Throughout the history of Methodism, there has been an emphasis on connection. Every church is connected to every other church. Every pastor is connected to every other pastor. We hold many things in common, including church discipline, fiduciary responsibility of money and land, theology, mission, etc. This interdependency and trust has been so important that the denomination has made up a word to describe the emphasis: connectionalism. When we speak of connectionalism, we speak of a state of being in connection with others. It is ingrained in our very understanding of who we are.
Occasionally, this connection is challenged in the way that the great hymn speaks, “By schisms rent asunder/By heresies distressed.” Schisms dealing with slavery, urbanization, racism, and influence of wealth have led to other Wesleyan (followers of John Wesley’s theology) movements. Theology was a major sticking point when revival broke out on Azusa Street, beginning the pentecostal movement in America. Though it was birthed from the Holiness roots of Methodism, Methodism was unable to fit the movement into what had become a very modernist theology.
Today, there are two things that seem to threaten the connection of the church: theology and mission. The former is tied up in biblical interpretation, authority of Scripture, and the history of the church. There are a few specific issues that become the poster children of this debate, namely salvation and homosexual relationships. While these are crucial issues, I don’t believe that these present the most pressing and immediate problem for the church.
The greatest threat to the connection of the United Methodist Church is a lack of focused mission. On the one hand, there is the general mission of the church to “make disciples of Jesus Christ.” Further, there are key elements that set some structure to that. The denominational website says that the church’s mission could be broken down into welcoming-worshiping-nurturing-sending.
Over the next few days, we will look at the each of those four areas. While they appear to be acceptable and appropriate ways of approaching mission, they lack real insight and motivation.