Our motives are good, perhaps. The church—particularly the Methodist branch of it—has meant a lot to us. It has conveyed to us the love of God and the beauty of God’s people. We want others to love the church too, and we want the church to not only survive, but thrive.
If that’s going to happen, however, we may need to walk away. Now more than ever.
I’m not for a minute suggesting that we should quit holding church services or even curb our church attendance, at least when it comes to worship. We need to meet together, to encourage one another, to pray and give and celebrate.
But we also need to resist the pressure to frame our concept of church around attendance figures or building projects or even mission inputs. We need to reject any definition of church that doesn’t include Jesus’ calls to give all we have to follow him.
Like Anthony reminds us, following Jesus begins not with a quest for abundance, but with a relinquishment of what we do have—including our desire to save the church that has loved us, and that we love as well.
We United Methodists have a clear example to draw from in our own history. The Wesleys’ quest for a more faithful life began with practices that hearken back to the early monastics: discipline, fasting, Scripture study, care for the poor, devotion to religion of both head and heart.
That quest ultimately led to the Methodist movement, but it was birthed at a price. John Wesley felt the scorn and abandonment of the Anglican Church, as well as the anxiety of the Methodists in America setting off on a path he could not guide from across the ocean. It cost him thousands of miles of travel and a rejection of the comforts available to him.
It all started with a step away—not from the path of Jesus, but from the assumptions the dominant culture made about that path. Wesley sensed there was something his church was missing. He went out to find it.
It’s no secret that something is missing for many of us when it comes to church today. We church leaders have tried just about everything we know to do to create that missing piece.
But the next movement of God among us will not be man-made, much less managed, any more than those who followed Anthony to the desert or Wesley to the coal mines were managed.
Rather, the next movement will emerge from those who have taken time to step back from the frantic work of religious entrepreneurism to consider where God might be leading, and how we might best follow.
Regardless of where we have to go, or what it costs to get there.