by Steve | May 26, 2023 | In the News, Perspective / News
The Changing Shape of Methodism
By Thomas Lambrecht
As many churches considered the option of disaffiliation, there has been a focus on the contrast between a traditional understanding of our Methodist doctrines and practices compared with how The United Methodist Church has evolved over the past couple of decades. Now that the disaffiliation process is moving forward with the current wave of annual conference votes, it is appropriate to look at how the structure of Methodism will be changing as a result.
As of this week, 1,836 congregations have disaffiliated from the UM Church in 2023. Added to the 2,017 that disaffiliated before this year, that means 3,853 churches have disaffiliated, representing 13 percent of all U.S. congregations.
There have been arguments about whether this constitutes a “schism” or a “split” or instead a “splintering” of United Methodism. Some are unwilling to call it a schism or a split until it reaches half the denomination separating. (That is a somewhat arbitrary definition of schism or split, which simply refers to a division in the body.) It should be noted that five annual conferences have experienced the loss of more than 40 percent of their congregations. Even under the arbitrary definition, for those conferences it is a schism.
It is estimated that at least another 1,100 congregations will complete the disaffiliation process over the rest of this year. It will probably be more than that, as some conferences do not publicize the number of disaffiliating churches until right before the annual conference meets to vote on them. Even with this conservative projection, nearly 5,000 churches total will have disaffiliated by the end of 2023, which represents 17 percent of all U.S. UM congregations.
Although exact numbers are not available at this point, it appears that at least 80 percent of disaffiliating congregations are aligning immediately with the Global Methodist Church (GMC). Others are remaining independent for a time while they discern their future and heal from the wounds of disaffiliation. It is expected that many of these churches will eventually choose to align with the GMC. In addition, many new GMC churches are starting with the core members of congregations that did not reach the required two-thirds vote to disaffiliate.
Based on these projections, the GMC should have well over 4,000 congregations and nearly 1 million members in the U.S. when the current wave of disaffiliations is completed and churches work their way through the discernment and application process to join the GMC.
A Global GMC
Of course, the GMC is a global denomination not limited to the U.S. The very first congregational members of the GMC were in the Bulgaria Annual Conference, which officially joined the GMC on its launch date of May 1, 2022. Last Fall, Slovakia also joined the GMC. Since that time, Estonia and four conferences in Russia and Eurasia have voted to leave the UM Church to become autonomous, and they may become part of the GMC when that process is completed.
In the Philippines, UM congregations are moving to the GMC and new congregations have been planted there. One or more Philippine annual conferences are in the process of being formed. One of the first GMC church plants last year was Good News of Life Church, planted in Antipolo City, a part of Greater Manila.
The GMC has been registered in the Democratic Republic of Congo for former United Methodists who have been evicted from their UM membership by some of the bishops there, and new congregations are being planted there. Preparations for registering the GMC in other countries of Africa are also taking place. It is believed that at least half of the African annual conferences will eventually join the GMC if the language in the Book of Discipline regarding marriage and ordination is changed. That would make African members the largest block of members in the GMC.
In addition, Methodists in other parts of Europe, Asia, and Latin America are exploring deeper relationships with the GMC as a way of linking with a theologically like-minded global denomination. Just this week, the Spain provisional district was formed with seven congregations centered around Barcelona. These explorations hold the potential for making the GMC a truly global denomination with a strong presence on each of five continents. Since the U.S. part of the GMC may not be a majority of the church, it will be an opportunity to explore what it means to be truly global, with voices from other parts of the globe giving leadership to the church and counterbalancing some of the “bad habits” U.S. Methodists have fallen into. There will be challenges and a learning process for all, but the end result promises to be a different kind of Methodist denomination that truly represents what the Kingdom of God will look like someday – people of every language, nation, and tribe!
Impact on United Methodism
While a new GMC denomination is growing up, rampant disaffiliation will have a serious impact on the structural reality of The United Methodist Church, as well. A recent UM News article begins, “The United Methodist Church will look and operate very differently going forward.”
That structural change impacts two particular areas: the general church budget and the number and allocation of bishops.
The recent meeting of the UM General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA) and the Connectional Table agreed upon a proposed 2025-2028 budget that would be 40 percent lower than the 2017-2020 budget for the general church. The budget would decrease from $604 million to $371 million, the lowest amount in absolute dollars since 1984. Of course, with inflation, a $370 million budget in 1984 would be equivalent to over $1 billion today! Needless to say, the general church budget has not kept up with inflation over the years.
The membership of the church has declined in those 40 years, as well – from 9.2 million members to 6.1 million. Whereas, in 1984 the budget amounted to roughly $40 per member, today it would amount to over $60 per member. When adjusted for inflation, however, today’s number is about half what it was in 1984.
The recommended 40 percent decrease in the budget is prompted by the disaffiliation of an estimated 17-20 percent of church members, plus the “normal” decline in membership that has been averaging 3-5 percent per year. With the pandemic, local church expenditures have also decreased 7 percent from their normal levels. Until all the dust settles on disaffiliation, it is unclear what the financial ramifications will be, but there is no question there will be dramatically less money to work with at the general church level. That will undoubtedly mean reductions in the size and number of general church agencies and a reduction in the programs the general church can offer.
Number of Bishops
Council of Bishops President Thomas J. Bickerton is quoted as saying, “I don’t think that there’s anyone who is wanting to preserve the episcopacy in its current form. The numbers speak for themselves.” The budget proposal includes a 25 percent cut to the Episcopal Fund that pays bishops’ salaries and expenses.
The U.S. jurisdictions have already cut the number of bishops from 47 to 39. The Northeastern Jurisdiction cut four bishops to go from ten bishops to six. The South Central Jurisdiction cut two bishops to go from ten bishops to eight. The Southeastern Jurisdiction cut two bishops to go from 13 bishops to 11. In total, that represents a 17 percent reduction to the number of U.S. bishops.
Under the Discipline’s formula for determining the number of bishops, what will each jurisdiction be entitled to after this round of disaffiliations is complete?
The North Central Jurisdiction would be entitled to seven bishops, meaning they would have to cut two bishops from what they currently have. One possible scenario would have Wisconsin and Michigan sharing a bishop and Northern Illinois and Illinois Great Rivers sharing a bishop.
The Northeastern Jurisdiction would be also entitled to seven bishops, one more than they currently have. Currently, New England has no resident bishop and Susquehanna is sharing two bishops with other conferences. Some form of realignment would allow New England to have its own resident bishop, probably shared with another conference.
The South Central Jurisdiction would be entitled to eight bishops, the number it currently has. Realignment of conference boundaries will have to account for the fact that 80 percent of the Northwest Texas Conference will have disaffiliated, half of the Texas Conference, and one-third of both the Rio Texas and Central Texas Conferences. Five previous Texas annual conferences will probably become four, and may include New Mexico, as well, which could be down to 16,000 members.
The Southeastern Jurisdiction would be entitled to ten bishops, one fewer than it currently has. South Georgia and Alabama-West Florida currently share a bishop, as does Holston and North Alabama. Perhaps Mississippi and Tennessee-Western Kentucky will also share a bishop, or another alignment may be proposed.
The Western Jurisdiction will keep its five bishops, since a minimum of five bishops per jurisdiction is guaranteed by the Constitution. Reducing the number of bishops in the West would require a Constitutional amendment. This creates an inequitable situation, since each bishop in the West would have only half as many members and congregations to care for as bishops in the rest of the U.S.
Reducing the number of bishops according to the Discipline’s formula would result in 37 bishops, a reduction of 21 percent in the number of U.S. bishops. That is still short of the 25 percent reduction in budget proposed to the General Conference.
The reduced budget also does not appear to have room in it for the additional five bishops promised to Africa in 2016. Without further reductions in the number of U.S. bishops below the number allowed by the Discipline’s formula, it would appear that additional bishops for Africa will be off the table.
The changing alignments within Methodism will result in significant structural changes. The Global Methodist Church will be navigating how to structure itself as a truly global church with equal and mutual contributions from all geographic areas of the church. The United Methodist Church will be navigating how to restructure within the limitations imposed by a dramatically reduced budget and reduced number of bishops. Those looking to keep things the same as they were at the denominational level will find comfort in neither camp. But such changes hold the possibility of fomenting new ways of doing ministry that make the church more effective at reaching a lost and needy world.
Thomas Lambrecht is a United Methodist clergyperson and vice president of Good News.
by Steve | May 25, 2023 | In the News
Editor’s note: In honor of the passing of Bishop Sundo Kim (1930-2022) last fall, we are pleased to feature our 1991 cover story on him and the remarkable Kwanglim Methodist Church in Seoul, South Korea — one of the largest Methodist congregations in the world. At Good News, we considered Bishop Kim a treasured friend. During his lengthy and fruitful ministry at Kwanglim, he served on numerous boards both in Korea as well as around the global. He was the president of the World Methodist Council from 1997 to 2001 and was a member of the Asbury Theological Seminary Board of Trustees — eventually serving as the Honorary Chair of the Board. In addition to his responsibilities at Kwanglim, he also served on the board of World Vision and the Lausanne Committee. Currently, Kwanglim is led by Bishop Chungsuk Kim, the son of Bishop Kim.
Seoul’s Burning Bush: What’s the Secret?
By Carroll Ferguson Hunt
Good News, July/August 1991
Our tour group of Westerners cowered against the wall at the top of the stairs, intimidated by the pushing, chattering throng of Koreans pouring past us. Even though for days we had inched through Seoul’s gridlock traffic in our van, confronting a solid river of people face-to-multiplied-faces was something else again – and outside Sunday school rooms of a Methodist church yet?
Our circuits crackled on overload.
But this is no ordinary Methodist church. We were visiting Seoul’s Kwanglim Church, one of world Methodism’s largest, with 50,000 constituents, four Sunday worship services, 6,000 people attending Tuesday Bible studies, multiple choirs and orchestras, plus 60 teenage Sunday school classes – whose members were keeping the timid visitors’ backs to the wall.
How can all this be? Why, in this secular, materialistic era when Methodism is declining, are the halls, the pews, the prayer meetings, and the offering baskets overflowing in Kwanglim Methodist Church?
As soon as the stairway traffic reduces to negotiable numbers at the 11:00 a.m. service, we were ushered to front rows in the balcony and handed earphones through which we receive simultaneous English translation. (The bulletin says they also offer Japanese on another channel.)
As we look around we see people rapidly filling the bright and warm 5,000-seat sanctuary. Masses of elegantly arranged flowers frame the huge wooden pulpit and crown the altar behind it. Orchestra members surreptitiously tune their instruments during the organ prelude and every seat in the choir section is filled.
Worship proceeds through components familiar to most Christians; hymns, Scripture, responsive reading, prayers. But if you sit quietly with your ears and eyes open, with all your antennae operating, you can sense a focus, a participation by the congregation not always present in average Sunday morning crowds. As you turn over in your mind the immensity of this church and its incredible success in ministering to thousands of Seoulites and other Koreans around the world, one question demands an answer. Why? What is so special here? What’s their secret?
Pastor Sundo Kim had Malachi 3:7-12 read earlier, and as he begins his message on “The Important Lessons of Stewardship,” heads drop throughout the auditorium. You wonder, Has he lost them? Do they resent harangues about money just like we do?
Look again. People are not dozing nor inspecting their fingernails. They are looking up the Scriptures Pastor Kim refers to and taking notes on what he says about tithing. They’re even saying “Amen!”
Pastor Kim believes in his topic. “If you don’t tithe,” he says, “you are not a whole Christian.” The points of his sermon are simple and clear: 1. The Bible teaches us to tithe; 2. Tithing is practical; 3. Tithing brings blessing.
Basic stuff, wouldn’t you say?
“Ministers who don’t preach on tithing impoverish their people,” Kim asserts, and this is the sole time all year that he preaches on tithing. He makes no idyllic prosperity promises to his people, just cites God’s blessing of those who obey.
Does this approach work? You only have to look around you. Kwanglim Church lacks for no good thing. State-of-the-art sound and video equipment, four building church complex, mountain prayer retreat center, domestic and foreign mission projects, 22 associate pastors. Seventy percent of this church’s members tithe – without signing a pledge.
“Just do it,” Kim tells them. Basic; yes, but with a twist. A trust twist, if you will. Trust God to provide needed income by stimulating his people to do what he tells them to.
How does one, even a seasoned Christian leader like Sundo Kim, learn this kind of trust? What are his spiritual secrets?
Like so many Korean Christians, Kim’s spiritual formation centers on prayer. His daily prayer time stretches from 4:30 to 6:30 each morning. Saturdays he spends at Kwang Lim’s prayer retreat center, the “prayer mountain,” a concept and practice common among Korean Christians. There he prays and prepares for the four Sunday services, returning home at midnight.
Why It Works!
Christians from all over the world make pilgrimages to Seoul to learn from Dr. Sundo Kim and his Kwanglim Church. No one, it seems, comes away unaffected by what is seen and observed there.
Frank Warden, author and corporate president of Trinity Bible Studies, has visited Kwanglim several times where his Trinity Studies are used. He speaks of the Korean congregation’s “enthusiasm in worship,” which he found especially affecting one Sunday morning when 4,000 new members joined the church fellowship.
“The people are enthusiastic about Christ and the church,” he says. “They are Christ centered and Bible centered. It is a most amazing worship experience. A hush drops, and especially during prayer there is a sense of holiness.”
George Hunter III, Dean of Asbury Theological Seminary’s E. Stanley Jones School of Mission and Evangelism and church growth leader, discovered during his visit to Korea that “the Kwanglim Church is an outstanding example of a church growing through meeting people’s needs; its preaching, group life, and teaching are all need-oriented. Also, they grow because they plan for growth, which is an important part of their long-range strategy.”
Anyone who visits Kwanglim and other Korean churches, large and small, cannot ignore the emphasis on prayer which permeates Christian living there. A delegation of Chinese pastors and lay leaders from Hong Kong went home determined to develop monthly all-night prayer meetings to fuel the growth and spiritual development they hunger for. American and Japanese Christian leaders carry away similar commitments when they see what can happen when God’s people pray.
Terry Faris, a member of the UM Kentucky Conference for 23 years, visited Pastor Kim in Seoul and heard him discuss the secret of growth at Kwanglim Church. Kim opened the door to a small room, his prayer closet, and said to Faris, “Here is the secret … I meet God before I meet people.”
Soaked in Prayer
Every part of Kim’s ministry is soaked in prayer. When Kwanglim’s $7.5 million prayer center was only an idea burning inside his head, Kim prayed, expecting God to provide it all. Then, in trust, he bought land on a mountain slope an hour out of Seoul. Now among the rocks and pine trees sprawls a complex with a brick, stone, and glass auditorium that can seat 5,000, and facilities to feed and sleep 800 people.
Huge numbers, however, do not dominate the purposes of Kwanglim’s prayer mountain. Scattered about the grounds are kneeling benches for private prayer. Tiny prayer cells, 104 of them, are private places with warning lights outside and doors that once closed can only be opened from the inside. Obviously the center was designed for serious intercession.
But intercession is not the only Christian discipline in action at Kwanglim’s prayer mountain. Pastor Kim takes one month each year for training church staff, plus deacons, elders, area leaders, evangelists; 3,360 of them, in fact.
“Without training we cannot have good leaders,” Kim asserts. Coaching his leadership staff is a priority in Kim’s ministry. In the most recent session, he talked to them about setting goals for their ministry.
“Back when our church had only 200 members,” he told them, “I set a goal of 1,000. People laughed at me and said ‘Impossible!’ But as soon as we reached 1,000, I aimed for 2,000.”
Kim’s audience listens carefully; he knows whereof he speaks since the church embraces a constituency of 50,000. “We know where we’re going,” he says. And he cites Jesus’ teaching in Luke 14:28-35 about planning. “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost … ?”
“Make a plan,” Kim tells his leadership team. “Set priorities.” Then he tells them how, and outlines the steps by means of his overhead projector.
After Kim’s lectures and after each Kwanglim leader writes out his or her goals, sharing them with a small cluster of co-workers, they all receive communion together. As they celebrate the Savior, Pastor Kim prays for them individually, committing each one to the Lord and dedicating them to their assigned ministry.
Why does any church, even one this large, require 3,360 workers? One reason is in response to one of Kim’s tenets: “Kwanglim may have 50,000 constituents, but it is not a big church. It is a collection of small churches.” Even small churches need leaders and if you have a collection of them – 100, say – the number mounts of those responsible for nurture of each flock. And when Kim talked to his leadership team about turning goals into action he cites “prayer, visitation, development of friendships, discovery of non-Christian neighbors.” Why? To tell them about Jesus. To evangelize.
Deacons and elders, lots of them, are a way of life in Korean churches. At Kwanglim they take their responsibilities seriously. So do the Sunday school teachers and workers, and Bible study leaders for small groups which may never grow larger than 10 participants. This restriction means there are now 400 such groups.
Kwanglim’s constituency – members, catechists, inquirers – are divided into 17 areas. Each area is shepherded by an evangelist and three Bible women who visit and counsel and love the 1,000 families of their flock. Numerous Wesley-style class meetings gather on Friday nights in each area and this is the blueprint for lay evangelism. Christians of the Kwang Lim fellowship find it easy to invite their non-believing neighbors to a small, warm group meeting in their home, and their neighbors find it easy to accept such an invitation – a common practice among most Korean believers.
This is why, as the 11 o’clock service draws to a close, we see several people move from their seats toward the front of the auditorium. Dr. Kim has called for all new believers to meet him in front of the pulpit. The congregation applauds as ten or a dozen individuals cluster around the pastor to receive his greeting and a small gift from the church. They, by this public appearance, tell God and their world that they are beginning training for baptism and embarking on the Christian way.
As we watch that small band of men and women who have begun their first steps onto the Christian way, as we see pleasure and embarrassment merge on their faces at this public attention, what secrets for success have we learned from Pastor Kim and Kwanglim Church?
First, we see that Jesus, God’s Son, is Lord here, and that a personal relationship to him underlies all else. Second, we know that Pastor Kim trains his huge leadership team with care and devotion. Third, we know that Bible study, prayer, and tithing are normal disciplines for the people of Kwanglim Church, as is evangelism among their neighbors, friends, and family.
People come from across the globe to query Sundo Kim about the success of Kwanglim (which, incidentally, means “Burning Bush”) Church. They discover as they look and listen that the practices and principles upheld by Kim and his astonishing congregation are the simple tenets of biblical Christianity instead of some new formula they hoped to find and copy at home.
Instead of unwrapping a new secret for success created by a clever leader, we who want to know how he does it are led to the foot of the cross and told to look into the face of the Savior; then follow him.
Carol Ferguson Hunt was a frequent contributor to Good News and the author of From the Claws of the Dragon: A Story of Henry Lee’s Deliverance from the Red Chinese Guards. This article first appeared in the July/August 1991 issue of Good News.
Dreaming a Church into Reality
By Joe A. Harding & Ralph W. Mohney
Sundo Kim is a man with a vision. Years ago the congregation was located in a building surrounded by factories and industrial buildings. A few miles away on the other side of the Han River, great high-rise buildings were being constructed to house the exploding population of Seoul. Dr. and Mrs. Kim began to search for property for a new church building to serve people where they were living.
The Kims found an ideal site for the new church in a pear orchard that literally was surrounded by buildings of the new city. Inquiries revealed that the property was not for sale. It was held by several members of a family that was not interested in the church. The Kims were not discouraged by the owners’ unwillingness to sell. Day after day they returned to the old pear orchard to kneel in the mud and pray. This continued for 30 days. They prayed that God would bless them with guidance so that they could have leadership in building a church that would glorify God and share the gospel of Jesus Christ.
After praying for 30 days, Kim went back to the owners of the property. They were still unwilling to sell. On Sunday morning, Kim shared his vision with the entire Kwanglim congregation. The people’s hearts were touched by the vision of reaching unchurched persons for Jesus Christ in this new location. Kim invited members of the church to join him marching around the property, praying that God would help them in their mission. Members responded. They gathered on the vacant lot and began to march around the property, praying and singing as they marched. Like Joshua and the people of Israel of old, they dared to believe that the impossible could be accomplished.
Something happened! The owners suddenly reconsidered their refusal to sell. Disgruntled family members had changed their minds. Now the family was in total agreement to sell the property at a favorable price to the church.
The dream has grown beyond anyone’s expectations. Now, a beautiful new sanctuary with an excellent educational building stands on the site of the old pear orchard.
The Kwanglim congregation has a dynamic ministry, paying pastors’ salaries in Poland and in other Eastern European countries. Ministries have expanded to China, Japan, and the United States. Every year hundreds of pastors come to Kwanglim for a spiritual renewal experience in a “Vision and Growth Seminar.” The Kwang Lim worship service is broadcast not only across Korea, but also to Hawaii and the western portion of the United States.
A young convert from Buddhism said to a visiting pastor from the United States, “I am so happy since I found this church. My friend invited me. I never knew about Jesus. I invited Jesus into my heart. I have found a new life in Jesus Christ.” The Kwanglim congregation is an exciting demonstration of the power of yesterday’s dreams and visions that have become today’s realities.
Reprinted with permission from Vision 2000: Planning for Ministry into the Next Century (Discipleship Resources). This article appeared in the July/August 1991 issue of Good News.
by Steve | May 24, 2023 | In the News
By Jay Therrell
On May 24, 1738, 285 years ago, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, went “very unwillingly” to a religious meeting on Aldersgate Street in London. He wrote about what happened next in his journal:
“In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
The world has never been the same since. John Wesley’s “strangely warmed” heart led to a revival that is still going to this day. Granted, it’s taken some twists and turns along the way, but Wesley’s vision still guides us, especially as we work to help churches disaffiliate from the UMC and hopefully join the Global Methodist Church.
As we celebrate this pivotal day in the life of the Methodist Movement, here are some tenets from John Wesley’s vision that I pray will still guide us.
The Almost Christian
On July 25, 1741, Wesley preached a sermon called “The Almost Christian.” Wesley Scholar Kevin Watson points out the crux of the message, “While an almost Christian lives an outwardly Christian life in every way, an altogether Christian adds to this love for God and neighbor, and genuine faith (trust and confidence) in God’s love for them through the merits of Jesus Christ.” Throughout the sermon, Wesley paints the picture of an almost Christian: one who has the outward appearance of a Christian – one who does and says the right things. Wesley confesses that he was an almost Christian for many years.
In the second half of the sermon, Wesley delineates what an “altogether Christian” looks like, and the hallmark is faith in Jesus Christ alone. Wesley said, “The right and true Christian faith is not only to believe that Holy Scripture and the articles of our faith are true, but also to have a sure trust and confidence to be saved from everlasting damnation by Christ – it is a sure trust and confidence which a man hath in God that by the merits of Christ his sins are forgiven, and he reconciled to the favor of God – whereof doth follow a loving heart to obey his commandments.”
Wesley still calls us to be crystal clear that only Jesus saves and that Jesus’ righteousness is credited to us only by grace through faith in Him. Today, more than ever, we need to embrace the depth and breadth of that idea. Only Jesus saves. And Jesus saves us by His amazing grace that is given to us when we place our full trust in Him. As my friend, J.D. Walt likes to say, “Jesus is the Gospel!”
Wesley wrote 12 rules for his “helpers” (lay preachers). All of them are important, but number 11 has always been my favorite, “You have nothing to do but to save souls. Therefore spend and be spent in this work. And go always, not only to those that want you, but to those that want you most.” John Wesley’s vision calls us to ensure that we lead people to put their full faith and trust in Jesus and become an “altogether Christian.” We have far too many “almost Christians.” We don’t need anymore. It’s part of the reason we’re in the mess we’re in. We must spend and be spent in this work in the coming years.
Perseverance is Key
John Wesley annoyed people. After his heart was “strangely warmed,” he tried to share his message across England. It was met with extreme hostility from the “institution” of the Church of England. He was banned from most churches including his home church in Epworth. He had to stand on his own father’s grave to preach at his childhood church. Instead, Wesley took to the fields to preach to coal miners and farmers. He would preach from the market crosses in the centers of towns. His message led people to faith in Jesus by the tens of thousands.
The “institution” wanted Wesley stopped so badly that sometimes local priests would hire town drunks to heckle Wesley while he was speaking. Once while in Bristol, several detractors released the meanest bull they could find into a crowd listening to Wesley preach. Wesley wrote in his journal how the moment the thugs slapped the bull on the rear the bull simply bowed its head and stood in the middle of the crowd. They tried to slap it again and the bull wandered off back to its farm where it came from. People threw rotten eggs and tomatoes at Wesley. This happened for close to two decades.
Wesley could have given up. Many of us would have after 20 years of that kind of opposition. That wasn’t in John’s DNA, however. Wesley’s father, Samuel, taught him to persevere. After all, the Wesleys’ home was burned down because people didn’t like what Samuel was preaching, and yet Samuel rebuilt and carried on.
John Wesley’s revival that changed England and the world happened because he wouldn’t give up. He persevered in the face of great difficulty. For 20 years people tried to stop him, but he refused to give up. After those first 20 years, however, John Wesley became a celebrity. He went from not being welcome in most churches to achieving a level of fame reserved for very few in the 1700s. When he died every newspaper in the country carried a headline of his death and he was mourned nationwide.
This present season has been intolerably hard. The “institution” has come down hard on churches and pastors trying to move to a better theological home. They have seized church property citing “exigent circumstances,” they have threatened retired clergy with being brought up on charges for even attending a disaffiliated church, and they have added punitive and onerous costs to churches trying to depart. The easy thing would be to give up. Wesley didn’t. We can’t either. Wesley persevered for two decades, and we must follow in his footsteps by contending for the faith so we can be free to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.
John Wesley’s persistence changed not only England. He changed the world. His Methodist movement still does. People who end up changing the world are people who have the courage to get up when they’re knocked down. People who quit after being opposed never accomplish anything. We have no choice but to rely on the strength of the Holy Spirit and be inspired by our Methodist founder, John Wesley, to press on toward the prize.
Not Goodbye, but a Transition to New Life
John Wesley preached his last sermon three days before he died at age 87. He got home and didn’t feel well. He got into bed and never got out again.
Wesley wanted to be spent in the cause of Jesus Christ until the end. Many say his final words were, “Best of all, God is with us!” They weren’t. They were close. He said those words and then prayed a brief prayer. Afterward, he tried to sing a hymn, “I’ll Praise My Maker While I’ve Breath.” He began, “I’ll praise…I’ll praise…” and then he simply said, “Farewell.”
The first verse of the hymn Wesley tried to sing was, “I’ll praise my Maker while I’ve breath; and when my voice is lost in death, praise shall employ my nobler powers. My days of praise shall ne’er be past, while life, and thought, and being last, or immortality endures.”
Wesley’s life begs the question of whether we’re willing to “spend and be spent” in this work until the end. Are we just going through the motions, or are we deeply engaged in helping to form “altogether Christians?” Are we okay with people saying they believe in God and trying to be “good,” or are we focused on helping people understand that faith is all about a relationship with Jesus who loves you more than you can ever hope to imagine?
Departing The United Methodist Church isn’t “goodbye.” It’s a transition to a new life. John Wesley went through the very same thing when he began the Methodist movement out of the Church of England. He led a powerful transition that has led to millions finding faith in Jesus and moving on toward entire sanctification.
Wesley was all used up by God at the end of his life. He led people to a full and devoted faith in Jesus. He persevered through decades of awful opposition. He praised God to his last breath.
Will we learn from his witness and follow in his footsteps?
The Rev. Jay Therrell is the president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association and an ordained elder in the Global Methodist Church.
Photo of John Wesley is a sculpture by Adam Carr located in Melbourne, Australia. Public domain photo by Adam Carr/Wikipedia.
by Steve | May 23, 2023 | In the News, May-June 2023
The Rollercoaster After Revival
By Alexandra Presta
My blood sugar is 47. Currently, I sit in the student center at Asbury University with tingling and numb lips. My fingers shake every time I pause in between typing on my laptop. I’ve already eaten dinner. I’ve chugged the bottle of Gatorade I keep in the side pocket of my backpack and forced myself to also eat half of the whoopie pie my friend gave me earlier. But it’s not going up.
This is the eighth time in the past 24 hours my blood sugar has dropped below 70, which is when my symptoms of hypoglycemia typically begin. My blood sugar is supposed to be above 80 and below 200.
You would think that since I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when I was eight that I’d have better control of my blood sugar by now. Yet some days I do all the right
like change my site, exercise, monitor my blood sugar, give myself insulin, etc. and will still experience what we diabetics call “rollercoastering.”
It’s not fun. Imagine a day where you ride a rollercoaster over and over again for an entire day – up, down, up, down, up, down. Stomach pains, dizziness, sweaty and flushed skin, dazed eyes, and one thought making you groan when the ride begins again before you have even caught your breath from the last time: “Oh, Lord, please, not again.”
Slap that messy mountain range in a graph format and there’s what my life has been like today.
I think with our faith we also experience this “rollercoastering” phenomenon. We have days and seasons where we do the right things – pray, read Scripture, worship, and tithe – yet find ourselves in the dips and sudden jerky turns of the ride. There’s anxiety, depression, temptation, arrogance and hurt, oh gosh, so much hurt. It’s not fun here.
We miss being at the top, where the skies are clear and an eager joy fills our hearts. At Asbury, we just experienced this due to the revival, outpouring or whatever you call it. The Holy Spirit fell and there was peace, reconciliation, repentance, and confession that led to complete transformations of the heart and soul. We took postures of humility as the world tuned in and God continued to move, heal and encounter his beloved children. We were enjoying the ride. Some of us never wanted it to end.
But now our campus is quieter. The overwhelming crowds have gone. And while for some it seems better now because they’re still at the top of the rollercoaster, others have crashed and crashed hard. Unfortunately, I fall into this category.
I wasn’t doing great before the revival occurred in all honesty. I had attempted to heal my broken and bitter heart. Counseling, journaling, prayer, Scripture – I did it all. Even in the midst of revival, I took time to do these things. So how, after all of this – after I watched God bring some of my friends back to him, felt his tangible peaceful presence, testified and watched him answer some of my other prayers – could I feel overwhelmed in the dips and jerks of this rollercoaster we call life?
How did I even end up here? I was doing the right things; I am doing the right things and am watching God continue to move. Yet, as I sit here recovering from a hypoglycemic moment, I recognize that my heart is in a similar state.
I am in a spiritual low, one that doesn’t make any kind of sense. It reminds me of Elijah in 1 Kings 18. He had a mountaintop, peak of a rollercoaster moment with God, literally on Mount Carmel. God used him to defeat 450 prophets of Baal before he outran King Ahab’s chariot to the entrance of Jezreel.
But do you know what happens in 1 Kings 19? Elijah runs again, but this time, it’s because he’s being chased. Queen Jezebel had sent people to kill him; she wanted him dead. He went from being a witness to God’s glory to being overwhelmed with fear and exhaustion so much so he begged God to take his life.
And it doesn’t make sense. He just watched the blazing fire of God come down. It completely consumed a burnt offering drenched in water and the water itself in the trench. Elijah just watched God prove that he is YAHWEH, the one true God. I just witnessed God prove the same thing thousands of years later. It doesn’t make sense, it feels wrong, to feel this temptation and bitterness creep into my heart again.
Yet that’s unfortunately a key concept of life. It doesn’t stop. It goes on. And there are highs and there are lows. The important thing to remember is God is there through it all, every part of the ride.
He doesn’t just encounter us once as the rollercoaster sits on the top of the very first hill and then disappear before the car tips over the scary edge. There are certain moments where we experience instantaneous peace and healing. That’s beautiful, but a relationship with God is ongoing. It’s a continual spiritual journey. And God’s here with us on the ride, allowing us to tightly grip his hand and bury our head with our eyes squeezed shut for every single twist and turn.
He didn’t abandon me because I am experiencing bitterness and exhaustion after revival. He’s not leaving me to fix my blood sugar on my own. In fact, in my prayers for healing – prayers he always listens to – he’s the One reminding me that sometimes healing isn’t instantaneous. He’s helping me learn patience and how to truly forgive others inwardly and outwardly. He sees my dusty, broken, and bitter heart and is mending it back together through his love in his timing.
Life is going on – but praise God that he goes on with us. Praise God that his love is too great and his grace is too rich. Celebrate him for being so kind and patient that none of my negativity, none of my bitterness, keeps him from loving and forgiving me.
I want to love people like that. I want to forgive people like that. Luckily, day by day, in small steps and acts of surrender, he is showing me how. He’s revealing the people I need in my life, the decisions of obedience I need to take for my heart to soften and be wholly restored by his love. He’s showing me how to forgive people through action and conversation with trusted friends and him.
He loves us so much that he doesn’t want us to stay in our hurt, our pain and our processing. His desire is to lead us through it, right by our side. God was here before, he’s here now, and he’s not going to ever leave. It’s our choice whether or not we accept his hand.
For Elijah, God provided food, rest, and a friend. And for us, no matter how we feel about the rollercoaster after revival, if we choose to let him in, he will provide exactly what we need, too.
Alexandra Presta is the editor of the Asbury Collegian at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky. Reprinted by permission of the Asbury Collegian.
by Steve | May 23, 2023 | In the News, May-June 2023
Navigating Special Times of Refreshing
By Suzanne Nicholson
What do you do when the streams of living water suddenly burst into a flood? The spiritual outpouring that began at Asbury University on February 8, 2023, was spontaneous and unexpected. After an ordinary chapel service, a number of students felt called to linger and praise God. As students responded, the Spirit brought an immense sense of joy and peace. More students came. The Spirit remained, and so did the students. Over the course of two weeks, thousands of Jesus-seekers poured into our small town of Wilmore, Kentucky.
Theological Reflections. The day before the revival began, my Growth of the New Testament Church class was discussing Peter’s speech in Acts 3 after he healed a man in front of the Temple. Peter had described Jesus’ death and resurrection and then challenged the audience: “Repent, therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord and that he may send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus, who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets” (Acts 3:19-21). Our class had discussed the beauty of the description, “times of refreshing,” only to experience that refreshing the very next day!
My students had noticed in Acts several places where – after the Spirit’s coming at Pentecost – the disciples had been described as being “filled with the Spirit” (e.g., 4:8, 7:55, 13:9). They wanted to know if Luke was simply reminding his readers that the disciples had been filled with the Spirit previously, or if this was a new filling. At the time I described it as sort of a turbo-charge: there’s always gas in the tank, but sometimes you need an extra burst of power for the task at hand.
In reflection, two other metaphors might be helpful. It’s important to remember that the Spirit who was present at Asbury in early February is the same God who was present three weeks previous and is the same God who is still here now that the crowds have dispersed. The difference is in the level of communion we experienced. God is always feeding us by his Spirit, but some occasions are a bit more special. It’s like sitting down to meals three times a day, but occasionally indulging in a fantastic Thanksgiving feast, enjoying all the special dishes with the best of ingredients, and sharing the overwhelming spread with anyone who shows up to partake.
My favorite image, however, arises from Psalm 1:3. Those who delight in the law of the Lord “are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.” Believers who regularly commune with the Lord through prayer, Bible study, corporate worship, receiving the Eucharist, and other means of grace are the trees planted by streams of water, receiving their nourishment. But occasionally we need flood waters to spur new growth – not the destructive floods that wipe away homes, but rather the essential spring flooding of the Nile that brought much-needed water and nutrients to agricultural lands in the ancient world.
This is where we found ourselves at Asbury. We are planted by streams of water, but the dry air of secular culture had left us thirsting for more. The thousands of visitors to campus only demonstrated how much spiritual thirst exists right now. These people were desperate for relief, life, and hope, and they were willing to wait in line for hours to enter the place where the veil between heaven and earth was remarkably thin. The Holy Spirit graciously sent gentle flood waters to revive us, reshape us, and empower us for the work ahead. We received a sort of spiritual Miracle-Gro, a nutrient boost to inspire new growth. We drank deeply from this refreshing gift.
Not everyone found it comfortable to explore this movement of the Holy Spirit. Some students said they felt pressured to go and join in the revival; others were skeptical or fearful of what they would encounter. Some students experienced the refreshing of the Spirit as they prayed in their dorm rooms, rather than joining the immense and, for some, intimidating crowd. Some students stayed in Hughes Auditorium for a few minutes at a time, while others remained for hours or even days. These different experiences should remind us that we need to be gentle with one another because what each of us needs from the Holy Spirit may be different. God is gracious enough to meet us where we are, and we are all at varying points in our walk with the Lord.
Yet we should also keep in mind that there is something powerful about being in community and hearing testimonies of how God is working among the body of Christ. When others publicly repent of their sins, we may be moved to do the same. When others praise Jesus in loud voices, we may experience a similar joy in the Lord. When others intercede in prayer for the nations, we may be urged to follow suit. Witnessing together the movement of God, we are strengthened for our own testimony just as we strengthen those who are giving testimony. Ephesians 4:15-16 reminds us of God’s desire for the body of Christ to be knit together in this way: “speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.”
Some have asked how this outpouring of the Holy Spirit came about. How can it be replicated? The simple answer is that this was a spontaneous act of God, a beautiful act of grace. It was not manufactured. Asbury University simply had another average, ordinary chapel service, and God chose to move. We did nothing ourselves to make this happen.
That’s not entirely correct. People have been praying for revival for years – some, for decades. God delights in these kinds of prayers. God responds in his own timing to the cries of his people. But make no mistake: this is not a “work.” The prayers of the people are a response to what God has done previously. God’s grace comes first, the people respond with prayers for more, and God pours out his grace once again.
What was so stunning about this kind of outpouring is that it was locally focused. We regularly preach the truth that God who created and sustains the universe is accessible anywhere – whether in foxholes or brothels or athletic fields or beaches or homes or churches. God is available to all who cry out to him. And yet there are times when the Spirit appears profoundly in a particular location. When Moses met God, he saw a burning bush that was not consumed, and he was told to remove his sandals because the place on which he was standing was holy (Exodus 3:1-6). When God led the Israelites through the desert, he did so by a cloud of his presence during the day and by fire at night (Exodus 13:21). God’s glory filled the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34-38). When the Spirit poured forth at Pentecost, it filled a house in Jerusalem where believers had gathered (Acts 2:1).
These kinds of manifestations of God’s presence have continued through the centuries as God regularly revives his people. Now God chose this season to pour forth abundantly his Spirit at Asbury University. But this does not mean that God is any less accessible in your home church. Pray for the refreshing Spirit of God to bless your community. Be persistent. Wait with longing. Don’t give up hope. And don’t forget that even as you await the flood, you are trees planted by water. Drink deeply of the Spirit who is always present. The flood is no replacement for the daily drinking from the streams of God’s goodness.
A Few Practical Notes. As the Spirit began to move, the campus leaders worked hard to keep the emphasis on Jesus. No one leader emerged, but a large team worked together to make sure the music, the testimonies, the personal narratives, the discussion of Scripture all focused on glorifying God rather than on individuals in the room.
Repentance was a large part of what God prompted among those in attendance. In order for God to revive us, we must confess the ways in which we have followed our own wills rather than the will of God. We must be willing to flee sin and be transformed by a loving God who desires to give us a life of flourishing (2 Chronicles 7:14). We have been called to a life of holiness.
Flexibility is an incredibly important part of responding to the Spirit. Our churches and institutions often have policies and procedures – routines that keep the cogs of progress running smoothly. But when the Spirit suddenly shows up in powerful ways, the rule book may need to go out the window. Our administration at Asbury encouraged professors to be flexible with assignment dates and attendance policies for those who felt called to worship in Hughes Auditorium. Leaders were creative in addressing unforeseen needs – a snack table outside the back door of the auditorium for those who remained for hours, portable toilets outside for those who waited in line to gain entrance to the packed auditorium, a baby changing table placed outside the restrooms (not your typical equipment here!).
In the early church, organization developed over time. At first, the believers simply gathered together and “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). Later, in Acts 6, deacons were appointed to distribute food to the Hellenistic widows who had been overlooked in the daily food distribution. Structure was introduced to make sure the needs were met. Similarly, here at Asbury systems were developed quickly to meet pressing needs.
Discernment was one of the greatest needs. How is God moving? How can this gift best be stewarded? Where might people intentionally or unintentionally be leading this community in a different direction than God desires? Constant prayer was an absolute necessity.
Spiritual outpourings today contain an element not foreseen in previous generations: social media. Word about this movement of God spread like wildfire on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms. In the past, teams of evangelists needed to travel from town to town to spread the word, but now in a matter of days people on the other side of the planet heard about what was happening in Wilmore, Kentucky. For the first week and a half of this outpouring, Asbury University intentionally chose not to livestream the revival (other than our previously scheduled student chapel services). Some in the crowds, however, were livestreaming non-stop.
We were concerned about the potential for abuse. Those who were unaware they were being filmed but were moved by the Spirit to repent publicly of their sins – even in a room of 1,500 people – were not expecting to later see their testimony spread to millions across the globe (including family far away who may not appreciate the personal revelations) or that their images may have been turned into memes. When we post under these conditions, we should consider posting short snippets of praise and worship so that God may be glorified. But we must be careful not to abuse others in our eagerness to share. Just because we can post intimate personal testimonies to social media does not mean that we should.
What Happens Next? There was a point when police officers had to close access to the main road into Wilmore. The town simply did not have capacity for more visitors.
The crowds were unsettling to some of our students, who found their routines significantly disrupted. Yet I was reminded that the newcomers were standing where we were two weeks previous when we drank deeply from the well of the Spirit – thirsty and desperate for a touch from God.
Our administrators did well to support the public longing for God, but they also recognized that this outpouring was not meant to remain here, but to spread. At one point, President Kevin Brown announced that the services at Asbury for the general public would end on Monday, February 20, although evening services for high school and college students were to be held through February 23. After that, services would need to continue at locations other than Asbury University.
This refreshing Spirit was not for us alone, and there is plenty to go around. Scripture is full of language describing the abundance of God: “hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).
The challenge occurred, however, after the flood waters receded. We must not forget that we are still trees planted by living water. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, even if we experience God in different ways on different days. We cannot forsake the normal means of grace in search of floodwaters alone. Our faith communities must disciple those who have found new life as a result of this outpouring. We need to teach Scripture in depth and provide small-group support and accountability to help people make sense of what they experienced and challenge them toward deeper relationships with Jesus.
This flood was meant to revive us for a purpose – to share the joy and the love of God with those living in a dark world. As the revival occurred, we simultaneously watched tens of thousands of dead being pulled from the rubble after the earthquake in Turkey and Syria. We witnessed several more mass shootings, including one on the campus of Michigan State University. We continue to see famine and poverty, addiction and despair, racism and sexism, abuse and ailments across the world and in our homes.
We needed this refreshing of the Spirit more than ever as a testimony that God has not abandoned this dark world. We tasted and saw that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8). This is the hope for a world gone wrong.
Our experience of this hope empowers us to go and preach the good news to the dying and the destitute, not only through our words, but also through our actions. God calls us to perfect love of both God and neighbor. If we keep this refreshing Spirit to ourselves, then we have missed the point. God gave us shalom – wholeness and healing and flourishing – so that we can bring the love of God to others. If we proclaim the love of Jesus but do not demonstrate God’s love by helping the poor and destitute, then we are nothing but a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal (1 Corinthians 13:1). God forbid that we turn these songs of praise into nothing more than a noisy interruption.
Suzanne Nicholson is Professor of New Testament at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky. Dr. Nicholson is an Elder in the Global Methodist Church and serves as Assistant Lead Editor of Firebrand. This essay has been adapted and republished by permission of Firebrand (firebrandmag.com).