On franchise churches and Methodist reform

 A couple days ago Jeremy Smith wrote a great article about his concerns with Church of the Resurrection entering into discussion with another struggling United Methodist congregation about becoming a remote campus of CoR. Jeremy does a great job not only naming the temptations of such a move, but also suggests the ramifications (specifically dangers of theological outsourcing, denominational splintering, and the marginalization of women and minority clergy).

 I think Jeremy’s on-target, but in the early morning hours as I found my mind awake before my body was ready to be, I found myself reconsidering.

 I’m playing “devil’s advocate” to a degree here, but is it possible this (or something like it) is exactly where United Methodist reform is going to come from?

 Is it possible that instead of this being the first step to a Wal-Mart church, this is a step back to what John Wesley was doing by traveling the English countryside preaching churches where he was invited in (and fields where he wasn’t), declaring “the world is my parish” and doing an end run around the (largely ineffective) structures of his day? Could an internet feed of a person’s preaching simply be the modern-day equivalent of publishing a volume of “Standard Sermons“? The reality is: creating a wide-spread movement, observing a set of unified expectations and practices, primarily driven by a single dynamic personality, that generated controversy and divisiveness is largely was Wesley was about.

 Now I’m not saying that’s what Hamilton is after, and he’s certainly not going to accomplish it by entering into a series of adoption agreements that involve studies of things like demographics and debt obligations, and the approval of Bishops, District Superintendents, and Church Councils.

 But it did strike me that Hamilton (and Slaughter) are both in the position to spark that kind of reform if they wanted. It seems to me that they are both very close to having the tools as well as the leverage in place to bring about significant denominal change if they so desired. By design the United Methodist system lacks a single visionary leader, largely to our credit; the system of leadership offered by regional Bishops works well. Yet, I find myself wondering, if we’ve entered a time when we need a new “John Wesley” – someone who can spark a wide-reaching, inspiring vision that is rooted in those unified standards and expectations.

 What if it’s not about building an empire of mini-CoRs, what if it is instead about inspiring a church to reach back to it’s roots (before it was a ‘church’), to be a reform movement once again, reaching out to the people who have been alienated from the institution, and motivating people to live their faith?

 I don’t think that’s what CoR is doing right now, and so in the end, I resonate with Jeremy’s concerns, but I find myself wondering if it could be possible.



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