Tuesday, April 8, 2008

UM Mission Confusion?

The mission of the United Methodist Church is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ.” GC08 will consider changing that to add “for the transformation of the world” (¶120). While it has a nice sound to it, I’m not sure it is an improvement on what we have.

Some might argue that the addition changes “making disciples” from being our primary purpose to being a “means” or method by which we transform the world. In other words, it says our real goal is to transform our world, and that the reason to become a disciple of Jesus Christ is so that we can achieve that goal.

It’s definitely a “Methodist” statement, which means it is sufficiently ambiguous. It leaves wide open for interpretation “how” we are going to transform the world and what such transformation would look like. That’s the perfect scenario for any cause group to argue that their issue deserves priority attention since it is part of our “mission.”

My hunch is that our boards and agencies will see the two parts of the statement as having equal leverage and then choose which one to emphasize. And since the preponderance of the evidence so far indicates we either aren’t comfortable with “making disciples” (or don’t know how), then we’ll see more and more material on how we good Methodists can and should be transforming the world.

You would think that with all the extensive talk about our declining membership, everyone would want to be clearly focused on making disciples of Jesus Christ. Of course, we don’t work to make disciples just to grow the church, but if we are making disciples, the church will end up growing. And if people become actual disciples of Jesus Christ and aren’t just names added to the rolls, then (as Paul beautifully says in Romans 12) they will be transformed, becoming people who transform the world.

Transformation of our sinful, broken, wayward world is important. Note that even in the Great Commission (Matthew 28) that after Jesus says “Go and make disciples of all nations,” he then says “teach them to obey everything I have commanded you.” If you get into the Word and apply his teachings, you will work to transform the world. That’s always been the Methodist way: warmed heart, accountability group immersed in scripture, and living the faith by “doing no harm, doing good, and attending all the ordinances of God.” (General Rules, ¶103)

The world transforming aspect of our mission is already expressed in the Discipline in ¶124: Our Mission in the World – God’s self-revelation in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ summons the church to ministry in the world through witness by word and deed in light of the church’s mission…As servants of Christ we are sent into the world to engage in the struggle for justice and reconciliation. We seek to reveal the love of God for men, women, and children of all ethnic, racial, cultural, and national backgrounds and to demonstrate the healing power of the gospel with those who suffer.

The new statement sounds more politically correct and is already being used by many of our church leaders, but will it serve us well?


Craig L. Adams said...

I can see why people don't want to just leave it at "making disciples" — it makes us seem to concerned about ourselves. We are placed in the world to benefit the world - and not just for ourselves. The trouble is, we're currently not doing too well over-all with "making disciples" and I'd hate to see us divert our attention from what the UMC really needs to re-learn.

Eric Helms said...

I agree that sticking with "making disciples" makes sense. Personally I thinks it challenges a denomination that has drifted from the importance of winning converts to Christ to remember that this is in fact why we exist. On the otherhand, I also like the reminder that making disciples isn't about membership but transformation. Maybe a church as diverse as ours needs both emphases in our stated mission.

kathy said...

As we discussed yesterday, it may be "institutionalized schizoprhenia" but it also may be an honest statement about how we live our lives as United Methodists. I am sorry that we have a hard time seeing "making disciples" as transforming the world and a hard time seeing "transforming the world" as an act of discipleship, not just politics.

roadtripray said...

I'm with you ... if we make disciples God will use those disciples to transform the world.

Jim Elder said...

I'm not so sure that when Christ called us to go and make disciples he had in mind that we also transform the world. I think he called us to go make disciples so that those who come to Christ would be transformed. Romans 12 says nothing about transformation of the world. It is about our individual transformation because of our commitment to Christ. You are right that, as we are being transformed into the image of Christ, the part of the world that we live will naturally be "touched" by our transformation. However, that does not mean that our world will be transformed toward the positive. History shows that there have been times when the worlds transformation was negative toward the Christian. I believe we may be coming into a period when the world will not appreciate nor accept our transformation as Christians. Christ himself warned that the world will hate those that follow him but we are not to be afraid because he has overcome the world.

Seems to me that Christ does the transformation, we are to make the disciples.