UM church losing common touch


The Methodist Movement 
By Glenn Martin

Editor’s note: Third of a four-part series 

Most county seat towns have a primary Methodist church or “First Church.” Many of these and other larger United Methodist churches are mostly made up of professional persons. Look around and see how many mechanics, factory workers, Lowe's, Home Depot, Wal-Mart or food service workers are there, except for those in ownership or management positions. 

Remember, the Methodist movement started on the other end of that scale. The Christian church was begun in much the same way: "now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men..." (Acts 4:13) The common man heard the circuit riders gladly. That had been true of Jesus. 

Our rural churches are struggling to survive, many being closed in the same communities where other churches are doing very well. In many counties in Mississippi, one Baptist church will have more people on Sunday than all the Methodist churches in the county. Thanks be given for other denominations.  They are reaching people with a message of salvation. Non-denominational churches are increasing in number and size. Why are we not? 

Our preaching must be weak. I have heard hundreds of sermons from dozens of preachers during the last 15 years with very little reference to the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, the nature of sin and temptation or the soul and salvation. There was often no urgency, no real challenge or decision to be made. Being present and hearing seemed to be an end in itself. 

Much of the "preaching" was an effort to tell the audience that God loves you and wants you to have a good self-image, to be a churchy person and take delight in the ministries of your apportionments. 

If a lost soul walked in off the streets and listened to a typical Methodist sermon, would he/she be called to belief, repentance, to become a Christian, or would that person leave with no more knowledge of how to do that than before coming in? 

The authority of scripture, the power of prayer and the evident presence of the Holy Spirit are essential to preaching that calls people into the Kingdom of God and His church.  

We have made church a casual matter, a routine, a ritual that doesn't take long or cost much. Feeling and emotion are reserved for more exciting events, such as a ball game or movie. I sometimes feel that we have given conversion to the Baptists, the Holy Spirit to the Pentecostals and the sovereignty of God to the Presbyterians. 

Are we focused on what Jesus came to do (Luke 19:10, “The son of man has come to seek and to save that which is lost”), or have we been distracted by lesser issues?  

Has our inclusiveness created a much larger exclusiveness? 

Martin is a retired elder in the Mississippi Conference.