Archive: Faith Crisis in the Methodist Ministry

By Charles W. Keysor, Editor

Crisis is all about us, it seems. Church leaders wax eloquent about an assortment of woes:
*Shortage of ministers.
*Dwindling professions of faith.
*Sagging church school attendance.
*Rejection of the church by young adults and teens.
*Failure to be involved in the so-called “gut issues” of poverty, race, war and de-humanization.

All these are real crises. But we hear nobody saying much about THE crisis which is the root cause of all the rest: the faith crisis in our ministry.

Jesus said, “one blind man cannot lead another one; if he does, both will fall into the ditch.” (Luke 6:39). And the “ditch” of faith-lessness is where we find ourselves today, as United Methodists.

Ask the laymen who hear their preachers declaring, “Jesus Christ is not necessary.”

Ask the minister who was voted into full conference membership without ever being questioned about the nature of his faith.

Ask the grieving widow who received this consolation from a “relevant” minister:  “Everlasting life is a myth … a superstition of the 19th century. Nobody knows what happens after death.”

Ask the teen-agers who were encouraged by their adult counselor at a Methodist camp to swim nude—boys and girls together.

Ask any believer who has experienced three years in a Methodist seminary.

Ask the congregations who have heard ministers insist that Playboy Magazine is more important than the Bible, as a vehicle of truth.

Ask the delegation of Methodist laymen who, in consternation, heard their own bishop admit that he was powerless to deal with faith-deficient ministers under his supervision.

To all whose heads are not hopelessly buried in illusion, the ministerial faith crisis is a malignant reality. Its bitter fruit is everywhere … at all levels.

The problem, of course, is that ministers who are deficient in New Testament faith breed faith-deficient congregations. And so it goes ad infinitum—a vicious circle of unbelief that grows more serious with each passing generation.

The first step in meeting any crisis is to recognize that there is a crisis. For this reason, “Good News” offers on the following pages a seven-part feature on Methodism’s faith crisis.

The causes of this crisis go back many years, to a gradual abandonment of the whole New Testament Gospel, starting before 1800. Progressively, little-by-little, Methodism drifted away from its sound Wesleyan heritage. Decade after decade, seminaries and the ministry led Methodism farther and farther away from “Christ and Him crucified” …  toward the current attitude of “Christ is not necessary.” Those interested in the sorry story ought to read and ponder, “The Theological Transition In American Methodism” by Robert E. Childs. (Abingdon 1965, $4.00).

The causes of our ministerial faith crisis are complex, deep-rooted, and longstanding. But common-sense points to some sound principles that could help solve the problem.

First: Methodist seminaries ought to strengthen Christian faith in budding ministers …  not uncertainty, bitterness, doctrinal ignorance, and hatred for the Church of Jesus Christ. (See page 16).

Second: Boards of Ministerial Training and Qualification should demand that all candidates for Methodist ordination understand and believe “our doctrines,” as specified in our Articles of Religion.

Third: Every ordained Methodist minister ought to be required a glad, spontaneous, and genuine personal confession of faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.

Fourth: Ministers not able to make this minimal New Testament faith-profession should be relieved of their credentials until conversion has become a fact. (Are empty pulpits more to be feared than faith-less preachers? Certainly there are many laymen able to preach the Good News.)

Fifth: Let bishops and district superintendents lay aside less vital matters and concentrate on strengthening the faith of ministers in their charge.

Sixth: Let ministers come together for prayer, study and discussion of the faith. Declare a moratorium on conference gossip, ecclesiastical politics, and griping about low salaries.

Seventh: Let ministers who already know Christ help other ministers experience the new birth.

Eighth: Let laymen be aware that large numbers of ministers privately doubt or deny the faith professed at ordination.

Ninth: Let laymen minister to faith-deficient pastors in a Christ-like spirit. Remember that two laymen of the First Century, Priscilla and Aquila, helped an off-beat preacher named Apollos by explaining “to him more correctly the Way of God.” (Acts 18:26).

Tenth: Let all God’s people pray without ceasing that God will increase the faith of His ministers. (Would the faith crisis have developed in our ministry if multitudes of laymen had prayed faithfully for their ministers?)

Eleventh: Let each local church exercise care in “launching” candidates into the ministry. Be sure each person seeking church endorsement knows Christ through vital experience and is basically grounded in the essential truths of Scripture.

Too often the local church has defaulted in Its crucial role as “first hurdle” into the ministry. The demands of the Gospel must become a reality at every step in the long process of preparing men to serve Christ as ordained ministers of the United Methodist Church. We must wake up to the crippling faith crisis that has brought the Church to open apostasy.

We must face this crisis boldly. Guided by the Holy Spirit, we must seek what is best for the Kingdom of God, the Church, and the persons who are involved. Impossible? Too huge a task?

The Lord of the Church reminds us, “This is impossible for men; but for God everything is possible.” (Matthew 19:26).


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