The Wesleyan Church has been in a constant struggle for change since I joined our denomination 13 years ago. Sometimes I am on board with change and other times I think that we are drifting off course. I am a first generation Christian from my family. My purpose for saying that I am a first gen Christian is that it should help you understand where I am coming from. I did not grow up in church. I did not know what a Wesleyan church was until I was 26. When I was 14 a student at my high school was killed in a car wreck and his obituary I heard that he was a member of the Wesleyan church next to my home town. My wife attended the Wesleyan church before I got saved. I thought, in both cases, that the Wesleyans were not really Christians since that local church did not us the title Christian Church. I thought Wesleyans were like Jehovah’s Witnesses or something. A little funny now as I look back on those thoughts.
After I received Christ as my Savior, and made up my mind to live for Him, I knew that I needed to spiritually take care of my family by starting us in church. I went with my wife to try the Wesleyan church out. But I had in mind to go to another church; preferably a First Assembly of God church where I had experienced the Lord before. Long story short, the Wesleyan pastor was preaching the Word of God correctly during our visit. I knew this because at that time I had been reading the Bible for quite some time before I sought a church. That is another story though. Long story short here; I stayed at this church and later was ordained through Flame before I attended SWU.
As a new Christian, I was on fire with my learning. God was showing me so much that I was unaware of through His Word. When I learned that the Wesleyan Church focused on Holiness I realized that God is concerned with His Church being real inside and out. I love that we emphasize total surrender to Christ. That is what I did. None of us like people who pretend; Jesus had a problem with it too.
Recently, our General Superintendents took part on a listening tour. They wanted to hear from local church leaders about what we see as needs that we should focus on in the Wesleyan Church. After all, we are not growing in North America at pace that we would like to see. I was amazed at the difference of opinions that I heard about what we need to do. One opinion that caught my was the need for more testimony time during worship service. My thought, as soon as I heard that, was has been stopping that? If the Spirit is prompting people to speak, then they should be speaking. If He is and they are not, they are disobedient. But we cannot manufacture an experience with our members.
Another opinion caught my ear; someone said that we needed to focus more on missions. I think we do this pretty well for our size. Yet, I thought to myself that missions is just what occurs as a result of a group of people, no matter what the denomination is, living for Jesus Christ. If we love Jesus, then we will make that happen. Yet, making it happen for the sake of an institution might be another story. As a collective group who is sold out to Christ we cannot help but make it happen.
There was a lot of talk about putting an emphasis on compassionate ministries. I suspect that is being emphasized because of all of the cool books that are being written about this topic right now. I am for it too. I believe I am missional too. Why? Because I am a follower of Christ. Compassionate ministries is the result of surrender to Christ. Here we come to that fine line between works and faith. Our faith creates our works. Holiness goes hand in hand with this movement.
What was not talked about by our local leaders, including me because I felt that it would have been unpopular, was our massive effort to do church differently. Nothing wrong with this if a Body of believers is led by the Spirit to do it differently. There is a mindset that believes that if we are not playing the right music, dressing a certain way, following the right leadership model, growing a goatee (just kidding about this one; lol ) and trying to duplicate what the “successful” churches are doing, then we are failing as a result of our stubbornness to grow. The problem is that God is the Lord of the Harvest. Doing what works at other churches may not work at our local churches.
Here is what the Wesleyan Church needs to do; in my opinion. First, we need to recommit to Holiness. We don’t even have a common understanding of this among our local church leaders. I like complete surrender, which results in love God and others.
Get back in the fight against sin. We tend to be so inviting that we tell people it is okay when they confess sin to us. Let the Spirit do His job! If He wants them to be sad about it, let them be sad about it. Don’t tell them it is okay just so they will want to stay in church.
Start making transformation the focal point again. I did not want to continue to be the person that I was when I got saved. What I think is happening here is that those who grew up in church are trying to throw out this concept because it seems to them not be psychologically right. Yet, this is what appeals to those of us who have been without Christ. This is the Good News in this life.
Quit trying to remove consequences from bad decisions. If I make a bad decision, then God is going to teach me through the consequences that of that bad decision. We need to begin reminding new Christians, and non-Christians, of this concept. We are too busy trying to paint a Utopia for people so that they will want to attend church.
Quit being ashamed of our doctrine. Yes, we do not believe in Eternal Security. No, it’s not popular. Yes, we believe that if we die to ourselves that we can overcome sin. Yes, people disagree with us. What we need to deal with is, “Are we Wesleyans getting tired of dying to self?” Do we want the perks that other churches seem to have? God has blessed those other churches according to what His own will. Is it our goal to become a large church like others? Or, is it our goal to be distinct from the world because we live for the Lord? I know that I am being narrow here but I think it is at least worth thinking about.
Pastors need to reexamine their eschatology view. Is the Rapture really a Holiness concept? Enough said about that.
Our doctrine, when lived out, accomplishes all of these things that I have pointed out because the Spirit calls us to do them. These things cannot be legislated. These things have to be God-birthed in each local church.
In my opinion, Wesleyan pastors need to be required to pursue yearly theological training at least as a refresher. Local churches need a better emphasis upon discipleship that includes doctrine and theology mixed in with the other great things that are being taught. We need to “keep the main thing the main thing” as Lee Iacocca once said. Holiness is what takes us from an institution to a movement again.
Show me a church that Christ is the Head of, and I will show you a church that is being successful and growing God’s way. As I post this, I realize that there are things that I may not have said well enough. I also realize that much of what I said can be debated. Yet, you have a view from someone who is still new to this because I have not tradition that is influencing me. I trust it is the Bible and the Holy Spirit.
One final statement. I am simply questioning our motives. Everything that I call into question does not mean that it is wrong. It simply means that I am questioning what motivates us to do church in these different ways. The Spirit? Need for success? What?