Living the United Methodist Way



e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service
      
 

Living the United Methodist Way

Feb. 7, 2008    News media contact:  Tita Parham*    
800-282-8011   
tparham@flumc.org     Orlando {0794}

NOTE: A headshot of Whitaker is available at http://www.flumc.info/photo_gallery2.shtml.

An e-Review Commentary
By Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker**

You will be hearing about “Living the United Methodist Way” frequently in the years to come. I want to share with you where this theme came from and how it is being introduced to The United Methodist Church.
 
The theme is just one of several emphases that have emerged from the planning of the Council of Bishops during the 2004-2008 quadrennium. During this quadrennium, the council has developed a theme to guide its oversight of the whole church. The theme is “Making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World.” While developing this theme, the council has been in communication with the Connectional Table and all of the boards and agencies of the church so that together we may order the life of the church around a common vision and purpose.

The bishops proposed seven “vision pathways” that represent the major foci of the work of the church in order for the church to fulfill its mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The seven “vision pathways” are: 1). Teach the Wesleyan model of reaching and forming disciples of Jesus Christ, 2). Strengthen clergy and lay leadership, 3). Develop new congregations, 4). Transform existing congregations, 5). Expand racial/ethnic ministries and eliminate racism, 6). Reach and transform the lives of new generations of children and 7). Eliminate poverty in community with the poor.
 
Since the council identified the first vision pathway, it has begun to talk about the “Wesleyan model of reaching and forming disciples of Jesus Christ” as the Methodist Way of salvation and discipleship.

From the very beginning, the Christians understood the Christian life as “the Way” (Acts 9:2). The church is a community that knows the revelation of God in Jesus Christ as real life and not as system of concepts. When the apostles described their direct experience of Jesus of Nazareth in his life, death and resurrection, they called him “the word of life” (I John 1:1). To be his disciple is to share in his gift of life by the power of the Holy Spirit given to the church following the coming of Jesus, and it means to follow him by conforming to his pattern of living in one’s own situation and by following his teaching (Matthew 28:20).

Over the course of the history of the Christian community there have emerged various traditions of how to practice the Christian Way of life. It is possible to describe Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Reformed traditions for how to live the Christian Way. During the Wesleyan revival in the Church of England in the 18th century, a Methodist Way of salvation and discipleship emerged. It was a kind of system of disciple-making involving small groups for evangelical awakening and accountability for growing in receiving the grace of God, service to the poor and sharing the Gospel with others.
 
As part of the “Making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World” theme, especially as expressed in the first “vision pathway,” the Council of Bishops is inviting the whole church to rediscover in a holistic sense the Methodist Way of salvation and discipleship. This requires reclaiming the distinctive Wesleyan theological vision of God’s saving action in the world and in our personal lives, a vision probably best expressed in the collection of Charles Wesley’s hymns.

Yet, it is not enough to teach a theological vision of the Christian life if there is no community practicing it. Many of our congregations have glimpses of this theological vision, and they embody aspects of the Methodist Way in their life and mission. However, a more holistic and self-conscious appropriation of the Methodist Way of salvation and discipleship would profoundly transform a congregation over time and also give the congregation a more distinctive identity as a Wesleyan and United Methodist congregation. 
 
Our conference is teaching the “five practices” of The Methodist Way for congregations. These five practices are presented in a book by Bishop Robert Schnase of Missouri. They are widely followed throughout the church and are being presented to Florida’s congregations by our Office of Congregational Transformation. A Web site at http://www.fivepractices.org is devoted to them.

These five practices represent a modern expression of ways of being the church that reflect our Wesleyan heritage. (Since we started teaching the five practices, I have integrated my goals for congregations called “the bishop’s fundamentals” into the presentation of these five practices. The Council of Bishops had not adopted this emphasis of the five practices when I began to present my goals for congregations.) However, it must be emphasized that these five practices have to be understood in the context of the Wesleyan theological vision of God’s dynamic action in the creation and the Methodist way of salvation and discipleship that is ultimately personally spiritual and relational. Failing to grasp the context of the five practices would reduce them to a technocratic approach of mere institutional renewal.
 
This emphasis on The Methodist Way was first introduced to the whole denomination in November at Lake Junaluska, N.C. The Council of Bishops called together the cabinets of all bishops around the world for two days of introduction to our theme of “Making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World.” We chose to give this convocation the title of “Living the United Methodist Way.”
 
“Living the United Methodist Way” will be the theme of the 2008 Florida Annual Conference Event. I have invited Dr. Randy Maddox of Duke Divinity School to lead us in holy conversation about the theological vision and spiritual meaning of the Methodist Way of salvation and discipleship. The Rev. Dr. Jeff Stiggins of the Office of Congregational Transformation will again offer instruction on the five practices of congregations in The Methodist Way just prior to the convening of the annual conference. Bishop Hee-Soo Jung of the Chicago Area will be our conference preacher and teacher. Hee-Soo was converted to Christ and the Christian way of life in a Methodist class meeting in South Korea.
 
The theme of the 2008 Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference in Lake Junaluska will also be “Living the United Methodist Way.” While this conference primarily elects bishops of the church, there will be some time focused upon the meaning of The Methodist Way of discipleship.
 
I expect The United Methodist Publishing House and General Board of Discipleship will be producing many resources in the next several years that will enable us to appropriate our distinctive Wesleyan heritage in reaching and forming disciples of Jesus Christ.
 
It is an exciting experience to be a part of congregation where the pastor, staff and lay leaders are very intentional about claiming and using our distinctive Methodist Way of experiencing the salvation of God and being and growing as disciples of Jesus Christ. What makes us distinctive in a meaningful way is not our polity or a mere list of theological emphases, but a holistic way of discipleship that, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, emerged out of the Wesleyan revival. While we have to implement it in forms and language suitable for today, that Way still exists and can be used to enable us to become God’s own people.

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*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Whitaker is bishop of the Florida Conference.




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