On July 31, 2010, Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky married in an interfaith ceremony in Rhinebeck, New York. Reflecting on the joint United Methodist and Conservative Jewish service, The Daily Show host Jon Stewart said a few days later that the United Methodist Church “is like the University of Phoenix of religions.” The ensuing laugh was quite telling. The United Methodist Church has a public image of low expectations: Anyone can get in, and very little is expected of those who do.
We can’t get too defensive about the satire because folks within the church have certainly contributed to the negative perceptions held by people outside the church. However, the joke is not United Methodism; the joke is how poorly we sometimes embrace and embody our heritage of faith.
The weekend of this writing (in mid-January), I had the privilege of leading a retreat for the new church pastors all across our state. It’s inspiring to witness the depth of commitment and the breadth of sacrifice regularly made by people who, in large part, are some of the very newest members of our United Methodist family of faith. In contrast to Jon Stewart’s perspective, I offer these stories as a positive witness to the rigorous disciplines and the transformative impact of walking the “Wesleyan way.”
STORM (Service to Others in Relational Ministry) Faith Communities was founded five years ago as an association of house churches committed to “serving Jesus by serving others.” By living out its core values of simplicity, devotion, community, and service, half of all financial and volunteer contributions are channeled directly into local and global mission fields.
Mosaic organized itself four years ago around the common commitment to ministry with homeless youth in the north metro area. A food shelf for teens without proof of identity or residence is now in place. Mosaic is brokering community partnerships to establish the first safe house for sex-trafficked youth in the northwest suburbs.
Spirit River Community launched three years ago in an exurban county with the highest home foreclosure rate in the state of Minnesota. Bi-weekly grocery giveaways, legal aid open houses, and trained volunteers for supervised parental visitation are but a handful of the ministries that serve its community.
Korean Evangelical United Methodist Church rebirthed two years ago with a signature ministry of reaching student populations at the University of Minnesota. Volunteers drive vans for two round trips every Friday night to connect thirty first-generation Korean students with worship, Bible study, cultural experiences, common friendships, and a home away from home.
One year ago, the Life Rebuilders site of Crossroads Church became the destination for residents of halfway houses and group homes in downtown Minneapolis. People released from dependency treatment programs, prisons, and mental health centers gather for weekly worship, feeding the soul with testimonies of the life-transforming power of Christ, and feeding the body with a common meal.
These are just a few of the stories from more than twenty United Methodist faith communities that are less than seven years old. What if existing congregations leveraged their far-greater resources for such ministries of risk? It’s hard to laugh at a movement of the Holy Spirit that literally and figuratively saves lives. One of our church planters recently said, “We all come to church to be fed but wear an apron and not a bib!” In other words, the most satisfaction comes from serving and not from being served, by raising expectations for ministry rather than settling for the lowest common denominator. Such is the Wesleyan calling to both personal and social holiness—a calling that bids us take up not comedy but the cross!
Dan Johnson is now the Twin Cities District superintendent for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. He used to be director of congregational development and Reach • Renew • Rejoice.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church