I needed a shot in the butt. Does the UMC?

Ok, technically, the nurse told me, the shot was in the hip.  But isn’t the subject line more provocative with the word “butt”?

I have a mild (for me) case of poison ivy.  It first presented last Monday, and has spread slowly ever since. The doctor did an admirable job of explaining to me what happens when I get poison ivy. Even if I have a slight contact, he said, my system responds rather dramatically.  The other places, now all over my body, where rash has shown up, are not because I continue to spread the oil there. These spots indicate that my system is on hyper alert, and react to any stress or irritation on my skin as though it is poison ivy.

I attended last week’s United Methodist  “Global Leadership Summit.” Our church is all about business-school lingo of effectiveness, metrics, etc. (anyone interested in what we have really learned from business schools ought to read Matthew Stewart’s The Management Myth)

Having reflected now on how my system needed help from outside – a steroid shot in the butt (er, hip) because systems can have trouble healing themselves from the inside, I drove away from the clinic wondering if this might be analogous for the UMC.

Our (The United Methodist Church’s) issues, struggles, challenges are systemic. Though we glow and crow about being Wesleyan, we are more Eisenhowerian as our roots are deeper in the 1950’s post-war US culture than in John Wesley’s life, ministry, and theology.

We need help; a shot, from the outside.  Perhaps the Holy Spirit would suffice – if the Holy Spirit could make it through task force/committee.

9 thoughts on “I needed a shot in the butt. Does the UMC?

  1. I would say that a shot it in the but would be a great thing, especially from the holy spirit… But how do we metaphorically “go to the doctor” as a denomination to receive that shot? Is there anything at all we can do to help? or should we like the giraffes in Madagascar 2 send the denomination over to the dying holes? (the last suggestion was a bad suggestion even in the movie if you haven’t seen it so please understand there is sarcasm)

  2. Good questions, Jacob – You have have cut to the point – we plan, organize meetings, “global summits,” worship, whatever…. it is OUR planning, OUR organization, OUR worship…. We, denominationally, have to go to God – not have the Bishops tell us to go to God, not us tell the Bishops to go to God….

  3. Steve,
    I sat through the same summit you did. It offered no hope. I wonder what it really means or how it really effects our local congregations. (Understanding you are not in a local congregation currently.) Is Foundation different because of any of the changes we have made? Is our ministry’s effectiveness changed?
    I get back to the fact that at my first Annual Conference about 10 years ago a retires clergy at the time told me it was the same old bull sh*t and he had been going to Annual Conferences for 60 years. The local congregation is still the effective unit of ministry. How can we be centers of hope in our community, in the mission fields around our churches?

  4. I realize that I usually offer a weird perspective, not being in full-time ministry (in the sense that you and most of your other post-ers are). However, when I first started delving into psychology I found it depressing to discover how “determined” most of our individual AND group behavior is — determined either by genetics or by our past history. (And with groups, determined by our individual AND shared history). Then one day it occurred to me that this has been the message of Christianity all along. That we can’t save ourselves, we are locked in … we need intervention from the Outside. And that is a marvellous thought, because that is precisely what the Biblical story tells us … that God became a man in the form of Jesus to intervene from the Outside of human experience. I don’t think I ever really comprehended it before because somewhere I had retained this tacit belief that people really can change themselves.

    No, I’m not suddenly Calvinist touting Total Depravity. I do believe that people can do good things, even apart from Christ. I just don’t think we can ever be Good Enough … or even really increase the proportion of our good to our bad (that being determined by the aforementioned factors).

    So, the UMC and any other system is made up of people who, apart from divine intervention, are locked into our own perspective, our own cognitive distortions, our own deep-seated emotional reactions to others and to circumstances.

    The good news out of the depressing news is, once you realize you’re drowning, it frees you up to ask for Help.

  5. As I re-read MacIntyre’s After Virtue I am fortified in my polemic against Weber by his polemic against Weber. The UMC has bought into Weber entirely, as far as I can tell. We think we are supposed to have Leaders who are Effective. Sure are positive words. They impute to us more power and ability than we actually have, though.

  6. Good post, Steve. In what ways is the church failing, or at least floundering, in your eyes? From my distant vantage point, UMC seems more concerned with institutional survival, internal politics, or (at best?) vague concepts such as “bringing people to Christ.”

    I think ryan asks the right question at the end of his comment, as it (if I understand correctly) points to doing service in the local community. It seems that if each ‘congregation’ focused primarily on its ‘mission field’ and its (the latter’s) needs (real-world needs), it would do more for institutional survival, internal politics, AND “bringing people to Christ.”

  7. Kim,
    I think you might want to read John Wesley on original sin and total depravity. Total Depravity is not solely a Calvinistic teaching at all. Also, it is not just Christ in us which is able to do good. I believe rightly taught we need to mention common grace (or preventing [prevenient] grace) that is grace which is given to everyone regardless of their belief in God or Jesus. All people are able to do good through grace.

    Again, we seem to be in agreement. How would someone hear about Christ who is hungry? I would suggest by first having their belly full. This isn’t to try to reduce the Good News to mere social ethics (something I fear the UMC does far too often, and has for far too long), but rather to expand the Gospel.
    If we are to love God with all of our body, soul, mind, strength, and heart, should we not also love the body, sould, mind strength and heart of our neighbour who is created in the image of God? The UMC needs to humble itself before God, repent of it’s sin, focus on God and love, and not in a modernist moralistic teaching way. But the true love of God that includes true redemption and life bought by God through the blood of Jesus. This is both unpleasant to the world, but also is the only true hope offered.

  8. Ryan, I have read John Wesley on original sin and total depravity. Maybe you need to read what I wrote again.

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