With all the talk of a Call to Action, the exciting Annual, Jurisdictional, and General Conference season soon upon us, with some talking of denominational death and others of new life & resurrection, I've had a lunch time curiosity. What if we could start a Methodist denomination from scratch? What would it look like? What elements would you want in it?
For me, I'd like to retain the very best of our theological heritage, yet create a dynamic organization (local congregations and ministries and the Church) and resources (the supporting cast of players that should support church) which would best share those distinctives today. Think of the rediscovery and reappropriation of Francis Asbury and circuit rider zeal and commitment. Think E. Stanley Jones missionary savvy and enthusiasm expressed in many nations. Imagine we are stepping into our Wesleyan glory days as we find ourselves in that intersection of the needs of the world and our availability to God and expression of the Kingdom today. I truly believe this is a possibility though we need to reinvigorate the dream and reform our ways in order to do what God requires. Rather than totally trash the old I find it easier during my lunch break to consider a new Methodist denomination that might allow this. Here are my somewhat random thoughts (in no particular order) as I finish my lunch. These are "raw" thoughts, and not polished in the least, but may provide something to "chew on" in future lunch thoughts.
*Every church and every member focus on the Wesleyan way of Christian salvation and the means of grace. This shared goal of laity & clergy, of local church and conference, of conference and denomination provides the framework for the goals, expectations, and accountability of the system.
*We would continue the fine Methodist tradition of conferencing, but would not have petitions or resolutions (which always makes me think of a United Nations approach!).
* Bishops & "helpers" would spend their time inspiring, encouraging, equipping, & directing the work in bullet #1. Any "out of district or conference" time would be very limited. Being "out of the office," i.e. your appointed area of responsibility, would be unusual rather than the norm. Bishops would not hold such a title for life, & would most likely be appointed to a region of "people and place" that they know and that knows them. The giftedness of the individual by God would be the priority in the use of the person in the work of the Church.
* There would be no "agencies" in this new denomination though there would be a Methodist headquarters that would include all the groups. There would be ministry offices in many regions/nations which would focus on issues most relevant to the accomplishment of the first bullet, e.g. worship, discipleship (including all the "age and stage" areas, small groups, prayer, etc.), evangelism, church leadership & vision (including communication), clergy training & development, new church development, evangelism, mission, etc. These would be housed in a central office and would interrelate to one another, just as they must in any congregation, for a holistic approach to congregational life and the Christian life. Thus, all the continents would have a "central office" which might also find expression in many countries, then in jurisdictions & conferences, and so on. There would be a leader at the central office who would direct the work in vision, supervision, coordination, and communication. Any existing entities (perhaps from a previous denomination or a group merging) would be moved into this umbrella of ministries & all the assets would be used for other ministries or sold. The "connection" then would work in both directions from local to national & from national to local in this continual link that effectively supports every element of the denomination, allows for strong 2 way communication, and allows for certain national or regional nuances that could retain the Methodist emphases while allowing for subtle distinctives necessary for the ministry in varied contexts.
*There would be strong emphasis in training on the variety of specialized ministries needed including preaching, worship & music, discipleship, teaching, age level ministries, evangelism, mission, communication, etc. for laity and clergy.
*The main books would be the Bible, a print or electronic hymnal/music book consistent with bullet #1 and relevant to each nation where this ministry is expressed, a Book of Discipline would be a concise, "slim" 200 page guide, and perhaps a current book of theology, doctrine, or of biblical or faith importance.
Ah well, lunch break is over at my desk, so time is up for now. What would your Methodist denomination look like?