I hope to blog out my thoughts about EmergingUmc2: Restoring Missional Methodism over the next several days. Here is my second attempt to summarize my experience at the conference. Here is my blog post from yesterday about the conference.
After our walking/missional tour of downtown Indianapolis, we returned to the church, had lunch, and finished up the official part of our Friday at EmergingUMC2.
We spent that afternoon talking about the early Methodists and the church structure that had developed since then. Ultimately, it was this way of doing church that got us into the ditch that we United Methodists now find ourselves in.
One thing is clear; John Wesley and the early Methodists were the Shane Claibornes and ordinary radicals of their time and place. Their ministries started in prisons, coal fields, factories, in the farm fields, etc. They spoke out against injustice like slavery and industrial reform and primarily worked through small groups called classes. Along with the social activism and small gatherings, these early Methodists also put emphasis on personal piety and discipline.
According to Taylor Burton-Edwards, the EmergingUMC2 conference leader, the prevailing spirit and structure of the early Methodists started to dissipate with the creation of the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1784, especially as the church gained economic and political power and became part of the dominant, mainstream culture by its 100th birthday in 1884.
The numbers lie sometimes but the United Methodist church is fading. We are about to be passed by the Mormons for third place on the largest American denominations list, continue to lose hundreds of thousands of members each decade, and now the percentage of Americans who consider themselves United Methodist have nearly been cut in half over the last forty years. (6% in 1970, 3% today).
Burton-Edwards argument on this Friday afternoon made a lot of sense; The church as congregation model hasn’t worked out very well and its well worth looking at what those early Methodists were up to! You cannot recreate the past, of course, but there is much to learn from the pre-Methodist Episcopal Church Wesleyan movement.
Much more could be said, but most importantly, returning to a model that emphasises the small group/class could add the vitality needed to Keep Wesley’s hope that the Methodist movement “[would] not only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.…” He wrote that two years after the formation of the Methodist Episcopal church.
To back this up, Burton-Edwards quoted the following in his presentation:
•GBOD research– discipleship grows and deepens primarily through an experience or a group outside the congregation (Dan Dick)
•Missiological observation– “communitas”–a “band of brothers and sisters who have each other’s backs struggling through a common ordeal– is the environment most conducive to missional action and multiplication (Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways)