A UMNS Commentary
From the General Secretaries of The United
Editor's note: The top staff executives - or general secretaries - of The United Methodist Church's boards and agencies have worked with other church leaders to develop four "areas of focus" for the denomination's ministries.
Methodism began as a movement. John Wesley sought to make disciples of Jesus Christ who were both transformed individually and committed to changing the unjust practices of the society in which they lived. With their actions, Wesley's early followers demonstrated a commitment to live faithfully and, importantly, to apply their energies to offer healing and reconciliation to the world.
This history is part of the DNA of the people of The United Methodist Church. At no time more than the present should that DNA be instructive to us. An exciting conversation has begun, and United Methodists are asking how we might recapture that early spirit of a transformational movement, thereby deepening our faith and strengthening the spiritual life of our community.
We see many signs that our church is strong. In the past decade, church membership in
In 2005, at least 138 United Methodists responded to a call for mission volunteers in the
But as many of us realize, The United Methodist Church is aging, and our numbers are declining:
More broadly, we know that our world today is crying out for physical and spiritual healing. Poverty and strife are among the hallmarks of our time - challenges so immense and complex that they numb the weary and lead our societies to complacency and resignation.
A growing conversation
United Methodists are at a critical juncture. Research reveals a deep yearning across the church for a common focus on mission and ministry — a powerful, noble vision to which we as a people can commit our energy and in which we can live out our faith. We hear the widespread belief that we are missing the essential energy of "movement," the collective claiming of what it means to live as Christians rooted in the Wesleyan tradition.
The unfolding conversation is leading us to reclaim the energy of our tradition to "spread scriptural holiness across the land." It's in our DNA. By joining heart and hand, we assert personal religion, evangelical witness and Christian social action are reciprocal and mutually reinforcing.
The conversation is taking place simultaneously at the Council of Bishops, the Table of General Secretaries, the Connectional Table, and most importantly, in local churches across the continents. We seek a way to take the best of what United Methodists do today and focus and grow that work so it becomes a source of inspiration and opportunity for discipleship for all United Methodists. That effort has led to the creation of four "areas of focus" for the denomination - not for the next quadrennium, but for as far as the eye can see. It's a powerful idea that has captured the attention of United Methodists far and wide.
Today, the annual conferences and many local churches are reflecting upon these four areas of focus. Many conferences and churches, in the Wesleyan way, have been putting that discipleship into action for years, and we look to them as leaders.
The Council of Bishops and Connectional Table are studying how these areas of focus might take shape in daily spiritual life. Likewise, the denomination's boards and agencies are determining how to apply churchwide resources to bring these areas of focus to life in a wide range of ministries. Their purpose is not to limit the great work of anyone, but to focus the great work of everyone, bringing context and deeper spiritual meaning to our immense capacity to spread scriptural holiness across the land.
The four focus areas
Everyone choosing to participate in this conversation has come to believe we are doing nothing short of answering the questions for our time: What is the United Methodist vision for living Wesley's principles - doing no harm, doing good and loving God? And how does that vision enable us to fulfill the church's mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world?
The growing belief is that these areas of focus provide that answer. They are:
United Methodists also understand how important it is to stand with those who do not have access to affordable health care - the uninsured in the
There certainly are obstacles. We will only succeed if we operate in an uncommon spirit of collaboration, break our inertia and transcend our disagreements. We as a people must open ourselves to a new way of thinking about how we embody our faith. It's no small task, but if we are successful, we will have on our hands a great unifying movement of United Methodist people, a movement the world needs at the dawn of the 21st century.
This is an exciting time, and the invitation is extended to all to join the conversation and make this grand vision a reality.
The general secretaries of The United Methodist Church are the Rev. David Adams, Commission on United Methodist Men; Neil Alexander, president, United Methodist Publishing House; Barbara Boigegrain, Board of Pension and Health Benefits; M. Garlinda Burton, Commission on the Status and Role of Women; the Rev. R. Randy Day, Board of Global Ministries; the Rev. Jerome King Del Pino, Board of Higher Education and Ministry; the Rev. Karen Greenwaldt, Board of Discipleship; Erin M. Hawkins, Commission on Religion and Race; the Rev. Larry Hollon, United Methodist Communications; Sandra Lackore, Council on Finance and Administration; the Rev. Larry Pickens, Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns; the Rev. Robert Williams, Commission on Archives and History; and Jim Winkler, Board of Church and Society.