By Chuck Griffin
Chair, Holston WCA Board
The so-called “Protocol Statement” has everyone’s attention at the moment, and rightly so. We should remember it is far from a done deal. But it also provides a clear outline for how theologically liberal and orthodox United Methodists might go their separate ways in a reasonably fair manner.
With all this going on, I hesitate to roll out a new concept. Much can get lost in the bright lights of excitement and controversy generated by the Protocol Statement. It does keep our minds on the future, however, and I believe the idea I want to introduce here is critical to the future of orthodox Methodism.
Perhaps I should say “reintroduce.” There’s nothing new here, just much that has been forgotten in far too many of our churches.
I’m talking about the idea of Methodists gathering in small groups for true discipleship and accountability. Such small group gatherings are the original basis of Methodism. They also remain the basis of healthy churches today—and we do not have nearly enough clergy or laity who grasp their importance.
As orthodox Methodists who claim to have a good understanding of our history, we have to return to small accountability groups, regardless of what sort of denominational structure we ultimately retain or create. I will go so far as to say this: If we don’t recover properly functioning small groups as the basis of Methodism, we will be a branch of the vine destined to wither and die, regardless of our orthodoxy.
I’m not talking about approaching small group development the way we’ve done it in the United Methodist Church the past few decades. There are positive exceptions, of course, but as a denomination we’ve largely paid lip service to the importance of small groups as the basis for discipleship and Christian accountability. We’ve gone so far as to count small groups at each church as part of our annual reporting system, but in many places we’ve then systematically redefined what a small group is so our reports don’t reveal how severely we lack them.
Clergy and lay leaders, let me ask if you’ve heard this question: “On the annual report, can we count our Sunday schools as small groups?” Too often, the answer has been, “Yeah, let’s go ahead and count them,” when realistically, it’s unlikely a Sunday school or similar gatherings qualify.
Wherever this has happened, we’ve dodged the hard work of discipleship, the work that makes a difference in whether we are effective for the kingdom. We’ve avoided the deep relationships that encourage followers of Christ to experience sanctifying grace, which once made the Methodist life so attractive.
In properly functioning small groups, here are some key elements:
I know, I know. For Methodists used to going to church on Sunday morning and maybe sitting on a committee, it sounds like too much, particularly when we start talking about sharing our spiritual struggles within the group. But that’s our problem. We’ve lost touch with what it means to be Methodist. We’ve let a weak paradigm for “doing church” take hold.
I am a realist. I expect we will not convert most current orthodox Methodists to this form of deep discipleship. But we have to convert some, and leaders of any Methodist movement need to steer new Christians into small group discipleship.
We need at least one genuine small group in every church. If that group functions properly, there will soon be more than one.
We also need groups established outside the traditional church settings, in our workplaces and play places, a process that could redefine what church is. People willing to make such commitments would serve as the growth engine of orthodox Methodism.
For orthodox Methodists in the Holston Conference of the UMC, I’ve created a separate website for people who want to take small groups seriously. You’re invited to visit this site, register your e-mail for blog updates, and begin to live the Methodist Life.
The address is that simple: Methodist.Life. Note the “dot” between “Methodist” and “Life.” No “.com” or “.org” is needed—”.life” is the ending for the internet address.
And please, don’t think a simple website still needing development is the solution. The website is just a communications tool. The solution is a widespread, renewed commitment to a very old concept.
Most of all, we need Methodist Life Group leaders. If you are one of those rare people with experience leading a true small group, please let me know. If you want training as a leader, please let me know.
We can do this! For so many reasons, we have to do this.
By Chuck Griffin
Chair, Holston WCA Board
If you keep up with happenings in the United Methodist Church at all, you’re aware of what’s being called the “Protocol Statement.” It is the beginning of a way to divide the current United Methodist Church along doctrinal lines, one that would create a separate, yet-to-be-named traditional Methodist denomination.
I’ll not waste space rehashing details here; at the end of this article, I’ll provide some links for those of you wanting to study the details. And as I’ve tried to remind people repeatedly, it is not a done deal, but a deal that ultimately has to be done at 2020 General Conference in May.
Today I’m going to address a question I’ve heard repeatedly in emails, texts, meetings with local church representatives, and on social media. It goes something like this: “We won at General Conference 2019—why should the Traditionalists have to leave?”
Keith Boyette, president of the global Wesleyan Covenant Association, already has provided a very good answer by saying, “Progressives and centrists are not willing to leave the UM Church,” a stubborn reality that would force a long, destructive fight even if future general conferences were to continue to affirm traditional doctrine.
I want to add that I think we would be better off moving forward as a new denomination, deploying a new name and logo. We would have a powerful opportunity to communicate clearly who we are.
About a year-and-a-half ago, I wrote an article for the Holston WCA on the concept of “branding.” Drawing on my public relations background, I focused on how the UM brand had been severely damaged by our wildly different views on scriptural authority. At the end of that article, I did hold out hope that if General Conference 2019 upheld traditional views, we might yet be able to salvage that brand.
That last assertion naively assumed the 2019 General Conference would fulfill its purpose and put the issue to rest once and for all. As we’re all aware, defiance of the Discipline and general hostility from theological liberals have increased in sometimes shocking ways.
I’m now firmly convinced the UM name and logo are, from a Traditionalist perspective, no longer salvageable. Instead, I think they ultimately will be associated with a failed half-century-long experiment in theological pluralism.
Ideally, the new denomination’s name and logo will capture that we are heirs to the Methodism that began changing the world for Christ’s kingdom in the 18th century. We will continue that Methodist tradition, bringing people to a biblical understanding of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior until we see Christ in full.
The question “Why do we have to leave?” arises in our hearts because we currently are comparing a known to an unknown, naturally triggering an identity crisis. This concern will resolve itself quickly once the branding work for the new denomination is complete.
Assuming the Protocol Statement becomes 2020 General Conference legislation and plays out as its developers hope, I think it’s actually a big win to be on the side that gets to move forward with a new name and look.
Be sure to read details of this very important agreement that the WCA helped craft …
By Chuck Griffin
Holston WCA Chair
This time of year, people talk about “Christmas magic” and “Christmas wishes.” All this made me think about how I would use three wishes, assuming some sort of magical being came along and offered them to me.
Wish no. 1: I would like to be a witness to Jesus’ conception. The first chapter of Luke tells us this event was miraculous in the deepest sense of the word, with God’s Spirit intervening in the normal course of human events and placing a baby in the young virgin, Mary. Somehow, divinity mixed with her DNA.
As a witness, I might not see much at all—perhaps just a slight swoon or a smile of joy on Mary’s face as she senses new life within her. But the whole point of witnessing the moment would be to see no human cause for her pregnancy. This is God’s most subtle miracle.
Wish no. 2: In this season, I’ll bet some of you are expecting me to say, “Witness the birth of Jesus.” That’s a beautiful idea, but I’m limited to three wishes. Understanding all that the virginal conception implies, I think I would next wish to witness the resurrection. If I were to see the guards collapse, the stone roll back and the crucifixion-scarred Jesus step forth, all the teachings and miracles between Christ’s conception and resurrection would seem powerfully real to me, as if I had witnessed them, too.
Wish no. 3: I would ask for a glimpse of something I expect to see anyway, either in this life or as part of a “great cloud of witnesses.” I would like to see Jesus with his hair all wooly and white, the fiery-eyed Messiah in gleaming robe and golden sash, as he comes to rule forever, destroying sin and death for good. Such a vision would serve as a constant reminder of how every moment should move us toward holiness, preparing us for the world as God intends it to be.
There are no magic Christmas genies, of course. Christians rely on faith, living as those who “have not seen and yet have come to believe.” The good news is that the Holy Spirit bolsters our faith, witnessing to our spirits as we read the Bible. With enough faith and scriptural guidance, we find our lives transformed by the truth of who Christ is, no magical wishes required.
Blessings on all of you, and Merry Christmas!
© Charles W. Griffin III, 2019