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?