Commentary by Patrick Scriven
May 15, 2016 | Portland, Oregon

We desperately need adults at General Conference. The idea has passed through my head on a couple of occasions already, and it is a strange one to have considering the demographics of the room.

But I’m not really reflecting on age. What my mind, heart, and soul long for is spiritual maturity.

So much of General Conference is spent debating who is right; which person or group holds the truth. There is certainly some value to this as any organization without direction is designed to fail. I only question our constant conflation of ideological purity with God’s will for the church today. 

In my humble opinion, to get at God’s will, we need less truthers and more individuals of significant depth to navigate and live in real difference; we need people with spiritual maturity.

The spiritually mature person, to my valuation, isn’t guaranteed to be right…

The spiritually mature person, to my valuation, isn’t guaranteed to be right on all of the issues and topics facing the church today. In fact, I strongly suspect that we have spiritually mature and grounded individuals with radically different understandings amongst the delegates at General Conference this year. There are spiritually mature people who are conservatives, moderates, progressives, Africans, Asians, Europeans, Americans, old, middle-aged, and even quite young.*

Our problem is that we also have spiritually immature people amongst us and nothing about one’s maturity seems to impact one’s volume.

What does it mean to be spiritually mature?

So what exactly does spiritual maturity look like? Since it isn’t located primarily in one’s being right, we have to look for other tells.

Spiritually mature people are empowered to have respectful conversations with others who hold radically different positions. While they understand the innate value of relationships in changing hearts and minds, they seek out the Imago Dei in the other not to advance their agenda but simply because it is a thing we are called to do.

Spiritually mature people seek compromise as it allows each person to find their place in a way forward together.

Because of this, spiritually mature people seek compromise as it allows each person to find their place in a way forward together.

Spiritually mature people aren’t rigid, but that doesn’t mean that they are absent of principle. When there are lines they can’t cross, a spiritually mature person will take time to explain through vehicles of commonality rather than by appeals to an external source of truth. Simply put, they own the difference as theirs and don’t shove it off upon God, Scripture, or an immutable understanding of justice.

Spiritually mature people’s hearts are strangely warmed but they tend to their spiritual fire so that it is not too quickly exhausted. Put another way, they don’t allow their passions in the moment to undermine their future, or compromise their actions in the present.

If there is one piece of good news, it is this. General Conference could be a great training ground for one seeking to increase their spiritually maturity. Theological differences aside, the opportunity to break bread with sisters and brothers from so many parts of the world is both beautiful and rare. If one orients their heart towards openness, they will find many opportunities here to engage in conversation with others who hold very different views.

But it is a dangerous place as well. There are some in the room who lack the current capability to respect those who hold honest disagreement. Some operate out of a fear of change; others are burdened with layers of legitimate pain.

A Common Table?

When we arrive at a common dinner table, the first thing we do is sit down; we must lower ourselves and increase our vulnerability. I respect the reality that some people have been hurt, and that they can’t go through that again; I would never ask them to. I can’t even begin to understand the love for this church that has kept so many people desperately holding onto their corner of the table and I hope that something will change.

One of my favorite stories of Jesus is the one where he was approached by the Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30). I am so drawn to the story because it presents a Jesus that is so distinct from the dominant image we often receive in the church where the complexities of trinitarianism give way to the demands of simplicity.

The Jesus of Mark 7 changes his mind. His first answer to the Syrophoenician woman was perfectly appropriate for the culture and faith he received. But he changed; through his reversal, Jesus acknowledges that he was wrong. This woman humbled herself deeply and Jesus’ heart was moved. This reflects a deep spiritual maturity on his part.

The church is not Jesus, but it is who we are called to be…

The church is not Jesus, but it is who we are called to be for each other and for the world.

In Mark’s short pericope, we don’t gain perfect knowledge of why Jesus changed his mind. Because of his quick turn towards compassion, we don’t get to witness an extensive debate. We don’t learn how many times this woman would have returned to beg our Messiah for her daughter’s healing, for the crumbs that fell off the table.

We do learn that Jesus could change his mind and be an adult. May we all find ways to do the same.

* I am well aware that age and spiritual maturity, while not completely disconnected, are far from perfectly aligned. Some older members are quite spiritually immature; some younger folks are spiritually wise beyond their years. Tangentially, I would remark that the sheltering, safe, form of discipleship most churches “equip” their young people with does them a disservice towards the end of producing the thoughtful, adaptive disciples the church needs to serve the world today.

Patrick Scriven is a husband who married well, a father of three amazing girls, and a seminary educated lay person working professionally in church. Patrick serves the PNW Conference as Director of Communications and Young People’s Ministries. He blogs over at After.Church

Photo Credit: “Maturity” by Flickr User “Got Credit“, CC BY 2.0.


  1. Yes! It is a difficult but not impossible task to work in a field of wheat and weeds not always knowing for sure what is wheat and what is weeds…including one’s self. Thank you, Patrick. On this Day of Pentecost we will keep looking for the movement of the Holy Spirit.

    • A difficult task it is; I don’t envy the delegates at all. The Spirit is always moving somewhere. May we let go of enough of ourselves to recognize where it is going now.

      • Patrick, I don’t disagree with what you have said, and you may have said this in so many words, but our starting point for conversation has to be scripture. Most, if not all of the controversy is over “Homosexuality”, gay clergy, gay marriage and so on. Then the starting point there is, is homosexuality a birth defect? My belief is, those who support “Homosexuality” will not even entertain that thought and so we are in a stalemate. God has not changed! He is the same yesterday, today and forever. So, no amount of “enlightenment” will change what scripture says about certain issues. As long as you have people who will not use scripture has the starting point for conversation, then you are going to have adults act as children.
        Blessings, Rev Sonny Moon- Tallapoosa 1st UMC

        • You, sir, do not deserve the title of reverend. That you call my son’s and 5-10% of our population’s sexuality a birth defect is the most anti God statement I have ever heard. God chose my son to be gay in all his wisdom. How dare you make a mockery of God!!

          • Nancy, your son is a wonderful child of God, and he is loved.

            I am so sorry that there is a Methodist minister saying such things. He has obviously never met and known good gay people. It is very sad, but please know this, times change. If God did not want his children to change the world the He would not have made it possible.

            Thank you for sharing your feelings.

  2. If you want an all inclusive church leave the UMC and start your own. Then you can have it anyway you choose period.

    • Sadly, Robert, so many people already are. They are walking away from the place that has long promised open hearts, open doors, and open minds, but fails to deliver in so many ways. Patrick, thank you for your thoughtful reflection.

  3. Patrick – I am really thankful for this musing. For me, it’s spot-on, and puts it all into perspective for me. Spiritual maturity certainly helps me to put aside a need to be right, and opens an ear for listening. Thanks for this. Patrick F.

  4. If you don’t like the way my church stands maybe its time for those who do not agree to its Discipline maybe its time to leave?

    • The mature ones stayed in the church until persons of color were accepted on an equal basis Some even became superintendents and bishops. Imagine that, if you will. Some (1/2 of us) stayed in the church until women were accepted on an equal basis. If persons of color and women had left when they were excluded, we would look much different than we do today. In fact, I do not find your suggestion very helpful. By the way, it is not your church.

    • No. Not leaving at all. Definitely staying. We are going to stay just to love you Rev Robert. You and Sonny Moon and others too.

      I’m so thankful that we have many Methodists who put love first. Like the wonderful ministers in my home town (located near where Samuel and Susannah Wesley’s family comes from)

      The week I married my partner a previous Methodist minister came to my parents home and blessed us. We spent several evenings in contemplation of our commitment with our current minister, who then conducted the service for us, all our family, all our friends and some members of the public we did not even know.

      It’s not your fault you’re like you are. I blame the parents, but we are all children of God. Peace and love to you.

      • The idea that one should leave the church when one disagrees with a detail is hard for me to understand. It is much more mature, in many cases, to stay and change the organization from within. When women were not allowed to be ordained, women did not leave. They stayed and eventually the church changed. What would the Methodist Church have looked like without any women?

        When persons of African-American heritage were being excluded, many stayed and eventually the church changed. Sadly, many just left and formed their own denominations. Patience only goes so far.

        When I was ordained, the church, in its wisdom (or ignorance) required pastors to promise that they would not use tobacco. I didn’t leave the church over this stupid requirement, but I supported those who sought to change the language of the Discipline. As interpreted, we even had rules and practices that would have excluded Jesus. For right along with tobacco, we excluded those who drank alcoholic products. As America obsessed on alcohol (prohibition), we forgot that both John Wesley and Jesus let some form of alcohol enter their bodies. In fact, if I had known and shared that fact in my first church, I hate to think what would have happened to me. As it was, my first church asked me to preach an anti-alcohol sermon 4 times a year: that would be once every three months. I complied. My first sermon was on the “sin of being judgmental of persons with alcohol problems”. I didn’t have to preach a second one. They had heard enough anti-alcohol sermons from me.

        Sometimes changes occurs quickly and sometimes it takes decades. I am into this for the long haul. Eventually the majority will reflect on how Jesus dealt with the excluded ones and a light bulb will go on and barriers will be eliminated. And the church’s practices will become “more like Jesus”.

        • The unorthodox have tried to change the church from within for 40 years. When they can’t change it, they just disregard the BoD and their covenants to do what they want.

          It’s time to decide if they’re going to follow the rules they agreed to follow, which have regularly upheld and strengthened, or choose to be disobedient and dishonest. If they choose the latter, they need to leave. The church is no place for disobedient and dishonest leaders.

          • So a bit like those who knew slavery was wrong then eh Ric Walters!

            I’m British, baptized and confirmed as a Methodist, and a serving member of a United Methodist Chancel Choir in the US now. Married to another man in the presence of all our immediate family, our relatives, our friends, and a few members of the public we did not know.

            We were blessed by our previous preacher and our current serving minister conducted a service culminating in the marriage vows and exchange of rings etc. We sang hymns, my sister-in-law-to-be and my father read from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.

            We sang three hymns including, interestingly, an lovely American lady gave us permission to use her wedding themed lyrics (free of charge) which go to the tune of Morning Has Broken.

            I say what I say below as a man born near the home of Susanna and Samuel Wesley who were the parents of Charles Wesley, founder of the English Methodist Church before he travelled here to the US…

            Our two Methodist Ministers, our music leader from our church back home and the members of our congregation at our wedding are not disobedient, and not in any way dishonest. Neither am I, and I think I am a leader every Sunday when I am part of a choir leading worship.

            Rules do not change if people do not question them. Rules do not need to stay the same. Those rules about women being silent in church, preventing the ordination of women, or about slavery, or those used to support racism and prevent interracial marriage… They needed to change and Methodists are better for them all having changed.

            It is time to change the rules. I’m evidence of it. I never chose at 10 or 11 years of age to feel as I did. Nor to wait until my twenties before I expressed who I was privately, or to my family and friends in my thirties, then to marry my 10+ year partner.

            I’m not giving up on Methodism. It may yet be a while, but it will change, even if it is after yours and my departing from this world. It will change, because the proportion of people who support such change grows as you look further to the younger end of the population (within and external to church)

            So we stay, to love you and look forward as He so amazingly did before He gave His life. Peace and love.

          • There is another option Ric. That is to stay and change the church. I have given several illustrations of this reality. There was a period of time when the Book of Discipline said that it was a sin to smoke tobacco. There were people (United Methodists) who made a living from growing tobacco. There were people (also United Methodists) who did not grow tobacco, but they thought it unwise and a bit silly to mention this particular item in the Book of Discipline. Rather than leave the church, some of us worked to get this language out of the Book of Discipline. We eventually succeeded. I think we are better for having removed that language. From my personal observation, not knowledge, there are fewer United Methodist clergy smoking now (without the prohibition) than there were before the prohibition was removed. Those who were addicted to smoking were often very good pastors. Then or now, smoking had nothing to do with whether or not one was a Christian. After some theological training, I remember the day I told my father that his attitude toward smokers was more sinful than smoking. Then a miracle occurred. My father changed his attitudes and he became a more effective Christian evangelist.

            I am praying for a miracle in United Methodism. It will involve a change in attitude. It will not involve you leaving the church. It will not involve me leaving the church. It will involve a change in attitude.

            Changes in attitude have happened before. As a result, women can participate fully in the United Methodist Church. Come to think of it, a woman could even be elected as President of the United States, as well as serve as a Bishop in The United Methodist Church. This happened, in part, because women were willing to stay in the church and work for change. Aren’t you glad that women were willing to do that instead of just leaving the church? I am.

          • The difference is that this time, what they’re trying to do is force acceptance of behavior Scripture specifically calls sin.

            There is never a valid reason to accept, bless, or validate sin. Not because some deliberately misinterpret Scripture. Not because the rest of the world says it’s ok. Not to make people feel good about their choices. Never. But that’s what the sexual sin lobby demands of the rest of us.

            God’s church is called to be sanctified and holy. Our mission is spreading scriptural holiness, not feel-good psychobabble.

          • Back in the day, sincere “Christians” believed that the Bible specifically condemned smoking as a sin. They would quote chapter and verse that proved their point, just as many “like you” are seeking to do today on something that is not actually mentioned in the Bible, which is two persons living in a committed, loving, same-sex relationship. The Bible is silent on that specific issue, just as it is silent on the creation and use of nuclear weapons..

        • I have to agree John. It will surely be true that eventually the majority will reflect how Jesus dealt with excluded ones. It may be a light bulb moment, or it may simply (sadly) be when the balance of opinion changes because of the demographic make-up of the membership.

          I hope nobody misunderstands what I say here. Without doubt there are loving members of our church who are in the more mature demographic (age range, I apologize in advance, as I am definitely not labelling all the same).

          The reality is that my grandparents would likely have struggled to deal with my “news” if they had been on this Earth when I finally decided it was time to tell my friends and family about my sexuality being 100% homosexual with not one experience with a female.

          When any reputable polling organization surveys the public, there is a clear increase, as you segment the answers by age range. The “acceptance” of the reality of God’s human creation increases in the youth of today.

          So the reality is, when we are gone (I include myself as a forty plus male) people will look back and say, “How could they be as they were, excluding people, believing people choose to be gay, that they were sinning for marrying and loving another same sex person?”

          This is factual, it is what will happen. Even if it is after my time, or after Rev Sonny/Charles Moon and others who comment here have passed on.

          We don’t have to exclude, nor hate, nor argue. We should ask what would Jesus do though. We should seek out how He would respond today. We can see how he would respond I think, from stories like that of the Roman Centurion. Our faith is strong, and we are going nowhere and time will heal, and change will come.

  5. Thank you, sir for this article on ‘desperately needed adults’ at General Conference. It should be a must read.

      • Patrick. My longer article spoke of the pastor lifted up by Bishop Palmer as a faithful person. He was my seminary roommate. At one General Conference, some individuals were arrested for making a silent witness in a local church worship service and they were arrested. When my roommate tried to reason with the ushers and police, he was arrested. I am looking forward to sharing this information with his family. He was faithful then and he is faithful now in God’s loving care.

    • When the church (or the Bible) is in error, the loving thing is to try to correct the error. Leaving is an option, but not always the best solution. John Wesley never left the Church of England, but he was not bashful about pointing out its errors. We should do the same.

      • John, The Bible is not in error. If I felt for a moment that scripture was in error I would throw the book away because it would not be worth the paper it is printed on. In all likelihood it is our desire to make scripture say what we want it to say that is the issue. 2Timothy 3:15 “All scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching.” Do you have some information about scripture that the rest of us don’t have?

        • When it calls for the genocide of the Canaanite peoples. When it calls for the stoning of children for disobedience. When it declares that a menstruating woman is “unclean” before God. When it declares that bacon is unclean and wicked to eat. When it declares that I, my identity, and my love for the best person in my life, the person who brought me back to Christ after decades of life in an evangelical church – the same kind of church your insistence on Biblical inerrancy is an attempt to turn the United Methodist Church into – drove me away.

          That’s when the Bible is in error.

          • So it’s in error when it (a) doesn’t suit you or (b) calls you to repentance.

            The error is yours.

          • No, it is in error when culture declares something to be God’s will, when it is really human will. Yet the Bible implies (states) that it is God. What you say doesn’t track.

          • Funny, I don’t find it cultural, but biblical. Read it. There’s no mistake in it. culture based on unbiblical teaching is, however, quite a mistake.

          • So you’re good with executing children for disobedience? Think we should just get the rocks out when they don’t like their suppers?

          • But you really don’t understand who God is! He is sovereign. That means he can do what ever he wants to do. He is the creator and we are not. You may not like it but He is still God.

          • You need a dose of feminist theology. Even in a short statement you refer to God as “he” about five time. I am reminded of the time when I shared my views in a sermon and one woman threatened me with dire circumstances if I ever talked about inclusive language again. One year later she apologized. Thank you, United Methodist Women, for raising her consciousness in a way that I obviously was unable to do. Another man came to me at the front of the sanctuary with fists clinched and
            veins bulging from his forehead. Why, he proclaimed do you make such a big deal out of something that is so unimportant? Unimportant? Look at yourself! Not many months later, when I officiated at his funeral, I began my comments by saying that the deceased was a person of strong opinions. His siblings laughed about as hard as I had ever observed at a memorial service. I obviously had “nailed” him accurately. But fortunately, he still loved me, even if he disagreed with me a wee bit. He was specific that I was to officiate at his funeral, inclusive language or not. And I was no longer his pastor when he died.

            But change is slow. Plus we are stuck with hymnals in many situations.

            So I am stuck with just providing a positive example of inclusive language, as I work for including persons that others wish to exclude.
            I was happy to include women and persons of color in God’s church known as United Methodism, even as some worked to exclude and “follow the Discipline” which excluded women and persons of color from some aspects of the then Methodist Church. Now I work to include fully persons who God made different from myself to some degree in terms of sexual orientation. God is Good…All the Time? I certainly hope she is.

          • I rather think that I do in fact understand God – better than you do, anyway. United Methodism isn’t fundamentalist – I grew up in fundamentalism; I KNOW what it does to people. We don’t believe that the Bible is inerrant and literal, because the Bible orders terrible things that NOBODY actually follows. Like stoning disobedient children.

            Which, by the way, nobody has responded to. Still. If we’re going to condemn gay people, why are we not going to enter total obedience to the Gospel and kill our children when they talk back?

            If you can’t answer that in the affirmative, you have no argument, because if you can’t answer that in the affirmative, you obviously do not actually believe the Bible to be inerrant. You’re cherry-picking in the way that’s easiest for you, allowing you to feel better or closer to God than people who do a thing you never wanted to do anyway.

  6. This is sad. Patrick Scriven, your article began with wisdom. I’m saddened you ran into arrogance so much so to call Jesus into error. He IS spiritual maturity. He IS faith. He needn’t acquire these and you misrepresented and distorted the lesson of obedience and faith of Mark 7: 24-30. Jesus is without error as is the Word of God to which we conform our life and not the other way around. we are called to rightly handle the Word of Truth. Humility was your call at the start of the article abs you failed to express humility by calling out the Perfect savior into your imperfect interpretation of His OWN word.
    I’m not sure exactly where you were going with your term “truther,” but you will always lack and fail to gain spiritual maturity with such a minimal view of the one who created you and a distorted view of the truth.
    There is no fruit of Salvation in your words. If you are at all concerned with eternity with God, I beg you to delve into His word and discontinue mishandling the Word of Truth! That is a dangerous and scary place to end up separated from God for eternity because of heresy.
    I care about your soul and am concerned for your eternity, and the souls of those who your words are encouraging and misleading. The Bible is not an outside source of truth, it IS the truth. If scriptural truth is of no concern to you, please quit attempting to platform your agenda by virtue of calling yourself part of the church. A club is what you and your commiserators desire, not a Christian church.

    • The church has long held that Jesus was fully human and fully divine. To believe he was always right all the time, instantly, is to deny this mystery.

      I find no error in acknowledging that Jesus took a moment to recognize the right path and that he may have functioned with some cultural assumptions, as all humans do, which were limiting. Failing to recognize the needs of the other, to lack humility or empathy, seems like sin to me.

  7. From the results of the various elections held today, it appears that the adults did show up.

  8. Patrick–I enjoyed your thoughts on spiritual maturity. It is indeed something each one of us continues to grow into, with God’s help, throughout our lives, if we are intentional about it. I also found your distinction between being mature and being right to hit home as well. Bishop Harvey spoke yesterday about wearing the robe of righteousness. She did not speak about wearing the robe of rightness.

    • Thanks Bo for reading and offering your words. A good deal of the preaching at General Conference has been excellent – if the church gathered will follow we could have a path forward together.

  9. You are free to do what you want, just don’t try to make the rest of us accept your homosexuality. Leave the church and form your own denomination if it’s acceptance you really want. God does not bless sin, no matter if they do change the Discipline, which is not going to happen.

    • Since I am not God, I don’t really know what God blesses and what God does not bless, but apparently God blessed a lot of things that the ‘super religious’ in biblical times did not want God to bless. And God blessed them anyway. A few years ago the mother of a gay son wrote that homosexual relationships “were not sinful within the confines of a loving, committed monogamous relationship”. So that was her view. The Bible is silent on the subject of how God feels about a “loving, committed monogamous relationship”. The Bible speaks about a lot of things, such as violent violation of the rights of others, including forced sexual advances. But when the Bible is silent on something, whether you are orthodox or progressive, one should be careful about speaking for God on something that God has been silent about, biblically speaking.

      Come to think about it, God didn’t say anything about what the United Methodist Church should do. We have to look at the total Bible and make some decisions. Hospitality is important. Compassion is important. Love is important. These are things I would like to see both orthodox and progressive persons practice practically every day.

    • God has blessed me. Seriously, blessed me hugely (per my comments above)

      You don’t have to accept me. Your acceptance is not necessary, though love would be ‘Christian’, if you could just do that.

      The Discipline will change. It definitely will. Maybe not ‘now’ but it will. Per my previous comment above. Those who oppose such change will reduce in numbers. It’ll happen, even if not in our lifetime, it will happen.

      Peace and love.

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