By TIM GHIANNI*
NASHVILLE, Tenn./GBOD/ -- Steve Manskar says the United Methodist Church can experience revival by rediscovering its heritage.
“In the 19th Century, the Methodist Church decided to go ‘mainline’ in order to become ‘respectable.’ During this period congregations began to jettison some of the characteristics that set them apart as Methodists,” says Manskar, Director of Wesleyan Leadership for the General Board of Discipleship.
Manskar says such practices as the focus on lay pastoral leadership and class meetings were pretty much “de-emphasized in order to attract people to the church.”
“It worked, because from the middle of the 19th Century into the early 20th Century, the Methodist Church was the largest, most influential protestant denomination in the United States.”
The problem was that “it became Methodist in name only. The denomination transformed itself from a missional movement to an attractional church,” says Manskar, who is hosting a Wesleyan Leadership Conference Oct. 14-16 in Nashville to help reclaim some of the Wesleyan missional distinctives The United Methodist Church will need as it seeks to reach a post-Christian, post-modern world with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Dr. Scott Kisker, whose book, Mainline or Methodist? Rediscovering our Evangelistic Mission is the foundation for the conference, will be helping lead the discussion.
Kisker, professor of church history at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., says he hopes the conference will be a step in “rediscovering the identity … what it means to be a Methodist in a way that can reinvigorate our ministry in ways that are biblically more faithful and evangelistically more fruitful and that we would know Jesus better.”
“I think the problem is that we stopped growing, as far as percentage of the population sometime after the Civil War. …. As the middle-class grew, Methodism watered down its message.”
Kisker is advocating a return to the “spiritual vitality” sparked by class meetings, field preaching and band meetings.
Class meetings brought lay people together once a week “to inquire after one another’s souls … with the expectation of helping each other to grow spiritually,” he notes. Field preaching “was a way in which people who would not darken the door of the church would be engaged with the gospel.”
And then there were the band meetings, “which were groups which met to confess their sins to each other so that they might be healed of whatever brokenness was in them and become more holy, not through polishing the image on the outside but becoming more deeply aware of the grace of God working on the inside and our own need for grace, quite frankly.”
“The people we want to participate in the conversation are leaders at all levels of the church, lay and clergy, particularly lay people,” says Manskar. “We want conference, district and congregational lay leaders, lay speakers, certified lay ministers, licensed local pastors and, of course, ordained elders and deacons.”
The schedule calls for Kisker’s keynote address on the first day, with that followed by praise, prayer and group discussions led by the author and the Rev. Vance Ross, Deputy General Secretary of the GBOD.
The second day will begin with a presentation by Taylor Burton-Edwards, GBOD Director of Worship Resources, who will discuss what a 21st Century Methodist revival could look and act like. That afternoon will be turned over to Manskar and GBOD Director of Connectional Laity Development Sandy Jackson, who will conduct a workshop on Covenant Discipleship groups; small groups based on the early class meeting.
Kisker will preach at Saturday morning’s closing Wesleyan Covenant Renewal Service.
Manskar says he hopes this conference will mark the beginning of “a Wesleyan Leadership Network, a group of leaders who are grounded in the Wesleyan Methodist tradition of missional leadership.”
He says this first in what he hopes will be an annual event is filling a need. “The Council of Bishops and other denominational leaders have been saying for the last few years that we need to become more Wesleyan,” he says.
“It’s the laity from which this is going to happen and emerge. That’s the way it happened in early Methodism. They were the ones who were responsible for forming people as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.”
The Wesleyan Leadership Conference will be Oct. 14-16 at West End United Methodist Church in Nashville.
For more details and to register go to www.gbod.org/wesleyanleadership.
Cost is $95.
Contact: Steve Manskar
Director of Wesleyan Leadership
877-899-2780, ext. 1765