GracePoint UMC as metaphor; Joel Hunter as metaphor


GracePoint UMC as Metaphor.  

What about Joel Hunter as metaphor? 

GracePoint United Methodist in Kansas made big noise  when the pastor/ church leadership and virtually the whole fast growing congregation left the East Kansas United Methodist conference and started a new GracePoint community church minus the UMC affiliation.  Anyway a big mess which could serve as a metaphor for what the UMC is going through.  I blogged about it here.  

If we are hunting for metaphors here in central Indiana another good one might be the story of Rev. Joel Hunter.  Hunter has gotten a ton of press recently and is a spiritual advisor to President Obama.  Last month PBS’ outstanding Religion & Ethics Newsweekly ran this profile about the pastor.   His relationship with Obama was profiled here in Time Magazine and he even makes an appearance on This American Life.  

A Talented  and Young Indiana United Methodist Pastor quits and moves to Florida. 

Hunter, a megachurch pastor (Northland Community Church in Orlando) took a tiny congregation and built  one of the most cutting edge churches in the US.    The crazy thing is that Hunter used to be a United Methodist pastor in the south Indiana conference.   In a writeup about the pastor in the New Yorker, the journalist talks about Hunter’s experience in Indiana:

Hunter spent fifteen years in the United Methodist Church, first as a youth pastor in Greenfield, Indiana, where he met and married Becky, who was a college student at the time, and later as a minister of a small rural church and as a pastor in a growing suburb of Indianapolis, where, under his leadership, the congregation grew from two hundred to a thousand in seven years.

In 1985, Hunter left the United Methodists and Indiana and headed down to Florida to join up with Northland.  In the same paragragh form the New Yorker article: 

There’s something in me as a child of the sixties that is very suspicious of establishment success,” he said. “I questioned if I was just doing it because of the perks. Did I really have what it takes to walk away from it?” He spent three days praying and fasting in a cabin in the woods, and, shortly afterward, accepted an offer from Northland, an evangelical congregation of two hundred people, which had just lost its pastor.

The Joel Hunter story serves as a metaphor for what might be going wrong with us Hoosier United Methodists. Of course there are a few caveats.  1985 was a long time ago, many Indianans have moved to Florida (better weather, somewhat better economy) in the last few decades, and Hunter–not to my knowledge– never badmouthes his experience in Indiana.

But the facts on the ground are telling.  A UMC pastor leaves the denomination and becomes one of the most important religious voices of the early 21st century.  

Where’s the metaphor?  Here it is:  

I’m not in total love with Hunter’s theology (I am 100% pro-choice  and believe in 100% equality for the LBGT community), but there is so much going on here.  A lot of lessons to learn from the success of this pastor.  

Risk Taking

In the New Yorker article, Hunters says, “There is something in me as a child of the 60’s that is very suspicious of establishment success….”

  I think that is one of the main problems here in Indiana; we bask in our glory of establishment success!  We got some great big churches (for Methodists anyway) and have a big role to play in Indiana’s biggest healthcare system (Clarian with Methodist Hospital being one of the flagship hospitals), but we seemingly never take risks. We don’t support edgy endeavors or new ways of doing church (unless you count lame praise music and powerpoints).  

Church Leadership

This is what Hunter writes about church leadership on his church homepage bio:

Congregants take leadership of nearly every ministry effort inside the church, out in the community and around the world. Elders, pastors and paid staff don’t try to control the initiatives of congregants or the connections they make, and, they don’t watch over their shoulders unnecessarily.

It seems that most UMC churches are too clergy centered.  In most churches laity aren’t empowered (for one reason or the other) and this leads to a stressful situation for both clergy and laity.  It would be ideal for the bulk of clergy time to be spent equipping laity with the power and ability to run healthy and vibrant congregations.    

Constructive Political Engagement:

If you read this blog, you know I am pretty harsh on former President Bush.  Hunter voted for him twice.  I don’t quite get it but Hunter’s public policy efforts  have been quite constructive.  AND amazingly progressive.  He essentially has become the defacto leader of a large evangelical movement. The  Miami Herald recently wrote:

Hunter is part of a new breed of evangelicals seeking to forge common ground instead of fighting culture wars. He’s focused on what he terms ”compassion issues”—the environment, poverty, immigration reform and peace—instead of on wedge issues like abortion and gay marriage. 

Its not that the United Methodists aren’t concerned about these issues; they certainly are.  The difference though is this constructive political engagement is at the heart of who Hunter is.  And he gets things done.  We Methodists seemingly think of politics as abstract and not willing to truly get out in front of an issue.  

And unfortunely, that is just a start.  Keep tuned.  





One thought on “GracePoint UMC as metaphor; Joel Hunter as metaphor

  1. i spotted that hunter profile. didn’t realize he had starts as a um. from my interactions with clergy outside the church there are a bunch who have been within the umc.. and a lot of um pastors who started out in another denom. its really not something new, but it gets notice when that person/s have had some large amount of ‘success’

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