Next week, I’ll be talking with some seminary students about my life as a United Methodist pastor. It has me thinking about why I persist in this denomination. I am so often frustrated by my tribe and yet, I am drawn to its theology and character. Following are ten reasons why I celebrate my United Methodist connection:
1. The United Methodist Church celebrates lavish grace – prevenient grace, justifying grace and sanctifying grace. Our communities are built on grace, and we trust Paul’s vision of grace, where “…we throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise” (Romans 5:2, The Message).
2. The United Methodist Church celebrates holiness. In fact, Wesleyan doctrine can be summed up in two words: grace and holiness. That’s our great claim. Our church isn’t primarily about a form of worship (though we have written thousands of songs to God). It isn’t primarily about getting people out of hell (though Wesley preached that we should flee the wrath to come). It doesn’t claim to be charismatic, though we honor the gifts of the Spirit. It isn’t doctrinally heavy, though we certainly consider ourselves creedal. At its core, Methodism is about claiming a free gift of salvation then working it out daily with fear and trembling. It is a call to live a holy life.
3. The United Methodist Church celebrates free will. We are not TULIP fans. We refuse any attempt to limit the work of Jesus to only those who are in the “up elevator,” and we stand by our right to get saved … again.
4. The United Methodist Church celebrates the Bible. We love and study the Word of God. We are people of the Book, and recent decisions made at the international level make me more confident than ever of our denomination’s ability to honor the integrity of scripture.
5. The United Methodist Church celebrates the character of true community. Frankly, I’m helped by being in a denomination that doesn’t require me to believe everything it believes in order to be in fellowship. And while some issues are deal-breakers for me, there is a great deal of latitude for which I’m grateful. I can be a low-church, charismatic with a strong preference for baptism by immersion and still be a United Methodist, without having to embrace any one of those spiritual preferences as a salvation issue.
6. The United Methodist Church celebrates practical acts of mercy and justice. We are do-ers of the Word, and we double-dog-dare you to show us authentic faith without works. We are committed to service that leads to salvation and we are particularly fond of healing in all its forms. We love 12-step programs (heck, we invented grape juice!).
7. The United Methodist Church celebrates the Trinity. We seek balance in our love of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We honor our Father as we cling to the cross of Christ and strive for intimacy with God through the Holy Spirit.
8. The United Methodist Church celebrates accountability. Even though I lament it more than I celebrate it, it is a fact that our connection is a strength. I’m not a free agent out there under a tent abusing people in Jesus’ name. I’m also not totally responsible for knowing when I’m effective and when I’m not. There are people keeping watch over my ministry who will let me know when its time to move on without booting me out on the street because the fit isn’t right.
9. The United Methodist Church celebrates the sacramental life. We love baptism and have a renewed passion for the Eucharist. We trust in the means of grace and believe God will show up in practical acts of piety, but we see those acts as servants, not masters of our life with Christ. We passionately pursue a personal relationship with Jesus and are not bound by forms of religion.
10. The United Methodist Church celebrates me. Without requiring us to embrace liberalism, we can embrace God’s call on every life and celebrate gender equality. I am deeply grateful to the United Methodist Church for not only allowing me to fully express my call to preach and lead, but encouraging me to do so. That has been a great gift and I serve out of gratitude for a tribe that loved me to Jesus, then loved me into leadership.