Shane Raynor at Wesley Blog recently had some interesting things to say about the UMC as an institution and a movement in a post entitled "Making Methodism a Movement Again." Shane draws on an article in the United Methodist Reporter, and draws the conclusion that we need to focus on reinvigorating the Methodist Movement and focus less on saving the institution. According to Shane: "Of course, no one says we can't do both, but I have a feeling that the UMC will take care of itself if we simply recapture the power of 18th Century Wesleyanism."
The string of comments that follow Shane's analysis are also worth reading, but I want to focus on Shane's post and the New England Annual Conference session that met a week ago in this post. I wrote earlier about being reinvigorated after Annual Conference, and one reason for that was Bishop Peter Weaver's repeated insistence that what we should be doing was focusing on the United Methodist Movement, not the institutions of the UMC. The movement has been reaching individuals with the good news of Jesus Christ long before there was a UMC or even a Methodist Episcopal Church. The movement has been bringing together the best of personal and social holiness longer than the church has existed, to transform both individuals and the world. In the end, it is the movement that is the real church (in the sense of the Body of Christ), and the institutional church and its boards and agencies are just the tools that the real church sometimes finds the ability to use.
Unfortunately, when any institution becomes focused on maintaining its place in the world, its power and authority, then the institution often eclipses the movement and stifle's the Holy Spirit at work in the Body. Institutions try to transform society without first focusing on the work of Jesus to transform lives -- Christian movements, at least in the case of Methodism in Wesley's day, focus on making disciples of Jesus Christ, and because lives are transformed by God's Grace, society changes with them.
Monday and Tuesday my wife and I babysat our friend's one-year-old son. He's never spent 24 hours away from his parents before, because their family isn't nearby -- but for Christians that should never be true! When the church is the real church, when Methodism is a movement, it's not about the building, or the worship program, or any of the institutional focus, but primarily about being part of the Body of Christ, a new people transformed by Grace and interested in each others needs -- a new family united by Jesus Christ. Instead of focusing on the institutions of the UMC let's focus on making our local churches movement centers where we make disciples of Jesus Christ and follow the new commandment to love one another... by giving an exhausted mother a day off, visiting a shut-in elder of the community, praying for each other, and spending time together as Christian people in holy conversation. Don't wait for the pastor, just start doing it, and invite others to do the same.