Thursday, May 21, 2015

Rediscovering Method in Our Madness

"Methodists" was a term of abuse heaped on those Oxford students so long ago. Derisively they were labeled such because there was a live and let live, lackadaisical atmosphere among the students and genteel society in general.  The door to self-discipline was marked "Method"; having a plan of what to do each day to achieve certain goals in their public and spiritual lives.  I need to pray more? I must plan time for that in my schedule, even if it means I must arise while it is still dark to achieve this goal. To most Americans issues of self-control have so often battled with deeply seated individualism. No one - not even ourselves sometimes - will tell us what to do? This creates issues in spiritual life when the Christian should be listening to, and heeding, the instructions of the Holy Spirit about what they need to be careful of in their life and what areas may need to be placed under the control of Christ more intentionally.
Over the years there has been a large distance opening up, a chasm, between modern "Methodists" and those earlier "Methodists."  The ordered, methodical, process based strengths that so aided the movement in its early growth was replaced by a scatter-brained, 'flying by the seat of my pants', committee driving in circles, approach to just about everything.
I remember a series of district training events where local church leaders could meet at a church and pastors and leaders from all over would share with them practical, useful skills or model for them innovative new methods of operations or programs.  I recalled one where a person from outside the denomination was brought in to share about a specific program. There was an outline, there were handouts, there was an engaging presentation that had been well thought out and expressed.  In comparison, a Methodist minister representing some conference office breezed into a session and opened with , "Well, what do you want to know about XYZ?" 

For me, this is always the opening that hints that someone did not do their homework.  Sure enough, the presentation was nothing more than an extemporaneous collection of off the cuff rambling comments more or less related to the assigned topic.  When I first began writing I remember reading an article that warned about several styles of writing: 'all over the road' was one, indicating the lack of focus and pointless type of  article and another was the 'spontaneous me' style that seemed to express that whatever is said will be delightful because it is just so darn 'spontaneous'. Kerouac with too much caffeine muttering out street signs may be spontaneous but it is senseless and dull.
The difference in the two presentations was painful in comparison.  Where, I wondered, had the methodical, planned, and organized approach in Methodism gone?  Like a youthful driver flinging a car from one side of the road to the other, the approaches being seen  ranged widely.  They were the  ponderous and hesitant planning that occurred at the rate of geological change and thus insured no changes in content or processes. The other bounced off the curb with a breezy, 'don't make me think about tomorrow' causal style that passed for contemporary management for far too many decades.
Calendars are useful; very useful. Long range planning is crucial to steady growth and effectiveness.  In some professional positions I have held a three or five YEAR planning calendar was a necessity.   In too many churches, I believe, we have let the yearly change over of volunteer leaders substitute for clear planning on the long range scale.  We wait and let each new leader fumble around for 6 months, plan something and then, opps!, it is time for them to step off the roster.  Is it any wonder many churches are challenged and moribund in effectiveness?
It is time for a rediscovery of the "method" to our madness. To plan not in small segments of time but to see the big picture as part of the strategic planning and mission development. In three ,or in five, we want to see A,B, C, and D happen!   At the start of each conference year we should say to everyone from the conference level to the local church: Welcome to the ministry team of the church, this year these things have to happen to make sure we reach this three or five year goal to be effective in our mission and purpose in this community. You now have the ball - move it down the field!
Method, a system, a process, an effective and organized movement that advances the church or a personal spiritual life into greater levels of accomplishment and service to God.
Commit to the Lord whatever you do,
and he will establish your plans.

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