Reflections on how Christians help each other to grow and mature in loving God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love their neighbor as themselves.

Monday, October 03, 2005

What Happened to the UMC Mission Statement?

A person looking at annual conference, local church, and general agency web sites, reading newsletters and other publications, and listening to United Methodist pastors, district superintendents, bishops, and general agency staff persons see and hear very clearly that the mission of The United Methodist Church is “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” But is it really? If you actually read the mission as it appears in ¶ 120 of the Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church – 2004, you will find the following:

¶ 120. The Mission – The mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Local churches provide the most significant arena through which disciple-making occurs.

Did you notice the period after the word “Christ”? There is no mention of “for the transformation of the world.”
If you continue reading in ¶ 121 you will find the rationale for the mission. This is where one would expect to find “for the transformation of the world.” But you will not find it. Rather, you will find discussion of “fulfillment of God’s reign and realm in the world.” The rationale makes clear that the mission of making disciples of Jesus is Christ is the church’s response to the in-breaking and coming reign of God. The church is called by Christ to make disciples in order to participate in preparing the world for the coming kingdom of God. The church is to make disciples so that it can participate in Christ’s work of ushering in the reign of God. It is very clear that the Church does not “transform the world.” God will be the one doing the work of transforming the world; with or without the Church.
It’s a mystery to me as to why “transform the world” was added to the denomination’s mission statement. It is also a concern to me because it muddles the mission of the church. My guess is that much of the church’s leadership is at a loss as to how to “make disciples of Jesus Christ.” But they have very definite ideas about how to “transform the world.” Some would transform the world in the image of the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s. Others would transform the world in the image of the “good old days” when the churches were full on Sunday morning and the culture was “Christian.” However, I suspect neither image, or any other to emerge from limited human desire or imagination, resembles the in-breaking and coming reign of God.
The other problem with this hybrid mission statement is that it is not Biblical and it is not Wesleyan. The mission statement as it appears in The Book of Discipline is derived directly from Matthew 28:18-20

… Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’

Jesus is very clear here that the mission is to go into the world and make disciples. We are to baptize them into the name and family of the triune God. And we are to teach them to obey everything Jesus commanded. Jesus’ summarized his commands in Mark 12:28-34 and John 13:34-35 –

  • Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength

  • Live out your love for God by loving those whom God loves

  • Love one another, as Christ loves you

  • Loving one another will reveal to the world that you are a disciple of Jesus Christ

All this is beautifully summarized by the writer of 1 John

Beloved, let us love one another because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us (1 John 4:7-12).

The emphasis here is on “making disciples of Jesus Christ.” The task described here is that of transforming human character into the Christ-like character. It is about changing hearts, minds, and lives into the image of Christ so that they becomes and live in the world as channels of divine grace. The church is to form persons who live so that the light of Christ shines through them for the world; “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
John Wesley’s ministry was focused on making disciples of Jesus Christ. His mission was to save souls and to help them to live as channels of grace for the world. If Wesley’s mission was to “transform the world,” he went about it by doing all in his power to help Christ transform human hearts, minds, and lives.
He understood that human beings were too limited and fallible in knowledge and understanding to begin to “transform the world.” Only God possessed the knowledge, wisdom, and power to change the world. Wesley was very clear that his task, and the task of the Church, was to proclaim and live the gospel of Jesus Christ so that it is indeed good news to those who hear and receive it. He knew enough from his study of Scripture and experience of human limitations to leave the business of transformation of the world up to God. He also believed and proclaimed that the gospel equips the Church to participate in God’s mission of transformation of human lives and of the world.
The mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Adding to this “for the transformation of the world” only muddies the waters. If the Church is to make disciples it should leave the rest up to God and God’s purposes. After all, Scripture is fairly clear that disciples are to be prepared to live as citizens of the reign of God. In the process they are transformed by grace to become fully the human beings God created them to be, in Christ.
Finally, it seem to me that the phrase “to transform the world” exposes a post-Constantinian understanding of the Church that has more to do with power and politics than it does with the Scriptural witness. The Church entered the “transformation of the world” business when it became the state religion of the Roman Empire; this eventually lead to the Crusades and the Inquisition. It is the Church taking over for God. When the Church takes on for itself the work of transforming the world, it is like telling God “Thanks for all you’ve done to get us to this point. We’ll take over from here. If we need your help, we’ll give you a call.”
The United Methodist Church may begin to grow and experience new life and vitality when it focuses all of its energy into the ministry of making disciples of Jesus Christ. This is the mission given by Jesus himself. And he has given some clear instructions on how to do this important work. He also makes clear that transformation of the world is his job. The church will play a part if and when it lives out the mission Christ has given to it.

Steven W. Manskar


Blogger Jay Voorhees said...

I agree with pretty much everything you say here with one additional thought (well actually more than one, but that is the preacher in me).

Transformation that doesn't arise from discipleship may been meaningful, but may have little eternal significance.

However, disciple making that focuses on love of God to the exclusion (or ignoring of) love of neighbor is not true disciple making. Love of God and love of neighbor can never be separated . . . they work hand in hand and are the signs of true disciple making.

Thanks for a great blog.

3:58 PM

Blogger Revwilly said...

The UMC Mission Statement has been there a long time but no one pays any attention to it. When was the last time you saw it as a theme for an Annual Conference or General Conference?

The greatest value in the UMC today is payment of apportionments - at least it is in my conferene. Nearly half of our churches have no confessions of faith on a regular basis. We have lost members and declined in average worship attendance for years. But when our new Bishop came to town his first priority was stewardship - code for apportionment payments. He required churches who had paid 50% of their apportionments or less to send their pastor and a lay person to a day long stewardship event. It was useless from what I understand. This year he's raised the bar to 60%.

In the 20 years I've been in my conference we've had Bishops call special meetings for: Sabbath keeping, sex(homosexual& heterosexual) and now stewardship. It is clearly unacceptable to pay less than 100% of your apportionments, but not unacceptable to have not saved a soul. Apparently Bishops believe we should be expected to pay apportionment, but there is no such expectation to win people to Christ. Apparantly Bishops believe we can raise money, but not win souls.

Mammon has become our god.

8:08 AM

Blogger Scott Tyring said...

Steve, do you have a book suggestion that teaches in depth the UMC mission statement?

The shorthand I use is that we are on a mission to make world changing disciples of Jesus Christ. Church as we have inherited it, (the family chapel model or the program organization model, or the pastor centered fan club model) makes decent church members. Sometimes they do become world-changers for Jesus, but that's because of God, as you explained. The vital church/Frutiful congregations/Re-think Church efforts now are hopefully moving us toward becoming congregations focused on becoming places that:

Connect people to Christ in vital faith

Transform lives through the love of God

Equip members and friends of the church with the means to be in transformative ministries that reach others beyond the church

And create mission efforts that make the world more like heaven, where God's will is done and God is glorified.

Wesley's concepts of scriptural holiness/Christianity are as valid today as ever when discussing what it means to transform the world.

I like the mission statement with the "transform the world" bit. It helps us all to know why the church is important to God's redemptive work in the world. Christ began the church to be a vessel of His continuing redemptive ministry on earth through proclaiming hope, bringing health and liberating peoples and systems from evil and injustice.

11:14 AM


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