Methodism started as a movement, not a church. John Wesley never wanted it to become another church, but to remain a movement (the “situation on the ground” forced it to go a different direction, but that’s another post entirely). If Wesley had been a part of the Roman Catholic Church (i.e. if the Church of England didn’t exist), he probably would have started a new Religious Order that combined elements of the Franciscans and Dominicans and had a bunch of poor, wandering preachers.
The purpose of the Methodists was to spread Scriptural holiness across the land. With this singular intent and reason for being, Methodism moved throughout England, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland to America, the Caribbean, Continental Europe and beyond–all within Wesley’s lifetime! Methodists knew the reason for their being a unique group within the Church, and everything they did was to fulfill that reason and purpose. It was the singular direction in which they went.
Today, many of our congregations have no clue what their purpose is. If you ask them the classic question in church health discussions, “If your congregation disappeared tomorrow, would anyone in the community notice it’s absence?” the answer is an uncomfortable silence. With the baggage of buildings and the histories attached to them (who gave what and how it needs to be up-kept and preserved) and the programming that conventional wisdom says is necessary to a functioning church, there is still little thought to the purpose of the congregation.
Sure, the church growth movement and modern leadership principles have taught many pastors and congregations to have a mission and vision statement and to organize all the church’s activities around those statements, but rarely do we look at the bigger picture of how our congregations fit in to the fabric of the entire community in which we reside.
Do we need to duplicate resources and programs with other churches in our cities and towns? Do we need to duplicate ministries that others are doing excellently in the name of Christ? Are we really in competition with the Baptists and the Presbyterians and the Catholics?
In the early days of Methodism, there were Methodists who were members of all the various Christian groups there were. They all spoke of the same faith with a slightly different emphasis. It was like having a group of people that speak the same language with a different accent. There were different Christian accents in Methodism. The point was not to be one more among many Christian groups, but to spread Scriptural holiness among all the groups. No matter the group or the accent, through Methodism, they all moved in the same direction with the same purpose.
Perhaps we could borrow some of that attitude from the early days and once again have a singular purpose that is not in competition with other groups.