We’ve achieved an unhealthy stereotype. Methodists are lazy. It’s easy to be Methodist. You don’t have to do anything. Jon Stewart called us the Phoenix University of denominations. Like all stereotypes, there are holes in the assertion that we’re lazy–but like most stereotypes, this one isn’t totally based in lies. I run into it all of the time–people that are glad to know Methodists because we’re so laid back, not trying to cram anything down people’s throats. Or worse, people that are Methodist that revel in the “no rules” atmosphere. Mostly former Baptists that were tired of buying their beer in the next town or being told that women aren’t God’s chosen ministerial outlet.
But here’s the real truth inside of the stereotype: If you really want to be a Methodist’s Methodist, it’s not easy. It’s hard as hell.
Real Methodists live in community.
We shouldn’t sign in to a Sunday service and shake all of the right hands before bailing out on the small group that we in theory are a part of. We should have close friends, real friends, people that know our mess and are willing to walk alongside us through it. And we should do that for others, without judgment. How is it with your soul? Does anyone know?
Real Methodists live lives dedicated to mission.
Our church canceled a high school mission trip this year that had only two youth signed up for it. Two months after that failed excursion, a robust beach retreat will head for Panama City. What are we teaching these kids about the importance of mission? About the needs of others before our own? Not a lot. Maybe we can talk about it at the beach. In a frenzied-schedule existence, what’s the first thing to get cut from most people’s calendars? Anything for someone else. That’s not how we’re meant to live.
Real Methodists are never done.
I think a real Wesleyan spirit struggles to draw the line of “that’s plenty; I’ve done my part.” Almost to the point of annoying those around us with the “well, we can still work on this” attitude. There are virtually unlimited ways to be active disciples of Christ. Stop to sleep, eat, and love your family. Rest is important too; we talk about that all of the time. But a lifestyle of rest when you’re not attending to your own needs shuts the door on relational mission.
Real Methodists know and love Scripture.
It’s not the Wesleyan Triangle, for crying out loud. We can differ from hard left to hard right on interpretation, but it’s really all we’ve got to know the history of our faith’s attempt to know God. It’s not like the owner’s manual for your car–good to have “just in case.” It’s the story of the beginning of the how and why of what we’ve done right and wrong in our relationship with each other and the world around us and God. Know it.
Real Methodists aren’t Methodist just because they don’t want to be a member of the _______ denomination.
Never ever, ever should anyone who wants to claim faith in Jesus choose a denomination based on what they don’t do. Why on earth would you want to define your practice of faith in the negative? Yes, it’s great that we’re generally not hateful about “our way” of following Jesus and it’s super nice that we ordain women and maybe one day even do better than that for all of God’s people. But joining the not-pushy faith doesn’t relieve you of the obligation to know and share your own journey.
Believe it or not, there are people that haven’t decided to follow Jesus with their lives that are put off by other approaches to faith. They would probably benefit from hearing about your Methodist journey. Unless of course your journey is that you like short sermons and mostly just like to drink while you fish and love that you don’t feel constant pressure to be perfect. They probably already have that. And really, if your faith isn’t changing your life, why do you bother?
So what makes being a Methodist hard? The fact that the concept of being a Methodist with excellence isn’t really hammered into you. The fact that some self-motivation for Christian discipleship is required. In an open, welcoming environment it can be easy to forget that there’s real work to be done. Should we put away the complimentary donuts and coffee and replace announcements with marching orders for the week? It would be fun to watch for a couple of weeks, but probably not. The thing I keep reminding my kids about is that a life of discipleship really isn’t for everybody. Grace is free, etc., hallelujah–but you have to want to be in the relationship. And relationships take work. Rich, rewarding, holy work, but work just the same.
Otherwise you’re just another lazy Methodist.