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To Bishop W. Kenneth Goodson, whose love for The United
Methodist Church inspires hope and assurance.


United Methodists decline, signs of it are everywhere, a staggering loss of membership, the erosion of the Sunday school, a pervasive sense that the church is not meetng the spiritual needs of people.

What can be done?

"Rekindling the Flame" offers specific, workable strategies for United Methodist specific, workable strategies for United Methodist resurgency. William H. Willimon and Robert L. Wilson take a hard look at a church in crisis and show clergy, church professionals and laypeople exactly what they must do to get the church moving again. They discuss the need to:

  • Simplify local church structure
  • Develop leaders rather than managers
  • Recover the true purpose of the church
  • Insist that clergy be teachers in the parish
  • Abolish the minimum salary for clergy
  • Recover the centrality of Sunday morning

"Rekindling the Flame" is essential reading for every person seeking effective solutions to the critical problems now facing The United Methodist Church.

Preachers often fail to speak out on controversial issues and keep their sermons safe and comfortable, not because they are afraid of their parishioners' rage, but because they have learned to love their people. Every preacher knows how tough it is to say unpleasant things to beloved people. As United Methodist elders who love our church, we wrote this book, not because we wanted to - for it is tough for us to say unpleasant things to those we love - but because we felt that someone must speak up.

We are convinced that The United Methodist Church faces a crisis unequaled to any since the schism preceding the Civil War. The continued membership decline is the major symptom of this crisis, but the issues are deeper and more complex than the loss of members. In any organization, when things are not going well, there are always those who urge silence, unquestioning loyalty, and the suppression of all criticism. But our church is too important to be allowed to wither if there is some means of giving it new life. In good conscience, we could not remain silent.

This book is based on three assumptions: First, the crisis in the church is much more serious than many people realize. No defenses or alibis can hide the fact that, if we continue in the future as we have in the recent past, our church will no longer be viable and effective. Second, God still has a use, perhaps even a need, for The United Methodist Church. We are confident that the people known as United Methodists continue to be called to witness and to serve, to be a unique manifestation of the universal body of Christ. Third, there are specific steps that will not only contribute to a reversal of the present downward spiral, but will also make the church more faithful and effective. The good news is that our church already is blessed with the structure, the message, and the people to change direction. Action will not be easy, but the alternative of continuing our present course is unthinkable.

In the pages that follow, we shall challenge some of the current assumptions operating in our denomination. Some of our recommendations will challenge the vested interests of powerful groups within our church. We are prayerfully convinced that these honest challenges are needed to encourage healthy dialogue and debate ... and action.

It is a formidable undertaking to recommend strategies for so vast an institution as The United Methodist Church. We bring to this task broad experience in and wide knowledge of the church. One of us has had a decade and a half as pastor, seminary teacher, and lecturer; the other has had three decades of experience as pastor, teacher, and researcher. We have been privileged to visit in nearly every conference of The United Methodist Church and have studied hundreds of individual congregations. Together, we have written over thirty books, but none of more importance to us and, we believe, to the church than this one.

This book would not have been possible without the encouragement and assistance of a great many people. We are particularly appreciative of our colleagues at Duke University for their insights. A special word of thanks is due Candice Y. Sloan of the J.M. Ormond Center for Research, Planning, and Development, who assisted with the research and preparation of the manuscript.

In his book, And Are We Yet Alive, Bishop Richard B. Wilke has vividly demonstrated the crisis within United Methodism, warning that the church is sick unto death. The diagnosis has been made; now corrective action must be taken.


Permission has been granted to reproduce this book onto
the website by Dr. William H. Willimon.

Copyright© 1987 By Abingdon Press

All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage or retrieval system, except as may be expressly permitted by the 1976 Copyright Act or in writing from the publisher. Requests for permission should be addressed in writing to Abingdon Press, 201 8th Avenue South, Nashville, TN 37202.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Willimon, William H.

 Rekindling the Flame
1. Church renewal-United Methodist Church (U.S.)
2. United Methodist Church (U.S.)
3. Methodist Church-United States.
I. Wilson, Robert Leroy, 1925- II. Title.
BX8382.2.W56 1987287'.687-1795
ISBN 0-687-35932-5 (alk. paper)

Scripture quotations in this publication are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, Copyrighted 1946, 1952, © 1971, 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.

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