just another lazy methodist

Are Methodists Lazy?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.




  1. Hello Kevin,

    As I started to read your blog about being a “Lazy Methodist”, I thought, surely you jest! But I soon discovered that you have hit the nail squarely. As a retired UM pastor who’s been at it for 60 years now (yes, really!), and who’s observed a lot of Methodists along the way, the outward appearance of our laid-back UM denomination is a stereotype that doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. We teach Prevenient Grace, Justifying Grace, and Sanctifying Grace (or should), which is of course that “Plain old Christianity” that John Wesley advocated. There is nothing easy and laid back at all once a real Methodist gets up to speed as to what it’s all about. And it’s a good idea to be reminded from time to time what the martyred Lutheran Bonhoeffer had to say about Cheap Grace.

  2. Amen Kevin and Ralph! I prefer Methodism and admire John Wesley ideals because they don’t allow “religion” to get in the way of being faithful to my Creator, Redeemer and Savior. But, as Kevin points out so well, discipline (or a method – Hey!) is an absolute necessity to avoid being a “lazy Methodist”. Being a regular on Sunday, participating in pastorates or small groups, outreach to the community, “inreach” to the congregation, and fully contributing your time, talents and treasures throughout the year is how we obey Wesley’s 3 simple rules: do no harm, do good, and love God with all your heart. It’s a simple discipline that takes a lot of effort to maintain, but what a fulfilling life it brings! The best part? If you “fall off the discipline wagon” a simple, heartfelt request for fogiveness and desire to do better will put you right back on the wagon, and the path to living the life God desires for us.

  3. Exactly. And since we are on a student ministry blog here, may I add that Millennials want a faith that challenges us? We are looking for someone who will call us into battle, who will engage us to live for something greater than ourselves.

    I didn’t see much of that in the UMC. So I left. I didn’t want to leave, I LOVE my Methodist heritage, but in a very “You Lost Me” type of way, I just couldn’t stay sitting in pews on Sunday and knowing people at surface level when non-denom churches were equipping us to change the world and invest in authentic deep community.

    If we lived the way Wesley lived – or better yet, the way Christ lived – there’s no way the freedom that comes with Methodism would be an excuse for apathy. It would be a catalyst for radical discipleship, impacting nations and lasting relationships with our Creator and each other. It’s hard to be open to change, to vulnerability, to life-on-life accountability, to stepping out of our comfortable 200-year-old boxes, but it would be so so so worth it. And perhaps the UMC might start keeping teens like me.

    • Jen,
      Amen and Amen! Wow, some deep insights.
      I think that some UMC folks need to study Wesley and then ask the Christ and the Spirit that Wesley preached to begin to continue in the same ministry. Wesley was missional and any church that refuses to be missional will become a relic. Wesley preached the gospel of Jesus Christ to the poor and lower classes that the Church of England refused to touch. But he did it through actually preaching, teaching, and empowering through God’s Spirit. Wesley believed the reality of sin in people’s lives and they needed and were empowered by forgiveness. I just started working in the UMC and come from a non-denom. so I’m new to this. I wish the UMC kept teens like you who have that ‘fire in the spirit’ faith. Thanks for the encouragement.

    • Jen-

      I totally agree with your post! Students do want a faith that challenges them and most of the time our messages are comfortable and weak-sauce. I don’t believe Wesley would be at all thrilled with the direction of our Methodist Churches today. Please please hear us leaders in the UMC denomination…please love us enough to push us out of our comfort zones and speak the truth.

    • Oh wow, I am a Gen Xer But can relate to what you say. I am also one who left the Methodist Church, not so much because of dissatisfaction, but because God called me elsewhere to serve. I, too, am proud of my Methodist heritage and have family in the UMC that still worship and serve, but unfortunately it a dying breed at the moment, and needs revival within the church.

      My husband will tell you he fell in love with our current church because he “saw people truly living out their faith” and wanted to be a part of that.

    • Hey Jen … lots of interesting things here you are saying but this may actually go deeper. You say you want to be lead to do things … actually going to a non-dom and being led is actually counter intuitive to what you are striving for. Self motivation with support rather than blindly be lead and following are what create a deeper sense of self over a lifetime. My problems with the large “fun” churches are what happens over time. Better music elsewhere, more dynamic pastor elsewhere, etc. … you sort of end up following the next great thing when … it is really inside of you! Few of the traditional “high” methodist services survive these days but if you can find one and really dig into it … you might be suprised how you will feel after. If you want to get below the service … join the choir … lord knows that THEY are never surface … ha

  4. Who do we contact to get permission to reprint this article for our congregation?

  5. While I agree with your post there is one thing that really bothers me and that is your use of the picture of an overweight man to represent laziness. I am someone who has struggled with his weight over a lifetime and I am not lazy. I know you probably didn’t not mean any harm, but it is a stereotype that needs to be broken.

    • Brad, I haven’t seen the image associated with my article, but I’m inclined to agree with you. I’ll contact our content manager and see if we can exchange the picture.

      • Thank you for exchanging this picture! I appreciate your responsiveness and look forward to a day when body size has nothing to do with perception of virtues/vices.

      • Thank you Kevin and everyone else at YW Movement for you prompt and grace-filled attention and action

  6. Jen-
    You are exactly right. So how do we (UMC Leaders) keep young adults in our dem. so that change can happen? Would hate to get to a place in our future where our Wesleyn Theology is lost because no one was willing to stick around and fight to get back what John and Charles set out to do!

  7. Excellent! Thanks very much for this piece. You and your readers may be interested in a document that was prepared in preparation for the 2008 General Conference and then quickly ignored and forgotten. Nevertheless, I believe it is important and UMs need to be familiar with it. You will find it here: http://bit.ly/MOxLtJ

  8. As a lay pastor in the PCUSA let me applaud you for the article. Many times Presbyterians are referred to as the “frozen chosen” so I understand what you are saying. It does take work and involvement to be part of a larger denomination but I’m reminded that scripture says’; “many members but one body” If people would look to what UMCOR and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and the many mission fields we are in they would see that we are serving the poor. I have been fortunate to serve a yoked Methodist/Presbyterian church and I have always felt that if I don’t feel something is right then don’t run but stay and be the help that changes things.

  9. No pressure to be perfect? Well, not much from pastors or congregations, but the Discipline and John Wesley tell us to be “going on to perfection.”

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