Recently, I posted a response on the Missional Methodist blog about what I see happening right now in The United Methodist Church.
I mentioned that I see huge parallels with what is happening in the academic world and what is happening with the church. Academia is being told: the purpose of education is economic–getting good paying jobs for the graduates. The real purpose of a good liberal education–to teach people to think widely and deeply over multiple disciplines so they might serve as ethical and well-grounded leaders in multiple areas–is being replaced by this purely functional model.
So, the real purpose of the church: the process of forming and shaping disciples who will live as radical followers of Jesus is also being replaced by a functional model: “Vital” churches–i.e., those whose vitality can be measured by metrics which are almost all economic-driven.
I was thinking about this when I read the local columnists featured in the Saturday Dallas Morning News. One writer, a junior at Coppell High School, wrote powerfully of the way she is being deprived of real learning by being told only to present facts, not how to think their way through them. This bright young woman is getting the worst of educational theory and is smart enough to know it.
Are we in the church smart enough to recognize that we are being taken for a similar ride?
Real disciple-making cannot be measured by metrics. If Jesus had to abide by today’s metrics, the funding for his church plant would have been pulled almost immediately. He packed ’em in occasionally, but the opposition to his radical message of God’s grace and inclusion of all in that holy-kingdom space was just too much for most. And, when he did pack ’em in, he didn’t even take an offering to pay back the church-planting/metric-driven bosses who were deciding whether he had planted a vital group or not. Instead, he pretty well gave away what little he had.
But then again, Jesus didn’t have a pension or health insurance or career path or crushing apportionments so his higher-ups could live comfortably and travel all around the world to countless meetings to they could write more policies and create more regulations and definitions to worry about. He was just the doorway to grace. Cost him everything.
I am all for the connectional church. That is why I chose The United Methodist Church. Having wandered over multiple different Christian theologies, I think the Wesleyan understanding of God and grace is more biblical and life-giving than anything else I’ve ever seen or experienced. But I, too, think we are losing our way right now.
It has become too expensive for many churches to have full-time clergy who are devoted to the art and practice of discipleship and still be free to feed and clothe and visit and envelop their communities in acts of love and grace that open doors to salvation. The pressure on the clergy to produce the numbers needed is often crushing, fear-producing and soul-destroying. Unworkable and expensive real-estate holdings function like handcuffs with no release key.
All is not lost. It never is, for God will win. That’s our promise. That’s our hope. We just need once more to realign ourselves to the heartbeat of God, a world of mercy and justice. That never has been and never will be easy. But it can be done.