Just like any good youth worker, the other day I found myself researching American youth culture by watching an episode of King of the Hill (yeah, that excuse doesn’t work on my wife either).
In the episode, Bobby Hill asks his parents a pointed question about the faith they proclaim. “What is a Methodist?”, he asks. The next scene we find the Hill family in the office of the pastor at Arlen Methodist Church. The first thing the pastor says is, “Methodism is simply a rejection of Calvinism.” At this explanation, the Hills look at themselves as if to say, “Really? Isn’t there more to it than that?”
Surely we’re more than that. Too often we define ourselves by what we aren’t. We identify ourselves in the negative by saying things like, “We don’t rebaptize like the Baptists” or “We don’t believe in predestination like the Lutherans”. But these really aren’t helpful in providing a positive foundation for identity in Methodism for our young people.
Like a lot of United Methodists, I was not raised in the United Methodist tradition. I was raised in a small Southern Baptist church of about 250 people. I even attended a small Southern Baptist University. But unlike many of my fellow ex-pats, I did not leave the Southern Baptist tradition out of disgust or anger. I was never treated inappropriately or told that I was going to Hell for believing differently. In fact, I think back fondly on my spiritual heritage and count it as being pivotal in providing a foundation for my spiritual identity as an adolescent.
As I think back to my upbringing, I can’t remember a time when I heard Southern Baptist defined as not being Methodist. My church was clear on their identity and the theological task they contributed to the Church at large. There was not overt bashing of other denominations like I hear in some United Methodist churches. There was not an effort to somehow discredit the practices of other denominations to somehow lend validation to the practices of Southern Baptists.
So why did I become a United Methodist?
Believe it or not it was because of my own study, discussions with trusted mentors, and much guided prayer. As I began to articulate my faith, I realized that the lens through which I viewed the faith was very much United Methodist in nature. The United Methodist denomination gave structure to some inner struggles that I have with the Faith. It provided a framework to view the Faith in a way that was beneficial to my own spiritual formation.
It is important as youth workers that we give our young people the positive identifying markers of United Methodism. We should take every opportunity to affirm our unique gifts as a denomination. We are more than what we’re not.
Below are some positive identifying marks that attracted me to United Methodism.
We are committed to our Connection. Though theoretically all churches are united under the Banner of Christ, sometimes we don’t act like it. I appreciate the commitment the UMC has to staying connected. For better or worse, we are one family of faith. Our Connection forces us to literally put our money where our mouth is and live together in covenant with one another. I know sometimes we like to gripe and complain about the hassles that come with doing life together but on the whole I believe this is an extremely positive identifying mark of the UMC.
We are committed to a wholistic approach to the Faith. One of the biggest buzz words in the UMC is the “Quadrilateral”, that is Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience. One can debate how “Wesleyan” the Quad actually is but the truth is that this gave me a framework with which to guide my understanding of the faith. “Think and let think” was another phrase that I came across a lot in my studies. Though many United Methodists take this to mean that we can believe whatever we want, in actuality this phrase commands us to think for ourselves but never by ourselves. Good theology always happens within community and the UMC works from this model. With that said…
We are committed to Christian Discipleship. Though many of our churches may not reflect this reality, Wesley believed that small groups were essential for true Christian discipleship to take place. For more, read this article about small groups in our United Methodist Heritage: Small groups are in our DNA. The UMC is built upon the local church and our local churches are encouraged to be self-sustaining regardless of pastoral changes. There is a responsibility for every Christian to grow in their prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. Christians are also encouraged to let their faith affect all areas of their lives including their ideas regarding economics, ecology, politics, social justice, etc.
We are a denomination that emphasizes God’s Grace. Ask congregants in your local UMC and many of them were probably not raised United Methodist. Our church is one that makes room for those from all faith backgrounds. We also offer an open table for communion which is actually a unique opportunity that many churches do not provide. Our slogan for the UMC is Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors. I think one of the most meaningful things we did for our perception as a denomination was when we changed the word, “Open” from an adjective to a verb. Now we’re talking! That’s the type of faith I want to proclaim! The UMC is a welcoming denomination that encourages action from all of its members.
Why are you United Methodist? What aspects of United Methodism are most attractive to you?
What is your spiritual heritage and how does your upbringing affect how you view other denominations?