“I don’t know if we should think about that, we don’t know what will happen in 2019.” These words are everywhere in United Methodist circles. If you get a group of United Methodists together, in a matter of minutes the conversation will undoubtedly turn to General Conference 2019. As a clergy couple with an infant, I understand the fear on both a personal and economic level. I have cried and grieved the great divide in our denomination, a denomination we have vowed to follow and lead. I have wept over the words tossed at fellow members of the order on both sides of the divide. I mourned when I heard my close clergy friends say, “I can’t wait to only be in a denomination with like-minded people!”
Gutted and left bleeding, I wanted to make a petty remark that “Jesus said some pretty negative things about only hanging out with people that think and act like you.” What worries me most isn’t how uncivil the debate has become or the fact that the Body of Christ is mutilating itself and attacking other parts and even rejoicing in inflicting pain to the Body as they say, “Eye, I don’t need you,” it’s that we believe that the future is uncertain.
Yes, we do not know what will become of the denomination as a whole, but we are far from uncertain of the future. The future of denominations, institutions, powers, principalities, are always in danger of falling. Maybe this is a good thing. If the church isn’t in danger of failure, then we begin to worship the cross and flame and not the man that hung on that cross or the Spirit that burns inside our hearts.
Yes, we do not know what, if any of the three plans will pass, or what logo will be on our buildings or church websites, but we are NOT uncertain of the future. I have had countless conversations with clergy and laity alike that are afraid to begin a ministry or project that would build the kingdom of God or have vision casting sessions and retreats to find ways to bring the Gospel to those in need of the good news, or churches withholding apportionments until ‘this whole debate is settled.’ This paranoia states we don’t hold the answers of the future state of the church after GC 2019, but we do. That future was never in question. God will continue to reign and will ask the church to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. One annual conference voted down buying property for a thriving church plant, because of the fear that the lien might go unpaid after 2019.
We are letting our fear of the unknown cloud our sense of certainty and paralyze our ability to do ministry and bring about the kingdom of God. We are called to be kingdom-builders, not castle-maintainers. We are called to set the captives free, not allow ourselves to fall captive to our own anxieties. We are called to proclaim the good news, not fear that only bad news follows. If we stop DOING ministry while we wait for the outcome, are we leading God’s people? Or are we implicitly teaching them that God isn’t faithful, and the future of the Kingdom of God is dependent on an institution and not the power of God that we are graciously invited into taking part?
Scripture is filled with times that people did not know the immediate outcome of their lives or tribes but continued to proclaim God’s good future despite the unknown. This is not the time to slow down on ministry and ‘wait and see,’ it is the time to proclaim that God reigns despite division and that through Christ all things are held together. Instead of shying away from bold ministry and visioning, it should be the time we tell the story of God the most. Our entire society is unsure, uncertain, worried, uncivil, unjust, and divided. As a church, we are called to be counter-cultural. What would be more counter-cultural than proclaiming Resurrection when it appears to be Holy Thursday or even Good Friday? The world needs to hear the end of the story, hear the hope of the Gospel and the freedom of Christ, but if we as church leaders wait until we gain certainty in our institution, has the institution already failed? If we don’t proclaim that hope is found in the God who makes all things new in times of trouble, are we offering the world a message that transforms, rejuvenates, and ultimately saves?
What a witness it would be to instead boldly proclaim that the kingdom of God is at hand, no matter what path the UMC takes, because God is still God and still resurrecting the dead. We should not fear that our institution will die, because even if it does, we believe in resurrection. We believe that what dies with Christ will also be raised with Christ. We believe that God is still moving and active in our world and our actions as church leaders should reflect that conviction. Is our orthodoxy different than our orthopraxy?
Maybe now is the best time to start that new service times, to go to the border and share the love of God to the those in need, to believe that God has began a good work in each local church and will carry it on to completion. Maybe now is the perfect time to increase the church budget to reach the refugees in our communities, or to hire that missions and outreach minister, instead of waiting until we feel secure. We must let go of the illusion that we are uncertain. We are people certain of God and God’s love and grace and supreme reign over our lives and churches.