Foreword

Acknowledgements

Julie

Visible Problem Indicators

Stewardship

Agents of Change - Issues

Institutional Dynamics

The Institutional and the Local Church

Operative Theology

Prognosis for the Future

Revival - What is Needed?

Closing Remarks

Appendix B
The Methodist Syndrome
by Philip K. Shriver

I love my small community United Methodist Church. Our congregation would be considered more elderly than youthful or middle-aged--a characteristic probably common to most of our smaller churches today. They are a caring, compassionate group of Christians. Within their limited resources, they support their local church, and conscientiously, if somewhat dubiously, strive to provide their share of financial giving for apportionments and mission outreach.

When I look at my church in relation to the whole United Methodist Church with its seemingly infinite bureaucracy and controversial direction, we seem comfortably far removed, but I know we, and many thousands of churches like us, are, in reality, the understructure supporting the sprawling entity that the whole world views as the United Methodist Church. I don't really want to be seen as a part of that church. I want to be seen as a part of my church. And therein lies the problem facing so many of us today. It's a problem that should not exist, and would not exist but for my generation's blind faith in all things labeled Methodist.

We were, for the most part, born Methodists; belonged to the Epworth League; supported real, live Methodist missionaries; listened to Biblical preaching; and really experienced a great joy in the church culminating at Christmas and Easter. God and Country was more than a Scouting award earned through great effort. The words went together like meat and potatoes. Fourth of July and Armistice Day services were gems of oratory blending our spiritual and nation-heritage. No questions existed on matters of World Service expenditures. The Methodist missionaries who received the congregation's outreach dollars visited the church and talked to us about how our money was serving God. Methodist missionaries seemed to be everywhere.

Beyond a loyalty to America, we didn't know our pastor's political views. More importantly, we didn't care. They came to us only as spiritual leaders, counselors, and friends--responsibilities prayerfully undertaken and well-met.

We considered ourselves, basically, a conservative, evangelical church, and were so judged by the rest of society. Being Methodist was as natural as being French, or English, or German, or any other nationality or combination of nationalities.

Such was the church background of the middle-aged core of the Methodist Church when traditional mores began to crumble. The first readily recognizable signs of change appeared in the early sixties. We were made uneasy with newspaper stories invariably depicting the Methodist Church out on the liberal/left fringe with some, for us, rather alarming companions. We lulled ourselves with the knowledge that these news items concerned only actions taken by selected committees or commissions within the church bureaucracy. We were, after all, the real Methodist Church--the conservative, evangelical Methodist Church.

One-quarter of a century later, most of us still remain, still call ourselves Methodists, still live in another time, and still will not face the fact that our church is fast disappearing. Some of our number, perhaps more discerning than us, departed, seeking in other denominations, what we once were. Our youth left in droves, my own six children among them. Some of us stayed in defiance of what we perceived was happening. Some of us simply found it easier to stay than to go. But most of all, we stayed because from time long past, we were Methodist as surely as we were American.

If ever a silent majority should have made a noise, it was during the past twenty-five years in our own church. With our silence, we gave tacit approval to the direction our church was taking. Worse, with our money, we supported the hierarchy and financed their experimentations with contractual missionary work, liberation theology, and political activism. Now, our time is short. When we have gone, the last visage of that Methodist Church we remember will be gone with us. If that is good, then we should continue to be silent and generous. If, however, the old ways are worthy of return, we should stop biting our tongues and speak out.

I have noted that whenever I have taken exception, through whatever avenue was open to me, of the official United Methodist position on any one of many controversial issues, members whose thoughts I would never have guessed, speak quietly to me of their general agreement of my assessment. That's encouraging to know, but speaking quietly among ourselves will not change the direction of those who make policy in the church. Start with your minister. He/she deserves to know how you feel about the church's involvement in politics, protest marches, boycotts, strikes, and civil disobedience. Tell them how you feel about our official affinity to liberation theology. (If the term is unfamiliar to you, go to the public library.) Tell them if you would be more at ease giving to Methodist missionaries than to the National Council of Churches of Christ. Tell them if you think the Bible is fine without rewriting.

Then begin to write. Write to your District Superintendent, your Conference, your Bishop, and the Methodist publications. Write action items for your Annual Conference. Make your ideas and your presence felt. You are regularly asked by various church-affiliated groups to write letters to your congressional delegation and the President on political issues. How much more important is it to reclaim your church? The same strategies that moved the church to the left with a minority of members can return it with a majority membership more inclined to the middle of the road.

No great organizations, be they business empires or churches, can exist without funds. "Money talks" is a truism at the highest reaches of the United Methodist Church just as well as it is in the boardrooms of our great corporations.

You have every right to expect your giving to the church to be used in a manner consistent with your personal beliefs on how it can best do the Lord's will. Since the physical and spiritual needs of our world far surpass our abilities to meet them, no reason exists for the support of controversial, politically motivated causes. If you must, make your giving your voice. If your protests go unanswered or ignored, explore new channels for your giving. God is served in many ways. Never lessen your giving, and always support the local church, but you might find apportionments, other than Ministerial Support, less attractive than in the past. For example, you might be more comfortable with the Mission Society for United Methodists than with the NCCC through World Service. There are many avenues of giving to the Lord's work outside the official United Methodist Church. Ironically, using them might bring the church back closer to its Wesleyan foundations.

We oldsters are a very significant force within the church, and if we choose to flex our muscle, there is no question that we can bring back United Methodist evangelism dedicated to combating today's secularism rather than striving to co-exist. "meth-syn"


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