As I have gone around to our churches over my years as a District Superintendent I have often asked this question: If we had all the financial resources of the United Methodist’s in Michigan and we had all the people resources of the United Methodist‘s in Michigan and we were starting brand new today, would we deploy ourselves as we are now deployed?
It is a rhetorical question because the very clear answer is absolutely not. Of course we would not build our churches where they are today if we were starting over. We have hundreds of churches that were built in a time when people walked to church. We have hundreds of churches that were built when people rode horses to church! We are deployed to carry out the mission of the church 50 to 100 years ago. Unfortunately, we are living in a very different time and the problem is we seem to be trying to hold on to that past even though most of us know it’s not working.
The reason I keep asking my question is that I dream of a day when we will take seriously the challenge of engaging the mission of reaching the world today with the love of Christ. I dream of a Michigan United Methodist Church that is willing, across the board, to do whatever it takes to make the shifts, the mergers of congregations, the closing of congregations, the beginning of new congregations, and all the other actions necessary, to deploy ourselves in a way that will enable us to appropriately engage the landscape of today. It will be a huge lift I know! We are so connected to our buildings. We are so focused on what works for us and what meets our needs. And when push comes to shove that reality too often becomes the ultimate consideration.
But I still keep dreaming. I keep dreaming of a church whose first question is always about those who aren’t here yet. I dream of a church that will not stop asking what’s next, and how can we do it better, and what will it take to reach our community, our city, our state, our world with the message of God’s grace. I keep dreaming of a church that is willing to sacrifice any (to use Wesley’s term) “non-essential”, worship style, structure, our buildings, our power, our money, anything to fulfill the mission of effectively, passionately, prayerfully, participating in the building of the Kingdom of God on earth even as it is in heaven.
I keep dreaming…
But I want to invite us all to do more than dream. I want to invite us to pray, to talk, to really look seriously at the situation we face and the mission before us. I invite us to take action. I invite us to begin conversations with the 2, 3, 8 United Methodist Churches around us asking ourselves is there a way that we could do this better? Could we strategically redeploy ourselves in this community, this city, this county to more effectively be the Church? I have been a part of those conversations both as a Superintendent and as a Pastor and they have led to some pretty wonderful things. We must begin these conversations. We must begin to dream together. We must be willing to let go and allow God to lead us in new ways. Cause I don’t think those horse riding days are coming back.