This is paragraph 120 of the United Methodist Book of Discipline. “The mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Local churches and extension ministries of the Church provide the most significant arenas through which disciple-making occurs.” The first sentence has bothered me for a long time. Specifically, it’s these six words, “to make disciples of Jesus Christ”. I believe in world transformation. I don’t believe the church makes disciples.
Think of the things we typically make. I may make cookies, music, or love. When I make something; there is a defined process with ingredients, steps, or a recipe. Ingredients are measured, volume is controlled, and plans are followed. If I “make” something, it is a reflection of my desires and the outcome I want to achieve. Making implies a level of control on the part of the creator.
In the United Methodist Church, what are we making? Are we able to make anything? Do we control those who we invite through our “open doors”? Isn’t disciple making an activity belonging to the Holy Spirit? The presumption on our part to play a creative role in process best left to God is astounding. At best, our role is to create the conditions for discipleship to occur. So yes, the second sentence gets it right. Amen to the second sentence! The first sentence is pretentious and arrogant. Those six words contradict the entirety of the second sentence. God makes disciples, the Holy Spirit makes disciples. The United Methodist Church doesn’t make disciples. The church facilitates what the Holy Spirit is already doing.
The United Methodist Church makes Methodists. Discipleship is God’s enterprise, we’re all junior partners. Each time we gather in conferences and meetings and repeat the first sentence of the mission statement without saying the second we’re doing God a disservice. We’re claiming we know better than the deity with the recipe.
Richard Lowell Bryant
*Matthew 28:19 doesn’t convince me of the rightness of our mission statement. Matthew was putting words into Jesus’ mouth. His presumptions are the same as ours.