Photo taken by Matt Weltner
A friend recently took this picture of the tampered with signed of Lakeview Free Methodist Church made to say ‘Lakeview Free Meth Church.’ It quickly made it onto Facebook and Twitter garnering a couple dozen ‘likes’ and several ‘retweets’ from those with the requisite dark sense of humor. Popularity aside, if I were to step into the shoes of a member of this church I might struggle to find the humor so quickly in this act of vandalism.
The picture got me to thinking about the value of names and truth in advertising. So much so that I’d like to suggest that our General Conference in Tampa consider a new piece of legislation (impossible at this moment I know). I’d like them to consider a name change for our denomination. Can we drop the word ”United?”
Despite years of encouraging holy conversation we are still a fractured church that has made little progress resolving some of the most contentious issues we discuss. For General Conference 2012, it looks like we dug deep to find even more issues to be divided about. If progress is attained in the level of conversation it will be because of dizzying pace that will likely be needed to tackle half of the proposed legislation. I could be wrong about this all; I want to be wrong.
While there will be some good, necessary conversation at General Conference the body will also discuss many things that will have clear winners and losers; not changed hearts and minds but defeated positions and retrenched battle lines. The sad thing is that this all might be an unnecessary exercise in futility.
As Diana Butler Bass points out in latest book, Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening, emerging generations of information saturated, social media savvy young people do not need a church that teaches them what to believe. If we want to be a vital movement that actually serves this mission field we ought to struggle toward becoming the church that knows, and can teach people, how to believe.
In this brave, new world our mission field is much more likely to look up something on Wikipedia or with a quick Google search. It’s less threatening and there’s a good chance the information might be better, or less biased, than what they might get from the local pastor. If you don’t believe me about this, Google it! They’ve been listening to our conversations, and worse, they’ve been seeing the way we callously talk about/with/at each other (see the comments HERE for an example) and have deduced that perhaps they might do better without our wisdom.
Fear not, there is real hope and a path materializing for a future church. The technologists haven’t figured out a way (yet) to replicate the way real Christian faith has been passed on from generation to generation; practice. I am a Christian because of the way the people who have gone before be, or alongside me, have lived their lives in sacrificial and incarnational ways. They held beliefs I agreed with and those I struggled to reconcile but each had a life that inspired me to be someone who aspires to follow the way of Jesus.
Let me join the chorus of people suggesting that denominational restructuring will do little to alleviate the problems the church faces in the United States, but overcoming our compulsion to legislate morality from on high really could. More members won’t automatically breed more disciples but a reorientation toward a rich faith that takes seriously Jesus’ offer to take up his yoke might (Matthew 11:29-30).
Until we get serious about abandoning the need to dominate and legislate, to win or lose, we need to seriously think about removing ‘United’ from our name. I’ve got some spray paint ready but I’d much rather we become the church that finds unity and vitality in a mission field that is looking for something we have always been called to be; disciples who have fallen deeply in love with God and ALL of God’s children.