It’s always a helpful practice to stop and remind ourselves why we do what we do—why we are the way we are. Why do I continue my work as a pastor? What kind of Father am I now that all of my children are grown? What kind of marriage am I hoping to have with Sue in the years ahead? What is it about Jesus that I find so winsome, inspiring, and compelling? It shouldn’t require a problem or crisis in these areas of our lives for us to periodically check in and reaffirm our important roles and relationships. Our Conference Superintendent has asked the pastors and lay leaders of our District to answer the question, ‘Why are you a United Methodist?’
The words that follow are my best attempt to respond.
Why I Am A United Methodist
I am a United Methodist because I was born into a dynamic and loving United Methodist congregation that taught me what it was to be a follower of Jesus.
As someone with a distinctly moderate sensibility—someone who believes that wisdom and truth are found in the tension between extremes—I have found particular resonance with our Wesleyan tradition and unique American experience of that tradition. As United Methodist Christians:
- Our ethos is both Anglican and revivalist;
- We are led episcopally as an Annual Conference but most of our major decisions are made democratically;
- We emphasize our shared connection especially as it empowers our local congregations to greater fruitfulness;
- We have roots in a liturgical tradition and yet are open to the extemporaneous movement of the Spirit;
- We put a premium on personal holiness but are careful to make sure that holiness leads to the transformation of our neighborhoods and world.
- We take the Bible with utter seriousness but try not to take our ourselves too seriously. We recognize the danger that comes from treating an interpretation of scripture as if it has the actual authority of scripture itself.
It has been my experience that our church flows safely within
the banks of historic Christianity. We might test the banks of that river on one side and then the other, but because our connection includes a wide spectrum of progressive and traditional theological positions, we inevitably make the necessary course corrections that keep our theological waters flowing in the right (faithful) direction.
Mostly I am United Methodist because when we get it wrong, we admit our shortcomings and marshal our forces and try to get it right, to do and be better. When we are in trouble our first response is to try to organize our way out of it. Though it always brings a smile to my lips, it is still an infinitely better response than trying to find renewal by purging those whose lack of commitment or doctrinal purity appear to be holding us back. It is better than doubling down on how we use to do things during “the good old days” of growth.
My experience as a lay member and then as a pastor of several congregations over my lifetime has taught me that we are a “grace first” people. Before we sit in judgment over anyone, we make full and honest confession of our own sin and brokenness. When we err, as all churches do, we tend to err on the side of grace. But in what other direction would our Lord Jesus Christ have us err?
The last few churches I have had the privilege to pastor have made it clear to new members what we expect of them, even as we have communicated what they have a right to expect from us. There is one of those expectations that expresses an essential aspect of United Methodism: Our expectation is that this church may disappoint you in some shape or form over the coming years, as you may disappoint Jesus and His church. Since we understand the church to be a feeble, broken vessel in the hands of an accepting, forgiving, and patient Christ, we ask that you extend the same grace to your church as you expect Jesus Christ to extend to you.
I understand that there are those who have grown frustrated with various aspects of our United Methodist church—its polity, positions, and politics. And I quite agree with those who call for corrections and reforms that we have long needed to be made. But I also feel called to extend the grace of Jesus that I have received through the church, back to the church I continue to love and serve.