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Back to Zero: The Search to Rediscover the Methodist Movement (2011)

de Gil Rendle

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The lifeblood of the United Methodist is passion rather than organizational neatness, entrepreneurial freedom rather than denominational restraint, and agility rather than staid institutional dependence. But if United Methodists want to change and be the church we say we want to be, what must we risk and how can we challenge current practices? At the heart of becoming a spiritual movement once again is the requirement that we develop a new understanding of connection as Christians and as United Methodists. We are currently at a time in which United Methodists are reinventing denominational connectionalism. One way of framing the issue is to distinguish between members and disciples, or consumers (those who wait for the institution to care for their needs) and citizens (those who are willing to commit themselves to and be held accountable for the whole of the community). United Methodism has nurtured generations of leaders and congregations that see themselves as consumers of the resources and attention of the denomination. The impulse toward movement is challenging spiritually purposeful leaders and congregations to risk becoming citizens who fully expect to make a difference in the lives of individuals and also in the world through an encounter with Christ.… (més)
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This book seeks to encourage the UMC to act more like a missional movement and less like an institution, which is a fantastic goal that I wholeheartedly support. Unfortunately it is held back by mediocre writing and its excessive reliance upon corporate wisdom and an instrumental view of the church. ( )
  cabematthews | Dec 19, 2013 |
I was raised as a Methodist and became an atheist as a result. I do have some lingering interest in the body, and when a friend who is a pillar of the church I left told me that the Methodists are in a ferment of reinvention, I decided to read up on it. Methodism, like most of the “mainline” Protestant churches has been declining ever since the 1960's.

The first part of the report puts me in mind of consulting by Dogbert in the Dilbert cartoon series. There are some insights, such as the fact that supervision should be a conversation, not an adversarial relationship, but I found it repetitive and full of observations that may be true enough, but don't really offer a specific solution. It's a lot easier to point out what is wrong than to propose solutions. Methodists should become disciples (whatever that means, exactly) and focus on the mission (changing the world.) To be fair, perhaps active Methodists know to what he refers. The second half of the report was much better. He discusses managerial changes, which might be improvements over current practices, but he fails to grapple with the most important change – attracting new members. If the church can't do this, it is rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Rendle's concerns about membership focus on creating a better class of congregants (disciples rather than consumers), but this seems to be getting a bit ahead of things for a church that has trouble attracting any members.

It is all very well to talk about acceptance of various points of view, but what is to be the core of Methodism that causes people to congregate there and not somewhere else? I asked my minister to explain what being a Methodist means just before leaving the church. There was an embarrassed silence, until I took pity on the man and introduced another subject. And accepting variations of belief among adults is one thing, raising a new generation is another. Are Methodists going to continue to offer the negligible spiritual training that I was offered? We see how that turned out for at least some of us, maybe most of us.

My feelings can perhaps be best summed up by A. N. Wilson in God's Funeral:

The liberal Protestant way had its charms. It involved minimalism in doctrinal observance, vagueness in theological definition, and cloudiness of expression when anything so dangerous as a definition was required. Its difficulty was one of historical plausibility. […] And the other trouble with the liberal Protestant approach, whether we conduct it in English or in German, is that it leaves the religious believer on his or her own; whereas, if this book has established anything, it is that religious experience is not merely individual, but collective. (p.338)

There are in addition, in the Kindle version at least, a number of garbled passages that can generally be figured out, but speak very ill of the care taken in publishing. Here are three examples.

“The teacher's classroom is his or her personal domain, and when the principal steps in to do the required supervision, the visit is treated as an intrusion. A similar observation required supervision, the visit is treated as an intrusion. can be made about clergy who perform their leadership in the discrete setting of their local churches.”

“A paradigm is a set of assumptions, norms, and practices of Thomas Kuhn. that determine what we do and how we understand the world we live in.”

In these two cases, I presume that the underlined words and punctuation should be dropped.

“Return to Quinn's observation that, over time, established institutions develop both a public mission (which they announce to the world) and a private mission (in which they quietly pursue the satisfaction of the strongest constituent. The private mission of serving the internal constituents voices in the institution). of the institution is the silent but more powerful of the two missions.”

In this case, I presume that the underline words are intended to follow the second closed parentheses.

While I am not normally an enemy of verbing nouns, which sometimes fill in a real gap in vocabulary, I wonder why Rendle felt it necessary to invent the awkward “to public” when there are already the verb forms publish, make public, go public, and publicize. I don't think it even makes as much as the average verbed noun, which generally means to do what the noun does. ( )
  PuddinTame | Jul 5, 2012 |
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The lifeblood of the United Methodist is passion rather than organizational neatness, entrepreneurial freedom rather than denominational restraint, and agility rather than staid institutional dependence. But if United Methodists want to change and be the church we say we want to be, what must we risk and how can we challenge current practices? At the heart of becoming a spiritual movement once again is the requirement that we develop a new understanding of connection as Christians and as United Methodists. We are currently at a time in which United Methodists are reinventing denominational connectionalism. One way of framing the issue is to distinguish between members and disciples, or consumers (those who wait for the institution to care for their needs) and citizens (those who are willing to commit themselves to and be held accountable for the whole of the community). United Methodism has nurtured generations of leaders and congregations that see themselves as consumers of the resources and attention of the denomination. The impulse toward movement is challenging spiritually purposeful leaders and congregations to risk becoming citizens who fully expect to make a difference in the lives of individuals and also in the world through an encounter with Christ.

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