What Would A United Methodist Jesus Do?
by Rev. Dr. Royal Speidel
Thank you for the privilege of being
part of this gathering. I am honored to speak with you today.
United Methodists come from two great traditions. Our Methodist history
is an amazing story of how John and Charles Wesley spawned a Christian
movement that today includes about 75 million Christians around the world.
England was a more Christian nation because of the Methodists, and the
movement came across the Atlantic so in the early 1900s one out of five
Americans belonged to the Methodist Church. The Evangelical United Brethren
Church had far less impressive numbers, but was also used by God to bring
significant spiritual change to various regions of the country. Today as a
united church instead of making up 20% of the adult population over 14 years
of age we have dropped to 2.68 %.
This bothers all of us. Walter Kimbrough said in River Forest in January,
he wants to be part of a championship church. None of us wants to belong to
a losing enterprise.
But, what do we do? Jesus Christ loves the United Methodist Church. He
created this great church, and no doubt is frustrated because of where we
are today. So, what would the United Methodist Jesus do? What does Jesus
Christ want us to do to become a vital, growing church again?
I want to suggest 6 things that I believe the United Methodist Jesus
First, he would say take responsibility for what you alone can do. Change
what you can touch. Bryan McClaren was asked a while back what United
Methodists can do to turn us into a growing church again. He said each one
can only do what is in our sphere of influence.
The local church is what every one of us touches, and by which each of us
is touched. That is our basic arena, which we can change.
Having said that, conference and general church decisions are very
important. The bigger systems in which our churches operate are very
significant. For example, I believe it is very good that our conference is
emphasizing new church starts and reaching out to new people. We are giving
God an opportunity to work in our conference by investing large resources in
church development and redevelopment. Our training people in small group
ministries is crucial. Healthy churches have 60% of their people involved in
Jesus says rekindle your passion to bring others to God. For whose
salvation are you praying? This is the stack of prayers Evie and I have the
joy and privilege of praying for Monday through Friday mornings. It includes
a slip that says the salvation of America, another says the salvation of our
neighbors, and another says siblings. We pray for the salvation of our
brothers and sisters. How many of you have family members not walking with
Jesus Christ? Are you praying for them?
Every one of us belongs to a local church. Some of us have influence in
our districts, others in the conference and yet others in the general
church. The United Methodist Jesus says touch and change what ever you can.
Secondly, the United Methodist Jesus would have us remember our amazing
God. The God of 100 billion galaxies each with 100 billion stars is
wonderfully able to transform lives. God is powerful to enable laity, clergy
and churches to bring major change in the lives of people and communities.
The United Methodist Jesus reminds us of God’s power that was seen in our
There are about 3200 counties in the United States, and United Methodist
Churches are found in more counties than any other denomination. Why?
Because the Circuit Riders 200 years ago were so in love with Jesus Christ,
that they wanted others to know the joy of living in Christ. They literally
gave their lives riding in rain, snow and sleet. Temperatures 100 above and
Questions: is the Holy Spirit less dynamic today than 100 or 200 years
ago? Is Jesus Christ less able to change life today than yesterday? Is the
power of God who led Moses and the people of Israel across the Red Sea into
freedom diminished today? We read in scripture that God desires all to be
saved. Does God have less passion to save people today? If the God who
helped early Methodists bring people to Christ in such large numbers that 20
out of 100 Americans were Methodist has not changed, what has changed?
Jesus Christ who died for us is still in the saving business transforming
persons, churches, communities and nations. I led the Red Bird Missionary
Conference spring retreat with about 125 persons. A 25 year old man was
there, who was a slave of drugs and liquor until a couple of years ago. His
Kentucky mother spent hard earned money to send him to clinics to be freed
from his addition. Red Bird mission is in one of the poorest counties of
America. The young man had rejected the witness of many Christians. One
night riding home on a four wheeler, he had an encounter with Christ while
he was drunk. He committed his life to Christ, but when he walked in the
house and told his wife, she said, "You are stupid." She had heard his talk
before. This was for real. The next day he pulled up the marijuana plants
behind the house, and emptied several six packs of beer on the ground. He is
new creation in Jesus Christ. He spoke at chapel at the mission high school
the week before I got there, and God used him to lead a teenage mountain
girl to give her life to Jesus Christ.
Two years ago an evangelist from Uganda about 28 years old at that time
got my name from the Internet. We communicate frequently. He and his
evangelism team have led over a thousand persons to commit their lives to
Christ since January.
The recent Pew Research study shows that 16 percent of Americans are
unaffiliated with any religion. Sixteen percent without a church is about
the same percent as mainline denominations. What is the fastest growing
religious group in America? You got it. The unaffiliated. Jesus is telling
us to reach out to these folks. All of them have that God shaped vacuum in
The United Methodist Jesus is telling us that God is amazingly powerful
to change lives today and to build churches.
Thirdly, the United Methodist Jesus reminds us to confess our sins. How
long has it been since you have heard reference to the seven deadly sins:
pride, gluttony, sloth, lust, greed, envy and anger? Pope Benedict said
recently that "We are losing the notion of sin."
How many of you have read the book, Reveal? It tells the
results of a self-study at Willow Creek. Six thousand Creekers were surveyed
and 5000 in other churches.
Bill Hybels says their research tells them they were mistaken at Willow
Creek. They had believed that getting people involved in church activities
grew their spirituality. And it is true. Getting people involved on the
finance committee, or Staff Parish Work Area brought small behavioral
change. However, Willow Creek wanted the barometer for change to be based on
the two biggies: the first and second commandments. What helps people love
God with all their heart, mind and soul and their neighbor as themselves? In
these two categories mowing the church lawn, ushering, serving as a
liturgist or as a soloist or choir member brought not one iota of change.
Just getting people involved in church activities does not change their love
of God and neighbor. Their research showed that four activities brought
spiritual maturity: They are personal prayer, confession of sin, reading and
studying scripture and listening to God. These activities created Christians
who love God with all their hearts, minds and strength and their neighbors
Isn’t it amazing that confession of sin changes human behavior? How can
we get our people to confess their sin more? Two things. Talk about it more.
Let us find ways to talk about sin that draws people to Christ instead of
drives them out of the church. At my age, I confess my sin more than ever
before. Not because my sins are greater, but the closer you get to the light
of God the more you see your blemishes.
Fourthly, the United Methodist Jesus would tell us to be a fasting
people. Early Christians fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays. John Wesley
observed a fast on those two days as well, and he encouraged his clergy to
fast on Fridays. Would we be meeting at this annual conference if early
Methodist clergy had not fasted on Fridays?
God sanctifies people through fasting. Giving up solid foods disciplines
us. Refusing to satisfy the body with solid food for a day enables us to
focus more love toward God. Loving God more enables us to love people more.
Sanctification is becoming the most loving people we can become.
I have fasted for about 30 years not eating solids on Tuesdays and
Fridays, and whatever passion for Jesus God has in my heart is there partly
because of Royal saying no to Royal’s appetites.
In March I did four workshops for the Griffin District clergy spring
retreat in the North Georgia conference. As we talked about fasting, I told
them it would be exceedingly interesting to see would God would do for that
district if every clergy fasted just on Friday for one year. I say the same
thing about the Northern Illinois Conference. Wouldn’t it be fascinating to
see what Jesus Christ would do in our conference if every clergy gave up
solid food on Fridays until dinner time?
A friend told me on Tuesday that his little church of 6 families needed
$100,000 for a building. They recently agreed to fast on a Saturday, and
then come together to share their financial commitments. Six families came
up with $104,000. God blesses us in fasting. It is one of our central means
Fifthly, a United Methodist Jesus would tell us to encourage our people
and America to practice sexual purity.
What would a United Methodist Jesus do about the sexual situation in
America? Sexual freedom is a huge problem throughout the world, and
unfortunately, much of it is being exported from the United States through
our movies, which are watched around the globe. Reportedly, even the
dictator of North Korea is hooked on pornography from America. Most sexual
discussion in Methodism deals with homosexuality. But in my opinion
heterosexual sin is a major contributor to increased acceptance of
homosexuality. Heterosexual sin is a great problem for two reasons: First
from a statistical standpoint. A huge study of 120,000 adults in Canada
reported that 1.6% identified themselves as homosexual.
A two million dollar study at the University of Chicago found that two
percent of Americans identify themselves as homosexual. If 98% of Americans
are heterosexual, by sheer numbers sexual immorality among heterosexuals is
a far greater issue.
The second reason heterosexual sin is of great significance is because
American Christians wink at it. Sexual sin is not considered offensive if it
is heterosexual. Movies and TV dramas constantly show unmarried people
jumping into bed, and Christians are so immune to that kind of sin there is
little or no negative reaction. Two university students told me in a motel
in Lexington, KY in March they were going to FL for a week’s vacation. They
had no wedding bands. A couple told me on the elevator of a motel in
Orlando, FL on Mon. that he was from Connecticut and she from NJ. Unmarried
people sleeping together at Disney World believing this is the American
I had a conversation with one of our finest young clergy recently. He had
a young unmarried couple living together. The man presented a problem to his
young pastor. He told him that his live-in has an uncle, who is gay. He is
bothered by this, but his lady is not. He asked his pastor how he could talk
to his woman about this. This man thought fornication is less a sin than
homosexuality. The United Methodist Jesus says stop the hypocrisy. God does
not look lightly upon sexual sin period. Be honest and acknowledge sexual
sin of every kind.
Pastors, teach your congregations two new words: fornication and
adultery. How many of our people have ever heard the word fornication?
If the church does not speak about sexual behavior, Hollywood will gladly
fill the void. If our youth do not have solid teaching about the words
fornication and adultery in the church, where are they going to be taught?
The United Methodist Jesus is telling us there is wonderful freedom in
sexual purity. Coaching our people to practice sexual purity will help them
prevent personal heartache and serious sexually transmitted diseases. Plus
sexual discipline will help them in every area of life.
Sixth, the United Methodist Jesus tells us to bring more young people
into the clergy ranks and more young people into the church. If we are going
to become a dynamic movement again, we need to fill our pulpits and our pews
with young clergy and young church members. United Methodist members average
58 years of age. How likely is it that Gen Exers born from ‘65 to ‘82 or
millennials born from ‘83 to 2001 will gravitate to a congregation of older
Or, if 95% of our clergy are over the age of 35, how likely will our
clergy be to reach young adults? When I hit 60 years of age, I suddenly
realized that reaching young adults was a whole lot harder simply because of
my age, so I organized a young couple’s club, and recruited young adults in
their twenties and thirties to lead new small groups we were starting. If
you are over 50, you don’t naturally attract the twenties and thirties any
more, so what are you doing to compensate? What extra steps are you taking
to bring families with children into your church?
The Council of Bishops has Vision Pathways, which call for starting a new
church every day. Check the United Methodist bishop’s vision pathways on the
internet, and you will see the goal to start one new church every day. That
is terrific! It is laudable and exciting, but here is a problem. Research
supposedly says that 25-35 year olds are the most effective group at
starting new churches. The twenties and thirties people bring vision and
energy into the church. With only 5% of our clergy under 35, who is going to
successfully start the new churches?
Jesus says reorganize your efforts to fill your churches with twenty and
thirty year olds. Build new church buildings that will attract the young.
Also, support Chrysalis, youth church camps and evangelical campus
ministries, so young people called to full time service in the church are
attracted to United Methodist ministry.
May God bless us as we give ourselves to the task of saving souls for the
Kingdom of God.
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