I spent the better part of 15 years tending bar and working in music clubs. In that time, I met all sorts of characters and learned a lot about human nature. Many of those lessons serve me well today as I train and learn the art of being a Pastor in the United Methodist Church.
The past few years have seen a great debate within the United Methodist Church as to the future of the denomination. Sadly, a mindset has taken hold that has many leaders, lay and clergy, singing death songs over the UMC. Sadder still, many of those singing dirges are the very persons in a position to make a real difference in the future of the UMC: Bishops, District Superintendents, and influential Pastors of large congregations.
All this talk of death reminds me of a former bar customer and friend, Killer. Not kidding, he really went by the name Killer even though he was tenderhearted and quite comical in a Gomer Pyle sort of way. Killer always said the funniest things. Like Archie Bunker and Fred Sanford, Killer made up words and extracted wild conclusions from irrelevant and unrelated bits of information.
This whole “the UMC is dying” craze reminds me of the time Killer’s mother was in the hospital. Killer was a regular at the neighborhood bar where most of the regulars had known each other for 10 or more years and kept up with the happenings in each other’s lives. Everyone knew Killer’s Mom was gravely ill. The bar and the regulars sent flowers to the hospital and Killer spent less time at the bar and more time at the hospital visiting his Mom.
After a week or so, Killer showed up at his regular time on a Friday afternoon and pretty much spent the next 2 days at the bar. The whole time he was there, Killer never mentioned his Mom. Late that Sunday night (actually early Monday morning, 3 or 4 a.m.) Killer paid his tab and announced he was headed home to clean up, put on his suit, and head over to the funeral home. This shocked us. “Did your Mom pass away Killer? Is everything okay?”
Killer’s response was that the last time he visited his Mom in the hospital the doctors gave her 3 days to live. Well, that was Friday so Killer figured since it was now Monday morning he needed to head to the funeral home to make arrangements for his mother. He never called the hospital. Killer didn’t check with his family. The doctors gave her 3 days, it had been 3 days, so Killer figured his Mom was dead and he needed to plan her funeral.
I refuse to plan a funeral for the United Methodist Church while there is still so much life. I refuse to give in to the sin of self-pity and finger pointing while there is work to be done. I refuse to drop my head into my hands and cry for a Church that lives every day for the glory of God and the hope of all people. I refuse to read another article, blog post, or Face Book update that surrenders our Church to the darkness of death.
The United Methodist Church is not dying. Old ideas and ineffective ways of being Christ’s Church are dying. Lazy, self-centered congregations who refuse to be relevant and serve out the call to “make Disciples of all people for the transformation of the world” are dying, but the United Methodist Church is not.
United Methodists are re-building storm damaged lives and communities. United Methodists are feeding hungry people all around the world. United Methodists are working for social justice and freedom so that all people can live into God’s vision for their lives.
If you believe the United Methodist Church is dead, then go home, clean up, and head over to the funeral home…..just get out of the way of a body of believers powered by the Holy Spirit who are living for Christ! Those people, by the way, are the United Methodist Church!