treasurer at one of my churches has said, ‘The Methodist Church expects ministers to be change agents, but don’t enable them to do it because the power still lies with the congregation.’ I struggle to find where the laity needs to be ‘freed up’. With the day-to-day running of the church primarily with the laity and ministers split between 2-8 churches, can we really say ministers (few if any who would say all power needs to be with the clergy) are holding them back? Why are some of these smaller ones who rarely see a minister so resolute in church being only about Sunday morning?
- The Circuit Plan: This is where I can’t get my head around – following on from the previous, I see it as a problem I am only in my church once, maybe twice a month. I don’t want to denigrate the local preacher system – many are good preachers. But, for a minister to be the leader, it seems she would need to be there every week, living with them week in and week out. Worship could carry on a continuity and the leader could press on topics and issues where needed. At the very least, it would give less of a feel of an outsider coming in each week.
- Loss of Focus on Discipleship: Methodism began as a movement of Christians who wanted to live out their faith. Wesley instituted a regime of class meetings where people met for accountability, scripture study, and good works. In this format, a system of local preachers which supported the class system made sense. Now the people gather for what was the side show (the preaching) and what made Methodism Methodism is barely on the radar. In regards to church members, this should make us think about what it means for leadership of the local church.
- Church as Services Provider: I have struggled with this one, and this may need to get a whole post on its on. In order to save our buildings, we lease them out to groups or look to larger organisations (or government agencies) to come in and use our premises to provide services. The church can have little involvement (if any). This is not all bad, and in fact I applaud this. Yet, there seems to be something missing when we want to build a community of people who follow Jesus. I think we are losing out on two things: the sense that the church as a foretaste of the eschatological community and any notion of conversion (very important in Methodism).
I have made some generalisations, and I have been told that my experience is confined to this area in Lancashire. There are churches that are doing some great things, but I wonder if we can find ways to channel resources to them (I remember someone at my last church, which was going through a building scheme, who said the Methodist Church easily provides approval and money for a church that wants to put some iron fencing around a garden, but sets up all kinds of roadblocks for churches looking ‘really do ministry’).
All this sounds terribly judgmental, and whilst I focus on the laity over discipleship, I have to raise my hand and say I suffer in my own. I don’t mean to say I am separate from the problems I name, but I also add to them. In addition to thinking through where I add to the problems, I am trying to work out where my concerns are my own and not really big problems.