Global United Methodism is at a crossroads and has to decide a path to its future. This is the time to carefully evaluate the past, understand the present, and anticipate a future consistent with our call by God to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the holistic transformation of the world.
In spite of the storm of life that may be raging in United Methodism, in spite of the attempt of some to take the church in a direction contrary to the teaching of Scripture, it is my prayer that God keeps The United Methodist Church moving forward and accomplishing God’s purpose for this generation.
Jeremiah 6:16 is an invitation from God through the prophet Jeremiah to the nation of Judah at a time when the nation was in a state of deep spiritual decline. Judah was at a crossroads of numerous choices that would determine her future. The spiritual climate was one characterized by gross disobedience and outright rejection of God’s word. Those leading the rebellion against God were the prophets, priests, judges, political leaders, and the people (Jeremiah 2:8-11; 5:1). We seem to see the church walking a similar path in contemporary society where some now think of the Word of God as being irrelevant, obsolete, and undesirable to govern the life of the people and ministries of the church.
The political and religious leaders at the time had turned their backs on God, and driven the nation into all kinds of perversions. The Word of God had become offensive to the people; everyone was following their own way. Idol worship, immorality, corruption of every kind was widespread. While national leaders were making bad political decisions, the priests and prophets were deceiving the people by offering them false peace and security. It was in the midst of such political and spiritual upheavals that God, in his love for his people, invited them at the crossroads, through the prophet Jeremiah.
Jeremiah declared, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it’” (Jeremiah 6:16).
The Crossroads. A crossroads is a place of decision making on your life’s journey, where you make critical choices that might impact your life forever. It is a place where you either decide for God or against God; where you choose to follow God or follow your own gratification. A crossroads is a place where leaders guide and guard those they supervise in making the right decision for the common good, and for God’s glory. Crossroads also provide warning signs, make prophetic declarations, and give admonition to those who have drifted away from the path of God. We are all at the crossroads today.
Almighty God, in pursuit of reconciliation with his people, asked them to do four things at the crossroads of life.
1. Stand: To stand means to be spiritually alert, culturally sensitive, socially adaptable, intellectually informed, and to give careful attention to what God is doing in this time and season so that we might become a productive part of it.
The word, “stand” is a command, and it reminds us of a soldier standing on guard in full alertness for action. As soldiers of the Lord’s army, the Apostle Paul enjoins us to “stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
Moses used the same expression to encourage the fearful and terrified Israelites, when they were being pursued by the Egyptians to overtake them in the desert. He said to them, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today” (Exodus14:13).
Many United Methodists need this encouragement today to stand firm because the storms of life are raging within the UM Church. Things are falling apart regarding what we should believe about God and the Word. But the good news is that Christ has promised that he will build his Church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18).
Are you standing firm in full alertness at the crossroads, or are you wandering about in every direction, like the Israelites in the wilderness? At the crossroads, it is time to stand for righteousness, to stand upon the truth of God’s infallible Word, to stand in faithfulness, in integrity, and in total submission to the will of God for our lives and for his Church.
2. Look: The word “look” means to observe, to take account of, to perceive, to discern, and to understand. We must have a clear vision for a better tomorrow, as to where God is leading this global Wesleyan community called The United Methodist Church.
As we look at the UM Church from a global perspective, what do we see? Do we see a growing or a declining church? Do we see leadership that is vision-driven and evangelistically-minded in pursuit of the purpose of God? Do we see spiritually healthy and growing pastors and members, or people who are spiritually ill and in need of a ‘balm from Gilead’ to heal their sin-sick souls? Based upon the state of United Methodism within your context, God is calling upon all of us to move forward with God’s agenda for the nations. And that agenda is to be the good news of God’s salvation to a world in need of hope and healing.
3. Ask: At the crossroads, God invites us to ask for the “ancient paths, the good way.” This is the way that leads to rest for our souls; the way that leads to love, peace and reconciliation with God and with one another.
Just as God led the Israelites from Egypt to the Promised Land by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21-22), God is ever ready to lead the UM Church if we will ask him. When we ask, we shall receive (Matthew 7:7). Therefore, let us ask the Lord for the ancient path that leads the Church to righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. Let us ask the Lord for the way that leads the church to genuine repentance and submission to the will of God; and let us pursue the ancient path that leads us to making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
4. Walk: God invites us to walk upon the ancient path. The ancient path is the holy, undiluted, and infallible Word of God (Psalm. 19:7-11; 119:105; II Timothy 3:16-17). It is the living and active word of God that is sharper than any double-edged sword; it is the Holy Scripture that penetrates the soul and spirit, and judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (Hebrews 4:12). The Word of God provides us guidance and direction into the future. As the Psalmist David points out, “Your Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light onto my path” (Psalm 119:105). God expects us to believe and obey so that we might be prosperous and successful (Joshua 1:8).
God’s challenge. Corresponding with these four directives, let the Wesleyan Covenant Association do its part to move forward with God’s agenda for the nations.
• Lead: We must lead and move forward with God’s agenda for God’s people (Joshua 1:2a). The way to lead is to serve faithfully and be a godly example to all.
• Be Courageous: We need to be very strong and courageous (1: 6-7), because we may encounter lots of discouragements along the way.
• Depend on God: We need to totally depend upon God to take possession of the land (vv. 2a-4); for victories over the enemies of the church (v. 5a); and for God’s presence and protection throughout the journey (1: 5b).
• Get a clear vision: We must have a clear vision from God as to what he wants the WCA to accomplish. And we must all embrace and pursue that vision. “Vision is the most potent weapon for world change,” says Bill Hybels. It is “the fuel that leaders run on, the energy that creates action; the fire that ignites the passion of followers. It is a clear call that sustains focused effort year after year, decade after decade, as people offer consistent and sacrificial service to God.”
• Christ-centered leadership: We must develop Christ-centered leadership across the jurisdictions and central conferences that are biblically committed to cast visions, set goals, mobilize the body of Christ, and overcome obstacles in order to reach the nations for Christ. In order to succeed in all of our endeavors, we must keep the Scripture primary for our faith and Christian living. And we must maintain a united, global perspective of the church.
• God’s Resources: We must rely upon God’s resources. God has promised to supply all of the resources (human, material, financial) we need for the journey. All we need to do is trust him, demonstrate good stewardship, and move forward with a holistic strategic plan for the WCA.
Final word. The only sustainable path to global unity of the people called United Methodist is total submission and loyalty to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and an exclusive obedience to the Word of God as the primary authority for faith and Christian living. While we live within diverse cultures and religious worldviews, it is important that we love and embrace everyone, but we must continually live within God’s parameter of grace defined by Scripture.
Furthermore, we must endeavor to develop Christ-centered, mission-minded, and Holy Spirit-empowered leaders across our annual conferences, districts, and local churches who commit to making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. When we do these things, not only will we experience a new beginning, but the Holy Spirit of God will birth a season of revival amongst us that will result in the sustainable growth of The United Methodist Church around the world.
Jerry P. Kulah is the General Coordinator of the UMC Africa Initiative of the Central Conferences of Africa, and the dean of the Gbarnga School of Theology, a United Methodist seminary in Liberia. This article is adapted from Dr. Kulah’s address at the Wesleyan Covenant Association gathering in Chicago on October 7, 2016.