Editorial: Believe, Experience and Increase

Editorial: Believe, Experience and Increase

By Rob Renfroe

The bad news, as you know, is that the United Methodist Church is declining. Membership, attendance, and giving have all decreased. In fact, membership in the United States is at its lowest point since The Evangelical United Brethren and The Methodist Church merged in 1968.

The good news is that many of our denominational leaders are now talking about the decline openly and honestly—and it seems they are committed to doing something about it. They are to be commended. Of course the question is: What is to be done?

Several groups have been commissioned to address the issue, most notably the World Wide Nature of the Church task force and The Call to Action Committee. The WWN team has focused primarily on renewing the church through structural change. The CTA, which has only met twice and is still determining its direction, seems inclined to work on structural issues and to determine a list of metrics by which churches and pastors will be held accountable for being vital and vibrant congregations.

We are grateful for all who love our church enough to care about its vitality and its future. No doubt the structure of the church needs to be re-thought and reformed to be effective in reaching a changing world for Christ. John Wesley took the structure of the early Methodist movement seriously, as did Francis Asbury when he came to the American colonies. Because of their organizational genius, Methodism became more than a powerful but brief revival. It became an enduring force for spiritual renewal and social holiness on both sides of the Atlantic.

Believing that churches should grow and developing criteria by which congregations and pastors can be held accountable is not only justifiable—it’s important. Too much emphasis can be placed on numbers. But in the 8,200-member congregation I serve, we look at numbers all the time. Our senior pastor Ed Robb often says, “We count people because people count.” And we count how many people join every year; how many attend church, Sunday school, and small groups; how many are going on mission trips and serving the poor in our own community; and how many give regularly to God’s work, because all of those markers provide some indication of whether people are growing in their faith.

Structural change—certainly necessary. Markers to determine growth—important. But the United Methodist Church and its future will not be transformed by either.

What is required for United Methodism to become a powerful movement of God again cannot be engineered by task forces, boards and agencies, or denominational leaders. They can remove some barriers to growth and they can hold local churches accountable for growth. But they cannot produce the movement of God that will produce real growth and they cannot create the dynamic spiritual leaders who will lead local congregations in effective ministry.

The United Methodist Church will never see dynamic growth again until our pastors and our congregations:

Believe that people are lost without a saving faith in Jesus Christ. John Wesley instructed his preachers that they had nothing to do but to save souls. Of course, he was committed to helping the poor and transforming his culture. But his primary task for his preachers was to bring people to faith in Christ so that their souls could be saved from judgment and hell. I once sat in a meeting of 30 UM preachers who were asked why we need to take the gospel to people outside the church. Many answers were given but they all had a common theme—so people can have a better, more meaningful life. Not one said because their sins have separated them from a holy God and unless they come to faith in Christ they will spend eternity apart from his love. When the pastors believe that the main reason people need Christ is a quality of life issue—it does not create the passion or the urgency found in Wesley’s early preachers who believed that eternal souls were at stake.

Experience the anointing of the Holy Spirit. The work of the church is spiritual work. In fact, it is spiritual warfare. It will not be won in the flesh, no matter how well-meaning or how well-structured or how well-measured we are. When Jesus began his public ministry, in Luke chapter 4, he proclaimed, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me….” He did not begin his ministry until he was empowered by the Holy Spirit. Likewise, after his resurrection he told his disciples not to begin their ministry until the Holy Spirit had come upon them and they had received his power (Acts 1:8). God is free to anoint his preachers and his churches with the Spirit whenever he chooses. But the pattern we see in Scripture is that the power of the Holy Spirit most often comes when persons have committed themselves to times of prayer, worship, and fasting. Personal revival among our pastors, I believe, will be required before we see a revival in the true effectiveness of the church.

Increase their vision for ministry. Some of us by our inherent nature are more visionary than others. But all of us can become more visionary than we are at present. How do we do this? First and foremost, we get our eyes off ourselves and spend time contemplating a God who is sovereign, omnipotent, and passionate about lost people. He is a God who can overcome every obstacle we face and inadequacy we possess. Second, we must spend time looking at a world that is lost. When local congregations focus on themselves and their needs and their problems, they die. When they look at the world God loves and Christ died for, when they care about the lost and the hurting, and when they believe that others are more important than themselves (Philippians 2:3), their hearts and their vision are enlarged. And as a result, their mission increases in impact and effectiveness.

What can our leaders do to help the United Methodist Church grow? Yes, address structural concerns and the issue of accountability. But every bit as important, if not more so, they need to speak to us as if people without Christ are lost and souls matter; call us to prayer and worship and fasting—that we might experience the anointing of the Holy Spirit; use the resources of the church to bring us in contact with the most effective pastors in the country, men and women who are passionate visionaries whose love for God and the lost is inspiring and infectious.

Our leaders also need to pray for us. I’m sure they do already. But they need to pray for our pastors and our churches. This battle for an effective United Methodist Church that reaches the lost and impacts our culture will not be won by power or might, but by his Spirit.

Rob Renfroe is the President and Publisher of Good News.

Editorial: Believe, Experience and Increase

Actualizing the Holy Spirit

By Shane Raynor

I have a deep conviction that the answer to many of our struggles in the Christian faith lies in our understanding of the Holy Spirit. The walls we often hit (and who hasn’t hit a spiritual wall at some point?) would fall if we took full advantage of the very gift God gave to equip us for life and ministry. Most of us know all about the Holy Spirit. We’ve got the doctrine down, and if pressed we could express our understanding on some visually appealing PowerPoint slides, or at least in a few bullet points on a napkin at Denny’s. But how much of that knowledge is second-hand and how much is from experience?

The cable channel Court TV became truTV last year, and it adopted the tagline “Not Reality. Actuality.” The two words have similar meanings, but one goes a step further than the other. The definition of realize is “to grasp or understand clearly” or “to comprehend completely or correctly.” Actualize means “to make actual or real; turn into action or fact” or “to realize in action or make real.” While in a loose sense, the words could be considered synonymous, based on these definitions, I see actuality as more of a heightened reality. So I could realize something with my intellect, even with great conviction if God reveals it to me, but I don’t necessarily actualize it until I experience it. Confused? Let’s try to make sense of it.

The biggest obstacle I’ve hit in my own understanding of the Holy Spirit is that I sometimes forget that the third member of the Trinity is no less God than the Father and the Son. That means he’s infinite and somewhat unpredictable. It also means he can (and does) operate outside of my own doctrinal rigidity and the boxes I build to contain him. Even Pentecostals and charismatics sometimes try to domesticate the Holy Spirit! A little theology (or pneumatology to be more precise) can be a dangerous thing. When I take doctrine that I’ve learned, combine it with my personal experience, and then try to project it upon others as normative, I’m in danger of limiting God.

That being established, there are certain principles and patterns that are common in Christian practice. One is the principle of expectation. Hebrews 11:1 tells us, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” While God can and does go beyond our expectations, sometimes our lack of expectation contributes to disappointing outcomes. I’m reminded of Jesus’ inability to heal in Nazareth (Mark 6:5). Mark doesn’t directly say that the reason is their lack of faith, but Matthew does. “And he did not do many deeds of power there, because of their unbelief” (Matthew 13:58). That’s pretty much explicit. I wonder how many of us don’t see much of God’s power because we don’t expect to see it.

In Acts 8, Peter and John pray for the Samaritans to receive the Holy Spirit by placing their hands on them. In Acts 19, Paul does the same with some disciples in Ephesus. The Ephesians may not have completely understood the Gospel at that point, but Acts 8 tells us that there were true believers among the Samaritans. But even so, they didn’t receive the power of the Holy Spirit until Peter and John showed up.

So what does this mean for Christians today? The Holy Spirit is indwelling every believer and working at some level, but I don’t think all believers have actualized the equipping power of the Holy Spirit. (Maybe some of us haven’t even realized that such power exists.) Some people use different terminology here (baptism with the Holy Spirit, release of the Holy Spirit), but the important thing is the principle itself. If we don’t see clear evidence of the Holy Spirit empowering us for service, I think we can ask God for this power. And we can seek out Spirit-filled Christians to pray for us to receive this power. Luke 11:9-13 tells us to keep asking, and guarantees that God will give us what we ask for, not something else.

Shane Raynor is a writer and publisher based in Austin, Texas. He is a certified lay speaker in the United Methodist Church and blogs regularly at www.WesleyReport.com.

World Mission in the Wesleyan Spirit

For years, missions-minded, evangelical Christians from the United Methodist and Wesleyan traditions yearned for a faith-based agency reflecting their priorities that would send missionaries to the largely unreached areas of the world to do evangelism, discipleship, church planting, and leadership training. Critics said it couldn’t be done, or that there was no need for such an agency. But the visionaries persisted, founding The Mission Society (www.themissionsociety.org) in 1984.

As was reported in the cover story in the last issue of Good News, The Mission Society has grown like a mustard seed. Today the agency recruits, trains and sends Christian missionaries to minister around the world.  The Mission Society has more than 200 missionaries in 36 countries. It develops diverse programs and ministries in accordance with its missionaries’ unique callings and gifts, ranging from well drilling and the arts to more traditional ministries, such as teaching English and church planting.  Its church ministry department provides seminars, workshops, and mentoring for congregations in the United States and overseas, helping equip churches for strategic outreach in their communities and throughout the world.

“The Mission Society has become a global entity, responding to spiritual and material needs throughout the world,” said Dr. Gerald H. Anderson, director emeritus of the Overseas Ministries Study Center in New Haven, Conn. and former United Methodist missionary. “While retaining its Wesleyan ethos and heritage, The Mission Society has expanded beyond its initial United Methodist orbit. Today it is working with 14 different denominations and independent churches, and its missionaries come from many different denominational traditions.”

Anderson is co-editor (along with Darrell Whiteman, PhD., Mission Society resident missiologist) of a new book that was released on September 11, World Mission in the Wesleyan Spirit, in which 31 scholars and Christian leaders examine how Wesleyan theological orientation has shaped the practice of world missions.  Collectively, their essays examine the past, present, and future directions of world missions and provide the most comprehensive account of Wesleyan influence on world missions and evangelism published in the past 50 years.

World Mission in the Wesleyan Spirit is published by Providence House Publishers. To order, visit www.providencehouse.com or fax order requests to 615-771-2002.