The #UMCGC of "Go" Misses the Church of "Be"?

The emphasis/theme of General Conference is on of "Therefor Go". Sermons and rallying cries are around the standard of "Go". It is a big tent theme where all sorts of people are getting behind. There is a strong sense that the UMC is at her best when we "Go" into the world to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world. That is a noble goal and theme. I wonder, with so much focus to "Go" are we overlooking "Be"? 

It is great to have social action, but action without contemplation (a Richard Rohr major theme) we are missing the point. Perhaps it is worth allowing the good Father to share in his own words from May 13, 2016 devotion:

I used to think that most of us must begin with contemplation or a unitive encounter with God and are then led through that experience to awareness of the suffering of the world and to solidarity with that suffering in some form of action. I do think that's true for many people, but as I read the biblical prophets and observe Jesus' life, I think it also happens in reverse: first action, and then needed contemplation.
No life is immune from suffering. When we are in solidarity with pain, injustice, war, oppression, colonization--the list goes on and on--we face immense pressure to despair, to become angry or dismissive. When reality is split dualistically between good and bad, right and wrong, we too are torn apart. Yet when we are broken, we are most open to contemplation, or non-dual thinking. We are desperate to resolve our own terror, anger, and disillusionment, and so we allow ourselves to be led into the silence that holds everything together in wholeness.
The contemplative, non-dual mind is not saying, "Everything is beautiful," even when it's not. However, you do come to "Everything is still beautiful" by facing the conflicts between how reality is and how you wish it could be. In other words, you have to begin--and most people do in their adult years--with dualistic problems. You've got to name good and evil and differentiate between right and wrong. You can't be naive about evil. But if you stay focused on this duality, you'll go crazy! You'll become an unlovable, judgmental, dismissive person. I've witnessed this pattern in myself. You must eventually find a bigger field, a wider frame, which we call non-dual thinking.
Beginning with dualistic action and moving toward contemplation seems to be the more common path in the modern era. We see this pattern in Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, and Jean Vanier. These people entered into the pain of society and had to go to God to find rest for their soul, because their soul was so torn by the broken, split nature of almost everything, including themselves.

As we focus on being a church of "Go", that is important. However, if the "Go" is not moving us into contemplation then we will be nothing but a glorified social action group that carries the name of the United Methodist Church.

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Beer exposes the growing or dying fallacy in the Church

From the laity to the largest church pastors I have heard this phrase, "you are either growing or you are dying." Like many dichotomies that set up an either/or scenario in order to categorize good and bad, this "growing or dying" dichotomy is not Gospel but Empire building. 

To begin with this grow or die idea puts out there that there is prefered option - growth. And because we tend to have an unhealthy relationship with death, church leaders will lie to ourselves in order to paint the picture that our church is growing (just to show we are not dying). This is part of the reason why it has taken the UMC decades to come to terms with the fact that we are in rapid decline. 

Because fundamentally this growing or dying question is in our minds and we all desire to grow, we forget that the Gospel is not about growth but about dying. It is about dying to self. It is about dying in order to be raised by God. As such, in our efforts to always grow, Churches never learn how to die - as a body or as individuals. We are so growth focused that we shun death and dying thus retarding a healthy developmental relationship with death. 

 It may be the influences of Empire that Christians began to read the story of Jesus and elevate Matthew 28's commission over the other commissions of Jesus. The "Great Commission" of Matthew 28 is not great because Jesus said it was great. Jesus gave many commissions - forgive, heal, reconcile, welcome, visit, feed, etc. But it is the "Go and make disciples" commission that also helps fuel the growing or dying dichotomy.

"Westvleteren-beer" Attribution below.

"Westvleteren-beer" Attribution below.

As an example of what is might look like to add an additional way to the grow or die mentality lets talk about beer. Specifically the beer that is brewed by the Westvieteren Brewery. This brewery is run by the Trappist Abbey of Saint Sixtus in Belgium. Their three beers have been talked about as some of the best beers in the world. With such high demand you might think this brewery is looking to expand, because we all know if they are not growing they are dying. 

However, the monks there make a set amount each year to meet the financial needs of the monastery and their mission. At that is all they will make until the next year when they make roughly the same amount of beer. 

When asked by commercial businesses why they do not make more beer to meet the demands of the market I imagine the monks might say something like, We do not make beer for the market, we make the beer for God who has put before us a specific mission and purpose. To be move too far away or become focused on growth we miss the mission God has set in our hearts." 

Of course it is exciting to hear about the visions growing churches have. It is equally humbling to hear of the dreams that dying churches hold on to to preserve the saintly work of the past. But it should also be admirable to the churches that seek to be who they are because that is what God is calling them to be.

These churches are not growing or dying perhaps they are, like the monks in Belgium, focused on meeting the call of God and not the demands of the market. 

Source: "Westvleteren-beer". Licensed under CC ...

Is the UMC mission statement part of the problem?

The UMC has a mission statement that we tout out all the default for anytime we are asked what our mission is.  

"To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world" 

Not bad really. It is clear and concise. It tells people what we do.   

And that is the problem - it tells people what  we do. 

Simon Sinek gave a great TED Talk based on his book, Start With Why. Take 6 minutes and watch just a part of the whole TED Talk.   

If you watched this, you will recall Sinek stated that everyone on the plant knows what they do. Some know how they do it. Few know why they do what they do. 

"And by why I do not mean to make a profit. That is a result that is always a result." 

The UMC is an organization that is very clear on what  we do. We make disciples. Different churches may or may not know how  they make disciples. But as an organization the UMC is not conveying why we do what we do. 

You may be thinking, "Well isn't 'for the transformation of the world' the why of the UMC?" Perhaps. But this is too vague of a why to mean anything. Transform the world to be different in what ways? 

Our mission statement is one that expresses what we do. And that may be part of the problem. We are clear on the what but not on the why.  

So in an effort to be clear on my why, let me say:

Everything that I believe we all need to be the change we wish to see in the world. The way I do this is by sharing lessons that make people think, speak clearly and to not be afraid, and I love everyone I encounter. I just so happen to be a follower of Jesus Christ who taught me the way to be the change.

Would you like to join me. 

We have a mission not a market

Some say, "The Church is a business." I would contest that. The Church is not immune to the cultural influence of the business world. Strategies business protocols are integrated into the Church. Some of this is rather helpful. For instance, good business ethics is good Church ethics. However, the business world influence on the Church is not all great. And perhaps the most difficult influence business has on the Church is that of language. 

Businesses look for their market. They do market research and are able to categorize people into groups with somewhat predictable habits. So you get Kellogg buying up TV time during Saturday morning cartoons in order to pitch to their 'market' the greatest cereal known to humankind - Frosted Flakes. Or Facebook will have targeted ads on your profile based upon past clicking patterns. 


Businesses look to find their market and respond to their markets demands. You looking for something? Just wait, someone will try to sell you on something. But the amazing thing about businesses is that they are able to create a need that you did not know you had. This is the brilliance of the infomercial. I thought towels were good enough then I saw the ShamWow commercial and now I am not so sure.

Churches are influenced in doing this sort of thing - creating a market. I have seen a number of sermon series that are very infomercial-esk. Generating a problem that I did not know I had, and you would never guess who has the solution? The Church that "showed" me my problem.

Churches are not called to a market but to a mission. 

We do not create our mission. We do not do market research to see which neighborhood, who happens to look a lot like us, needs our solutions. We are not set up to pitch a product to a certain type of person based upon past history.

I wonder if we are sacrificing our mission in order to chase our market.