I have been a United Methodist longer than I have been a Christian.
Sure, I was born and baptized in the church, and was confirmed a member of the United Methodist Church in the early 70s. The only real memory I have of confirmation classes, though, was that after going through them, I would receive my own set of offering envelopes. I did not say that was all I was taught in confirmation; I said thatâ€™s all I remember. I was a reasonably bright youth, and thatâ€™s all I got out of the class.
A few years later, at a Houston North District youth rally, I accepted the invitation to begin a relationship with God and accept Jesusâ€™ gift of eternal life and forgiveness of my sins. Finally, during the summer after my sophomore year of high school, I was both a United Methodist and a Christian.
Like my older brother, Richard, I was called to ministry soon thereafter. Also like Richard, I am committed to this ministry within the United Methodist Church until God or the System decides otherwise.
Brad Ramsey, a UM pastor and mentor of mine who died far too soon, told me a story once of his early years in ministry. Fairly fresh out of seminary, he was an associate pastor in a church where he had previously served as youth minister.
In a conversation with his senior pastor, Brad said some things that showed his naÃ¯vetÃ© about the politics of being a United Methodist Clergy. His senior pastor turned to him and said, â€œAh, I see you have not yet been tainted by the system.â€
Brad told me this story before I was tainted by the system. That was back when I was so fresh out of seminary that I thought being a United Methodist Clergy was about ministering the Gospel more than about being a functionary of the bureaucracy. Every year I am in the system, I find it more of a struggle to fight the tainting.
The â€œtaintingâ€ I fight is the one that would make me more interested in maintaining the system or â€œmoving upâ€ within it than in winning people to Jesus and leading a congregation in being a place that is about embodying the grace of God.
Please donâ€™t misunderstand; this is not a condemnation of the current leadership of the denomination or of the Central Texas Conference, of which I am a member. It is, rather, recognition of the life that organizations seem to take on a life of their own. Most organizations, and The United Methodist Church is surely one that has, tend to start with noble purposes, goals and visions.
Yet, as an organization survives across generations, there is a tendency to build into it systems that are more about the sustaining of the organization than they are about the original purposes, goals, and visions. Stanley Hauerwas warns that a pension system signals the death knell of a denomination. Though I hope to live long enough to receive a pension, I also hope my ministry never becomes motivated by the maintenance of such a benefit.
To conclude my introductory offering to this site, I assure you I am not opposing to denominations in general or to The United Methodist Church in particular. I do think, however, that we have got to be about more than sustaining a system. We have to be about making disciples of Jesus Christ. Who, as far as my research indicates, never had offering envelopes