We Are All Unchurched

Last week, the clergy in our district and church lay leaders were invited to attend a meeting on the evening of Pentecost.  I’ve been preparing all week to speak in tongues.

It’s not that I’m opposed to meetings.  Sometimes important discussions are to be had.  This isn’t one of them.  Gatherings about topics we’ve addressed unsuccessfully for years (anyone remember Catch the Fire?), held only one day after I made the same 10 hour (round trip) journey (for another district meeting), show how little the dominant power structure understands about the stewardship of time and resources.

While presented as such, these meetings are not an honest exchange of ideas. Submit your reflections on note cards that we’ll promptly throw away.  Go get in a small group and write some thoughts on these sheets of newsprint which we’ll never read again.  We’re supposed to do what they believe is right.  Isn’t this how Methodism ended up in its current mess; one cookie cutter meeting at a time?  Band meetings are a great idea.  No one has ever willing to lead that way.    Small groups, yes.  But leadership, never.  They are far too communal, consensus based, Wesleyan, and Socialist.

What are the Methodists of the Beacon District called to discuss on Pentecost?  It would appear to be the perfect topic:  bringing the unchurched back to church.   It is 2018, Donald Trump is in the White House and Roy Moore may run for Governor in Alabama.  May we stop using the word “unchurched”?  The most “unchurched” people are the self-proclaimed Christians who are also accused pedophiles and serial adulterers with a penchant for porn stars.  The term “unchurched” much like the word “evangelical” has lost all meaning in early 21st century America.  It’s time to stop using this word.  We look ridiculous using words we pretend to understand in order to describe a world which doesn’t exist.

United Methodism, in general, has no idea what it means to be a church.  Look around at the mess in our own house!  Evangelicalism has polarized the idea of what it means to be a Christian in America.  In Robert Jeffress’ and Roy Moore’s eyes, I am “unchurched”.   If someone is unchurched, have they (or have they not) been exposed to the right wing Jesus, the left wing Jesus, the Apostles’ Creed, Christian Zionism, or how to dip Hawaiian bread into Welch’s grape juice?  What does it mean to be unchurched?  “Unchurched” is a term laced with such vagueness and ambiguity it is useless in contemporary evangelism.  I believe it creates an insulting stereotype of those who might find love, grace, and mercy in our congregations.

United Methodists don’t know who is “unchurched” and we have no right to judge the value of someone’s religious life experience when they enter the doors of a United Methodist congregation.  In this sense, we are all unchurched.  None of us are getting church right.  We are decoupled from the messy heart of the Good News.  Nobody knows what they’re doing.  We are unhooked, unhinged, and about to come undone.  Just look at our inability to treat women and gay people fairly.  By the missional standards we’re still using, it sounds like our denomination is unchurched.

Richard Lowell Bryant