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Following Jesus and Being United Methodist

Another item floating around the methoblogosphere: the excellent article written by Ben Yosua-Davis about the generation x/y gathering earlier this year.

I didn't attend the event, but parts of the article really hit the head on the nail for me, articulating the split personality I often feel as a person fully immersed in the denomination, the organization, the structure, the way of functioning of the Untied Methodist Church, and the growing sense that to be a real disciple of Jesus, I'm missing the boat entirely doing what I'm doing in the way we're doing it.

Ben writes:

"Participants voiced both deep love for and deep frustration about the denomination. They expressed a passionate loyalty and appreciation for United Methodism, yet also a conviction that the church they love may end up killing them spiritually. This pain does not come out of disconnected idealism, but rather an intelligent, painful realism that has made many realize that their leadership in traditional parish ministry and traditional churches is bringing them farther away from God's call for their lives.

A deeper issue ran under the surface of almost all the conversations, namely, "Can I follow Jesus, be faithful to my call and remain United Methodist?"

There was a sense among many (although not all) that the church has not created space for young adults to be faithful disciples as they understand it. Instead, like a round peg in a square hole, they feel jammed into ministries that do not fit their gifts, into churches where they feel sucked dry and futile, into ministries that others define for them, without any room to explore what it means to be both Christian and postmodern at the same time. There was a sense that for many, The United Methodist Church is not looking for gifted Christian ministers; rather they are looking for by-the-book, work-within-the-system professionals who would pay their dues, innovate only within the system and not rock the boat."

"Can I follow Jesus, be faithful to my call, and remain United Methodist?" That is the question, isn't it? Is it easier to be a disciple inside or outside of the organized church? Is there room in the church for people who really want to be disciples? Isn't it funny that we have to even ask these questions?

Jesus throughout the gospels is asking us for everything - a full commitment, a complete commitment, a commitment to give our whole life up. Yes, he calls us to do that at the same time as he offers complete forgiveness, unconditional love, free grace. But discipleship, the kind Jesus is talking about, is total. I find, honestly, that it is hard to ask that of people in the church - we're not set up in churches to communicate that what God wants from us is everything. We're set up in way that tells people we're ok with whatever they want to give. (I'm not just talking dollars here - I'm talking people - what they want to give of themselves.) We're set up in a way that doesn't encourage pastors to be disciples, really. I feel like it is so easy for me to go through the motions of being a disciple, the motions of following my call, without pushing myself beyond what is required.

I'm looking for something more. I'm wishing someone would demand something more from me - more authentic discipleship. I think people who are really searching for God, to follow God, don't want someone to tell them how easy it is to do and fit into their already full lives. They want - or at least I do - someone to tell them it is time to repent - to change the mind's direction - and be a disciple.


BrickBalloon said…
I ran across your post and just had to comment. You quoted Ben as saying he wanted to "explore what it means to be both Christian and postmodern at the same time". That's an oxymoron... Christianity and postmodern are mutually exclusive.

A postmodern is someone who believes that what is true for you, is true for you, but I can have a different truth that is equally true. We each have our own truth and no one is wrong.

Christianity says this about Jesus, "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12)

Christianity says there is one truth, Jesus Christ is truth (John 14:16), and all others are wrong.

A postmodern in a Christian church should feel like a square peg in a round hole, because a postmodern does not fit in a Christian church. If Ben felt like he fit, then he is not in a Christian church.

I would hope the United Methodist church is not looking for gifted ministers, although my experience is that many United Methodist Churches are pastored by pagan ministers (See my blog posts on the United Methodist Church) who are promoting Progressive Christianity. This is why the UMC has problems with not having enough pastors and why UMC membership is declining in the U.S.

What a church should be looking for in a minister is first off a Godly Christian. (See 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:6-9). They should seek a man who is dedicated to obeying the Lord. When someone is dedicated to living in obedience to God, then God will use that person to advance the kingdom.
Melissa said…
Brickballoon -

That's one area where postmodern Christians do depart with their postmodern counterparts (although in reality, postmodernism is not a hyped-up version of relativism, as your definition seems to suggest). Postmodern Christians *do* have an understanding that Christ is the over-arching meta-narrative that communicates Truth...*is* Truth, in fact. Postmoderns are more apt to say that you can't reduce Truth (i.e., faith in Jesus) to a set of propositions, and that's one of the key components in a more postmodern understanding of Christianity. It's still *very much* about Jesus.
Ben Davis said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ben Davis said…
Let me try this comment again!

Bethquick, I sympathize with your wish to lead your congregation into deeper discipleship and for someone to ask you to go deeper as well. Quite often, I think that our churches set us up to be mediocre, lukewarm Christians- passive, timid, and unwilling to take risks.

With this in mind, Melissa, myself, and a couple of seminary friends will possibly start a new church in the Boston area in the next couple years. One of the essential components of this new church start will be a neo-monastic community, where we will be sharing a living space, hold many of our possessions in common, engage in communal daily prayer, and be Jesus as best we can to those who are on the margins in our neighborhood.

While I think that part of the “round peg in a square problem” is a postmodern/modern issue, I think there’s also a discipleship issue as well. Namely, why is it that I feel normal when I confine church to Sunday morning and crazy when I want to follow Jesus 24/7? That’s a question that all United Methodists, regardless of worldview, need to address.
Jody Leavell said…
Careful what you ask for, Beth, you may get it! :)

Rather than project my personal experience with the UMC onto your question I'll instead say what I do respect of those who disagree with where they are at in life. I respect someone who not only adopts a new faith perspective but who also adapts themselves to it without dragging everyone else with them. Live your faith on your own two feet first. The respect I have for one who does that rings true even when I cannot in good conscience agree with them. I try to remember that we are both likely wrong.

I have been both liberal and conservative about the faith of my circumstances. I've variously stepped out on my own or stayed the course. Needless to say I've also been wrong in both situations. The Truth has a way of expressing itself so that neither the conservative view or the liberal view of any disputable matter is troubled when the right direction becomes obvious for both. Whether we be right or wrong the only thing that impedes us from a Truth larger than ourself is a need to market our understanding of it. If we do that we deceive ourself first.

"To thy own self be true" means following your conscience where you are at, all the while remembering you may discover you are wrong. Don't be afraid of that, even if it means standing your ground to a friend, or leaving the ground you have shared with them for so long.

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