Pastoring in the Next Methodism

Over the last few weeks we’ve seen a new trend in the UMC blogosphere, a fun thought exercise dubbed “The Next Methodism.”  Pastors, professors, and laity have been offering their hopes and dreams for the United Methodist Church, which usually entails getting back to our roots, both in the early church as well as the early Methodist Movement.  Most of the writers long for the time when our movement was still a movement … Vibrant and growing, attending to the means of grace, creating close community, and reaching new people in the name of Jesus with our specific brand of holiness.

Here is my offering: the Next Methodism is already here. 

And I had the great privilege to pastor within it for the last year.

From July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017 I served as a Path1 High Impact Church Planting Resident at Union Coffee, a new UMC church start in north Dallas.  A coffee shop, a non-profit, and a super-Methodist faith community.

But it doesn’t look like it.  At least, not until you dig in.  After all, how many UMCs are open from 7am to 10pm just about every day, inviting the whole neighborhood in to live, work, and drink amazing coffee?  Of course, there’s worship too … Just not on Sunday mornings.  Worship is Sunday night and Tuesday night, and entirely contextual to the communities they reach.

The Next Methodism is already here.  Here are a few things that I’ve found, that my peers across the connection think aren’t already here in abundance:

The Next Methodism is incarnational.  Union looks like its neighborhood and desires to incarnate Christ for all people who walk through the doors. It invites people in from all walks of life to get their work done, meet new people in a safe place, and grow new community.  Nonprofits startup within Union on a regular basis.  Study groups from local universities and high schools are always meeting.  Bible studies connected to Union and other faith communities are consistently happening.

The Next Methodism is collaborative.  At Union, things are collaborative from the bottom up.  Sermons are participatory and include the whole room.  Offering time always includes a testimony.  Worship is planned every Sunday afternoon by a planning teams cultivated from each service.  And planning meetings always include healthy critique of the previous week – did the message hit all the points?  Did the music strike the right notes?  Did anybody feel marginalized?  And any initiatives at Union, from small groups to clubs are lay-led with the support of the pastor.  Which brings us to the next thing:

The Next Methodism is younger.  Union is 95% 21-27 year olds, almost entirely millennials.  How is that possible?  They get to lead, they aren’t talked down to, they aren’t treated like children, or token young adults on some committee.  They are the church.  Entrepreneurial spirits are allowed to thrive at Union, where our young people are given the latitude to lead at every step, from worship, to the governing board; in all things.  Which leads to the next thing:

The Next Methodism focuses on apostleship.  Disciples are cultivated at Union, yes, but the average 20-something doesn’t stay in any one place for more than 2-3 years.  So, you have to pour into them as much as you can while you have them.  Leaders at Union are raised up for the good of the WHOLE church, not just for Union – because they’re going to leave.  And not only that, in Union’s almost five years of existence, it’s baptized many, and sent a half dozen young adults into seminary and the UMC ordination process.  There’s also an entire small group at Union of just local youth ministers – young adults that don’t find a whole lot of community in their local churches.  Leaders at Union are raised to be sent into the churches and communities wherever they may land in life to do good in the name of Jesus.

The Next Methodism is boundary-breaking.  When your church is open to the community all day, without locks on the doors, when it doesn’t look like the usual church, your neighborhood might be more likely to stroll in.  Still, it’s hard work to build a diverse community across every boundary society and history has put in place.  Honest evaluation, giving the mic to marginalized people, and vulnerable storytelling have led to a more diverse community at Union than in many other places.  The Next Methodism is also open to listening to an answering questions of belief, the Bible, anything, without cookie-cutter answers. Every-other month or so at Union, the message is given entirely over to the questions of the people – Stump the Pastor.  And anything is on the table to be asked.  If we want to break barriers between the sacred and the profane, the generations, whatever, we have to take questions seriously.

The Next Methodism is sacramental.  Life-giving Holy Communion is shared in every worship gathering at Union, and in United Methodist fashion is offered to all who would want to know the love of Jesus more.  Communion at Union is truly celebrated as a gift from our savior to bring people together in safety, to send them out in the world in his name.  Our liturgies are done in an improv style each week, done off the cuff in a way that brings the threads of worship together and offer God’s healing grace.  And baptisms … let’s just say that when our young adults are baptized at Union, they don’t get sprinkled.

These are just a few of my thoughts, long as this post is.  Those that might be struggling to see a future for Methodism need to remember that we only see through the mirror dimly, that more is being revealed to us everyday, by the power of the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit is leading the UMC through innovation at this very moment – and she’s not creating something out of nothing.  The Spirit is creating in the UMC – now.  The Next Methodism is already here, and it sure is good.

If you don’t believe me, check out Flipping Church, edited by Union’s Community Curator and pastor, Rev. Mike Baughman.  It shares a few things that are fun about Union and also gathers stories of innovative pastors and churches from across the UMC connection.

Because the Next Methodism is also connectional.  We aren’t just connected by doctrine and polity, either.  We’re connected by stories, God’s saving story in which we all get to take part.