One of the common reflections about spiritual community that I hear these days goes something like this: “I’m committed to the health and vitality of my local church. That’s where I focus my resources for ministry—the denomination isn’t important to me.”
I get it. Whether it’s history of abuse, disparity of values, mistrust of leadership, bureaucratic red tape, or any of a number of other obstacles, the average Christian often sees little value in spiritual community beyond his or her own sphere of personal relationship and control. Denominationalism seems irrelevant at best and irremissible at worst.
But when did isolation become the posture for ministry? When did autonomy become the foundation for community? Independence breeds alienation; inter-dependence breeds reconciliation. “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us” (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).
A hope-filled antidote to a world of terror-inducing polarization and harmony-reducing individualization is the connectional system of the United Methodist Church. Embedded in our very identity is a model for living that directs not just personal belief, but collective behavior. The clarity of head, the passion of heart, and the efficacy of hands are all empowered by connection to the network of the faithful. I truly believe that our United Methodist message of witness and our medium of work offer a unique path that transforms lives and systems.
The vows of United Methodist membership often get glossed over in the busy context of public worship. Of course those vows include faith in a triune God, commitment to the church universal, and the promise to participate in the ministries of our local church through our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. But we also vow to “be loyal to the United Methodist Church, and do all in [our] power to strengthen its ministries.” Yes, at our core, United Methodists pledge to be connected with one another. Across broad geographic, demographic, economic, sociological, and theological spectrums, we seek relationship and common ground.
It has been a blessing for me to offer leadership to Reach • Renew • Rejoice over the past year. This seven-year congregational development initiative for starting new churches and revitalizing existing churches isn’t just a plan for institutional growth; it embodies a vision that United Methodists of all stages and stripes can join together to grow in love of God and neighbor, reach new people, and heal a broken world. In fact, we not only can do this together, we must, because this God-sized dream is far larger than what any one individual or church can accomplish alone!
So far, two-thirds of our Minnesota Conference churches have scheduled dates to hear the Reach •? Renew •? Rejoice story. About one-third of our churches have received the presentation from a district steering team member and have made a pledge or are prayerfully considering the challenge to become a tithe goal partner. We’re already nearing the halfway mark to our “rejoice” goal of $3.7 million. Even more inspiring is the depth of conversation these presentations stir about our collective mission as a United Methodist movement in Minnesota!
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