The Wesleyan Operating System

When visioning the way forward for the church, sometimes it’s helpful to first go “back to the future…”

wesley with bible

John Wesley, who sought to form a people who strived for “holiness of heart and life.”

We have just finished a process to discern God’s unique vision for Tri-Lakes United Methodist Church, and we’ll be revealing the full scope of that vision in a few weeks. A team of ten laity and I used Will Mancini’s excellent Church Unique resources to drill down on what this church’s unique contribution to the kingdom in our region might be. The operating question Mancini uses in his process is this: “What can this church do better than 10,000 others?”

We have a lot of great discussion about that in our meetings, but the overall sense of the team was that our uniqueness is bound up in our Wesleyan/Methodist heritage, theology, and practice. There are lots of United Methodist churches, but very few are actually intentionally Wesleyan in doctrine and practice, while the vast majority of churches in our region come from the Reformed tradition. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that– the Body of Christ is a mosaic of different emphases and skill sets. Indeed, to be Wesleyan is not to be a completely unique kind of Christian. In his sermon The Character of a Methodist, Wesley said that Methodists aren’t marked by any outward appearance, unique practice, or unusual set of Christian doctrines. To be Methodist, in other words, is to embrace the historic, apostolic, and Scriptural Christian faith. Wesley remained an Anglican all of his life and thus the doctrinal statements of Methodism were essentially the doctrinal statements of the Anglican Articles of Religion (with some modifications).

But there is something deeply unique about our Methodist DNA that speaks to a very specific purpose for the church–an emphasis on making disciples of Jesus in an intentional, systematic way using a particular “method “ (or operating system). It’s a tradition that takes both the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. Though Wesleyan theology differs on some points with other traditions, we have traditionally been about the goal of building people into Christian disciples. AsWesley put it in The Character of a Methodist, a disciple of Jesus will demonstrate:

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A God Approved Life

2 Timothy 2:1-26

dmv 1With two teenagers in our house we’ve been talking a lot about driver’s licenses lately. It’s one of the rite of passages from childhood to adulthood in American culture: Navigating the soul-numbing process of going down to the DMV, taking the written test, of course, followed by the driving test with that serious-looking man checking stuff off on his clipboard as you weave through the cones, demonstrate the proper use of a turn signal and attempt the nerve-wracking feat of parallel parking in three moves or less.

Getting a driver’s license can be a trying experience. One man reports that after spending 3½ hours enduring the long lines, surly clerks and insane regulations at the Department of Motor Vehicles, he stopped at a sporting goods store to pick up a gift for his son, who had just started playing in a T-ball baseball league for little kids. He saw a nice bat, and took it to the cash register.

“Cash or charge?” the clerk asked.

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A Gifted Life

First sermon in the new series, “One Life.”

2 Timothy 1:1-13

fireplace-by-krazy79Right after I graduated from seminary, Jennifer and I took some time to work at a camp in Wisconsin before heading off to our first pastoral appointment. Honey Rock is Wheaton College’s outdoor center, and we went up there for the winter season to work with retreat groups and college classes that came in for a weekend or a week.

Now, winter in northern Wisconsin is like living in a freezer, and most of the buildings at the camp were heated by wood fireplaces and stoves. So, one of the major jobs we had every day was starting and stoking the fires in all the buildings the groups would use.

Jennifer was great at this. I stunk at it—always have. We didn’t light fires in the Army because in combat they tend to attract enemy artillery fire, so I hadn’t had a lot of practice. Now, I knew how to build a fire from my Cub Scout days. I knew about tinder and kindling and all that, but for whatever reason the fires I would try to light would take close to a whole pack of matches, lots of blowing, and uttering non-pastoral words in order to get going. Maybe it was a lack of patience due to the cold, maybe a failure to gather the right materials…I don’t know.

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Book Review: “The Jew Named Jesus”

jew-named-jesusI was at a lecture recently where New Testament scholar Ben Witherington III was talking to the audience about the formation of the New Testament canon. Ben made a comment about how important knowledge of the Old Testament and Israel’s theology is essential to understanding Jesus, to which an audience member responded with the question, “You mean we should think of Jesus as a Jew and understand Judaism in order to be clear about who we are as Christians?”

“Yes,” said Ben. “Duh!” thought I.

Growing up in the evangelical world we didn’t talk a lot about the Jewishness of Jesus. The Old Testament was primarily reserved for moralistic stories and lessons about biblical characters that we learned about it Sunday School and VBS. It wasn’t until I went to seminary that I began to see that understanding Jewish theology, practice, and worldview is essential to having a clue of what Jesus (and Paul, for that matter) was talking about and doing in the pages of the New Testament. Covenant, exodus, exile, resurrection hope, are all embedded themes that act like reflexive lenses through which to view the mission and work of Christ.

The work of N.T. Wright really influenced me in learning to use those lenses, and several trips to Israel have sharpened their focus. Opening up the Hebrew Scriptures alongside the Gospels and the Epistles was central to the early church, and it continues to be a critical need for us as well.

 

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Deliver Us from Evil

Matthew 4:1-11

test anxietyOne of the best things I discovered in going for my Doctor of Ministry degree was that there would be no tests for any of the courses—only papers (lots and lots of papers). That was really good for me, because writing papers is fairly easy for me. Tests, on the other hand, have always been a major source of stress, ever since I was in kindergarten and Mrs. McCandless would give out smiley faces if we finished our Weekly Reader exercises correctly. I still remember the one frowny face I got because of a math problem. It scarred me for life.

As I went through school, I found that standardized tests are the worst, especially those with multiple-choice answers. I would get so anxious in taking the test that I would over-think the answer. “Well, technically the answer is B, but it could also be A under certain conditions, or C if that’s the answer they’re looking for.” The questions with possible answers like “A and B” and “All of the above” and “None of the above” about gave me a nervous breakdown. To this day, I still have nightmares about showing up for a final exam in a course that I forgot to attend all semester.

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