A Call for United Methodist Innovation

There are two types of geniuses, a radio host recently commented: inventors and innovators.  It’s apples and oranges, but both are a certain type of genius.  There is the inventor, Bill Gates, and the innovator, Steve Jobs.  Both are great, but in different and distinct ways.

Innovators take what is and make it better.  The very best ones, Greg Jones argues, are ones who are able to hold the past and future in tension – not opposition – such that vitality and growth occur.

This is a call for more United Methodist innovators.

As United Methodists, we stand in a long line of traditioned innovation that has changed lives and impacted the world.  John Wesley drew from the deep wells of his Anglican and Ancient Christian traditions, and created a movement of personal piety and social reform.  His innovative ministries were true to his tradition that emphasized personal spiritual responsibility as well as justice issues like anti-slavery, pro-education, and providing medical care for the underserved.  He held his past, present, and vision of God’s future in tension with one another, and the result changed the world.  Innovators came before Wesley and innovators came after him, and all worked in step with the greatest innovator of them all: God the Holy Spirit.

It’s time for United Methodists to once again draw upon our deep wells of scripture, tradition, experiences, and God-graced reason to work with the Holy Spirit as we create innovative environments that enable all persons to grow in their relationships with God, one another, and the created world.  It is time, once again, for United Methodists to become a people of traditioned innovation.

In recent articles written by Christian Missiologist Ed Stetzer, Mainline Protestant denominations will continue to hemorrhage people and, if something doesn’t change, will cease to exist within the next few generations – at least in America.  Efforts are being made to change, new church starts are popping up across the country, and there appears to be a fresh working of the Spirit as more and more people – particularly persons under 40 – are responding to a call to full-time pastoral ministry (my class has around 16 people, next year’s will have double that!).  Moreover, as Stetzer points out, the decline of the Mainline appears to reflect the loss of “cultural Christians” rather than “convictional” ones.  According to Stetzer, “cultural Christians” are those who “believe themselves Christians simply because their culture tells them they are,” where as “convictional Christians” are those “who are actually living according to their faith…who would say they have met Jesus [and] He changed their lives.”  Too many United Methodists are United Methodists simple because their cultural upbringing has told them that is who they are.  Too few are United Methodist because they met the Jesus who changes lives and are living out their faith through a United Methodist ideology of personal piety and social transformation.

It’s time for United Methodist innovators to once again give birth to ministries that are true to our Tradition (with all of its emphasis on God’s grace and personal participation in God’s redemption of the entire created order) and, simultaneously, in tension with the future of God that is continually drawing us toward a brighter tomorrow.

It is time to let some things die.  It is time to pick up practices, theologies, and ministries that have mistakenly been set aside.  And it is time to take what is and innovate toward a better future.

It is time to take risks.  It is time to fail.  It is time to change.  It is time to innovate.  It is time to give birth.  All of creation has been groaning for the new life of Jesus Christ.  Join that movement and create opportunities for people to experience the Risen Lord.

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