This week I attended annual conference of the Southwest Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church in Corpus Christi, Texas. Each year clergy and lay delegates from all the geographic conferences of the United Methodist church gather to discuss the overall business of the Methodist Church. The Methodist church, as we know it, began as an off-shoot of the Wesleyan Methodist movement from England.
The church has grown since its beginning to become what it is today. Throughout its storied history, Methodism was responsible for amazing moves of the Holy Spirit – leading to the birthing the Holiness movement, or great moves of social endeavors – like building numerous hospitals, universities and institutions like the American Red Cross.
Methodism began as a fierce “parachurch” movement before parachurch movements existed. “Give me 100 people on fire with the Holy Spirit and I will take over this island [Great Britain],” John Wesley said. He was intense, as seen in the weekly questions small groups members were required to answer. These answers led to accountability of the actions of your life to your fellow man (or woman). This was the accountability that Wesley believed helped lead people to Scriptural holiness.
Moving to America, much of the enthusiasm of the Methodist movement continued with the building of a new society, and the Methodist church was a strong presence in this construction, as the Methodist church spread West with the frontier. The Methodist church was one of the stabilizing forces in society, helping to bring honesty, values and order to a wild frontier known for lawlessness.
Recently in a talk by Gary Haugen, founder and leader of IJM, International Justice Mission, Gary credited the church with the establishment of a healthy and honest law enforcement presence in America. As we look back on American society we can see the fingerprints of the church all over our great nation. But where are those fingerprints now?
Greg Dees, who was a great leader in the field of social entrepreneurship and business professor at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University in Durham, NC, once asked Greg Jones, the Dean of the Duke Divinity School, what we did with the church. “What do you mean?” Dean Jones replied. “Well, at the turn of the 20th Century, it was the church doing all the social enterprise work, now it is groups like Teach for America that come up with these social solutions.” Professor Dees continued, “If you in the church were doing your job, I wouldn’t have a job.”
While the quotes may not be exact, you get the picture of what Professor Dees was communicating.
Where did the mission of the church go?
Once we built the foundations for society were we content with that?
Have we in the church gotten soft on helping heal and serve the social ills of society?
These questions echo through my mind as I sit through Annual Conference. There is always a time to handle the business of an organization, and that is rarely sexy or intriguing. However, as I sit on the floor of the session at our Annual Conference, I wonder about the missional relevance of our church. This seems to be a pressing concern for the church – living out its mission to the world – to heal and remedy social ills. I am starting to think about how we are doing on this.
How do you think we as the church are doing in this mission to heal and remedy social ills of society?