Repent, Pray, and Stand for the UMC

No matter your position of influence in the United Methodist Church, your hope in Christ is needed now.

Today I Skipped the WCA’s Unashamed Conference

by | Nov 3, 2018 | Leadership, UMC Renewal, Wesley Covenant Association | 0 comments

Today the Wesley Covenant Association’s Unashamed conference was held. As the watering hole of the fractured, diverse, and leaderless “traditionalist” majority in the United Methodist Church, this event was worth attending and I always plan to support this movement with my presence and prayers.

The schedule of the event looked concerning: 100% 1:0 information-to-action ratio on the agenda, no time for prayer, for discussion, or even Q&A. It looks like the usual intelligent, well-intentioned messages from the talented few to the busy many, seeking to make the church feel better about the times we’re in and the possibilities ahead.

I decided to stay home to pray seriously for this event and the church, to read and learn the updated status of the battle lines, and to hear and write what the Spirit is saying. My habits are inimical to solitary Christianity as are the Wesleys’, so this experience was different to say the least, but to rest and pray and think without drowning in information I already know looked like the best way to proceed. I also prayed for Holy Spirit interruptions in the planned words and activities, to bring God’s interests and agenda to bear where the UMC renewal movement is gathered. Father, we need You more than we need ourselves.

“I am supportive of the WCA with my own membership, money, and prayers because it’s all we have now with a global reputation, but I am concerned for the lack of spiritual generals who have invested more resources into advancement of the Gospel than in exit strategies.”

If I’m going to exert effort on a valuable Sabbath day, I at least want to rescue a person or animal that’s fallen into a well. There’s a church and a commission from Jesus that needs rescuing, and I’m not sure this conference was designed to tackle the immediate task at hand. I had expected to attend such a conference. A church split is on the horizon, but sin, apathy, distraction, and apostasy at the root of it are here right now. Today. Too few of us in prominent positions in the UMC or beyond the UMC are articulating the clarion call to repent and pray.

Unashamed! Conference on Nov. 3, 2018: “It is a packed house at Mt. Bethel UMC as we stand Unashamed at our Global Gathering. Over 2,500 people have joined us all around the country!”

I am excited about what God has done in the Unashamed conference today and ask Him only for more – much more. When God’s ways of spiritual leadership and victory in corporate spiritual warfare modeled in scripture are working in the current UMC situation, I’ll have nothing to write here but will be busy participating in whatever He has me doing to help out. But while there is still a significant leadership gap, I hope to pray and get helpful mobilizing words out to the people and leaders who can do what they know the Holy Spirit wants them to do now.

What are We Ashamed of?

Many UMC members, like the WCA schedule exhorts, are not ashamed of worship, of Christ and His claims, of the Scriptures, of the Gospel, of being a disciple in a Postmodern world, of preaching scriptural holiness, of the “Next Methodism,” or of Holy Communion. Some of us are already not ashamed of these things (though I understand there is a need to bring more followers of Christ into an intellectual and also a “whole person” unapologetic confidence in the name of Jesus and the implications of His life for us).

But we are ashamed of leaderlessness in our denomination, in our culture, in our nation, in our homes, and in ourselves. We have failed to lead ourselves the way we know we ought, we have continued to place our commitment to virtue and holiness to another day, and we have long ago ceased claiming, seeking, and believing for the authority to call out sin in others with firmness, gentleness, and love as Jesus did.

Where are the leaders shouting, “Tomorrow is Today?” We need you to speak up. And if you hear one articulating this message to the church and its implications, then please share that message.

“The truth is that the church of Jesus Christ has no exit option, only an advancement option.”

We in the UMC are ashamed of fighting battle’s on the enemy’s turf and rules of engagement. We are ashamed of planning to give Jesus’ ground to the enemy of our souls as long as we get to keep our own little piece of the church – for now. We are ashamed of desiring the comfortable unity of intellectual doctrine only and shunning the uncomfortable unity of voluntary living in community materially with our time and possessions for the advancement of the Gospel. We are ashamed of denying in the church the self-sacrificial, inventive, brute-force, fully-engrossed-in-one-thing masculinity our culture needs at this hour, battered into unmentioned submission because of mistakes made in the past by some who did not honor the real image of God in women. And there are many other issues on which repentance is due.

These dynamics are some of the shameful things we followers of Christ are ashamed of. They are proved shameful by the testimony of scripture, natural reason, and the experience of history. Unless and until we repent of these shameful acts together and decide by one Spirit and voice to move in the opposite direction – in sufficient numbers – the church of Jesus as expressed through the Methodist tradition will continue to decline into irrelevance and powerlessness. I can repent and live differently by myself all I want, but it won’t change much. Anyone with a platform (we all have one), please let this message loose in your words. Your prayers and your voice will make a difference.

Today is not a time to soothe, but a time to fight. We don’t need more perspective and information, but to act in prayerful obedience and while abiding in Jesus do what the witness of scripture demands. I have too long sought to understand everything before taking the first step because I didn’t want to invest myself in the wrong direction. Having come to see and learn more than I ever imagined and understanding how God’s administration of this world works, I have witnessed that far more fruitful, happy, and effective are those who act on what they know now.

Repent. Pray, Obey. Lead.

“Beware you be not swallowed up in books! An ounce of love is worth a pound of knowledge.” – John Wesley

Where are we today in the UMC?

In short, the preparations of many individuals and advocacy groups loosely grouped into two sides (“Traditionalist” and “Progressive”) are focusing on the passage of either of two of the three researched plans allowed to be presented at the 2019 special session of the General Conference in February (the “Traditionalist” plan and the “One Church” plan). Most people on both sides agree that the third plan (“Connectional Conference”) is less likely to gain passage, and so are focusing their primary advocacy on either the Traditionalist or One Church plans. Nobody knows what result will actually come through this session of the General Conference, which is the legislative body that speaks for the whole United Methodist Church.

“The One Church Plan maintains a uniform connection among the UMC with respect to law and money, but nothing else.”

Passage of either plan will result in the mass exodus of most, but not all, “Traditionalist” or “Progressive” congregations. Some don’t see that reality, but it is reality nonetheless. The real battle is over what spirit owns the power, assets, and reputation of the UMC as part of the larger war between God and satan for the hearts of men. Please don’t divorce this denominational crisis from the larger war, as success relies on the prayers and resources of like-minded disciples of Christ from outside the denomination (yet only the Progressives appear to be utilizing outside support in terms of the majority of their funds coming from sources outside UMC membership). The primary battle objectives are over power of the leadership of the denomination and secondly over the terms of how the losers are granted a gracious or difficult exit. People are trying to avoid “winners” versus “losers” language, but the harsh reality is that that is how satan is playing this game, seeking not only control, but also the lives of everyone involved and those God has called us to reach with the Gospel.

“The Progressive culture focuses myopically on Jesus’ love and active embrace of all people while not loving and tolerating Jesus Himself for who He really is.”

The Traditionalist plan keeps doctrine and authority close to the status quo but provides greater maneuvering for quality leadership to work with the Holy Spirit on reformation and cleaning our own house before God has to do it for us. Combined with a clear renewal movement from God and an exposure of the tactics of the enemy of all of us, some within the Progressive camp will “convert” to the standard, historic Christian faith in response to the Good News of the Gospel, and others will leave. Some who will leave never intended to have fellowship with Jesus in the first place, content to remain with the “jesus” preferred by the surrounding culture.

The root problem of the entire movement to spiritualize the celebration of homosexuality in Christian terms is this: the Progressive culture focuses myopically on Jesus’ love and active embrace of all people while not loving and tolerating Jesus Himself for who He really is. That fundamental dynamic of cherrypicking Jesus’ work while throwing out even the need for salvation from sin is at the heart of this whole divide. That divide – between those who follow Jesus in faith that He has paid the price for our sins so we can live in relationship with Him and those who are living a different faith – has always existed and will exist until the end of this era. But that divide usually not been allowed to grow this wide and powerful within the church, threatening its existence and the freedom to preach and teach the Gospel in its fullness. Leaderlessness has allowed childish notions of Christianity to gain this much traction within the functions and leadership of the church, often financially supported by the sheep being gently and professionally led to the slaughter.

“A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.” – H. Richard Niebuhr, The Kingdom of God in America

The One Church Plan maintains a uniform connection among the UMC with respect to law and money, but nothing else. By definition and written legal decree, there would no longer be a shared standard of ordination, shared doctrine, shared authority of scripture, shared mission of the church, or any other spiritual reason to remain together except to accelerate the process of expropriating money from the majority to a powerful minority as one camp is expected to follow church law while the other camp continues to flaunt it at will for personal gain and affirmation of sin.

I pray that Traditionalist UMC delegates will stand firm despite the temptation to rely on the WCA’s exit strategy. It is tempting to not speak up for the truth when the Holy Spirit calls for it to be one’s turn, or at least to vote in a way that demonstrates one’s “reasonability” among unfusible factions. In this hour we need to proactively act as if our boats are burned. The truth is that the church of Jesus Christ has no exit option, only an advancement option.

Another Take on What Got Us Here

When crisis appeared, the Traditionalist leadership coalesced around the WCA exit strategy rather than leading the whole church in prayer, repentance, and Holy Spirit-led action. In the absence of a set of generals with a plan for victory in today’s battle, the renewal movement understandably gathered together under the set of generals with a pretty exit strategy and a hope for victory in tomorrow’s battles. What troubles me most is not the dedication, unity, and tenacity of the Progressive camp unknowingly serving our mutual spiritual enemy’s plans for the destruction of us all, but the obvious lack of victory-minded leaders in the UMC caring more about God’s interests than in their own ministries. Such a leadership movement should have appeared in unity years prior to the 2016 formation of the WCA.

Corporate, sacrificial prayer alone will reveal God’s commission for a way forward.

I became alarmed and praying into this situation in March 2018 when I first learned of the dire lack of UMC leadership currently. The WCA’s membership and funding is probably double what it ought to have been if there were a viable organization or two dedicated to victory today and carrying the Gospel of Jesus into the Progressive institutions tomorrow. I am supportive of the WCA with my own membership, money, and prayers because it’s all we have now with a global reputation, but I am concerned for the lack of spiritual generals who have invested more resources into advancement of the Gospel than in exit strategies.

The WCA exit vision, though in many ways virtuous, continues the cancerous habit within the UMC (in America, at least, which is the part I know) of performance leadership: the phenomenon of preaching and teaching one thing publicly before the laity while substantial decisions are made behind closed doors because the laity has not been discipled to maturity enough to handle the real work of the church, which must be performed by the few ordained and funded by the many for works they know not of. The toleration of this cancer of performance leadership maintained within the culture of the WCA “New Methodism” will inhibit God’s blessing of the future form of the church, if it is to take this path. The time was ripe then and overripe now to include – and at times mutually submit to – the organic, Holy Spirit-filled Body of Christ expressed through membership in the UMC. We must overcome this crisis of the church together without division between laity and ordained leadership if God’s interests in the UMC are to materialize.

Beware you do not oppose, or speak or think evil of, what God hath done in the earth. Rather, each in the station wherein he is placed, join hearts and hands in the work, till holiness and happiness cover our land as the waters cover the sea.”  – John Wesley, Dublin, July 6, 1749.

The answers are not simple. Corporate, sacrificial prayer alone will reveal God’s commission for a way forward. We know for starters that our leaders should not be those who are the most educated, those on salary, or the best at pretending holiness and fruitfulness as they have been in the past. Instead, they should be experienced in prayer, matured by trials, carry authority from victorious battles, and called to exhort, shepherd, and rule from the specific posts they occupy. We must repent for allowing those carrying spirits opposed to Christ to lead others astray from within our fellowship, and especially for allowing one cent to be paid for their “ministry” among us.

I do not take lightly the throwing of stones in the words written above. Those who do not point out sin within the body are party to that sin, and I have committed that sin too much, resulting in destruction God placed me in a position to avoid. We do not call out because we ourselves are not living in obedience and holiness. The time is long past due to commit ourselves again to scriptural holiness and hold ourselves and each other accountable in small groups as the early Methodists did.

I am sorry for not seeing these dynamics and writing about them sooner. Keeping watch over this situation is not my day job nor even my main volunteer and ministry initiative. I don’t take that as an excuse for myself for not doing what God has given me competency to finish, but I do say it to call on those selected and paid as overseers to fulfill the work of their offices: pray, obey, oversee the flock at the expense of your own comfort, and call out and expel the spiritual enemies of the church and all who aid them. We need you do what you are paid and titled to do: “Feed My sheep,” and “lay down [your] life for the sheep.”

The Conclusion of the Matter

The method of victory is this: Assuming you had a position of prayer, influence, and leadership in God’s Methodist church after a hypothetical UMC church split, what are the things you would do to build up, shepherd, and protect God’s holy church going into a tumultuous future? What are those things?

Do them now.