A Modest Proposal for Missional Evangelists in North America and throughout the World

Let me acknowledge from the onset that I am writing with a focus on The United Methodist Church today in North America. United Methodists in Africa and Asia, in my opinion, have much to teach us in the US. In future blogs I will share my thoughts about how

What can we do today to reconnect our church to God, our leaders, our young people and our neighbors?

In the document attached to my last blog, you’ll find a modest proposal for missional evangelists. It represents one way to live out the Wesleyan mission to offer Christ to our families, friends, and neighbors, and to the world. It addresses the primary need today: to reconnect mission and evangelism with discipleship and spiritual formation. Let me explain.

In early Methodism, the Wesley brothers and those who chose to join with them had a clear focus on mission and evangelism. They said, “We would rather keep one than win three.” They understood that evangelism was initial spiritual direction with a clear path to the goal of spiritual maturity, spiritual adulthood, and generativity. For example, read this quotation from John Wesley’s Journal for 25 August 1763, and reflect on your own congregation, district, or annual conference:

I was more convinced than ever that the preaching like an apostle, without joining together those that are awakened and training them up in the ways of God, is only begetting children for the murderer. How much preaching has there been for these twenty years all over Pembrokeshire! But no regular societies, no discipline, no order or connexion; and the consequence is that nine in ten of the once-awakened are now faster asleep then ever.

Today, my perception is that United Methodists in the US are more asleep than ever. We would rather attract three and then hope they will stay because we offer multiple classes, courses, and diverse experiences. We have no “regular societies, no discipline, no order or connexion.” We offer no clear path from spiritual birth to healthy growth, maturity, and spiritual adulthood. Evangelism is a word that is no longer understood, embraced, or pursued. Our people are not sure how to do evangelism, on the one hand. On the other, they are sure they do not want to do something wrong in offering Christ to others — so they do nothing in order to avoid doing the wrong thing. When was the last time you heard the witness of someone who recently experienced repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation with God through faith in Jesus Christ (being born again and born from above)? When have you heard a spiritual “father” or “mother” describe the joy of his or her participation in the miracle of redemption, reconciliation, and new birth? Do the leaders, teachers, and youth workers of your congregation tell stories of joy when “newborn babies” take their first spiritual steps and progress from the milk of the word to feed themselves on the meat of the word of God? When do those who have grown up spiritually to be young men and young women in our congregations describe the joy of overcoming the world, the flesh, and the devil?

In my proposal for missional evangelists, you’ll see a way to intimately connect mission and evangelism with spiritual formation and discipleship through spiritual practice, mentors, formative experiences, deep listening, active engagement with community, and theological reflection. The model is rooted in the local context and vitally connected to the local body of Christ. It is intergenerational, in the same way that early Methodism was intergenerational. It is personal because it uses a neighborhood guide to connect missional evangelists with the people of the community through asset mapping and affirmative inquiry. The proposal engages young people in mission and evangelism, along with adult partners and mentors. The living example of the missional evangelism team models for the local church — authentic ways to know, love, and serve their neighbors — incarnational evangelism.

Please read the proposal and help me refine it.

  1. Is it conceptually clear and understandable? If not, what is needed to make it better?
  2. Is it adequate? Is there something missing that would keep it from being faithful to our Wesleyan DNA and effective in our current context in North America?
  3. Is it compelling? If time and money were not obstacles, would you be willing to give a year of your life to this form of missional evangelism? Would you be willing to encourage your students, your family members to give a year to this after graduation from high school, college, graduate school, or retirement?

I look forward to reading your responses and discerning together a Wesleyan way for The United Methodist Church in the US to become more vital, faithful, joyful, and fruitful in God’s mission to seek and to save those who are the least, the lost, the lonely — along with those who apathetic, bored, underemployed, unchallenged, uninspired, and directionless; and also the creative, energetic, strong, and courageous who need a God-sized mission in the world God loves.

A Modest Proposal

One of the most pressing needs in The United Methodist Church today is to reconnect with the world that God created and loves. As George Morris and Eddie Fox reminded us many years ago, the God of the Bible is a “missionary God.” God is seeking the children who are the least, the lost and the lonely. I would say that if we are not engaged in the mission of God, we will never enter fully into the will of God and we will not experience the blessing that comes from joyful obedience.

Over the past 30 years, I have read every early Methodist letter, diary, and journal that I could find in Britain and North America — and I am personally convinced that any expression of the Methodist movement that separates mission and evangelism from spiritual formation and discipleship diminishes our spiritual DNA and distorts our history. What can we do today to reconnect our church to our missionary God, who, in Christ, calls us to pray and live in the fullness of the Holy Spirit and in the integrity of love for God and neighbor?

I don’t need to remind seminarians that the Methodist movement began as a youth movement with few university graduates, including John and Charles Wesley. It quickly gathered the support of adults who wanted to grow in their understanding and experience of God, living in intentional relationships defined by the three general rules and three simple structures. The general rules are: (1) Do no harm, (2) do good, and (3) actively participate in all the means of grace. These general rules guided young people to active engagement in the Methodist mission to do good to the bodies and souls of their neighbors, friends, and families. The five simple structures were: (1) the trial band where people could demonstrate their readiness to engage in spiritual practice and intentional mission; (2) the class meeting for those who passed the test of readiness to grow and engaged them in an intentional experience of small group spiritual formation; (3) the band meeting for the men and women, married and single, who were indeed “born again” and now in need of spiritual nurture and guidance toward spiritual adulthood; (4) the select society or select band, the setting where men and women received spiritual “meat” instead of “milk” and could actively engage in loving God and neighbor with all their hearts, all their strength and all their minds; and (5) “leaders meeting,” where leaders could speak honestly about the issues of the Methodist “society” and the particular area where they were assigned to lead and serve. When John, Charles, or other “assistants” arrived in a city, the first group they met with was the “leaders” of the classes, bands, stewards, etc. By listening to them, they had a quick and thorough orientation to the current reality and spiritual challenges of the local Methodist Society. Then John, Charles, or their assistants could bring their knowledge of God, the Bible, church history, and theology into the local context appropriately.

So, the key question is: Knowing our spiritual and structural DNA, what difference will it make in your ministry? In mine? And in The United Methodist Church today?

How can we reconnect with our leaders? Our neighbors and our young people? In my next blog, I’ll reflect on the Methodist way to meaningfully engage our young people, reconnect with our neighbors, and become an authentically global church.

If you are interested in a preview, you can download this proposal.

A Modest Proposal

One of the most pressing needs in The United Methodist Church today is to reconnect with the world that God created and loves. As George Morris and Eddie Fox reminded us many years ago, the God of the Bible is a “missionary God.” God is seeking the children who are the least, the lost and the lonely. I would say that if we are not engaged in the mission of God, we will never enter fully into the will of God and we will not experience the blessing that comes from joyful obedience.

Over the past 30 years, I have read every early Methodist letter, diary, and journal that I could find in Britain and North America — and I am personally convinced that any expression of the Methodist movement that separates mission and evangelism from spiritual formation and discipleship diminishes our spiritual DNA and distorts our history. What can we do today to reconnect our church to our missionary God, who, in Christ, calls us to pray and live in the fullness of the Holy Spirit and in the integrity of love for God and neighbor?

I don’t need to remind seminarians that the Methodist movement began as a youth movement with few university graduates, including John and Charles Wesley. It quickly gathered the support of adults who wanted to grow in their understanding and experience of God, living in intentional relationships defined by the three general rules and three simple structures. The general rules are: (1) Do no harm, (2) do good, and (3) actively participate in all the means of grace. These general rules guided young people to active engagement in the Methodist mission to do good to the bodies and souls of their neighbors, friends, and families. The five simple structures were: (1) the trial band where people could demonstrate their readiness to engage in spiritual practice and intentional mission; (2) the class meeting for those who passed the test of readiness to grow and engaged them in an intentional experience of small group spiritual formation; (3) the band meeting for the men and women, married and single, who were indeed “born again” and now in need of spiritual nurture and guidance toward spiritual adulthood; (4) the select society or select band, the setting where men and women received spiritual “meat” instead of “milk” and could actively engage in loving God and neighbor with all their hearts, all their strength and all their minds; and (5) “leaders meeting,” where leaders could speak honestly about the issues of the Methodist “society” and the particular area where they were assigned to lead and serve. When John, Charles, or other “assistants” arrived in a city, the first group they met with was the “leaders” of the classes, bands, stewards, etc. By listening to them, they had a quick and thorough orientation to the current reality and spiritual challenges of the local Methodist Society. Then John, Charles, or their assistants could bring their knowledge of God, the Bible, church history, and theology into the local context appropriately.

So, the key question is: Knowing our spiritual and structural DNA, what difference will it make in your ministry? In mine? And in The United Methodist Church today?

How can we reconnect with our leaders? Our neighbors and our young people? In my next blog, I’ll reflect on the Methodist way to meaningfully engage our young people, reconnect with our neighbors, and become an authentically global church.

If you are interested in a preview, you can download this proposal.

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