The Revd Paul Smith gives four talks exploring the theme “The Lamb of God.”
A weekend of Bible exposition, encouraging worship and prayer, great fellowship and wonderful hospitality. Come for the weekend or for a day.
Fundamental to our handling of this issue is whether we believe God has a future for Methodism. It is not necessarily pessimistic or negative to conclude that, in his plans, Methodism will die out in order for new movements of renewal to grow. In fact there is much evidence that this is already the case. However, if we assume, rightly or wrongly, that God has a future for Methodism we must be clear that very radical change is needed – much more radical than appears so far to be envisaged by those within or operating the system. (This is a typical trend in declining organizations – the power brokers within the organization actually are unable to see ‘the wood for the trees’ and therefore they offer no coherent strategies).
The discussion about the future of this or any denomination must be driven by missiology not ecclesiology – an intention to declare the Gospel not to promote the church. Practically speaking, this means that any restructuring is not driven by the need to protect the employment of those currently engaged – i.e. keeping ministers and other officers in jobs. This is not a flippant point. There is a pastoral dilemma but there is an over-arching purpose. Our purpose is not to preserve the sacred cow of connexionalism. Our purpose is to declare the Gospel for all and to find the most effective way to do this. Some will say that connexionalism is fundamental to Methodism – No, the fundamentals are missional not ecclesial – see the founders of the movement, Jesus and Wesley. We will have to be prepared to sacrifice some sacred cows if we are to be church for the 21st Century.
We will have to be prepared to sacrifice some sacred cows if we are to be church for the 21st Century.
Instead of approaching the problem of decline by restructuring, as most declining organizations do, we should re-visit the founding dream of the movement. This was to spread scriptural holiness throughout the land. The defining features of the Methodist movement in its inception were scriptural (Bible based), Christ – centred and Holy Spirit driven, practical (aiming for personal transformation and social caring), missionary (all need to be and can be saved) and inclusive (the Gospel for all). These basics are not often affirmed in the pragmatics of re-structuring discussions. The question ‘Has anyone asked God about all this? (i.e. called the whole church to prayer) is regarded by some intimately involved in the processes as impertinent – It is not intended in that way. Naïve questions require straight forward answers. We need an unequivocal call to prayer.
When these fundamental principles are affirmed organizational restructuring and creative approaches to mission follow. The Methodist revival was a movement – it became a denomination that became an institution. It needs to return to its roots and exhibit THE CHARACTERISTICS OF A MOVEMENT. This constitutes a paradigm shift away from a Christendom mind set where it assumed that people know the story and are sympathetic to the institution.
Characteristics of church, local and national, for the 21st Century would therefore include:
Practically this means that the focus of current re-arrangements needs to be fundamentally committed to prayer, evidently Holy Spirit inspired and unashamedly Jesus focused.
Remember, some churches in the UK are growing. A shrinking church needs to learn from MODELS THAT WORK not simply adapt failed models. Growing churches exhibit the above characteristics.
We need to
Robert Warren in ‘Being human, being church’ states that it is impossible to move a bus whilst you are sitting on it. First, admit the bus needs help – more radical help is needed than those on the bus can see or realize – their vested interests obscure their view. Get off the bus (even temporarily) and ask: ‘What would our church look like if we were to design it from scratch today?’ How can it be fit for purpose? We do not have a blank sheet of paper and we have to start with where we are but the danger is that we simply modify a failing model. It would be better in that case to start with a blank sheet.
What would it look like then? One thing is certain; we would not be designing a four fold structure of congregation – circuit – district – connexion. We need a structure driven by mission not pastoral care. I suggest the classical cell church model which in fact has its origins in early Methodism:
Cell – Congregation – Celebration:
We would abandon the structural terminology of Methodism and return to the looser network of our movements founding dream.