Launching: toward the Automobile

*This post is one of several entitled “Launching” which present the American world that I think the  United Methodist Church, and the church in general, lives in and must respond to.*

There’s a lot of cars in America.

Why? Based on some simple research I can’t say that the car has ever gotten more affordable in relation to income. I’m led to believe that the rise of the car comes from post-WW2 realities that led to a more stable job market enabling families to feel more comfortable assuming some debt to purchase one – which led to easy financing for more sales, which led to an expanded used car market. Plus, the Interstate system enabled the rise of white-flight suburbs and our now sprawling roadway infrastructure.
Yet, in Levar Burton’s words, you don’t have to take my word for it. This is mostly based on some simple web search perusing.

Even still, the car and our road network has changed the way people live. Continue reading


To Call a Church a Family

More often than not, I’ve heard people talk about their church as a family – 1,000 member churches to 30 member churches.  Knowing that people have found a place where they feel included, comfortable and accepted is wonderful. After all, churches should be doing this well, be it in cities, suburbs or small towns.

But I wonder how this language influences our behavior.  After all, the language we use influences how we think and possibly act. Can the use of familial language be detrimental to our congregations and the mission of our churches?

As I’ve said, to be able to find one’s church a family is a great thing, especially in our more transient, dislocated culture. I love my family… even if they drive me nuts! But as great as families are, they are also familiar, exclusive, insular and protective. Continue reading

Why I’m a Methodist (or the UMC Identity that drew me back)

I grew up Methodist and then once in college I left.  I joined an evangelical campus ministry.

The campus ministry also led me to be involved in an evangelical church.   I think there was a Wesleyan group on campus.  But I don’t know what it did and I don’t know who was in it. My parents were never enthused about me being in either evangelical ministries and think they would have been happier had I hunted down the elusive Wesleyan group and figured out how to belong there.  

Instead, ministry and the church came to me, with open arms.  They offered a place to not only be passionate about my faith, but a way to understand the world through it and put it to work on campus.  I had never experienced any ministry doing that growing up.  It was nice to be wanted and it was nice to be given structure in which to view the world and work.

I took on the culture’s beliefs (theological and political) at first, but as I wrestled with them I grew to disagree with them. Yet, I didn’t know where else to turn. After all, I still didn’t know where the Wesleyan group was or what it did.  Further, I had a place in the community, but boundary markers being as they are with any tight knit culture, in order to belong you have to go along.  So I hid my disagreements. Continue reading

UMC: Identity Crisis and the Failure of Mission (especially to our children)

If it’s been said once, it’s been said a thousand times… the UMC, and the Mainline, has a 20-30 something problem.  Sunday morning is an increasingly grayer affair.  The young people we had are entering their 50s and their children aren’t replacing them.

Evangelicals don’t have it as bad, they’ve had better retention.  But this shouldn’t gloss over the fact that more Millennials are “nones” than are Evangelical.  Nonetheless, Evangelicals seem to have a certain sway over their children that Mainline churches don’t – Baby Boomers and Gen X included.
This RNS article on the similarities between Orthodox Jews/Evangelicals offers a clue.  Both are restrictive in theology and social norms, defining clear in and out groups.  And both seem to have better member retention.

I’m won’t praise harsh in/out group distinctions; they have negative effects, but they do enable teens and young adults to navigate the world nonetheless.  Definite in/out group markers aids in identity and community formation.  This is why those age groups are cliquish more so than older adults; it’s developmentally appropriate.   This is also why the restrictiveness of Evangelicalism and Orthodox Judaism enables strong, if tribalistic, identities and higher rates of ingroup member retention and devotion.

I speak from experience when I say the UMC has poor identity markers. Continue reading

The mission of the church (or my far too late critique of the UMC mission statement): Part 2

Using the UMC’s mission statement to assess the mission of the church, I continue from Part 1, “Making disciples of Jesus Christ”. The second part of the UMC mission statement is “for the transformation of the world”.

Whenever I have heard this mission statement chastised, it’s never the making disciples part, it’s always the transformation of the world part.  By and large everyone agrees that the church’s job is to make disciples, Scripture’s pretty blunt that we should be doing it and it’s logical, don’t make disciples and the faith dies when everyone else does.  It’s the attaching of an endgame where people start disagreeing and I can see two reasons as to why the statement’s goal of the world’s transformation is mocked. Continue reading

The mission of the church (or my far too late critique of the UMC mission statement): Part 1

What is the mission of the church?

Considering my allegiance to the United Methodist Church, I figured the easiest and most logical place to begin would be using the UMC’s mission statement as a starting point.  It helps that it is both succinct, but also local to global and present to future perspective.

The UMC mission has two parts the first being “Making disciples of Jesus Christ”.  There are other ways to state this mission, good Shepherd in Charlotte, NC puts it: “inviting all people into a living relationship with Jesus Christ” or and Assurance UMC in Huntersville states it as: “growing disciples of Jesus Christ”.  The different ways of stating it can enhance different ways the mission is understood, but from what I see, fundamentally, all three are essentially the same.
So, part of the mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ.  But what about making disciples of Jesus Christ is significant to the mission of the church? Continue reading